Gregor Simon - Die Silbermann-Orgeln in Dresden und in Villingen

Die Silbermann-Orgeln Die Silbermann-Orgeln in Dresden und in Villingen
Gregor Simon


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
1. Toccata und anhören
2. Fuge d-Moll, BWV 565 anhören

François Couperin (1668-1733)
Kyrie aus der "Messe solemnelle a l'usage des paroisses"
3. Plein chant du premier Kyrie, en taille anhören
4. Couplet: Fugue sur les jeux d'anches anhören
5. Couplet: Récit de Cromome anhören
6. Couplet: Dialogue sur la Trompette et le Cromome anhören
7. Dernier Kyrie, Plein chant anhören

Johann Sebastian Bach
8. "Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ" BWV 649 anhören

Louis-Nicolas Clérambault (1676-1748)
Suite du deuxieme Ton
9. Plein Jeu anhören
10. Duo anhören
11. Trio anhören
12. Basse de Cromome anhören
13. Flûtes anhören
14. Récit de Nazard anhören
15. Caprice sur les Grand Jeux anhören

Arnolt Schlick (ca. 1455-1525)
16. Da pacem ("Gib Frieden"): 3. cantus firmus im Baß anhören

François Couperin
Kyrie aus der "Messe à l'usage des couvents"
17. Premier Kyrie - Plein Jeu anhören
18. Couplet - Fugue sur la Trompette anhören
19. Christe - Récit de Cromome anhören
20. Couplet Kyrie - Trio a deux dessus de Cromome et la Basse de Tierce anhören
21. Couplet Kyrie - Dialogue sur la Trompette du Grand Clavier et sur la Montre, le Bourdon et le Nazard du Positif anhören

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
22. Adagio Es-Dur aus der Klaviersonate B-Dur, KV 570 anhören

Johann Sebastian Bach
23. "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland", BWV 661 anhören

The Silbermann Organs in Dresden and Villingen

Gregor Simon

Uncle and Nephew: Gottfried and Johann Andreas Silbermann

The organs produced in the workshops of the Silbermann family in Alsace and in Saxony are counted among the peak achievements in the history of European organ building.

Andreas Silbermann (1678 – 1734) was initially trained in his homeland as a carpenter. Around 1700 he moved to Strasbourg, then the main centre of French-Alsatian organ building. Here he entered the organ-building workshop of Friedrich Ring; in 1701 he started his own business.

Gottfried Silbermann (1683 – 1753), the younger brother of Andreas, also began by completing an apprenticeship as carpenter, following which he followed his brother to Strasbourg, where he learned from him the art of organ construction, and collaborated with him in the building of four organs. 1704 till 1706 Gottfried oversaw his brother’s workshop, while the latter was away in Paris. 1710 he founded his own workshop, which a year later he transferred to Saxony. 1714 he completed the large organ in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Freiberg. He built 46 instruments in Saxony and Thuringia.

Johann Andreas Silbermann (1712 – 1783) learned the craft from his father Andreas Silbermann. After the latter’s death in 1734 he took over the workshop and built organs in Neubreisach, Marbach, and Strasbourg, among others. A study tour in 1741 brought him to Saxony and Berlin, where he made the aquaintance of instruments built by his uncle Gottfried and by Johann Wagner. Altogether 54 organs in Alsace, Baden, in the Black Forest, and in Switzerland are ascribed to Johann Andreas Silbermann. None of the instruments he built still exist in their original form.

Gottfried Silbermann’s organ in the Cathedral (Hofkirche) in Dresden

At the end of July 1750 Gottfried Silbermann closed the contract with the royal court in Dresden. On account of poor health he delegated the supervision of the work to his apprentice Zacharias Hildebrandt. On August 4, 1753 Silbermann passed away in Dresden. His successor as party to the contract with the court was his nephew and sole heir, Johann Daniel. While the other workers continued with the construction of the organ, Hildebrandt and his son terminated their activity in the Hofkirche and began work on a new instrument in Dresden-Neustadt.

It was not until February 2, 1755 that the organ in the Hofkirche was finally consecrated. It is not known who did the voicing. Significant tonal and technical changes were made in 1937. In 1944 a large part of the organ was removed from the church. Case, blowers and other parts burned inside the church in 1945. The restoration was undertaken between 1961 and 1971 by the Jehmlich brothers (Dresden). A second restoration attempting to come closer to the sound and the action of the original instrument was undertaken 2001-2 by Jehmlich Ogelbau Dresden and by Kristian Wegscheider (Dresden).

From the classical French organ-building tradition Gottfried Silbermann adopted the plentiful selection of aliquots and cornets. At first he also adopted the their manner of constructing reeds, which extended to a Fagott 16’ in the manual, which latter was however never built in France. On the other hand, he eschewed the Rückpositiv, while his labial dispositions included, in addition to principals and Rohrgedackt, such quintessentially German stops as Quintadena and Sptitzflöt, as well as 1’ pitch. Whereas the palette of "liebliche" 8’ stops remained quite restricted, especially when compared with his Central German contemporaries.
Gottfried Silbermann liked to characterize his Hauptwerks as "profound", his other manual divisions as either "delicate and sweet", or as "sharp and penetrating". His pedal divisions he liked to refer to as "powerful and cutting through".

Johann Andreas Silbermann’s organ in the Benedictine church in Villingen

The construction of a new organ by the Strasbourg builder Johann Andreas Silbermann for the imperial (Holy Roman Empire) abbey of St. George of the Benedictine monks in Villingen was a significant historical juncture, not only for the town of Villingen (which at that time was located in a peripheral area of the Austrian Empire), but also for the entire south-west German cultural sphere. Villingen thus acquired the status of meeting point between the French organ-building tradition left of the Rhine, and the south German tradition, which, in the 18 century, in an area largely under the influence of the Habsburg empire, extended from Mainz to Prague, Vienna, and Hungary, as well as from the Main River down to the Italian cultural sphere.

Following an initiative of the Prior, Coelestin Wahl, a contract was closed on January 14, 1751 between Silbermann and the abbot of the Villingen monastery, Hieronymus Schuh. This, the first instrument built by Johann Andreas Silbermann east of the Rhine, acquired, soon after its completion in 1752, a key role in the organ landscape of south-western Germany. In the years following, Silbermann received orders for no fewer than eleven new organs, among these his largest opus in the Benedictine monastery of St. Blasien.
The monks in Villingen had hardly more than five decades in which to delight in their precious and impressive Silbermann organ. After the disbanding of the convent (necessitated by the enforced secularisation of the time), the Grand Duke Karl Friedrich of Baden ordered the organ to be taken apart, and transported to his royal seat of Karlsruhe, to be re-erected in the newly completed Protestant town church there. There it became, over the years, the victim of numerous rebuilds and revisions reflecting the various musical tastes of the succeeding epochs. The church, together with its organ, burned to the ground in 1944 during a bombing raid on Karlsruhe.

With the total reconstruction of this lost organ by the Alsatian builder Gaston Kern, this Silbermann creation has finally, 250 years after the completion of the original, returned to its original home in the Villingen Benedictine Abbey. The festive consecration took place on September 21, 2002.

Comparison of the two organs

One’s attention is immediately caught by the almost contemporaneous time of construction (1750 – 1755; 1751 – 52), as well as by the identical year of completion of the restoration (2002).

If one hears both instruments in tandem, which of course the present CD makes possible, one can immediately hear that one is dealing with members of the same family, or at least close relations. A clear, direct sound, rich in overtones, marked by the French-Alsatian cultural tradition.

However, the Gottfried Silbermann organ in Dresden has a more virile sound; fuller, profounder, but also drier and nobler. The Johann Andreas Silbermann instrument in Villingen by contrast could be characterized as more supple and slender; lighter, sweeter, "galant". This not only reflects the South German organ tradition; it also is more appropriate to the post-Baroque "galant" style, to which the younger nephew no doubt felt more affinity than would have his older uncle. In addition however, it should not be overlooked that the Dresden instrument had to have a more powerful sound, since it had to fill a considerably larger space.

Nonetheless, the Villingen organ is not lacking in sparkle and splendour, no less than the Dresden instrument is lacking in grace or charm (e.g. with the stop "Unda maris" i.e. "ocean wave", in Clérambault’s "Flûtes").

The Programme

We begin with four works performed on the Silbermann organ in Dresden, followed by four works done on the instrument in Villingen.

The proportion of durations Dresden/Villingen is 3:2, which corresponds roughly to the "Golden Mean", which is a proportion of general importance in art, but especially during the Baroque.

At the same time, there is a symmetry in the sequence of works performed:
1. Two dramatic works by Bach frame the whole programme.
2. The opening Bach is as long as the closing Mozart and Bach combined.
3. A further, more internal frame is formed by the two (again equally long) Kyrie-suites by Couperin.
4. The centerpiece is the Suite by Clérambault.
5. Preceding and following this we hear short pieces by Bach and Schlick, respectively.

Whereas the main composers of the programme (Bach, Couperin, and Cléramboult are contemporaries, Schlick provides a foray into the remoter past, while Mozart allows us to peer into the not-so-distant future.

The first part of the programme has three works in minor keys and one in major; the second half reverses this.

The sequence of keys also displays a certain planfulness:
d – d – Bflat – g/G – G – Eflat – g (finishing in G)

Regarding the affinity of music and instrument:

The works of Johann Sebastian Bach may well posess, more than perhaps those of any other composer, such profound spirutual greatness and compositional perfection, that they transcend considerations of sound. In other words: Bach can elicit rapture and goose pimples, regardless of which instrument he is performed on. Nonetheless, one cannot completely fight off the impression that an organ like that of Gottfried Silbermann does an especially good job of speaking Bach’s language. Is it not a similar "I am what I am" that relates the music of the latter to the tonal palette of the former? It is no doubt not just a coincidence that Bach and Gottfried Silbermann stayed in close touch for many years.

The fact that the compositions of a Couperin or a Clérambault fit like hand in glove to the Silbermann organs may have its cause in the strong French inspiration influencing the latter (including the “Saxon” Gottfried).

The stylistic affinity of the cited French composers, and Schlick, who after all is 200 years older, and German to boot, may surprise – but this affinity is reflected in affinity to Silbermann!

Finally: Mozart’s Adagio – actually a piano composition – is splendidly well served by the sweeter stops of the organ in Villingen!


A special thanks is owed to Thomas Lennartz, cathedral organist in Dresden, as well as to Christian Schmitt, regional Cantor, and to Mr. Ulrich Kolberg, Chairman of the Board of the Foundation "Johann-Andreas-Silbermann-Organ", Villingen Thanks also to Mr. Udo Pellmann (Dresden) and Mr. Christian Schmitt (Villingen) for the release of the photographs.

Gregor Simon received his "A" diploma in Church Music in Saarbrücken and Munich, and studied music theory in Detmold. After completion of his studies he was for several years deanery organist and church musician in Stuttgart; from 2002 till 2012 he was church musician in Laupheim and deanery Cantor for Ochsenhausen-Illertal. Since 2013 he has been freelance organist.
His compositions have received several prizes and citations.
In 2008 Gregor Simon recorded with the Opal Verlag in Kassel a CD with compositions by Bach, Couperin, Franck, Widor, Reger, Simon, as well as improvisations. On this CD one can hear famous organs such as the Gabler instrument in Weingarten, the Walcker organ in Ulm, or the Silbermann organ in Dresden.

More about Gregor Simon (PDF)

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