Organ playing in Arp Schnitger’s time

by Han Leentvaar | Het ORGEL | Year 94 | (1998) | Issue 19

Jan R. Luth

Organ playing in Arp Schnitger’s time

het ORGEL 94 (1998), nr. 4, 9-15 [summary]

In Germany in Schnitger’s time the organist’s task was to play intonations before the liturgical singing, to play alternatim with congregational singing, and to play after the service. Accompaniment of congregational singing about 1700 in the north of Europe is documented only in a few cities.

The first evidence for the accompaniment of congregational singing in the Netherlands dates from the 17th century. The influence of the opinion of the Dordrecht synod (1574) – that organ music makes people forget what they’ve heard and is comparable with speaking in tongues – lasted long: even in the 19th century less than half of the Dutch churches possessed an organ. Schnitger’s activity in the Netherlands thus coincides with a process of accepting organ music in the liturgy. Chorale books by Witvogel (1730), Van Blankenburg (1732) and Hurlebusch (1746) show how congregational singing was accompanied. It seems that reeds were chosen before Mixtures. Furthermore, the melody could be played on a separate manual, with Sexquialtera or Cornet.

The Schnitger-organ in Harkstede (1695)

Photo Jack Schroevers

Schnitger organs lack Cornets; Sesquialteras probably served as plenum stops. This makes it questionable whether Schnitger organs in the Netherlands were in fact used to accompany congregational singing; perhaps the organs had primarily a soloist function. As in Germany, accompaniment of congregational singing is only documented in city churches; the function of Schnitger organs in village churches remains unclear.