Erzähler German

This stop was invented in 1904 by Ernest M. Skinner, who says in his Composition of the Organ:

Erzähler: German, literally “story teller”; an early invention of the author. An 8' stop, strongly tapered, which is hybrid in charactar. It is neither flute, string nor diapason; has a light voice; yet will sound through a considerable amount of tone. It has a talkative quality and varying moods and stands unenclosed in the Great organ. The top of these pipes is one fourth the diameter at the mouth and sounds the first upper partial, or octave, in equal prominence with the foundation tone. Historically, this stop represents an interesting modification of the old Viol d'Amour in which the bells were cut off. To obtain the correct pitch, a transposition of pipes was necessary, dues to the shortening by removal of the bells. In revoicing, certain notes were found to have a prominent octave harmonic. This quality was developed in all the notes by a precise regulation of wind. An increase in physical peculiarities resulted in the form shown in Audsley's The Art of Organ Building, Vol. II, page 564 [reproduced here]. Later modifications further deveoped the unusual character of this voice, which now bears little resemblance to the original. It was named Erzähler, meaning storyteller, owing to its talkative character. It named itself. (See Kleiner Erzähler.) The first example of the Erzähler appeared in the Dutch Reformed Church, Kingston, New York.
The Erzähler ... apparently changes color to suit its surroundings. The Erzähler is the chameleon of organ stops. It is unique and does not resemble the tone of other tapered stops such as the Gemshorn or Spitz Flute. I am almost prepared to say it forms a fifth family of tone. ... At tenor C its scale at the mouth is 57. Its top is one quarter the mouth diameter. It has a 1/6 mouth, cut up 1/3 its width. The Erzähler may be tuned with sleeves if properly fitted. All pipes of the lower octave of the Erzähler are scale alike at the mouth, namely 57. The tops are graduated from 55/64" at B to 1-51/62" at CC. Continuing the normal scale downward develops excessive power. ... The Erzähler has small ears except in the upper octave, which is not tapered.

According to Audsley, who provides the illustration reproduced here, gives the mouth height as 1/5, rather than 1/6 as specified by Skinner, and describes the pipes as being slotted. He describes its tone as “compound and singularly bright”. Irwin has this to say:

It serves as a binding tone between bright and dull stops, high-pitched and low-pitched stops, and the unisons and the mutations and mixtures. The fundamental and octave components are both noticeable. The rest of the train of overtones contains elements of the String, open Flute, and Foundation stops, without any color-forming fringe of the very high-pitched overtones. It is available in many degrees of loudness and scale.

The Erzähler is nearly always found at 8' pitch, though 4' and 16' versions have been made. According to legend, Skinner asked a German employee for a German word that would express the idea of “chatty” or “garrulous”. The employee suggested the word erzähler, meaning “narrator” or “storyteller”. Legend also has it that Henry Willis III copied Skinner's invention and renamed it Sylvestrina.


Echo Erzähler
Erzähler Celeste


Osiris contains about 150 examples, about 80% of which are by E. M. Skinner or Aeolian-Skinner. Two are at 16' pitch, one at 4', and the rest are at 8'. Two-thirds of the E. M. Skinner organs listed in Osiris contain Erzählers.

Erzahler 8', Great; Cathedral of St John the Divine, New York City, New York, USA; Skinner 1910. (This is the earliest known example.)

Erzahler 16', 8', Great; First Presbyterian Church, San Anselmo, California, USA; Aeolian-Skinner 1966. (Low 12 Haskell cylindrical.)

Erzaehler 4', Celestial II; St. Philip's Cathedral, Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Aeolian-Skinner 1962.

Sound Clips

See the Sound Files appendix for general information.

Erzahler 8', Swell First Baptist Church, Riverside, California, USA Schantz, 1966 arpeggio St. Anne
Erzahler 8', Great Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek, Michigan, USA Aeolian-Skinner, 1933 St. Anne
Erzähler 8', Choir Culver Academies, Indiana, USA Möller 1951 arpeggio St. Anne


Audsley[1]: Erzähler. Audsley[2]: II.XXXVI Erzähler. Grove[1]: Erzähler. Irwin[1]: Erzähler. Maclean[1]: Erzähler. Skinner[1]: 31-32; XII Erzähler. Sumner[1]: Erzähler.
Copyright © 2001 Edward L. Stauff, all rights reserved.
Erzahler.html - Last updated 13 February 2009.
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