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Help us fund our new film on the organs' of Aristide Cavaille-Coll.

Pronkjewelen in Stad en Ommeland

This feature-length documentary provides a unique vista on the fascinating family of pipe organs that are found in and around the Dutch city of Groningen, centred on the famous organ of the Martinikerk. The point of view of the film is provided by Cornelius H. Edskes, the great living authority on the historical organs of Northern Europe. A sprightly 85 year old, Edskes brings undimmed energy and enthusiasm and a natural on-camera manner. Interviewed a number of times in several of the churches, he draws freely from his wide historical and factual knowledge to give a history of these organs, a history that stretches from 1450 to the present.

Edskes had an unusually wide education, studying music and art history in Groningen before studying the organ with Flor Peeters and Helmut Walcha. From the time of the Second World War he travelled round Europe, often by bicycle, studying the historic organs of the cities and villages of the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. Gifted with a photographic memory, the minutiae of scaling became a natural area of expertise, and his knowledge of the secrets of old organ building comes at least in part from measuring the dimensions of thousands of antique pipes and collating the information.

First employed by the Dutch government and later self-employed as a consultant working with organ builders such as Jürgen Ahrend and Marcussen, Edskes’ understanding and knowledge was the basis of the restoration of many of Europe’s most magnificent organs, such as the Nieuwkerk in Amsterdam, the Domkirke in Roskilde, the Jacobikirche in Hamburg and the Martinikerk in Groningen.

It is this final restoration that is at the heart of the film. The unique quality of the Martini organ is that it includes sections from all the main styles of organ building over five hundred years, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, even some Romantic stops, and obviously the wonderful restoration work from the 1970s and 80s. Yet these disparate elements form a wonderful and cohesive whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Each age of the Martini organ is looked at, and then illustrated by trips to the surrounding towns and villages to find organs that date wholly from whichever period. The Gothic is illustrated by the organ at Krewerd, the Renaissance by the casework at Loppersum, the Groningen school by Zeerijp, Schnitger’s style by Uithuizen, Noordbroek and Nieuw Scheemda, the later Schnitger school of Hinsz and Freytag  by Leens and Zuidbroek. The Romantic interventions that saw the sound of the Martini organ drastically changed by builders such as Lohman and van Oeckelen are made apparent by seeing and hearing the organs at Farmsum and Middelstum. Therefore, the baker’s dozen of organs round the city and state of Groningen are grouped in a way that makes sense and tells a story about the development of organ building from 1450 to the present day.

Cor Edskes is joined in the film by his brother Bernhardt Edskes, the highly respected organ builder who restored the three of the organs around Groningen, at Zeerijp, Nieuw Scheemda and Uithuizen. Bernhardt uses his drafting skills to demonstrate the proportions of a Schnitger façade, and explains how Schnitger arranged pipes on a soundboard. Cor is also joined by his old colleague Jürgen Ahrend, who with Cor restored the organs at Kantens and in the Martinikerk. Particularly noteworthy is the footage of Ahrend standing inside the famous 24’ pedal towers of the Martini organ, discussing how these massive pipes were built and then restored.

The film contains hundreds of shots of the organs and the buildings, towns and countryside that they exist in. Also hitherto unseen photographs of the restoration of the Martini organ and treats such as Schnitger’s drawing of the original Aakerk organ. A master pipe-maker in the Ahrend workshop goes through the whole process of making a pipe from casting the metal on sand to shaping and soldering the various elements. And the whole is held together by a series of wonderful performances by Sietze de Vries on all the organs, running the gamut of the organ repertoire from Scheidemann to Schumann and also treating the viewer to a range of magnificent improvisations.

The final result is both a history of the organs of the province of Groningen, but also a moving testament to the passion of the remarkable men featured in this film. Their craft, dedication and knowledge will stay with the viewer, and offer the most pleasing and germane introduction to a collection of historic organs that is probably the most varied and interesting of any geographical region in the world.

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