MRI Forum 10

"Pipe Organ Building and the Jesuits in China"

by Professor David Francis Urrows
Department of Music, Hong Kong Baptist University

Language: English  
Transcript: to view


Summary of the Presentation

The technological and musical accomplishments in China of the Jesuit missionaries and the esteem shown for their achievements by a succession of rulers – most famously the Kangxi Emperor – have long been known. Some genre-specific studies – astronomy, the graphic arts, horology and clockmaking – have appeared in the past decade, but their musical accomplishments have been less often documented in any detail or accuracy. This is especially true of the area of musical instrument construction, and the area of pipe organ building in particular. No one class of instruments more represents the confluence of Western musical art and Jesuit (and other Christian) religious practice.

While none of these instruments have survived, by piecing together reports and comments scattered in source letters, original publications, memorials, antiquarian print and photography collections, and a range of biographical writings, a picture emerges of a cottage industry dedicated to the manufacture of Western pipe organs in China, beginning with a small portative made in Macau in 1601. Research into the history of these instruments and their builders has been a primary area of inquiry for the Pipe Organ in China Project (POC-P) since its founding in 1989.

Profile of the Speaker

David Francis Urrows is Assistant Professor in the Department of Music at Hong Kong Baptist University. He received his doctorate from Boston University in 1987, and has also taught at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, Eastern Mediterranean University, and at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.

As director of The Pipe Organ in China Project since 1989, he has published articles and given papers around the world on the history of Western sacred music in China. His other major research interest lies in 19 Century German Lieder, and in particular the music of Otto Dresel, whose collected works he is editing for publication. He has also written extensively on the music of American composer Randall Thompson.