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Alsacian organ builders

Organs in Alsace


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Organs and organ builders in Alsace before the 18th century

Strasbourg, Cathedral
the pendentive of the case built in 1385

Organ builders were very few in Alsace before the beginning of the 18th century i.e. the arrival of:

There was no local organ building tradition, but there were already quite a lot of organs.

You will find here a description of the "organ landscape" found by Silbermann when he came in Strasbourg. And, above all, what had attracted him in Alsace. Below is an inventory of the known organ and organ builders in those days. For each century, a table collects the main works.
The tables can be only used as reference : each is followed by a summary giving the main events.


The 13th century

During those days, the organs had fixed stops, and were above all attractions. The disposition of the pipes were certainly designed as large cornets or fournitures, with lots of powerful overtones in order that the sound would fill the crowd with wonder.

These instruments were rather small, and were placed either on the ground or suspended to a pillar, in cases called "swallow's nest", without any gallery. They were usually fit out with a lot of automations, and accessories which could properly be called "bells and whistles".

Here are the known works in the 13th century :

13th centuryBuilder
StrasbourgCathedral1292Ginzelin von FRANKFURT

But, at the end of the century, apparently there was only 1 organ left, as the one in the cathedral of Strasbourg, built in 1292 by Ginzelin von FRANKFURT was destroyed by fire in 1298.
The first (1260) was probably only a portable organ.
Ginzelin is called "Guncelinus" in Latin.

The 14th century

14th centuryBuilder
StrasbourgCathedral1327Claus CARLEN
ThannFranciscains1345Herrmann von NEWWILER (burnt in 1376)
StrasbourgCathedral (choir)1352?
StrasbourgCathedral1385? (today's pendentive)
StrasbourgCathedral (choir)1400?

The organ builders in the 14th century were Claus CARLEN (or KARL), Herrmann von NEWWILER.
There was also Conrad von ROTHENBURG, who repaired in 1378 the organ built by Claus Karlen in the cathedral of Strasbourg. This organ disappeared in a fire in 1384 and one year later was replaced by an organ in a "swallow's nest" case. Its pendentive (lower part of the case) was kept by Friedrich KREBS when he built his new organ, and is still to be seen today. So, this pendentive dates back to 1385 !

Thann was the second Alsacian town to get an organ. This instrument had nearly the same history as those in Strasbourg.

The 15th century

15th centuryBuilder
StrasbourgSt-Pierre-le-Jeune1404? (swallow's nest)
ColmarSt-Martinbefore 1417? (2 organs ?)
MasevauxSt-Légerbefore 1443?
Guebwiller-before 1445? (swallow's nest)
Rouffach-before 1449?
StrasbourgCathedral (choir)1478Friedrich KREBS
Ensisheim-1482Conrad SITTINGER (swallow's nest)
MulhouseSt-Etiennebefore 1487?
SélestatCommanderie St-Jean1487?
Cernay-before 1489?
StrasbourgCathedral1492Friedrich KREBS (today's case)
SélestatSt-Georgesbefore 1498?
Lautenbach-before 1500?MUDDERER?
LucelleAbbeybefore 1500? (destroyed in 1525)
Ribeauvillé-ca. 1500Ruppert ECKSTETTER, from Constance
HaguenauDominicainsbefore 1501?

There were no less than 20 organs in Alsace at the end of the 15th century. They are still Blockwerks (with fixed stops) except the last, as those built by Frierich KREBS seemed to have separate stops. The organ in Ensisheim (swallow's nest) last up to the 18th century. The case of Kreb's organ, 1492, in the cathedral of Strasbourg is still there, with its pendentive from 1385. It is thus an authentically gothic case.

In those days, all the organ builders were to be traveling from town to town. The first who really built up business in Strasbourg seems to be Matthias KERN (?-1507). Probably, he specialized in the maintenance of existing instruments, and had thus enough work in the vicinity to be able to settle. He is known to have been working in Basel (Switzerland) and Obernai.

There were organs in Neuwiller-lès-Saverne, but very little is known abut them.

The 16th century

16th centuryBuilder
HaguenauSt-Georges (choir)1503Jacob BILLUNG
StrasbourgCathedral1511Hans SÜSS (with sliders)
ColmarSt-Martin1513Hans TÜGI, from Bâle (destroyed in 1576 by order of the magistrate)
Obernai-1515Jacob SUNELLER
StrasbourgSt-Thomas1515Hans SCHENTZER, from Stuttgart
MasevauxSt-Martin extra murosbefore 1516?
HaguenauSt-Georges (choir)1519Hans DINCKEL
StrasbourgSt-Marcbefore 1520?
WissembourgSts-Pierre-et-Paulbefore 1520?
Wissembourgid. (Choir)before 1520?
HaguenauSt-Georges1520Hans DINCKEL
SélestatSt-Georges1521Hans von MASMÜNSTER (swallow's nest)
Kaysersberg-1525Rupprecht ECKSTETTER, from Constance
Wissembourg-1525Johan Ludovicus WIGANDUS
StrasbourgSte-Madeleinebefore 1529?
Ammerschwihr-before 1534?
Guémar-before 1534?
ColmarSt-Matthieubefore 1541?
Bergheim-before 1549?
Altkirch-before 1561?
ThannSt-Théobald1561Sigmund PEISTLE (swallow's nest)
Rouffach-1571Chrysostome LETZER, from Fribourg
Niederhaslach-before 1578? (destroyed in 1633)
Lauterbourg-before 1584?
StrasbourgSt-Pierre-le-Vieux1590Anton MEUTTING, from Augsbourg
StrasbourgSt-Pierre-le-Jeune1591Hans KLEIN, from Donauwörth
Turckheim-before 1592?
ColmarUnterlinden1594Hans Werner MUDDERER, from Fribourg
StrasbourgSt-Nicolas1595? (from Temple-Neuf)
LucelleAbbeybefore 1599?
StrasbourgSt-Guillaumebefore 1599?
Bergheim-1600? (new)

A "permanent" organ builder settled in Obernai in 1515 : Jacob SUNELLER. This did not prevent Hans DINCKEL to build two new organs in Hauguenau. Maybe some "secrets" were necessary to build a new organs, and were not known by people who only did the maintenance.
The organ by Hans SÜSS, 1511, in the cathedral of Strasbourg had sliders chests, and was repaired in 1542 by Hans SCHENTZER (often called Johan Schentzer) from Stuttgart, then in 1564 by Sigmung PEISTLE. Peistle (FÄUSTLIN), from Fribourg, was an apothecary.

Sébasian DIETHER came from Stockau, settled in Strasbourg, were he became a burgess.
Johann Peter RUETSCH, from Bâle, worked in Obernai in 1583.

In 1592, Hans HUODT was a joiner, who had his business in Fribourg. He did a lot of works, up to the next century.

But the most outstanding was probably Hans Werner MUDDERER (MUTTERER). He made :

  • repairs to the organ in the "cathedral" of Fribourg (1594 and 1621) (Fribourg became a cathedral town only in the 19th century).
  • the organ in Colmar, Unterlinden (1594)
  • the choir organ in the cathedral of Fribourg (1596)
  • the organ in Breisach (1598 new, repaired in 1610)
  • the organ in the Cathedral of Soleure (from 1598 to 1604)
  • the organ in Benfeld (1619)
Mutterer settled in Breisach (maybe only retired?) in 1622.

So, the 16th century was very rich, both in organ builders and organ works.

The 17th century

In the very beginning 17th century, a lot of new organs were built, but soon came the terrible "30 years war" during which Mansfeld's soldiers, then the Swedish put Alsace to fire and the sword. The war drained almost all the inhabitants of the countryside and caused the ruin of the towns.

16th centuryBuilder
MunsterSt-Léger1602Anton MEUTTING (destroyed in 1652)
SaverneSt-Jeanbefore 1603?
StrasbourgSte-Auréliebefore 1604Dietrich WAGNER?
MarbachAugustins1604Hans HUODT
La Petite-Pierre-1604? (pipes removed during the war)
Rouffach-1604Hans KLEIN, 2 keyboards
ColmarSt-Martin1608Hans HUODT (choir, 8 reg.)
Riquewihr-1609Hans HUODT
StrasbourgSt-Guillaume1611? (new)
Kientzheim-before 1612?
MunsterBénédictinsbefore 1614second organ
MolsheimSt-Georgesbefore 1615?
Bouxwiller-1615Hans OTT?
LucelleAbbey1615Thomas SCHOTT (18 stops) (destroyed by the Swedish in 1638)
MulhouseSt-Etienne1616Hans HUODT or MUDDERER (builder came from Fribourg) (moved to Ferrette)
Andlau-1617Dietrich WAGNER
Lautenbach-before 1618Hans Werner MUDDERER? (destroyed in 1636)
Marienthal-before 1619?
HaguenauPrémontrésbefore 1619?
Ammerschwihr-1619Hans Werner MUDDERER
Benfeld-1619Hans Werner MUDDERER (replaced en 1634)
Rouffach-1626Thomas SCHOTT
"30 years" war (1618-1648)
StrasbourgTemple-Neuf (Choir)before 1634? (taken back by TOUSSAINT)
Benfeld-1634Dietrich WAGNER
Ensisheim-1642? ("Régale" for processions)
StrasbourgSt-Guillaume1643Hans Jacob BALDNER (Swallow's nest. New?)
Westhoffen-before 1650? (Replaced in 1667)
MasevauxSt-Martin extra murosend of the war? (Positif)
Murbach-before 1652? Rebuilt in 1691
MunsterSt-Léger1660Hans Jacob AEBI (Moved to Wihr-au-Val)
Erstein-1660Hans Jacob AEBI
StrasbourgCathedral (nave)1660Matthias TRETZSCHER
StrasbourgCathedral (choir)1660Matthias TRETZSCHER (moved to the Temple-Neuf in 1681)
Lautenbach-1661AEBI? (Positif)
Lauterbourg-1661? (Destroyed by fire in 1678)
Boerch-1663Hans Jacob AEBI
Mont Ste-Odile-1663? Destroyed en 1674
Dambach-la-ville-ca. 1665AEBI?
Schoenensteinbach-ca. 1665AEBI? (Moved to Wittelsheim)
Rosheim-1665Christoph AEBI? (Positif)
Herrlisheim (Wintzenheim)-1665AEBI? (Moved to Orbey)
Niederhaslach-1666? (Moved to Mulbach)
Westhoffen-1667Christoph AEBI
Bouxwiller-1668Hans Jacob BALDNER
Oelenberg-ca. 1669?
Guebwiller-1669AEBI (Rebuilding of the swallow's nest)
Marmoutier-1669Christoph AEBI
Cernay-1670Hans Jacob AEBI
St-Léonard-before 1672?
Mutzig-1680Hans Jacob BALDNER?
StrasbourgCathedral (choir)around 1681BALDNER? (taken back by WALTRIN)
MasevauxSt-Léger1682? 8 stops
Guéberschwihr-1685? (moved to Lautenbach-Zell)
Lauterbourg-1686? (new)
Murbach-1691Antoine GEIGER, from Faverney
Altorf-1692? (moved to the Bischenberg)
SélestatSt-Georges1692Christoph AEBI? (2nd organ : jube)
Lautenbach-1695MAYRANDIER ??
Biblisheim-1697Père REUTIMANN
Bouxwiller-1698Work by André SILBERMANN on the BALDNER organ
StrasbourgFustel de Coulanges1698?
Marckolsheim-1698(came from Sélestat, Ste-Foy)
SélestatSte-Foy1698the Frère lai from Ebersmunster
StrasbourgSt-Jean (Choir)before 1700the Frère lai from Ebersmunster
Soultzbach-les-Bains-before 1700Jean-Michel CRÄNER
WissembourgSt-Michelbefore 1700?
Ebersmunster-around 1700a Frère d'Ebersmunster

Anton MEUTTING, from Augsbourg, had already been working in Strasbourg, St-Pierre-le-Vieux, the previous century.
Dietrich WAGNER was an official burgess in Strasbourg.
Thomas SCHOTT came at least two times from Bremgarten. Some of his work in Rouffach is still there.
Matthias TRETZSCHER (1626-1686), from Kulmbach, had a lot if success in the cathedral of Strasbourg.

So much success that he managed to supplant Hans Jacob BALDNER. This is the more surprising that Baldner had set up his business in Strasbourg!

Hans HUODT, who settled at the end of the 16th century in Freibourg seems to have been working only in Alsace :

  • a new organ for the Augustins in Marbach (1604)
  • an assessment for the 2 keyboards organ built by Hans Klein, 1604, from Rouffach (1606)
  • a new, 8 stops choir organ in Colmar, St-Martin (1608)
  • a new organ in Riquewihr (1609)
  • a repair to (his?) organ in Colmar (1619)

The other outstanding builders were the AEBI.

In 1616, Johann FABER was an organ builder settled in Saverne. There, he is known to repair the organ of the Récollets in 1634.

The following works also belong to the 17th century :

  • The organ by Matthias Tretzscher, 1660, on the jube (choir) of the Cathedral was moved in 1681 to the Temple-Neuf in Strasbourg. It was completed in 1684 by Frantz FREUND.
  • The organ by Hans Klein, 1591 in Strasbourg, St-Pierre-le-Jeune, was repaired by Baldner (1642, 1667), but also by Anton NEUKNECHT (1608), and FIXLIN (1695).
  • The organ by Hans Huodt, 1609, of Riquewihr, last up to 1758.
  • The organ by Hans Süss, 1511, of Strasbourg, Cathedral, was enlarged in 1608 to 21 stops on 3 keyboards by Neuknecht. The case by Krebs was reused.
  • the two organs in Molsheim from the 17th century last up to the Révolution (1789).
  • In 1657, Johann GEUSSLER, from Lucern, repaired the organ by Ruppert Eckstetter, 1500, in Ribeauvillé.
  • The nave organ in the Cathedral of Strasbourg was completely renewed (again in Krebs' case) in 1660 by Matthias Tretzscher (29 stops, 3 keyboards).
  • The organ by Rupprecht Ecksetter, 1525 in Kaysersberg was repaired in 1648 by "Master JOERG" and in 1698 by Caesar SCHOTT, from Horb. Caesar Schott is known to have been working in 1671 in Haguenau (5 years after Baldner on the same organ).
  • The organ in Brumath, 1650, was moved to Strasbourg during Turenne's campaign... It is possible that the wind chests were still in use in Bernolsheim in 1921 (!)
  • Antoine GEIGER (1764-1711) is said to have been working in Alsace, but, if this is true, it is difficult to find were.
  • The organ in Marckolsheim, 1698, was not new : it came from Sélestat, Ste-Foy, giving an evidence that there was an organ there before 1690.
  • The second organ in the Commanderie St-Jean, in Sélestat was probably built during the 17th century. It was moved in 1799 to Mackenheim.
  • There was probably a second organ in Colmar, St-Martin, in the 16th or 17th century, as Silbermann wrote that he saw "an old case" et sparrow's nest in 1753.

The Frère lai d'Ebersmunster (he is sometimes called Joseph BENDER), is now famous for being one of the very few organ builders favorably esteemed by Jean-André SILBERMANN !
He probably repaired the organ in Sélestat (Commanderie St-Jean) in 1697.

The organ in Soultzbach-les-Bains, 1700, apart from being built at the end of the century, was also on of the most important milestones in the history of organs in Alsace : the organ enters in small villages. Soon, each village will want an organ : people visit the towns for business, hear the marvelous sound of the organs that plays there during the cults. Then they come back in their countryside, and want all the same for their village. The "market" increases. In year 1700, there are about 100 organs in Alsace.

But the Aebis had left Alsace in 1674 to Switzerland (where the demand was high, too). So, after Baldner's death, in 1683, there was no more organ builder having his business in Strasbourg.
Friedrich RING (1666-1701), from Berstett, is known to have undertaken the building of an organ in the Temple-Neuf in Strasbourg. But, he had a poor health, and died before the work was completed.

Like often, the good fortune of Alsace came from the immigrants. Because the demand was high, came the man who changed everything : Andreas SILBERMANN. He was 20 years old in 1698. Ambitious, but also with an uncommon humbleness, he began with some simple works, then decided to study the classical French organ building, and spent two years in Paris in order to achieve his goal.

-~Hans Jacob BALDNER (17/11/1606-03/02/1683)~-

Origin : Strasbourg
Training : Dietrich WAGNER ?
The only organ builder in Strasbourg, with Wagner, from 1674 to Andreas Silbermann's arrival (1698).
Brought : ...a lot of maintenance work...
Trained : /.

The Baldners were a family of fishermen. Hans' (Johan's) father name Hans BALTNER, and he was an "instrumentalist". Johan Jacob was the second of 6 children. He got marrier 3 times.

Baldner was popular with the rulers of the town, probably because of his family's relatives. He probably was trained by Dietrich Wagner.

He repaired the organ by Hans Klein, 1591 / Anton Neuknecht, 1608 in Strasbourg, St-Pierre-le-Jeune in 1642 and 1660, completed to one in Strasbourg, St-Guillaume in 1643, repaired Anton Meutting's organ, 1590, in Strasbourg, St-Piere-le-Vieux, in 1645 and 1666.
He also repaired in 1655 the organ by Jacob Suneller in Obernai (which was damaged during the 30 Years War, and which had a Great and a Choir division, and, in 1666 the organ by Hans Dinckel, in Haguenau, St-Georges.

Above all, he did the maintenance of the nave organ of the Cathedral of Strasbourg (from 1652 to 1680), and of the organ in St-Nicolas, from 1649 to 1655, before building there a new one. The instrument was repaired by Carl SPIES (1690), but also Frantz FREUNDT, from Rottenburg am Neckar (1687) and Johann Sébastian FIXLIN (every year from 1693 to 1696). Silbermann did completely rebuild it in 1706.

Baldner built a new organ in Haslach im Kinzigtal in 1661, made to repairs in Strasbourg, St-Thomas in 1672 and 1677, and maybe built a new organ in Mutzig, in 1680. If this is true, it was his last organ.

The works by Baldner did not last very long, and the fact that Baldner, tough being the only organ builder in Strasbourg in 1660, did not get the deal for the renewal of the choir organ in the cathedral (Matthias Tretzcher got the deal), clearly means that he did not have the ability. He certainly did not have the skill to build an organ with more than one division.

His organ in Strasbourg, St-Guillaume did not give satisfaction : Carl Spies repaired it in 1656, 1684 et 1693... He also built an organ in Ettenheim.
But Baldner's most famous organ is Bouxwiller, St-Léger, 1668. The case of this instrument, and even some pipes are still there : the "prestant" and the "doublette", with their round faceboards.

Baldner did build, according to some sources, a choir organ for the cathedral of Strasbourg, around 1650 (the one that, according to P. Meyer-Siat, Waltrin took back in 1711).

-~Hans Jacob et Christoph AEBI (1612-1688)~-

Origin : Soleure
Training : ?
Brought : many instruments.
Trained : his son Christoph (1642-1693).
Activity period is Alsace : 1657-1674 (1692?)

Hans Jacob (1612-1688) came from Soleure around 1657, with his son Chtristoph (1642-1693). They settled in Ensisheim, but made a lot of journeys.
Besides the building, with his son, of a dozen of new organs, Hans Jacob Aebi certainly worked on the organ in Marbach in 1660, (as the Père GEIGER, from Lure).
He also repaired around 1668 the organ in Ammerschwihr.
Between 1663 and 1673, Christoph Aebi was known to be an organist, successively in Boersch, Rosheim, Westhoffen, Marmoutier, and Saverne. He built the second organ in Westhoffen in 1667.

The Aebis left Alsace for Switzerland in 1674, but their probably built an organ for Sélestat, St-Georges, in 1692. In Switzerland, they went doing famous works, among with the organ of the Collégiale de Sion, in Valère (it was not a new organ), which is said to be the oldest playable organ in the world.

Sources : Inventaire Historique, P. MEYER-SIAT "Martin et Joseph BERGÄNTZEL", AEA 1984 (Huodt, Mudderer), and "Les quatre orgues du Mutzig", Annuaire de Molsheim 1981 (Baldner).