Kuhn Organ Builders Ltd, 2012
Switzerland, Saint Gall
Kuhn Organ Builders Ltd, 2012
The Kuhn organ in St. Catherine's Church, St. Gallen
What is to become of a church in a town centre that is no longer required for church purposes? A question often asked nowadays, and unfortunately one that will be asked more and more frequently in the future. Usually it is allied to the question of what will happen to the organ. If we then read in the press that a bank has bought the church, then in our minds we see a bank counter where the altar was, customer service up in the organ loft and cash points in the church entrance.
However, in St. Catherine's it turned out differently. The tale holds true up to the point at which the church and surrounding rooms are actually purchased by a bank. The interior of the church, architecturally modest, was in very bad condition. Many years ago, the organ case, balustrade and the whole structure of the organ loft were painted brown, and later the organ front was covered up by a large projecting screen.
However, closer examination of the organ and organ loft revealed that they had certain design qualities. It was therefore even more pleasing when the new owners of the church recognized these qualities, and were prepared to keep organ and organ loft and restore them to their former splendour. Not just the organ facade but the instrument, too, was to be given new life. The question thereby arose whether the existing organ should be restored or - once again - a new organ should be installed in the old case. In 1900 Orgelbau Th. Kuhn, of Mannedorf, built a pneumatic mechanism in the baroque case created in 1806 by Joh. Baptist Lang. Despite subsequent changes to the tone, the exploratory report reveals that restoration of the organ and its sound to the state they were in in 1900 was possible and well-founded. In contrast, restoration to their 1806 state would have been completely hypothetical, due to the unsatisfactory findings in respect of the case and the absence of archived documents. Preference was therefore given to restoring the pneumatic Kuhn organ.
The appearance of the existing instrument was spoiled by the pedal organ mounted on the side of the historical case. The pipes rose high up in front of the window next to the organ. In the end a visually satisfactory solution was found by placing the 16 ' pipes behind the swell box.
Fortunately, the old case was still there under the brown paint. Exposing it to view was a real revelation. Repairs to the case turned out to be very extensive, as the woodworm had been hard at work for two hundred years.
The organ had not been used for years, leading to «damage by non-use» to its mechanics, which restricted its playability even further. Consequently, the restoration of the organ, particularly of the console, was challenging, too. The switching of the divisions, and the couplers in the console, are operated by different systems (updraft and downdraft), but controlled by one pallet. The task of ensuring that these switches function reliably required a restorer with an excellent knowledge of pneumatics. The voicing of the historical pipework was gone over with great care, and the missing pipes were replaced and integrated into the tonal environment.
Thanks to the cultural commitment and sensitivity of the bank officers concerned, the original beauty and sound of a valuable monument have been restored to the interior of St. Catherine's Church.