The Organs of J. S. Bach: A Handbook

The Organs of J. S. Bach: A Handbook

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by Lynn Edwards Butler, Christoph Wolff

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The Organs of J. S. Bach is a comprehensive and fascinating guide to the organs encountered by Bach throughout Germany in his roles as organist, concert artist, examiner, teacher, and visitor. Newly revised and updated, the book's entries are listed alphabetically by geographical location, from Arnstadt to Zschortau, providing an easy-to-reference overview.


The Organs of J. S. Bach is a comprehensive and fascinating guide to the organs encountered by Bach throughout Germany in his roles as organist, concert artist, examiner, teacher, and visitor. Newly revised and updated, the book's entries are listed alphabetically by geographical location, from Arnstadt to Zschortau, providing an easy-to-reference overview.   Includes detailed organ-specific information: high-quality color photographs each instrument's history, its connection to Bach, and its disposition as Bach would have known it architectural histories of the churches housing the instruments identification of church organists   Lynn Edwards Butler's graceful translation of Christoph Wolff and Markus Zepf's volume incorporates new research and many corrections and updates to the original German edition. Bibliographical references are updated to include English-language sources, and the translation includes an expanded essay by Christoph Wolff on Bach as organist, organ composer, and organ expert.   The volume includes maps, a timeline of organ-related events, transcriptions of Bach's organ reports, a guide to examining organs attributed to Saxony's most famous organ builder Gottfried Silbermann, and biographical information on organ builders.   Publication of this volume is supported by the American Bach Society.

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The organs of J. S. Bach



Copyright © 2012 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
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ISBN: 978-0-252-09391-3

Chapter One


Organs with a Proven Connection to Bach


There is evidence that Johann Sebastian Bach visited Altenburg at the beginning of September 1739, probably for an informal examination of the just-completed court organ, as well as to play the organ during a church service. According to the court record of September 7, 1739, "the well-known kapellmeister Bach, of Leipzig, was heard at the organ, and, in passing, judged that the organ's construction was very durable, and that the organ builder had succeeded in giving to each stop its particular nature and proper sweetness" (BDOK II, no. 453). Bach's participation in what was a successful examination and acceptance of the organ on October 26, 1739, in the presence of Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, kapellmeister in Gotha, while apparently planned, never materialized.

Regarding Bach's organ playing during the church service (probably on September 6, 1739, the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity), an anonymous "ear-witness" later reported: "Few are in a position to guide a congregation as old Bach could do, who one time on the large organ in Altenburg played the creedal hymn ["Wir glauben all an einen Gott" (We all believe in one God)] in D minor, but raised the congregation to E ? minor for the second verse, and on the third verse even went to E minor. But only a Bach could do this and only the organ in Altenburg. Not all of us are or have that" (BDOK V, no. C1005a).

Organists of the court church included Gottfried Ernst Pestel (1681–1732) and Christian Lorenz (1732–48). Bach's student Johann Ludwig Krebs took over the position in 1756 and held it until his death in 1780.

Court Church (St. George's)/Schlosskirche St. Georg

Gothic hall church, completed 1473. Baroque furnishing of the interior in 1645–49 according to designs by Christoph Richter; the two fifteenth-century stone balconies were retained.

Organ: Newly built 1733–39 by Tobias Heinrich Gottfried Trost on recommendation of Duke Friedrich II of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. With assistance from the court sculptor Johann Jeremias Martini, the instrument was placed on the north balcony of the choir. Numerous alterations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Eule Orgelbau restored the organ in 1976 to its 1739 condition.

Disposition 1739/1976 (II/37)

Hauptwerk (I)

Groß-Quintadena 16' (T)
Flaute traverse 16' (T)
Principal 8'
Bordun 8' (T)
Spitzflöte 8'
Viol di Gamba 8'
Rohrflöte 8'
Octava 4' (T)
Kleingedackt 4'
Quinte 3'
Superoctava 2'
Blockflöte 2'
Sesquialtera II
Mixtur VI–IX (T)
Trompete 8'
Glockenspiel c1–c3

Oberwerk (II)

Geigenprincipal 8'
Lieblich Gedackt 8'
Vugara 8'
Quintadena 8'
Hohlflöte 8'
Gemshorn 4'
Flauto dolce II 4'
Nasat 3'
Octave 2'
Waldflöte 2'
Superoctava 1'
Cornet V (from g°)
Mixtur IV–V
Vox humana 8'


Principalbaß 16'
Groß-Quintadena 16' (T)
Flaute traverse 16' (T)
Violonbaß 16'
Subbaß 16'
Octavenbaß 8'
Bordun 8' (T)
Octava 4' (T)
Mixtur VI–IX (T)
Posaune 32'
Posaune 16'
Trompete 8'

Particulars: Hw Trompette 8' reconstructed from four surviving Trost pipes.

Accessories: Hw tremulant; Ow tremulant; bellows signal.

Couplers: Manual shove coupler; wind coupler (Hw/Ped).

Compass: C–c3 (manuals); C–c1 (pedal).

Wind pressure (1739): manuals 30°, pedal 29°.

Wind pressure (1998): manuals 70 mm WC, pedal 68 mm WC.

Wind supply (1739/1998): four bellows to the manuals; two larger bellows for the pedal.

Pitch (1998): Chorton (468 Hz at 18.2° C).

Temperament (1998): Neidhardt I.

Literature: (a) Dähnert 1983, 19–25; Friedrich 1989; Friedrich 1998; Dehio 2003, 15–17. (b) BDOK II, nos. 453 and 460; BDOK V, no. C1005a; Schulze 1981, 32–42; Wolff 2000, 143, 145, 532; Wolff 2005a, xix.


During either his Mühlhausen or Weimar period, Johann Sebastian Bach likely tested the Wender organ in Ammern, three miles north of Mühlhausen.

Church of St. Vitus/Kirche St. Vitus

Choir-tower church in the cemetery, presumably built around 1270. Hall church with wooden barrel-vaulted ceiling and two tiers of galleries on three sides; completely renovated at end of eighteenth century.

Organ: 1706–8, new organ (I/13) by Johann Friedrich Wender; disposition altered during construction (Octav Baß 8' replaced Fagottbaß 8'); exact disposition unknown. 1712, rebuild by Wender. 1859, new organ (II/15) by Johann Friedrich Große. Nothing from Bach's time survives.

Archival Source: Stadtarchiv Mühlhausen, Chronik. Fragment 1533–1802, Sign. 61/18, fol. 91v.

Literature: (a) Hunstock 1997, 85; Haupt 1998, 104; Dehio 2003, 33. (b) Kröhner 1995, 83–91.


Johann Sebastian Bach was organist of the New Church from August 1703 until June 1707. Sometime prior to July 13, 1703, Bach, who had just turned eighteen, visited from Weimar at the order of the consistory of the count of Arnstadt in order to inspect and "play the new organ in the new church." Manifestly impressed with his abilities, the consistory straightaway offered Bach the position of organist at the New Church; the appointment was made on August 9, 1703. Bach remained there for only four years, after which he moved to St. Blasius's Church in Mühlhausen. It can be assumed that he was also familiar with the organs in the other Arnstadt churches and that from time to time he played them. His successor at the New Church was his cousin Johann Ernst Bach, who had substituted for him in 1705–6 during his trip to visit Dieterich Buxtehude in Lübeck. After Johann Ernst Bach, Johann Wilhelm Völcker was organist from 1728 to 1737.

Along with Erfurt, Arnstadt was a primary workplace of the Bach family of musicians during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The brothers Heinrich and Christoph Bach worked in Arnstadt as organists and musicians to the court and city from 1641 and 1654, respectively. Heinrich Bach was city and court organist for decades, and his sons Johann Christoph and Johann Michael began their musical careers by assisting their father as organists at the Arnstadt court chapel of Count Schwarzburg in 1663–65 and 1665–73, respectively. Johann Christoph Bach, the older brother of Johann Sebastian, substituted for the ailing Heinrich Bach in Arnstadt in 1688–89. In 1692, Christoph Herthum, Heinrich Bach's son-in-law and Johann Christoph Bach's godfather, took over as city organist, serving both the Upper Church and the court chapel; he held the position until his death in 1710. He was succeeded by his son-in-law, Andreas Börner, who in 1703 (on the same day as Johann Sebastian Bach) was appointed organist of Our Lady's Church; earlier, while the Wender organ was under construction, Börner had played for the church services in the New Church. After the death of his father-in-law, Börner also took over the duties at the Lower Church.

New Church/Neue Kirche (since 1935, Johann Sebastian Bach Church)

Baroque hall church with barrel vault and two to three tiers of galleries, newly built in 1676–83, replacing St. Boniface's Church, which had been destroyed by a major city fire in 1581; remains of the oldest parish church in Arnstadt are integrated into the choir. Centrally located building with the largest seating capacity of the city's three churches.

Organ: 1699–1703, organ newly built in the students' balcony (third gallery) by Johann Friedrich Wender, financed in part by a bequest from the Arnstadt businessman Johann Wilhelm Magen; inspection report does not survive. 1709, painting of the organ case; 1710 and 1713, repairs and improvements by Wender. Rebuilds and enlargements in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 1913, new organ (III/55) by Steinmeyer Orgelbau using some stops and the case from Wender's organ. 1938, organ moved to the first gallery by Wiegand Helfenbein. 1997–99, restoration by Hoffmann Orgelbau and erection of the Steinmeyer organ in the first gallery; also, reconstruction and placement of the Wender organ in the third gallery. Wender pipework was reused and his playing action and key desk reconstructed. The original key desk, restored many times, has been held since 1864 as part of the Bach memorial located in a museum in the immediate vicinity of the church, the Haus "Zum Palmbaum" (House of the Palm Tree).

Disposition 1703/1999 (II/21)

Oberwerk (II)

Principal 8'
Viola di Gamba 8' (o)
Quintadehna 8' (o)
Grobgedacktes 8' (o)
Gemshorn 8' (o)
Offene Quinta 6'
Octava 4' (o)
Mixtur IV 2' (o)
Cymbel II [1'] (o)
Trompete 8'

Brustwerk/Positiv (I)

Stillgedacktes 8' (o
) Principal 4'
Spitzflöte 4'
Nachthorn 4' (o)
Quinta 3'
Sesquialtera doppelt [II]
Mixtur III [1'] (o)


Sub Baß 16'
Principal 8'
Posaunen Bass 16'
Cornet Bass 2'

Particulars: o = register with at least 50 percent historical material. For Hw Principal 8' and Quinta 6', as well as Bw Principal 4', Quinta 3', and Sesquialtera, just one Wender pipe in each register was preserved. Subbaß 16' was reconstructed after the same stop in Horsmar (Wender, 1694); Trompete 8' and Posaunen Bass 16' are modeled on Lahm/ Itzgrund (Herbst, 1728); Cornet Bass 2' is modeled on Abbenrode (Contius, 1708).

Accessories: Ow tremulant; Ow cymbelstern.

Couplers: Bw/Ow, Ow/Ped.

Compass: CD–c3 (manuals); CD–c1d1 (pedal).

Wind supply (1999): four wedge bellows (manual pumping mechanism and electric motor).

Wind pressure (1999): 72 mm WC for all divisions.

Pitch (1999): Chorton (465 Hz at 18° C), determined from surviving pipework.

Temperament (1999): unequal (well-tempered), determined from the original Gemshorn 8'.

Archival Source: Thüringisches Staatsarchiv Rudolstadt, Konsistorium Arnstadt, Nr. 1336, fols. 73 and 79–80.

Literature: (a) Wenke 1985, 82–85; Hoffmann 1999, 478–83; Preller 2002, 138–46. (b) NBR, no. 15, BDOK II, nos. 7–8; Wolff 2000, 77–101; Wollny 2005, 83–94.

Upper Church/Oberkirche (also Church of the Barefoot Friars/Barfüßkirche)

Single-nave hall church with barrel vault, built 1250. Formerly a Franciscan cloister church, it became the city's principal church and home of the superintendent after the city fire of 1581. Side galleries and church pews added during the sixteenth century and in 1715–16 are partially preserved.

Organ: 1611, new organ by Ezechiel Greutzscher. On July 16, in the presence of territorial lords, the organ was "examined and found to be competently built (tüchtig) by five organists and an organ builder" (Archiv Arnstadt, 394-02-1). 1666, repairs by Ludwig Compenius; 1678, rebuild by Christoph Junge. 1708, organ enlarged by Georg Christoph Stertzing with input from the city organist, Christoph Herthum. Later enlargements and rebuilds. 1847, new organ (III/45) by Ratzmann Bros.; the organ in the St. Michael's Church in Ohrdruf served as model. 1901, rebuild by Wilhelm Sauer (Frankfurt/Oder). Nothing from Bach's time survives.

Disposition 1708 (II/22)

Ober Werck [II]

Quintaden 16'
Principal 8'
Grob Gedackt 8'
Stillgedackt 8'
Octav 4'
Quinta 3'
Mixtur VI
Cimbal III
Rausch Pfeiffen
Krumbhorn 8'

Rück Positiff [I]

Grobgedackt 8'
Principal 4'
Hohl Flöte 4'
Quinta gedackt 3'
Sexta [13/5']
Super Octav [1']
Lieblich gedacktes regal 8'

Pedal Clavier

Subbaß 16'
Quintaden Baß 16'
Fagott Baß 16'
Cornet Baß 2'
Flöten Baß [1']

Accessories: tremulant; cymbelstern.

Couplers: "im Rück Positiff" [Rp/Ow, Rp/Ped].

Compass: CDEFGA–g2a2 (manuals); CDEFGA–c1 (pedal).

Wind supply: four bellows.

Archival Sources: Thüringisches Staatsarchiv Rudolstadt, Konsistorium Arnstadt, Die Orgel in der Oberkirche zu Arnstadt, 1610–1713, fol. 31r/v (disposition of 1708 transmitted by Christoph Herthum). Stadt- und Kreisarchiv Arnstadt, Bestand 394-05-2; 394-02-1.

Literature: (a) Adlung 1768, 197–98; Haupt 1998, 76; Dehio 2003, 52–53. (b) See New Church.

Our Lady's Church/Liebfrauenkirche (Lower Church/Unterkirche, also Morning Church/Frühkirche)

Three-aisled, late Roman–early Gothic basilica built 1180–1330; burial place of the counts of Schwarzburg. Along with Naumburg Cathedral, the most important medieval church building in Thuringia.

Organ: 1624, new organ by Ezechiel Greutzscher, inspected by Johann Krause (Sondershausen); 1704, repairs by Johann Christian Stertzing. 1979, new organ (II/27) placed on the southern crossing pier by Schuke Orgelbau (Potsdam). Nothing from Bach's time survives.

Archival Source: Stadt- und Kreisarchiv Arnstadt, Bestand Nr. 394-02-1, Organist u. Orgelb. Georg Raabe.

Literature: (a) Haupt 1998, 76; Dehio 2003, 49–51. (b) BDOK II, no. 11.

Court Chapel/Schlosskapelle

1700, dedication of the renovated court chapel in Neideck Castle, which served in 1684–1716 as the princely residence and had been modernized in 1694–95; all that remains from the Renaissance castle (built 1553–60 by Gerhardt van der Meer) is the tower. Nothing is known about the organ.

Literature: (a) Dehio 2003, 54–55.

Berka (Bad Berka)

Johann Sebastian Bach's "disposition for the organ [II/28] in Berga" has been transmitted (BDOK II, no. 515). However, the instrument actually built by Heinrich Nicolaus and Christian Wilhelm Trebs was reduced to thirteen stops by Bach's student Johann Caspar Vogler, court organist in Weimar. The larger, twenty-eight to thirty-stop organ was apparently never built. Bach may well have been acquainted with the Berka church; that he participated in the inspection of the organ on completion of the first phase is not as likely. Johann Caspar Ludwig was organist ca. 1750.

St. Mary's Church/Marienkirche

Baroque hall church with two tiers of galleries, built 1739–43 according to plans of architect Johann Adolf Richter, replacing a medieval church that had been torn down.

Organ: 1742–43, new organ (thirteen stops) by Heinrich Nicolaus and Christian Wilhelm Trebs as well as Johann Christian Immanuel Schweinefleisch; probably the disposition was drastically reduced to save costs. Extensive revisions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 1988, removal of organ. 1989, new organ (II/26) by Gerhard Böhm in modified original case.

Proposed disposition 1741–42 (II/28)

"Disposition of the organ in Berga, drawn up by Mr. Sebastian Bach of Leipzig and built by organ maker Trebs" (manuscript, ca. 1742)

Hauptwerk (I)

Quintadena 16'
Principal 8'
Flöte 8'
Gedackt 8'
Gemshorn 8'
Oktave 4'
Gedackt 4'
Quinta 22/3'
Naßat 22/3'
Oktave 2'
Seßquialter II
Mixtur V
Trompete 8'

Brustwerk (II)

Quintadena 8'
Gedackt 8'
Principal 4'
Nachthorn 4'
Quinte 22/3'
Oktave 2'
Waldflöte 2'
Tritonus [Terz 13/5']
Cimpel III


Suppaß 16'
Principal 8'
Hohlflöte 4'
Posaun Baß 16'
Trompete 8'
Cornett 4'

Couplers: Bw/Hw, Hw/Ped.

Wind supply: three bellows.

Disposition ca. 1750 (II/14)

"A nice organ with 30 registers, but not all of them have attained perfection ... the ones that work are the following":

Unter Manual
Quintadena 16'
Principal 8'
Octava 4'
Octava 2'
Mixtur IV
Cymbel III

Ober Manual

Gedackt 8'
Principal 4'
Nachthorn 4'
Oktava 2'
Sesquialter II


Sub-Baß 16'
Flöten-Baß 8'
Posaunen Baß 16'

Archival Sources: Bach-Archiv Leipzig, Go. S. 123, fol. 33 (disposition, ca. 1742); Hauptstaatsarchiv Weimar, F 171 (Gottfried Albin de Wette), fol. 159. Information from Stadtarchiv Bad Berka, 2005 (disposition, ca. 1750).

Literature: (a) Lehfeldt 1893, 98–99; Löffler 1931, 140–43; Rubardt 1961, 495–503, esp. 499; Haupt 1998, 95; Häfner 2006, 291–93. (b) BDOK II, no. 515.


St. George's Reformed Church/Ev. Kirche St. Georg; see Mühlhausen, former "Brückenhof" Church/Brückenhofkirche


There were several visits to Dresden by Thomascantor Bach in connection with concert appearances as organist: 1725 and 1731 in St. Sophia's Church, 1736 in Our Lady's Church.

On two consecutive days, September 19 and 20, 1725, "the Capell-Director from Leipzig, Mr. Bach," concertized on the Silbermann organ in St. Sophia's. "Very well received by the local virtuosos at the court and in the city ... in the presence of the same, he performed for over an hour on the new organ in St. Sophia's Church preludes and various concertos, with intervening soft instrumental music (doucen Instrumental-Music) in all keys" (NBR, no. 118, BDOK II, no. 193). According to this report, then, Bach appears to have played, among other things, organ concertos with string accompaniment (probably including the early version of BWV 1053) and demonstrated the capabilities of the organ and its temperament by playing in all keys.


Excerpted from The organs of J. S. Bach by CHRISTOPH WOLFF MARKUS ZEPF Copyright © 2012 by Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Christoph Wolff is Adams University Professor at Harvard University and director of the Bach Archive in Leipzig. Markus Zepf, a musicologist and organist, is on the staff of the Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg. Lynn Edwards Butler, who has published numerous articles on the organ, is a practicing organist with special expertise in restored baroque organs in north and central Germany.  

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The Organs of J.S. Bach: A Handbook 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Phyzygy More than 1 year ago
From retired physics teacher and organist-choirmaster. Interests include physics of music, acoustics, organ music and music synthesis. Fairly new to e-books, but tried this as the price was about half the paperback and about an eighth of the hard cover versions. I like that I can electronically search and annotate the e-book. The authors have produced a scholarly work aimed at serious students of pipe organ literature and construction. It is skillfully translated from German, a boon to me as my second language is French and can recognize only a smattering of German. I was particularly interested in Bach's own evaluation reports of instruments he played and the disposition lists (stop lists) as I have a very good digitally sample virtual pipe organ at my disposal and can play with matching sounds, tunings, temperaments and registrations to closer to what Bach may have heard or had in mind. This book has answered many questions in one place that I have researched for some years and never quite was satisfied. Amateur & professional organists, teachers, organ students, appreciators of Bach organ music will find this e-book a great inexpensive investment.