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Arp Schnitger is known as Northern-Germany’s most famous organ builder of the baroque period.

The variety of sounds in his instruments, from brilliant to harsh, is outstanding and style forming. Schnitger’s organs are characterised by excellent manufacturing quality and unique sound artwork. Their outward appearance in its formal strength and North German sober ornament is timeless and beautiful.
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The principle of work divided manufacturing allowed for the building of several organs at the same time. Most of the organs built by Schnitger can be found in the northern part of Germany and in the Netherlands, but Schnitger also delivered to the court of the Tsar in Russia and to Portugal. Even in Brazil stands a displaced instrument.

Conception and sound-determining pieces such as the pipes came from the workshop of the Master, which was firstly situated in Stade, then in Hamburg and later in Neuenfelde near Hamburg. The Location of the workshop close to the Elbe river helped to overcome the challenge of transporting the pipes of extreme length, as well as the sensitive elements. For the long time of construction Schnitger’s assistants had to settle in the respective region.

Simple constructions arranged in complex order with intransigent quality of material called for the stability of the instruments.
Soli deo gloria – Glory to God alone

was the principle he was working to and with what he set the seal on contracts. Everything should be fine and build for eternity. Since the 1950s, historically interested organ workshops have acquired Schnitger’s building and manufacturing principles when creating instruments in his mind and in similar sound and manual quality.

The extraordinary sound and the time-specific tuning in meantone temperament of Schnitger’s organs inspired, and still inspire generations of composers, such as Dietrich Buxtehude, Vincent Lübeck, or the contemporary composer Pier Damiano Peretti, to write for the organ.

Of about 140 new constructions or reconstructions built by Schnitger himself there are about 30 organs worldwide that can be identified as “made by Schnitger”. The remaining instruments have mostly been destroyed by fire or suffered from war aftermaths. Also, a modernisation doctrine in misjudgement of historical uniqueness of quality put the final nail into the coffin of a lot of instruments since the romantic period.

Meanwhile, the inviolable quality of substance is unquestioned. The building principles of Schnitger are so well known that copies of his instruments are spread all over the world. From Scandinavia to America all over to Asia, the organs are ambassadors to the northern Germany organ sound.

Author

Christoph Schönbeck
NOMINE e.V.

Translation

Alana Katharina Brandt
Musikland Niedersachsen gGmbH