Kuhn Organ Builders Ltd, 2014
Kuhn Organ Builders Ltd, 2014
The long road to restoring an epic organ
We first encountered the Steinmeyer organ in Trondheim in 1990. Dieter Rüfenacht and Wolfgang Rehn were invited to form an opinion on the condition of the organ. At that point in time it already had a turbulent, 60 year long history with far-reaching changes. The original instrument had been subjected to the amputation of entire divisions. Moreover, the ravages of time had wrought lesser and greater damage to the membrane chests and the electric key action, so that the organ's reliability was no longer guaranteed. The atmospheric conditions prevailing in the cathedral, with extreme dryness in the winter, were a major cause of such damage.
Could this organ torso really do justice to the majestic proportions of the interior and musicians' requirements? Certainly not in the state it was in at the time! We very soon realised that the goal could only be the Steinmeyer organ in its entirety as it was in 1930. There was no doubt that the tonal qualities of that period, now rediscovered, could be detected in the pipe work. Thus there existed a basis for the restoration.
Some time passed after our initial offer. In 2010 the customer issued a call for tenders throughout Europe. In January 2012, the committee of experts, comprising Björn Boysen, Professor at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo and organ expert, Stein Johannes Kolnes, organ expert at the Office for the Preservation of Historic Buildings and Monuments, Per Fridtjov Bonsaksen, Cathedral Organist of Nidaros Cathedral, and Lene Landsem, architect, decided unanimously to accept the offer submitted by Kuhn Organ Builders. Once all questions regarding finance had been resolved the contract for work and services was signed in July 2012.
The city of Trondheim, capital of Sør-Trøndelag province, used to be called «Nidaros». Nidaros Cathedral is one of the most important churches in Norway and is regarded as a national shrine. In the Middle Ages, and from 1818 to 1906, the kings of Norway were crowned in Nidaros Cathedral. In fact, seven kings were crowned and ten buried there. Since then, Norway's kings have received a blessing in Nidaros Cathedral.
The Steinmeyer organ and how it changed
As photos taken in 1930 show, the western part of the cathedral nave had still not been finished when the new organ arrived from Oettingen, Bavaria. So this huge organ was erected in the north transept, taking up the whole floor space there. The console, on wheels, stood in the crossing of the cathedral. The organ was inaugurated for the 900th anniversary celebrations of the battle of Stiklestad. At that time the choir organ still reached upwards in the middle of the nave. The division was soon removed again, as this condition was visually unsatisfactory, and the windchests were then relocated to the rear of the organ.
The great nave of the cathedral had already been completed for more than twenty years when the decision was taken in 1960 to place the organ at a distance in front of the cathedral's west wall. The facade still consisted of the case of the former baroque organ, originally built in 1741 by Joachim Wagner. Since this front was much too small for the organ it stood on a projecting gallery, on which the console was also placed. The pedal organ was located behind this gallery, directly on the cathedral floor. The windows, including the wonderful rose window, were still visible above the organ.
The concept and style of the organ as such had undergone significant changes since the instrument was built. The time when organs had over one hundred stops and an electric action had passed, neo-baroque organs conformed to the spirit of the time. Thus the Steinmeyer organ lost a number of its 16' and 8' stops. The swell organ of the third manual moved into the triforium at the front end of the nave, where, with some additions, it was used as chancel organ from then on. The swell organ of the second manual survived as a single unit. It was placed in front of the west wall at the northern end of the triforium, where the height of the interior does not allow for open 16' stops. The windchests of the great organ, the choir organ and small pedal organ found their place on the gallery. The high pressure stops and the chests of the solo division were removed in their entirety. Many pipes of the 16' and 8' stops were put into storage, being no longer needed. When a fire occurred in this storeroom, wooden pipes, English tubas and other metal pipes were destroyed, whilst the damage to many zinc pipes was almost as destructive, following repeated storage.
The historical case front was removed from the Steinmeyer organ in 1994, as a consequence of the restoration/reconstruction of the Wagner organ in the north transept. The «innards» of the Steinmeyer organ were now on view to all comers, a far from pretty sight!
The goal of restoration
Where in the cathedral should this monumental, reunited organ find its home? This question was to preoccupy us for nigh on 20 years. The west wall of the cathedral seemed to be predestined for the purpose. However, we were faced with the requirement to maintain visibility not just of the windows, including the rose window, but also of the west door. The floor plan prepared on the basis of these requirements can be summarised as follows:
The blower and the reservoir bellows will remain in the cellars beneath the organ. The two 16' swell organs of the second and third manuals are sited near the floor of the cathedral. Above them the bellows of the individual divisions and the windtrunk system are arranged in a mezzanine. Over that there is a floor reaching to the west wall on which are placed the great organ, choir organ and pedal chests. The open 32' pipes move up to the front and stand on their own chests. The (high pressure) solo division is located in the south triforium very close to the crossing. The echo division remains at its original location in the dome of the crossing. The console, now on wheels again, will be equipped with modern technology.
The divided lower case allows access to the west door. Thanks to the deeply recessed middle section, the passage underneath the organ is kept as short as possible. The runs of the pipes from outside to inside allow the windows, including the rose window, to be seen. The 32' pipes from C, visible in the front, indicate the size of the organ and represent a majestic instrument in a royal cathedral.
Through the restoration, the original specification of the organ has been reinstated, and the pipes have been restored or reconstructed. Apart from preserving the original substance (pipes, windchests, bellows), one consequence of the restoration is that the organ is once again recognizably a Steinmeyer. At the same time, top priority was given to ensuring perfect operation in the atmospheric conditions obtaining in the cathedral.
The accomplished work
This order presented us with an extraordinary challenge, one that we approached with pleasure, enthusiasm and commitment. The work started in September 2012. After only 20 months the organ was to be heard again in its original splendour, namely on 17 May 2014, the Norwegian National Holiday, at the same time as the 200th anniversary celebrations of the introduction of the Norwegian constitution.
Translation: RS 2014