Story Behind the Tonal Design

The Cornell organists wanted to build an instrument appropriate to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, but also to the great repertoire of older music that he had encountered during his youth. A difficult request, says designer Munetaka Yokota, because Bach had a strong connection to organs for most of his life. So you could easily find at least ten or fifteen styles of the organ that Bach was very familiar with.

But when the organists asked for an organ that could play Buxtehude’s music as well, Yokota’s design choices narrowed. Fortunately, Arp Schnitger, one of Germany’s greatest organ builders of the early 18th century, had designed an unusually eclectic instrument for the palace chapel at Charlottenburg, Berlin. This organ combined design features from northern and central Germany, a synthesis of styles that allowed a greater musical range than other organs of the period.

After choosing the Charlottenburg organ for Cornell’s design, Yokota realized he had a personal connection to the instrument. “This organ happened to be the first organ that I ever heard in my life,” says Yokota. When he was fourteen, “sort of by accident” he bought a record that had been reconstructed from old 78 LPs recorded in 1933, before the Charlottenburg-Schlosskapelle organ was destroyed. For Yokota, listening to this recorded music was so striking that he?s been devoted to organ music ever since.