Groningen, der Aa Kerk


Many photo's of this organ can be seen at

1697: In 1697 Arp Schnitger already built an organ for the der Aa-Kerk. This instrument was destroyed by the collapse of the tower in 1710.

Click at the picture for a larger view
Design of the organ 1697 by Arp Schnitger

Text from the booklet of the CD: "Organworks of Dietrich Buxtehude volume 4" (MDG MD+GL3424) by Harald Vogel

1702: Schnitger originally built the organ for the Academiekerk or Broerekerk in Groningen. When constructing the organ he used pipe work from the previous instrument built by Hendrick Hermans van Loon in 1679.

1756: A.A. Hinsz added a coupling between Hoofdwerk and Rugwerk.

: Repairs by A.A. Hinsz

1815: J.W. Timpe moved the organ to the der Aa-Kerk, as, following a Government measure, the Academiekerk had to be restored to the Roman-Catholic Church.


1830: J.W. Timpe changed the specification. The Borstwerk disappeared and was replaced with a Bovenwerk. Rugpositief: Quint 1 1/3' --> Terts 1 3/5', Sexquialter -->Trompet 8'. The composition of the Scherp of the Rugpositief was altered.

Before 1858: Bovenwerk: Fluit does --> Fluit travers 8'.

1858: Restoration by Petrus van Oeckelen. New wind chests for Hoofdwerk. Addition of Bourdon 16', Salicionaal 8', Quint 2 2/3', Quint 5 1/3', Nachthoorn 2', Cornet and Trompet 16' to Hoofdwerk. Different composition of Mixtuur. On the new Pedal-windchest Subbas 16', Quint 10 2/3 and Violoncel 8' were added.

18xx: Mixtuur and Cornet 2' were removed from the Pedal.

1919: Old wedge-shaped bellows were replaced by a single reservoir-bellows by Jan and Klaas Doornbos.

1924: Jan en Klaas Doornbos: Bovenwerk was placed in a swellcase and a Voix Celeste 8' was added.

1935: Jan en Klaas Doornbos: New Bazuin 16' added on a pneumatic Pedal windchest.

1939: Klaas Doornbos: Pedaal: Violoncel 8' -->Holpijp 8'. Hoofdwerk: Quint 5 1/3' --> Nasard 2 2/3'. New Mixtuur for Pedal.

: Klaas Doornbos added a Quint 1 1/3' to the Bovenwerk.

1950: Flentrop changed the Doornbos Bazuin 16'.

1952: Klaas Doornbos modified the Rugpositief Terts 1 3/5' into Sifflet 1 1/3' and installed a new Tremulant.

1959: Mense Ruiter altered the Bovenwerk Quintfluit 1 1/3' into a Flageolet 1'.

1977: The organ was taken apart by J. Boody and G. Taylor on account of major restoration work on the church.

1990: Reil reinstalled the instrument in a fully restored church. The 1st restoration phase comprised the following activities: restoring the Schnitger windchests; repair work done on the other windchests; removal of the pneumatic windchests; reconstruction of Bazuin 16'; repair of bellows; organ case; manuals; tracker action mechanism and pipe work; removal of the Bovenwerk Voix Celeste and the Hoofdwerk Bourdon bass section.

1997-2011: The organ was transferred to the Reil workshop for the 2nd restoration phase. At the moment a vehement discussion is going on among various specialists about the procedure to be followed.

2011: The organ has been restored by Reil and wil be inaugurated at 14.10.2011.


Hoofdwerk   Rugpositief   Bovenwerk   Pedaal  
Prestant 16' Quintadeen 16' Prestant 8' Bourdon 16'
Bourdon 16' discant Prestant 8' Holfluit 8' Subbas 16'
Octaaf 8' Gedekt 8' Viola da Gamba 8' Quint 10 2/3'
Holpijp 8' Octaaf 4' Octaaf 4' Octaaf 8'
Salicionaal 8' Roerfluit 4 Fluit 4' Holpijp 8'
Octaaf 4' Gemshoorn 2' Fluit 2' Octaaf 4'
Nachthoorn 4' Sifflet 1 1/3' Flageolet 1' Bazuin 16'
Nasard 2 2/3' Scherp IV-V Clarinet 8' Trompet 8'
Octaaf 2' Trompet 8'     Trompet 4'
Mixtuur III-V Dulciaan 8'     Cornet 2'
Cornet V            
Trompet 16'            
Trompet 8'            

Text from the booklet of the CD: "Organworks of Dietrich Buxtehude Volume 4" (MDG MD+GL3424) by Harald Vogel

Photo to the left is from: 
The designation “Aa-Kerk’ goes back to the period following the Reformation: During the Middle Ages this important town church, which was greatly enlarged during the fifteenth century, was dedicated to the Virgin Mary (“Onze Lieve Vrouwe ter Aa-kerk”) and situated along a small river bearing the name of “Aa.” The name of the river has stayed with the church over the centuries.
1694-1695: The organ history of the Aa-Kerk reached its zenith with the large new instrument built by Arp Schnitger during 1694-97. It had four manuals (Hoofwerk, Rugpositief, Bovenwerk and Borstwerk along with the pedal and forty stops and thus was the largest organ built by the Hamburg master in the Netherlands. It was, then, a very costly instrument which Schnitger described as follows in his records (see G. Fock: Arp Schnitger und seine Schule, Kassel, 1974, p.285): “I have spared nothing and have made everything magnificent; I have even added 6 registers on a separate windchest, and have still made money on this organ.”
1710: Sadly, Schnitger’s masterpiece was destroyed on April 12, 1710, when the tower collapsed. Only the original conceptual drawings make it possible to obtain an impression of the external form of the instrument.
1814: For nearly 100 years, the Aa-Kerk remained without an organ. Finally in 1814, through a gift of King Willem I, the Schnitger organ of the Academiekerk came into the possession of the Aa-Kerk. The Academiekerk (university church) was, during these years, given over to the use of the catholic congregation. This instrument of Schnitger’s was built between 1699 and 1702, with a case by Groningen’s official masterbuilder, Allart Meijer, as was also true of the other Schnitger organs in the city and province of Groningen.
Schnitger retained certain stops from the ex­isting Academiekerk organ, which had been built 30 years earlier by Hendrick Hermans van Loon and Andreas de Mare, with 32 registers on 3  manuals  (Hoofdwerk,  Rugpositief, Borstwerk) and pedal, probably utilizing older materials. Hendrick Hermans van Loon was or­ganist of the Aa-Kerk organ until 1671, and Andreas de Mare had worked on the large Aa-Kerk organ until 1663. Considering the fact that major work was also under way on the organ of the Martinikerk, one sees that very intensive organ building activity was taking place in Groningen at this time. During this period Groningen was the most famed “organ city” in the Netherlands. Besides expanding the Martini organ with a pedal, including a 32’ Praestant, Schnitger also built new organs in the Pelstergasthuiskerk and in the Lutherse Kerk. The in­strument in the Pelster-Gasthuiskerk (with al­terations made in 1774) has been preserved, so that today Groningen is  the only city with three Schnitger organs.
This specification of the Academiekerk organ, which came to the Aa-Kerk in 1815-16, was first preserved in Nicolaas Arnoldi Knock's collection of organ specifications, published in Groningen in 1788.
In addition: 2 tremulants, 4 ventils, 1 bellows signal, 2 couplers, one for the Manual, and one for the Borstwerk; by means of these all 3 manuals may be played on one.
The organ has 6 bellows, and was made by Arp Schnitger in 1702, and repaired by A.A. Hinsz in the year 1784.”
Albert Antonius Hinsz, who carried on the work of the Schnitger organ shop in Groningen in the 18th century, had created the possibility of playing all three manuals together with the installation of a manual coupler between the Hoofdwerk and the Rugpositief.
The erection of this richly-appointed instrument in the Aa-Kerk was completed in the years 1815-16 by the Groningen organ builder Jo­hann Wilhelm Timpe. The Groningen wood car­ver Matthijs Walles carved classical figures on the Hoofdwerk and Rugpositief cases, as well as Atlas figures under the pedal towers. Thus, the entire width of the lower casework was utilized in this way.
1830: A short time later, in 1830, the instrument was altered tonally. Timpe replaced Schnitger’s Borstwerk with a Bovenwerk which was placed behind the central tower of the Hoofdwerk.
1857-1858: Further alteration, in accord with the tastes of the period, was carried out in 1857-58 by the Groningen organ builder Petrus van Qeckelen. He replaced the keyboards and set up new chests in the 1815 case for enlargement of the Pedal; three new stops (Subbas 16’, Quint 10 2/3’, Holpijp 8’) were added, as were the C-sharp and D-sharp, missing in Schnitger’s pedal. Later, he built a larger chest in the Hoofdwerk for an expanded specification, for which the back wall was partially removed.
It is in this form that the organ is preserved today.
1919-1928: The alterations of the intervening years consist of replacement of the six wedge bellows with one large reservoir-bellows (placed in the tower room by Klaas Doornbos in 1919), and the installation of swell shades for the Bovenwerk in 1924. Following a cleaning in 1928, the Cornet 2’ and Posaune 16’ were, unfortunately,  removed. A new Posaune was temporarily erected on a pneumatic chest off-set behind the organ; a Voix Celeste was added to the Bovenwerk, and three other stops were replaced (Nazard and Mixture in the Hoofdwerk as well as the Mixture in the Pedal).
1946: The Quintfluit 1 1/3’ built in 1946 was later converted to a Flageolet 1’.
*Beginning in 1936, Johan van Meurs was organist of the Aa-Kerk for more than four decades. He trained an entire generation of organists and awakened great enthusiasm for the unusual tonal qualities of the instrument entrusted to him. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the organ was a source of inspiration for organists and builders who concerned themselves with the North Ger­man organ art.
1977: In 1977, at the beginning of restoration work in the church, the insides of the organ were dis­mantled and stored in the choir of the Martinikerk. After the completion of the church restoration, reconstruction work was undertaken on the stored parts of the organ, including repair of wind chests, playing action, and damaged pipes in the Bovenwerk, by Reil of Heerde. Neither the pneumatically appended Posaune 16’ nor the Voix Celeste were reinstalled; only the resonators of the Posaune were retained for a transitional phase, in which they have been combined with blocks and shallots reconstructed by Reil and placed on Schnitger windchests. After the reinstallation and sealing of the chests, the wind pressure was set at 76 mm, the proper level for Schnitger pipework.
1990: At the time of the reinstallation of the organ in the renovated church, both a thorough renovation and a reconstruction of the original (Schnitger) organ were consciously aban­doned. This reinstallation was a precautionary measure, taken for the purpose of protecting this monument and its present outstanding tonal characteristics, while at the same time keeping open the various possibilities for restoration (preservation of the 19th-century con­dition, or reconstruction in the spirit of the Schnitger organ of the Academiekerk).

Instruments, Works, and Registrations
The two Schnitger organs in Noordbroek and the Groningen Aa-Kerk reflect the continuity of eighteenth and nineteenth century develop­ments, but did not undergo thorough renovation transforming their basic original design. The old stops of both instruments are in an extraordi­narily good state of preservation. This means that the exclusive use of ranks from the seven­teenth and eighteenth centuries (including the beautiful Noordbroek front principals of 1809) produces a homogeneous tonal picture.
Every thorough renovation entails a loss of old material. Organ restoration, as it has developed during the last twenty years, has been distin­guished by a marked increase in historical knowledge, craftsmanship, and musical under­standing in matters of voicing. The first phase in the attempted restoration of historical organs in Northern Germany, beginning around 1930 and continuing into the late 1960s, was marked by limited historical knowledge, insufficient ex­perience with old building practices, and a mis­understanding of sound aesthetics dictated by the antiromantic orientation of the neobaroque ideal. Almost all the restorations of those de­cades brought with them unnecessarily large losses of material. In most cases these efforts fell short of even a satisfactory degree of tech­nical operational reliability.
Fortunately, organ builders were more careful with the old instruments in the Netherlands and especially so in Groningen. During this phase of development the Schnitger organs in the Groningen area were not restored. Only the Groningen Martini organ was rebuilt and equipped with electric action during this phase, in 1938-39 to be exact. Seven important Schnitger organs, instruments that had not un­dergone substantial modification during the pre­vious decades, were presented at the Groningen Schnitger Conference in 1969. At the time the Groningen organs offered an important point of orientation in the planning of ways to remove the damage resulting from the attempted restorations of the historical organs of Northern Germany.
The successful restoration projects of the past twenty years and in many cases second re­storations, have ameliorated the situation so much that it is now possible to undertake a complete recording of Buxtehude’s works on in­struments of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries restored to their original form.
The selection of works recorded in Noordbroek and Groningen favours the “remote keys” be­cause both organs are tuned according to well-tempered systems. The Aa-Kerk organ departs only slightly from equal temperament, thus lending the F-sharp-minor and E-major prel­udes a mild character. The sound produced by individual pipes, ranks in different combinations and the full ensemble is so harmonious that the “sour thirds” of the near- equal temperament do not disturb. The “pulling effect” in the tuning can be heard very clearly in the long chords and is produced by the mutual influence of the pipes which are arranged in thirds on the windchest.
Along with this we have the extraordinarily fine acoustical circumstances in the Aa-Kerk and in Noordbroek. The combination of presence and spacious sound in the Aa-Kerk acoustics is ideal for the presentation of the North German organ repertoire with its characteristic features of complex polyphony and numerous rests which make reverberation and fading out  integral parts of the music.
The registration of the plenum on this recording follows the eighteenth century practice  instead of the seventeenth century style of sep­arately registered divisions: the divisions are coupled to form a tutti. This modification in reg­istration practice was dictated by the current condition of the Noordbroek and Groningen or­gans. In both cases original mixtures are avail­able in only one division; in Noordbroek in the Hoofdwerk and in Groningen in the Rugpositief. Therefore, as a rule the pedal coupler has been employed for the plenum.