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Which instrument to play Bach?

Existing and forthcoming Hauptwerk instruments, recommendations, ...

Re: Which instrument to play Bach?

Postby RoyKnight » Tue Apr 20, 2010 9:32 am


- 8 GB of RAM - precisely 6.5 GB of RAM for the Zwolle Wet, loaded in 16-bits, memory compression, full multiple releases, all loops.

This is the installation I use. I have had no problems at all with the Zwolle, and I use some really full combinations. Interesting to me is the inclusion of registrations on the demo site for the Zwolle. I play the Buxtehude f# minor, and I actually use the indicated registrations used on the demo. It gives a good impetus for learning to register the instrument - for example how to build a Plenum. I agree with you, although I appreciate the historical, the sound is more important to me than the heritage. Last night, prompted by this post, I tried the Buxtehude on the some of the other "baroque" sample sets I have, which includes the beautifully articulate Anloo, and I am still most satisfied with the Zwolle. You have an exciting decision to make, don't you?

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Re: Which instrument to play Bach?

Postby ajt » Tue Apr 20, 2010 9:39 am

pat17 wrote:
ajt wrote:I like the Pipeloops Silbermann - 2m, not a massive instrument, but some real beauty.

Thanks ajt! 8)

Can you please elaborate on the reasons that make you recommend this instrument? Do you think it is adapted to all Bach's organ music (considering I shall probably never be good enough to go to the major works like the toccatas...)? :wink:


The test for me is whether I can register a trio successfully on an organ. I make no claims as to knowing what's an "authentic" Bach sound, but with registering a trio I aim to be able to get 3 different registrations (i.e. each manual + pedal) with equal balance and differing enough tonality to be able to pick out each part.

With the aforementioned sample set, I can pick out 3 or even 4 trio registrations, possibly more. Not much variety in the pedal registrations, but plenty in the manuals.

I can't think of any Bach that requires 3 manuals; most of his works implement colour changes either through changes of texture or a quick manual change for echo, that kind of thing, but no rapid registration changes needed (many would argue no changes at all; you have to play an organ from roughly Bach's time to realise just how unwieldy the mechanics are). So, the Pipeloops Silbermann works well on that front.

Registering things like the Dorian, Wedge, St. Anne, etc, are all easily accomplished on it.
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Re: Which instrument to play Bach?

Postby irhkooiker » Tue Apr 20, 2010 12:44 pm

Re: Zwolle Flentrop or Schnitger organ?

As organ consultant and expert of the Sint Michaelis church Zwolle I think I can explain the situation.
In 1955 Flentrop made an amazing reconstruction into what we at that moment thought was a Schnitger organ.
This reconstruction was necessary because the organ was totally in disorder thanks to especially van Oeckelen who did try to make it a romantic instrument in 1883, Proper in 1910 and van Dam in 1925.
We now think Flentrop made a nice but rather neo-barok organ with existing pipes and quite some new pipes, partially made of van Oeckelen stuf.
The Schnitger sound has to be regarded as lost, only the brustwerk hints in its sounds to that great master.
Due to great problems with the organ, we did restore and repair up till now all mechanics and left these as Flentrop made them in 1955.
Next will be incorporation of all 12 old and bellows to the organ. In fact this is the biggest original bellows system in the world and a great temptation to be used again!
Thanks to Jiri we were able to make in his sample set the wind characteristics as we expect them to behave after connection and repair of all these bellows. In the set one can use 2 to 12 bellows and play around with these at will –great!
Next problem is how to stop the corrosion of the front pipes of Schnitger and van Oeckelen. If you listen carefully it is obvious that something is wrong with the sound of quite some lower pipes of the front.
The sound and stability of the reeds is actually awefull:
It is impossible to use the posaun 16 together with the mixtuur of the pedal organ, the trompet 8 of the pedal can be used as solo or play together with the posaun, but has to be tuned for either of these possibilities etc.
The fagot 32 is the most ugly reed: no foundation tone and a lot of noise.
Thanks to Martin’s Hauptwerk we can fortunately (re)voice this as we like it and also try to get an idea if and how we could change this stop.
So: the Zwolle organ is an organ that is best used in Hauptwerk (always in tune and with various tuning systems, voiced more neatly) and is a result of reconstructing a barok stoplist in 1955, using old, romantic and a lot of 20th century pipes and in fact sounds as a great Flentrop from that date.

It is however not right to state that the organ in its sound has been drastically changed since Power Biggs records, as Jim Reid suggested, and due to the Dutch monuments law the present situation is already monumental . The present idea is that things and sounds older that 50 years are monumental, and subject to that law. So changing to a sort of Schnitger reconstruction is not a possibility.

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Re: Which instrument to play Bach?

Postby polikimre » Tue Apr 20, 2010 1:15 pm


I also very much like Ton Koopman's Bach renderings, but I understand he is quite a controversial figure.
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Re: Which instrument to play Bach?

Postby jocr » Tue Apr 20, 2010 1:16 pm

I'm somewhat partial to OAM's Bosch Schnitger,
but enjoy Bach on a wide variety of instruments.

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Re: Which instrument to play Bach?

Postby Jim Reid » Tue Apr 20, 2010 1:25 pm

Hendrik has certainly demonstrated the non-reliability of my recollections about
the Zwolle instrument! Oh well....... . . . .
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Re: Which instrument to play Bach?

Postby Grant_Youngman » Tue Apr 20, 2010 1:49 pm

ajt wrote: I make no claims as to knowing what's an "authentic" Bach sound,

Do you mean you haven't heard Bach's original homemade recordings? :-)
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Re: Which instrument to play Bach?

Postby Franz64 » Tue Apr 20, 2010 2:02 pm

pat17 wrote:I'm not sure Bach has ever travelled to the Netherlands, and if he did, the Anloo was completed only 30 years on so before he passed away. But still, I love the sound of the Anloo organ to play Bach.

Bach did not travel to the Netherlands, but made a long visit to Hamburg, where he played several (Arp) Schnitger organs.
And liked them so much that he also applied for an organist job at St.Jacobi, if I remember correctly!
Therefore, the north-german and dutch instruments made by Schnitger, or his followers, can also be considered as highly regarded by Bach himself, no less than organs by Silbermann or Trost.

Regarding comments on the unsuitability of a rather dry sound (such as in the Trost by OAM) to play Bach, I mildly disagree: it is true that a generous acoustics makes the organ sound more majestic, but risks to be a nuisance in the rendition of the complex counterpoint of Bach works. It might not be a coincidence that many/most churches where Bach was (or might have been) organist have the same rather dry acoustics as the Waltershausen Stadtkirche: this type of acoustics really favors contrapuntal clarity, clearly aimed at by Bach.
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Re: Which instrument to play Bach?

Postby deWaverley » Tue Apr 20, 2010 7:07 pm

Another strong vote here for Vollenhove ("OAM's Bosch Schnitger"). I play it every day, and the quality of sampling is just leagues ahead of anything else out there...and as Iain said, the acoustic is close to perfection.


(I haven't, sadly, got the Trost, but it sounds like that is a little masterpiece as well).

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Re: Which instrument to play Bach?

Postby gecko » Tue Apr 20, 2010 7:42 pm

Bravo to Franz64 for his comments on acoustics. The most valuable thing about a wet acoustic, for me at least, is that it saves practice time, but it really doesn't do the music any good. Sort of like playing piano with the pedal down all the time.

I vote strongly for the Trost because that was the sound that Bach expected that his music would be played on. Remember that he didn't write his organ music for himself (with a very few exceptions) but for circulation among his pupils and hangers-on, and the pieces did in fact circulate almost entirely in central Germany (and Berlin) in his lifetime. We all grew up hearing Bach played on the splendid northern German and Dutch instruments, and we have the sound of them in our ears, but Bach didn't. In fact, one of the virtues of the Trost for me is precisely that it's a new sound to us, even though it would have been a very familiar sound to Bach.

It's true that Bach spent some months in Hamburg and later applied for a job there (but declined when he found out that he was expected to pay a rather hefty fee for the honor of being granted the post). But we don't have any music by him from these sojourns. (Not surprising, since he would have improvised.)

Oh, one last comment on acoustics: The Hamburg-style harpsichords were extremely resonant (long scale, iron strings, heavy case); the Saxon-style harpsichords were much drier (short scale, brass strings, light case), and, I think (harpsichord was my major instrument in college) much more flexible: you can play the music on them rather than playing the instrument, if that makes any sense. It's interesting that there may have been similar difference among the organ styles.
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Re: Which instrument to play Bach?

Postby kwbmusic » Wed Apr 21, 2010 1:09 am

Allied to this topic (but not Hauptwerk) I rediscovered an old organ collection on vinyl, "Complete Organ Music of J S Bach", played by Walter Kraft on "notable organs of Bach's time". The print date was 1967 so have no idea if any of these organs still exist. However for anyone interested I list the organs included in this series.
Silbermann Organ in Arlesheim Viktor Bossart Organ in Einsiedeln
Silbermann Organ in Ebermuenster Silbermann Organ in Marmoutier
Antonius Wilde Organ in Wohrden Christianus Muller Organ in Haarlem
"Totentanz" Organ, St Marienkirke, Luebeck Johan Niclas Cahman Organ in Leufsta Bruks Kirke
Frobenius Organ in Krist Kirke, Toender Denmark Jacob Scherer Organ in St Nicolai Kirke, Moelln
Arp Schnitger Organ in St Ludgeri Kirke, Norden Arp Schnitger Organ in St Pankratius Kirke, Neuenfelde
Nyhoff/Johansen Organ in St Johannis Kirke, Lueneburg Erasmus Bielfeld Organ in Stade
Karl Joseph Riepp Organs in Ottobeuren (2 organs) Joseph Gabler Organ in Weingarten
Hillebrand Organ in Bremervoerde Vincent Luebeck Organ in Stade
Stumm Brothers Organ in Amorbach

Please note that I have added an "e" to the spelling where English cannot handle some German or Danish letters.

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Re: Which instrument to play Bach?

Postby stevebryson » Wed Apr 21, 2010 1:31 am

Speaking of Dutch organs, I'd like to put in a plug for the Hinsz Bovenkirk for Bach, even though I'm not sure it fits into an 8GB Mac Mini. Vol I would fit, but I think it is a bit small and doesn't have much of a tonal palette (very few reeds). Vol II is plenty to get really great Bach registrations. The thing is, to fit Vol II you'd have to choose 16 bit. I'm not sure how much that would compromise the sound. For those with more memory, I have spent many hours in bliss playing Bach on the Hinsz. Brett's BWV 565 in the Hinsz demos is a great example, and he did that with just Vol I!
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Re: Which instrument to play Bach?

Postby imcg110 » Wed Apr 21, 2010 4:48 am

Much as I love playing the Bovenkerk organ - I would not choose to use it to learn Bach. It is great for well practised music you are taking into the public domain - to get used to playing in a big acoustic, or just for the thrill of doing it at home. The Hinsz, as presented, will not do your technique a lot of favours as a practise organ. It is much harder work too to register and control those little rapid sequences effectively.
Vollenhove, although not historically a "Bach" organ, I find the ideal balance between articulation (more gentle than some northern organs) and acoustic (just about perfect). I can get it registered in seconds and play it for hours without ever feeling I am fighting the mechanics or acoustic.
Trost will open your eyes to the hidden beauty of the more contrapuntal music and will make you think harder about how you present the contapuntal themes in a more orchestral manner. You just hear the lines so much better on Trost than any other organ. You will however need to relearn all you thought was Gospel in registration terms!!

I suppose it all depends what you are looking for - If you have a secure repertoire of Bach under the fingers, one of the big acoustic organs will be great fun to play and impress your friends. If you want to learn more Bach, go for Vollenhove - it is very user friendly. If you want to explore the more subtle aspects of the music or give new life to what you thought were familiar pieces, go for the luxury of Trost
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Re: Which instrument to play Bach?

Postby Jon Hammond » Wed Apr 21, 2010 7:39 am

Thanks to Mr. Kooiker for taking his time suppling valuable information to clarify the real situation with the Zwolle organ. I believed that since more than fourty of the 1719 stops are still present in the 2008 organ, more of the actual Schnitger pipes would still be present. Especialy the schalmey in the positivf as one of the few reed stop installed in 1719. Also, his statement seems to define and limit the planned extent of repairs. I also wonder if the model for the final organ is indeed completely resident in the modified settings of Mr. Kooikers' hauptwerk ODF?

Whatever the precentage of Schnitger to Flentrop in the reconstructed organ, it remains a magnificent instrument for my preferences under hauptwerk.
Perhaps if Buxtehudes' daughter had been half her age and pretty or if a bribe had not been part of the St Jacobi deal, Bach would have had a much different a career with a Schnitger organ. He praised the St Catherine Schnitger organ in Hamburg for its reeds - none better. However, the organ best reflecting the 50 year old Bach could be the Hildebrant at St. Wenzels. All the same, more Bach production resulted from his non organ works in Leipzig elevating his historical musical status.
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Re: Which instrument to play Bach?

Postby RoyKnight » Wed Apr 21, 2010 9:00 am

Speaking of Dutch organs, I'd like to put in a plug for the Hinsz Bovenkirk for Bach, even though I'm not sure it fits into an 8GB Mac Mini.

Actually it does. I used the default install (16 bit, multiple loops, compressed 6.5 GB) The only thing I notice is that on rapid passages with a large combination, some of the reverb starts to cut off. It and the Caen C.C.seem to be the organs I most frequent have loaded.

I, too, love the Hinz; it has one of the most beautiful acoustic spaces to play in. I do not use it for learning a new piece, but oh, what a performance after a piece is learned! This is why I did not list it as a "Bach learning" set, even though Bach works wonderfully on it.

I have found the 8GB Mac Mini to be surprisingly powerful, with native dual monitor capability.

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