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Interview Jürgen Ahrend


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Although I'm aware that it'll be not to the biggest benefit for non german speakers: an audio interview with Jürgen Ahrend, who celebrates his 90. birthday today, has been published by NDR, lasting not less than 2 hours.

(But possibly there's even a chance a bi lingual speaker makes a translation, who knows ;) )

https://www.ndr.de/ndrkultur/epg/Der-Orgelbauer-Juergen-Ahrend-wird-90,sendung1026518.html

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On 28/04/2020 at 17:52, Martin said:

(But possibly there's even a chance a bi lingual speaker makes a translation, who knows ;) )

So let's give it a try and I apologize for any misstranslations in advance, I am not a native English speaker...

Just a first paragraph. If you like it, I will see, if I can translate some other parts.

Jürgen Ahrend about Helmut Walcha, the famous Schnitger organ at Cappel and his work as apprentice with Paul Ott there:

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Jürgen Ahrend: Well, I was still an apprentice of Paul Ott. Paul Ott's job was to re-voice this organ. And then Helmut Walcha wanted to come and make recordings. And we were - as always - much too late. Helmut Walcha had wanted to play for a long time, but Paul Ott had not finished, and then we reworked this organ, re-voiced it, and I must say that the sound impressed me very much. I have never heard such beautiful north German city church organs before - and it was in Cappel [one of those], it came from Hamburg. And I found it absolutely earth-shattering and I liked pressing the keys there for the work Paul Ott did. And fortunately he didn't do so much either, because he didn't have the time. [Laughter] Well, it was certainly good for the organ. And then I met Helmut Walcha there. He came along and played for the first time, and then he called himself insults when he stumbled over the short octave and couldn't get his fingers in the right place, so he called himself insults, which I found funny. So the whole thing impressed me very much. The recordings of Helmut Walcha are very interesting. You can still hear them on records today and I also have one of them. I did not know Helmut Walcha personally, but from his concerts in Göttingen. I come from Göttingen and have heard him occasionally in the university halls - on the harpsichord, not on the organ.
Hans Heinrich Raab: You met him again in Cappel?
JA: Then in Cappel I got to know him personally. There he also shook my hand... that of the apprentice, the insignificant apprentice of Paul Ott...
[...]
JA: The temperament [of Cappel organ] was equal, and this was not changed. So, what was done later on with the temperament, I can't say. The organ in Cappel always impressed everyone, with or without pure thirds. Is the principal of the HW so beautiful that one can say: "Well, it always sounds nice, every single pipe sounds nice", so you don't have to ask the chords beforehand to see if the organ sounds nice.

Regards,

Karsten

 

 

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2 hours ago, Karsten said:

So let's give it a try and I apologize for any misstranslations in advance, I am not a native English speaker...

Just a first paragraph. If you like it, I will see, if I can translate some other parts.

Jürgen Ahrend about Helmut Walcha, the famous Schnitger organ at Cappel and his work as apprentice with Paul Ott there:

Regards,

Karsten

 

 

Well that makes perfect sense to me!  Thank you.
Interesting, though, that Cappel was in equal temperament.

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1 hour ago, Martin said:

Cappel was equal temp. since the transfer from hamburg and remained so to the present day!

I then remembered its long history and was pleased to find quite a bit on Youtube...

also some tour of stops by Walcha: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_kEhTdqIw2rBKiuUGiTZtkJKSaK0vQPJhg

Martin

Lovely sounds.

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Of course it's more a historical thing and Mono (Walcha's (and the label's) first stereo was Art of Fugue if I remember correctly), but a recording more present from there (and in various keys) is with  Kay Johannsen, you can stream the whole disc here on spotify with a free account, also on youtube, but I didn't find a complete playlist. And this database lists quite a few Cappel recordings.

Thanks to Karsten. As the talk did last not less than 2 hours, I think noone could expect a complete work on this. And as there is no written manuscript...

 

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Jürgen Ahrend about his family, his father, Jugendmusikbewegung and his childhood with "Hausmusik":

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JA: My father had ended up in the merchant's side of the business. He was in the local government in Geismar, in the next village, but he didn't have much of a salary. So that was all in a modest way. But, of course, he was also anxious to provide for his family. First we were with three children for a long time, later a brother and a sister joined us, but that was seven years later. And so he then simply looked for extra income. All around Göttingen and in Göttingen itself there were choirs, church choirs. He travelled there by bicycle and actually played music somewhere every evening. And there he had, I think, something to do with the Handel-Gesellschaft... and in any case he was always musically in constant movement somehow. And on Sundays, for example, he often played the substitute in Marienkirche, and then I sat on the organ bench and listened, and so I came together with organ sounds, but I was not really moved by that: I was too young to be able to classify it. As a 4 or 5 year old I just sat on the organ bench in the church and took part in the service. [...]

JA: [My father] could play other instruments. I have heard him play the viola da gamba in our house, I have of course heard him play the recorder, which was already common in the 1930s, when I was still a child...
HHR: Was he inspired by the German youth music movement [Jugendsingbewegung]?
JA: Yes, he was, all the way. I can remember, I still have pictures today, black and white pictures, where my father was travelling with groups of other young men with mandolins in Hannover's woods, there are such heights where you could be in nature, and then later I experienced it myself, but it was mostly about guitar, or accordion. So my father played all kinds of instruments that I experienced as a teenager. And at home it was common that every fortnight, I think, a group came together to play music at our place. There was a harpsichord, and there were people who played the violin and people who played the viola da gamba, like my father, and there were also strange instruments that have actually fallen a little into oblivion to this day, for example a five-sided violin, I don't even remember what it was called exactly. But at least such instruments were also in play and of course always flutes. And the traverse flutes were rather new constructions in those days. So the Böhm flute with keys was common. And I played them later. But by then my father was already in the war, which didn't have such a positive effect on the family. But then the family also played music. I had two older sisters, one three years older, but she didn't play a keyboard instrument, she played the recorder, and one sister, who was a year older than me, with whom I grew up. We then did everything together, except making music. But in this small group, music was definitely played. The harpsichord by Neupert, well, it wasn't such a magnificent instrument, rather a short case, so not the great bass sounds, but still quite beautiful. We liked it in any case. And I can remember the time when my father was not yet at war, and it was played here.Then we children heard the music and fell asleep over it, one floor higher. In Göttingen's suburb Treuenhagen that was called  And there was our house, which my parents had built. Suitable to let such small musical events take place. [...]

JA: I also internalized that [i.e. Jugendmusikbewegung] this was something special. It was not in every house and it was not in every church. And of course we also went with our father on Sundays, there was leisure time, we went for walks, we went on real hikes, and my father had a accordion with him and said: "Watch out, the cows are coming soon! And right, they came running across the pasture and wanted to hear what was going on. Of course you couldn't do that with a mandolin. But well, these groups at that time, they played in the train, and then played music on the way, they really took the people with them, and I believe that many people had fun with this youthful music that was made there. That was of course a special time. And then the war came, it stalled the whole thing a bit. Then I can remember that people played music once or twice in our home and were particularly sorry that there was no trace of my father, he is just simply missing on the Eastern front. Unfortunately, he had ended up on the Eastern Front, in October 1944 he was sent there. Well, what else could they do there? They couldn't even defend themselves against the Russians? Well, I told my mother very early on: "We can only regret it, but our father is not coming back. If he hasn't contacted us by now, then he won't come back. He won't come back from Siberia." He won't be able to. Because he was at an age where he wasn't even allowed to move in. My father, who was born in 1901, was already over 40 and then came very early, in 1940 he was recruited. I took him to the train station myself. I sat in front on the crossbar and had to bring the bike back, back from the Göttingen station. And the interesting thing was perhaps also, this is now a very personal thing, that my father said to me while we were sitting there in the waiting room: "Well, Jürgen, this war is going on for a long time, and I'm not coming back!" Then came, I still remember it very well, then came the first name call. It was "Ahlborn", that is before "Ahrend", and the second was already "Ahrend", and then my father had to say "Here!" and that was it. So he came to Hamburg first, he was all around Hamburg during the war. This was OK, we met once, he came for holidays and so on. But it was just the misfortune that he had to go to the Eastern Front as cannon fodder,  or as rifle fodder in the end. And that was the end. So it's sad. He would have been happy if I'd said, "Yes, I'm going to be an organ builder!" Because he... I don't think he would have been keen on me going to medical school or something...

Jürgen Ahrend on early responsibility, the decision to become an organ builder and the years of apprenticeship with Paul Ott and intonation:

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JA: It was like that during the war and then in the post-war period anyway. There I really felt like the after-born, fatherly caregiver. So we did a lot of things together, and I was always the driving force: we now go and dig up turnips, harvest them, harvest potato leftovers. So that we could get over the times. And I took on a lot of responsibility, it was much too early for my age. It wasn't that good.

I actually wanted to graduate from high school and I thought studying music would have been my thing. But then my mother said, nothing would come of it. So studying is not possible, then you can better consider whether you should learn a profession at the right time, at an early age. And organ building would be the right thing, she said. She just asked me: "Don't you want to become an organ builder?" So that was really a short question, to which I answered very briefly with "Yes". I still remember it today.

Three and a half years of apprenticeship, then another four and a half years as a journeyman, and then the master's examination at the age of 24. In Göttingen the theory examination was held, and then in Kassel that was approved. And of course I had to do a masterpiece. It was not a complete organ, but a wind chest.
So I worked with Paul Ott... yes, well, he appreciated me personally, of course, for pressing the keys during intonation and also otherwise. He was quite good as a teacher. So he really demanded a lot, he also complained that I could get more involved and so on, but I thought it was a lot. I have done a lot for the company. I washed the pipes, I made the cut ups, because the pipes were always made round and there were no cut ups at all, so I made them. And above all, I always supplied the heating for the workers, so I pressed the shavings buckets and so on. So I had a big advantage: they [the other organ builders] showed me everything.  So carpenter could not fool me here in East Frisia, I knew all that, because there were of course carpenters who made the cases and so on.

[...]

Well, I was almost always there when it came to intonation. Then I had to travel with him [Paul Ott]. I learned the basics, so I knew how to deal with it very quickly. But later I noticed that there was another side to it. Of course, the tonal conception had to develop differently when I got to know historical organs and really had to work on them myself. So I learned a great deal from the historical pipes and could only say: the organs that were worked on by Paul Ott were not the ultimate. That had to become even better.

[...]

Yes, that is my firm opinion, which in my experience is also correct: that the head of a company (which should also not be so large), must do the intonation himself. For this reason alone, the company should not be so large, because that would overburden him, because the chief naturally has three things to do - at least three: one is the management, which must somehow go back to him as the head of the company; then comes the planning: what is to be done and how?; then finally, if you limit it to that, comes the organ sound, and that should be able to be improved. And only the chief himself can do that, because he is the only one who has the time, because he can take the time. He can really say: well, that's not enough for me, I'll stay here for another hour or two hours, I don't care how the end of the workday looks like. I'm still doing it. While of course an employee would like to have his fixed times for himself, his private time, and so he would say: "Yes, the boss expects me to have this done by this and that time at the latest...", and then it won't work with thoroughness. I am simply of the opinion that it is absolutely essential that the chief of the company makes the organ intonation.

Jürgen Ahrend about the restoration of Bielfeldt organ at Stade:

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[...] in Stade, at Wilhardikirche, there was a historical organ which was of the greatest beauty, outwardly not to be doubted at all. It had no Rückpositiv, and instead it had a "Hinterwerk". And that is exactly what the people in the past - my teacher was one of them, I can only smile sadly about it - , supported at the time by the expert from Verden, Alfred Hoppe, found: it can't remain like that, the Hinterwerk couldn't have been a Hinterwerk at all, it must have been a Rückpositiv! So an organ, really made at its finest, and it has a Hinterwerk? That can't be possible!
Then they made a Rückpositiv out of the Hinterwerk: they took the old wind chest out of it and built a gallery that allowed for a Rückpositiv, the gallery changed a bit, at least the gallery allowed for a Rückpositiv, and then they did it like that. But, here's the thing: they took out this wind chest during the work and of course they had to repair it, because wind chests don't always remain as airtight as they used to be when they were made in earlier times. Today we do it in such a way that it always remains airtight, but that was not the case back then. They repaired it, and then it was written in there, in the windchest, and now it comes: "And I built this [Oberwerk] wind chest when I was 24 years old"! - "I built this Oberwerk wind chest" - it was written verbatim in there. And that belonged to the son of Bielfeldt, the organ builder. And the people read that and didn't say: Wait, now we're gonna row back! That was an Oberwerk after all! - and they simply built it as a Rückpositiv!
And then we got the contract to restore this organ again, because it was scrap again, because it wasn't good after all. The intonation was not good, the mechanics were not good, and it was now known that the Rückpositiv did never exist. Then we rebuilt it and it is still today, yes, an admirably beautiful organ.
We have already come across this and of course we have come across many cases where we had to say: "This restoration back then, in the 1960s, did not succeed. That missed the facts! That has never been like this! That must be reversed!" And that we didn't have a foolish idea of ourselves, but that was a really bitter truth that we found there and that we then had to work back.

Information about the organ in German: http://www.nomine.net/stade-st-wilhadi

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Jürgen Ahrend on the considerations of the site of the workshop and his partner Gerard Brunzema:

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HHR: Attention was also drawn to East Frisia...
JA: Yes, firstly of course because he [Gerhard Brunzema] came from Emden. So if you don't want to stay in Göttingen - and my colleagues, who later became self-employed, after me, just stayed in the area of Paul Ott, I didn't want that -, I wanted to be at least 100 km away, I preferred two hundred and there have become even more.
Brunzema was a son from the doctor in Emden. Brunzema's parents had 6 children. Indeed, some of the children became doctors again and Gerhard Brunzema was interested in organs, because he also played the organ and some of the other children played the organ, maybe they still play today.  Gerhard Brunzema is no longer alive today. He emigrated to Canada, after we had separated after,  I believe, 17 years of joint self-employment. Gerhard Brunzema was a person who was interested in historical organs and who was also involved, but for the new organ building, he believed, you have to keep up with the times: you must allow and bring in new facade designs and so on, and we always had quite different opinions on that. And so we finally decided to separate, because I was more in favour of the old organ.
I am always of the opinion that the organ is a historical instrument, and just as one does not change a violin, let me say now, is perhaps not a good example, one does not fundamentally change the shape of a historical sounding organ, which is not historical, but should sound historical. Then that's somehow part of it - in my opinion, but you can also have a different opinion.
That was one thing, but the other was of course the location because of the old organs. There are old organs here, you cannot count on one hand, there are so many. And they are worth it to stand at your feet nearby, so to speak, and have these instruments under your eyes and ears. And that was one of the reasons why we said: It fits! We are staying here! Before we set up on our own, we listened to old organs there and found: this is it! One must take these old organs as a model and not be misled by the fact that today one must build organs in a certain style, let alone rebuild historical organs. We understood this very early on.    

 

Jürgen Ahrend on the Paul Ott and his organ building philosophy:

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JA: Well there was one bright spot in organ building, that was Paul Ott in Göttingen. He came from the southern region, Memmingen or wherever exactly he came from nearby, his wife was from Memmingen, he came from another place. He studied with Steinmeyer in Öttingen and of course he got to know an organ builder there who was not his cup of tea. He had already known that there was something else. That's why he went to Göttingen. Then there was Prof. Mahrenholz, who already had something to do with organ movement, and he got involved and was guided by these ideas. And I was there, I helped him very much with the intonation, i.e. pressing the keys and cutting the pipes, and so on, and there I learned: it's all about low wind pressures, which must not be more than 50 mm WS, and it's about correspondingly low cuts of the pipe mouths, the pipe labia. The upper labium must not be cut so high, otherwise the fine sounds will not come out. And he has done it this way, really without making any compromises. He also opened the toe holes very wide, so he wanted to work with little pressure but a lot of wind, and then he made the windway narrow again so as not to overdo it.And there he made an intonation that was very important for me as a young man, I was 16 years old, I turned 16 in that month, [...], and then I went through all this as a very young person and of course I was able to build up my faith in what Paul Ott did and I thought it was all right.   

But later...

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We discovered the old wind pressures, and they were much higher than 50 mm [WS], that went very quickly into the 70 or 80 mm "water gauge", is what we call it. When new projects started, we applied it and found that we get healthy organ sounds when we take these historical wind pressures into account.

Joint study tours in Europe, visits at Metzler and Marcussen:

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The Dutch border was also easier to reach from Leer than from Emden. So in Emden we could have gone into business for ourselves, but that was out of the question, and here [in Leer] it was the next traffic junction, so to speak, so these were very practical considerations. And that was the second step over the border to Holland. And that was a stroke of luck, because the Dutch were merchants. The Dutch always looked at it like: "What do we get for our money?" And then they found that there was a lot that was offered about us: quality - sound, technical... that was a lot. And then we got orders here in East Frisia to restore a few old organs and did it as well as we could, according to the state of knowledge at the time, according to our own knowledge. Not everything was right, but the sound was definitely right.
We made journeys together, with a one-cylinder BMW motorbike, which I could afford from my money. In the early 1950s I bought this bike. And after that we were really mobile, Gerhard Brunzema, my organ friend, so to speak, and I went on the trips and studied the organs first in a nearer and then in a farther area and then it went, I have already told you today, it went far away up to Uppsala. We also went to Holland and looked at organs there and got to know organ builders and their work, which was partly restoration and partly new built. We also went to Switzerland, to the Metzler brothers, and got to know the old director. And the Metzler brothers pointed out to us that we should have a look around in Denmark, for new methods to make reed pipes. That was something special: Marcussen, with his company headquarters in Aabenraa, and the director at that time, Sybrand Zachariassen. The Swiss told us that there is the technique of making shallots in ebony. So [...] these metal shallots, you could also make them out of wood, and they are much easier to voice, and they keep the pitch better and and and and... you have to take care of that.  So there we went to Sybrand Zachariassen - by motorbike!At that time we were not really self-employed and we were welcomed, even though he [Zachariassen] was sick!  I can remember Sybrand Zachariassen had a cold and didn't send us away - as he could have done. He got out of bed, with his morning coat and welcomed us. He had a real conversation with us, and then we asked him if we could visit his co-workers in Copenhagen, because we knew that they have special making methods for reed pipes there.  Then he said, "Well, I don't know if he'd like to show you, but here's the address." Then we drove to Poul-Gerhard Andersen, and he also gave us a friendly welcome! I don't know these days, such young kids in their 20s - do you receive them just like that? I don't know, but in retrospect I find it astonishing! He made an appointment with us for the same day, I think, and then we could get into his car and then he drove us to Jägersborg, for example, and to Hellerup and so on, where they had just built a new organ, and then we admired these instruments. And then he took us, without us having to say much, to his cellar workshop where he built these shallots. That was something very special for us. There we made use of them immediately when we were independent. But, we noticed something: [...] we noticed that these shallots are easier to make, easier to voice, etc., but that they sound "sweet". Not as crisp and brass like a trumpet from a brass bell, but a bit "sweetish". So we stopped right away. So we made a few organs like that, but then we realized: that's not true, we don't do that anymore.

Ahrend about the first inependent steps:

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We did it all, we even went to Spain to get to know more, so we took it all on ourselves to gain knowledge.
And then there is another event: we installed the organ for Paul Ott in the Liebfrauenkirchen in Bremen. And there was also a concert in Bremen-Oberneuland on the Steinmeyer organ at that time, by chance. And there played a certain Gordon Jeffery from Canada, a lawyer and organist. Very brilliant concert! Afterwards we went to his gallery, introduced ourselves as organ builders etc. and thanked him and so on, and then he said: "Oh, I invite you for a meeting in the Bremen Ratskeller. "Oh," we said, "we're happy to oblige. Tomorrow evening!" All right, then we came to the Bremen Ratskeller at a certain time that evening afterwards. We would never have dared to do that ourselves, because we couldn't pay for all that. It was clear that we would be his guests. And then we had a nice chat and he asked us all kinds of questions and stuff, and then he asked us if we wanted to start our own business. Yes, yes, of course we do! We want to start our own business and we want to do it this year. Yes it was actually already 1954, when we met him there. In any case, we confirmed to him that we probably wanted to and then he said: "Then I could help! You don't have a car, do you?" "No, we only have one motorcycle." "Yes, but I have a VW, a new VW, bought, cream-coloured etc. and with a sunroof and that is brand new and there I paid 5600 DM. And that's what you can get. And in a few years I will come back to Germany, play a concert again and then I would like to get 3.600 DM... Well, that was a gift! A beetle! That was a gift! So we suddenly had a car, so my sisters almost lost their eyes when they saw me with the car. Well, that's how it happened. A few years later we had to make a journey because he was there, in Herford, visiting an organist, and he called to see if we could come and bring the money. Of course we did!
We had no means, no big means when we started, but we had the fundamentals, and that was on the knowledge side. We had the impression that with knowledge we could already make a start, because people might become aware. That was not noticeable at first. On the contrary, when we introduced ourselves, the experts told us that we did not need to do anything, that the Führer company was already here, the Ott company was already there, and that they were all firmly in the saddle and so on. And then we laughed and said: yes, we did not want to ask whether we were allowed to do that, we just wanted to say that we are here, and if one of them should be absent, then perhaps we are a selection, a more extensive selection. It has taken a long time. Then things improved, so first a commission here in Leer, in the Lutherkirche for my sake, that was out of the question! There was the expert before: that's what the Führer company does! Alright, we accepted. But we had no time out from the beginning. We got jobs right away.
The first job we did was Larrelt. And Larrelt was an organ that had already been built with historical parts, but was completely new. You couldn't just put it up on the wall and say that this pipework now dates from the 17th century,  so we have to redesign the organ this way. It wouldn't have been right, we haven't done it. So we restored the wind chests there, built a new keyboard there - in Larrelt, near Emden - and that was a single-manual organ and then, to the best of our knowledge at the time, we worked on the pipework and added things that were still missing: there were no large pipes from a Quintadena, so we built them and did something like that. But this was not a restoration in the sense where one was required, now one must somehow go back to the old condition.
    

https://www.orgelbau-ahrend.de/opus001wa.html

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