The outstanding collection of seventy-two baroque pipe organs is one of Oaxaca´s lesser-known cultural treasures. Built between 1686 and 1891, these organs remain today as evidence of a glorious musical past when Oaxaca was the third most important center of music in New Spain, after Mexico City and Puebla, and a church was not considered complete unless it had an organ. Beginning in the 1990s, a growing awareness and appreciation of these marvelous instruments has led to conservation and restoration projects, concerts, and festivals throughout the state.
Although many hundreds of organs have existed in Oaxaca since 1544 (the earliest archival reference to an organ), over the course of time most of them have been lost due to normal deterioration, natural disasters, neglect, and/or willful destruction. Eight organs have been restored, reconstructed, or repaired and are now playable, while the remaining sixty-four instruments exist in varying states of conservation. Some are represented only by an empty exterior case or some interior parts, while others are completely intact and may be restored someday. But despite their condition, the relatively small sample of seventy-one organs is enough to reveal a fascinating panorama of construction techniques and musical characteristics spanning over two hundred years. Furthermore, it is almost certain that there are still more organs in Oaxacan villages waiting to be discovered, and it is urgent to register them before they disappear.
OF THE OAXACAN ORGANS
The Oaxacan organs preserve elements of Iberian baroque organ design—one 45-note keyboard with a short octave (until the mid-19th century), no pedals, and meantone temperament—at the same time that they developed idiosyncratic exterior features—a profile with rounded protuberances on the sides (“hips”) and the unusually lavish case and pipe decoration of many 18th-century instruments.
Most of the organs are still in relatively authentic condition and have been little altered or modernized over the course of time. This is in large part related to the isolation and poverty of many of the communities in which they are located, the abandonment and neglect of the organs once they ceased to function, and a conservative tradition of organbuilding resistant to change.
Around 40% of the Oaxacan organs date from the 18th century or earlier, whereas most of the organs in other states of Mexico date from the 19th century.
Most of the organs were built in the state of Oaxaca, with the exception of a few later examples originating in Puebla. Although projects were sometimes supervised by non-Oaxacan maestros, the actual construction and decoration of the organs would have been carried out by local artisans, manifesting the same talent for fine craftsmanship which still flourishes in the state today.
All the Oaxacan organs are still located in churches, not one of them is in a museum.
INSTITUTE OF OAXACAN HISTORIC ORGANS
Founded in the year 2000 with the support of the Alfredo Harp Helú Foundation, the Instituto de Órganos Históricos de Oaxaca A.C. (Institute of Oaxacan Historic Organs or IOHIO, pronounced YOYO) strives to raise awareness about the organs by means of the following activities:
Assure that the restored instruments are played and maintained and that the unrestored instruments are protected, conserved, and documented
- Offer musical and technical training at the local level.
Promote the organs through concerts, festivals, publications, conferences and recordings
Increase knowledge about the organs through archive and community research
The IOHIO is committed to protect, conserve, document, and promote the historic pipe organs in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico; to raise consciousness about their importance as part of the national and international cultural heritage; and to reintegrate the restored instruments into the present-day life of their communities.
We believe that the historic pipe organs merit respect and support. These multifaceted instruments still delight us with their rich sound, their elegant appearance, and their fine mechanism. In addition, they represent a link to the history of their communities and remind us of the commitment of the ancestors of present-day Oaxacans who financed their construction.
RESTORED OR RECONSTRUCTED ORGANS IN OAXACA
- San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya (restored in 1991)
- San Andrés Zautla (restored in 1996)
- The Oaxaca Cathedral (Oaxaca City) (reconstructed in 1997)
- Santa María de la Natividad Tamazulapan (reconstructed in 1997)
- Santo Domingo Yanhuitlán (reconstructed in 1998)
- La Basílica de la Soledad (Oaxaca City) (reconstructed in 2000)
- Santa María de la Asunción Tlaxiaco (restored in 2002)
- San Pedro Zapotitlán Lagunas (repaired in 2003)
For more information about the restored or reconstructed organs in Oaxaca please click here.
The remaining sixty-four instruments exist in varying states of conservation. Some are represented only by an empty exterior case or some interior parts, while others are largely intact. But no matter what their condition, all the organs can provide us with important information about construction techniques and musical characteristics of the past. It is most important to conserve them now in the hopes that sometime in the future, the more complete organs might be restored to produce music once again after so many years of silence.
CDS OF THE OAXACAN ORGANS
The IOHIO is pleased to announce that the first four CDs of our series “Órganos Históricos de Oaxaca, México” are available. Now you may hear some of the most exciting concerts from our International Organ and Early Music Festivals, played by outstanding national and international organists. Each recording includes a 20-page booklet with color photos and essays about the organs by Barbara Owen and Cicely Winter. Please note that they have cardboard rather than plastic cases in support of the ecological initiatives of the Alfredo Harp Helú Foundation in Oaxaca.
We highly recommend these unique recordings to aficionados of the Spanish organ repertoire and of the organs of Latin America, Mexico and Oaxaca.
The CDs are for sale in Oaxaca in the Librería (bookstore) Grañen Porrúa (Alcalá 104), the store of the Museo de Filatelia (Reforma 504). For Mexican orders, please communicate with us at email@example.com. U.S. and other international orders may be placed through the Organ Historical Society catalog.
More information about the recordings
The Instituto de Órganos Históricos de Oaxaca A.C. is supported by the Alfredo Harp Helú Foundation Oaxaca (FAHHO), Mexican government institutions, and individual donors.