Kuhn Organ Builders Ltd, 2002
Musée Suisse de l'Orgue, Orgue d'Oberwil i.S. BE
Kuhn Organ Builders Ltd, 2002
The old organ is doing fine
Around 1980 the parish of Oberwil (Simmental) donated its organ to the Swiss Organ Museum in Roche (VD) because they thought the pneumatic instrument was outdated and wanted to acquire a new one. Theodor Kuhn built the organ in 1893 to the specifications of Carl Locher, an organist from Berne. The console was probably repainted at that time and came from the previous organ (1809) of the organ builder Johann Jakob Weber of Juchten, canton of Berne. It was dismantled and stored for years. In 2001 the foundation of the museum decided to set up the organ in the «great nave» of the former refuge for travellers on the Great Saint Bernard. It was restored by us in 2001 and 2002.
As if by a miracle the organ with its 13 stops (II/P) has remained largely untouched during almost one century of giving reliable service, apart from the normal maintenance and installation of a new electric blower in 1924! The organ was built according to a patent by Weigle of Stuttgart and remains for Switzerland a rare monument to the first generation of pneumatic organs with membrane chests. Pneumatic systems are known to have been patented from the middle of the 19th century on. The results were more or less successful. Th. Kuhn was able to profit from his experience and was a precursor, more than ten years ahead of his Swiss business rivals, when he built his first purely pneumatic organ in 1891. He issued his own patents immediately after building the Oberwil organ. To this end he improved the first membrane chest and used puffers which he simply called «flexible valves». The system he still used with the Oberwil organ consisted of leather membranes glued and tightened over cavities in the wood. The system was simple and robust but had the disadvantage of being sensitive to hygrometric variations. These do not occur in the museum as the air humidity is kept constant throughout the year.
Of course time had left its mark on the organ and so the restoration consisted especially of:
- rehabilitation of the pneumatic stop and key action replacing all control membranes and reconstructing all brass tubes beginning at the console (the tubes did not survive dismantling)
- treatment of all wooden parts against woodworm by fumigation
- reconstruction of a few parts which were too worm-eaten
- reconstruction of parts that got lost during transport: these were 5 large Gamba pipes, the windtrunk of hard cardboard for all front pipes and conveyanced bass pipes and the mechanical parts that enable the pumping pedal. There was no tonal change to the organ: the tuning remains original, completely in the Romantic style.
The museum made a splendid acquisition and may be proud to possess one of the oldest pneumatic instruments in Switzerland. The organ can be generally heard in summer concerts and in guided visits. The conservator J. J. Gramm enjoys playing it.