Europe has some 10,000 medieval and baroque organs. These monuments to the organ-makers’ art reflect the liturgical needs that gave rise to the organ. In order to be worthy for use in the liturgy, an instrument needed to be created which would use pipes and reeds to accompany and mimic the human voice. They’re also monuments to a land where the purpose of those organs–to glorify God–has been lost, and these majestic instruments have fallen into disrepair.
Restoring the original sound of this organs is no simple matter. Decay has robbed them of their full functionality, and we’re not sure just how that sound was achieved. The European Union launched the Truesound project to determine the best way to restore those and recapture that lost sound:
The EU project Truesound tackled a major challenge in materials sciences to recapture the purity of organ music. The project aimed at developing copper-based alloys for organ pipes and refining technology to recreate true organ sound. It also wanted to empower small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that build organs to become more competitive in restoring the 10 000 organs scattered across the continent.
Truesound’s work centred on identifying historically accurate alloy compositions and articulating processes to manufacture the most ideal alloys. The next step was to create organ tongues to replace historic reed pipes or to represent new reed pipe components that are capable of producing the desired sound. A research team hailing from various countries successfully produced the most accurate alloys for reed pipe tongues.
In particular, it created two new alloys, with and without lead, that were tested by organ builders tied to the project. Moreover, the project designed special software to digitize the sound spectrum related to organ pipes. The combined software and hardware advances, which include sophisticated equipment for sound acquisition, have produced a rich sound that is the closest yet to the organ music of yesteryear. This will support organ-building SMEs in unprecedented ways and help revive an important and beautiful tradition across Europe.
It’s a wonderful meeting of history, technology, art, and restoration. You can watch a video about the project here.
They’re focusing on baroque organs, so if an organ is not baroque, they won’t fix it.