The Organ

El órgano de Santa Marina la Real de Léon y la familia de Echavarría, organeros del Rey

José Maria Barrero Baladrón and Gerard A C De Graaf: El órgano de Santa Marina la Real de Léon y la familia de Echavarría, organeros del Rey
Universidad de León, Secretariado de Publicaciones

The fascination of the organ in Spain is eternal. Who can resist the appeal of this unique organ tradition, with its superb instruments and majestic, thrilling music? Nowadays the influence of the Spanish organ can be felt well beyond the boundaries of the Iberian cultural area. Organs everywhere bristle with horizontal reeds and some clients and builders outside the Iberian peninsula are prepared to go the whole hog and build organs completely in the Spanish style. It is always profitable to return to the sources and see how things are with the organ in Spain itself at present and in the past.

This book is a valuable contribution to the impressive array of literature surveying the historic organs of Spain. Province by province various bodies in Spain, such as banks and universities, have been prepared to underwrite the cost of listing and writing about organs in particular areas. In this case, a parish priest and an organ builder have co-authored a book about an organ which was built in 1749 for a monastery and in 1851, after the secularization of monastic buildings, was transferred to a parish church. In addition, there are useful chapters on the organ builder and his family, a gazetteer of organs, with pictures and specifications, of the existing instruments in the province of León, pipe scales, contracts and other appropriate documents.

Some details may be of interest to readers of The Organ. Of the 41 organs existing in the province of León in 2004, 23 were in use. Of these, the oldest, in the monastery of Carrizo, has a case dating back to the thirteenth century, but the instrument is from 1741. Many of the organs are in what the authors describe as en estado deplorable. There is an interesting chart showing the numbers of organs in each Spanish province, how many of them are in use, and the ratio of organs to inhabitants. León comes out fairly well in this survey, with over 50% of the organs in use and at one organ in use per 22,000 inhabitants, well above, say, Málaga, with 9 out of 28 organs in use and only one organ per 139,000 inhabitants.

More serious is this comment on the current situation of the organ in Spain: 'There is no interest among the present clergy in the organ, neither as a musical instrument on its own, nor as a means of raising the mediocre level of religious music today. The very few exceptions are to be found in private circles, which have no influence on official Church opinion. However there is some interest shown by nuns in enclosed orders, so as to assure the musical side of the liturgy' (p 75, my translation). The Spanish organ enjoys tremendous prestige outside the Iberian peninsular, yet in its homeland this great tradition is neglected and ignored. Since the devastation of the Civil War, musical traditions have been disrupted and there does not exist the type of cultural and religious situation in which the organ has an essential part, as it does, for instance, in many other parts of Europe or North America, Australia and New Zealand. The organs can be classified as historic monuments, but they still remain the property of the Church and the clergy can, and do, dispose of instruments without a murmur. Conserving these fine old instruments, building new ones, and most important of all, creating some kind of context in which the organ in Spain can flourish, must be a high priority on the world-wide organ scene.