Notes from The Netherlands 

by Nigel C.B. Durrant

A FRIENDLY chat with a colleague over a cup of coffee can be invigorating. Even when not talking shop one can still pick up a new idea or develop one’s insights, which is why I look forward to my convivial Sunday-morning chats with one particular associate. Going in for coffee before High Mass, I am disappointed on those rare occasions when he is not already there, contemplating his cup. On being told what is on my music-desk, Friar P., his encyclopśdic knowledge of liturgical music pricked, smartly shakes a telling anecdote or some illuminating fact out of his capacious sleeve. Friar P. was appointed, if I may perversely put it so, my predecessor in 1946. His active contribution to church music was only partly curtailed when he was sent out with fellow Austin Friars to Bolivia; now retired to his monastery, he contentedly enthuses about ‘our’ monumental 1906 Maarschalkerweerd.

   The Bolivians have no craftsmen to tune and maintain their old organs. Small wonder, then, that Friar P. happily muses upon the diversity of organs in daily use in The Netherlands and the attention lavished on at least those considered noteworthy. Organs are built, of course, to be played and listened to rather than talked (or written) about. However, knowing something of the history of individual instruments can send the enthusiast hither and yon to familiarize himself with their unique qualities. KCOA members, some of whom are regular visitors to the continent, being avid excursionists might like figuratively to listen in to some of our conversations.

   In the geographical centre of the country, for example, easily reached by visitors to Utrecht, there is (in the Protestant church ‘De Hoeksteen’ in Vianen) a notable salon organ built by Kam & Van der Meulen of Rotterdam in 1844. Having been put into storage in 1943 it was given a new home after the war before being sold to its current owners. It had been structurally altered and was inspected several years later with a view to restoration. Way back in 1991 organbuilder Henk van Eeken was nominated but it took another 10 years for the work to be officially sanctioned. The history of the instrument was thoroughly researched and, in 2007, it was restored. Its sounds might justify the delay but the case is an undisputed masterpiece. An original feature is a set of swell shutters that can be fixed open or shut by a drawstop; the swell-pedal itself is situated between b and c1 on the pedals.

   A South-Italian chamber organ now in the Lutheran church in the centre of The Hague (well-known to organ-lovers thanks to its Bštz organ) is about 100 years older. The seven-stop, mean-tone cabinet organ has a four-octave keyboard, diatonic from C to A. But only the 2-ft, 11/3ft- and 1-ft. stops run the whole compass of the instrument; from C to e a stopped 8-ft. and open 4-ft. are permanently ‘on’, the other stops starting at f (except the typically Italian voce umana, which starts at d1). The organ, of course, offers a rare insight into early Italian musical sonorities.

   In Amsterdam one should take advantage of any (admittedly infrequent) opportunity to hear two instruments, each of which adds an individual voice to the city’s chequered organ heritage. The older of these is in what is generally known as Museum Amstelkring: a post-Reformation clandestine church constructed literally under the roofs of neighbouring houses by Roman Catholic merchants, Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder. Here is an elegant 10-stop organ built by Hendrik Meyer for the church in 1794. Getting married there just to hear the organ might be overenthusiastic but it is also played on a handful of Sundays in the winter when Mass is celebrated there. I have occasionally missed a short (30-minute) performance on it for museum visitors on a weekday afternoon, but nobody seems willing to supply any details as to when these take place. The second of these organs can be heard from comfortable seats during (20-minute) Thursday-lunchtime mini-recitals in certain months in the aula of the Vrije Universiteit; not exactly handy for the centre of Amsterdam but accessible by tram, which stops outside.

E. Wadsworth 1860
St. MichaŽlskerk, Oudewater

Enter the building, go up the stairs and turn right. The programmes begin at quarter to one; doors open just a few minutes beforehand. This ‘Couperin’ organ was built in 1972-73 on classical French lines, a style purposely chosen to redress a lack of authentic organs of this type in the country. Something of a joint effort, the organ was designed by J.G. Koenig (of Sarre-Union) who made and voiced the pipes while the action was built locally, one of the last jobs under the name Fonteyn & Gaal. The pipework was reconditioned and revoiced in 2004-05 by Flentrop of Zaandam; at the same time Kaat & Tijhuis of Kampen, who continued the Fonteyn company after this went bankrupt, renovated the action. The organ offers a rare chance to hear the Chaumont temperament propagated in 1695 (the year that Purcell died). The two pedal reeds (8-ft. and 4-ft. – the only 16-ft. stop on the whole organ is the bourdon on the Grand-Orgue) descend to AA. Amply worth the trouble of a visit!

   But while The Netherlands still offers little opportunity to hear authentic timbres in classical French repertoire, English sounds have definitely been in the ascendant during the past 20 years or so. (In a previous article I referred to an existing and a projected English organ in Leyden; work is now well advanced for the erection in 2010 of an 1892 ‘Father’ Willis four-manual in de Hooglandse Kerk that will probably be the largest English organ in continental Europe.) Since 1981 a comprehensive three-manual 1882 Nicholson organ originally built for a church in Worcester has done sterling work in cultivating Dutch interest in the music of composers such as Parry and Howells in the Christoforuskerk in Schagen – it was bought for ƒ1,000, equivalent to the price offered by a local scrap-metal dealer.

   In June I went to hear a rebuilt organ that started life in the Methodist Church in St. Aubin, Jersey. Built by Wadsworth around 1860 and extended 20 years later by Alfred Oldknow, the instrument was recently installed in the St.-MichaŽlskerk, Oudewater: an example of competently supervised congregational do-it-yourself with some restoration work carried out by Orgelmakerij Boogaard of Rijssen. Close your eyes and you can imagine yourself in an English church (even without Gerben Maurikīs improvisation on three tunes by Parry at the opening recital). Later in the year an instrument (now Great 8 8 8 4 4 2 11/111; Swell 16 8 8 4 8; Pedal 16) built in 1867 by William Holt that has found its way from Devon via Somerset to the village of Den Ham was inaugurated. The original specification (with the addition of a stopt diapason on the Swell) was restored by F.R. Feenstra.

   Whether you are interested in foreign influences on our organ culture or the native background against which our instruments have developed, I hope to show in these biannual Notes that there is plenty to get your teeth into in this small Kingdom!



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