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More Organ? Not Possible!

Impressions of the Elbphilharmonie’s »Long Night of Organ« and listening tips.

Hamburg is an organ centre. In the Baroque era, the most important organ builders descended on the city and made decisive developments to the »kings of all instruments«. These early pioneers left a lasting mark on the organ scene in Hamburg. The big Hamburg pipe organs can be heard in all their splendour at the annual Summer Organ Festival, and this year they welcome a new member to their circle in the shape of the Elbphilharmonie instrument.

Daniel Kaiser / Eberhard Lauer / Cornelia Monske / Die Lange Nacht der Orgel
Daniel Kaiser / Eberhard Lauer / Cornelia Monske / Die Lange Nacht der Orgel © Claudia Höhne

Start of the Summer Organ Festival

The Summer Organ Festival is a concert series put on by the city’s five principal churches and the Catholic Cathedral of St Mary (Marien-Dom). The programme of some 50 concerts was ushered in on 17 June by the »Long Night of Organ« in the Elbphilharmonie Grand Hall. Until well beyond midnight, the organists of the main Hamburg churches and of the city’s University of Music took up position at the new concert organ to present it to the public in all its many facets.

The Opening Concert

Die Lange Nacht der Orgel
Die Lange Nacht der Orgel © Claudia Höhne

The six-hour programme offered an exciting cross-section of the entire organ repertoire, from Bach’s famous D minor Toccata to a piece by the French master of sensuous sound, Olivier Messiaen. Here are three listening tips selected from the evening’s programme:

A True Classic

Johann Sebastian Bach: Toccata & Fugue in D minor

J.S. Bach

The ultimate organ hit: Johann Sebastian Bach, undeniably the greatest organ composer of all time, wrote this famous piece more than 300 years ago, probably before he turned 20. Previously, he walked all the way from Lüneburg to Hamburg several times while still a schoolboy in order to hear the organ at St Catharine’s Church. The opening tune features in numerous films, and is one of the best-known of all classical melodies.

Solemn Virtuosity

Charles-Marie Widor: Adagio & Toccata / from Symphony No. 5 in F minor, Op. 42/1

Charles-Marie Widor

Another work by a great Parisian organist: Charles-Marie Widor spent 64 years working as organist at the church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris, the most prominent position of its kind in France. The last movement of Widor’s Organ Symphony No. 5 belongs in a category with the Bach Toccata as one of the most famous works in the organ repertoire. This virtuoso movement shows to good effect the technical innovations of the time: such rapid figures could only be played thanks to the new developments in organ building.

Birdsong in Transcription

Olivier Messiaen: Communion, Les oiseaux et les sources / from Messe de la Pentecôte

Olivier Messiaen

Alongside organ playing, Olivier Messiaen had a second passion: birds. The Parisian composer and organist was able to distinguish some 700 species of bird by their call. He saw birds as »the greatest artists among living things«, and used them frequently as a source of inspiration for his music – e.g. in his 1950 setting of the Mass, in which birdsong acts as a symbol of divine greatness.

All organ concerts at a glance