Pipe organ stops
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Alsacian organ builders

Organs in Alsace


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Alsatian organ builders

André Silbermann

Before the 18th century

The beginning of the 18th century
The remainder of the 18th century
Silbermann and his heirs

The 19th century : Callinet, Stiehr and Rinkenbach

The 20th century : the "Roethinger school"

Most of the information appearing here concerns organ builders which are or were settled in Alsace, and comes from the "Inventaire Historique des orgues d'Alsace", by P. Meyer-Siat.


  This organ, completed by SILBERMANN (who added a pedal organ) was transferred to the church of St-Grégoire in Ribeauvillé in 1749 by ROHRER.
  Ebersmunster and Marmoutier (although completed by Jean-André) are by André SILBERMANN
  Trefoil central turrets are by Jean-André Silbermann (1736, Neuf-Brisach).
 The beginning of the 18th century

At the very beginning of the 18th century appeared an Alsacian tradition : the pipe organ enters small cities. In year 1700, 73 towns had acquired a pipe organ, and the others, even small villages, wanted to buy one.

An important market opens, but there is no local organ builder. To complete the organ in the Temple-Neuf in Strasbourg, after Friedrich RING's death, Claude LEGROS had to come from Metz.

Three organ builder came to to set up in Alsace.
André SILBERMANN (1678-1734)

He came from Saxony (Germany), in 1699, but nobody know from whom he learnt his job. (Although it is sometimes assumed that it could be from RING). He spent 2 years with François THIERRY, in Paris, to study the French classical organ building, but that was after he sat himself up in Alsace (from 1704 to 1707).

Gottfried (1683-1753)

André's brother, Gottfried, followed him in Alsace in order to complete his training. His purpose was to go back to Saxony after having achieved his master's degree. He actually did so, in year 1709 (i.e. without seeing his brother's French classical works.)

Jean-André (1712-1783)

André's elder son took on alone his father's business, because Jean-Daniel (1717-1766) left to join his uncle Gottfried in Saxony.
Jean-André also traveled to Saxony, from where he learnt about some organ stops (like the Quintaton) for example.

Josias (1765-1786)

Jean-André's younger son, Josias, (the elder son, also called Jean-André would not take on the business) did only outlive his father by 3 years.

Conrad SAUER (1735-1802)

Silbermann's heirs having left France or retrained to piano building, Josias' foreman took on the "Silbermann tradition". He was given the responsibility of maintaining the 91 organs build during 80 years by the Silbermanns in Alsace.

Jean-Conrad SAUER (1775-1828)

Conrad's son, Jean-Conrad, took on his father's business. But we then leave the 18th century.

Joseph WALTRIN (1679-1747)

He moved from Porrentruy to Alsace in 1707, and his training had been done by his father. Completely overshadowed by Silbermann, Joseph passed on his business to his elder son :

Jean-Baptiste (1708-1753)

Joseph's son completed his training by VON ESCH in Nancy.
Jean-Baptiste was certainly a better teacher than organ builder, because his deeds are not very important but the trained Louis DUBOIS et Jaque BESANÇON.

Nicolas BOULAY (?-1763)

Boulay was born in "Le Tholy" in the Vosges mountains. After his training by Waltrin, then sat himself up in Herrlisheim by 1750. All that remains from his work is the splendid organ case in Holtzheim.

Jaque BESANÇON (1735-1811)

He build very fine organs, but did not leave any "schooling".

Louis DUBOIS (1726-1766)

Dubois really left his stamp in organ building, above all with his organ cases, which are very near, in style, those by Dom-Bedos (thus actually more "French" as Jean-André Silbermann's...
Besides, he trained Martin Bergäntzel.

Martin BERGÄNTZEL (1722-1803)

Martin was the heir of Waltrin's tradition, through Dubois, and passed it over to this son Joseph.

Joseph BERGÄNTZEL (1754-1819)

Maybe a bit less skilled than his father, he is above all known to have taught organ building to Valentin Rinkenbach.

Johann Georg ROHRER

Very skill, but very unlucky, Rohrer tried to follow the same way as Silbermann, but did not leave any schooling.

Besides these organ builders were other, less wellknown :

  • Georg Friederich MERCKEL (1691-1766), was born in Berstett, and became a competitor of the Silbermanns, but only thanks to his father's money. He was ran down by Silbermann (like Waltrin, Dubois et Rohrer, indeed), and died in Strasbourg, without having left any schooling, and in a dreadful poverty.

    Some of his deed can be seen in Lixhausen (where Stiehr moved in organ build in Benfeld, 1735), and Bilwisheim (where Wetzel moved his organ build in Hindisheim, 1758). His small (but very nice looking) organ now standing in Gottenhouse as even more often moved.

  • Johann-Peter TOUSSAINT (1712-1777), from Weyer, is known to have been working in Westhoffen since 1739. His son Jean Nicolas (1744-1803) took on his business. The Toussaints left the organs in Plobsheim and (above all) the splendid instrument in Lautenbach, that they built together.
  • Georg HLADKY (1733-1808) came from Bohema, and was welcomed in Alsace by ROHRER from 1758 to 1761. Then, Hladky sat himself up in Baden-Baden (Germany), but did some works in Alsace (Haguenau, St-Joseph (Soeurs grises), in 1780 and 1786; Sessenheim, 1793). His organ built in 1786 (which stood in Waltersweier, Germany, in 1792), can now be seen in Olwisheim.
    It is very likely than Georges Hladky, who was working later in Baden, was his son. Georges built in 1897 an organ for Minversheim (which was lost).


The remaining of the 18th century

Nicolas Martin MOELLER (1734-1794)

Moeller came from Germany, and sat himself up in Oberbronn.

Jean Frédéric (1762-1842) and Jean Jacques (1772-1834)

took over Nicolas Martin's business, followed by :

Jean-Jaques (1802-1871) and Louis (1808-1875)

who lead the company to the 19th century.


In year 1837, the 3 brothers Jean-Frédéric, Nicolas and Jean-Georges Verschneider took over the business founded by their grandfather. They lead the company(ies) to its peak, in Puttelange and the surroundings.

They came to build a lot of organs in the Haut-Rhin, especially after Joseph Callinet's death.

The demand being high, many other organ builders came to build organs in Alsace :

  • Pierre DELORME (1666-1728), from Orléans (built 2 organs)
  • Johann Carl BAUMANN (1714-1794), from Palatinat
  • Ferdinand STIEFFELL (1737-1818), from Rastatt.
    His foreman, Michel Stiehr, then settled in Seltz. He founded there the wellknown Stiehr company, that gave to Alsace, up to year 1926, some of its finest organs.
  • Joseph RABINY (1732-1813), was the heir of RIEPP's tradition. He built many organs in Alsace, thanks to his good reputation. He sat himself up in Rouffach in 1878, and one year later, his partner, who then became his son-in-law, François Callinet, came to join him.

    Joseph Rabiny's brother, Grégoire (1740-1821), worked for a while with him, but carried on with his career in the South of France after year 1766, when Joseph's son (also called Grégoire) was born. Grégoire (1766-1837) Rabiny became an organ builder too, and built notably instruments in Lorraine.

    From Grégoire's work can today be seen the (empty) case in the choir of the church in Richwiller.

  • Nicolas TOLLAY (see Wingersheim)
  • From Christian LANGES's (1729-1790) work, nothing remains but the splendid case of the Protestant church in Riquewihr, Ste-Marguerite, that he built in 1783. He probably came from Tyrol. If the cases were good, his instrumental parts obviously were not so good, his business often ending as affairs or ... (juridical) cases.


  Uhlwiller, a 'Positif de Dos' in 1878
The 19th century : Callinet, Stiehr, Rinckenbach

Theodore, Jean-Conrad Sauer's son, went on with the "Silbermann tradition" until year 1834, when he nearly went bankrupt, and left Alsace. Then, two organ builders claimed to be Silbermann's "heirs" in Strasbourg :

  • Georges WEGMANN (1805-after 1859), formerly Sauer's foreman (in fact, Wegmann was trained by MARTIN in Waldkirch), but above all :
  • Martin WETZEL (1794-1887).

    The Wetzel company last until the 20th century. Martin has been trained by Conrad Sauer, from 1818 to 1827. He proved to be a better organ builder than Wegmann.
    Martin had two sons, often called "Wetzel brothers", who worked together, especially from 1864 to 1874 :

    • Emile (1822-1910), who works then alone in Bergheim (from 1874 to his death), and
    • Charles (1828-1902), who formed an association with his son :
      • Edgar (1865-1945). Charles worked with his son from 1890 until 1902. They settled in St-Pierre in 1897. After his father's death, Edgar came back to Strasbourg.
        He has been working there until 1945.

But during the 19th century in Alsace, three organ building companies did really overshadow all the others. The founders of these 3 companies were :
François CALLINET (1754-1820)

Many members of the Callinet family became organ builders, and their deeds are numerous and (now) very famous. In Alsace, these works are almost all found in the Haut-Rhin.

François learnt organ building by his father-in-law Joseph Rabiny, and thus can be considered to be an heir of the RIEPP tradition.

François' sons are :
Joseph (1795-1857) and Claude-Ignace (1803-1874).
Known as the "Callinet brothers", they actually have been working together as partners. But their finally split the company in two , and have been known to be rude competitors.
After Joseph's death, in 1857, Claude-Ignace modified his style, trying new stops, techniques, and tried to follow the trends. When Alsace became German, in 1870, Louis-François, Claude-Ignace's son, moved to Vesoul.

François-Antoine BERGER (1816-1883)

After the death of Joseph Callinet, his foreman, François-Antoine Berger, set up one's own business. He can be considered has being the heir of Callinet's tradition.

The Berger company last until the 20th century. But the real guardian of Callinet's secrets is now Gaston KERN.

Michel STIEHR (1750-1829)

The Stiehr, partners with the Mockers (the first being Xavier MOCKERS (1780-1861)), founded three organ building companies :

  • one by Michel and his sons Joseph, Ferdinand and Xavier,
  • STIEHR-MOCKERS in 1860,
  • and STIEHR FRERES (Stiehr brothers).

Michel Stiehr was Ferdinand Stieffell's foreman. For this reason, he brought to Alsace some German stops (Gambas, Gemshorn, and above all the Salicional).

The Stiehr organs are very numerous in Alsace (especially in the Bas-Rhin). If not very wellknown, these organs (some being relatively small) are of excellent workmanship, and their sound is (for those which are well maintained) characteristic of an "Alsacian style".

Stiehr's deeds are not among the more prestigious organs (except his masterpiece in Bischoffsheim), but are certainly among the more attractive. "Built to last", their mechanics (the Stiehr and Mockers never built other types of notes action) is so robust and acute that some of these organs could be used 40 to 50 years with a minimal upkeep.

Valentin RINKENBACH (1795-1862)

Rinkenbach is a holder of the "Swiss schooling" in Alsace, and also inherited from Waltrin's tradition, through Bergäntzel. He founded a company that shone forth far away, by the excellent workmanship of the works by the brothers Valentin (1831-1870) and Charles (1834-1869), and above all when Martin Rinckenbach (1834-1917) brought it to its peak.

Later (after 1900), Joseph (1876-1949), Martin's son, was compelled to follow the "experts" of the time, by putting a pneumatic action to a lot of organs, and by building his pipes out of low quality materials (zinc and spotted metal). During these times, only the keyboards console did have any importance in the organ.

But there were other organ builders :

  • Blaise CHAXEL (1765-1843), was born in Fraize, and sat himself up in Herbolzheim in year 1792. He trained his 3 sons to organ building.
    Chaxel is sometimes written "Schaxel".
    François Joseph (1797-1858), who was born (and died) in Herbolzheim, settled in Benfeld between 1821 and 1829, when he returned by his father Blaise. At this time, Antoine Herbuté more or less took up his business in Marckolsheim.
    (More can be found about Chaxel on the page describing the organ in St-Pierre-Bois).
  • Antoine HERBUTÉ (1797-1880), took up business in year 1843, from Marckolsheim, were he used to be an innkeeper. Completely out of favor in Alsace after 1850, he move to Switzerland in 1851, where he is said to have given training to Bernard TSCHANUN.
    He also taught organ building to his son Joseph (1827-?), who is known to have been working in Durrenentzen in 1836.
  • The FRANZ were Swiss, coming from Liesberg. The Franz sat up themselves in Sondersdorf during the first half of the 19th century. Some organ cases they built are still to be seen in Sondersdorf and in Ligdorf.
  • Of course, Joseph MERKLIN "facteur d'orgues a Paris et à Bruxelles" is not Alsacian, but this famous competitor of the even more famous CAVAILLE-COLL (who, in spite of his renown, did only build one organ in Alsace : Mulhouse, St-Etienne), left many "top end" organs in the area, one being his work for Obernai (More information about Merklin can be found on this page).


The 20th century : the "Roethinger stamp"

Edmond-Alexandre ROETHINGER (1866-1953) was a worthy heir of the German 19th century organ building. Trained by März and Koulen, he logically begun with some technical (quality) troubles, but he asserted himself as a great organ builder (Erstein, 1914), the more so as he perfectly managed the turn to the "Alsacian organ reform".

With the money allocated to repair the war damages, the Roethinger factory built a lot of pneumatic action organs, with sophisticated keyboard consoles and zinc pipes.

Max Roethinger (1897-1981), like the others, turned back to mechanical action after 1960. Paradoxically (this is very seldom), it is the last work by Roethinger, in Schiltigheim which is the most achieved and successful.

In year 1921, two organ building masters joined the Roethinger company :

  • Georges SCHWENKEDEL (1885-1958) also did a lot of "pneumatizing" (transforming historical mechanical action organs into "Néo-classic" pneumatic machines). But he had to follow experts, like the others. His son Curt created a lot of excellent instruments, one of his masterpieces being Strasbourg, St-Jean. He also built the organ in the auditorium of the Conservatoire of Strasbourg. He introduced "full wind" (low pressure) voicing, and a bit of Italian style.
  • Ernest MUHLEISEN (1897-1958) took up his own business in 1942. He can be considered as the real instigator of the turn back to Baroque organ building.
    Today, the Muhleisen company is managed by Georges WALTHER, and build organs all through the world.
  • His brother-in-law, Alfred KERN, was his partner until 1953. Kern rebuilt some of the most famous organs in Alsace : Strasbourg, St-Thomas, Strasbourg, Cathedral, or Masevaux, all with a worthy success. His renown spread rapidly and became international. He promoted an organ style inspired by the "Nordic" instruments.
    Today, the "Manufacture d'orgues Alfred Kern & Fils" is managed by Alfred's son, Daniel.
  • The "Manufacture d'Orgues Alsacienne", held by Gaston KERN has collected most of the secrets of the "great" organ builders, especially Callinet and Stiehr. Besides of new organs, this company maintains and rebuilds a lot of organs, in the historical tradition.
  • Yves KOENIG, from Sarre-Union can also be considered as belonging to Roethinger's schooling. The company, performing rebuilding with exceptional mechanical action, and also new organs, is now held by Yves's son, Jean-Yves.
Other today's Alsacian organ builders

Without being exhaustive, because of lack of data, it is possible to mention :

  • Born in 1953, Antoine BOIS was trained in the family business in Colmar (his father was an organ builder too). Entitled to the French BC FO degree, he worked there until 1979. In 1980, he founded his own company in Orbey.
    His Internet homepage is : http://www.rmcnet.fr/orgabois.
  • Richard DOTT has been long working in Munster, but he has now moved to Sélestat. His deeds include some of the most successful organ rebuildings : from Callinet in Bergholtz-Zell, from Rinckenbach in Griesheim-près-Molsheim, the famous Besançon in Schwobsheim, from Roethinger in Stutzheim, from Silbermann in Altorf and above all Colmar, St-Matthieu. He also took part in the restoration of the Silbermann organ in Ebersmunster, with Gaston Kern.
    One of his recent work is the new organ in Ottmarsheim, which replaces in the prestigious octagonal abbey, the Waltrin organ that disappeared in the fire, February 1991.
  • Rémy MAHLER has settled in Pfaffenhoffen. Already the noticed builder of at least thirty new organs (one of them has been displayed to the Musicora exhibition in Paris, 1999 : it has been built for Saint-Etienne de Baïgorry in the Pays Basque). In Alsace, he built the organs in Bretten and Eschbach (near Woerth).
    He earned the Musicora-Artisanat award in May 2000, and he is also entitled to the Chevalier des Art et des Lettres distinction since July 2000. He is building the organ for the National Organ Building Training Center in Eschau.
    His Internet homepage is : http://perso.club-internet.fr/afroel/remy.mahler/.
  • Alfred WILD, from Gottenhouse, founded his company in 1977, he made his training by Peter WIER, in Oberwayer (Lahr, Germany). Specialized in small organs, for studying or concerts, his instrument are known by exceptionally precise mechanical action.