Surrey Organists’ Visit to Rastatt 2010

Alan Winn playing at the Ludwigskirche, Freiburg Prof. Hans Musch demonstrating the reconstructed Silbermann organ

Nine Members plus the Chairman of the East Surrey Organists’ Association travelled to Rastatt by various means on Monday 14 June. Rastatt is twinned with Woking and is located between the Rhine and the Black Forest, south of Karlsruhe.

Tuesday was spent in Rastatt. The first visit was to the Roman Catholic church dedicated to St. Alexander, where Bezirkskantor Jürgen Ochs introduced and demonstrated the 3-manual Stieffell organ, built in 1831 and restored in 1994, situated on a lofty gallery at one end of the large baroque church with an excellent acoustic. Margaret Phillips recorded half of Mendelssohn’s works on this organ and Jürgen gave a couple of the CDs to the group. There was plenty of time for all the group to play, but the straight pedal board with very short sharp keys and the poor illumination of the stops posed some problems.

There followed a civic reception in the Town Hall, where the Bürgermeister welcomed the group and introduced some local musicians including the Director of the local Music School, who offered to show us round his establishment, only a short walk away. This unscheduled addition to the programme made a very favourable impression on the group. Children of all ages come here after school for all kinds of musical instruction up to Academy level. The outstanding facilities are housed in a modern building with sound-proofed teaching rooms boasting pairs of grand pianos. There is a small concert room and a larger open-air area for summer concerts. We were told that this is no unique institution, but one of a large number throughout Baden-Württemburg.

The afternoon was spent in the town’s large Protestant church, formerly part of a monastic establishment, a rather bare but well lit building with a large 4-manual mechanical action organ by Heintz at floor level behind the altar. This instrument, built in 1987 with a radiating pedal board and 10 hitch-down coupler pedals was rather more user friendly and gave scope for Romantic music.

The whole of the next day was spent in Freiburg with which Guildford is twinned. We went by train and were met by Kirsten Galm, organist of the University Church and a deputy organist of the Cathedral, who stayed with us the whole day and escorted us to the various venues. After an introduction in his own church he took us to the reopened Augustinermuseum where we were shown a recently restored Welte organ dating from 1935/44. We were taken inside the instrument which is now an educational tool to demonstrate all the working parts. Kirsten had not played this organ before so he treated us to some Bach before giving some members the opportunity to play.

Time was severely limited for our visit to the Cathedral – an enormous and rather dark building – as it had to be fitted between the end of the midday Mass and the resumption of work by the tuners, who were working literally round the clock to tune the four organs before the weekly summer recital series commenced. Freiburg Cathedral has no less than four large organs located in different parts of the building and they can all be played from a central console, which appears rather complicated. Together they constitute the 4th largest organ in Germany and outrank all organs in the U.K. and France. Kirsten explained the role of each of the organs and demonstrated each of them individually and together. The huge distances involved cause the player some problems. Kirsten concluded by playing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ to show off the Tuba Magna which has pipes and voicing by Mander.

After a brief visit to the University Hall, also presided over by Kirsten, to hear and play the rather strange Walcker meantone organ originally built in 1921 to design and scales by Praetorius 1618, we hurried off to another civic reception in the Rathaus. Fortified by a glass of local wine we then moved away from the centre of the city to the Ludwigskirche, a delightful modern building with a splendid 3-manual 1995 Mathis organ on a west gallery. This fine instrument is partly owned by the by the Musikhochschule and used for practice and examinations. Kirsten played a movement from Widor’s 6th Symphony, after which there was plenty of time for the group to play. We then returned to the University Church, a spacious formerly baroque building now painted white, with galleries on both sides and at one end where the 3-manual organ of 1958 by Dold (renovated by Spath in 2004) is situated. After Kirsten had given another expert demonstration there was time for everyone to play before we made for the station and our train home to Rastatt.

The final day was devoted to Silbermann organs and a wonderful tour of the spectacular Black Forest. We drove first to Ettenheimmünster to meet our host for the day, Professor Hans Musch, who gave an extensive review and a short recital on the 2-manual organ by Andreas Silbermann of Strasbourg, built in 1769 and restored in 1964. The beautiful Baroque church with a resonant acoustic was a fine venue for this music. Time permitted only one or two to play here before we drove over the hills to Villingen for a rather late lunch. The afternoon was spent in the Benedictine church, another fine Baroque building with extensive galleries and a 3-manual reconstruction by Kern in 2002 of a Silbermann organ of 1752 based on the builder’s original design and specification. This proved to be a very versatile instrument and sounded beautiful. Prof. Musch gave a lengthy demonstration of the organ after which all the group had an opportunity to discover the practical problems of playing an 18th century pedal board. The visit concluded with a quick walk around the centre inside the city walls, including a brief visit to the Cathedral.

In three days the group visited 9 organs (12 if the organs in Freiburg Cathedral are counted separately) spanning three centuries and played 8 of them. Perhaps the greatest value of the tour was to experience how organs and the music composed for them have developed during those three centuries.

(adapted by Alan Winn from an article by John Lee published in the ESOA newsletter)

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