Kuhn Organ Builders Ltd, 2008
Ref. Kirche (Friedenskirche)
Kuhn Organ Builders Ltd, 2008
The restoration of a pneumatic organ
Only a few years ago, if an organist told his colleagues he played a pneumatic organ in his parish, he surely aroused a certain pity. "Those are organs on which you cannot play anything and which lack any artistic merit", is an estimation often heard.
We as organ builders were also on bad terms with these organs. In winter when a church was heated and humidity correspondingly lower, the wind system developed leaks which led to ciphers or no sound at all. The repair work was partially very difficult because most of the pneumatic components were simply not accessible. Often the organ builder had to improvise to save the Sunday service. Generally it was also a lack of will to invest time and money in such an instrument, for (hopefully) it would soon be replaced by a new tracker organ. In the sixties and seventies, this did happen almost everywhere in Switzerland; after all, the funds to fulfil these wishes existed. Knowing that today there are only very few pneumatic organs, the estimation of these instruments has experienced a rebirth. The pendulum has almost swung too far the other way. One should not assume that the existing instruments are necessarily the best of this style and absolutely have to be preserved. Especially large representative instruments of famous organ builders have been destroyed because, of course, they stood in "important" churches which were definitely in need of a contemporary organ. Thus, examples of the whole range of pneumatic organs have survived. To us as conservators the question rises again and again as to whether it is useful to restore a particular pneumatic instrument. The organs have been modified several times so that their value as historical instruments is in fact lost. We also have to admit objectively that not every pneumatic organ was a technical masterpiece.
The pneumatic control was received with enthusiasm at the beginning of its development because it allowed even the largest organs to be played with soft pressure of the fingers. The mechanical work no longer had to be executed by the organist but by pneumatic pressure in connection with barker motors and leather pouches. The first pneumatic instruments in the 19th century had simply constructed controls. However, later every organ builder tried to develop and patent his own system. Many pneumatic constructions have been built but abandoned after two trials. After many years of development, the quality of a pneumatic control resulted in the end from the experience of organ builders and its consistent realisation in new organs. Development always involves higher standards being demanded of the system. In the beginning, the requirement was only easy playable keys but gradually it became possible to build all kinds of playing aids and couplers by means of the pneumatic. When you look at it, the console of a large organ seems to a layperson to be a technical marvel. You always have to realize here that circuits are executed with very low pressure. Expecting too much of the technical possibilities of the system, of course, does not ensure reliable operation.
This little excursus into the world of the development of pneumatic organs clearly shows how difficult the restoration tasks are with these instruments. Maybe we have to deal with a system which has been built only once or twice with good reason, maybe basically too much is expected of a good system so that it does not meet the requirements, or maybe woodworm has simply eaten its way through all wind trunks so nothing works any more.
The organ of the Friedenskirche in Olten did not raise such questions, which shows what a stroke of luck it was.
- A representative large pneumatic instrument has withstood the test of time apart with very little interference.
- The design of the organ is spatially very generous, so that every component is easily accessible.
- The organ was constructed at a time when Kuhn Organ Builders developed its pneumatic system to high perfection and the organ was built in the final period of this development. After all, at that time electric action systems had already become accepted.
- Inexplicably, woodworm spared the organ.
Faced with these facts it was clear that this organ was worthy of restoration. In addition to the usual rehabilitation work, the measures focused on replacing all leather parts (pouches and membranes) and restoring the specification to its original state. To this end the following work was necessary:
- Reconstruction of the stop Englischhorn 8' (II. man.) instead of Krummhorn 8'
- Reconstruction of the stop Flûte harmonique 8' (III. man.) instead of Clairon 4'
- Reconstruction of the stop Quintbass 102/3' (pedal) instead of Mixtur 5 ranks
- Restoration of the original compositions and breaks of the compound stops
After the execution of these measures the organ matches its original state and its wearing parts are as good as new. By restoring the church and the organ the parish of the Reformed church made a farsighted decision that will carry an important instrument of its time into the future. So we wish the parish for the next generations a lot of pleasure with this organ and we would like to thank it for the trust invested in us with the restoration order for the organ.
When today the organist talks to his colleagues of his pneumatic organ in Olten and its sound he need no longer expect pity from so many organists, but at the best a little envy!