Photo to the left from: http://www.idasbrasil.com.br/idasbrasil/frame.asp?pg=geral/port/cidades.asp
Arp Schnitger (1648-1719), a renowned
organ builder from Hamburg, was commissioned in 1701 to build two organs, both
of which were eventually sent to Portugal. One of them is still located at the
Saint Mary Cathedral in the city of Faro.
the other one was sent to Brazil, following a decision on the part of the
Ultramarine Council with the provision of embellishing and supporting Brazil's
first diocese, established at the Province of Minas do Ouro. This was the first
sign that the Portuguese Court and Church recognized the importance of the
emerging society in Brazil.
The Arp Schnitger organ is the product of the long process by which the mechanics of air production in organ building was perfected throughout history. ln fact, an organ can be compared to a group of flutes blown by a gigantic mechanical lung. The instrument at Mariana contains 964 pipes, activated through the keyboard and registral shifts. The embellishments are of Portuguese origin and represent Chinese motives "chinoiseries" influenced by the culture of Macau, which was a Portuguese colony at the time.
The blending of the Portuguese and Germanic traditions in this instrument gives it a somewhat atypical character. Schnitger, who was a reformed Protestant, nevertheless built the organ with views to the Catholic tradition in Portugal and the demands of its musicians. For example, when the organ was brought to Hamburg in 1977 to be restored, it was discovered that an internal structure to accomodate the pedals had been installed, but no pedals were added because, at that time, the Portuguese did not use them in their music. The pedals were then added, 276 years after the original construction.
Schnitger, who was to organ building what Stradivarius was to violin making, was responsible for the building and restoration of 169 organs, of which 60 still survive in different places around the world, and in varying degrees of preservation. The organ at Mariana retains 65% of its original material, of which the pipes constitute one of the most striking examples of the craftsmanship of that time. Installed in 1753 at the Cathedral of Mariana and maintained by the local community even during long periods of inactivity, the Arp Schnitger organ, built probably in 1701, has been recognized since the 1970's as a truly unique and remarkable instrument. Thanks to the joint efforts of the Diocese of Mariana, the Bishop D. Oscar de Oliveira, Dr. Francisco Afonso Noronha, then president of the CEMIG, and a pool of private companies that assisted Externa da Catedral" with financial support, the organ was restored and brought to life in 1984, after 50 years of silence. Since then, the instrument has been a constant presence in the liturgical and artistic life of the community, and has often been featured in a great variety of projects.
Immediately after its restoration, carried out by the Von Beckerath firm of Hamburg, Germany, with the assistance of a team of conservators from the CECOR - Federal University of Minas Gerais, the organ became the object of intense interest on the part of the local and international communities, prompting speculation about its building and provenance. In 1986, it was confirmed that the instrument was a product of the North Germany school of organ building, and more specifically that it was built by Arp Schnitger. This discovery led to a reassessment of its sound characteristics, in an attempt to arrive at a correct tuning and restore the organ as closely as possible to its original condition. This enterprise had significant implications for the musical culture of Brazil, because the majority of the organs scattered throughout the country are sorely neglected. This 300-year old instrument, therefore, has become both a historical testimony and an inspiration to musicians and the public.
Now, fourteen years later, we have once again the opportunity to reevaluate some of its characteristics, since almost all Arp Schnitger organs found throughout the world, as well as other instruments from the North German school, have been completely restored. This has created a valuable source of technical information available to the scholar, and has helped launch the current project under the auspices of PETROBRAS. Begun in July 1997, on the occasion of the visit to Mariana of the Dutch organ builder Bernhard Edskes, the present phase of the research aims at recreating the history of the instrument and addressing the following features: reconstitution of the system of air production through human action, without discarding the electric motor; restoration of Schnitger's original manuals, which had been stored in the galleries behind the organ; restoration of the pipes to their original height and tuning and replacement of the later pipes with copies made after Schnitger's originals. This work is expected to be completed in 2001, during which period the organ will continue to be in use.
The identification of another organ probably built by Schnitger, in Moreira near the City of Porto, Portugal, suggests that this instrument and the similar one in Mariana (both have 12 registers distributed in two manuals) correspond to the two organs built by Schnitger in 1701 and sent to Portugal. The dating and physical characteristics of the Portuguese organ have, therefore, important implications for the Mariana instrument.
Having the opportunity of using such a fine instrument has been a great privilege of Brazilian musicians. This eclectic instrument, which can be used for the performance of a significant portion of the international organ repertoire, carries the imprint of three countries and cultures: built in Germany, it remained for a long period somewhere in Portugal before being moved to Mariana in 1753, where it fulfilled important liturgical functions during a period when sacred musical composition flourished in that city. The pluralistic nature of this instrument, and the new phase of its restoration process, inspired us to register its rich sound in a total of four CD's covering a wide range of works. Bearing in mind that the restoration process would significantly affect the sound profile of the instrument, we aimed at the highest possible technical quality of the recording, in order to capture all its nuances. For that, we enlisted the services of Jean Claude Gabarel, a renowned Swiss technician with a vast experience in capturing and editing the special sound produced by historic organs, and who is also a very close friend of mine. Naturally, the idea of moving a complete recording studio from Neuchatel to Mariana was a very costly endeavor. Two of my colleagues, Julia Brown from Campinas, and Cristina Banegas from Montevideo, joined me in this recording project, each contributing a CD, and together with Paulus we managed to bring the technician and his studio to Brazil.
Thus, during the early hours of some days in March, 1998, we completed the recordings that are now before the public: two featuring Elisa Freixo ("Historic Organs of Brazil, vol. II", devoted to Germany and southern Italy, and "Mariana and Faro: Twin organs", featuring works from North Germany and the Iberian Peninsula); one featuring Julia Brown ("Christmas Concert", devoted to Christmas music from the 17th to the 19th centuries); and one featuring Cristina Banegas ("Latino-america—18th century", with works produced in the continent). We hope that the recording of such a diverse repertoire will foster a still greater interest in this instrument, and awaken the public for the need to preserve important historic instruments such as this.