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Opus 95

Jun 9, 08:37 am

Photos: Courtesy of Shrine of St. Joseph.

Martin Ott's restoration guidelines directed the decisions in restoring the 1890 Pfeffer organ. Some badly damaged parts had to be replaced with the same kind of wood and dimensions as the original part.

In 1890, Pfeffer had fewer choices in materials for construction. For example, most of the strong glues and epoxies we use today were not available. For the restoration, was used animal hide glue, the same type of glue that Pffeffer used (see details in Full Restauration story below). Even the methods of construction had to be replicated."

Opus 95

Shrine of Saint Joseph
Saint Louis, Missouri

J. G. Pfeffer & Sons, 1890
Martin Ott restoration, 2000 - 2002

In 1973, prior to the undertaking of the organ restoration, it should be noted that the Shrine of St. Joseph building as well as the organ had fall in disrepair and were slated by the Archdoicese for demolition.

Martin Ott Pipe Organ Company employed Matthias Seredsus for the task. Matthias came to the United States for the restoration. Born in Lauffen/Neckar, Germany, Matthias is the son of Orgelbaumeister (Master Organ Builder) Friedrich Seredsus.

"Restoration of a pipe organ poses different challenges to a builder than new construction. When we build a new pipe organ, we have complete control over the tonal design, the materials used for construction, and the appearance of the organ. We make decisions on when to use technological advances and when to use traditional methods.

In a restoration, our choices are much more limited because we must stay true to the original builder’s intent. We cannot change the tonal design or use technologies that become available after the organ was built. ... says Martin Ott.

The full restoration Story of Opus 95.
by Martin Ott, November 2011.

In 1973, I had the good fortune to meet Fr. Filipiak, who graciously allowed us to see the 1890 J.G. Pfeffer pipe organ in the Shrine of St. Joseph. The organ blower could be turned on but most of the pipes did not play. At the time, I never thought a restoration of the church and pipe organ would be possible, but I am glad I was wrong. For more than two decades, the Shrine of St. Joseph’s Friends have worked to bring the Shrine to its original state. This was no small task as the Archdiocese of St. Louis once planned to demolish the church, due to its aperent disrepair. Many years of hard work resulted in a beautiful building and spurred rebuilding efforts in the neighboring community.

The historic 1890 Pfeffer pipe organ had been spottily repaired, to the point of being playable, but was a far cry from its original glorious state. In January 1998, I received a phone call describing the hard work the Friends had done in restoring the Shrine and the wish to restore the Pfeffer pipe organ. After discussions with John Schene and the Friends, we signed a contract in September 1998 and “The Friends of St. Joseph” began raising funds for the restoration.

Restoration poses different challenges to a builder than new construction. When we build a new pipe organ, we have complete control over the tonal design, the materials used for construction, and the appearance of the organ. We make decisions on when to use technological advances and when to use traditional methods.

In a restoration, our choices are much more limited because we must stay true to the original builder’s intent. We cannot change the tonal design or use technologies that become available after the organ was built. Instead, we must research the instrument and its builder to find out the original temperament (tuning) and the wind pressure used to blow the pipes. As we look at the organ, we must decide if certain parts were added later (and should be removed) or if original parts are missing and need to be recrafted. These tasks are easier if the organ has not been tampered with over the years. Neglect is usually better than well-intentioned, but historically uninformed, rebuilding. In order for an organ to be restored, it must have most of its original parts. If it does not and the majority of parts must be manufactured (to the original specifications if possible), the job becomes a reconstruction. The Organ Historical Society has strict limitations on which organs can be candidates for restoration. Fortunately, the 1890 J.G. Pfeffer organ had almost all of its original parts. Some parts, such as the large magazine bellow, had been altered, but these alterations could easily be reversed.

In February of 1998, I examined the Pfeffer organ to prepare for the contract. Dirt and birds had taken their toll. During the years when the building had been in shabbiness, birds had nested in many of the organ pipes. There was additional damage to the pedal pipes due to broken windows in the wall behind the organ. The southern summer sun had dried out the wooden pipes, causing them to split and warp. Blinds placed in these windows will prevent this problem from reoccurring. Some minor water damage was also seen in the pedal pipes. It is a great blessing that the rest of the organ had no water damage, since water is the biggest enemy of a pipe organ. Many of the trackers, long wooden strips, which allow the keys to control the pipes, were broken and those that remained were brittle and weak. The keydesk and case were dirty and the finish was scratched.

Our restoration guidelines directed our decisions in restoring the 1890 Pfeffer organ. Some badly damaged parts had to be replaced with the same kind of wood and dimensions as the original part. In 1890, Pfeffer had fewer choices in materials for construction. For example, most of the strong glues and epoxies we use today were not available. For the restoration, we used animal hide glue, the same type of glue that Pffeffer used. Even the methods of construction had to be replicated.

In August of 1999, Matthias Seredsus, a Journeyman Organ Builder from Germany, joined our company to work on the restoration. Having had ample experience in restoring organs in Germany, and Eastern Europe, he performed most of the restoration work. His approach involved taking the organ apart, cleaning and restoring individual components, and reassembling the organ. It was not necessary to take apart the case, as the interior of the organ allowed enough room to remove the internal parts. Most of the work involved repairing the damage to the wood. All three wind-chests and many wooden pipes had a substantial number of cracks in the wood. Other small wooden parts were broken beyond repair and had to be manufactured from the same type of wood according to the same dimensions as the original. All of the leather in the organ was dry and cracked. We replaced it with leather of the same thickness and type.

As work progressed, new puzzles arose. Matthias found a stack of organ parts which appeared to be original but their function was unknown. One part, a wooden box with ventils inside and a glass front, appeared to be a tremolo but actually is a pneumatic piston device for the swell division. The ventils push mechanical parts that move the sliders for certain stops (sets of different pipe sounds) on and off. Matthias was able to restore and reconnect this device and now two thumb pistons on the console are functional again. The great division has a mechanical piston action that is activated through two toe pedals. The contrast between using pneumatic and mechanical piston actions in the same organ suggests that Pfeffer may have been experimenting when he included the pneumatic device. The stops which are controlled by these pistons are predetermined and cannot be changed. Another interesting feature in this organ is the abundance of metal pipes that appear to have been made by Pfeffer. The Samuel Pierce Organ Pipe Co. supplied many pipes for Pfeffer’s other instruments but this instrument contains sets of pipes with Pfeffer’s signature inscribed on the low C.

Other puzzles arose and research on other Pfeffer organs still in existence proved helpful. A visit to St. Vincent De Paul’s in St. Louis yielded some interesting comparisons between its 1874 detached and reversed console instrument and the 1890 Pfeffer. Unfortunately, the 1874 instrument is unplayable and there is no plan to restore it.

The organ originally was hand pumped for its air supply and this mechanism has been restored. Since the blower had been added later and was not original, we completely replaced the wind trunk and box enclosing the blower. We were careful to minimize its intrusion in the organ. In researching the wind pressure and temperament, we found that the pitch of the organ is a quarter tone sharp. Some adjustments to voicing were necessary to make pipes speak again, but we did not alter the original voicing set forth by Pfeffer.

Matthias restored the cherry keydesk using a French shellac method. This matched the original finish. The case is poplar with a painted wood grain that looks like walnut. The entire case was cleaned and damaged areas were refinished to match the original by Restoration Plus. The façade pipes were covered in gold spray paint. Further investigation revealed that the pipes had originally been gold leafed. The pipes were prepared and gold-leafed by Diana Pappas and Michele Bowman-Dumay. In addition to Matthias Seredsus, the following staff from the Martin Ott Pipe Organ Company worked on this restoration: Sasha Bronitsky, Bill Dunaway, Marya Fancey, Donna Hodges, Alex Leshchenko, Earl Naylor, Martin Ott, Sascha Ott, and Thorsten Ott.

Special thanks to John Schene, Ralph Ellerbrock, Fr. Valentine Young, and the Shrine of St. Joseph’s Friends, whose understanding and appreciation made this restoration a joy. We hope that the Pfeffer organ will be enjoyed for generations to come.
(Source : Martin Ott, November of 2011).

30 stops | 35 ranks
Mechanical action