Some excerpts from our recent interview with Christoph Wolff

November 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

In response to Luis Garcia Restrepo, some excerpts from a recent interview with Christoph Wolff:

“I was always interested in organ building and in historical organs, and I had known about Charles Fisk from the very beginning, but it was very exciting to be in direct touch with him, and also to discuss the early plans for the 17th century organ he planned to build for Wellesley Chapel.

I was considerably younger, and I was of course not an organ builder but I was an organ historian and a musicologist with an interest in keyboard music, particularly of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the organ music of Johan Sebastian Bach.

He felt that JS Bach was the composer who defined in many ways not only the music for the organ but the instrument itself. And I think that was a challenge for him,

One of the best memories I have is crawling with him in the Holton Chapel in Wellesley College where he had built the 17th cent. Instrument copied after plans by Michael Praetorius for the Grayston Court Chapel. This was for him, I think, one of the most important projects he ever undertook, because it told him how to really conceive of an early 17th cent. German style that had an influence on several generations of organ building.

I think when it came to the music of JS Bach or his contemporaries, or his forerunners, Charlie was really very eager to find the kind of stylistic union between the instruments he had in mind and their musical styles. But beyond that I think he was very open-minded. He had a catholic knowledge of the instrument. He knew of French types, Italian types – he never built an Italian type organ but he very much was influenced by French type instruments. And as far as the history of music is concerned, he didn’t want his instruments to be limited to any particular style. He felt that the quality of the instrument is defined by a certain stylistic period, but he wanted the instrument to be used for a broad variety of musical styles.

I think it’s very important that both the performer and the builder are aware of their symbiotic interrelationship.  The organ-builder has to be aware of the needs of the organist.  And the organist has to know what the organ builder can deliver and what he can’t.

 To give you an example that has an historical base.  JS Bach once inspected an organ, in Goerlitz, far away, in Eastern Saxony, and it was a large instrument, built by a distinguished organ builder, and he said this instrument requires a horse to play it, the action is too heavy.  So, if you are virtuoso organist, and you want the instrument to be able to perform what you want to play, the organist has to make sure that the action works properly.  Which is, of course, a mechanical thing.  But it also is very important that the action provides the performer with the direct link to the instrument, so that he gets the right feel, for the right touch, the way to treat the instrument.  It needs quite a bit of flexibility on the part of the organ builder to deliver what a good performer needs.  And then of course there is the question of sound, and of the broad spectrum of colors, that the various types of organ stops deliver.  That is something that the organ builder has to be aware of in order to deliver to the organist, the kind of coloristic possibilities that are important to present, stylistically, correct organ music of various period styles.” 



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