Endless breath? The pipe organ and immortality

The organ provides, of course, a marvellous site for interdisciplinary study, whether it be architectural or decorative in nature (cases), or about finely calibrated linkwork mechanics (key actions), or the ‘physics of sound’ (pipe lengths and forms). That the organ lends itself to imagery and metaphor has also not gone unnoticed: how many times have the organ-centric references of Milton or Brady been quoted? Only one inanimate object has been habitually described as having lungs or as being capable of a kind of mechanical breathing. With many illustrations, Francis O’Gorman takes this subject on by investigating a range of nineteenth-century and early- twentieth-century poetry which shows how, arguably, the organ and its association with unending breath, and breath which is a foretaste or ‘fore-hearing’ of eternity, took a new turn with the advent of mechanical organ blowing in the nineteenth century.



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