Oldest, biggest, best

Odds and ends on organs:

*Gladiator events and chariot races (1st-5th centuries AD), not churches, were the organ's original venues.

*This greatest of wind instruments first piped up over 2,000 years ago (250 BC) and was powered by water.

*The oldest, intact, English-made organ (1630) in the world is located at historic St. Luke's Church in Smithfield, Va.

*But the very oldest organ in the world is at the Basilica of Valre in Sion, Switzerland, and dates back to 1390.

* Organs are ranked by numbers of pipes and ranks (sets of pipes). And most sources seem to agree, the largest organ, overall, in the world is the Wanamaker in a Lord & Taylor department store in Philadelphia. It has 461 ranks and 28,482 pipes.

*The Atlantic City Convention Hall organ in New Jersey, however, boasts about 450 ranks and some 33,000 pipes

*Definitive lists may be just a pipe dream, but here are two for good measure. Anthony Thurman, director of development and communications for the American Guild of Organists in New York City, proposed the following as a selection of greatest organ pieces:

1. Organ works by Bach (1685-1750, German)

2. Three Chorales for organ, by Csar Franck (1822-1890, French)

3. Symphony No. 5 - Toccata, by Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937, French)

4. Organ works by Olivier Messiaen (1908-92, French)

Among the key qualities Dr. Thurman looks for in an organ:

1. Sensitive playing action (keyboard, pedal boards).

2. Beautiful voicing.

3. Versatility.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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