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In Praise of the Huggable “Big Brown Bear”: The 1925 Steinmeyer Organ of Berlin by Organ Art Media

In Praise of the Huggable “Big Brown Bear”: The 1925 Steinmeyer Organ of Berlin by Organ Art Media

By Adrian de Groot, Ph.D.

A friend of mine wrote me that the new sample set by Dr. Helmut Maier eclipses all other German romantic organs, which would include his own like Annaberg, the Sauer, Ladegast and those by others.

But, I believe, this is not so, for each organ reflects its builder’s own unique approach to sound and each of these organs were built in a different period, and even 10 years in those 19th and early 20th century periods can make a noticeable difference. Organ building has been in a constant flux driven by new ideas and inventions, both by the builders, as by the composers.

Witness, for example, the organs built before the 1970s (mostly in neo-baroque style) and after, when organ builders started to understand more about historical informed building, which they also learned from restoring old organs. The same can be said for the world of harpsichord and other historical type musical instrument making. Some organ builders have even ventured into making Gothic period organs of the Middle Ages now, including portatives. To mention one example: What has been achieved in Hamburg’s Sankt Katharinen Kirche was unthinkable a few decades ago. The same can be said for organ restorations. The restorations to old organs in the 1950s and 1960s are being done again based on increased knowledge and scientifically sound research. We have indeed come a long way. Not that this is true everywhere, but we are now in position where organs can be successfully reconstructed back to their former glory.

But let's return to the 1920’s Berlin Steinmeyer organ. This is a “brown monster”, to paraphrase Sietze de Vries who calls the Martini organ in Groningen his "green monster" (its color is green and the old Gothic case has man y monster-like figures on it). I prefer not to call it a “monster”, but name the brown colored Berlin organ a “Huggable Big Brown Bear” (hope no one minds) that can – yes! - roar mightily with its low rumbling flues and reeds, and octave couplers, but also be huggable like a little toy bear. A truly amazingly and nearly overwhelming sound can be achieved here (just press “tutti” and you will know what I mean). This kind of enormous sound hasn't been possible by any other sample set, as far as I know. The French Cavaillé-Colls roar very differently, more like tigers or lions perhaps….

Anyone who owns a sample set or two by Herr Dr. Maier knows that his sets are of exceptional quality, which has been so from the start.

Thus, while trying out this organ, and even before having discovered all its many, many registration possibilities, which might take a long time anyways, I can already highly recommend the Berlin sample set; you will find out soon enough that the organ which incorporates many early 20th century ideas is thus a throw forward in time (before the organ Reform Movement or Orgelbewegung of the 1930s and onwards), as well as has retained all the traditional and typical German romantic stops you come to expect from a large 19th C. German organ with terrace dynamics.

The period in which this organ was built is often referred to in Dutch circles as the "Verval Periode", i.e., the decay period, when organs grew away from being built the old-fashioned and mechanical way, and when pneumatics and electric action were introduced. Even though organ builders became more efficient and a little or a lot more like factories (witness also the explosion of harmoniums/reed organs during that period; something that would have been impossible without modern production methods), in many cases, the musical quality and level of solid workmanship was often (but not always) maintained, the results could be very good.

These types of organs are now becoming more and more appreciated, along with a lot of good music written during that period. The Berlin organ goes well beyond just being a 1920’s non-descriptive factory organ. Well beyond. It is foremost a very musical instrument.

Needless to say, new technologies opened many new possibilities of borrowing stops, of adding octave couplers, etc. Yes, modern machines helped produce organs more quickly, but should we accuse Cavaille-Coll of doing the same thing? He was also a mass-producer, but was that also “decay organ building”? The proof is in the musical pudding: do the results please the ears? Well, here in Berlin they do.

This organ even has melody couplers, only playing the highest note of the coupled manual. A sea of options are available, and the organ can go from barely audibly sweet to "watch out that your speakers don't burst" loud. Brown bear roaringly, but thoroughly satisfyingly, loud. Impressive, exhilarating, exciting, which leaves you thrilled and ecstatic. After the final chord, loud or soft, you will hear me say: "Wow, what an organ!

I would strongly urge everyone, with a little bit of extra money left, to buy this sample set. I hope Herr Maier will extend the discount period just a little bit longer for you to “scrape all your pennies together”. For, what you get in return will be a musically very satisfying investment, and you can play not only German stuff of it, but also French, English, American, Dutch, Italian, Skandinavian, you-name-it. I tried some Vierne on it, and it goes well. The demos on tis site will testify to what I am saying here.

If you are into improvising, well, this big baby is for you. Unending possibilities, you even have Septime and None stops, and when you add the octave couplers to them, you can make some interesting (new) sounds!

Well, enough said in praise of this organ. It’s superbly sampled, and the acoustics are just right here: not too little and not too much; you can even adjust it to suit your taste.

You request Herr Maier to have a 14-day trial period in case you like to try it out first.

I hope to see your uploads on this website in the near future!

-Dr. Adrian de Gro
by adri
May 11, 2021 03:08 AM

Replies (3)

RE: In Praise of the Huggable “Big Brown Bear”: The 1925 Steinmeyer Organ of Berlin by Organ Art Media

The last line got cut off, perhaps I reached the maximum allowable word count;

it should read:

I hope to see your uploads on this website in the near future!

-Dr. Adrian de Groot, musicologist/organist/improviser

by adri
May 11, 2021 03:10 AM

RE: In Praise of the Huggable “Big Brown Bear”: The 1925 Steinmeyer Organ of Berlin by Organ Art Media

Very well and witty written evaluation of this magnificent instrument.
Big bravo, adri!
My sentiments exactly, Sir!

It certainly is stu ***, well, not too bright to label German instruments from the 19th and 20th century as sub-standard.

They are different, and in the case of the 19th century Annaberg Walcker and the 1925 Steinmeyer, works of art with a character of their own, beautifully restored.

Well, you said it all and very eloquently, so I'd better stop here.


by EdoL
May 11, 2021 11:50 AM

RE: In Praise of the Huggable “Big Brown Bear”: The 1925 Steinmeyer Organ of Berlin by Organ Art Media

And captured in perfect samplesets by OAM.
I forgot to mention that.
Talking of stu***.
by EdoL
May 11, 2021 11:57 AM

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