Historical Context

The organ in Anabel Taylor Hall of Cornell University is primarily based on a chapel organ built by the famous Arp Schnitger. King Frederick I, in need of an organ for the chapel of his new lavish palace, the Schloss Charlottenburg, commissioned Arp Schnitger to build the Charlottenburg organ in 1706. At the time, Arp Schnitger, whose workshop was based in distant Hamburg, was well known for his ability to build organs for specific and awkward spaces in a short amount of time. Arp Schnitger’s competitors within the city, Christian Werner and Johann Nette, were not asked to compete for this job, which led to some jealousy amongst them. The imminent wedding of the prince, Friedrich Wilhelm, at the end of the year further expedited the organ’s construction. The king must have been pleased with Schnitger’s and his apprentices’ work because he named him the “Royal Prussian Organbuilder” two years later. After its creation, the Charlottenburg organ continued to have a rich history. During the Seven Years War, the palace was ransacked and the organ damaged, but after its almost immediate reconstruction, it was left virtually untouched except for an exchange of two of its reed ranks for a royal wedding in 1888.

Although the instrument was governed by the aesthetics of the North German organ art, it contained several unique chamber features uncommon in many of Schnitger’s organs. Its pitch, as in the Anabel Taylor organ, was at a=415 (“chamber pitch”). The wooden ranks, such as the HW floite dues 8′, RP floite dues 4′, and the HW viol de gamb 4′, contrasted with the typical metal ranks in their soft and delicate sound. The pedal also contained two wooden ranks including, unusually, the Oktav 8’. Even with these distinct chamber aspects, the Charlottenburg organ could still perform in a liturgical setting.

In the late 1920s, the German architectural historian Bodo Ebhardt and the organist Wolfgang Auler rediscovered the almost-forgotten Charlottenburg organ, which would become an iconic instrument for the German Orgelbewegung. The Orgelbewegung, or Organ Reform Movement, of the early 20th century was rooted in the aesthetics of the past, and called for a return to classical ‘purity’, rejecting what were seen as the excesses of romantic instruments. Some scholars and performers insisted that German organs should be restored to their original conception. The Charlottenburg organ, essentially in original condition and the subject of historically-sensitive restoration work in 1931, was a perfect centerpiece for this movement. Many scholars and performers, such as Fritz Heitmann and Walter Kaufmann, praised the organ in terms of its historical accuracy and character. Despite best efforts to protect this organ from the turmoil of World War II, bombs from Allied Troops ultimately destroyed the instrument in 1943.

As a result of the postwar reconstruction, efforts to rebuild the Schloss Charlottenburg and the Charlottenburg organ started in 1965. Karl Schuke, the organ builder who cared for the organ in 1936, was asked to build a reconstruction of the organ for the Schloss. Schuke had recorded information about pipe scaling, and had taken photographs of the organ’s interior and exterior before the war; but although Schuke insisted that he had followed the original organ’s design closely, Wolfgang Auler found that its modern pedal board and pipe placement detracted from its authenticity. The concept of authenticity led to debates within the organ community about how authenticity should be integrated into organ building and reconstruction, with many organ builders today in Europe and the United States basing their work carefully on historical models that inspire their new instruments. At the forefront of these is the organ builder Munetaka Yokota, leader of the project to design and build the Cornell Baroque Organ, whose work is less a matter of exact historical reconstruction than the meticulous creation of organs specific to a particular historical context.

With this history in mind, creators of the Anabel Taylor organ are careful not to claim to have reconstructed the Charlottenburg organ. At the very least, the organ case for the Anabel Taylor instrument is quite different from that in Charlottenburg: in the castle chapel, architectural constraints led to an unusually crammed layout for the organ which it made no sense to replicate in Anabel Taylor Chapel. As a result, the case was modeled on Schnitger’s contemporaneous organ at Clausthal-Zellerfeld. In an interview with Annette Richards, Matthew Hall, a graduate Musicology student at Cornell, states that in creating the Anabel Taylor Baroque Organ “our minds have access in a particular way to knowledge about the past: therefore if we direct our hands to build and thereafter play an organ in sympathy with what we know about the past, then we are able, at least in part, to translate abstract knowledge into concrete, material experiences.” In his statement, Hall so eloquently affirms the important notions that collaborators at Cornell University and the Gothenburg Organ Art Center thought necessary when building an organ with both historical and material meaning. Most but not all of the plans are based on the Charlottenburg organ, but this organ still maintains the integrity to art that Arp Schnitger practiced when building his instruments. Annette Richards, in an article written about its conception, mentions that this organ was a “fantasy reconstruction” meant to be appealing not just for the present, but for the future as well. When listening to this organ, one should expect to hear an organ that in the right time period could have been built by Arp Schnitger, not a reconstruction of the Charlottenburg organ.

– Hannah Krall