The Organetto


click on image for organetto sound
(205kb wav)
or here for same in mp3 format

There are easily manageable organs which are portable and are pumped and played by the same person, who also sings either the soprano or tenor part.

Roman de la Rose
13th century

an mp3 of Schafertanz
(organetto plays melody)


The organetto was one of the most popular instruments of the thirteenth through sixteenth centuries. Relatively light in weight, the instrument, when equipped with a sling, could be carried about and played in religious processions. The player provides his own wind supply by pumping a bellows made of sheepskin and wood with his left hand while playing a button type keyboard of approximately two octaves with his right hand. Because of its limited air supply, the organetto could only play one note at a time. Thus it was used for monophonic dance music, or a single part in a motet, chanson, or other polyphonic work. 

Pipes are arranged in two rows and have a high lead content. The key action is mechanical: depressing a key allows air from the bellows to enter the appropriate pipe. Although the organetto is tuned in Pythagorean temperament, other temperaments are possible by pushing harder or more lightly on the bellows.

Beverley Minster - click to enlarge The playing of Francesco Landini (c. 1325-1397), Italy's best known fourteenth century composer, is charmingly described in a nouvella by Giovanni da Prato: 

The sun was coming up and beginning to get warm, a thousand birds were singing. Francesco was ordered to play on his organetto to see if the singing of the birds would lessen or increase with his playing. As soon as he began to play, many birds at first became silent, then they redoubled their singing and, strange to say, one nightingale came and perched on a branch over his head.

Lo Spagnoletto - dance tune by Negri
(first, fourth and sixth verses by the organetto)

Petit Vriens - dance tune
(includes organetto in addition to soprano recorder, sacbut and rebec)

Bobbing Joe - dance tune by Playford
(first and sixth verse by organetto)

Official Branle - dance tune

Musica Antiqua's organetto was built by the John Brombaugh Organ Company from a fifteenth century painting on wood by Hans Memling. The bellows provide air pressure only on the downswing, so the player has to space the opening of the bellows much as a vocalist carefully places breaths. Notice the wood inlays which appear on both sides as well as the front. 

Musica Antiqua Instruments

Additional Resources:
  • A. Schlick: Spiegel der Orgelmacher und Organisten (Speyer, 1511/r1959, English trns. E. B. Barber, Buren, 1980)
  • S. Virdung: Musica getutscht (Basle, 1511/r1970)
  • C. Antegnati: L'arte organica (Basle, 1511, English trans. C. Meyer, 1980)
  • M. Praetorius: Syntagma musicum ii, (Wolfenbuttel, 1618/r1958)
  • M. Mersenne: Harmonie universelle (Paris, 1636/r1963)
  • A. Werckmeister: Orgelprobe (Frankfurt am Main, 1681)
  • J. P. Bendeler: Organopoeia (Frankfurt am Main, 1690/r1972)
  • J. H. Biermann: Organographia hildesiensis specialis (Hildesheim, 1738)
  • J. Adlung: Musica mechanica organoedi (Berlin, 1768/r1961)
  • A. A. Hulphers: Historisk afhandling om musik och instrumenter (Westeras, 1773/r1971)
  • E. J. Hopkins and E. F. Rimbault: The Organ: its History and Construction (London, 1855)
  • H. G. Farmer: The Organ of the Ancients from Eastern Sources (London, 1931)
  • H. Klotz: Uber die Orgelkunst der Gotik der Renaissance und des Barock (Kassel, 1934)

Angel playing organetto - 16th century
from the Evreux Cathedral