North Central: Focus on German Organ Music

Greetings from the North Central AGOYO,

This month we are focusing on German Organ Music! This post will briefly discuss both the North and South German organ schools. Along with recordings, a few composers from each school will also be highlighted.

Photo: The Trost organ of Waltershausen, with its 47 stops and 6 transmissions, is the biggest baroque organ in Thuringia. It is largely preserved in its original state of 1730 (a good 70% of the pipe material was built by Trost) and therefore is an invaluable reference when performing organ music by J. S. Bach and his contemporaries. Today this organ is viewed as the most authentic “Bach organ”. (

German Organ Schools

North German – organ preludes and chorale fantasias are developed. Organ building began to vastly improve by including two or more manuals, a pedal board, and a wide range of stops.

  • Interestingly, Dutch composer, Jan​ ​Sweelinck​ is considered the founder of the North German organ school. His variations on Mein junges Leben hat ein End’ are part ofstandard organ repertoire.
  • The works of Dietrich​ ​Buxtehude​ are regarded as the pinnacle of this tradition. His organ works are cherished by organists; young and old alike. His chorale prelude on Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern is a favorite for the Epiphany season.
  • One cannot discuss German organ music without the extensive contributions of Johann Sebastian​ ​Bach​. His tireless work went largely unnoticed during his lifetime and was not appreciated until after his death. What a gift to the church! I include my favorite work, Prelude and Fugue in E Flat Major, BWV 552.

South German – limited stops used, no pedal; much like Italian music. This music focused on the melody, harmonic clarity and sound; while having an improvisatory nature.

  • Johann​ ​Froberger​ is noted as the first important composer of the South German organ school. Froberger visited Italy and France (under the influences of Frescobaldi and de Macque) in order to perfect the craft of his compositions. His toccatas are widely used in programs throughout the world.
  • The city of Nuremberg was graced with the talents of Johann​ ​Kindermann​ ​during the first half of the 17th century. His example of a chorale fugue would later serve as a model to both Bach and Pachelbel.
  • The peak of the South German organ school is attributed to Johann​ ​Pachelbel​. While a majority of his works are secular in nature, Pachelbel continued to develop the chorale prelude and fugue. In honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we listen to a recording of his setting of Ein feste burg.

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