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The Arp Schnitger Organ at Cappel

Started by Ian van Deurne, April 15, 2017, 05:28:25 PM

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Ian van Deurne

There has been quite a lot of misunderstanding about this organ in recent times, including here so I'm going to put the record straight.

The most common misconception is that this organ was built for this church. It was not.
It was in fact built by Arp Schnitger for the Johanniskirche in Hamburg and was his first instrument built in the city in 1680, that replaced but incorporated some of the pipework from the earlier organ built here in 1657  ( I don't know the builder ). The Johanniskirche occupied an internal space of approximately 32. 900 cubic meters. The volume of the church at Cappel is only approx 1. 800 cubic meters. In other words, the church is far too small for the organ!

The first mention of an organ at Cappel, a small village in the fen region of Lower Saxony, east of the river Weser, dates from 1582 but nothing is known concerning the size, disposition or the builder. Information from later periods is equally as scant, since most official documents concerning Cappel have perished by fire.
       In 1800, the organ builder Georg Wilhelmy of Stade received a commission to build a new organ for Cappel but again, no detailed information about this organ has survived.  It was inaugurated on 4th March 1801.  On 18th December 1810, this organ, together with all the valuable church furnishings was destroyed in a fire.  Once the church had been repaired, the search for a suitable replacement organ began.  In 1816 a favourable opportunity presented itself in Hamburg.  During Napoleon's French occupation  ( 1806 - 14 ), the monastic Johanniskirche had been turned into a depot and stables.  The organ was dismounted in 1813 by the organ builder, Joachim Willhelm Geycke and stored in another room in the monastery.  The church itself and adjoining buildings were demolished in 1829.  As mentioned, this organ had been built by Arp Schnitger in 1680 containing 30 speaking registers, two manuals and an independent pedal.  In a letter written by the organ builder Johann Georg Willhelm on 12th April 1816 to the Cappel organist Herr Gehilken said that this organ, which " is still a very fine organ " was for sale.
       Negotiations between the church authorities in Hamburg and Cappel were concluded with an agreed price of 600 Talers in Louis d ' or.  The name of Arp Schnitger, however, was never mentioned in any of these transactions.  The organ duly arrived in packing cases at Cappel on 29th June 1816, and by December of that year it had been reassembled by Johann Georg Willhelm, in time for the Christmas festivities.
       During the next few decades this builder continued to maintain the organ; major repairs were not to be found necessary.  Upon his death in 1848 other organ builders from Stade cared for the instrument.  The only significant alteration during this time was carried out in 1891 by Heinrich Roever, who replaced the original six bellows with three larger diagonal ones with associated alterations to the wind system.
       In 1928, as a result in the now great interest in organs from the Baroque period, the particular importance of the organ at Cappel was recognised and the church commissioned a full examination of the instrument.  In 1932, the firm of Fuertwangler & Hammer of Hannover replaced the original action with pneumatic and the instrument was tuned at regular two - year intervals after this.  Between 1937 - 39, Paul Ott of Goettingen carried out extensive reconditioning.  In addition to mechanical repairs, all the pipework was regulated and any recognisable deviations from the original disposition were corrected.  The Pedal was again provided with its 2ft Cornet, which had been changed to a Trompete 4' when the instrument was still in Hamburg.  In the Ruckpositiv the Sifflote, which had been changed to 1ft pitch was reconstructed to the original 1.1/ 3 pitch and the correct balance of the 2 - rank Terzian, which had had its third - sounding rank converted to a higher - pitched Rauschpfeife was restored.  Unfortunately, a large proportion of the leathering of the reed shallots was removed and in consequence, the size of the orifices were altered, in some cases considerably.  The Ott firm maintained the organ until 1963.  After the renovation of the church between 1963 - 65 it was apparent that the organ was in an alarming state.  Most windchests, particularly those of the Hauptwerk and Pedal were so severely damaged by cracks that many notes began to cease to function.  The church authorities in Hannover, who were officially responsible for the maintenance of the organ appointed a committee to examine it and offer suggestions for ways to repair these faults.  They concluded that the necessary reconditioning should be directed towards preservation of the original material, as well as just repair of the damage.  In other words, a return to the original state of the instrument as completed by Arp Schnitger, as far as this was practically possible.  Because the organ case had been reduced in size in 1816 in order for it to be able to fit into the church, alteration to the equal temperament, which was implemented in the late 19th century, could not be attempted as this would have meant lengthening and altering most of the original pipes which had been cut down at the time.  The Hamburg firm of Rudolph von Beckerath received the commission for this extensive restoration, which included reinstatement of mechanical action, was carried out between 1976 - 77 and financed through generous donations.

The last time I was in Cappel to visit this organ was in 2005 and I thought then that it would soon need some loving attention, but the instrument was basically sound.
The tonal disposition is as follows;


Quintadena 16
Prinzipal 8
Hohlflote 8
Oktave 4
Spitzflote 4
Nasat 3
Gemshorn 2
Rauschpfeife 2 fach
Mixtur 5 - 6 fach
Zimbel 3 fach
Trompete 8


Gedackt 8
Quintadena 8
Prinzipal 4
Rohrflote 4
Oktave 2
Sifflote 1.1 / 2
Sesquialtera 2 fach
Terzian 2 fach
Scharf 4 - 6 fach
Dulzian 16


Untersatz 16
Oktave 8
Oktave 4
Nachthorn 2
Rauschpfeife 2 fach
Posaune 16
Trompete 8
Cornet 2

Tremulant  ( whole organ )
Calcant  ( bellows signal )
3 Sperrventile  ( saving valves )

Manual shove coupler  (no Pedal coupler )

Compass :  C D Es E F G As A -c'''  (47 - Man )    C D - d'  ( 26 -Ped )

With best wishes


Thanks Ian.  Interesting information.
A missionary from Yorkshire to the primitive people of Lancashire