Mannheim, Christ Church
“In his Mannheim marvel the organ of Christ Church the peerless Steinmeyer incorporated an exquisite silvery, gossamer Cymbel ...” Thus remarked the Leipzig composer Sigfrid Karg-Elert in 1920, describing an organ that he must have been well acquainted with, for besides giving detailed descriptions of various mixtures he listed the complete specification as exemplary for the ideal type of German organ he favoured.

Here were all the basic features of a German organ of the Romantic era, e. g. wide range of typical foundation-stops, a dynamic hierarchy of the manuals from ff to mf (each manual being softer than the one below), and in addition there were new sets of ranks able to produce novel, impressionistic effects. All the manuals have access to mixtures. Then there are mutation (non-octave) stops such as Quint (Fifth) 1 1/3’ or Seventh 1 1/7’ in the later Neobaroque tradition, and French reed-stops to make a powerful Swell division of symphonic proportions. These innovations were undoubtedly inspired by French practice. The most notable feature must be the detached division of the organ hidden away in the dome of the church. This would not have been possible without electric action. Two swell-shutters mounted one behind the other allow the fading away of the tones from on high. The second and third manuals and the high-pressure ranks of the Great Organ were also swellable, so that the console at one time boasted no less than five swell-pedals and a drum-type register-crescendo.

The history of the organ begins in 1909, when Hermann Meinhard Poppen was instructed to invite tenders for a new instrument with three manuals, pneumatic action, and 62 ranks. In 1910 the contract was awarded to Steinmeyer & Co. As work proceeded, the specification was modified to allow for a total of 92 ranks, the dome-division with its 16 stops being sponsored by the Lanz family, tractor-builders and great patrons of the arts.

The first alterations to the instrument were made in spring 1912, barely six months after its inauguration. The swellbox was removed from the three high-pressure ranks of the first manual (Tuba mirabilis, Clarine and Jubalflöte).

Subsequent years saw further minor modifications. In 1939 the technology of the instrument was radically transformed when in the Great Organ the pneumatic action was replaced by electropneumatic. It was now possible to couple the dome-organ to the Great Organ.

The console was replaced by a movable electric console, which is of great advantage when performances involve choir or orchestra. Thanks to the mains-connection four adjustable combination-stops could be installed.

Fortunately, Christ Church was not severely damaged by bombs in World War II. The organ did not however escape entirely unscathed. A bomb-blast below the west window threw sand, mortar, even paving-stones into the organ-works, and dust from the ceiling fell into the pipes, so that a thorough cleaning is imperative. A second general cleanup was carried out in 1952, and alterations were made to the disposition: nine typically Romantic registers were removed and replaced by Neobaroque stops. The second manual lost its swell. In the following years technical malfunctions increasingly necessitated repair.

A general overhaul was carried out in 1984. To recreate as far as possible the original sound of the instrument the pipes that had been modified in 1911 were revoiced and the Neobaroque ranks replaced by Romantic ones where feasible. Further restoration-work was done by E. F. Walcker & Co. in 1995. The dome-organ was given a complete overhaul, the disused tremulant and the Subkoppel 8’ were reactivated, and the wind-pressure increased, resulting in a quicker and more precise response of the action. Wind-pressure was also raised at several points in the Great Organ. The second manual, the pedal-reeds, and the Unda maris were revoiced, the latter with an underbeat.

In 2000 the overall pitch of the organ was reduced to 447 Hz by Lenter & Co. The following year saw the installation of a 640-combination setter with microcontroller, designed and built by Markus Ridinger. In 2002 Lenter & Co. installed a beating-reed Klarinette composed of historic and reconstructed pipes and a historic Dolce 4’. A year later the new Celesta was installed in the dome.

The year 2003 saw modifications to the console, which now again features a crescendo-drum and separate pedals for the two shutters of the dome-organ. The setter-system was enlarged, and now provides 3200 combinations under the control of five operators.

Shortened version of a description by Heike Ittmann, Elisabeth Göbel, Johannes Michel, translated by Ian Robson

(by courtesy of Ambiente Tonträger)