Organ and Improvisation Study in the French Conservatoire System

The Spirit of the Organ

The years since World War II have been a sort of golden age for organ building. The revival of interest in historic styles has deepened everyone's understanding of the instrument and proved a great stimulus to the creativity of those builders (ourselves among them) whose main object has been to create a truly contemporary instrument. In the great organs from the past we have searched not so much for pipe-scales and wind-trunk dimensions, as for the underlying values which give the old instruments their artistic integrity, which makes them so profound. Dare we revive the idea of a "classical" style?--not frivolous, ornamental sense, dressing a new organ in the borrowed plumage of the past or fixing upon an arbitrary moment in history; but rather by hewing to the unchanging values of simplicity, coherence, logic, order, humanity, and grace.

Such noble words are easy to write, but to realize their meaning is the work of several lifetimes. In a very real sense, this organ is a summation of almost three decades of our experience, so that when we stand back and look at the result, we do not find that we have done anything particularly audacious. It may sound terribly conservative to say so, but new ideas seem to succeed best when they are wedded to proven concepts. There are some things which are new for us, for example, the Quintaton 16' and the Voix Humaine of the Recit, both derived from Cavaille-Coll. The sheer size of the Recit division, with 14 stops on one chest, was a challenge in itself. The generally French character of the stoplist follows from the requirements that the organ do justice to the symphonic literature and the sound of the manual reeds announces this character unambiguously. But the organ is not a copy of anything. It is an organ to wrap up this century and, we may hope, to carry us into the next. The organ's heart is what we have come to call among ourselves, "historically authentic Wolff."

We must not close without a most important acknowledgement to the donors, Dane and Polly Bales, without whose generosity we would have neither tin, nor wood, nor iron, nor brick, nor glass to make this project a reality. We owe them our deepest gratitude. We would also like to thank the Kansas University Endowment Association for their unflagging support of this project and to all the other members of the University community who have helped us in ways large and small.