Documentary Baroque Organ

The Utopa Foundation and the Orgelpark have commissioned a documentary on the development of the new Utopa Baroque Organ, which you can watch here: 

 

 

 

The Utopa Baroque Organ at the Orgelpark

The Sound World of Johann Sebastian Bach

The new Utopa Baroque Organ is named after the Utopa Foundation, whose initiative led to the foundation of the Orgelpark in 2003. The goal of the Utopa Foundation, according to its constitution, is “to stimulate and promote the creative talent of people, particularly those whose potential goes unrecognised, for what-ever reason.” As an extension, the goal of the Orgelpark is to “integrate the organ into general musical life through new means of presentation”. The Utopa Baroque Organ is, therefore, not a normal baroque organ: it has two means of “access” to its baroque sound-world.

The organist can play from a traditional console, located in the organ case, as well as via a hi-tech detached, mobile console. The advantage of this is not only that the listeners can see the organist making music but first and foremost that the organist can combine the organ’s sound sources (2,426 pipes to be precise) in hitherto unimagined ways.

 

Core team

The story of the Utopa Baroque Organ began in late 2012 when the Orgelpark formed a team in order to draw up the concept for the new instrument. The chair of the team was Loek Dijkman (Chair of the Utopa Foundation); its other members were Sylvia de Munck (Vice Chair of the Utopa Foundation), Johan Luijmes (Artistic Director of the Orgelpark), Hans Fidom (researcher at the Orgelpark, Chair of Organ Studies at VU University Amsterdam), Peter Peters (researcher at Maastricht University), and Hans Elbertse (organ builder).

 

Old and new technology

In order to qualify as a baroque organ, the wind (organ jargon for air under light pressure), must reach the pipes in a 17th/18th century manner: as is the case for recorders and other wind instruments, the way in which organ pipes are blown determines how they sound. At the same time, updating the organ’s action by applying digital technology makes sense only when each pipe can be operated by a dedicated magnet. The Utopa Baroque Organ fulfils both requirements by utilising “spring-chests”, a 17th century invention which can be used alongside 21st century technology, without compromising the “old” sound.

“Spring-chests” are a special variety of wind-chests. Wind-chests are the heart of every organ and are, essentially, large, flat wooden boxes. On these boxes stand the pipes, while inside are located the pallets which the organist operates via the keys and the stop knobs. When a pallet is opened, the wind pumped from the bellows into the wind-chest is directed to the required pipe in order for it to sound.

 

Zacharias Hildebrandt

The first name one associates with baroque organ music is that of Johann Sebastian Bach. We know that he worked regularly with the organ builders Gottfried Silbermann and Zacharias Hildebrandt. Initially they worked together, thereafter a number of lawsuits finally heralded a period of peace between them. Silbermann was impressed by Hildebrandt’s talent, and not without reason. The latter’s organs sound both broader and less loud than the former’s and have a larger collection of characteristic sound-colours. In addition, Hildebrandt’s organs were considerably cheaper. This was not because he was a shrewd businessman, but rather because business simply didn’t interest him much. As a result, he stood more than once on the verge of bankruptcy.

The Orgelpark opted to use the Hildebrandt sound-world as the basis for the Utopa Baroque Organ. Of primary importance was the sound of the Hildebrandt organ in the St.-Wenzels-kirche in Naumburg, inspected upon completion by Bach himself in 1746, incidentally together with Silbermann.

The question of whether the Naumburg organ represents Hildenbrandt’s tonal ideal is easy to answer: the history of the organ is far too turbulent to make such a claim. However, it provides ample evidence of the quality of the workmanship of Hermann Eule Orgelbau (Bautzen, Duitsland), who restored the instrument, and in particular that of pipe-maker and voicer Helmut Werner. Under the latter’s direction, virtually all the surviving Hildebrandt organs have been restored.

 

Four organ builders

In order to take optimal advantage of Werner’s knowledge in the new Utopa Baroque Organ, the Orgelpark commissioned Eule to make all of the metal pipes under his supervision. The voicing (tonal finishing) was carried out by the Japanese organ builder Munetaka Yokota, one of the first to make new organ pipes which genuinely “sounded old”. This he showed, among other places, at the Nya Örgryte Kyrka in Gothenburg. In addition, Yokota knew Zacharias Hildebrandt’s organs well as a result of his own research. The organ case, winding system, wind-chests, all other technical aspects and wooden pipes were made by Elbertse Orgelmakers of Soest (NL). The Sinua firm of Düsseldorf developed, delivered and implemented the digital technology.

 

Hettstedt

In terms of its appearance and construction, the Utopa Baroque Organ is based on the organ Hildebrandt built in 1749 for the Jacobikirche in Hettstedt. The case and the façade of this organ have survived although the organ itself was entirely replaced in 1905. The organ’s original specification, found in the town archives, was remarkable in achieving the three demands then deemed essential for organ sound: “Gravität” was achieved through the low-sounding stops in the pedal, “Poesie” was provided by the rich collection of stops sounding at the pitch of the human voice, and “Brillance” was guaranteed by the large number of high-sounding stops.

 

Façade

Although the Utopa Baroque Organ has exactly the same profiles, columns and other elements as the façade in Hettstedt, the proportions are drawn from the Hildebrandt organ at Sangerhausen (1728); as a consequence, it appears taller. Indeed, the organ case is sufficiently large to house the bellows in addition to the wind-chests and the pipes. Hildebrandt tended to house the bellows outside the organ case, but in the Orgelpark the available space was too limited for such an approach. The colouring and the wood carving of the Utopa Baroque Organ take, as their model, Hildebrandt’s first completed organ, located in Langhennersdorf (1721): an off-white as the basic colour with turquoise accents and gold leaf. The paintwork was undertaken by Gerard de Jongh (Waardenburg) while the wood carvings are the work of Gert van den Dikkenberg (Veenendaal).

 

Two consoles

Organists who wish to use the Utopa Baroque Organ as a normal organ without employing the new technology, can take their place at the mechanical console in the organ case itself. This console is very similar in style to that at Naumburg including the shape of the stop knobs, the stop labels, the dimensions of the keys, and even the blue around the music desk. The biggest difference is that the New Baroque Organ’s console has a digital memory system so that organists do not have to use their preparation time rehearsing with registrants. The key action is entirely mechanical. The digital console downstairs in the hall is hyper-modern both in terms of form and use of technology, allowing the organ to be used for far more than just baroque music.

 

Conclusion

Organs such at the Utopa Baroque organ are also known as ‘hyper organs’, of which there are an ever-increasing number throughout the world, for example in Sweden (Piteå, Malmö), Germany (Kassel, Würzburg, Rostock, Ratingen), Switzerland (Bern) and Great Britain (London, in preparation). These unite worlds which in the 20th century stood in direct opposition to each other: old and new music don’t necessarily exclude each other at the Orgelpark. The dream of the Orgelpark is that organists, musicians and other artists will meet around the Utopa Baroque Organ and our other instruments and work with us to create an inspiring platform for the organ in the 21st century.

Learn more about the Utopa Baroque Organ in Orgelpark Research Reports 5/1 and 5/2. These reports can be downloaded for free; paper versions are also available from the Orgelpark.

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