The pipe organ has made a significant name for itself in the Western world, particularly through its association with the Christian church and worship but also in secular life. Many famous composers like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelssohn were also organists and composed beautiful pieces of organ music. Mozart even described the organ as “the king of all instruments” (Komlós, 2002). While the Western world was mesmerized by the organ, the Ottoman Empire mostly remained unfamiliar with and unaffected by this one-person orchestra outside of its Christian communities. Religious differences between the general Ottoman society and Christian minorities without a doubt played a role in the instrument’s lack of a place in the Ottoman music history. Churches were the main patrons of organists even though the organ had a long history of secular use as well, and they were the ones who encouraged organ music and commissioned pieces for the organs.
Although it is sad that a magnificent instrument like the pipe organ doesn’t have a prominent place within our culture, one good thing to come out of this is the wide variety of organs from different organ schools across Europe that found their homes within Christian communities in modern day Turkey. Especially with the recent initiatives like İstanbul Pipe Organ Team that aim to establish a secular organ culture in the country, today we can experience different organ schools within the limits of one city or even a single church if we are lucky enough.
The Church of St. Anthony of Padua, the largest Roman Catholic Church in Turkey, both in its size and community, is home to two organs. The main organ was built by Mascioni in 1947 and brought into the church in 1948, and is the biggest organ in Turkey. It debuted on 15th of February 1948 on the same day that the church was opened, which marked the anniversary of St. Anthony’s burial in the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua in Italy. The electric organ, which stands in the gallery above the narthex with all its glory, has three manuals as well and 32 registers. This organ is one of the two Italian built organs in Turkey.
The Mascioni organ was overhauled by Fasen Ogelbau in 2016. This was the only official restoration of the organ since it was built in the church and evidently, the instrument was in a bad state when the restoration started. The restoration focused on fixing technical errors in the organ’s console and tuning the instrument. Fasen Ogelbau stated on their webpage that the organ can be played now but they are planning a more extensive restoration and refurbishment in the near future.
The second organ is located in the Crypt of the church. It was built by Gebrüder-Rieger in 1893 and it’s one of the three Rieger organs in Turkey. Archives show that this organ was originally commissioned for St. Mary Church in Sarıyer. It was later moved to the Church of St. Antony. The organ underwent a restoration by the Istanbul Pipe Organ Team and is now in great condition. It’s decorated with red and gold painted wood columns and small statues. It’s as much a delight to look at it as it is to listen to its ethereal sound.
Istanbul Pipe Organ Team has recently recorded Carl Loewe’s “Komm herbei, komm herbei, Tod!” with the Rieger organ. It is yet to be released but if you love organ music and are interested in pipe organs of Turkey, I’d recommend Istanbul Pipe Organ Team’s new album which they recorded in various churches of İstanbul.
Komlós, Katalin. “Mozart and the Organ: Piping Time.” The Musical Times, vol. 143, no. 1880, Musical Times Publications Ltd., 2002, pp. 59–61, https://doi.org/10.2307/1004551.
Organ Music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelssohn mentioned in the first paragraph