At the east end of the cathedral the situation towards the end of the 18th century is a little difficult to disentangle, partly owing to Palme’s apparent misreading of the situation. Johann Christian BurgmĂŒller, organist from 1766 until 1776 (and thus to be credited also with Treutmann’s work on the main organ), wrote, according to Palme, who cites sources which are no longer to be found, to the chapter in 1767 that “the small organ has been in use for 232 years”, which leads Palme, who calculates a date of 1535 for the instrument. In fact, it is quite obviously the M. Michael which is meant; BurgmĂŒller’s predecessor (and Tegetmeyer’s successor) August Bernhard Valentin Herbing had complained of the amount of work it cost him to keep the organ playable. Palme then quotes a specification, copied from BurgmĂŒller’s letter, which he assumes to be the organ of which BurgmĂŒller wishes to be rid:
His observation, “A specification like this in 1535!?” is quite amusing with hindsight. In fact this is very probably a second-hand organ which BurgmĂŒller wished to buy. He writes that he will have no useable choir organ for the Lenten music due to begin in six months, and that that is insufficient time to procure a new instrument. The Michael organ was sold to the nearby town of Burg, the highest bidder, for 155 Taler in 1767 and removed from the cathedral in the following year, according to an old inscription quoted by Koch, which he could apparently just still read in 1815.
An organ was then bought from a dealer named Chuston; it had cost 500 Taler new and was acquired for 360. This seems to served until 1807, when the chapter’s official organ builder Johann David Hamann from GroĂ Ottersleben built a new two manual intrument at the request of BurgmĂŒller’s successor Johann Friedrich Ludwig Sievers, who however did not live to see it completed. Its specification can be found here.
The organs are certainly unlikely to have escaped Napoleon’s occupation of Magdeburg from 1806 until 1814, during which the cathedral was used as a barn and stable, unscathed. The case of the main organ, at least, was however still extant when the cathedral was restored by Karl Friedrich Schinkel from 1826 -1834. In fact, Schinkel did not so much “restore” the building as put it into a state conforming to an idea of the “pure gothic” in which it had never been. This included the removal of all mural paintings, except in the Ernstkapelle. No wonder, then, that the organ case had to go. The choir was moved from the screen to the west gallery, which was in some way which is not clear enlarged or rebuilt, the scholars’ choir and choir organ removed, and the main organ rebuilt. The case was removed and stored in the south tower until after the Second World War, when it was used as heating material. Only the golden cock, and possibly one other wooden figure whose provenance is less certain, remain as testimony to this magnificent facade. The rooster served "Aktion Neue Domorgeln" as a mascot, and a replica has been included in the new west organ.
A new case was designed by a carpenter named Schumann, and apparently approved by Schinkel. We know nothing of the state of the organ itself at this time. Apparently the work was done by Johann David Hamman’s son Theodor. It must, however, have been extensive, for the organ has lost its RĂŒckpositiv.
The Schumann / Schinkel case of 1830
The appointment of August Gottfried Ritter (1811-1885) as cathedral organist in 1847 made Magdeburg a centre of activity in the organ world. Ritter, who was born in Erfurt and was organist of the cathedral in Merseburg for a short time before coming to Magdeburg, was one of the most well-known organ virtuosi of his time, a noted composer and improviser, and also organ consultant to the king of Prussia (Magdeburg was at that time capital of the Prussian province of Saxony.) Liszt, whom he knew well, admired him greatly. Under these circumstances it was no wonder that plans for a new instrument using the reworked 1830 case (some some filials and some ornamental grid work in the base of the case were added, and it was painted dark green) were soon under way. (See picture below)
The builder chosen for this prestigious project was Adolph Reubke, father of the composer Julius (a member of Franz Liszt's Weimar circle), who had his workshop in Hausneindorf in the Harz mountains about 60 kilometres away. He planned and built a four-manual instrument with 81 stops between 1856 and 1861. A fifth manual division without its own keyboard but playable from the third manual was added somewhat later. A peculiarity of the instrument was that the console was located inside the case, behind the front pipes, facing east. The organ had mechanical action and Barker machines. Ritter seems to have been very satisfied with it, although Palme reports that it never worked very well (Reubke was indeed self-taught as an organ-builder; by profession and training he was a piano maker) : "One sat at this organ as though on a stubborn horse, and was glad to escape without accident". (See “Zeitschrift fĂŒr Instrumentenbau”, 1908, XXIX: R. Palme “Die Orgelwerke Magdeburgs, einst und jetzt”)
The recognisably classical principle of the instrument was still acceptable, even desirable, to an organist of Ritter's generation, although even during his lifetime he was forced to fight many battles with organ builders who were unwilling to build the repeating mixtures on which he, as a an influential consultant, still insisted. Rudolph Palme, who succeeded Ritter as Royal organ consultant for the province of Saxony, criticised a number of issues, including the fact that Reubke had recycled Compenius pipework, as he did in other instruments as well; Palme regarded these as too small scaled, and remarked that the organ lacked not only “unity of scale” but also was in fact generally underscaled for the large building.
Ritter’s successor Theophil Forchhammer's ideas of good contemporary organ-building were quite different, and seem to have corresponded well with those of Palme, and in 1906 he was able to commission an entirely new organ from Ernst RĂ¶ver, who had taken over Reubke's firm in Hausneindorf. This organ had only 3 manuals, but exactly 100 stops. Palme praised its quick and precise pneumatic action and wrote ," The majesty of the full organ, with its full basses (including three 32' stops) is truly overwhelming in its power, fullness and nobility, and fills the immense spaces to the furthest corner." It was housed in the Reubke case, which was however moved slightly higher and backwards on the gallery so as to leave space for the cathedral choir. That the picture below shows the RĂ¶ver organ is clear from the fact that the console is visible.
32 years later Reichsorgelrevisor and musical director of the university of Erlangen, Georg Kempff, brother of the pianist Wilhelm, wrote in a report on the organ that it was “capable of nothing but roaring and whispering”. His conclusion: since an organ "gains its power from high-pitched mixtures", there was nothing to be done except to demolish it. It proved to be unnecessary, however; the bombings of January 1945, which destroyed 80% of the city, spared the west front of the cathedral and the organ, but an apparently deliberately targeted bomb placed between the towers by a low-flying pilot on 17th February of the same year ripped a large hole in the west facade and caused the collapse of the vaulting directly above the organ (supporting the so-called “carpenters’ level”. Tons of masonry collapsed and destroyed RĂ¶vers’ huge patent windchests (“Kastenladen”). Photos of a few years later show the largely intact case still standing, but it is clearly empty. Remaining material was collected and the organ removed by the local organ builder Felix Brandt. Plans to use some pipe metal for the the organ which Karl Schuke was to build in the undamaged “Remter” in 1949 came to nothing for the seemingly absurd reason that no boxes were available for packing the pipes in, in prepration for the transport to Potsdam. But the legend that the organ was directly hit and was burned is plainly untrue: the gaping hole in the west front is in fact one story too high.
The cathedral was to remain closed until 1957, and the great west gallery destined to stand empty for 60 years. The “Remter” of the cathedral, allegedly once the refectory in the east wing of the cloisters, was pressed into service by the congregation as a temporary measure - a temporary measure which is still in force today, as the cathedral has never regained a heating system. This very attractive long but low gothic hall is not ideal for the needs of a worshipping congregation, but in the bombed-out city there was little alternative.
In 1946 a small two-manual romantic period instrument (FurtwĂ€ngler und Hammer) from the hall of the cathedral was acquired on loan and moved into the Remter by Felix Brandt. For the first postwar cathedral organist Gerhard Bremsteller this could not be more than a temporary measure, and he began negotiations in the same year with the aim of securing a larger organ for this room. The Schuke firm from Potsdam was chosen to carry out the work; of the two sons of the firm's founder Alexander, Hans-Joachim was still in Russian captivity, so that the planning fell to Karl Schuke, who later left the family firm in the hands of his brother and set up his own company, "Berliner Orgelbauwerkstatt Karl Schuke", in West Berlin.
The Remter, looking northwards, The Schuke organ of 1949 can be seen at the far end.
Schuke wished at first to build a 22-stop, 2 manual instrument with RĂŒckpositiv, using the height offered by building directly under the highest point of the vaulting. In the end, however, he agreed to fulfill Bremsteller's wishes and construct a 3-manual organ with 29 stops against the north wall. This means that the most interesting part of the facade, the little “Oberwerk”, is directly behind a pillar and not visible in its entirety from anywhere in the room. The specification of the organ, which was completed in 1949, would seem typical of a neo-baroque instrument, but the narrow mouths and flues and very high cut-ups of its principals gave it a fluty, slightly woolly and imprecise sound, far removed from the exaggerated brightness favoured by other builders of the period. Some found the lack of hardness in the tone pleasant, but the quite narrow scales did not provide any great carrying power in the difficult room, and the lack of harmonic development in the tone of the foundations made it difficult to bind the large mixtures into the tonal concept. Another picture.
The organ was beset with tonal and mechanical problems from the start; a major rebuild of the Hauptwerk action became necessary as early as 1959, although it was only carried out in 1964. Subsequent cleanings, restorations and maintanance attempts, the last in 1992, could not prevent the organ, which had been declared an historical monument in 1987, from becoming unusable in 1995; a new heating system had dried out the atmosphere in the room to an extent which had caused extensive splitting in the chests, so that runnings and cyphers were a constant problem. A decision was taken by the cathedral council not to repair the organ but to replace it temporarily with an electronic instrument, pending agreement with the Landesamt fĂŒr Denkmalpflege as to the future of the instrument. In 2007, permission to remove the organ from the Remter, which was about to be renovated, was finally granted after a reshuffle of competencies by the newly responsible lower authority, and the instrument was removed to an organ museum in Bavaria in July of that year. It has since gone to Poland, where its case has been widened and has received new front pipes. Picture.
An account of the history of the instrument and the long squabbles with the monuments authority (in German) can be read here.
After the repairs to the cathedral had been more or less completed in 1955, Gerhard Bremsteller began negotiations for the building of a large, electric action organ on the west gallery, with a smallish "Gegenorgel" on the "Bischofsgang", the triforium of the choir. This was to have mechanical action, but also to be electrically playable from the console of the main organ, nearly 120 metres away. Tenders were called for from a number of firms, including Schuke, Jehmlich and Eule. A number of problems arose, however; amongst them the following:
- the commission for historic buildings was not prepared to allow the building of an organ in either of these positions, even though historically organs had stood there for at least most of the 750 years of the cathedral's history.
- the cathedral has been the property of the state since the Prussian secularisation of 1830. This meant that the state was responsible for the organ and for the financial aspects of the project. Obviously the communist government was not especially interested, but did in fact provide a certain amount of money annually for some years, with the proviso that the money had to be spent within the year. Since there was never enough to complete the organ, and since the necessary materials could not be acquired within the allocated time span, the contract was never awarded.
- the official diocesan organ consultant at the time, Willi Strube, warned (mistakenly) that acoustic considerations made it inadvisable ever to build another instrument on the west gallery.
In the meantime the cathedral obtained the use of an undistinguished electro-pnuematic organ by the Schuster firm from Zittau. This organ had been constructed for the Heilig-Geist-Kirche, the first of Magdeburg's five inner-city gothic parish churches to be reconstructed after the war. The Heilig-Geist-Kirche was, however, imploded in the fifties, together with the ruins of the Katharinen-, Ulrichs- and Jakobskirchen, so that the organ was redundant. It was set up in the south aisle, where it remained until 1970, when it was removed, without its case, its 16’ Pedal open, or the pipes of the 8’ principal or 4’ octave which had been in the case front, to the Nikolaikirche in the "Neue Neustadt". There it will soon make way for a new instrument.
The present organs