Historical Organs in Estonia
Organs and organists in Estonia
Lyrics in Estonia, English and German
The oldest written information regarding organs and organists in Estonia date from 1329 and 1341 respectively. Lithuanians had apparently pillaged some splendid organs from Paistu and Helme churches and had taken the organ pipes with them in 1329 andin 1341 an organist working for a church in Tallinn is mentioned.
These chance references do not mean that organs only became known on the Estonian territory of Old-Livonia in the 14th century, but the Germans and the Danes introduced Christianity in Estonia a century earlier and it can be assumed that there were already organs in churches built on the territory of the newly Christian Estonians in the 12th century or at least small portable ones.
Organ building and organ music came to Old-Livonia via advantageous sea routes and via settlers from the areas of Northern and North-Eastern Germany where organ culture was very advanced. Orders for organs from bishops from Estonia, Tartu, Saare-Lääne as well as from cities, were carried out initially by masters and their journeymen and apprentices from Hansa towns along the Baltic Sea. It is known that a foreign organ master arrived in Tallinn in 1439 in order to repair church organs damaged in the fire of 1433. lt is possible that this man was Albrecht Orgelmaker, who had made the organ for Church which was enlarged fifty years later. The renovations were done by Hermann Stüwe and six assistants from Wismar.
Church was one of the Most important congregation churches in the rich and powerful Hansa town and therefore boasted a total of three organs by the end of the 15th century. One was situated on the tower wall of the central nave, the second in the choir room and the third in Antonius' chapel.
The advantageous position of Old-Livonia along international waterways enabled enrichmentby way of trade. Four Old-Livonian towns situated on the territory of Estonia - Tallinn, Pärnu, Tartu and Viljandi - became members of the Hansa League and were permitted to allow themselves noteworthy expenses in the field of organ development. But there were not enough foreign organ masters. At least some local organ masters were taught during the Middle Ages. The first known of these was Peter Schmidt, with an additional name of Orgelmaker, who was associated in 1524 with Tallinn's "Blake Monks" or Dominicans.
The reformation also reached the territory of the Estonians. Music, especially organ and vocal music, was given new meaning in the reformed churches. Songs accompanied by organ music became fundamental. Church services became conducted in the mother tongueand the secularization of church services as far as having concerts was held in churches. Participants included city musicians, church choirs and vocal soloists as well as organists. Secular allegories replaced pictures of saints. A balcony decorated with seven wooden sculptures was built in the choir room of the Niguliste Church in Tallinn in 1639. The middle sculpture was "Musica" and the remainder of the female figures symbolized artes liberales.
Thanks to close ties with the territories of Northern-Germany and Sweden, masters settled in Tallinn, Tartu, Narva and Pärnu in the 16th and 17th centuries. One of these masters, Bartolt Fehoff, built a portable organ for Tartu's St. John's Church in 1585 and an organ with 38 registers for Tallinn's St. Olai's Church. Church arrangements in Baltic provinces under the jurisdiction of Sweden were subjected to the German example and demands for church music and organi sts were similar. The organist was required to maintain his own instrument, to cooperate with city musicians and to serve the congregation with new and original works.
One usually learned to become an organist abroad. Therefore the organist at Tallinn's Holy Ghost Church, Bartold Busbetzki, sent his two sons to study under Buxtehude in Lübeck. After their studies Ludwig became the organist at the German Church in Narva and Christian started work at Church in Tallinn. Two Tallinn families, the Busbetzkis and the Polacks, became a mini dynasty of organists in the second half of the 17th century. The high quality of organ teaching can be demonstrated with the fact that Johann Jakob Nordtmann from Kuressaare was offered the position of an organist at Toom Church in Lübeck by the city's magistrate after his studies in that city. Nordtmann accepted the offer.
The Baltic provinces of Sweden were totally ravaged by Russian forces bent on conquering during the Great Northern War of 1700 - 1721. Most churches suffered immense losses. Few of the magnificent altars, chapels and organs remained. Especially "useful" to the ravagers was the "confiscation" of metal items. Included in these were silver Holy Communion instruments, bronze candlesticks and church bells and organ pipes made of English tin. lt is not surprising that only one organ remains from times prior to the conquering raids of Russia. This organ can be found in the Mänspä Church in Hüumaa and was built by an unknown master between 1700 and 1710.
Many organs were uncared for and disintegrated due to the general poverty after the Great Northern War. Only at the end of the 18th century did the opportunity arise to start modernizing old churches and organs. The oldest post Great Northern War organ in Estonia is at the Kihelkonna Church in Saaremaa. The organ was built in 1805 and is decorated in latter rococo style.
There are very many organs in Estonia dating from the 19th and early 20th century. The builders of these organs were the organ masters Tanton, Müllerverstedt, Ladegast, Knauf and many others. Amongst these others were foreign settlers who found a new home in Estonia. Many of those who ordered organs placed their order with the foreign firm of "Walcker" of Ludwigsburg.
The building of organs became very popular in Estonia and Livonia in the 19th century. Many Estonian craftmen and farmers built their own organs and portable organs. As comparison the name of only one Estonian builder of organs is known from the beginning of the 19th century. Development proceeded so quickly that by the end of the last century every larger family had their own portable organ. There were also portable organs in schools and houses of prayer.
The prosperity in organ building started at the beginning of the 20th century and culminated in the 1930's. The first of the finest of the 20th century organs is the organ of Tallinn's Dome Church which was built by the firm "Sauer" in 1913. Currently this organ is the world's best example for Max Reger's music. The organ at Carl's Church in Tallinn, built in 1923 by the firm "Walcker" and with 84 registers, is also in its original state.
At the turn of the century two well known families of organ masters became famous. Firstly the Terkmanns, father and son, of whom the son, August Terkmann received great appreciation. Many large organs were built in his workshop and numerous organs were sent to St. Petersburg, Simbirsk and Astrahan in Russia.
The Kriisa brothers from Vörumaa in southern Estonia built many organs with very beautiful romantic sound. These organs were primarily with pneumatic trackers and thanks to its solidness, the organ is still in good working condition even today. The second generation of these prominent organ masters is represented by Harry Kriisa who immigrated to the United States after World War II and worked as an organ master there and built 18 organs. Hardo Kriisa of the third generation continues in the dignified family tradition and owns an organ building and restoring workshop in Rakvere.
The building of organs faded for almost forty years with the establishment of Soviet power in Estonia in 1940. The organ was proclaimed as an "ideologically improper" musical instrument.
When considering the number of organs in Estonia, including those built locally and those ordered from the German firms of Walcker, Ladegast, Sauer and others, the total would exceed two hundred. This is a considerable number for a relatively small country with a population of one and half million people. Therefore Estonia has become an unconventional museum of the organ and possesses quite a few instruments that are unique in the world.
At the beginning of the 20th century many gifted concert organists-composers could be found in Estonia. Most of them received diplomas from the Conservatory of St. Petersburg. Most of the orders for new organs originated from this circle of organists-composers. Peeter Süda, Mart Saar, Rudolf Tobias, Artur Kapp and Mihkel Lüdig gave many concerts of high quality in Estonia and abroad, performing their own compositions, western classics and inspiring improvisations. Edgar Arro, Arvo Pärt, Erkki-Sven Tüür and Igor Garshnek are the best known present composers who have written for the organ.
The best organs in Estonia have been at the disposal of the organizers of the Tallinn International Organ Festival for the use of the world's elite concert organists since 1987. Our organs have been praised superlatively, we should value this approval.
Eres Estonia Edition
Music from Estonia