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Spanish nuns fined for restoring their organ

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A convent of Spanish nuns is facing a steep bill for having a priceless church organ repaired without the state's permission. Restoration of the instrument was funded by a local music foundation, but the regional government of Andalusia has fined the convent a hefty 170,000 euros for the "unauthorised" work on the organ.

The ornately-decorated instrument was built by 17th century master Perez Valladolid, and Andalusia's Ministry of Culture listed it as an Item of Cultural Significance in 1983. It is believed to be the inspiration for Gustavo Adolfo Becquer's celebrated story Maese Perez, the Organist.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-42009290

The story of Maese Perez can be read at: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Stories_by_Foreign_Authors_(Spanish)/The_Organist

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My opinion is that it rather depends on how well the organ was repaired.

Assuming that the instrument was repaired in a professional and conservative fashion, I wonder whether this is just another case of rampant bureaucracy, typical of what we British are especially good at!

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I rather suspect that it had nothing to do with the quality of the work but the reason the good sisters were fined was because the organ didn't belong to them. It may have been in their convent chapel or on their premises but, firstly, it was a listed instrument, an item of 'National Cultural Significance' and secondly and more importantly, the owners were the state whose responsibility it would or should have been to restore it. Is it the same in Spain as it is in France - churches and Cathedrals, and their contents belong, not to the church, but to the state? I suspect so!

In the UK you don't have this problem - except of course, if a building/object or whatever is listed - and then you have endless amounts of bureaucracy to surmount before you can touch it. Sometimes a considerable nuisance but, If you think about it, this can be a good thing - it stops enthusiastic amateurs and the 'progressive thinkers'

.......................... having said that it does seem a bit hard on the sisters!!

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Yes, I can appreciate that.  I wasn't aware that the Spanish had the same system of state ownership of all churches as does France.  Presumably, the state wasn't about to refurbish the organ (and I understand that there are many historical organs in Spain that are in need of restoration) so perhaps they could have taken the sisters' work as a gift and thanked them!

Yes, you are right.  There does need to be some provision in place to prevent damage to organs by those who are not capable of the work and in that respect we are lucky.  Hopefully, the work done on the Spanish organ was done properly.

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Actually, in Spain very few churches belong to the city, region or state. Only desacralized churchs or convent turned into museums or cultural centres are not owned by catholic church. For the moment they are not relevant in the organ world.

Talking about organs the most famous example is the Bosch organ from the Royal Chapel in the Royal Palace in Madrid, which belongs to Spain's National Heritage.

Coming back to the nun's issue, the fine was finally reduced to the amount of 1,170 € (it was collected by crowdfunding in very few hours)

http://www.elmundo.es/andalucia/2017/12/19/5a38e31246163fd8418b462e.html

 

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There’s probably a lot more to this story than meets the eye. Amongst the reader comments in the Spanish newspaper cited above, there is a claim that the huge fine on the nuns was linked to the political opposition of certain politicians and parties to the Church in Spain. Whilst Spain has traditionally been a very devout Catholic country, there is also a strong anticlericalist tendency, going back at least a couple of hundred years. There have been periodic attacks on church buildings, monasteries, priests, monks and nuns, thousands of whom were killed during the 1930s. Organs seem to be a favourite target of both religious and non-religious fanatics, as we know only too well from the wholesale destruction of organs in England in the 17th century. Dutch organs only survived iconoclasm because they were placed high in the church and belonged to town halls, not to the church. The church itself in Spain does not seem to value organs very highly - there are many ancient organs rotting away unused and unloved. The two major “reforms” of the Catholic church with regard to music and liturgy since 1900 were carried out to the letter in Spain, unlike in France where, after some initial upset, things seemed to carry on as before. Pius X’s Motu Proprio of 1903 (“Tra le Sollecitudini”) specifically limited the use of the organ in worship in favour of Gregorian chant. Whilst this had the positive effect of encouraging and furthering the singing of chant in Spain, a few decades later all this was overturned by Vatican II and most choir schools were lost. Organists in Spain are rarely paid, even in cathedrals, access to organs by anyone other than the incumbent organist is virtually impossible, and the number of organists in training is tiny - hardly surprising in view of the nonexistent career prospects. 

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On 1/4/2018 at 01:56, Zimbelstern said:

There’s probably a lot more to this story than meets the eye. Amongst the reader comments in the Spanish newspaper cited above, there is a claim that the huge fine on the nuns was linked to the political opposition of certain politicians and parties to the Church in Spain. 

From the information I've received from organists in Sevilla, there were 2 reasons for the high fine:

1. Having restored the organ, out from the official procedure, and not with the builder that wins most of the contracts.

2. Imposing such a high fine, it was very likely that the nuns could not pay the fine and consequently they would lose the building and it would end in the hands of the regional government.

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On 1/4/2018 at 01:56, Zimbelstern said:

Organists in Spain are rarely paid, even in cathedrals, access to organs by anyone other than the incumbent organist is virtually impossible, and the number of organists in training is tiny - hardly surprising in view of the nonexistent career prospects. 

On this topic I see the glass half full.

Of course many organs in villages are played by amateur musicians that are not paid (they play usually one mass a week), but at the same time many parishes (specially in the cities) and most Cathedrals pay their organist. It is also true that church playing is only  a part time job and they usually have to complement their incomes with other jobs in Conservatories or with concerts.

About access to organs my experience is in general good, though I also had bad experiences. It is quite easy when you've got the contact of the titular organist or the organ builder 

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9 hours ago, Pablo Cepeda said:

From the information I've received from organists in Sevilla, there were 2 reasons for the high fine:

1. Having restored the organ, out from the official procedure, and not with the builder that wins most of the contracts.

2. Imposing such a high fine, it was very likely that the nuns could not pay the fine and consequently they would lose the building and it would end in the hands of the regional government.

If true, I think that's nasty.  Perhaps it is the same people who are trying to snatch Gibraltar from our hands.

They won't get it!

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I think you’ll find that the anti-clericalists, and their allies are at the opposite end of the political spectrum. The President of the Popular (Conservative) Party in Seville, Virginia Perez, condemned the actions of the Andalusian Government in fining the nuns in the strongest possible terms, as you can read here: 

http://www.europapress.es/andalucia/sevilla-00357/noticia-virginia-perez-ve-injusto-expediente-organo-santa-ines-culpa-junta-desidia-20171113165809.html

Her party, the Partido Popular, is the one which currently rules in Spain under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a devout Catholic and defender of the Church (and presumably organs). He is also staunchly in favour of the return of Gibraltar to Spanish sovereignty. 

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