This article explores the role of the organ as a political tool in nineteenth-century France. Under the Napoleonic Concordat (1802–1905), which established Catholicism as the official religion of the nation while placing the Catholic church under the authority of the state, the organ epitomized the political situation of a country marked by the inextricable entanglement of politics and religion. Drawing on a wide range of materials, including national and local archives, instrument makers’ papers, and scientific and ecclesiastical reports on organ building, I analyze how governments and the clergy jointly orchestrated the construction of a metropolitan and colonial network of organs, before turning to the social motivations for such programs—the church and state’s eagerness to establish and maintain their authority over society in the wake of successive revolutions and political upheavals. I consider how these programs resulted in the imposition of new scientific, technological, and musical standards that generated controversies over the relationship between religion and modernity. In so doing, this article highlights the benefits of social history for a better understanding of the organ and its reciprocal heuristic value within broader histories of sound, culture, and politics.

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