Emile RUPP (1872-1948) was organist in Strasbourg :
He gave more than 2000 organ concerts, among which 1400 Sunday concerts, in St-Paul. He was thus a major actor of these day's musical life in Strasbourg.
Adolphe GESSNER (1864-1919) was an organ and church music teacher in the "Conservatoire" (music school) in Strasbourg (since 1886). He was Rupp's "natural competitor", because he had in charge of the organ in :
The "experts" (organ assessors)
In the late 19 th century, there was clearly a feeling of "modernity" in the organ building (as well as in everywhere else). In fact, less in organ building than in the requests of the decision-makers, and the way the public expense was controlled :
However, the assessors were well aided by some parish priests (like MEYER in Ergersheim, who insisted on the alteration of the Silbermann organ in Altorf).
New organ builders
At the same time, the organ builder had changed, too. The industrial age brought some new
techniques, above all for wind-chests (everything had to be pneumatic), but also concerning the
tonal design (for example, Cavaillé-Coll's technique to differentiate wind pressures was
diverted to enable very high pressures)
After 1870 (and until 1918), Alsace became part of Germany. Thus, German companies, mastering new technologies, had access to the organs :
Now, during these days in Germany, organ building was no more really craft work. Huge instruments could be built, and companies were adapted to mass production : the famous "Fabrikorgeln", assembled and pre-voiced in the factory.
In France, maybe because there was less money, things were still different. The century had been marked by Cavaillé-Coll (1811-1899) ("the greatest organ builder in the world", this time according to the French experts), and also Joseph Merklin (1819-1905), who proved to make quality organs. By patriotism, organs were ordered to Cavaillé-Coll and Merklin (Mulhouse, St-Etienne, Strasbourg, Temple-neuf, Dambach-la-ville, Obernai, ...) but at very high prices, compared to the quotation of the local organ builder to build quality organs.
Besides all that during these days, there was (unfortunately) a lot of money to spend...
In 1893-97, it was decided to wreck the Silbermann organ in the Cathedral of Strasbourg
just to give some business to Heinrich Koulen.
In year 1899 Weigle built an organ in Strasbourg, St-Maurice, the catholic garrison church.
At the same time, the Silbermann organs in Marmoutier and
Ebersmunster were re-discovered. They had been kept authentic
because there was not enough money there to alter them.
The organ in St-Maurice as "Weigle system" wind-chests, but (and it was more straightforward) also
high pressure ("Hochdruck") stops.
In the "Fabrikorgeln" (phenomenon which did not, hopefully, concern Alsace), this "cheap" trick
was already used to build "small but strong" instruments. Obviously, the result is loud but not fine.
The Weigle organ in St-Maurice had 42 stops, on 4 divisions (3 keyboards). Three high-pressure stops were present in the great organ : a "Stentorphon 8'", a "Tuba mirabilis 8'" and a "Grosgedeckt 8'". A "Solo Gamba" completed them from the positif organ.
In 1942, these very loud stops were removed by Roethinger and replaced by a zinc reed choir. Fortunately, the high-pressure stops built by Roethinger in Erstein are still there, and this organ is being restored. These are now the only high-pressure stops in Alsace.
Rupp wrote many papers, with the slogan "Ad fontes". The first of them, called Hochdruck, was an indictment of high pressure. It was published in "Zeitchrift für Instrumentenbau", Paul DE WIT's journal (Leiptzig, 1899). This paper was directly justified by the WEIGLE organ in Strasbourg, St-Mattihieu and the decibels it was able to produce.
At the other hand, only the "modern" German organ building was valuable for Gessner.
(i.e. the often huge instruments designed to play the German Romantic composers.)
In year 1901, Gessner commended that the reed stops shall be substituted for
"Labialstimmen", which he had more or less invented, and which were hopefully
more or less forgotten. It must be said in his defense that in 1901, everybody
had to invent something.
In year 1901, Rupp published, again in "Zeitchrift für Instrumentenbau", a paper
called "Cavaillé-Coll und des deutsche Orgelbau" (Cavaillé-Coll and German organ building).
In year 1906, began the publication of "Die Orgel der Zukunft" (the organ of the future).
After 1905, Albert SCHWEITZER (1875-1965) more of less subscribed to Rupp's ideas. In fact, Rupp did first have an opposite view from Schweitzer's, as pointed out in many papers of the "Die Orgel der Zukunft" set, because Rupp first wanted an organ to be the synthesis of... a lot of things. Then, after 1908, Rupp and Schweitzer shared the same point of view. Meanwhile, they got to know each other : in 1908, Albert Schweitzer chaired the committee for the design of the organ in the "Palais des Fêtes" (a concert hall) in Strasbourg. Rupp was a member of this committee (Together with Marie-Joseph ERB, the expert who compelled Martin and Joseph RINCKENBACH to build pneumatic action organs - and, even worse, to alter mechanical action organs -.)
The change in many people's minds produced by Rupp and Schweitzer was later called
"Réforme alsacienne de l'Orgue" (the Alsacian organ reform).
For new organs, this first consisted in designing "synthesis" organs, supposed to be able to
play "anything" (but nothing correctly).
For historical organs, it was even worse, because they had to be "improved", and most of them
were completely altered or destroyed on this pretext.
Emile Rupp wrote in year 1910 the paper "Die elsaëssich-neudeutsche Orgelreform", in "Die Orgel", giving its official name to the movement.
In year 1912, Gessner wrote "Zur elsëssisch-neudeutschen Ordelreform. Ein Wort der Kritik und Abwehr" ("About the Alsacian/German organ building reform. A word of criticism and defense"). The criticism is against the Dalstein-Haerpfer organ in Strasbourg, "Palais des Fêtes", the instrument designed by Albert Schweitzer and his committee (with Emile Rupp), which had "pipe scales copied from the Silbermann organ in St-Thomas". (1). The work (also done by Dalstein-Haerpfer) on this historical organ was also criticized.
Gessner often replied to Rupp and his sympathizers (Fidelis BOESER) in "Vaterland",
a newspaper published in Lucerne, Switzerland. After many written sparring matches, the newspaper
invited the fight to be continued in the professional press. The so called fight thus
went on in "Zeitchrift für Instrumentenbau", were it turned even worse :
But the movement was launched, or accompanied (leading ideas often spring up simultaneously in more than one place, just because "it's time") :
In year 1925 Rupp designed his ideal organ, built by ROETHINGER (III/Ped, 62 stops, electropneumatic action) in Strasbourg, synagogue (the organ was dismantled in 1940 and pieces were broken up).
In year 1929, Rupp published "Entwicklungsgeschichte der Orgelbaukunst" (where he more or less sums up "Die Orgel des Zukunft").
Maybe that Gessner had the feeling that Rupp was not really sincere in his idea of "going back" to Silbermann. Rupp, and even more Marie-Joseph ERB went on ordering the "pneumatizing" the finest organs. Moreover, they did not help those among the organ builder who insisted on building mechanical action and choir organs (STIEHR or WETZEL). Faithful to these techniques, or resenting to destroy historical organs, then were compelled to stop their business.