The Seventeenth Century
The seventeenth century was a time of great importance in the history of the
organ. Changes in political structures and religious institutions caused major
upheavals not only for the people of the day, but also for their trades, including
organ-building. Some of the changes that occurred - - the importation of continental
features to England after the commonwealth, for example - - were dramatic and
long-lasting in their effect. Others, such as developments in organ-building
in Italy, continued a slow, inevitable line of development already in progress.
These particular events are described on the appropriate pages of this
tutorial, of course, but it's important for you to realize that they
did not take place in isolation. Every change that we see in the way
instruments were conceived and built was made because something else
happened -- something outside the limited field of organ-building. The
instrument always reflects the life and times of its creator. As you
read the pages that follow, remember that the organs you are reading
about came into being against a backdrop of very real political and
economic forces that shaped not only the instruments, but also the lives
of the people that built them.
- In France, Louis XIV began a long reign that ultimately defined
the term "absolute monarchy." His power and influence lead
not only to the construction of Versailles -- a marvel even today
-- but also to the imposition of his tastes on the entire population.
The great conformity we can see in the French Classical organ is one
surviving indication of his influence on French culture.
- In contrast to the situation in France, England spent the century
in almost almost constant political turmoil, the monarchy itself being
deposed in 1642 and not restored again until 1660. The religious division
that was at the center of the struggle sent some citizens abroad --
eventually to form the basis of a new country in the Western hemisphere.
During the period of the puritanical Commonwealth, organs were destroyed,
and it took some time for the instrument to recover in England. When
the organ did return to English churches, it soon included characteristics
of other national types.
- In Germany, the first half of the seventeenth century was taken
up by the disruption of the Thirty Years War, including the turmoil
leading up to open hostilities and even some fighting after the truce
of 1648. The old Hanseatic League dissolved, but the "Hansa Cities"
of Bremen, Hamburg and Lübeck flourished, and wealthy merchants
and groups of merchants began to make their mark in new ways as the
trade they controlled became more and more important. Particularly
in northern Germany, a unique type of organ evolved that was a powerful
reflection of the strength of the nouveau riche merchants who
often paid for the instruments.
- Italy continued much as it had before. Still a collection of small
city states, its central focus remained Rome and the Pope rather than
a secular government. As a result, Italian organs of the seventeenth
century show a very strong resemblance to those of the sixteenth century.
With little impetus toward change, only instruments in the north picked
up characteristics from other national types.
© 1999 James H. Cook