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date: 25 November 2020

Pulsator organorum (Lat.: ‘a beater of organs’)locked

  • James W. McKinnon


(Lat.: ‘a beater of organs’)

The term appears in a number of medieval texts, where it means simply a ‘player of the organ’. Some 20th-century writers on the organ, however, have explained the word ‘pulsator’ by claiming that the cumbersome keys of the medieval organ could be depressed only by a blow of the fist.

The Latin verb pulsare (which means to beat not only in the sense of to strike but also to palpitate) has been associated since classical times with the playing of musical instruments. For example pulsare lyram (‘to play the lyre’) was in common Roman usage with no connotation of heavy beating. The application of such a connotation to medieval organ playing can be traced to 19th-century Germany, where the similarity of pulsator organorum to Orgelschläger was observed. The German phrase did indeed mean a beater of organs (it occurs in Johann Seidel’s influential Die Orgel und ihr Bau, Breslau, 1843...

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W. Apel: Geschichte der Orgel- und Klaviermusik bis 1700 (Kassel, 1967; Eng. trans., rev., 1972)
F.Ll. Harrison: Music in Medieval Britain (London, 1958, 4/1980)
E.J. Hopkins and E.F. Rimbault: The Organ: its History and Construction (London, 1855, 3/1887/R)