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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments


About the Authors

Brad Althoff is associate producer for Pipedreams and an accomplished organist living in the community of Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Michael Barone is the host of American Public Media’s long-running program Pipedreams.

Notes from the Road


April 28 - May 11, 2006

Day 12 - Kuhn Organ Shop, Muri, Saint Peter’s
  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
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Kuhn’s organ shop was great. So many tools…so many possibilities. Watching the workers pour a sheet of metal was fascinating. To see how an instrument is put together just gets my mind going.

Muri Abbey should be on every early music person’s must-go-see-before-I-die list. There are not one, not two, but THREE instruments from the 1700s. The current organist and his retired predecessor played a duet from across the gallery for us. They were great. It was a very impressive display. The flip side being that you could only play in the keys of C, G & F. It was a simpler time. We took a group photo here on the steps leading up the Abbey.

  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
Back in Zurich, Saint Peter’s was fine. Nothing spectacular. The organ reminded me of a refined Schlicker.

Things to remember: wondering if I would have altitude problems (I didn’t), LOTS of early music, goats with little bells (they were terribly cute), running around getting pictures of everyone, trying to find a souvenir shop, learning that the exchange rate was FINALLY in favor of the dollar, and traffic in Zurich is unbelievably bad.

Posted by Brad Althoff
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On our last day, occasional bursts of sunshine added to the dynamic of our drive along Lake Zurich to the Kuhn organ-building shop. Dieter Utz, chief executive, greeted us as Dieter Rufenacht, director of new projects, heralded us with a lively performance of a typical Swiss mountain tune played on a little instrument in the manner of the house organs beloved of wealthy Swiss farmers. Our group received a brief but informative introduction in the matters of pipe metal casting, pipe making and voicing, slider chest design and mechanical action function. Some would have happily spent more time, as apprentices-for-a-day.

  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
Our last monastery visit took us to Muri, a little village perched on a mountainside with grand views into the valley below and three spectacular Baroque organs (by the brothers Bossart) in the abbey church. Though the west-end instrument (with many 17th century ranks by Thomas Schott) was certainly grand (fun to attempt the final page of Bach’s F-major Toccata on it just prior to our departure), the Evangelist Organ (on the left side of the altar), with only eight stops, totally enthralled me. With its vibrant voice and its inviting single keyboard, in such a room even a small organ makes big music, and the demonstration of it and its slightly larger Epistle organ opposite, by Johannes Strobl and his recently retired predecessor, was ear-opening. The 8′ principal ranks alone, on either organ, were of timeless beauty.

  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
Finally (yes, there had to be a ‘finally’), the oldest medieval parish in Zurich (Saint Peter), and its once controversial Muehleisen organ, a classically-inspired eclectic design with a ‘French’ Swell division and…electric action! Resident musician Margrit Fluor enjoys this somewhat off-beat instrument, atypical amidst the various orthodoxies of continental organ dogma.

By this point, some of the group were ‘organed out’, so the remainder of the afternoon was given over to strolling, shopping, and preparing for our final dinner together. Next morning, we’d arise, head to the airport, hoping to remember some of what we’d all enjoyed together during the past nearly two weeks. So many organs, so little time…and already people were asking: “Where are we going next year?!”

Posted by jmb


Day 11 - Saint Gallen, Winterthur, Zurich Grossmünster
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Gray day. Cold. Rainy. Wet feet. Yep, I’m lovin’ Switzerland.

  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
My new favorite stop of the tour, is Saint Gallen. It’s beautiful, it’s big, and they had largest choir area of any place we visited (I think it was even larger than Weingarten).

  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
At Winterthur, we heard/played an instrument from Salem (SAW-lem - or Sodom, take your pick). What’s remarkable about the instrument is that it matches the décor of Salem Minster but sticks out as a bit garish in Winterthur. Saint-Saëns, Lizst, and other important organists played this organ and I was very happy to be able to play it as well. The action was very great and it had a rich sound. I also didn’t have problems with the pedal board (the first time all tour!) I’m finally catching on.

Things to remember: Saint Gallen, all of it; that reformed/protestant churches in Europe are downright boring to look at; next trip, bring an umbrella; when you order a vodka martini, up, with an olive be aware that, in Zurich, you’re going to get a glass of Vermouth; being homesick.

Posted by Brad Althoff
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Despite a gloomy, rainy day, our visit to the Cathedral of Saint Gallen, another immense and imposing space with its adjoining World Heritage Site library, provided numerous revelations. Willibald Guggenmos amiably demonstrated the luminous quality of the huge Kuhn organ, which made me wonder why that firm’s work had been ‘overlooked’ when the city of Lucerne chose Fisk to build the new organ in their cathedral. We were also treated to a display of the twin 18th century Choir organs, rebuilt by Mathis, playable separately or, from one conle, together, all by mechanical action. The ancient manuscripts and books, and the well-preserved mummy, in the library (and the intricate woodwork of the library rooms themselves) reminded one of the sterile information-sharing via the internet of our modern computer age. The search is half the experience.

  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
At the Winterthur City Church, Kuhn has accomplished another noteworthy ‘reconstruction’ of a 19th century Walcker, and despite the inevitable delay of its pneumatic key and stop actions, this organ deserves its reputation as one of the finest late-romantic instruments. Interesting that the case of this instrument was originally built by Josef Riepp (Ottobeuren) for Salem Abbey. Talk about recycling!

Our day ended in Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city, very urbane but also picturesque as it straddles the Limmat River. Since the ancient Grossmünster served as a starting point for Zwingli’s Reformation, it’s appropriate that the 1960 Metzler tracker organ remains as testament to the vitality of the postwar Baroque Revival movement. Despite impressive external proportions, the interior of this church is not a huge resonant cavity, with relatively sedate acoustics. Best listening is from the elevated chancel, which is almost level with the organ gallery (the nave is sunken a good 20 feet below both). Lionell Rogg’s Bach recordings on this instrument were considered among the very best of their day, and still offer revelations.

Posted by jmb


Day 10 - Lindau, Bregenz, Dornbirn, Haselstauden
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  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
Beautiful Lindau. Flowers everywhere. Lindau Minster was an exceptional stop with two great instruments: one baroque & one romantic. It would be easy to spend a few days getting to know everything that’s possible. Of particular interest was the echo division of the romantic instrument. It was in a separate ROOM. The sound came out of two holes above the altar. It was like the windows of the church were open and there was an organ playing outside that you could hear. Sehr ungewöhnlich. The question in my simple mind is “Why on earth would you want something like that?” The answer, of course, being “Well, because we can.”

  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
Moving on to Bregenz… Another romantic instrument. The organist improvised - really well, btw - for us on My Old Kentucky Home. It was really nice to hear something so familiar, and I guess I was tired because it got to me…just a little. Dornbirn was an over-the-top (NOT KIDDING) Greek Revival church. The interior was vast and open like the Methodist Auditorium in Garden Grove, NJ and the organ covered the balcony along the back wall (très au loin). This organ also had something you NEVER see: a high pressure flute, string, and principal. All I could think of was “Well, you never know when you’re going to want to play full organ and then toss a melody over it, being sung by a flute.” Right.

Things to remember: Flowers in Lindau, having coffee and comparing stories with our driver about talking our way out of traffic tickets, the improvisation at Bregenz (My Old Kentucky Home), flute en chamade, a concert event with Ivana.

Posted by Brad Althoff
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Lindau is a picturesque port town on an ‘island’ in Lake Constance…actually easily accessible via a very short causeway from the mainland. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this reconstructed 1928 Steinmeyer organ was the ‘echo’ division that plays at the opposite end of the church. A substantial 2-manual Maier transcept tracker organ (in the manner of the Saxon Silbermann) provides for tonal variety.

  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
In Bregenz and nearby Dornbirn (in the territory on the SE end of Lake Constance), we were introduced to the work of Josef Behmann, a little-know but obviously highly-skilled regional builder, whose instruments inspired the young Martin Pasi (born in the area) and whose shop provided the modern-day Glatter-Götz company with its first home. Unlike some organs from turn-of-the-20th-century, Behmann’s are gorgeously voiced, richly specified, and totally satisfying to hear and play.

The day culminated with a ‘command performance’ by the impressively talented Latvian soloist, Iveta Apkalna, who demonstrated the Opus 1 of Caspar Glatter-Götz in the Dornbirn suburb of Haselstauden. In 2005, Ms. Apkalna was named “Musician of the Year” accolade by the German-based ECHO-Klassik, which brought with it a flurry of publicity and opened up an opportunity at international stardom. The skills she demonstrated for us would seem to point to a successful future. She shared our supper at the gasthaus across the street, and then departed to continue her drive to Rotterdam, site of her next concert engagement. Our group was invited into the organ balcony to watch her perform George Thalben-Ball’s variations (for organ pedals!) on a Theme of Paganini.

Posted by jmb



Day 9 - Weingarten, Weissenau & Salem
  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
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Today was my new favorite day. I slept well (FINALLY) and was about as bright-eyed and perky as I ever get before 10 a.m. The first stop of the day was Weingarten - yep it’s a cognate - and it was everything I could have hoped for. Like numerous other places, it is trés immense, but the organ was simply a marvel of engineering and sound. It is a very gentle organ
  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
(background music only, please), but it is visually stunning! AND we were allowed into the balcony - something that usually never happens as the powers that be are rather protective of their monument. Rock on!

Weissenau was pleasant enough, but Salem was the hidden treasure of the day/tour. Up to this point, all of the churches we had stepped foot in had walls that were either guilded or painted, but in Salem (and when our guide said it, it sounded suspiciously like Sodom - my friends at home will have a field day with that one) all of the décor was stone and marble. $$$$$$. The organ was gorgeous and it was played for us by the great, great grandson of Karg-Elert. Considering the nature instrument and how awkward the action would’ve been for me, a spoiled American, he played brilliantly!

Things to remember: All of Weingarten; searching for a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning (good luck!); thinking I could make it between toiletten stops; balcony stairs that would NEVER pass code in the U.S.; Karg-Elert’s great, great grandson playing for us at Salem; the priest/host at Salem; palm trees on an organ with cherubs that from 50 meters looked like primates; Sequoias at the Abbey; watching/hearing Nigel Kennedy perform and then learning that he’llsoon be 50.

Posted by Brad Althoff
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Weingarten Basilica is one of those wonderous places, among of the largest Benedictine cloisters in Swabia and the largest Baroque church north of the Alps. After climbing up a considerable number of steps to reach the plaza in front of the church from the street below, one enters and confronts the incredible Gabler organ in its west-end balcony. This organ, quite incredibly, surrounds three large windows, the ornate casework decorated with carved vines (and round bells, masquerating as large grapes!), and a
  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
glimpse at the intricate runs of trackers under the floors make clear that here is a unique mechanical marvel and a prime example of precise engineering in the service of music.

Because of its complex construction and large specification, some of the Weingarten organ’s pipework is a bit buried, and the instrument’s sound is not at all bombastic in this immense room, a point which had been criticized since the organ’s inauguration. I would not complain. The organ does not lack a pungent punch, nor an ability to ably lead congregational singing (though the service we heard, a First Communion, was not in any way noteable for the quality of its music…the Gabler was organ used only at the prelude and postlude…everything else, except the final hymn, was accompanied by an amplified piano). The youthful organist Stephan Debeur, seemed more than a bit
  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
unhappy with the general situation, but warmed to our group and eagerly demonstrated the many remarkable features of this exceptional contraption (glockenspiel, chimes, thunder, a ‘vox humana’ reputed to have been voiced by the Devil, lush gambas and salicionals, a ‘blockflöte’ stop which looks like a row of wooden ‘recorders’). Sitting at this console, with an unobstructed view down the length of the church, able to enjoy the balanced mingling of the many ranks of pipes, is (I would hope) satisfaction enough to counteract the callousness of the local clergy.

Wandering in the vicinity of the church, we discovered some lovely garden parks, a 1961 Panhard PL17 (a French econocar from the late 1950s in exceptional condition, parked in a residential driveway), plus a very new, huge Rolls-Royce parked in the church lot (to whom did it belong?).

Moving on, the Holzhey organ at Weissenau (41 stops), if not quite so large or unusual as the Weingarten Gabler (66 stops), was equally satisfying to play and perhaps benefitted from its relatively concise format. Ulrich Hoeflacher’s demonstration recital propelled a glorious tone throughout every corner of this not insubstantial room. Here, (unlike at Obermarchtal) the Kronwerk actually contained functioning pipes.

We munched on our box lunches while driving to Salem (the former abbey now functioning as a highly regarded boarding school and small ‘artisans colony’), where we were treated to a brief guided tour of the
  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
grounds (noticing the two immense redwood trees in the monastery garden) and vivid performances by a great grandson of Sigfrid Karg-Elert (who used the ‘symphonic’ qualities of this 1901 Schwarz organ to full effect in appropriate repertoire). Afterwards, we were treated to wine and cookies, courtesy of ‘the establishment’.

Then a mad dash to Friedrichshafen for a change of pace, a performance by the Polish Chamber Orchestra and violinist Nigel Kennedy (part of the Bodensee Festival). Kennedy was his usually quirky self, in hobnail boots, informal garb, spiked hair and ‘street slang’ speech mannerisms. At the Graf-Zepplin Haus (sorry that we didn’t have time to visit that museum), he played the Elgar Concerto as well as anyone should, plus a superb and little-know late-romantic concerto by Emil Mylnarski. Nigel tossed his bouquet into the crowd (also kicked a soccer ball to them), and played lengthy encores (a Bach concerto, an improvized czardas), which brought the total concert time to nearly three hours…causing a late night return to Tettnang, but the experience was well worth it. Manuela reported that she had driven a bus for one of Nigel’s previous tours with the Polish Chamber Orchestra, but was mum about details (other than that she stayed in a hotel separate from Kennedy and the musicians…).

Posted by jmb



Day 8 - Villingen, Radolfzell, Überlingen
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Today we visited communities with great edifices, organs, and markets, but what I remember is a fountain. The weather in Germany up to this point, excluding the first day, has been stunningly beautiful. 70-75 degrees and sunny. Our locale today was around Lake Constance. And it was the same. Beautiful.

  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
Today’s excitement was about the absurd. As we were leaving Überlingen Minster, heading down to the bus, the group passed a café, and while I was trying to decide between ice cream or coffee, I saw the fountain by the lake. Not much to say that pictures couldn’t say for me…

  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
Things to remember: tight, tight balcony stairs; danish! at the market in Villingen; the fountain at Überlingen; birthday on Lake Constance; 2 buck chuck that was actually very good; the word is se-cu-lar-i-za-tion and it’s evidently impossible to say if your not American.

Posted by Brad Althoff
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Villingen, due east of Freiburg, is another medieval town with roots stretching back over centuries. The town hosts a spring festival which celebrates the ‘old days’, and all sorts of artisans, craft folk, and musicians in period costume were encamped just outside the ring of the town’s old fortification walls. Would that we had had more time to mindle amidst the morning sunshine. But our schedule was tight as we scampered towards Saint George’s church, which offered another connection to history. Johann Andreas Silbermann had built a fine 3-manual organ for this church in 1752, but it was removed in 1807, ‘donated’ to another church as a result of the politics of the early 19th century ‘secularization’ of monastery facilities. After much soul searching and fund-raising, the present congregation in 2002 contracted with Gaston Kern for a replica of the Silbermann, which is a delight to see, hear, and play. Ulrich Kohlberg provided ample demonstration, after which those in the group with itchy fingers could give it a try. Time allowed also for a brief demonstration of the new Minster organ a few blocks away, with its ornate, gilded case. Hans Hielscher included Happy Birthday (for Lise S.) in his improvisation.

  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
Swinging down to the southern shore at the west end of Lake Constance, Radolfzell Minster boasts the tallest church spire in the region. The Mönch instrument used a majority of older parts and convincingly recreates the best sort of sound from the early 20th century, perfect for Reger and Rheinberger. Enjoy the story (elsewhere on our website) about lightning strikes and the decision to build this organ with entirely mechanical action. This visit was followed by another excellent lunch at an outdoor cafe.

Afterwards, the cathedral in Überlingen was more impressive than its 1968 organ, though the little renovated 1761 single-manual choir instrument was not without charm.

Perhaps the best part of this day was our stop along the shore of Lake Constance (on the way to our hotel in Tettnang) for our final ‘birthday surprise’ (with wine, snacks and flowers) for Lise S. She seemed to enjoy it (was grinning from ear to ear!)…

Our residence for the next several nights was the cozy Hotel “Rad” in Tettnang, a modest town some 10km north of Friedrichshafen. Though they ripped up the street outside the hotel the day after our arrival, this simply provided our superb driver, Manuela, with a few extra challenges to showcase her expert coach-maneuvering skills.

Posted by jmb



Day 7 - Schramberg, Freiburg, & Saint Blasien
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The cold is making itself known today. I didn’t sleep well last night because of the meds I took before I went to bed (BAD nightmares) so this morning was particularly slow-going. In a very cruel turn of events, I sat next to someone on the way to Schramberg (locale of church #1 of the day) who wanted to talk…A LOT. I should’ve said something about needing some quiet time, but didn’t.

  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
Anyhow, Schramberg is a charming town up in the Black Forest with a river (in the U.S. it would qualify as a stream) flowing through the center of town. Saint Maria is a very modern looking church with an old (1844) organ with shiny, shiny tin pipes in the facade. The organ also has a physharmonica, a stop that sounds like an accordion and it simply doesn’t exist in any more than a handful of locations. When I played it, I was struck overall by it’s smooth touch and the relatively gentle soft sounds that it produced. Of course, coming down from the questions on the bus (and NO, closing my eyes did not produce anywhere near the desired effect), it was pure loveliness.

Freiburg, like Ulm, is Gothic in all the dark, gloomy ways that an old European Cathedral is supposed to be. It is not the church in the Sound of Music where Maria gets married. Boy-howdy, no. Maybe the Adams Family, but not Maria.

Interestingly, Freiburg has 5 organs positioned around the nave and like Ulm… I was hoping for something more. Like volume. The place is trés immense, but the sound is relatively weak. Not a good combination. Looking back, my stuffed up head could have altered my perception a bit - I don’t think a battery of chamades could have gotten through my fog, but I do remember that Hans played it beautifully.

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Saint Blasien is now my most favorite place on the tour so far. It’s in the hills of the Black Forest, and it’s big, big, BIG!! The question that came to my mind was, “Why of all places, is it in the middle of nowhere?” But then I remembered all of my lessons on how the church worked and it stopped being important.

Things to remember: Gigout (again) in Saint Blasien; ATMs need to display the VISA symbol (dooh!); the necessity at times for peace and quiet, as well as dealing with the socially oblivious; the smoooooooth organ in Schramberg; FREE internet in Saint George’s (that night’s hotel).

Posted by Brad Althoff
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From our woodland mountain hideaway we continued on twisting roads through the Black Forest to the little city of Schramberg, famous for its wood products and clocks. The town is wedged into a narrow, downward-sloping valley, through which runs a substantial mountain stream. Saint Mary’s Church, with its separate bell tower adjacent said stream, is a product of the town’s 19th century prosperity. Though the interior decorations and fittings are now decidedly modern
  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
(stark, yet very compelling in their spiritual intensity), the Walcker organ is original to the building (1844), and has benefitted from a meticulous restoration by the Swiss Kuhn firm. The structural layout of the instrument allows easy examination of its interior mechanism and automatically-activated bellows-pumping system (which produces a less turbulent wind supply than is possible from an electric-powered rotary blower). The top (3rd) manual of this organ plays only the free-reed Physharmonica, which sounds like a very artful mouth-organ and works on the same principal. The voice of this organ clearly relates to the ‘classical’ 18th century, with an added provocative, broodingly emotive passion. Rudolf Schaefer demonstrated the organ with an impressive improvisation.

Up to this point, we’d visited churchs with one or perhaps two organs. At Freiburg Minster, an important city just outside the Black Forest, we found four organs in one room (!), all relatively recent, all connected together via a compact electric-action console. Back in the 1970s, E. Power Biggs made these organs famous with his recording of Bach Toccatas in ‘quadraphonic sound’. From that, I expected a larger space, and was surprised by the relative intimacy of the place, and by the grand overall experience (enhanced by the recent Caspar Glatter-Götz revoicing of the ensemble’s large Rieger organ). Amazingly, were were allowed an hour’s free reign at the main console following the midday service.

Because of scheduling necessities, though we would spend overnight in Freiburg we retraced some of our tracks back into the Black Forest, destination Saint Blasien, a Benedictine stronghold with an immense late 18th century domed church in the manner of the Pantheon. The 1913 Schwarz organ, behind a facade adapted from the original J. A. Silbermann, projects
  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
a somewhat hard tone through the long chancel/choir area, yet speaks with remarkable clearly in the 9+ second reverberation of the main rotunda space. Evenso, this is a good example of the sort of instrument against which the “Organ Reform Movement” moved to restore ‘classic elegance’ to German organ building. Yet, it is what it is, and we are lucky to have it as a robust representative of its period.

Freiburg was sunny and warm during our noontime visit (the area around the church was, as has been the case since medieval times, ringed with farmer and merchant stalls), but rain showers caught up with us during our travels to and from Saint Blasien. By good fortune, virtually all of the rain fell while we were either in the bus or in the church, so a trot across the street (and stream…another mountain river flowed through Saint Gallen) to a conveniently located bakery for a snack of authentic Black Forest Cake was accomplished sans umbrella.

Posted by jmb



Day 6 - Obermarchtal, Sigmaringen, & Hechingen
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I have entered a Tolkein novel. This morning, after another rather hearty breakfast - truth be told, there is absolutely NO light fare in Germany - we packed up and left Ulm. Over the course of the day we saw a very modern organ, a positively ancient one that further reinforced everything I have ever been taught about mean-toned temperaments, two castles (we had a birthday party in the shadow of one) and later that evening arrived at our lodge at the edge of the Black Forest. My room is in a separate building from the main lodge so I hope that I don’t run into a bear on the quick walk outside back to my room.

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Sorry, no pictures today as I’m using one of the hotel’s computers and unable to link up my camera. I’llpost as soon as I get a chance. I don’t think anyone would believe the things we’ve seen otherwise.

Things to remember: the refectory at Obermarchtal; ALWAYS go to the bathroom when given the opportunity; castles rock!; the relationship between princes and the Church; running into people from Stillwater, Minnesota in the lobby of the lodge; and God help me - the size of an organ does not matter. I have always thought otherwise, but I now realize I was wrong. Maybe.

Posted by Brad Althoff
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All that glitters is not necessarily as it at first seems. For instance, though an interesting little pipe facade balances gracefully above the gallery window at Obermarchtal Abbey, the Holzhey organ’s Echo-Kronwerk chest and pipes actually reside in the upper part of the right-side main case, with no pretense of playing
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from behind the false front (which, unlike in some other similarly arranged organs, is there only for decoration). Also, after the perfection of Neresheim, it was quite apparent that the this Holzhey organ was ‘in need’, having been rebuilt in 1967 with new action, wind supply, and some new pipes, all in the style of that time. Fortunately, a fundraising campaign is underway to allow an historically-informed ‘restitution’. Even then, the presence of the Unterwerk pipes, encased immediatly above/behind the detached/reversed console, will not provide the player with the best sense of balance of the instrument in this lovely space. But you can’t win them all.

Obermarchtal today is used primarily as a middle-school for girls (and for other church-related educational programs), and on the morning of our visit the place was crawling with giggling teenagers who seemed somewhat out of place amidst the rococo elegance of these majestic old buildings (note the picture of the refectory!). Still, it is best that such facilities be used.

In the shadow of a Hohenzollern family castle, Saint John’s Church in the elegant little city of Sigmaringen (nestled on a strategic promontory and oozing plenty of historic charm) boasts two ‘new’ organs. The gallery instrument, from 1995, satisfactorily embraces the Alsacian style of Andreas Silbermann (though one rarely mistakes new-old-style organs for authentic historic instruments, either by touch or tone). On the other hand, virtually everything (except the pipes!) of the little choir organ down
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front is original, and the 12 new ranks reconstructed by Stehle in 1992 (based on old patterns) really do capture an antique quality, and this instrument was a charmer in every way. It’s rather incredible to realize that the pipes for the pedal stops on this organ are located more than 35 feet away, activated by trackers running under the floor.

[Our tour guide Ulrich, who is employed in Berlin as an ‘art archivist’ for the Hohenzollern family, provided us with many historic details concerning the rule of this important Swabian dynasty. To read more about the Hohenzollerns, who ruled in Swabia from the eleventh through the nineteenth centuries, click here. Note that the Saint Luzen chapel rests in the valley below, obscured by the tallest tower of the Hechingen castle pictured at this website.]

Hechingen is another Hohenzollern city (same family, different branch). The affable Mario Peters, organist at Saint Jacob’s Church (the only significant church in town), enjoyed showing us the modern, eclectic double-organ Goeckel at the Stiftskirche (a mechanical-action gallery and an electric-action choir organ, both with very interesting modern facades and playable together from a large electric-action console with all the modern aids located downstairs). An interesting feature is the “Jacobus” stop which, when pulled, causes the organ to automatically play the folk-song Frere Jacques (on any registration you select), while a little carved head of Brother Jacob pops out from hiding behind the upper left-hand-corner facade pipes (sorry, no picture).

Mario Peters has been resident organist in Hechingen for about nine years, got the job just by chance (few others were interested, as the city is somewhat isolated), and the place because it has the advantages of a modest modern urban center yet is still sufficiently small-townish to be great for raising children (he has three daughters). Plus he has the big organ at Saint Jacobus…sufficient for playing all of the ‘grand’ repertoire, from Mendelssohn to Messiaen…AND access to the Hohenzollern family chapel across the river at Saint Luzen.

This picturesque chapel (from which one can see the Hohenzollern’s Hechingen castle, perched fairy-tale-like on its mountain across the valley) is home to an organ with 17th century double-fronted case. The instrument, reconstructed in historic fashion, again
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boasts a ‘short-octave’ keyboard and mean-tone temperament. The Renaissance-style room, bedecked with Hohenzollern family history (coats of arms and memorial plaques), provides a perfect acoustic for this little organ. I would love to hunker down for a few weeks here to learn the complete works of Froberger or Kerll. Mario did not dissuade me from this ‘pipe dream’.

This day, again sunny from beginning to end, encouraged more midday dining outdoors (most restaurants had numerous tables, and umbrellas, arrayed along the cobbled, narrow walking-streets). Following our visit to the Saint Luzen chapel, before heading into the Black Forest for our overnight in Koenigsfeld, we drove up the mountain road towards the Hechingen castle and stopped on a grassy plateau just below the fortress to break out cake, cookies and wine in celebration of Dave A.’s natal day. Though this guy gets around, I expect that he’s never been feted in quite this way (or in quite this setting) before!

Our overnight destination was a woodsy retreat, modern accomodations in the structure of a turn-of-the-century country lodge. A plentiful and tasty dinner buffet, including many ‘regional favorites’, sated every hunger. Gad, even with all the walking, there is no chance that I will lose weight during this trip!

Posted by jmb



Day 5 - Mönchsdeggingen, Maihingen & Neresheim
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  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
Another sunny day, and a ride north into the countryside from Ulm. The little church in Mönchsdeggingen, almost overloaded with side altars and decorations (once a very active monastery, now a rural parish church) boasts two organs from the late 17th century, both with very sweet tone, and one with pipes lying at about 80-degrees from vertical.

  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
Hans Hielscher and Barone tried a movement from a Blanco concerto for two organs…under-rehearsed but enjoyed by the group. Then to Maihingen, another extravagance of decoration, the organ’s case ornately carved yet unpainted…one wonders why, since most everything else in the room is adorned. Perhaps to save money, the large pedal pipes (usually of tin) are made of wood, but prepared to look like a tin pipe with fake rounded fronts. The sound of this instrument is particularly colorful, with a very ripe Cythera (a ‘celeste’) and a very stringy Gamba.

In the imposing Neresheim Abbey (almost a fortress on a hillside above the town), the colorful pictoral frescos of the ceiling contrast with the neo-classical white of the remainder of the interior. The Holzhey organ ingeniously surrounds four windows in the gallery, and makes an impressive, noble sound in the 8-second resonance of this large room. We lunched in the public refectory, then traveled to the Steiff Toy Factory and Museum in Giengen, home of the Teddy Bear. Couldn’t ask for a finer day’s diversion.

Posted by Michael Barone




  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
Today we visited some rural/medieval locations just outside of Ulm - Mönchsdeggingen, Maihingen & Neresheim. Each one reminded of just how spoiled I am as an American organist. Each organ was utterly different from the other as well as from any organ I have ever played in America. It was a tremendous learning experience.

On a completely unrelated subject, I’ve also discovered that sauerkraut is it’s own food group and that what we have in Minnesota is NOT sauerkraut. YUM!

This picture is of the front altar at Neresheim Abbey, where I discovered that I love shredded cabbage and radishes. I’ve reached a nexus, now there’s no turning back…

Posted by Brad Althoff






Day 4 - Rot-an-der-Rot, Ochsenhausen & Ulm
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Another sunny day, and another pair of historic venues and instruments. Josef Holzhey’s name may not be so famous as that of Riepp (or Schnitger, or Silbermann), but his instruments take second place to none. Franz Raml, who got the post at Rot-an-der-Rot (means ‘red’…this is the River Rot which runs nearby) just as the organ was undergoing restoration in 1989, and plays it with the awareness and sensitivity of a lover. His demonstration recital made my ears smile, showcasing the 1793 organ’s clear, singing tone and peerless personality. Unlike many similar venues, this building is owned by the local town and supported through their efforts, not by a government agency.

  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
Ochsenhausen may benefit from more funding, but is only slightly more vivid in its fresh new coat of paint (and restored ceiling frescos). Here Josef Gabler (a native) made his first organ (four manuals…what a way to begin a career) in 1734. This organ has what is believed to be the first detached, reversed playing console (the keydesks prior to this were affixed to the base of the organ case…detaching requires a much more complex mechanism of trackers to connect keys to wind chests…but it works just fine). It also boasts a glockenspiel (little bells, played by little hammers activated from the keyboard) and an ox-in-the-box which moves foward from its little house on top of the ruck-positive division of the organ…my picture is of the ‘other end’.

On to Ulm, an immense, intricate Gothic structure with the tallest tower in Germany (or is it second-tallest…I did not climb the zillion stairs to get what Jon Gosset reported was a spectacular view). We were on our own here for two hours, and after Hans Hielscher played a full Rheinberger Sonata to demonstrate the 1969 Walcker, everyone who would/could tried their hands, too. Despite its immensity, the organ’s mechanical action is not at all a problem, and though its tonal scheme may not be a la mode, it is a good instrument (not too loud, but strong enough). Another fine day.

Posted by Michael Barone




  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
On Tuesday, we went to Ulm. From my schooling, I understand that there are places that are significant only to the individual. Mecca is very important to some, Rome is important to others, and so on, but going to Ulm Minster has made me think that Lutheran pilgrimages should strongly be considered. Ulm has the tallest Lutheran church spire in the world and is only second in size to Coln Cathedral. I grew up attending a small Lutheran church in rural Minnesota and walking inside Ulm was like catching a wave of religious patriotism. It was like going to Washington DC for the first time and feeling really patriotic. I’d always heard of and thought I understood the spectacle of it all, but until I actually went, I realized I had no idea. On the downside of it, the organ was nothing spectacular. It was not particularly loud in the room. Win some - loose some.

On the personal side, I went for a long walk last night (45 minutes) around Ulm. In Minnesota, I exercise regularly. I haven’t been able to run or go to the gym on this trip, to this point, and it has caused my blood sugar to go a little nuts, but last night’s walk certainly helped.

Things to remember: BEAUTIFUL Ochsenhausen; immaculate pastures; Maltauschen - heart attack comfort food; frightening religious statues & relics; Ulm’s old city.

Posted by Brad Althoff






Day 3 - Fürstenfeldbruck, Landsberg, Ottobeuren &amp Memmingen
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Another sunny day offered propitious beginning to our actual travels in the countryside. The Fürstenfeldbruck area west of Munich glistened in the fresh morning sunlight, and our group was spellbound by the intricate and plentiful decorations within this former Cistercian abbey. A young Japanese student played some frothy ‘period music’ as a first demonstration of this well-restored instrument’s historic voice, after which our ‘music-meister’ Hans Uwe Hielscher further demonstrated before we clambered up many stairs and along the upper walkway to visit the console. Here the stops are activated not by push-pull motions but by moving them to left or right. The mechanical key action (and keyboard/pedalboard placement) requires some mental adjustment, but the tactile and aural experience of this organ from 1736 is magical. The inlaid wooden decoration of a little fox above the upper manual/keyboard is the ‘nameplate’ of organbuilder Johann Georg Fux.

Landsberg Stadtkirche is not quite so overtly decorated as Fürstenfeldbruck, and the organ (2001 Schmid in an 18th century case) of contemporary all-purpose design. Siegfried Schmid himself was present to show us his handiwork. The town itself was captivating, too, with its sun-drenched cobble-stone plaza surrounded by age-old buildings (from the 16th century or earlier)…this isn’t Kansas (or Minnesota, or anywhere in the States) any more, Toto!

Ottobeuren Abbey is one of the ‘great organ destinations’, and the twin choir organs showcase the ingenuity of their 18th century builder (and successful wine merchant) Josef Riepp. The Maibaum (May Pole) in the side yard reminded us that this was May Day…a holiday throughout Europe (their Labor Day). Thanks to Josef Miltschitzky for sharing the instrument with us, of which he is justifiably proud. Suffice it to say that already another ‘high point’ was reached on the trip, and we’ve only just begun.

  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
On to Memmingen (another charming small city if ancient heritage, where a river runs through it…well, a fast-flowing brook at least), the home of a most impressive 1998 Goll organ (Swiss-built) which combines Baroque and French-symphonic sounds in a very effective and user-friendly contemporary case…a very light oak at the moment, but unfinished and guaranteed to eventually darken to match the other woodwork in this church with origins in the 12th century. Though southern Germany is predominantly Catholic, this is a Lutheran church (see picture). Hans-Eberfhard Ross runs an active music program here (with adventuresome programming, including a kids concert featuring an organ transcription of Prokofriev’s “Peter and the Wolf”), and the wooden pews have been redesigned to function for services or concerts; their backs flip foward so that you can face the rear organ gallery for recitals.

Posted by Michael Barone




Yesterday was a great day in Germany! The weather was cool, but sunny. In fact, the most memorable parts of the day had more to do with living and peripheral issues than with organs/churches. The most significant realization is that I’m going to move to Landsberg when I retire, if not before. I did not know what to expect when I read up on Landsberg. I knew it was a small town with a significant instrument. That was it. When we arrived, though, it was a perfect little German town. There was a castle, a city wall and buildings that looked like they were conceived by Disney. I sat with our driver, Manuella, at a cafe on the platz and drank “gassed” water for an hour and a half. Just sitting, feeling the cool sun (I’ve yet to take off my leather jacket and gloves), and thinking that of all the possible ways to live, this was far from the worse.

Also, I swear that the hotel we stayed at last night was haunted. I woke up many times to what sounded like a party going on in the hall outside my door, but when I looked out there was no one there. Not anyone. Call me nuts, but with buildings/businesses several hundred years old, I think it’s entirely possible that some people have decided to linger.

I’ve taken lots of pictures and hope to post them soon. Connectivity has been a problem.
Posted by Brad Althoff






Day 2 - Munich
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Morning was ‘at large’, though many of us took the hint offered the previous afternoon and attended the 9AM service at Saint Michael’s Church, where Dr. Wittmann conducted a superb performance of a Mozart Mass (with orchestra)…timed in such a way as to allow a return to the hotel for a second breakfast (!). Then rendezvous at the immense Frauenkirche for its noon service or wander in the city center, exploring other venues and enjoy the fact that, though brisk, the day was total sunshine and blue sky…very nice after yesterday’s gloom and drizzle.

Remember that this huge church was mostly demolished (excepting the tall twin towers…see picture) during Allied bombing. Its reconstruction has been a lenghthy and costly proposition, but a proud city again has a proud monument. Hans Leitner is the new Frauenkirche music director (formerly at Passau Cathedral, where I last saw him in 2001).
  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
He is a superb improviser (as his service music and postlude showed), and a very amiable, down-to-earth host, despite holding the most important church job in Bavaria. A few more from the group lined up to play (who wouldn’t want to lay hands on such an instrument?), though none of us will threaten any of the local talent.

Stefan Moser introduced us to the instruments at the Saint Franziskus (Catholic) and Saint Lukas (Lutheran) churches, though he is not organist at either of these. He claimed to have been only once before at Saint Franziskus, and not familiar with the organ, yet sat down and played us ‘a little piece’ …the Toccata from Duruflé’s Suite Opus 5, flawlessly and from memory. This van den Heuvel organ, a recent Dutch construct in the manner of 19th century French symphonic organs, may have been a bit intense in its gallery, but sounded quite good downstairs (which, after all, is there the people hear it). Despite a space-age modern console at Saint Luke’s, the neo-classical instrument did not impress, though Stefan’s performance of Robert Elmore’s “Rhumba” did (fancy footwork).

Following a ‘typical Bavarian dinner’ at the Haxnbauer Restaurant, we all went to the Munich Philharmonic (a contemporary hall) for an all-Mendelssohn orchestra program accompanied by attractive still-photos of scenes from Scotland (the music was the Scots Symphony and Hebrides Overture)…though I cannot say that this proved to be much of a revelation (either the content or the technology involved), though the audience seemed to lap it up.

Posted by Michael Barone




Last night I had the most divine sleep I’ve had in a couple of months. Love the hotel! The Mercure in Munich is well worth your time if you’re in the city. Breakfast rocked! GOOD coffee (which is easily 50% of my attitude towards breakfast), and all varieties of eggs, meats, cheeses, breads, cereals, yogurts, fruits and juices - it made the continental breakfasts back in the States look pretty cheap.

First church of the day was the Frauenkirche. It is my favorite church/organ of the tour so far has been and this utterly gigantic church houses a beautiful organ in the rear gallery. There were a number of us that got to play it and, frankly, the organ made me sound better than I had any right to sound. I played Grand Choeur Dialogue by E. Gigout and abused the downright garish reverb of the room. Lots of fun but the organ and the room did all the work.

  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
The next place we visited was Saint Franziskus. For a historic organ tour, this instrument was rather modern, but it plays the 20th French rep. amazingly well. Well worth our time. Saint Lukas was interesting in that the organ was in a transcept and the VERY modern console (kinda cool, kinda hideous) was a city block away from the pipes, making it difficult to play and listen at the same time.

I was advised before the trip began to bring my hat & gloves, as well as my coat. I have yet to take off any of them off inside the churches. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!

- Posted by Brad Althoff


Day 1 - Munich
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  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
The first day began for me a bit on-the-wrong-footish. We had visited with friends in Frankfurt in the previous several days and taken a train down to Munich on Friday afternoon, allowing plenty of time for a calm evening and plenty of rest before arising on Saturday (4/29). The plan was to connect with our bus driver Manuela and tour leader Ulrich and the several other folks who already were in Munich and, with them, drive with our coach out to the airport to meet the incoming tour group from the States. Unfortunately, my alarm clock did not function properly and at 8AM I was awakened by the room phone and the bell-desk saying: “Your group is ready to depart.” I asked (in a blurr of sleep), “What time is it?”, and my response, when learning the truth, will not be printed here :-) So much for best-laid plans.

  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
However, within 13 minutes we were on our way, arrived in a timely fashion, converged with our somewhat jet-lagged crewmates (all of whom has arrived as planned, no lost luggage), and set off to the first organ visit to Saint Peter’s Church in downtown Munich. Despite a cold and rainy day, Dr. Berndt Jäger provided a vivid demonstration of the industrial-strength 2003 Klais organ (in a case modeled after the church’s previous 18th century organ). After the lunch break (in the Ratskeller (beneath the Rathaus, where we stood to watch the clock toll the hour, hear the glockenspiel play, and watch the mechanized figures do their ancient dances…see photo), we continued to Saint Michael’s Church where the 1983 Sandtner organ, amiably played by choirmaster Dr. Leopold Wittmann, proved to be somewhat sweeter in tone but no less powerful than the Petersorgel. Then a bus tour of noteable city sites…including the Schloss Nymphenburg…and evening group supper at the Hotel Mercure City Center (fine accomodations, excellent food, and my-oh-my how much energy these people still had, chatting and getting acquainted), and finally off to bed.

A note: approximately 40% of the folks on this tour have been on past PIPEDREAMS expeditions. Some have been on all of them (five), so the dynamic was a bit like a reunion of distant cousins and, in the case of the ‘new arrivals’, welcoming them into the family. They are an amazingly diverse and amiable group, and I love them all.

- Posted by Michael Barone


It was a little strange for me to come down from behind the clouds on Saturday morning and see the green fields that stretched out to the horizon. My father’s grandparents were from Germany, and little did I know that within the course of a few days, I would see the faces of my extended family again and again.

  Pipedreams Euro-Tour 2006
After arriving in Munich, we were dropped off at the edge of the old city and walked down to the Marianplatz to Saint Peter’s and Michael’s . A group of us headed to the Ratskeller in the ancient townhall for a hearty lunch and respite from the cold rain outside. The food felt good and the atmosphere was very old world. Feeling revitalized we headed back into the elements for a quick history lesson and then moved onward to Saint Peter’s Church, the very first church built in Munich.

The original Saint Peter’s Church was largely destroyed in World War II. It may have been completely razed, but the priest in charge at the time pushed through an initiative to restore the church. The organ, built in 2003, seemed to be loud and aggressive from the bench, but in the cavernous room it sounded great! It had a number of modern features, and an unusual pedal board that I couldn’t make peace with. When I tried to play the organ, my feet were almost always in the wrong place. In hindsight, I may have just needed a nap.

Saint Michael’s is a stunning example of Renaissance architecture. Like Saint Peter’s it has a relatively new instrument. The organist in residence played a few pieces that really showed off what the organ could do. Very impressive. Like the other, this church had amazing acoustics for an organ.


Things to remember - Marianplatz glockenspiel, the Ratskeller, the faces in Saint Peter’s after Mass, playing “the Primitive’s” in 8 seconds of acoustic, the architecture of Saint Michael’s and how utterly good a hot shower felt at the end of the day.

- Posted by Brad Althoff