The Organ of Don and Jill Knuth

This sixteen-rank organ was designed and built for our home by Abbott and Sieker of Los Angeles, California, as their “Opus 67.” It has 812 pipes, separated into three divisions:

Manual I

(exposed, highest over the console;
mechanical key action controlling 380 pipes)
Holzgedackt 8
49 wooden pipes including 4 in the facade, plus 7 small metal pipes
Gemshorn 8
44 metal pipes (low 12 notes common with Holzgedackt)
Prästant 4
56 metal pipes including copper façade
Blockflöte 2
56 metal pipes
Quinte 1 1/3
56 metal pipes
Mixtur III
112 metal pipes in addition to Quinte
Mixture pitches: CC--BB, 1 1/3 + 1 + 2/3; C--B, 2 + 1 1/3 + 1; c'--g''', 2 2/3 + 2 + 1 1/3
Coupler from Manual II to Manual I

Manual II

(enclosed, just above the console;
mechanical key action controlling 312 pipes)
Spitzflöte 8
44 metal pipes (low 12 notes common with Quintadena)
Quintadena 8
49 wooden pipes plus 7 small metal pipes
Rohrflöte 4
56 metal pipes
Prinzipal 2
56 metal pipes
Nasat 2 2/3
56 metal pipes
Terz 1 3/5
44 metal pipes from tenor C to g'''


(exposed, to right of console;
electropneumatic action controlling 120 pipes)
Subbass 16
32 wooden pipes
Kupferprinzipal 8
32 metal pipes including copper façade
Flöte 8
12 wooden pipes extending the Subbass
Oktave 4
12 metal pipes extending the Kupferprinzipal
Contrafagott 16
32 reeds with half-length metal resonator pipes
Coupler from Manual I to Pedal
Coupler from Manual II to Pedal


Wooden keys (grenadill)
Walnut music rack
6 general combination pistons
18 divisional combination pistons, 6 per division
Setterboard under music rack to adjust combinations
Swell and Crescendo pedals
Music cabinet with 78 individual sliding shelves

The voicing follows the “North German Baroque” tradition, similar to the fine organs of Bach's day. The manual divisions use 2.5'' of wind pressure, and the pedal division uses 3.5''; this may be compared to 15'' of pressure in the Wurlitzer organ at a nearby pizza parlor. The quiet Meidinger blower comes from Switzerland. Some of the pipes were made by Gebrüder Käs in Germany, and the pedal reeds are from Trivo Inc. in Hagerstown, Maryland; but most of the pipework is by Abbott and Sieker, who did all the voicing.

The organ may be defined as a musical instrument gaining sound from pipes, those pipes being set on wind chests supplied with air under constant pressure. The flow of air to the pipes is controlled by intermediary mechanisms from one or more keyboards. The name implies pipes; thus the designation “pipe organ” is redundant as would be the term “string violin.” A reed organ is more properly called a harmonium. Electronic devices devoid of pipes and reeds do not qualify for the name. --- E. Power Biggs

The organ was dedicated on 6 June 1975 with a recital by Ruth Schepman, playing works by Frescobaldi, Buxtehude, Bach, Fullenwieder, Alain, and Mendelssohn. Don and Jill began the program with “A Fancy For Two To Play” by Thomas Tomkins (1572--1656).

Don's father was a Lutheran school teacher and church organist. Don studied piano, and for a brief time organ, through high school. Later as a faculty member of Caltech, he was called upon to be a long-term substitute organist at Faith Lutheran Church in Pasadena, California. He became a member of the American Guild of Organists in 1965, and saw his first Abbott and Sieker organ at that time. After investigating more than a dozen organ builders in Denmark, Germany, England, and the United States, he chose Abbott and Sieker to build this instrument because of the enthusiasm, dedication, and craftsmanship evident in their work.

Knuth's organ teachers were Mathilde Schoessow in Milwaukee, Mary Krimmel in Princeton, and Scott Turkington in Boston. He rarely performs in public (and he says the public can generally be thankful for that). But as a member of Amateur Chamber Music Players he enjoys playing informally with other musicians, especially using the Bösendorfer grand piano that faces the organ. The music room also contains a Monarch upright piano inherited from his father. More than half of the music storage shelves in the organ are filled with an extensive collection of four-hands and eight-hands piano music.

Some online examples

Here's a video of Don Knuth and Jan Overduin playing Stephen Malinowski's Ricercare Named Desire on this organ in 2017.

And here are several other videos in which Jan Overduin illustrates the main tone palettes available:

BWV 564b
The Adagio of Bach's Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue (soft/tender)
BWV 555
Prelude and fugue in E minor (the 8' stops)
BWV 556
Prelude and fugue in F major (8' and 2' flutes)
BWV 557
Prelude and fugue in G major (the small plenums)
BWV 559
Prelude and fugue in A minor (full organ)
BWV 678
Dies sind die heil'gen zehn Gebot' (the Ten Commandments)
BWV 988
Goldberg Variation 17

Published references

In the fall of 1975, Stanford's public relations department put out a press release about this organ. The story was picked up by the Palo Alto Times during the final week of November, and in dozens of newspapers shortly thereafter, accompanied by a dramatic UPI telephoto supplied by Stanford.

After years of dreaming and planning, Prof. Donald Knuth and wife Jill sit at their pipe organ, installed in a special two-story room of their home in Stanford. The instrument has pipes ranging from 2/3 inch tall to eight feet tall.

(Don's mom saw it in The Milwaukee Journal; his aunt and uncle saw it in Kankakee, Illinois; Abbott and Sieker saw it in the Westchester Shopper. It also appeared as a page-filler in Today's Health, January 1976.) Channel 5 news from San Francisco filmed a one-minute story, and National Public Radio broadcast a five-minute interview.

These media events were not, however, the first published references to the Knuths' organ. See the index to Volume 3 of The Art of Computer Programming (1973), under the entry “Royalties, use of”.

The Stanford publicity photo can be seen on page 131 of Uwe Pape's book The Tracker Organ Revival in America (Berlin: Pape Verlag), Publication #65 of the Gesellschaft der Orgelfreunde. See also page 252 for a pen-and-ink drawing of the instrument. Pages 70--71 of another book by Prof. Pape, Organs in America, Volume 2 (Berlin: Pape Verlag, 1984), Publication #106 of the Gesellschaft der Orgelfreunde, describe the concert given by Dr. P. A. Stadtmüller on 17 September, 1982, when members of the German Gesellschaft der Orgelfreunde visited the Knuth home.

Ukrainian translation by Vlad Brown of STD Science
Russian translation by Donna Barrier
Polish translation by Andry Fomin
Czech translation by Daniela Milton

Info about MusiXTeX

Don Knuth's home page

Fantasia Apocalyptica

Program of duets, October 2000

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