Kuhn Organ Builders Ltd, 2011
Kuhn Organ Builders Ltd, 2011
Restoration in the spirit of the times
The restoration of the Otter organ from 1794 is a clear reflection of the development in organ restoration over the last decades.
Before we began our work, the history of the instrument was researched in fine detail by Dr. François Seydoux. Unfortunately, the original contracts with Franz Joseph Otter were not found. Documented is, however, that the organ underwent a number of smaller as well as more extensive modifications during the course of its history. After close study of the exact condition of the instrument we can also be sure that the original builders themselves had to make alterations to the case.
The last extensive restoration of the organ took place in 1952. The ideals of organ restoration have, of course, changed somewhat since then. The improvement of the action and the achievement of «normal» playing conditions at the console with appropriately inserted pedalboard were then viewed as necessary measures. To these ends it had been necessary to newly construct much of the action and to cut out a section of the front of the case. The wind supply was deemed questionable and so the windchests were given new pallet boxes made out of blockboard panels with diaphragm bellows.
Changes to the organ's sound were also made, in that the stop Soncional 8 ' in the Rückpositiv was replaced by a Sifflöte 1 ' and a new Crummhorn 8 ' was added. In the Pedal organ the open wooden pipes of the Viol 8 ' were altered to become Gedackt 8 ' and the wooden resonators of the Bombarde 16 ' were replaced by metal resonators.
«Typical of the 50's» is the general opinion of such restorations. In the «modern thinking» of the following decades such modifications were (and are) deemed reprehensible. Had the organ been re-restored 10 or 20 years ago all of the changes made in the 50's would certainly have fallen victim to «modern thinking». Everything would have been «correctly» restored and at the end would have stood a child of its time.
With these points in mind we therefore need, at the beginning of a restoration, to pose the question as to what, objectively, unsatisfactory about the modifications of the 1950's is. The organ builder had, overall, made a very good job of restoring the pipework and the organ still has, in spite of technical problems, recogniseably high quality tonal characteristics. All organ parts and alterations from 1952 needed to be re-assessed.
During this assessment, we became convinced that some of the modifications should be left as they are, being of good quality and not compromising the historical Baroque structure. Other alterations, however, were objectively classified as unsatisfactory. These included, for example, the addition of the Sifflöte 1 ' from C. This had had negative implications for the pipe arrangement of other Otter stops in the Rückpositiv. These changes and other deficiencies spoke against the preservation of the state of the instrument of 1952 in its entirety.
The aim was also, of course, to achieve high quality results in a technical as well as tonal sense, which could also guarantee long-term functionability. For all those involved it was a very interesting journey to take, at times something of a balancing act between these two important aspects.
The windchests now once again have pallet boxes made of solid wood (without diaphragm bellows) and a new wedge-bellows system stands behind the organ. Otter's old manual shift coupler was brought back into function and the case brought back to its original condition. Some parts of the action from 1952 were retained.
The pipework was left as it was in 1952, apart from the reconstruction of a few wooden pipes which had been proved to be wrongly scaled, and also the Salicional 8 ' (from c 1) in the Rückpositiv. The pedal pipes of the Gedackt 8 ' were lengthened once again. These are old pipes from Otter in the normal scale of an Octavbass 8 '.
Whether the Crummhorn 8 ' is to remain a part of the instrument will be decided after the newly restored organ has been in service for a number of months.
This re-restoration will probably be viewed in a few years from now as «typical» of the early 21st century. Perhaps this label will imply positive attributes such as «careful - cautious - respectful» or negative with «lacking courage, unsure and random». That will be decided not by us and not yet.
Independently of the changing spirit of the times, we think of the approach described here as being a «way between the ways» to take. No catchword like «uncompromisingly restored» or «preservation of the grown state» determines the way we take in our restoration projects, but instead the individual assessment of each instrument and its own history.
Translation: SJR 2011