The Organ in a Russian Home Jul 11 by Alexey Pogarskiy in In The DSD Studio, News, Producer's Notes

Historical Insights & Producer’s Note
written by Alexey Pogarskiy (Artes Mirabiles)

The Organ in a Russian Home
Olesya Rostovskaya, Organ
Dmitry Grinikh, Baritone
available in DXD & DSD 64, 128 and 256 – Stereo & Multichannel


The Organ in a Russian Home

Friedrich Ladegast’s organ (1868) in Russian National Museum of Music. This is the instrument this recording was made on.

It is generally believed that organ music appeared in Russia about 150 years ago with the opening of the conservatoires in St Petersburg and Moscow. Friedrich Ladegast’s organ, which was used on this recording and is believed to be the oldest surviving organ in Russia, dates back to that era. In reality it was not merely 150 years but, rather, a thousand years ago that organ music entered Russia culture together with other forms of Byzantine art.

In the 7th century the organ, which originated in Ancient Greece, became accepted in Western Europe as the instrument of the church and has continued to enjoy its patronage to this day. In the 11th century, following the Great Schism, the Orthodox Church declaimed the organ as a mere tool incapable of uttering prayers to glorify God, something which can be done only by the human voice, the instrument given by God himself.

Despite this, however, organ music continued to thrive in Russia. But where was it played? It was played at home, of course. Obviously not in just any home, but in the homes of those, who tended to be the better educated members of society with the means buy these expensive instruments and who could afford to invite skilled organists.

Sadly, very little is known about the early development of organ music in Russia. Sometimes it might only be possible to infer the existence of a particular organist from mention, found in the Royal Archives that such a person had “received money for woollen cloth for his robes and sable fur for the lining”, but numerous similar, vague, references, from a wide variety of sources, allow us to deduce that organ music was played in Russia more or less continuously.

In Byzantium church music was sung a cappella, which later became a feature of the Orthodox Church, but there is reliable evidence that organs were widely used in secular life. Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus mentioned the organ in his treatise on court ceremonies. Organists welcomed the Emperor and accompanied him he traveled. They played at the racecourse and at weddings, in groups and as soloists, as an orchestra and antiphons, playing loudly and solemnly. However, it seems that secular music was never written as, so far, no single score has ever been found.

But this allows wide range to the composer’s imagination.

Olesya Rostovskaya, opens her project, The Organ in a Russian Home, with her vision of an historical composition Ceremonial Music of the Byzantine Emperors. At that time organs were usually small and portable, with large keys which organists pressed with their fists or even their elbows. For this reason the composition employs only the largest keys, the pedal keys, and is played only with the feet.

In the 10th century the legation of Princess Olga of Kiev sent her many gifts from Byzantium, including organs. In a mural in the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kiev, an organist is illustrated playing as his assistant pumps the bellows. Thus, the organ gradually became a part of life in Russia whether as entertainment for the Tsar on the one hand or as a popular instrument of “skomorokhs”, the travelling comic minstrels of the time.

А portable organ and calcant on a mural in the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kiev.

Later, the privations of the Mongol invasion had such a devastating effect on so much of society that art and culture ground to a halt and the center of artistic life gradually migrated to a new place, namely Moscow.

            In the 15th century an Italian organist, and Roman Catholic monk, named Giovanni Salvatore arrived in Moscow at the court of Prince Ivan III and his wife, Princess Sophia Palaiologos. Without doubt it would have fallen to him alone to satisfy the demands of the court for organ music for which he would have drawn on his entire repertoire. As an Italian it would have included secular pieces but as a monk he would have been familiar with religious music. In this way compositions by various anonymous composers of the 15th century, Alla Trinita Beata and Saltarello from the Tuscan Manuscript, might well have been used. He later embraced the Orthodox Faith himself and married a Russian lady.

Meanwhile, use of the organ in by the common folk was in decline. In 1551 the Stoglav Council, a council of Russian bishops, expressed its increasing abhorrence of skomorokhs and in strong terms repudiated them as well as other organists, psaltery players and other instrumentalists.


Nevertheless, 27 years later, in 1578, organ master Daniel Gottlieb Eilhof, or Daniel Nemnchin (“Daniel the German”) as he was known later, arrived at the court of Ivan the Terrible from the Netherlands bringing to the Tsar’s palace such Dutch pieces as Almande and Almande prynce from the Manuscrit of Susanne van Soldt.

As time went on, organ music developed and the instruments themselves were further refined. On 14 October 1630 Dutch organ builders, brothers Johan and Melhert Loen, completed installation of an instrument in Moscow in the Faceted Chamber. The Loen brothers were not only organ builders, but probably skilled organists as well; they, for example, could play Samuel Scheidt’s Variations of the Dutch song Ach du feiner Reiter, edler Herre mein (Scheidt’s Tabulatura nova published in 1624).

The Faceted Chamber in Moscow Kremlin.
A place where Prince Ivan III and Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible used to listen organ.

At the end of the 17th century, during Simon Gutovski’s long and fruitful tenure as Court Organist, the Tsars “Home Theatre” was established and the organ was incorporated as part of the theatre orchestra. Performances were staged not only for Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich, but for his family and the many noblemen of his entourage. The Tsar’s son Peter (Peter the Great) grew-up surrounded with art and as a child was given a specially made miniature clavichord and organ.

While travelling in Western Europe on his “Grand Embassy”, the young Tsar was able to see and hear huge organs of a kind which did not then exist in Russia and he later ordered an organ from Arp Schnitger, an organ builder on whose instruments Johann Sebastian Bach would play later in Germany. The Tsar’s courtiers were also pleased to have organs in their homes. Prince Menshikov for example would hear the Menuet and Bourree by Johann Krieger and such simple pieces, within the abilities of high-ranking amateurs, complemented the refined European-style assemblies and balls much favoured by Peter the Great. Similarly popular were such compositions as the Menuet from the pastoraletta Les Plaisirs de Versailles by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and the Polonoise from Singende Muse am der Pleiße book by Sperontes. Meanwhile churches in Moscow and St Petersburg belonging to non-Orthodox persuasions were allowed to build organs for their religious practices and thus the tradition of concert performance gradually appeared over time.

But playing the organ in the home continued. Prince Potemkin, for instance, arranged many elaborate performances involving the organ for Catherine the Great and performances of the court shadow theatre, employing a light devised by mechanic and inventor Ivan Kulibin were accompanied by organ music. At about the same time the practice developed of playing favourite popular pieces from the theatre, ballets and operas at home, such as the air of Papageno Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen wünscht Papageno sich from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Played on a home organ, with its range of stops similar to the various timbres of the orchestra, the overall effect is much more satisfactory than is possible on other keyboard instruments.

In the early 19th century Russian composers began to develop a national musical identity including the role of organ music. But interest started in earnest when Russian music lovers discovered Johann Sebastian Bach. The most prominent was Prince Vladimir Fedorovich Odoevsky who ordered a home organ, built to his own specification, which he called Sebastianon in his honour. During Musical Society meetings Bach’s compositions, such as the Little Prelude and Fugue in A-minor BWV 559 from the Eight Little Preludes and Fugues were commonly played. Such was the esteem in which Society members held him that his style of organ music affected their own creative efforts as with Mikhail Glinka who began his Fugue with an intonation resembling Russian folk song, but in polyphony development, followed Bach being unable to overcome his powerful influence.

Friedrich Ladegast (1818–1908)

Nevertheless, it is not the renowned Glinka who should be called the father of Russian organ music, but Prince Vladimir Odoevsky. With unrestricted access to an organ is his own home he was able to constantly study and experiment with the European organ tradition. In his composition Prière sans paroles Odoevsky uses the organ to represents bells, a very difficult effect to achieve; the sound of a bell dies away whereas an organ pipe continues to resonate, which a careful and attentive listener can detect.

The custom of printing programmes for home concerts had not yet become common, they may even have been compiled on the spot, and therefore we do not know whether Caesar Cui’s compositions Innocent Sincerity, Spanish Marionettes and A Timid Confession were played at home. But even if they were not, Anatoly Lyadov’s Pastoral Preludes from his Russian Album and similar pieces originally composed for the piano, for a quartet or even for the orchestra certainly were performed and received new colour embellished by the timbre of the instrument.

On 8 December 1917 composer Alexandre Grechaninov took part in a meeting of the Russian Orthodox Church Council where he proposed a debate on the issue of introducing organ music into Orthodox worship in order to increase the musical beauty of religious services and enhance the mood of those at prayer. Although the motion was voted down by eight votes to three, Grechaninov went on to compose music for orthodox soloists, choir and organ including The Demestvenny Eucharist which, as the title suggests, is intended to accompany a religious service in a home where there is an organ or harmonium. This unique composition is represented here by two pieces, the Great Litany and Litany of Fervent Supplication.

Friedrich Ladegast’s organ donated to the Moscow Conservatoire in 1886 under the balcony in old conservatoire building hall.

During the Soviet era organ music was restricted to concert halls and conservatoire classes for very practical reasons; Soviet citizens, even professional organists, would have been unable to install such huge and expensive instruments in their modest apartments. In the second half of the 20th century electronic organs became available that possessed a full-sized playing console, several manuals, pedals and sets of stops. These differ from classical pipe organs by using recordings rather than the sound of actual pipes but such instruments make it possible not only for an organist to practice at home but also even occasionally welcome visitors with music. One such piece demonstrating the possibilities of using an organ in a small home concert is Olesya Rostovskaya’s Choral in G.

Friedrich Ladegast’s organ (Weißenfels, Germany, 1868) has two manuals and a pedal, 16 stops and a mechanical key action. Friedrich Ladegast (1818–1908) was a representative of the German romantic tradition of organ building and constructed about 200 instruments which were played not only in Germany but also in Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Austria, The Czech Republic and Russia. The largest of his surviving organs is in the Schwerin Cathedral. Built in 1871, it has four manuals, a pedal and 84 stops.

The organ exhibited in the Russian National Museum of Music is the only organ in Russia built by Ladegast and is the oldest historical organ currently played in the country. It was built as a salon instrument for Moscow Honourable Citizen Vassily Khludov (1841–1913) who installed it in his house in Novaya Basmannaya street. It was subsequently donated to the Moscow Conservatoire in 1886. During the construction of the new conservatoire building the organ was kept for several years in the house of Prince Golitsin after which it was transferred to the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire where it remained the principle instrument for practice and concert performance for more than half a century. The entire Moscow school of organ music grew from there and the names of such musicians as Sabaneev, Gedike, Starokadomsky, Grodberg, Roizman, Dizhur, Yanchenko among others are linked to this organ. In 1959 the instrument was relocated to the Concert Hall of the S. Prokofiev Music School No 1. where it remained until 1987 when it was dissembled and put into storage in the Church of Holy Trinity in Kozhevniky. In 1992, badly damaged, it was received by the Glinka State Central Museum of Musical Culture now the Russian National Museum of Music. Between 1996 and 1998 the instrument was restored in the Vilnius Organ Workshop led by Rimantas Guchas. Formal acceptance after restoration took place at a ceremony on 13 May 1998 and on 16 September the instrument was played in concert by the outstanding organist Oleg Yanchenko. Since that time the organ has begun a new life in the Museum of Music where it is regularly played in concert and as part of educational programmes.

Olesya Rostovskaya

Composer, organist, carillonist, campanologist and Theremin performer. She graduated from the Moscow Conservatoire specialising in composition (Prof. A.Leman) and organ (Prof. O.Yanchenko). She is a composer and performer and in 2017 issued an album “Discotheque of the 16th Century” (also available at NativeDSD). She is a Member of the Composers’ Union, Member of the Russian Electroacoustic Music Association, Member of the Association of Russian Organists and represents the Russian Carillon Foundation.

Dmitry Grinikh

Laureate of international contests, he is Professor and Dean of Faculty of Vocal Art at the International Slavonic Institute. An accomplished singer, his repertoire includes music from the 14th to 21st centuries which he performs in 17 languages and often performs in ensemble with organ.

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Alexey Pogarskiy

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