Sacred music is an expression of Christian joy, and the sound of organ lifts up man’s heart to God and to higher things
Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council (1963) encourages the faithful to sing and states that “The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care. Choirs must be diligently promoted, especially in cathedral churches.” (no. 114) The Council also emphasized the importance of the pipe organ: “In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things.” (no. 120)
The Holy Bible calls on the faithful to follow the words of psalmists during service and liturgy: “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness! Come before him with joyful songs!” (Psalm 100) The approach of Christians to the Altar is filled with prayers that all those working in church music, who jealously preserve sacred musical heritage, would always strive for excellent musical achievements in new forms and boldly search for new possibilities of expression in sacral music.
The Catholic Church holds sacred music in such high regard that it even appointed a “patron” to it – St. Cecilia. St. Cecilia was a martyr who lived in the first half of the 3rd century (around 230 AD), and her Feast is on November 22. On that day, the Church celebrates the joy of singing. Through St. Cecilia, the Church offers the faithful a role model in the form of a frail young girl who bravely and consistently confessed her belief in Christ until her death as a martyr, and who died with joy and song on her lips, according to Passio, the description of her martyrdom, pronouncing words cantantibus organis (with the song of the pipe organ). Because of that phrase and regardless of the issues in her hagiography, by the end of the Middle Ages St. Cecilia has become the patron saint of church music and its finest attribute –the pipe organ.
St. Cecilia stands witness to the fact that joy, laughter, song, and music are important and integral parts of Christianity. What faith it must had been that filled the young girl who had the strength and the courage at the time of her horrific death to defy it with a song! The fact paints a picture of the atmosphere that prevailed in the initial Christian community and shows us that joy and song belong to the essence of Christian activities and life. St. Cecilia, the patron saint of church music and the pipe organ, encourages us to embrace song, laughter and joy as ultimate Christian virtues. Joy is the gift of Christ’s resurrection. When composer Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809) was once asked why his melodies sounded so cheerful and joyful, he answered: “Because whenever I think of God, I always feel so indescribably happy!” Izidor Poljak (1883 – 1924), priest and poet from Bednja in Hrvatsko Zagorje, wrote in his poem Pjesnik Gospodnji words that can now be interpreted as a song in liturgy and liturgy in song: “I will sing to you, my God! May the prayers of my harp, too, ascend to you like soft clouds of incense.”
But let us go back to the pipe organ, the instrument with the flattering nickname “The Queen of Instruments”! And not only that. The pipe organ has come a long way from being a liturgy instrument to becoming the most sought for concert instrument of all times!
During its first centuries, the Christian church avoided musical instruments and considered them to be the means of pagan amusement. What was the problem? The early Christian church wanted to preserve the “purity” of God’s word and God’s message and feared that music instruments of pagan provenance could blur their clarity. The early Christian church therefore opted for choral chanting, which encompasses all versions of unison choral singing in the Western Church, or the Gregorian or Ambrosian chanting without instrumental accompaniment.
The pipe organ originated in the Mediterranean. The invention is credited to a mechanic called Ctesibius (cca. 246 BC), who worked out of Alexandria, Egypt. The instrument first saw the light of day in the Nile delta and made its way to the west and the Roman Empire, where it settled in as one of the many goods brought in from the east. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and during Barbarian invasions on Rome, the pipe organ once again found refuge in the East, only to return to the West as a gift of Byzantine emperor Constantine V (757 AD) to Pepin the Short, the King of Franks. In his court, the instrument continued its rich history and has been adapting to the characteristics of individual European nations to this day.
Its size, grandeur and sonority fascinated the Christians of the time to such extent that they believed it to encompass all the instruments that celebrate, praise, and honor Christ our Lord. This was the golden age of pipe organ in the West. From the 13th century onward the organ has become an unavoidable part of liturgy and in the 18th century took on its recognizable visual character as a counter balance to the altar, thus becoming an important element of church decoration with its artistically decorated case. In the 15th century, a small, portable organ or portative appeared, as well as larger positive organs intended for home music playing. In Catholic liturgy, the organ has ever since been accompanied by songs of the parishioners, choirs and soloists, and has frequently been used for sacral and church music concerts.
The organ in Croatian organ building heritage is not far removed from modern samples in the West and have their own visual characteristics. Bearing in mind that the south and north of Croatia were two areas under different political, social and cultural influence, the organ and organ-like cultural heritage also developed differently. The organs in northern Croatia have been developed under the influence of cultural trends from Austria, Germany, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary, while in southern Croatia crucial influences came from Venice and other Italian cities.
For the development of organ-building in Croatia, the Heferer Art Workshop or “The First Builders of Organs, Pianos and Harmoniums” founded in Graz by Michael Heferer (1825-1887), deserves the utmost credit. The company began operations in Croatia in 1868, primarily in Karlovac, and from 1870 to the present has been based in Zagreb. After Michael Heferer, there have been four generations of the Heferer family to date: Ferdo Heferer (Graz, 1853 – Zagreb, 1928), August Faulend Heferer (Graz, 1881 – Zagreb, 1944), Ivan Faulend Heferer (Zagreb, 1927), August Faulend Heferer (Zagreb, 1951) and Tomislav Faulend Heferer (Zagreb 1969). The Heferer Workshop has built 263 organs across Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia and Austria, with 18 of them in Zagreb churches alone, and 29 more organs in the vicinity of Zagreb.
In 1994, the Heferer Art Workshop, in collaboration with Zagreb Concert Management, launched a series of organ music concerts titled “Heferer Organ” throughout Croatia played on organs that the Heferer Workshop has renewed. With that, the Heferer company, as a “dynasty of noble organ sound”, revives the rich Croatian organ building heritage at the end of each spring, presenting to the musical public, both domestic and international, an unforgettable experience of the magnificent and gorgeous sounds of the “queen of instruments”.
Msgr. Ph. D. Juraj Kolarić
Head of the Office for Cultural Heritage and Director of the Diocesan Museum of the Zagreb Archdiocese