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the cambridge companion to the organ

Edited by Nicholas Thistlethwaite and Geoffrey Webber
Cambridge University Press, 1998
ISBN 0 521 57309 2 (hardback)
ISBN 0 521 57584 2 (paperback)
340 pages

This book's strength is in what it is not. Many texts are written that attempt to be encyclopedic in their coverage of a particular topic, and some even succeed if the topic is sufficiently small and well-defined. The Cambridge Companion to the Organ neatly sidesteps this temptation and instead acts as an introduction to the organ, the organist and organ music.

Sixteen authors contributed chapters to this work. This diversity does not result in a disjointed feel - instead, each chapter sheds a different light on the overall topic. It would be difficult for a single author to amply cover such diverse issues as the organ's history, physics, temperament and casework.

The largest section of the Companion is that dedicated to the study of selected repertoires. Here the key word is "selected" - the editors make no attempt to hide the fact that some schools of music are omitted to permit greater study of others. This can be a weakness, as the selection process sometimes seems arbitrary. It is also a strength however, as each section included is well presented with careful consideration of not just the music but also the organs it was intended to be played upon.

In a strange way, this freedom from an attempt to be comprehensive has allowed the Cambridge Companion to the Organ to be more wide-ranging in its scope than most books on pipe organs. The large bibliography emphasises this partially introductory nature, but as it stands this book will satisfy and set thinking those intelligent and curious about the pipe organ.

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