With its over 300 instruments, the vivid and colorful organ landscape of Hamburg is unique. Originally restored or reconstructed organs of the 16th and 17th centuries stand adjacent to the organs of the romantic period, silent film era, as well as the most memorable instruments from the time of German reconstruction between 1950 and 1970.
365 days a year it is possible to encounter organ music of all epochs in Hamburg. In daily prayers, short concerts, guides, concert series and church services. Organ music and its performances are an essential part of the cultural life in Hanseatic city. The repertoire compasses from early music to the music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Not to overlook the art of inventing music on the spot, the improvisation, which tradition nowadays are still kept by jazz musicians and organists.
Since 1990 the organ landscape developed immensely on a high level through the uppermost quality and value of reconstruction and restoration: in Niendorf, Volksdorf, Altona, Blankenese, Othmarschen, Poppenbüttel, Bergstedt, Harvestehude, Langenhorn, Harburg and in major churches. One of the most modern achievements made in Elbphilharmonie and in a church in Stellingen displays once again the wide spectrum in its accomplishment, ranging from a concert hall organ to an organ in a city district. A huge willingness to donate for such projects demonstrates the unbroken fascination towards the organ in the society of this Hanseatic city. This makes Hamburg an organ city of particular reputation.
Organ building and world heritage
There had been organ builders for more than 500 years in this city. The most significant and representative organ building tradition of Northern Germany is that of Arp Schnitger, whose influence remains until today. Over one hundred organs passed through his workshops, thirty of them, which are preserved along the coastal landscape of North Sea. Two of his most important instruments are located in Hamburg, in St. Jacobi and in St. Pankratius Neuenfelde, restored true to its originals. The grave of Arp Schnitger is also found next to his workshop in the village of Neuenfelde in Hamburg. Even nowadays the organ building traditions are well preserved in Hamburg. And based on this alive tradition, the organ building society was nominated as a part of intangible world heritage in 2017.
Organisten with world reputation
Hamburg organists are world renowned. The masters of 16th and 17th Centuries, such as Matthias Weckmann, Heinrich Scheidemann or Johann Adam Reincken are the legendary figures of Hamburg in north German organ school. on the organs of St. Jacobi and St. Katharinen it is still possible to authentically perform, listen and learn these traditions.
Currently there are around 150 organists, who manage the music of this city. Many of them perform abroad internationally and are honored for their artistic achievements. And with the appointment of Elbphilharmonie’s titular organist Iveta Apkalna, the organ performance in 2018 received an additional publicity.
Furthermore, Hamburg is privileged to announce two of the most significant professors of the 20th and 21st century, Heinz Wunderlich and Wolfgang Zerer.
Composers on the organ
Tradition and Innovation converge in Hamburg: The great composers, for example Telemann, C.P.E. Bach, Mendelssohn and Brahms wrote works for the organ in this very city. Organists of the 20thcentury, such as Gerd Zacher and Sigmund Szathmary, made substantial contributions to the development of contemporary organ music starting from Hamburg.
Text: Hans-Jürgen Wulf
Orgel-Illustration: Thorsten Bauer