North German organ school
The 17th century organ composers of Germany can be divided into two primary schools: the north German school and the south German school. The stylistic differences were dictated not only by teacher-pupil traditions, but also by technical aspects such as the quality and the tradition of organ building, and by certain composers who would help spread national styles by travelling and learning from other countries’ styles. The quality of north German organs improved vastly during the 17th and early 18th century. The instruments would typically have two or more manuals, a pedalboard and a wide range of stops; this contributed to the style cultivated across the region as the majority of large-scale works require considerable pedal skills and benefit from larger, more versatile organs.
Some important North European Organ builders
Arp Schnitger (1648 – 1719 ) was a highly influential German organ builder. He was primarily active in Northern Europe, especially the Netherlands and Germany, where a number of his instruments survive to the present day; his organs can also be found as far away as Portugal and Brazil. Notable examples of his work still in use include the organ at St. Pancratiuskirche, Neuenfelde, Hamburg (completed in 1688, his largest two-manual instrument); St. Jacobikirche, Hamburg (perhaps the most famous surviving Schnitger organ, completed in 1693); St. Martinikerk, Groningen, the Netherlands (1692); St. Ludgerikirche, Norden (1688); St. Cosmae und Damianikirche, Stade (Schnitger’s first organ, completed in 1676 after the death of his teacher Berendt Huss); St. Peter und Paulkirche, Cappel (perhaps the most authentic of Schnitger’s organs still in existence, originally in the Johanniskirche, Hamburg, 1680); and St. Michaeliskerk, Zwolle, the Netherlands (completed by his son Franz Caspar after Schnitger’s death). Organs like this are credited with inspiring the renaissance in organ building during the early twentieth century, with a return to tracker action and smaller, more cohesive instruments, as distinct from the late-Romantic trend of extremely large symphonic organs. In particular, the organ at the Jacobikirche, Hamburg, played a pivotal role in the organ reform movement beginning in 1925, as a series of conferences taking place at historical organ sites in Germany and Alsace was inaugurated there.
The importance of Schnitger to the history of organ building cannot be overestimated. Schnitger was one of the most prolific builders of his time, completing more than 150 instruments and running several shops. His organ designs typify the essential North German organ: multiple divisions, usually with a rückpositif (division on the gallery rail, behind the player’s back); large, independent pedal divisions, often placed in towers on either side of the main case; well-developed principal choruses in each division with abundant reeds, flutes, and mutation stops; and meantone temperament. All of these features could be found on North German organs prior to Schnitger’s activity; Schnitger’s genius lay in his ability to synthesize these elements into a prototypical style of organ building, and in his prolific output. The latter was made possible by his good business sense: Schnitger was one of the first builders to use cost-cutting measures on a large scale to ensure the affordability of organs for small village churches.
Many of Schnitger’s landmark instruments were actually rebuilds or expansions of existing organs (as at St. Jacobikirche, Hamburg, a renovation and enlargement of an earlier instrument by Fritzsche, 1635). Often, the expansion of the pedal division required the addition of pedal towers on either side of the case. This feature has come to be one of the most-typically associated with the North German style, despite the fact that a majority of smaller organs did not have pedal towers.
A number of Schnitger’s organs were featured on recordings by E. Power Biggs, who is generally credited with reintroducing them to modern listeners. More recently, Schnitger’s organs can be heard on several recordings by German organist Harald Vogel. Schnitger’s instruments in Groningen, Uithuizen, Noordbroek and Nieuw Scheemda were featured in the documentary Martinikerk Rondeau, in which Jurgen Ahrend, Cor Edskes and Bernhardt Edskes detail Schnitger’s life and demonstrate his working methods. Schnitger’s organs have also served as inspiration for many modern builders; GOArt, a Swedish organ building consortium, has even gone so far as to build an exact copy of a Schnitger organ for research purposes.
The Walcker family
The history of Walcker organs begins with the appearance of Johann Eberhard Walcker (1756 – 1843) as an independent organ builder in Cannstatt in the year 1780. He had studied with Johann Georg Fries, an organ builder in Heilbronn. J. E. Walcker is remembered in particular for his organs in the Garnison Church of Ludwigsburg (1782) and in the City Church of Cannstatt (1794). His son Eberhard Friedrich Walcker (1794 – 1872) took over the business begun by his father and in 1820 settled in Ludwigsburg.
Eberhard Friedrich Walcker achieved great recognition upon completion of an organ for St. Paul’s Church in Frankfurt (1833 -74 registers). The organ incorporated several features which were unique at that time, including an elaborate series of mutation stops constructed according to principles developed by Abbe Vogler, and an open 32-foot register in the pedal, which was highly praised. A great demand for instruments built by Walcker followed this success, as evidenced by several notable international installations: St. Peter’s Church, St. Petersburg, Russia (1839 – 65 registers); Ulm Minster (1856 – 100 registers); and Boston, USA (1863 – 89 registers). The Boston organ remains to this day one of the finest examples of organ building of that time .
Further recognition was achieved by E. F. Walcker as result of technical innovations, such as his discovery in 1840 of the cone valve that ushered in the age of the stop-channel chest. He sought improvements which would result in a better and more stable wind supply. And he was the first builder to construct a large assembly room at his workshop in order to assemble the entire organ during construction. This was especially important as the number of foreign contracts continued to rise.
Many respected organ builders served apprenticeships in the Walcker factory during this time, including Weigle, Steinmeyer, Laukhuff, Link, Kuhn, Sauer and Marcussen.
The organ revival in Germany
The 1926 Freiburg Conference
The mainstream of the organ reform movement really got under way about 1926 and took a much more revolutionary direction than Albert Schweitzer originally had outlined. In that year an instrument with a disposition conceived by Praetorius in 1618 and built by Walcker of Ludwigsburg in 1921 became the center of interest of the now famous Freiburg Organ Conference. [...] The Freiburg conference gave the decisive impetus to the organ reform movement in Germany, which eventually led to a general surge of interest in reform throughout most of Europe and North America. As a result of much investigation and discussion, Arp Schnitger emerged as the historical idol of the movement, and his works and the North German and Dutch school of organ building established by Schnitger and his pupils became the general model for the reform which followed.