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St. Mary’s Church, Lübeck


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Dear members,


in case you haven’t heard: Things organic are getting in motion in St. Mary’s church, Lübeck. Last weekend, a symposium was held to open a discussion as to the future of the organs that are there now and that have both proven problematic, in different respects, over time.


Details can be taken from this brochure that was published in preparation of the symposium. Pictures of the situation, historic and contemporary, appear on pages 11/12.


In short: The church possessed a magnificent gothic case in the west and a smaller, part gothic, part renaissance case near the chancel. Both organs (Schulze 1854; Stellwagen and older 1655) were lost in the raid of Palm Sunday, 1942. Both organs (the large one in its pre-Schulze form) were played by, among others, Tunder, Buxtehude and, most probably, young Bach as well.


The smaller of the two was reconstructed in 1955 in a modern case that was reminiscent of the historic one. The organ had been documented by the builder before it was lost. This documentation, supposedly including many details of the historic scaling, is apparently lost today. This new organ became increasingly unreliable and was, in 1985, replaced by another new one of considerably larger size and stylistic scope (IV/55). This, however, shows heavy growth of mold, that stubbornly withstood any treatment within the last decade. It is assumed that this is due to a cool and humid micro climate in the church’s north-east part, poor air circulation and tight pipe placement within the, rather elegant, case.


In 1968, a large organ was completed high on the west wall. Many of you might have seen pictures of it; it was termed “the world’s largest with mechanical action”. The specification had been drawn up by organist Walter Kraft, who in 1973 was succeeded by Ernst-Erich Stender. Stender displayed both (or, successively, all three) organs with virtually the complete organ repertoire, along with many transcriptions, in an astonishing and incessant concert activity. The large organ was regularly and painstakingly maintained by two organbuilders. Nevertheless, its faults appear more and more irrepairable due to mostly poor material and construction. Musically, the organ is a very strange late child of the Orgelbewegung and suffers from narrow scaling and a repetetive scheme. The new, equally excellent organist, Johannes Unger, now opened up the field for discussion.


On the German Pfeifenorgelforum, several vivid discussions were started (see, e. g., here and here) over tonal, architectural and liturgical concept. Recently, a member posted a four-part report of the symposium, richly illustrated (I, II, III, IV) and again followed by an ongoing discussion. Among many, forum member kropf, who faces his own complicated organ situation in Rostock, took part in it.


Suggestions, at the symposium as well as on the forum, include reconstruction of the gothic case, of the Schulze instrument, an entirely new and modern organ in the west and a historically oriented one in the chancel or even on a screen (that was lost in 1942 and not reconstructed afterwards), or even more organs for several purposes (symphonic, meantone, choir accompaniment …) in different positions.


I am posting this here as, firstly, this is one of the most important and most beautiful churches in northern Europe – and the organ situation is excitingly open right now. Secondly, I love the church and always was fascinated by its organ history. Perhaps some of you will become so as well, and even have opinions on the topic.


Best wishes,


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I am glad to hear that things are moving. I have pleasant memories from a visit a few years ago when I briefly played the fine chancel organ, and went up to the west gallery where the monster is housed. We got there by a very circuitous route which involved a cat-walk above the vaulting of the south aisle. The west organ is probably good therapy if you want to let off some steam (see photo of the console in the brochure linked above) but seems rather dated now, and this historic church deserves something more....well, historic, or historically informed. It was a freezing February and far as I remember the main body of the church has no heating. The best (and most historic) instrument in the building is probably the single-manual chamber organ in the Briefkapelle. I look forward to hearing of further developments.

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