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Pipe organs | Verden | Bremen | Schnitger Organ in Ganderkesee

Day 11 – Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The final day of our tour! It is hard to believe that I have been with this group for 11 days looking at pipe organs all over Northern Germany. Our final day began in Verden, where we heard the 1916 Furtwaengler & Hammer organ in Sts. Maria & Caecilia Dom. The church’s foundation was laid in 1290, the building finally consecrated in 1490. The interior of the Dom is expansive. We first heard Tillmann Benfer play the 1968 Hillebrand organ, which is modeled after historic instruments, to a degree, and located towards the front of the church. Next he

moved to the gallery organ and finally, after a week of all German repertoire, we heard some Widor, the first movement of the Sixth Symphony, and it sounded wonderful on this romantic organ. Tillmann explained that there had been a lot of pressure to replace this fantastic instrument with another historic ‘early music’ organ, but the church went with the more economical plan of just releathering the pneumatic actions. The organ is a gem. I love all pipe organs, but the instruments to which I best relate are instruments built from the mid 19th century through the early 1930s.

We next heard our final Schnitger organ of the trip at in Ganderkesee at Sankt Cyprien & Cornelius. This instrument was built and quickly installed in 1699 while Schnitger’s people were installing another organ in the region. The instrument was fully restored in 2005. Harold Vogel gave an extensive demonstration of the organ and asked me to turn pages for the Bach Prelude and Fugue C. When I looked up at the case you could see Arp Schnitger’s name carved into the impost. Seeing and hearing these organs gives one goose bumps. We must remember that, due to changes imposed on many of the historic organs over time, there return to ‘original condition’ has involved quite a bit of ‘educated guesses’, but in the majority of instances, this work has been done by highly educated and talented builders in the past several decades. I do believe what we are hearing is very close to how the organs originally sounded.

Next we saw a new organ (2002)…built in the style of an early 17th century instrument…in Bremen’s Wallerkirche. I found this instrument pretty tedious and extreme. I can fully understand the use of an organ like this one installed at a University with many organs, but to recreate an organ like this in a worship space is something I don’t fully understand.

Walking into the Dom in Bremen I was immediately impressed with the building, which is immense, richly decorated, and ornate. Again revealing my preference for the ‘romantic sound’ I thought this organ to be one of the best I heard on the trip. During a short recital by students (playing arrangements by Straube of works by Buxtehude and Liszt), this organ’s tonal color impressed me, as imposing as anything Ernest Skinner had achieved in his Symphonic Organs. The organ isn’t original, as it didn’t escape the fanaticism of the extremists of the organ reform movement. But after many, sometimes controversial, discussions, Christian Scheffler (Frankfurt/Oder) was awarded the contract for a restoration, reconstruction and expansion. In 1993, the following plan was agreed upon: restoration of the Sauer organ as a 4-manual, electro-pneumatic instrument according to the original disposition. The internal structure of the organ was returned to that typical of Sauer. The neo-Gothic case of the previous organ was rebuilt above the existing chancel pedestal. Thomas Engler, a young organ student, magnificently demonstrated the the instrument for us and later gave me a tour of the inside of the organ – WOW! The group heard a recital on the small one-manual Silbermann organ in the Dom crypt. After this, Tobias Gravenhorst, the organist of the Dom, played Reger’s Sonata II (1st movement) on the Sauer – it was exquisite. With that grand romantic roar, our organ tour was over, except for the final dinner. Everyone had a fantastic time and no one got voted off the bus.

We all went back to the hotel and changed, our bus driver left us and took the bus back to Hamburg. We all met in the lobby and took 15 or so cabs to our final dinner at a restaurant in the city park. There were many toasts made, and much flowing wine. I think (hope) everyone had a fantastic time, and the group got along very well with each other. We all returned to the hotel and I crashed, totally exhausted. The next morning I got up, had breakfast with the group, shared a lot of long goodbyes, and watched the transfer bus pull out to take the majority of them to the airport. However, my next stop was Cologne, by train, for a short visit with my recording-engineer friend Christoph Frommen.

It was a great tour, with many valuable insights gained.

A job well done, Michael Barone! Producer of Pipe Dreams on American Media

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