Weddings, funerals, church services—organ music is everywhere. Yet, the organ is not only a church music instrument. Modern organ music is an artistic and musical form in its own right and cannot easily be defined.
The history of organ music goes back about one thousand years. Organs were first played at gladiator fights in Ancient Greece. The ancient organ was hydraulic, and its pipes were not adjustable—all the pipes sounded simultaneously or not at all. Compared with the current organs, it was an extremely simple instrument but, nevertheless, a remarkable invention. Technically, the organ—intrinsically an object of art—has always been challenging. Throughout the ages, it has represented extremely complex technology compared with other technical solutions of the era in question.
The church and the organ
Organ music has always been highly appreciated, not least because of its position in the Western church since the 13th and 14th centuries. Before the rise of concert music in the 19th century, music—excluding folk music—was mainly heard in courts and churches. For ordinary people, the church was somewhere they could hear music. The world was relatively silent at that time, and the powerful sound of the organ must have been a highly impressive experience.
Always considered at least a partial replacement for an orchestra, the organ with its different registers can imitate musical instruments and choral music.
In Finland, the first organ compositions were written in the 19th and 20th centuries, which also saw the development of organ-playing skills among Finnish musicians. Richard Faltin and Oskar Merikanto are two of the best-known Finnish organists. In Finland, the status of organ music is high, and new organ music is being written morning, noon, and night. Enthusiastic organ music composers abound.
Finland is a fruitful environment for organ music compared to, for example, some Roman Catholic countries, in which churches do not employ professional organists. The magnificent churches of Paris, for example, employ excellent organists only in part-time jobs. In Finland, each parish has an organist of its own, and organists are trained professionally. The parishes also maintain their organs, which is customary in other Lutheran countries and in Germany as well.
Music for secular and sacred occasions
In Holland, the Calvinist church does not favour artistic music, and, during the Reformation, it almost demolished the instruments of the Catholic era. Public, secular administration, however, intervened and bought the instruments. This led to a situation in which, up to the present day, many churches in Holland are owned by the parish but the church organs are owned by towns or cities, which also hire organists. Public administration may also organise organ concerts in churches, but the location does not make the occasions sacred—the church is merely a concert hall on these occasions and can involve a bar with drinks, for example. In Finland, a church is always a sacred environment.
The biggest organ in Finland is housed in the Lapua Cathedral. In the 1950s and 1960s, many instruments were modernised, not always successfully, and some old instruments were even demolished. Most of the best-known organs are located in the Metropolitan Helsinki area churches and in big churches in general, for example, in the Turku Cathedral. A middle-sized church organ usually has 30–40 registers. The Helsinki Cathedral organ has 50 registers.