Oakeley, Sir Herbert (Stanley)

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Organ chorale.

An organ composition based on a traditional German Protestant chorale melody. See Chorale settings.


A portable self-playing Reed organ. It enjoyed an enormous popularity between 1880 and the early 1900s. The first automatic keyboardless instrument of this type was the Cartonium made in 1861 by J.A. Testé of Nantes. A series of sprung metal fingers were held down by a strip of perforated cardboard which was drawn across these fingers by friction rollers. Where a hole appeared in the card, the relevant lever would rise, so opening a pallet to a reed and allowing air to be sucked in to an exhaust bellows worked by a hand crank. Further developments took place simultaneously in Germany and in the USA. While most German organettes worked on Testé's mechanical fingers and vacuum principle, American makers generally adopted the pneumatic ‘paper-as-a-valve’ system in which a music roll of perforated paper is drawn across a row of openings in a block or tracker bar. The pneumatic system, adopted in the later pneumatic piano player and Player piano, enabled instruments to be made very cheaply. Huge numbers of instruments were made: sales of the Leipzig-made Ariston, for example, had exceeded 300,000 by 1893 while the repertory of tunes available numbered over 4000 titles and 6 million of the cardboard tune-discs had been punched out. The tonal range of the organette was never fully chromatic and usually compromised between 14 notes and 28 notes, although Vocalion's Syreno had a 46-note compass (one version of this, the Tonsyreno, was provided with a keyboard). Other makes of organette models included Ariosa, Ariston, Cabinet Organ, Celestina, Gem Roller Organ, Herophon, Intona, Kalliston, Organina, Phoenix and Seraphine. Alternative forms of musical programme to the perforated paper roll or cardboard or metal strip included punched metal or cardboard discs, punched music in ring (annulus) form, endless card or paper bands, and small pinned wooden barrels of the barrel organ type. One instrument played ‘square discs’ by rotating the entire player mechanism beneath the perforated tune-sheet. For a discussion of larger self-playing organs (other than the Barrel organ type), see Player organ.


R.A. Moss: ‘The Organette’, Music Box, i/4 (1962–3), 22–30

A.W.J.G. Ord-Hume: ‘Organettes … a List of Makers and Models’, Music & Automata, no.13 (1989), 260–75


Organetto (i)


See Portative.

Organetto (ii).

A term occasionally applied to a street organ or a street piano. See Barrel organ and Barrel piano.

Organetto (iii).

Small diatonic accordion of Italy. See Italy, §II, 6.

Organetto a manovella


See Barrel organ.

Organ hymn.

A liturgical form in which the organ replaced the odd-numbered or even-numbered stanzas of a plainsong hymn, alternating with the choir. It is convenient to consider other alternatim forms used in the Office at the same time, in particular the Te Deum, Magnificat and Salve regina. Antiphons to psalms and canticles were also set, especially in England, but they are complete in themselves and not in the strict sense alternatim.

The earliest extant music in these forms dates from the early 15th century, but there are earlier references to alternatim singing, especially of the Te Deum. A passage in Dante's Purgatorio (ix.142–5) appears to refer to this. At Essen in the 14th century a triple scheme of alternation was devised for the singing of the Te Deum after the performances of the Easter sepulchre play at Matins: the organ began, the canonesses in whose convent the performance took place sang the second verse, the clerks (men in orders) sang the third, and so on to the end. At St Albans in 1396 the Te Deum was sung ‘alternantibus organis’ at the reception of an abbot.

The earliest source of liturgical organ music, the Faenza manuscript (I-FZc 117), contains in addition to organ music for the Mass a single verse of the hymn Ave maris stella, what may be conjectured to be three verses for a Magnificat, and the response Deo gratias to a melody for the Benedicamus domino for the Office; all are untitled in the manuscript. The provision of only a single hymn verse and of fewer than the required number of verses for the Magnificat (which needs six) seems strange but is characteristic of continental sources up to the mid-16th century. It is possible that single hymn verses were intended merely as preludes, but it is more likely that they were written down as samples of what could be readily improvised to provide a complete alternatim structure. Magnificat fragments are found in early 15th-century German sources, among them Paumann's Fundamentum organisandi (1452), which also contains the verse ‘O clemens’ of the Salve regina. The Buxheimer Orgelbuch (c1470) has four Magnificat fragments, two complete settings (with five organ verses) of the Salve regina and two hymn verses: Veni Creator Spiritus and Pange lingua, the latter merely an arrangement of a vocal piece by Touront.

Early 16th-century German tablatures favoured the Salve regina. The Basle manuscript of Hans Buchner's Fundamentum (dated 1551) contains only three hymn verses, two verses for the Te Deum and two responds for the Office. There are a few hymn verses in the Lublin tablature (CEKM, vi/2, 1964–7). The hymn is better represented in Italy. Apart from a hymn verse and a Magnificat verse in an early 16th-century manuscript of keyboard dances (I-Vnm ital.iv.1227; ed. K. Jeppesen, Balli antichi veneziani per cembalo, Copenhagen, 1962), the two organ publications of Girolamo Cavazzoni (1543 and before 1549) contain between them 12 single hymn verses and four five-verse settings of the Magnificat (they lack the verse ‘Et misericordia’). The sixth of the seven books of keyboard music published by Attaingnant in Paris in 1531 contains eight settings of the Magnificat with from two to five verses, and alternatim verses for the first and third sections of the Te Deum. In Spain the Libro de cifra nueva edited by Luis Venegas de Henestrosa (1557) included, apart from some isolated single hymn verses, sets of verses for Pange lingua and Ave maris stella by Cabezón. Further settings of these two hymns (with yet more isolated verses) occur in Cabezón’s posthumous Obras (1578); only two single verses are identical with any from the 1557 edition, and the general impression is of an unwieldy mass of material from which selections for alternatim performance might be made.

For a full appreciation of the alternatim possibilities of the organ hymn one must turn to the English organists. Even in this repertory (published in EECM, vi, 1966–9) there are a number of isolated hymn verses, and series of verses which are too many or too few for alternatim performance of the hymn to which they belong. But there are enough regular sets to show that English composers of the first half of the 16th century regarded the complete hymn as a single entity. Except in settings of the nine-verse hymn Aeterne rerum conditor, which is regularly given four organ verses, the organ is normally allotted the odd-numbered verses. Occasionally the first line of the first verse is left to be intoned by a cantor, as in English settings of the Te Deum, Magnificat and certain Mass chants. The two most important collections of hymns are found in different sections of the same manuscript: GB-Lbl Add.29996. Those of the former are mostly by John Redford (d 1547); those of the latter, though anonymous, may be by Thomas Preston. All English organ hymns are based on a cantus firmus, which may be either the appropriate plainsong (sometimes heavily adorned) or the faburden of the chant, which also may be highly ornamented. Since the faburden need not strictly follow the melodic contour of the chant, the degree of sophistication in the treatment of the cantus firmus was sometimes very considerable.

Alternation between choir and organ was not banned by the Council of Trent, and organ hymns and settings of the Magnificat were published in the early 17th century by Frescobaldi and, most memorably, by Titelouze (hymns in 1623, see Sources of keyboard music to 1660, fig.3, Magnificat settings in 1626), whose works are lengthy essays in an imaginative brand of traditional counterpoint. There are also numerous examples in Italian and Spanish manuscripts of the 17th century; in Spain a local triple-time tune for Pange lingua was especially favoured. In France, the hymn was among the items in which organ alternation was permitted (Higginbottom). But the organ hymn did not develop much beyond this point, perhaps because even where alternation was still permitted it was more convenient to improvise than to write down so many versions of a single tune. In the Protestant countries the organ hymn gave way to the organ chorale. There was a considerable amount of continuity, not only because earlier German composers had made settings of German religious songs (for example the settings of Maria zart by Schlick and of Christ ist erstanden by Buchner and in the Buxheimer Orgelbuch) but also because some Latin hymns remained in the Lutheran liturgy. The principle of alternation was lost; but the musical substance of the genre remained in the form of the set of chorale variations.

See also Sources of keyboard music to 1660, §2.




H.M. Miller: ‘Sixteenth-Century English Faburden Compositions for Keyboard’, MQ, xxvi (1940), 50–64

E.E. Lowinsky: ‘English Organ Music of the Renaissance’, MQ, xxxix (1953), 373–95, 528–53

J. Caldwell: English Keyboard Music before the Nineteenth Century (Oxford, 1973)

E. Higginbottom: ‘French Classical Organ Music and the Liturgy’, PRMA, ciii (1976–7), 19–40

B. Nelson: The Integration of Spanish and Portuguese Organ Music within the Liturgy from the Latter Half of the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century (diss., U. of Oxford, 1986)


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