The fascination of organ building

 

 

Orgelbau Th. Kuhn AG, 1931

New organ

Windchests
membrane chests
Key action
electrical
Stop action
electrical
Inauguration
13.12.1931
Expert
P. Stefan Koller (Disposition, Mensuren), Leo Kathriner
Voicing
Otto Steiner


www.orgelbau.ch/ope=106650

Zürich

III/P/52

Switzerland, Zurich
Kath. Kirche Guthirt Wipkingen

© pictures Orgelbau Kuhn AG, Männedorf

Orgelbau Th. Kuhn AG, 1931

New organ

Windchests
membrane chests
Key action
electrical
Stop action
electrical
Inauguration
13.12.1931
Expert
P. Stefan Koller (Disposition, Mensuren), Leo Kathriner
Voicing
Otto Steiner

The organ

In December 1931, almost 10 years after the construction of the Guthirt Church (1923), members of the parish had been saving for years and were able to inaugurate an organ built by Kuhn Organ Builders. The organ was very modern, fitted with the latest technological acquisitions, and committed to a new sound aesthetic that only became established in Switzerland at the end of the nineteen twenties, arriving via Alsace. «The organ was constructed with the most modern, purely electric system», states an article on the organ in the Catholic periodical on church music, «Der Chorwächter» (year 57, 1932, p. 46 ff, with author's abbreviation «-Il-»), «and in the logical consistency of the realisation of a system it would seem to be the first such organ in Switzerland».

In fact, in 1931 the Guthirt parish acquired an exclusive, relatively large organ. There was a desire to make a name for themselves within the still young Catholic church that had existed in Zurich since the Reformation, and the parameters included not just the height of the church tower and the number of bells, but indeed, the fittings and qualities of the organ. The result was an organ that is true to the taste consequent on the so-called Alsatian organ reform, that is, an organ that was appropriate to the more recent literature of the 19th and early 20th centuries as well as that of the baroque period. Thus it is a «reform organ», that stands apart from the romantic organ sound of the turn of the century, which was felt at the time to be too thick and dull. Not without reason did the treatise in «Der Chorwächter» describe the sound of the organ as «bright» and «joyful»: a large number of high stops, with many mixtures or «Klangkronen», lends the organ a brilliant sound, and approaches the rendition of the music of the 17th and 18th centuries. However, the romantic aspect, the ideal of that famous Alsatian expert in tropical medicine and organ consultant, Albert Schweitzer, was not to be ignored: two swell divisions facilitate an orchestral sound dynamic and provide those timbres which are mandatory for the rendition of the works of such as Charles-Marie Widor, including a French battery of reeds in 16', 8' and 4' range.

The organ is distinguished by its special and at the time highly modern mix of baroque and romantic, and the both poetical and powerful intonation. But it was exactly this aesthetic of the 1920s and 1930s that later attracted criticism: in the 1960s and 1970s there was a desire for even more baroque. This so-called neobaroque movement led to numerous newly built organs, and in the 1970s even the Guthirt organ was to be replaced. However, it was not possible to finance a new organ, so that merely a slight rebuild was carried out to reflect the fashion of the time. Today, the very small number of preserved reform organs are regarded with respect and valued as witnessing a specific period of organ building history. The Guthirt organ is also the only instrument in Switzerland that has been preserved almost entirely in its original condition. Apart from the exceptional quality of technology and sound, there exist enough grounds to keep it in this condition: when the church was being renovated in 2018-2019, it proved possible to have the organ subjected to a thorough overhaul by Kuhn Organ Builders. At the same time, a historical stop was re-installed. This is the Cymbal stop in the first manual. The organ builder Hubert Senn, a supporter of the vogue for neobaroque had replaced this stop with a more powerful one but had deposited the old pipes in the motor room. Now, these original pipes have been installed once more surprising the listener with their keen, glittering sound.

Michael Meyer

Translation: RS 2019

Captions to photos

Photos 1-6: Condition in 2019
Photo 7: Condition in 1931



www.orgelbau.ch/ope=106650