Hans Fidom Historicism in the 21st century
Het ORGEL 96 (2000), nr. 6, 14-19 [summary]

Organ Örgryte Nya Kyrka in GöteborgThe new organ in Örgryte Nya Kyrka in Göteborg (Sweden), built in 17th-century North-German style, sounds very convincing. The discussions in het ORGEL show, on the other hand, that historicism is not supported by all organists. Consequently, the question of the significance of historicism in the organ world of the 21st century requires some attention.

Considering art as a means of communication indicates that an organist has to deal with three filters between what a composer wants to ‘say’ and what the public detects of this message. These filters are determined by the possibilities of the organ, the possibilities of the organist and the difference between the frame of reference of the composer and that of the organist. Especially in the case of ancient music the third filter deserves serious consideration.

If the organist is regarded as an artist, a situation occurs in which the organist can legitimately decide how to transmit the composer’s intention to the public; he can chose to take advantage of the effects of the filters. Knowledge of the composition may inspire him to make certain artistic decisions, for example, to try to make the filters as transparent as possible (which would meet the demands of historicism); but the organist might equally well choose to do otherwise in order to improve the quality of his artistic communication. Of course, knowledge needs to be acquired before one can make a choice whether or not to use it: the artistic communication of most artists who pretend not to need such knowledge tends to be boring quite soon, as they have no reservoir of possibilities to chose from.

The public has to cope with a filter as well: its frame of reference is also not the same as that of composers.

The festival, as it has developed in the historicising scene during the past 30 years, offers great opportunities to transmit knowledge to organists and their public, as it is in fact a meeting-place for organists, composers, public, organ builders, and musicologists.

Looked at this way, historicism is of great importance with respect to the future. At the same time it may be clear that other options are of no less importance; options that provide the organ world with the conditions needed to stimulate contemporary interpretations of both ancient and new music, and the cultivation of improvisation as well.