Three years after the old organ of St. Stephanskirche in Tangermünde fell victim to the fire that swept through the town in 1617, Hans Scherer (the younger) of Hamburg was commissioned in 1620 to build a new instrument, which he completed in 1624. The contract is unfortunately lost and the original stoplist unknown.
This was the beginning of a problematic history, and a first rebuild, begun by Johann Michael Röder of Berlin in early 1712, did not put an end to it. His work failed to gain approval in August of the same year, and it remained uncompleted until 1716. The stoplist following this rebuild is the first we have of the Tangermünde organ.
Around 1790, Johann Gottfried Zabel of Tangermünde undertook a major technical rebuild, including replacement of the Hauptwerk and Oberpositiv windchests and action, and new keyboards. Nothing essential was done to the pipework; the stopped ranks were fitted with sliding caps.
After the organ suffered severely during a major renovation of the church in 1844-54, it was extensively rebuilt by Friedrich Hermann Lütkemüller of Wittstock in 1856-58. The stoplist was substantially altered, and the short octave, which had been retained in all divisions, was filled out. To this end the remaining windchests and action by Scherer had to be replaced, as well as the entire console. By removing the rear wall and parts of the sides of the case, it was adapted to accommodate the new, larger windchests. Finally, the entire winding was renewed. Following these measures, only about half of the original Scherer pipework remained.
After cleaning and repairs in 1913, in 1929 Furtwängler und Hammer of Hannover changed the pitch to a1=435 by installing new pipes for C and C sharp on additional pneumatic chests and connecting the action of the other keys one tone higher. The Oberwerk was converted into a swell division.
In the ensuing years, the Tangermünde organ attracted the attention of the Organ Movement. While less than twenty years earlier Prof. Theophil Forchhammer had declared the “anachronistic slider-chest organ“ to be worthless, now its exceptional significance was recognised, and a return to the instrument created by Scherer was contemplated. Fortunately, financial means were lacking, and the organ was spared the restoration methods of the time, and it also survived the following decades without further measures. In 1983, the organ, by now hardly playable, was finally taken down in preparation for restoration of the church interior.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall enabled those involved to study comparable organs in the West, it became possible to plan a fundamental restoration. Examination of the pipework revealed that at least a few pipes of nearly all the Scherer stops had survived, and that only five stops were entirely missing. This fortunate circumstance facilitated a faithful reconstruction of nearly all the stops. Besides examination of traces in the case and a few remnants of the chests, the technical layout (windchests, winding, action etc.) was largely reconstructed by taking parts of other instruments as model. The bellows installed by Lütkemüller were retained.
The organ case was brought back to its original form by Paul Schuster of Magdeburg in 1990-92, after which the instrument was reconstructed in 1992-94 by Matthias Schuke of Potsdam. In order to draw on as much expertise as possible, an international team of consultants was formed, which included Harald Vogel, Uwe Droszella and Bernhardt Edskes.
About 50% of the original pipework has survived. What this percentage does not reveal is the fact that about half the pipework of this organ is in the mixtures, and precisely these stops suffered severely from changing taste in the nineteenth century. The foundation stops in particular form quite a different picture. The Prinzipal pipes in the front have all survived, and even a substantial part of the reeds as well. The sound of many stop combinations is therefore largely determined by old pipework. This makes the Tangermünde organ a most exceptional instrument. In no other organ of this tradition have more original pipes survived. It is also the only historic organ of this size in which so much of the Netherlands tradition can be heard. Although it would be unjust to consider the second and third Scherer generations simply as successors to Niehoff, they integrated the foremost aspects of his tonal concept in their own tradition with outstanding success. As a consequence, no other large historic organ lends itself so well to the music of Sweelinck as the Tangermünde organ.
© 2014 Koos van de Linde