The organ: king of instruments

Here is Pope Benedict XVI describing why the organ is better than guitars in worship:

The organ has always been considered, and rightly so, the king of musical instruments, because it takes up all the sounds of creation – as was just said – and gives resonance to the fullness of human sentiments, from joy to sadness, from praise to lamentation. By transcending the merely human sphere, as all music of quality does, it evokes the divine. The organ’s great range of timbre, from piano through to a thundering fortissimo, makes it an instrument superior to all others. It is capable of echoing and expressing all the experiences of human life. The manifold possibilities of the organ in some way remind us of the immensity and the magnificence of God.


Okay, he’s not directly contrasting with guitars, but it’s probably in his mind after a few too many hokey John Paul II masses.



  1. Once i was at our church (which has an organ) with a friend who didnt know that i went to church at all. He leans over to me and says “its real Dracula music aint it? horrible stuff”

    An organ on its own genuinely makes me want to run away. Perhaps that me coming in touch with God!?

    • I love Dracula music! Bach’s Toccata in D. There’s a gravitas with the organ, which is why the old horror movies used organ music.

  2. I’m going to take issue with the Pope, even though I “like” the organ (as if my likes had anything to do with it!). I appreciate that he is outlining objective reasons for the superiority of the organ, but in his rush to defend the organ he’s overlooked another powerful instrument. The human voice, especially when arranged in polyphonic harmony (i.e. a choir with basses, baritones, tenors, etc) and with no or minimal accompaniment is, if not more powerful, certainly more evocative than the organ and, I would argue, has just as much musical range. Just listen to Russian chant, for e.g., preferably “live” but even on a recording, or certain types of Western singing. Why, I once heard a reconstruction of some ancient chanting from the church of Ambrose (hard to describe, sort of Gregorian meets Byzantine in Arabia) by a single male voice and although it was quite austere the range of expression had me transfixed.

    • Well, I would agree, and I think the pope may very well agree as well. He likely didn’t have the human voice in mind when he said, “instrument.”

      I’ve been a choral music fan for several years now. My favorite has been Robert Fayrfax, an unjustly neglected forerunner to Byrd and Tallis. I have all of the Fayrfax albums that Andrew Carwood did in the ’90’s (and still in production). Time and again I return to Fayrfax over Byrd, Taverner, and Tallis. There is a peaceful joy to Fayrfax that is slightly mitigated in the later composers — perhaps something to do with the fact that Fayrfax died in 1521, just prior to the political and social-religious unrest to come. His Missa Tecum Principum is the best place to begin.

  3. The organ is the without a doubt the king of instruments. Its only real rival would be the violin or a bowed string instrument for its likeness to the human voice and the violins capacity for sustain, although this is still a pretty weak comparison. The grandeur of the organ is due to the capacity of the organ to play notes as long as you hold them down. There is an eternal element about it, evoking divine worship that no other instrument has. It also has more possible voices in a greater span of registers, that can be played in simultaneity.

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