The Great Pipe Organ: a Brief History

Date July 15, 2015 Author Alexia Jensen

Why should you care about the organ? What has the organ contributed to musical history?

Oldest organ in the worldWell, it’s funny you should ask that, because the pipe organ has been around and influencing our music since 300 BC! Surprised? Originating in Ancient Greece, the wind supply that is integral to the function of the organ was first created with water pressure. About a thousand years later, the water supply was replaced by bellows that produced strong gusts of wind.

From Ancient Greece to Medieval Europe

The pipe organ became increasingly popular from that point on, as it became easier to transport, and rulers would gift elaborate organs to their allies. Constantin V made a point of including it in his lavish gifts to Pepin the Short in 757.

In terms of human accomplishments and advancement, the pipe organ is noteworthy because from the 17th to the 19th centuries, it was the most complex man-made device, and held the position for quite a while, only to be replaced by the telephone exchange in 1877. I suppose you can say that, "sliced bread is the greatest invention since the church organ!"

The Organ Today: from Radiohead to the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal

Largest organ in Asia

The organ started off as a very public instrument that was played at grand sporting events and festivals (it's still the case: check out this mindblowing organ!). And while currently it is mostly restricted to churches and recitals, many contemporary bands and artists have still made use of the grand church-style organ in some choice songs. Among these include some very familiar names, such as: Muse, Styx, Arcade Fire, and Radiohead. Deep Purple and Bob Dylan have also made use of the modern electronic organ in their music.

Concert organs are just as impressive. We can now program organs on an iPad, like the Grand Orgue Pierre-Béique in the Maison symphonique in Montreal.

I'll leave you with Muse's song Unnatural Selection: can you spot the organ?


The CIOC Festival will take place from October 4-25, 2015. You will be able to hear our beautiful Montreal organs. Full schedule in two weeks.


Written by Maheen Yacoob


Maheen is studying English and Chemistry at McGill University. She is an avid science fiction fan, board game aficionado, and amateur drummer, with one weakness: she cannot whistle. Nevertheless, she is professionally adept at making all things work.
Maheen is the Canadian International Organ Competition summer blogger.