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ptindall

Alfred and Daniel Kern

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I've not seen it mentioned in English-language sources that the Kern firm, surely France's busiest of the last fifty years, closed down in 2015. Important contracts in Alsace now seem to be going to Quentin Blomenroeder of Haguenau (Marrmoutier and other Silbermann organs). He has also restored the famous Kern at Saint-Séverin in Paris.

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As an organist who has been fortunate enough to have spent time over many summers in France and has been allowed generous access to very many organs, I've played about a dozen Kern reconstructions and new instruments. Many in the Alsace region as would be expected from a Strasbourg based firm, with other instruments in Toulouse, Nimes, Bourges, Nice, Tours, Aix-en-Provence, Rouen and Lyon. As Paul says, there are probably more reconstructed organs in France sporting a 'Kern' name plate than any other, closely followed by Formentelli.

 

Kern's 'house style' is a 4 manual C18th 'classical' organ: full compass Positif de dos and Grand, with short compass Recit and Echo. However, unlike Formentelli who goes for the 'pedale francaise' with only 8 and 4ft stops, Kern goes for a German pedal board, usually 30 notes of standard dimensions and alignment. Kern's Pedal organ is also 16ft based with fully developed choruses of flues and reeds.

 

His concept is the organs of Andreas Silbermann of which Ebersmunster and Marmoutier are fine but modestly sized examples. The principal choruses tend to be less fluty and with a brighter balance than more authentic classical instruments and the reed stops less assertive, also the 16ft pedal plays a completely different role to the 8ft classical pedal organ. Kern's organs play Bach and the North German repertoire very well indeed and of course the whole of the French classical repertoire.

 

One has to bear in mind that these organs, although housed in their original C18th or earlier casework have been rebuilt and altered many times over 2 centuries, how much C18th pipework they now contain is debatable. A quick look inside cabinets often appears to indicate that much or all of the pipework is new. In a number of instruments such as Nimes he has retained a C19th Romantic Recit to create a more eclectic organ, whether this is a good thing or not is of course debatable, personally I didn't feel that the 2 aspects sat together comfortably.

 

They are all very comfortable and easy to play having standard pedal boards, keys of reasonable length (at least on the Positif and Grand) and a predicitable touch, with a decent projection over the pedal board. Drawstop layout is very confusing for UK organists as they are arranged in solid banks on either side of the keyboards, usually principals on one side with flutes, mutations and reeds on the other. However, divisions are not separated but the stopknobs have subtly different coloured woods, with paper labels.

 

Outstanding Kern's have been Strasbourg (as you would expect), St Gregoire Ribeaville, and a new organ at St-Jean-de-Malte Aix-en-Provence. As with many new and reconstructed organs (including Formentelli and Quoirin) which follow a certain 'style' with 'compromises', some can sound a bit bland. However, I would not be disappointed if one of the Kerns I've come across was the organ I had to play ever Sunday.

 

You can find full write ups, specs with photos on www.musiqueorguequebec.ca

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