Div. School unveils new Baroque organ

Yale has a new organ that sounds about three centuries old.

After nearly a decade of planning and 26,000 man-hours, the Institute of Sacred Music unveiled its new Baroque organ in the Divinity School’s Marquand Chapel this weekend. The instrument, which would have been very familiar to the likes of Buxtehude and Bach, is the antithesis of Yale’s most notable organ, the Newberry Memorial Organ in Woolsey Hall. Some of the University’s organists said the new instrument will bring a unique voice to Yale’s collection.

Installation of the organ and its 2,191 pipes in the chapel took place over the summer, completing years of renovations to the Sterling Divinity Quadrangle. A concert series that began on Friday will inaugurate the new instrument, which was crafted by internationally-recognized organbuilder Taylor & Boody.

Modeled after a northern European organ in the village of Ludingworth, Germany, the organ has a distinctly different timbre from the University’s other organs. While the Woolsey organ, the crown jewel in legendary orchestral organ builder Ernest Skinner’s collection, is meant to emulate an orchestra, the new Baroque organ operates as a “miniature Renaissance band,”

ISM Director Martin Jean said. Jean said he is “ecstatic” about the new organ because it will enable musicians to play older repertoire more authentically.

“We can now hear how the music might have sounded when the composer wrote it himself,” Jean said.

Organist Harald Vogel, the director of the North German Organ Academy, put the unique features of the organ on display in the first of a yearlong series of concerts and lectures celebrating the instrument. The concerts, held last Friday and Saturday, included Baroque music as well as lectures about the organ by Vogel.

Unlike the University’s organs in Woolsey Hall and Battell and Dwight chapels, the Baroque organ was built to blend well with the human voice. Jean said this aspect of the organ’s sound was critical for him and his collaborators when deciding to build the organ. Vogel exhibited this quality by explaining the tuning of the instrument.

“The vocal quality of this antique organ [allowed for] something human in the organ’s sound,” Vogel said.

“The dream” for the organ’s installation began about eight years ago, said ISM public relations manager Melissa Maier, who said the organ has already garnered international attention.

In 1999, Martin Jean discovered a Schnitger organ in Ludingworth, Germany, while he was on sabbatical. An organ of similar design would fit well in Marquand Chapel, and the layout of The chapel in Ludingworth is appropriately similar to Marquand Chapel’s, Jean said in an essay published this month.

For many listeners, the sound of the Baroque organ may have been something of a surprise. Vogel described it as a “synthetic sound typical of the Baroque period,” and Taylor & Boody organbuilders note in an essay published this month that “there was not an unreasonable fear that the organ would sound too ‘weird’ for many listeners.”

Andrew Pester DIV ’08 described the organ as “an acquired taste.”

“To many people, it may at first sound expressionless and very cold,” Pester said.

The difference in the tuning of the instrument may be jarring at first to listeners of Western music because the pipes are constructed in such a way that the pitches are at slightly different frequencies than modern tuning would dictate, Pester said. But he said it is precisely these differences that contribute to a general sense of excitement at ISM this year.

The new organ features an increased number of notes in an octave — while a normal octave has 13 notes, the Marquand organ can produce 14 or 15 different tones in an octave.

At first, the organ “may not be everybody’s cup of tea,” but listeners will soon appreciate the sound, Pester said.

“It is not the organ that is out of tune — your world is out of tune,” he said.

Pester said he hopes the organ’s unique qualities will draw interested students to ISM.

“The new organ demonstrates that Yale has both good facilities and good teachers, which is very rare,” Pester said.

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