Mid-Atlantic: Pianists on the Organ – What to Play When You’re Just Starting

Hello all from the Mid-Atlantic! Our post this month in our continuing series on the transition from piano to organ comes from Tom Robak.

There’s a lot that pianists can play on the organ even before they acquire lots of pedal technique. Here are some categories of pieces that will be useful to a pianist:

  • General “keyboard music” that is written for any or multiple keyboard instruments
  • Organ music for manuals only
  • Harpsichord/clavichord repertoire
  • Organ music with minimal pedal
  • Music for harmonium/reed organ

You can do a lot of your own research by scoping out IMSLP and other repositories of free sheet music, as well as your local music libraries. To get you started though, here are some of my suggestions that might suit varied levels of expertise:


Johann Pachelbel
Magnificat Fugues
Collected Organ Works (Peters): includes chorale preludes for all seasons, toccatas, other short pieces.
J.G. Fischer’s Musical Flowers– useful short fugues, manuals only
J. P. Sweelinck
Toccatas, Puer Nobis
J.S. Bach
Most Bach keyboard works will work on piano, harpsichord and/or organ. Some textures are more organ-like than others – use your judgement – but maybe avoid jaunty dance suite movements

(Excerpt from Delbert Disselhorst’s Order of Difficulty for Bach works (Google for more)):

Neumeister chorales (selected); Chorale fughettas from the Miscellaneous collection, Eight Preludes and Fugues (F,B-flat, d,g,G,a,C,e), “In dulci jubilo,” BWV 751, “Nun freut euch,” BWV 755, “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern,” BWV 739, Fugue in D Major, BWV 580, “Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr,” BWV 711, Pastorale, BWV 590, Alla breve, BWV 589, Canzona, BWV 588, “Herzlich thut mich verlangen,” BWV 727, Selections from Orgelbüchlein. Partita on “O Gott, du frommer Gott” BWV 767, Sonata II, BWV 526 (2nd mvt.), Sonata V, BWV 529 (2nd mvt.)

Karg-Elert – Small Preludes; op. 65 (Chorale Preludes)
Flor Peeters – 60 Short Pieces; 35 Miniatures

French Baroque

• A must for the beginning organist. While the style is quite tricky to master, the actual notes of most pieces are not terribly complicated.
• Many available for free online – again IMSLP is a great resource.
• Dandrieu, Clerembault, F. Couperin, Michel Corrette, Daquin (esp. Noels)
• In print: “Noels by Daquin, Balbastre, and Dandrieu” (Warner Bros—a total of four vols)
• French Canadian Baroque! Livre d’orgue de Montréal, available in full on IMSLP. Magnificats, and short parts of the French organ mass
• To learn more about the style and registration, read “The Language of the Classical French Organ: A Musical Tradition Before 1800”

French Romantic/Early 20th
  • Alexandre Guilmant, op. 65 – L’Organiste liturgiste
  • Cesar Franck – L’Organiste
  • L’Orgue mystique, Opp.55-57 Charles Tournemire
  • Messiaen – Apparition de l’eglise eternelle (not as hard as you might think)
  • 16 chorales: Le Tombeau de Titelouze—Marcel Dupre
  • 12 Choral Preludes on Gregorian Chants for Organ—Jeanne Demessieux (Warner Bros)
  • Voluntaries by John Stanley (op. 5, 6, 7) or William Boyce – free free free on IMSLP!
  • Fitzwilliam Virginal Book – great for learning about early keyboard music, summary of Renaissance and early Baroque style, hugely influential
  • Selected easier pieces by John Stainer, Ralph Vaughn Williams (hymn preludes), Alec Rowley
  • 36 Short hymn preludes and postludes (3 vols) Healey Willan
  • 30 Hymn Preludes (in 3 vols) Healey Willan
  • Hymn Improvisations (about 12 vols)—Paul Manz
  • 10 Voluntaries—William Boyce (Oxford)
  • 39 Voluntaries—John Stanley (Oxford)
  • Voluntaries—Peter Prelleur (Oxford)
  • Organ Music—S.S, Wesley (Oxford)
  • Organ Music—William Croft (Oxford)
Other Useful Resources and Collections
  • Oxford University Press – Organ for Manuals I & II
  • OCP Organ Book, 2 Vols.: Kreutz, Alstott, Fonder, Lindusky
  • The Liturgical Organist: Carlo Rossini
  • (7 vols. J. Fischer) very, very easy, but not bad! Early books especially tasteful for short filler interludes.
  • The Parish Organist: 12 Vols (Concordia)
  • Organ music/Chorale Preludes of J.G. Walther (4 vols)
  • Concordia Hymn Prelude Series (around 24 vols)
  • A Gregorian Liturgical Year (2 vols so far): Gerald Near (Aureole)
  • Chantworks (3 vols) Gerald Near (Aureole)
  • Choraleworks (3 vols) Gerald Near (Aureole)
  • St Augustine Organbook: Gerald Near (Aureole)
  • Hymn Preludes for the Liturgical Year—F. Peeters (24 vols, pub by Peters)
  • Organ Music—Gordon Young (Sacred Music Press)
  • Augsburg Organ Library (about 12 vols) (Augsburg Fortress)
  • 36 Miniatures for Organ— Noel Rawsthorne (Kevin Mayhew)
  • Blue Cloud Abbey Organ Book—Christopher Uehlein
  • A Collection of Hymns—A. Fedak (Warner Bros)
  • Music for Manuals—Peter Hurford, Ed, 4 vols (Oxford)
  • 80 Chorale Preludes (Pub by Peters) mostly simpler than Bach’s Orgelbuchlein
  • 60 Devotional Pieces (Elevations)—Dom Paul Benoit
  • Rejoice in God’s Saints—D. Cherwien (Augsburg)
  • Short and Easy Organ Collection: 100 pieces (Mayhew)
  • Contemplation: Gentle Music for Organ (Mayhew)
  • The Grand Masters—2 vols, compiled by Charly Martin (editions Foetisch)
  • Orgelmusik im Gottesdienst—2 vols (Peters) some very different items here from the classical repertoire.
  • The Practical Organist—Guilmant (Dover)
  • Organ Works—Pachelbel (Dover) includes chorale preludes
  • Hymn Preludes for the Church Year, 2 vols (Mayhew)
  • Organ Works—Boehm (Warner Bros)
  • The Organist’s Luturgical Year (Mayhew)
  • First Organ Book—Clerambault (Warner Bros)
  • The Organ Works—Russell Schulz-Widmar (Warner Bros)
  • The Oxford Book of Christmas Music
  • Cantantibus Organis – Old Masters from Various European Schools (All Free on IMSLP)


  1. Dewey Jacks says:

    Is it possible to start right out on organ even if you haven’t had any piano experience? I have have been told that you can,and I have also been told it’s better to have piano experience first. At the present time,I have no organ to practice on,…the “electronic” organ(unfortunately a Hammond) I had gave up the ghost on me. I am a middle aged adult learning to play(54 yrs. old). I am not yet an AGO member,but considering it as I enjoy organ music.

    • yes you can start at the organ with no piano. I did it and I have had students who have done it. If you become more advanced you may need to go back and pick up some piano technique, but if the organ is what attracts you and you have patience you can do it.

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