David Tannenberg, U.S. organ builder
October 10, 2011 1:04 PM   Subscribe

"Oldest surviving organ built in the colonies." Built by David Tannenberg. Its restoration was just completed a few weeks ago.

While there's not much to add to Philip T.D. Cooper's masterful site on Tannenberg and his organs, here are a few side notes that may prove helpful to non-musicians.

One might otherwise think that U.S. organbuilding begins and ends with Aeolian-Skinner symphonic organs (Woolsey Hall) and 20th-century period organs in the North German style (Flentrop at Harvard). But you can hear from the sound files on the site that Tannenberg is something else entirely.

When you listen to the Tannenberg instruments, you might think, "whoa, that is one whistly organ," for lack of a more technical term. But keep in mind he was not going for the "North German" Schnitger sound (Groningen, 1730-ish), but instead for the more woodwindy Thuringian sound (Trost at Waltershausen, 1741).

A complete collection of sound files and still pictures is already on Cooper's site, but here are some movies, which for me add a lot.

1770, Zion Moselem. Interview and playing during (not after) the restoration.

1793, Lititz Moravian. This is how the bellows work.

1798, Old Salem Single Brothers' House. Music and explanation from the organist.

1800, Old Salem Visitors' Center.

1804, York, PA. Interview and music.

You also don't have to be a musician to hear that the 1770 Tannenberg (and others) is at a higher pitch than your average modern organ. Leaving aside questions of temperament that I am in no way qualified to discuss, the A above middle C on most modern instruments (organ and not) is set at 440 Hertz. The A on the 1770 Tannenberg is set at 458.2 Hz, or between A and A sharp on a modern instrument.

Times were different then; Cooper's site reports that "it was decided [during the restoration] to tune the Tannenberg in one of the temperaments designed by Georg Andreas Sorge and given in a table in his treatise that he sent to Tannenberg." Sorge was a musician and music theorist; the treatise that Tannenberg had isn't available online, but another book with his observations on theory, which appears to be geared to the general musician because I can make some sense of it, is here (in German).
posted by skbw (14 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
That first webpage is also from 1770!

I keed--excellent post.
posted by LarryC at 1:44 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

My first though was "someone built a kidney or a liver 200 years ago?"
That's what I get for not RTFA.

Anyway, neat post. Organs are fascinating and beautiful instruments.
posted by dogmom at 1:46 PM on October 10, 2011

I love pipe-organs. They seem to exist outside of time; always seeming both antique and at the same time, weirdly modern.

It'd be so cool to build one, but I can't see any way of doing that without going fully over to the evil-overlord-on-the-hill-terrorizing-the-villagers-in-the-night stereotype I've been trying to avoid.

Also: The oldest colony organ? I was sure this was going to be a post about the Quaking Aspen.
posted by quin at 1:52 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, quin, I have the same thoughts re: evil overlord, but this guy has built several and looks more normal than I ever will. Then there is this other guy, previously.
posted by skbw at 2:00 PM on October 10, 2011

Sorry, one more link: bellows on the 1800 Old Salem Visitors' Center organ. (The peanut gallery is particularly funny.)
posted by skbw at 2:05 PM on October 10, 2011

I always thought this was the oldest, but just discovered it wasn't built in the colonies.
posted by 4ster at 2:08 PM on October 10, 2011

Crimony. Link is here.
posted by 4ster at 2:09 PM on October 10, 2011

1770 Zion Moselem pre-restoration. Link under "WATCH:" at the top of the article.
posted by skbw at 2:34 PM on October 10, 2011

Wow! Wonderful organ. Comprehensive post.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:41 PM on October 10, 2011

I wondered if an old organ I once had opportunity to play would be on this list, but a little research shows that no, I'm not even close. This organ was from the 1840's and thus a relative newcomer.

And so a short, almost relevant, story: Some years back I had an opportunity to assist on an archeological dig in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina. since I am the sort of person who jumps at these opportunities instead of doing sensible things like going to the beach and meeting girls, I went, slept in a silo and dug through around 5,000 years of Southeastern US history. We were bivouacked in the middle of a wasteland of old rice fields, but one of the locals in the nearby town of Society Hill had us over a once during the week so we could eat in the comfort of electrical light. At this evening's dinner, I happened to end up chatting with a nice lady about mules (which I knew a bit about from my time working at the Jack Daniel's distillery), South Carolina history, and music. When she discovered I could play (well, hack is more accurate) she invited me to play the organ (12 ranks, I think, maybe 14? it's a bit of a blur...) at the old church she was caretaker for (this one I think).

Me and some of the other grubby archeologists wandered over to the church, where by the light of flashlights, I got to belt out Bach's "Toccta and Fugue in D Minor" and "When the Campbells Come Marching Home", while the others got to have fun trying to keep the bellows in time with my wildly vacillating time signatures. It was my first time playing an old, non-mechanically pumped pipe organ and I remember the sound of the organ echoing off the old masonry walls of the church and mingling with our laughter because the tone of the organ sounded almost as intoxicated as we were. There's a joy to playing old instruments, and I've played many older than myself, but never another as old as that one, and certainly that's the only time I've felt a kinship with something that old and large, because how many people can say they've played an instrument as drunk as they were?
posted by 1f2frfbf at 2:43 PM on October 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

This interests me.
posted by chavenet at 3:46 PM on October 10, 2011

So sending this to my dad! In his retirement, he's seen fit to start helping out with a local organ restorer. He helped do one at one of the local high schools, and got a pipe from what was no longer usable at the ceremony introducing the restoration. I think they're working on a church organ restoration now. Organs are pretty cool, and I think it's awesome that he goes out once a week for a day and mucks around with them so they work again.
posted by susanbeeswax at 10:43 PM on October 10, 2011

there was an older organ posted to the blue a couple of years ago...
posted by russm at 11:59 PM on October 10, 2011

Sumptuous post, so much to digest! Can't wait to spend more time with this. Well done.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:53 AM on October 11, 2011

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