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Arp Schnitger's Work in Magdeburg and Berlin

Arp Schnitger (1648-1719) is widely regarded as the best North German organbuilder of the second half of the seventeenth century. His reputation grew to the point that he could no longer run his business from a single workshop. He carried out multiple projects simultaneously by setting up several workshops run by foremen who had long enough experience and technique so that they could work partly independently from Schnitger at the construction site.

It is not certain how much Arp Schnitger himself worked on the actual construction of his organs and also on designing the specification and construction method. As far as the specification was concerned, a Schnitger organ contains specific features of the particular area in which it was built. It is natural to think that this is partly dependent on the local requirements for how the organ would be used in that specific area. Another possible reason is simply a practical one. Part of the payment for the new organ was quite often the old organ that the customer had. Organbuilders used old pipes whenever possible as long as they were in good condition and still usable for contemporary musical demands. This was fairly common practice in those days (with some exceptions of course, like in case of Gottfried Silbermann) and this is the reason why in Schnitger’s work an older local style was continually being integrated into the new style.

Schnitger organs in the Berlin and Magdeburg areas were no exceptions to this rule. having local elements that were different from the “home-grown” elements well-known from his instruments in the Hamburg area. For that matter, this integration of older styles was also present in the Hamburg organs we know so well, where his predecessor’s pipework such as the Scherer family and Gottfried Fritzsche were integrated into his new organs. It is in fact quite an irony that the great organbuilder in early seventeenth century Germany, Gottfried Fritzsche, actually migrated to North Germany from his own central German tradition. Fritzsche gained his fame at the court of Dresden. Unfortunately, no organs by Schnitger built in central and eastern German cities exist today. The few organs that survived until the twentieth century were completely destroyed in the Second World War. It is still possible however to list the peculiar features that one would never find in his northwestern instruments by studying primary archival sources. -the use of Floite dues as a wooden conical flute. Both 8 foot and 4 foot stops. -the use of Viola da gamba both in 8 foot and 4 foot. -the use of wood for the Subbaß 16 foot. In one case this is even an open stop. -the independent wind system for the pedal division. -the use of evergreen wood like pine for the organ’s interior parts. -the name of the stops like Hoboy, Viola da gamba and Violone. (These could be completely distinctive stops but there is a possibility that they are the same as the stops that he built for his northwestern instruments labeled with local names.) -the reed stops. The fact that much fewer numbers of reed stops appear especially in the manuals. -a completely different case design and style of ornamention.

The following list gives the Schnitger organ features that do appear in his instruments both in Eastern and Central Germany. The seventeenth-century North German features throughout his organs. -the presence of a typical principal chorus. -the presence of variously pitched flute stops for every division. -the presence of Schnitger’s typical sesquialtera and other mutation stops. -a very complete pedal divison from low-pitched to high-pitched stops. -even though there are very few examples in Eastern and Central Germany, the use of the Rückpositiv is also present in both areas.

After looking at all of the features of the Schnitger organs built in Eastern and Central Germany through the eyes of today’s purist, these instruments seem to have compromises that depart from what has come to be thought of as Schnitger’s pure style, but stylistic compromise itself does not necessarily create an artistic imbalance. One must admit his immense success in integrating and mixing different styles and creating a well-balanced, integrated musical instrument while maintaining an extremely high quality.

Page Manager: Erik Bernskiöld|Last update: 11/24/2011
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