Day 3 Pipedreams Tour (Lueneburg & Hamburg)

Joe Vitacco at the Hamburg Jacobikirche

Day 3 – Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Today was a significant day, a trip to Lueneburg and churches that Johann Sebastian Bach knew in his youth – Michaeliskirche and Johanniskirche.  At the age of 14, Johann Sebastian Bach was awarded a choral scholarship to study at the Michaeliskirche, but when his voiced changed a short while later, he continued in Lueneburg, studying with Georg Boehm at Johanniskirche, basically as Boehm’s assistant, taking almost daily lessons.  With that background today’s visits were particularly poignant.

We were on the bus by 8am for a 9am meeting at the Johanniskirche with the organist Joachim Vogelsaenger. He is an excellent and knowledgeable musician who gave a brief lecture on the church and played a short recital. The organ, one of the most famous in Germany, with a 16th century core from Niehoff (1553), expanded by Stellwagen (1652) and Droppa (1714, the pedal towers), was restored by von Beckerath in 1976 and sounds very authentic. The organist mentioned to the group that the stairs we climbed would have been the same that Bach would have gone up and down. The church also has a Kuhn organ (2009) built in the style of Cavaille-Coll (in a very modern, cubist case), and it is very true to the sound of those 19th century French instruments by that builder which I know.

The second stop of the day was the Michaeliskirche, the church were Bach sang as a paid choirboy till his voice changed. We were warmly greeted by the current organist, Henning Voss. It was amazing to sit in this church where Bach must have been further encouraged to be a church musician. This hits on a strong belief I have that we must encourage young people to develop an interest in pipe organs and church music.  This is why I am working so hard to raise the money to restore the organ at Our Lady of Refuge in Brooklyn, the parish where the ‘organ bug’ bit me.  I often think with how smart Bach was; he could have excelled at any profession, but something made him be a church musician and an organist.  What if people hadn’t supported his growing interest? The world would have lost one of the greatest composers in the history of humanity.  Oh, well, Haendel’s parents wanted him to be a lawyer, and the organ builder Riepp was also a successful wine merchant.  What might Bach have become, and would he have been remembered almost 300 years after his death had he gone into the mercantile trade?!

The Nicholaikirche was our final stop in Lueneburg, a very impressive, narrow, short church with a very high vaulted ceiling. The organ is a Furtwangler & Hammer from 1899, a beautiful German Romantic pipe organ, was restored in the late 1990s by the Lenter firm.  It sounds beautiful.

After leaving Lueneburg we drove to the organ firm of von Beckerath, right outside of Hamburg. We saw the pipe shop, wind chest shop, and an organ being built for Australia. They were wonderful hosts, and it was good to see the company busy. Their work has always impressed me – their restoration at the Johanniskirche confirmed my attitude towards them.

We ended the day at the Jacobikirche in Hamburg, a terrific treat. It is one of Schnitger’s most important organs, with 61 stops.  The pipes and wind chests were removed from the organ during WW2, and though the church was bombed and the old case destroyed, sufficient documentation remained to allow a post-war reconstruct.  This left something to be desired, in terms of adequate use of the historic fabric, so the organ was again rebuilt, in 1993, by Ahrend, according to Schnitger’s original plan. I was dumbfounded by this instrument. Rudolf Kelber gave a stop by stop demonstration of the organ and played a recital for us that will not be forgotten.

Tomorrow we move to a new hotel in Norden and I will likely not post anything tomorrow night due to the late hour in which we will get in. These posts take me about 3 hours each to prepare.

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8 Responses to Day 3 Pipedreams Tour (Lueneburg & Hamburg)

  1. Petter Amundsen says:

    Very interesting read. I’ll look forward to the next blog. Wish I was there.
    Petter, organist at Holmenkollen, Oslo.

  2. Phil Johnson - Pittsburgh says:

    Joe,
    Thank you so much for the detailed blog about the tour! I had to cancel my reservation, so your “sight and sound” blog somewhat makes up for it!
    Phil

  3. Thanks for your interesting comments and photos. I spent two years in Hamburg as a Fulbright student with Heinz Wunderlich at der Jakobi Kirche. Alas, I didn’t get to Lüneberg until about ten years ago.

    BTW, your recordings at Saint Sulpice are glorious.

    HC

  4. Warren Gould says:

    gasp!!! talking about eye and ear candy!!!!!!!! Thank you for sharing. Warren, Los Angeles

  5. Bill and Debby says:

    wow! we’re so fortunate that you’re sharing all this with us. thank you again.

    We recognize Peter B from the back—-please give him our regards.

  6. Ronald Hylton says:

    What a wonderful experience for us too. Thank you so much for sharing!

  7. Bryan Jones says:

    Joe:
    These photos bring back happy memories of our honeymoon – in 2004 my wife and I went on an “organ crawl” of organs that JS Bach was associated with, with a small group of other NZ’ers. We attended a service at the Jacobikirche in Hamburg, and I recorded the music on a MiniDisk recorder. What an amazing set of sounds! A most unusual voicing, even compared to the other organs we visited. The organist that day was very good, with a variety of registrations for his hymn preludes and the verses sung. That organ was a special treat. We also visited Luneburg, but were unable to hear the organ. The ancient organ case is quite spectacular- did you see one of their postcards, with the case lit with blue side lighting?
    Enjoy the rest of your trip!
    Bryan + Nancy Jones,
    NZ

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