Meantone organ


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Amazing but nothing new. Charles Fisk and his company built a large 4 manual and pedal mechanical action organ at Stanford University in California that was similar, switching between meantone and well tempered tunings with a mechanical lever. And this was in 1984. It is also a terrific instrument.

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I fully agree with Dongsok. This particuolar one appears to be a way of shifting between two different sharp/flat pipes. There have been also organs where where a single pipe was modified: changing the tuning by up to a quarter of a semitone can be achieved by partially covering the end of an open pipe, more complicated but also feasible to lengthen the pipe with a slide cylinder.

Can you indicate where those organs are Claudio?

I may have read this in a paper of Barbieri’s. Just checked his monumental “Enharmonic Instruments” treatise. Problem is: he explains how an organ by means of a pedal delivers different enharmonic sounds, but only in one case he explains how (by using alternative pipes). Also checked the equally monumental “The Organ” by W.L.Sumner, nothing there either! Yet I certainly did not make this up. In the world of organ making, if something useful can be done, and even more when it does not appear to be overly complicated, it has certainly been done.

Anyway, and especially in modern times, it is far easier to have alternative pipes for flats and sharps. A few years ago I played the one in St.Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh. There are the usual 12 keys per octave, and flats/sharps change is produced by special pedals.

A multi-temperament organ in London has been discussed, but I cannot recall the details and have not found it online.

Then, of course, there are a few antique organs with split sharps: have seen two of them in Rome, Italy, and there are modern replicas in Göteborg, Sweden, and at least one in the USA AFAIK.

The Fisk organ at Wellesley College in Massachusetts is a 1/4 comma meantone organ with split sharps. Yale University has a more recent Taylor and Boody 1/4 comma meantone organ with split sharps . There are others.

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Although I did not say it, what interested me is that the instrument does not have split sharps, and can do several meantone settings. That’s what attracted my attention actually.

But it is very good to know about these other organs as well.

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Talk about nothing new under the sun …

“In 1750 Handel bought a large organ for the Foundling Hospital chapel, but this organ cannot have been well made, for it was replaced in 1768 by another large organ by Thomas Parker. This organ had a tuning system devised by Robert Smith, a professor of astronomy at Cambridge and President of Trinity College, which required four extra pipes in the octave, for db, d#, ab and a#, notes missing in the mean-tone tuning system. Levers allowed the player to choose either the flat keys, or the sharp keys. The chamber organ belonging to the Russell Collection also originally had this tuning system.”


I never claimed this concept was new. My use of the word ‘amazing’ was more related to the fact that somebody would build such an instrument new today.

In The Organ Yearbook, vol.47 {2018}, there’s an extended article by Joel Speerstra & Magnus Kjellson about a claviorgan built in Göteborg for the ensemble Göteborg Baroque. The instrument is based partly on the ideas of Parker. It is playable at either a415 or a465, and one can choose between quarter-comma meantone and sixth-comma meantone. The organ has 5 stops + 2 half-stops. The article is amply illustrated with fotos & diagrams.


Andrew, I don’t know why you would think this was a direct reply to your remark. Another post in this thread says

I think the difference between late 18th century and 1984 is worth remarking on

@sphaerenklang It’s often hard to untangle topics and threads on text based forums, that’s why. And there are several posts emphaszing the lack of ‘newness’ of the instrument I was interested in. Don’t stress about it!

Fantastic information about Handelian organs, by the way.

Here is a demonstration of the dual-temperament Fisk organ:

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Interesting in relation to the Stanford Fisk, but not closely related to its temperament:

Karosi also made a demo of the organ in Rysum, which has a handle {serving as a stop knob for the 8’ Prestant} which strongly resembles the handle in Stanford used for changing the temperament. I think I read someplace that the 2 are related. See

Also, in the Stanford demo at

one can see that the music desk at Stanford copies an old idea of Fisk’s from his Baltimore organ, op. 35, completed in 1961 - there’s a foto at


Well here’s an interesting page. Meantone organs in North America.

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