What was the organetto?

Feb 6, 2018 | blog, Héloïse and Abélard, medieval | 0 comments

One of the most fun things about attending an early music concert is getting the chance to see and hear instruments you might not have heard of before.

In our next concert, featuring secular love songs from medieval France, we’ll showcase the organetto — a portable pipe instrument similar to both an accordion and an organ that was popular in the 14th and 15th centuries.

We invited Charles Metz, who has a PhD in Historical Performance Practice from Washington University in St. Louis, to speak with us about the organetto in advance of the concert. While he has previously played harpsichord and continuo organ with the Consort, this will be his first time performing on organetto!

Below is our Q&A with Charles. You can catch his organetto debut with the Newberry Consort Feb. 16 to 18 for performances of Forbidden Love: The Passion of Héloïse & Abelard!

Q: Can you describe what an organetto is like and how you play it?
A: It is pumped with the hand while playing. The button-type keyboard is about two octaves, and the keys have the same arrangement as a modern keyboard. It plays one note at a time and is used for a single part in a polyphonic motet or chanson. The instrument will sit on my left knee, my left hand operates the bellows and my right hand pushes the buttons.

Q: What does the organetto sound like?
A: Its sound is a clear, flute-like pipe that blends well with other instruments.

Q: How were organettos used in the middle ages?
A: They were used in religious processions with the instrument fitted with a strap to carry it and it was used in secular monophonic dance music. It is special as it is one of the earliest instruments which later developed into the organ as we know it today. 

Q: You are an expert in the harpsichord. How did you get interested in playing the organetto?
A: I started out playing modern piano but switched in graduate school to harpsichord. I have been playing the harpsichord for 40 years and is the instrument I perform most. The organetto is a very special instrument only useful for medieval music. Because of my keyboard background I was asked to play it. This will be my debut!  

Q: What do you like about performing with the Newberry Consort?
A: The Newberry Consort is the premier Early Music ensemble of Chicago. Working with individuals that have great musicianship and have such a deep understanding of the music is always a learning experience for me that makes me a better musician. 



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