How to compose for organ

Tips from organist and composer Franz Danksagmüller

Here is an important hint: keep it simple and general. Instead of writing the names of the stops and the manuals, describe the color and character you want.

Always be aware of the range of the keyboards:

Large organ (“modern concert organ”):

  • Pedal: C-f’
  • Manuals: C-g

Stellwagen Orgel (“baroque organ”):

  • Pedal: C, D, E, F – d’ (no C# and D#)
  • Manual: C, D, E, F- c”’ (no C#, D#, F#, G#)

Richborn – Positiv (“early baroque organ”):

  • C- c”’ (no C#, D#, F#, G#)

The Stellwagen organ and Richborn positiv have so called short octaves.

Here is a link to some additional hints from David McCarthy. I would like to quote one important remark:

It’s much easier for a good organist to make a simple piece fancy than for a less-skilled organist to simplify an overly complicated piece, and they’re used to taking a lot of initiative when interpreting a piece, so I’d lean toward the plain.

Our Collaboratory organists are accustomed not only to interpreting music of very different styles on different organs but also to improvising. So they are very flexible musicians. The best way for a composer who has never written for organ before is to consult an experienced organ player. We offer several skilled organists, so don’t hesitate to ask us. We would be happy to answer all of your specific questions.