Germanna History, Hebron Organ

(This Page Was Last Modified Sunday, 06-Apr-2003 20:03:34 MDT.)

This page gives the technical details of the Tannenberg Organ in the Hebron Lutheran Church, located in Madison Co., VA.
(Thanks to Thom Faircloth, President, The Germanna Foundation; used with his permission.)

Hebron Organ Technical Notes

A little more on the Hebron Tannenberg.

The Hebron organ is a Tracker organ -- it's action is completely mechanical rather than pneumatic.  This makes it a very "noisy" organ by today's standards.  One hears the mechanical action clicking and dragging as the music flows.

It is primarily an "organ continuo*", meaning it was designed as an ensemble, or accompaniment, organ, rather than the now ubiquitous "concert organ".  Thus, its pipe complement and stoppage were very basic, depending mainly on the diapason pipes.  The flue (flute & gedact) stops were added for color, and to give the organ a solo character.  In a nod to the occasional use of the organ as a solo instrument, Tannenberg added "two-mixture stops" to add brightness and more solo quality, along with a mutation stop, called a "Terzian", which simulates a reed or string stop.  Reed pipes are the most difficult to keep in tune.  There would have been no organ-tuner close to Hebron, so the mutation stop would have allowed the color and brightness of a reed stop, without the inherent difficulties of keeping reed pipes in tune.

The four rank organ includes the following stops:

Principal dulcis 8ft. (diapason),
Gedact 8ft.(flue),
Octave 4Ft. (diapason),
Flute 4ft. (flue),
Quinte 3ft. (mixture),
Octave 2ft. (diapason),
Terzian (mutation),
There is one keyboard, which is divided by the stops into bass and treble ranges.  Interestingly, the key colors are reversed, with the natural keys being black, and the accidental keys being white.

The organ has undergone one major change.  In 1945, the organ was given a second wind source.  An electric bellows was added; however, in the German tradition of "simpre paratus", the hand pumped bellows were left intact, in case of a power outage.  In such a case, the boys of the congregation would be sent to the loft to pump the bellows.  The hand pumping beams are still there and available.  During a later refurbishing of the organ, the original leathers were still intact and in remarkable condition.  Inside the wind chamber they found copies of early 19th century Pennsylvania newspapers that were used as insulation when the chamber was assembled in 1802.

One other change to the cabinet of the organ was made later.  It was painted white, covering the original stained wood, and rendering some of the beautiful detail of the cabinetry invisible.

The most drastic change was made not to the organ, but to the chamber for which it was designed.

All organs are designed for the building (chamber) in which they will "sing".  The Hebron organ was designed to sing in the original barrel vaulted chamber.  Unfortunately, the chamber was horribly (in my humble opinion) altered in latter 19th century, when the barrel vault ceiling was enclosed, and the "trompe l'oeil**" painting by Odinino was applied.  This drastically stifeled the organ and gave it a mere 12 feet of singing space into a flat wall, which literally suffocates the magnificent sound the organ is capable of producing.

Discussions are underway now as to how to repair the ceiling, which is in danger of collapsing.  I for one hope that the church leaders will remove and display the "trompe l'oeil" elsewhere, then remove the ceiling to again open the chamber and allow the organ to sing and attain it's full potential.

This organ is truly an historical treasure, and should be allowed to perform as it was designed to do 200 years ago.

In the fall of 2001, Dr. Eugene Roan, chairman of the Organ Department of Westminster Choir College at Princeton, NJ, visited and played the organ.  Dr. Roan has agreed to record the organ, for perhaps the first time.  The recording will be sold by the Germanna Foundation, and the proceeds split with the Hebron Lutheran Church.  We are hoping to record the organ this fall when temperatures moderate and make it easier to keep the organ in tune.  Stay tuned (no pun intended) for details of this historic project.

Thom Faircloth
The Germanna Foundation

*Continuo = A bass accompaniment, usually played on a keyboard instrument, in which numerals written underneath the notes indicate the kinds of harmony to be played.  Also called "figured bass", "thoroughbass".  [Italian, from Latin 'continuus', 'continuous'.]
**trompe l'oeil = 1. A style of painting that gives an illusion of photographic reality.  2. A painting or effect created in this style.  [French:  trompe, third person sing. present tense of tromper, to deceive + le, the + oeil, eye.]

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