Bach’s Organ World

By Quentin and Mary Murrell Faulkner

For the past four Bach's Organ World tours we and our fellow travelers have had the privilege of seeing, hearing and playing a number of organs connected with J.S. Bach. Perhaps the two most significant ones are at Naumburg and Altenburg:


The Altenburg instrument is an extreme example of the Thuringian organ type. While it has only two manual reeds, there are no less than 5 diverse and colorful 8' flue stops (including a string) on each manual, as well as a generous complement of 16' flue stops. Its sound is weighty, yet brilliant and incisive. Like all of Trost's organs (and those of many other Thuringian builders as well), its mixtures contain third-sounding ranks. Although we don't know for sure, it is likely that Bach played this organ. We do know that he expressed his highest appreciation for the beautiful sound and good craftsmanship of Trost's organs while visiting this organ in 1739.


In 1743 the Naumburg City Council gave the contract for a new organ to Bach’s friend, the organbuilder Zacharias Hildebrandt. Bach and Silbermann examined the finished organ in 1746) favorably. Bach recommended his son-in-law J.C. Altnikol as candidate for organist. Altnikol, who was organist from 1748-1759, wrote of the organ: “Not a single person who has ever seen and heard this organ has left without expressing admiration.” In his Musica mechanica organoedi (1768) Jacob Adlung wrote: “It is a successful instrument, whose beautiful tone can scarcely find an equal.” Among other extraordinary features of the stoplist of this superb instrument, it should be mentioned that, to the builder's credit, he has always placed flutes of the same type together in each keyboard (insofar as they can be made at different sizes); e.g., in the Hauptwerk Gemshorn 8' and 4', in the Oberwerk Spitzflöte 8' and 4', and in the Brustwerk Rohrflöte 16', 8' and 4'. This arrangement is significant for an organist who understands correctly how to alternate manuals while playing. In this instance it makes a much more noticeable and consequently more beautiful diversity [of timbre] than when [varieties of] flutes are mixed on each keyboard."

We are looking forward to sharing these and other opportunities with tour members on the fifth Bach's Organ World tour next summer.

In addition, we will be visiting Wittenberg in the 500th anniversary year of Luther's posting his 95 Theses on the Castle Church door. Hotel rooms have already been reserved, so we can count on staying on the main street in Wittenberg, and taking part in the anniversary celebration.

Wittenberg: Castle Church: Although he was a devout Lutheran, there is no evidence that Bach ever visited Wittenberg or had anything to do with any organs there. The 1864/1994 Ladegast organ is, however, the sort of organ that was current during the years after 1850, when the revival of Bach’s music (including his organ works) was at full tilt.

For more information and to reserve your place for the next Bach’s Organ World Tour, July 17-28, 2017, contact:
Concept Tours