Switzerland, Zurich
Ref. Kirche Neumünster

© pictures Orgelbau Kuhn AG, Männedorf

Orgelbau Th. Kuhn AG, 1995

New organ

slider chests
Key action
Stop action
Bernhard Billeter
Case design
Georg Weismann
Rudolf Aebischer

The history of the Zurich Tonhalle organ is long and complex and, as well as being a reflection of over a hundred years of Swiss organ building history, it is also that of more than a hundred years of Kuhn Organ Builders' history.

In 1872 Johann Nepomuk Kuhn built, as opus 20, an organ for the so-called «old Tonhalle» in Zurich. The old cornhouse on the «Sechseläuten» meadow at Bellevue was converted into a concert hall in 1867. According to musical thought at the time, an appropriately sized organ should stand behind the orchestra to enable «proper» performances of large-scale choir works, in particular Bach's St. Matthew's Passion and Handel's Messiah to take place. However, with time the concert hall proved unsatisfactory. Therefore, the «new Tonhalle», at its present site, was built in 1895 and was planned and built specifically as a concert hall from the outset by the then very well-known Viennese architects Fellner & Helmer.

The son, Theodor Kuhn, now had the task of moving the organ from the old to the new hall. Of course, this gave occasion to a certain amount of touching-up of the instrument's outer appearance as well as its interior workings (II/P/33). In 1927 there followed a further modernisation and considerable enlargement of the organ (III/P/70). In time for the National Exhibition of 1939 the organ was again modernised to bring it up-to-date through being equipped with a new electro-pneumatic adjustable combination system.

In 1988 the Tonhalle received a new large concert organ (IV/P/68), based on a design by Jean Guillou, by means of a private donation. The new case was planned by Hansrudolf Zulauf to be reminiscent of the old façade. The effort «Save the old Tonhalle organ» didn't manage to prevent the instrument being removed from the concert hall, but did save it from being broken-up and disposed of. Instead it was dismantled and stored away. The search for a new home for it was eventually successful: the Neumünsterkirche, built in 1840, required a replacement for its Kuhn organ of 1940, and the façade of the old Tonhalle organ proved to fit perfectly. The instrument was, however, much too deep and the electro-pneumatic systems in the console and windchests were not wanted.

Out of these conditions and views grew a new project: a new technical construction with mechanical slider windchests and a reduced stoplist (III/P/52). Through this, all the truly high-quality stops from 1872 and 1895 could be re-used. The old tonal colour of the organ was particularly suited to the resurgence of romantic organ music which had, in the meantime, regained popularity. With a clear conscience, one can now declare that the «old Tonhalle organ», a sleeping beauty since 1995, has now re-awoken and lives happily on in the Neumünsterkirche.

Friedrich Jakob, 2007

Translation: SJR