Many people find it difficult to understand why organ restoration should be so fascinating. We are often asked whether it would not be more fulfilling to design something entirely of our own imagining and to express our artistic side rather than fixing up «old stuff» and exterminating woodworm.
Our answer is always a decisive «No». Working with new instruments and with old ones are two completely different worlds. Actually, our restorers are extremely serious adventurers: time travellers whose mission it is to breathe fresh life into the past.
Every old organ has a history that is closely bound up with people, epochs and events. And each of these histories is different. This makes organs from past epochs unique witnesses of their age. Our job makes it possible for us to grasp how people before us thought and acted. The emotions we experience when we see how organ builders worked decades or centuries ago range from pleasure, appreciation and sheer amazement through to sadness and anger.
The sound of a restored organ is a way for us to experience living history. We see our work as part of a continuum: we are doing our best to ensure that the history of organ building is handed down to generations yet to come. We often learn things from old masters that have already been forgotten. It is this that makes restoration such a highly gratifying task.
Since 1974, we have maintained a department of our own that focuses exclusively on the restoration of historical instruments of many different types, involving various technical systems. On the one hand, this complex discipline requires a great deal of specialization and professional expertise. On the other, we consider it vitally important that our organ builders have the right personal attitude for the job. Because not everyone is able – or even willing – to discover what it is that makes this particular kind of work so very special.
Subjective values cannot be allowed to play a role in our work. Preconceived notions, not to mention prejudices, are equally out of place. In our opinion, there is no place for ideological considerations in restoration work. It cannot be based on a single, overriding objective, such as the uncompromising restoration of an organ to pristine condition or preservation of a state gradually acquired over the years. Every organ is unique and therefore demands an individual concept for its restoration.
In principle, we believe that a restoration should preserve what the past has bequeathed to us. Apart from the guidelines required for us to achieve this, it is also vital that we carry out an objective, scientific assessment of the individual situation. This involves looking at the organ in its usual surroundings, with all the problems and potential these entail, and then drawing up and implementing a suitable restoration concept.
Our aim is to preserve the organ‘s original materials and structure as far as possible. No less significant, however, is that the historic instrument should remain playable for a long time to come. This double objective becomes particularly challenging when saving the historical material might well impede the organ’s ability to function satisfactorily. In such cases, making a decision is extremely difficult and calls for a comprehensive, professional analysis that includes every aspect of the problem, together with all its advantages and disadvantages.
Any responsible restoration work on a historic instrument must be accompanied by a detailed and objective report. Kuhn Organ Builders can be relied on to provide careful and comprehensive documentation.
An objective professional judgement is central to the quality of our consultancy work. Therefore, when undertaking this type of work, we put the interests of our own company strictly to one side. It is proven, through the large number of requests for us to act as consultants both in Switzerland and abroad, that we are successful in achieving this ideal.
Assessments made during restoration work or concerning the construction of new instruments are often very complex. In order to reach a decision as to whether an instrument should be preserved or replaced requires a fundamental analysis of the situation as a whole. The precise examination of the condition of an organ is of central importance. Had there been any structural modifications made in the past? Is the instrument functionally reliable? It is vital that a comprehensive assessment also takes into account the organ’s past and its historical value. All these considerations require a high degree of professional competence as well as many years’ experience.
For numerous years our consultancy service has been trusted and valued by both church communities and officials from the Department for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments.
Thanks to this, detailed accounts of many of our restorations, written by Dr. Friedrich Jakob, Director of Kuhn Organ Builders from 1967 until 1999, have been published as monographs. In his publication «Basic Remarks about Organ Restoration», he listed a number of groundbreaking guidelines for preservation and restoration (see Downloads).