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Art & Culture

Cathedral’s Silbermann organ

Ore Mountains
Albrecht Koch vorm Spieltisch der Silbermann-Orgel

Freiberg cathedral’s Silbermann organ is marking its 300th birthday, providing an excellent reason to celebrate this spectacular instrument

One cannot help but be impressed by this remarkable instrument. With 2,674 pipes and 44 stops, it has always been considered a bold statement in the organ world and remains so to this day. No wonder then that the Council of Freiberg had to dig deep into the town’s coffers in 1711 when it commissioned the instrument from up-and-coming organ builder Gottfried Silbermann. This major project was only his second since completing his organ-building apprenticeship in Alsace, but the young Silbermann was supremely confident about his ability. Writing to the Council nine months before finishing the new organ in 1714, Silbermann proclaimed that his creation would be “unrivalled in Saxony and beyond”.

From rohrflote to krumhorn

Some 300 years later, we can say that he was absolutely right. It may even have been something of an understatement, in fact. According to Albert Koch, “there is probably no comparable instrument anywhere in the world today.” The young president of the Silbermann Society is the cantor at Freiberg cathedral and knows the magnificent organ better than almost anyone else. “What makes this organ so special is that it has survived the past three centuries unscathed and, above all, unchanged,” he says. Elsewhere, organs have had their pitch adjusted over the years to suit the musical tastes of the time, while pipes were altered or simply chopped off in order to obtain a different sound quality. Other organs have been destroyed or lost due to war or fires – but in Freiberg cathedral everything remains exactly as it was. “As such, many of the works from Silbermann’s time can still be heard as originally intended,” explains Koch. He then opens the doors to the console, revealing three manuals and ebony keys, which are partially overlaid with ivory. The 44 wooden knobs on the sides mean organists really can pull out all the stops, while tiny plaques underneath bear inscriptions like “Viola di Gamba”, “Rohrflöt” and “Krumbhorn”. When organists and music lovers begin to arrive in Freiberg in May of this anniversary year, many rarely played registers are certain to be heard once more.

An organ for everyone

Looking at the programme for the 2014 anniversary year, it’s clear that Albrecht Koch and his fellow enthusiasts are not just interested in welcoming the elite of the organ music world. Religious services and gala concerts will be held to mark the anniversary, of course. But there will also be Silbermann organ open day events and guided tours of the organ for children. “We’re well aware that organ music can often seem a bit daunting or overwhelming,” says the cathedral cantor. “That’s why we hope events like these will make it more accessible so people can learn more about this instrument and organ music in general.” When visitors to Freiberg see the ornate gold organ on their cathedral tour in the morning, they are often so impressed that they return in the evening for a concert. Especially popular are Freiberg cathedral’s evening recitals, which have taken place every Thursday at 8.00 p.m. from May to October for 75 years.

pictures: (c) Martin Förster