Photo: C. Bassett ©

Dr.Jeannine Jordan interviews Martin Ott.

August 2010 Pro-Motion Music newsletter

Dr. Jordan also authors the PromotionMusic Blog, rich in news about music, pipe organs, and travel.

Photo: C. Bassett ©

Metal pipes are purchased from German pipe makers and are tailored to Martin Ott specifications. Wooden pipes are built at the St. Louis workshop using oak, maple, or cherry.

Martin has 24 cousins on his father’s side; every one plays a musical instrument, several at high professional level. House music was an important part of growing up. His father, Alfred Ott, played the cello, his mother the piano, his sister Barbara the piano, Martin plaid the violin and his brother Nicolaus the piano.

Martin Ott by C. Bassett ©

Distler's house organ build in 1938 by Paul Ott.
Photo source: Hugo-Distler-Archiv, Lübeck

The Orgelbewegung, Distler’s teachers, and the Zeitgeist of the early 20th century influenced Distler’s compositional output. But nothing influenced Distler’s organ music as prominently as the instruments themselves. Distler wrote his works for two main organs: a historical Stellwagen instrument in Lübeck’s St. Jakobi-Kirche and his own house organ in Stuttgart, built by Paul Ott. (Source: Celebrating Hugo Distler: 100 Year Anniversary of the Birth of a Genius. -Diapason Magazine)


Distler's house organ has a 16' Pedal stop named a TRICHTERDULZIAN (dulzian with funnel shaped resonator). This stop was reportedly invented by Paul Ott.

Paul Ott Organ, 1946, (12 Stops)

(2 of the stops made from cardboard), from the house of Wolfgang Adelung (author of organ reference book: Einführung in den Orgelbau). (Source: Ladack Instruments)

Antoine Bouchard at the Ott organ, Laval University, Quebec (12 stops)

Canadian organist and historian, Antoine Bouchard ordered four small tracker organs for Quebec from the German firm Paul Ott in 1963.

Bouchard catalogued and recorded the Complete Organ works of Pachebel in 1995. His book: "Quelques Reflexions Sur Le Jeu De L'orgue", 2003. ISBN: 2-7637-8018-0, demonstrates the value of tracker organ for baroque organ music.)

Opus 37 at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, 1977, (17 stops)

Built by Paul Ott in 1977, the Russian organist Valery Maisky, who just then imigrated from Russia to Tel Aviv, gave the inauguration recital.

In 1994 it was restored by Ernst Junker, himself a student of Paul Ott.


Oct 15, 02:17 am

Our Philosophy of Organ Building

Martin Ott Pipe Organ Company builds pipe organs following the centuries-old tradition of European organ building. Our primary key action is mechanical (tracker). Despite his keen preference for the solidity and touch responsiveness of mechanical (tracker) action, Martin Ott has also built organs with electric pull-down, slider-chests and electro-pneumatic action chests. The magnets are controlled via an electronic relay. These instruments, like Opus 112, were commissioned with enhanced levels of stop combination flexibility and also for the use of external interfaces such as MIDI in/out. It is true that for very large pipe organs, destined to large acoustical environments, electric actions can render the project more feasible. That said, an instrument like Opus 90, with its 51 stops and 69 ranks has an electrical stop action but maintains its full keyboard agility with totally mechanical key action. For Martin, perhaps this instrument exemplified the best of both worlds.

Electrical and electronic components have their place. While electrical pull-downs and stop actions can be viewed as advantageous on large organs to facilitate multi-levels stop-set combination, Martin maintains that the use of electronics for the keyboard control has its limits. Here is why: First, the quality of the keyboard touch and responsiveness on a note attack is greatly questionable, if not impairing, for the organist. Each note becomes an on/off switch, with no-articulation or differentiation of attack from one note to the next. Secondly, the reliability of electronic key based action in the making of a pipe organ is as stable as the components it is made of. In simple terms, computers are computers; they quickly become obsolete, need replacements and can be prone to erratic failure. Modern electronics, used to control a pipe organ, require software updates and software diagnoses for troubleshooting as well as for servicing. It is the world of the virtual, the invisible.

Historically, many early electric and electronic systems have fallen into a state of disrepair, as the technical competence has evolved beyond many of these proprietary devices. Even with more recent electronics, it appears to be a pity to go hastily toward such compromises in order to achieve a multitude of artifices that turn out to be more a fashion requirement than a need for actual usage. After all, one does not listen to the electronic controls but, rather, to the music and how the organist makes the pipes sing and captures emotions.

The test of centuries. Comparatively, mechanical (tracker) actions have always been restorable, and some have survived the test of centuries (read 800 years). By the mid-seventies (1975-78), the knowhow and subtleties in mechanical-action designs had very much reached their peak. The bad rap of some old, heavy to the touch, mechanical keyboards and keyboard couplings had given place to a generation of agile and responsive key actions. The welcome re-design of the suspended key action, better science and geometry and integration of light and stable wood for tracker components allowed even large instruments to be conceived. Some are even built with a detached console, without impairing the level of connectivity the performer desires with each note played. For Martin Ott, the musical difference a contemporary mechanical keyboard action promotes is just that, a note can be played versus stricken, therefore allowing the organist to be precise in musical articulation.

Nathanael Ritz



Photo: Opus 54, C. Bassett ©


The Opus 54 film project was created and produced by Caleb Bassett and Ian Welch.

Opus 54 features interviews and commentary from several key figures from the history of the organ, as well as the talented musicians who make the instrument sing. (90 minutes DVD). You can order your copy at:

Photo: (BACK FROM LEFT TO RIGHT) Paul Ott, Julius Ott, Emil Koser (the technical director at Paul Ott company), Ludwig Doormann, (Godfather to Dieter Ott), Alfred Ott, Dieter Ott. (FRONT) Martin Ott.

The Grand Organ designed by Ronald Sharp for the Sydney Opera House

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