Video: Organist Paul Jacobs Makes a 'Glorious Racket' in Bach

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 12:00 AM

All musical instruments are wonders. They thrill us in their function and are often admirable for their beauty as well. But there’s probably only one instrument that can also elicit a sense of grandeur: the pipe organ, one of the instruments with which J.S. Bach is most closely associated.

The pipe organ combines craft, science, and art – woodworking, metallurgy, pneumatics, architecture, mechanical engineering, acoustics and aesthetics, often on a grand scale. And it’s all in the service of music. Some of the pipe organs that were around in Bach’s time are still in service today, albeit with renovations. For Bach 360, our celebration of J.S. Bach’s music, we sat down with Juilliard organ department chairman Paul Jacobs to talk about the instrument.

Well, actually, he sat down at the console of the Johannes Klais organ in the sanctuary of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, in the ground floor of the Citicorp Building in Manhattan. The Klais organ is a mechanical-action instrument, also called a tracker-action organ. Trackers are the thin slats of wood that directly connect the keys played by the organist to the valves beneath each pipe that open when the keys are depressed. (You’ll see the trackers in this video, inside a door in the organ that’s normally kept closed.)

In this digital age, tracker-action organs are quite old-fashioned, but preferred by some organists. Trackers were state-of-the-art technology in Bach’s time, and remain a wonder even in ours. There are really only two differences between the mechanical-action pipe organs of Bach’s day and ours: The sound combinations chosen by the organist are now stored and can be controlled electronically, and today you no longer need two people to play a pipe organ.

Two? Of course – one person to play it, and the other to pump the bellows that filled the instrument with air. That job is now done by electricity, which means the whole experience inspires a lot less perspiration than it used to. But the pipe organ is just as grand, just as majestic, and just as wondrous as it was when Bach was on the bench.

Produced by:

Kim Nowacki

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Comments [8]

robert shapiro

I listen to WQXR daily, send a check. Very much enjoy the morning program.
I can't say you nearly lost me over Bach 360. Hell, I knew it would end.
Bur what possessed you? Who bullied you into that marathon?
Please, please don't ever do that again.

Apr. 02 2013 10:32 AM

I have been so in love with Bach 360! If it were Bach 365, it would be just fine with me. What I especially appreciate is that you have been playing his organ works and cantatas, both of which aren't aired as frequently as they should be. I'm an organist, and have been an organist/choir director (and still am, occasionally). Your broadcasts of the past week and a half have allowed me to listen and think -- and to think differently. Bach is amazing in that his music always shows me something new. In a computer application, it would be called an "Easter egg" -- and how appropriate for today! Thank you so much for Bach 360. Please do an encore.

Mar. 31 2013 07:47 PM
Heather Walters from Brooklyn. NY

Thank you for featuring Paul Jacobs at the organ this week. J S Bach wrote so much wonderful music for this instrument, and and it is a real pleasure to hear some of it played on WQXR as originally conceived for the organ. Friends of the organ may want to know that Mr. Jacobs has opened his organ performance class at Juilliard to the public. It's held every Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. when school is in session. Details at http://www.nycago.org/html/calendar.html.

Mar. 30 2013 04:46 PM
Daniel Polowetzky from NYC

I love this instrument!
I am reminded of the Friday night organ recitals performed by the late Calvin Hampton at Calvary Episcopal Church many years ago. One could sit in the choir area behind the console and watch.

One midnight following a massive snow storm, with only about five attendees, Mr. Hampton provided a gift. He explained the stops, pipes, and settings of the organ and indulged the audience in a display of just how loud the instrument could get!

The real gift was playing for an intimate group of listeners for a small voluntary donation.

Mar. 29 2013 01:04 AM
Ro Baker from Brooklyn, NY

Thank you for highlighting our beautiful Klais organ. I have been a member at St Peter's church for 30 years and love this instrument. I much enjoyed Paul Jacobs informative video!

Mar. 28 2013 11:27 PM

I'm lovin' it!!!

Mar. 28 2013 11:01 PM

Thank you for spotlighting this instrument as well as Professor Jacobs' playing. It was in my college days when I first heard the organ as a musical instrument and not a noise-maker used to cover up the loud and out of tune singing in my childhood church, I've appreciated the organ and believed more people would come to enjoy it if only they could have the chance to do so. I thank WQXR for bringing Professor Jacobs' playing to our attention as well as for highlighting the organ, an instrument that is truly the 'king of instruments'.

Mar. 27 2013 12:14 PM
Jim Roberts from New York, NY

This is really an awesome video about the organ. Paul Jacobs must be a fascinating person I'd love to meet some day. What an artist! Thanks WQXR for this segment, in particular.

Mar. 27 2013 01:46 AM

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