Southern Instruments

So, let’s move on to look at some pipe organs from Central Europe. These are all from south of Frankfurt, more or less.

This is from the Church of Peter and Paul in Krakow, Poland. Yes, it is a rather modern instrument. The Poles did a lot of repairing and upgrading after 1989. And a fair amount in 1979, as much as the Communist government would permit, when the Polish Pope came to visit.

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North German Instruments

Back in 2008 or 2009, I took an organists tour of Switzerland, Alceis, and Germany. We averaged two or three instruments per day, and everyone who so chose got to play on each instrument. The exception was Wittenberg, because they were having roof problems. Sib-in-law had to sign a very long waiver that said, in essence, if something falls onto your head while you are playing, you won’t sue us. This was before I had a digital camera, so I didn’t take pictures.

(Digression) One thing that surprises people is how small true, unmodified Bach organs are. The churches were also small, and constructed with acoustics for instruments and human voices. They can still shake your bones with sound, but your ears won’t hurt. (End of digression.)

Since then, I’ve been able to visit and sometimes hear instruments, but not play them.

What we see in the following photos is the casework. It is very difficult to get up and look at the “guts” of an instrument, because it is cramped, elevated, and delicate. The casework holds both decorative and sounding pipes, and supports the decorations around the pipes. Modern casework tends to be plain to the point of severe. However, I’m going to focus on Baroque, Rococo, and reconstructions of older styles. Organs are a sort of “gesamtkunstwerk,” meaning that the pipes, loft, accessories like a zimbelstern and chimes, and case are part of an entire work.

We’ll start with an organ from Luneberg, Germany, south and east of Hamburg.

It is a relatively small instrument for the space, but the caswork is excellent. You’ll notice that the organ is comparatively “flat,” in a straight-across loft. Most organs are built flat, or with the central pipes forward of the sides. That’s not always true:

Cathedral organ in Rostock, Germany.

Because of restoration in progress, I could not back up far enough to get my usual organ photo. What you see at the bottom of the photo is the roof of the prince’s box. You have to crane your neck to see the organ itself, waaaay up there, and curved “backwards” as compared to most instruments. It doesn’t seem to affect the sound as heard from the floor of the church, but I suspect that there are some interesting dead spots unless additional pipes have been added at remote positions.

Looking “up the skirt” so to speak of the organ in the Cathedral in Rostock. The prince’s box is directly below the organ, making me wonder if he heard anything at all or just felt the vibrations.

You can see some of the scaffolding on the right side of the photo.

What you don’t like to see when you ease into a church to get pictures and just look around:

St. Michaels, Olomouc, Moravia, Czech Republic. They are restoring the ceiling and upper walls.

You can’t get there from here, or there, or over there, either. SIGH.

OK, back to organs. This is in the lightly-baroqued church of St. Thomas (now Protestant) in Tribsee.

The case and organ are reconstructions. The neo-gothic case is very simple, but sensitive to the gothic “bones” of the church. Flat mounting, because this is a relatively small instrument. That’s good, because the space is small and very resonant. It is possible to over-organ a space, believe me. It is a relatively light sounding instrument with a modest “bottom” of pedal stops. The church was originally Cistercian, then re-done in a tasteful Baroque, turned Lutheran, and restored to the gothic with some Baroque elements left.

This last one is not North German, but southern and eastern. However, note something very unusual:

Organ behind the altar? Huh?

This is from the Market Church (Church of the Holy Ghost) east of Goslar in Clausthal-Zellerfeld. The church was reconfigured for Protestant worship after reconstruction in 1634-42, then returned to Catholicism later. The organ dates to 1642, and has 41 registers. It is the only church I’ve seen in Central Europe where the organ is behind the high altar. This is also the largest hall church in Central Europe. (The organist had a very large pair of placards describing the problems with the instrument and begging for funds. It is a historic instrument with some original elements.)

Organs and Organ Music

This part is a repeat from 2015. Tomorrow I will post some of the pictures I’ve taken and talk about specific instruments.

The pipe organ is the “queen of instruments.” And the name comes not just from the fact that the instruments can be temperamental and demanding of their player, as well as each having a separate personality and sound, depending on the style of the instrument, the place where it is installed, and the time when it was built. Although associated with Christian houses of worship, organs can be found in department stores and concert halls. In fact, most of the largest instruments are in department stores and concert halls. The smallest instruments can be found tucked away in corners of museums and in private homes. Playing them requires technical skill and a knowledge of history, which makes them great instruments for odd people. Especially if you don’t like to be seen performing in public (or imprinted on a certain scene in Disney’s movie of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.)
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Under Pummerin’s Tower

I have heard Pummerin three times, once at midnight on Christmas Eve, and twice on Corpus Christi. The first time, I was well away from Stephansdom, St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna. The second time I stood, then walked, directly below the north tower, where Pummerin and the other bells hang.

Most church bells today are rung from beside, and are no longer free-swinging. This is in part because people no longer care to hear very loud bells every hour, and more often during church services or on feast days. It is also because of the structural stress on old buildings. Pummerin still swings freely, and it is loud, especially when you are right below its tower.

The south, Gothic tower after a storm. Author Photo.

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Creepy Folk Songs

I memorized this when I was in grade school. Then Mom and Dad pulled Sib and I out of class for two weeks and we toured the battlefields of the American Civil War. Which may explain a great deal…

Many of the Child Ballads—the British and Irish songs and ballads collected by Francis James Child— are not happy. Ian and Sylvia sang a version that I also imprinted on.

Not the most cheerful of songs, are they? On the other hand, “Greenwood Sidie-o” and its variants makes a point – if a woman has sex outside of marriage, and gets rid of the evidence, she’s going to face a horrible fate. Which was true in society at the time.

You also should not leave your husband and child for a wild rover, despite the song “Raggle Taggle Gypsie-o.” “The House Carpenter” tells the rest of the tale, and is another that I grew up with. Some sources (Alan Lomax) have speculated that it was popular in Appalacia because it justified remaining faithful even after the men left to work elsewhere, sometimes never to return.

“If you Seek a Monument, Look Around You”

Today is the observation of Memorial Day. I try to get to the ceremony in the public cemetery, and we always watch the national Memorial Day concert on Sunday night. It’s family tradition by now. My parents never lectured Sib and I about Memorial Day, but they encouraged us to honor it.

The title of this post comes from Sir Christopher Wren’s epitaph in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. it also reflects the ending of Saving Private Ryan, and Abraham Lincoln’s words about being unable to further hallow the soil at Gettysburg than it had already been sanctified by the blood of the men on both sides.

Rather than say more, I’ll leave you with some music, and Kipling’ “Recessional.”

God of our fathers, known of old,
   Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
   Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
The tumult and the shouting dies;
   The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
   An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
Far-called, our navies melt away;
   On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
   Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
   Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
   Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
For heathen heart that puts her trust
   In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
   And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!