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Sound and Sight of the Orgelbewegung


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Dear forum members,


recently I found the time to convert some vinyls to digital sound files. There is one I want to share as I find it rather intriguing. It conveys the sound of the German organ reform movement (Orgelbewegung), as it reinvented itself after the Second World War. This very organ was planned by organist and builder during their common time in a POW camp – or so it was related to me by a member of the congregation. (Please find the original stoplist in the notes accompanying the original YT file.)


The builder, Paul Ott, apprenticed with Steinmeyer and built his business on the construction of tracker-action, slider chest chamber organs – being one of less than a handful of builders who dared doing so. Larger commissions came after the war, when many churches lay in ruins, and the stream of refugees from the eastern parts of the finished Reich flooded western Germany, forcing an upsurge in church building. Paul Ott was actively pushed by some church officials with their roots in the organ and liturgy reform movement. In Lower Saxony, he built his largest instruments (in Hannover and Göttingen); in the Rhineland, he often was the builder of choice for the protestant churches, where their catholic neighbours, if they could, afforded a Klais. Paul Ott’s models seem to have been instruments by Stellwagen rather than by Schnitger; one example he knew intimately being the smaller organ at St. Jakoby, Lübeck, another one the Totentanz organ in St. Mary’s, Lübeck, which fell victim to the raid of Palm Sunday, 1942.


As you might hear from the recording, made roughly between 1964 and 1970, Ott had an idiosyncratic style of voicing. One of his apprentices, Rudolf Janke, called it »ingenious superficiality«. Later, Janke was often busy saving Ott organs from destruction by righting their deficits in the mechanical department and evening out their voicing. In this style, foundation tone is transparent and very articulate, mixtures are large and sharp, chorus reeds are dominated the principal chorus (note the pedal, which has fifteen ranks of chorus). Flutes could be quite lovely; in fact, they may have been Paul Ott’s definitive achievement. His chiffy diapasons, on the other hand, constituted an extreme organists learned to despise quite soon. This organ was renovated and revoiced in 1984 by Schuke of Berlin, and overall altered to a more common-sense style of sound.


Nevertheless, it was this anti-romantic style, as documented in this recording, that was called for in the fifties and sixties by many protestant church musicians and churches. The playing as well is a prime example of Orgelbewegung style: North-German repertoire was, if anything, higher-rated than Bach by many; an analytic approach to interpretation was paramount, with the romantic notion of an overall crescendo development still prevailing.


I do have a recording of Franck’s A minor choral on the very same organ, which might give most of you quite a shock , but which I intend to upload on YT sometime soon.


It might be interesting to know that Paul Ott’s large organ in the Kreuzkirche, Bonn, is said to have been one of the definitive influences on no less a player than Nicolas Kynaston, who came by it by way of his student, the eminent Johannes Geffert. Kynaston later was consultant for a restoration project there, which was carried out by the British firm of Walker, part of which was changing all Ott reeds (which were stored) for their own. After that, Kynaston recorded here, of all pieces, Widor’s Eighth Symphony – and it’s a most exciting listening experience. Once in the Rhineland, Kynaston possibly then discovered his even more intense interest in the work of Klais.


Have fun listening.







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