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A Visit to the Klosterkirche Alpirsbach

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Alpirsbach in the Black Forest is a charming old town with any number of half-timbered and other elegant houses, but most impressive is the former monastery, with its impressive Romanesque church and fascinating history. The monastery was established by three noblemen for the Benedictines in 1095. The new monastery was established with monks from the abbey at Sankt Blasien, some 90km south of Aplirsbach. Its small church, the tower of which survives was consecrated in 1099. The imposing Abbey Church was consecrated in 1128 and remains largely unchanged in its structure to the present day. Being in Württemberg, the Protestant Reformation was imposed on Alpirsbach in 1535 and ultimately dissolved in 1806. A full description of the interesting history of the Abbey can be read here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpirsbach_Abbey. Alpirsbach is also famous for its beer.

The Abbey Church contains an interesting organ by Claudius Winterhalter, one of his Organ Sculptures. Designed in cooperation with Armin Göhringer, who modelled the organic horizontal slots in the casework with a chain saw, the casework forms an impressive picture, with the 16ft pipes in each corner leaning outwards slightly, so the top of the case is wider and deeper than its base. Even more impressive is that this 15 tonne structure is moveable having been fitted with air casters, so that it can be moved from its home in the south transept to the middle of the crossing to face down the church, or to a midway point, when it is positioned at a 45° angle. The organ was slated to be moved for a concert today, the 13th of September, so we went to observe this spectacle and to then attend the concert. Unfortunately, coronavirus restrictions prevented the organ from being moved, it takes a number of people to move it, even though it is on air casters, and they need to be huffing and puffing in close proximity to one another, which was felt to be irresponsible at the present time. More on the organ can be read here: https://www.orgelbau-winterhalter.de/die-orgel-skulptur-klosterkirche-alpirsbach/.

Nonetheless, the concert was interesting, being given on the organ and a singing saw. Those of us who have used a panel saw know that one can make it sing by bending and tapping it, if the steel is of good quality. It can also be made to sound using a violin bow and it surfaces occasionally in jazz and other music but being used with an organ was new to me. The sawer (if that is what one might call him) was Ralph Stövesandt and the organist was that of the church, Carmen Jauch.

The concert started with Bach’s Toccata in F BWV 540, unfortunately played too quickly for the wonderful acoustic of the church. Why is it so difficult for organists and other musicians to learn to adjust the tempo and style to the acoustic of the building? It is not rocket science. Big acoustic, slower and more staccato so that the notes don’t all wash into each other. Less acoustic, more tempo and more legato. The person announcing the concert was no better, speaking into the microphone at a normal speed in the mistaken belief that the microphone and amplifier would make everything clear Then followed one of the most moving renditions of Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel in Spiegel I have ever heard, with the singing saw taking the part of a stringed instrument. One’s partner found it repetitive, her first introduction to the work. I need to do some convincing. I rarely listen to Spiegel on the stereo without hitting replay at least once to hear it again. There followed Schubert’s Ave Maria, where the singing saw made an interesting alternative for the melody, likewise a rendering of The Swan from Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of Animals. Following an appropriate reading regarding the power of music, a piece by Julia Rosenberger originally written for harp and organ, which worked well with the singing saw. The next piece was another highlight, where the E-saw percussive, was introduced. The saw was used largely in various percussive manners (as the name suggests) largely feeding into an electronic loop, which the player controlled. More interesting, indeed fascinating that the description conveys. That was followed by Guillou’s Toccata opus 9, which suited the organ and its bright, even slightly steely character to a T and was very well played by Carmen Jauch, a memorable performance. Then followed Smile from Charlie Chaplin, Oblivion by Astor Piazzolla, not a composer I had heard of before and O, My Beloved Father by Puccini. Bach’s Air from Suite 3 BWV 1068 concluded the concert but didn’t really gain anything from the melody being played on the singing saw.

We concluded the visit with a fascinating tour of the rest of the monastery. If you find yourself in the Black Forest area, undoubtedly one of the many wonderful places to visit.



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23 hours ago, John Pike Mander said:

That's very interesting.  Thank you.

A horizontal flute, though?  That's a new one on me.  I wonder what advantage there is in making a flue stop horizontal.

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