Silbermann in Meran

Project of a choir-organ for the Evangelical-Lutheran Church

The history of the Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Meran (it. Merano) has always been linked to the intense tourist activity that has characterized the Kurstadt (resort town) since the 19th century. It started around 1860 from a group of citizen who were coming mainly from Germany. After laws enshrining religious freedom in the Austrian Empire were enacted, the Community was officially established and worked to build the church, which was eventually inauguated in 1885 along the Promenade of the Passer river.
After the initial mistrust, it has gradually become an integral part of the cultural scene of the city: besides to the idyllic location of the building, Meran citizens identify our church also through its intense cultural and concert activity that in the last 30 years has brought to Meran artists from all over the world.

The church houses on the organ loft a small, but valuable and well-preserved Steinmeyer organ that was built in conjunction with the church itself and that for its peculiarities belongs to the most interesting late-romantic instruments of the region.

Unfortunately, however, the musical needs have changed a lot since 1885: for example one can not always count on a full church and the instrument is not particularly well suited to accompany celebrations in a narrow circle, also because of the distance.
The parish choir sings today in front of the altar (for good reasons): being problematic to accompany it with the large organ, it has to rely on an E-piano.
The organ repertoire has also radically changed compared to 130 years ago, but the characteristics of the instrument make it unsuitable for much literature.
Perhaps the biggest difference is, however, that in past, it was unusual to organize church-concerts in our region, while today almost twenty of them are hosted every year in our building. Moreover, the audience, accustomed to TV, now expects to be able to watch musicians while they play.

In all these cases the Steinmeyer organ, while being valuable in its kind, is now impractical. Knowing the situation well, after 10 years of service as organist in this church, I wished to make myself an interpreter of the musical needs of the present by proposing the idea of a choir-organ that would help to fill these gaps.

I am fully aware that building a new organ is a project that requires considerable resources from the community and I would not dare to propose it, if I were not convinced that a good quality instrument is a good investment on the long run and that its frequent use for celebrations and concerts would justify its cost over the years.

A second instrument, reasonably small in size, but conceived and placed according to the musical activities carried out today would have many advantages:

-It would be possible to accompany private or little frequented celebrations in a more intimate way and without the risk of overpowering the singing of the congregation;
-It would be possible to maintain eye contact with the celebrant, which if he should not be familiar with our liturgy (e.g. guest-preachers) would facilitate his task;
-It would be possible to accompany the parish choir in an adequate manner: the harmonic and rhythmic support of the organ would improve its singing, while the choice of choral literature would also be bigger;
-There would be an instrument capable of providing suitable accompaniment and foundation to the groups and soloists performing in our church.
-With a second organ the choice of organ literature could be greatly expanded both for celebrations and organ concerts.
-In a city like Meran, which can count a large audience of tourists and locals, it would be a great resource: there would finally be an ideal place where to perform all great sacred works of the Lutheran tradition.

Bearing in mind space and musical tasks that it should perform (preludes, congregational singing, choir accompainment, continuo with soloists and ensembles), I believe that perhaps the most suitable type of organ would be a single manual instrument in the Saxon Baroque style, that is, inspired by the work of Gottfried Silbermann and his pupil Zacharias Hildebrandt.

These instruments have historically been developed precisely for the musical needs of a small lutheran congregation and manage to summarize in about a dozen registers all the main tasks of a good organ. In addition to having a pleasant aesthetic and a beautiful sound, they are also built in a simple and durable way that requires minimal maintenance.
In addition, these two great organ builders worked in contact with Johann Sebastian Bach and other composers: with such an instrument it would be possible to bring to Meran a small piece of central German organ tradition.

Ultimately, with rather affordable construction and maintenance costs, our church would have the opportunity to acquire a small, but valuable instrument capable of accompanying equally well both a baptism and a holiday Mass  with full church; both a choir’s performance and a Cantata by Bach.

Here is a proposal for the disposition, faithfully inspired by the originals (e.g. Dittersbach, Frankenstein, Rötha, Störmthal).

-Principal 8′
-Gedact 8′
[-Quintadena 8’]
[-Viol di gamba 8’]

-Octava 4′
-Rohrflöte 4′
-Nassat 3′
-Superoctava 2′
-Quinta 1.1/2′
-Sifflet 1′
-Sesquialtera I
-Mixtur III

-Subbaß 16′
[-Posaunenbaß 16’]


[= opzionale]

Here is a proposal for the organ prospect: proportions are inspired by the originals, but dimensions and decoration take into account the space in the church.

This is an absolutely tentative (and very approximate) sketch of what the instrument might look like from the church’s nave.

I am convinced that an organ should take in account both the church interior and to the aesthetic preferences of the congregation. Therefore I’m always open to further ideas and suggestions on its appearance and location:

Fabio Rigali
Organist of the Lutheran Congregation of Meran