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Historical organs in Finland


30 instruments


Finnish organ history

The history of the organ in Finland dates back some half a millennium. The land and its people remained poor for a long time due to a succession of wars and drafting of men to military service, and there was little scope for a flourishing of organ building until the latter half of the 19th century and the turn of the 20th. Stylistically, Finnish organ history is connected to the Baltic building tradition, which arrived by two routes: through Sweden, of which Finland was part for centuries, and through the Baltic states.
Despite Finland's peripheral location, we have always had lively connections with the rest of the world, and styles and fashions have been quick to arrive. There is little documentation, however, because much has been lost to fire and the ravages of war. The documents that have been preserved have not been extensively studied, and thus new information amending our existing knowledge is constantly emerging.
The period of organ history covered here begins towards the end of the Catholic era and concludes at the point when Finland became independent.
The organ became an ecclesiastical instrument about 1,000 years ago. Between the 12th and the 14th centuries organs became widespread throughout Europe; for instance, at the end of the 14th century there were already some 30 organs on the island of Gotland alone. We do not know exactly how far north organ building spread during the 15th century.


First organists in Finland before 1600
Organs along the coast - the 17th century
The first Finnish-born organ builders - the 18th century
A quiet period - the early 19th century
From the first organ builder's workshop to the Customs Act - 1843-1862
From the Customs Act to the second Finnish organ builder's workshop - 1863-1872
Generation shift and competition - 1872-1879
Pneumatic experiments - 1880-1889
Pneumatic action into full play - 1890-1899
New features in the façade - 1900-1909
New sound ideals - 1910-1917


First organists in Finland before 1600
As liturgical practice was flourishing at Turku Cathedral in the 15th century, it is highly probable that there was an organ there too. It is even possible that Turku had an organ as early as in the late 14th century. Be that as it may, the earliest documentary evidence of an organ built in Turku Cathedral dates from the mid-16th century. Pedersöre Church may also already have had an organ in the early 16th century.
Churches and organs were destroyed by fire and war, and there was no potential for a continuous organ tradition to develop. Nevertheless, organists and men who maintained organs are known to us by name from as early as the 16th century. 

Organs along the coast - the 17th century
At least 28 new organs were built in Finland during the 17th century, dotting the coastline from Oulu to Viipuri. There may also have been an organ in Lappeenranta in the late 1690s.
Organ builders known by name from this period are Per Hansson Thel (the 14-stop organ in Oulu Cathedral built in 1651), Anders Bruse (Turku Cathedral, 1652) and Claes Frantzon Zander (Sund, 1672).
Organ builders Christian and Johan Beijer were brothers. They were active in Ostrobothnia in the late 17th century and even after the period of Russian occupation known as the 'Great Hate' (1714-21). They are considered the most significant Finnish organ builders of their time. The Beijer organs demonstrate an independent design approach and a high degree of professional skill. Their dispositions are heavy on the pleno, as was the case with most organs in the Baltic Sea area.
The Beijers built their first instrument in Vaasa. They then built the Pedersöre organ, whose remains are today housed in Jepua Church. The Beijer organ in Kokkola, built in 1696, was the largest instrument of the century. Until 1951, it was the only organ in Finland to have a Rückpositiv. This instrument has been reconstructed and is today housed in Munsala Church.
The Nauvo Positive at the Finnish National Museum is a well-preserved 17th-century organ, the most important and valuable one of its kind in the entire country. It was built in southwestern Finland in the 1660s but probably includes pipes that are even older.

The first Finnish-born organ builders - the 18th century
The Great Northern War (1700-21), especially the 'Great Hate' (1714-21), forms a watershed in the organ history of Finland. Only two organs survived the war intact; some others were preserved but badly damaged. The first instrument to be repaired after the war was the organ in Oulu, repaired by the Beijers in 1726 (though some sources indicate that the Beijers built a completely new organ). The first new organ after the war was built by J.N. Cahman in Turku Cathedral in 1727. This 32-stop instrument attracted much attention, and there are several lively descriptions of its properties. This organ was destroyed in the Great Fire of Turku in 1827. Johan Niclas Cahman was the most important organ builder in Sweden in the 18th century and lent his name to an entire school of organ builders.
More organs were built in the late 18th century than at any time before it. The relative stability of peacetime helped consolidate the economy, and some notably large organs were built in coastal towns. It is significant that Finnish-born men now took up organ building with great determination. The number of organists increased, and they became better at their profession. Some organists came from disbanded military bands. Some organists even built their own instrument first, thus ensuring that they got the organist's post at that particular church. A third of the new organs built during this period were in rural parishes, and some of them were inland in contrast to the earlier coastal locations.
Half of the 18th-century organs were of Swedish origin, their builders including Johan Niclas Cahman, Olof Hedlund, Jonas Gren & Peter Stråhle and Carl Wåhlström. Vogel of Lübeck built an organ in Viipuri in 1753. The remaining organs, however, were built by Finnish builders. Anders Telin, a master shipwright from Kokkola, built two organs, and Nils Strömbäck built three. Organists Petter Lindqvist and Gabriel Lind built one organ each. Carl Petter Lenningh and Carl Torenberg of Turku were also organ builders.
Until the 1780s, the musical properties of these new organs followed the Baltic Sea area Baroque tradition. The Principal pleno was the foundation for the dispositions, with the other stops being complementary. Most instruments had a single manual and were used mainly for liturgical purposes, primarily for accompanying communal hymn singing. A typical single-manual disposition was based on a 4' Principal and included a 'large' Quint, an Octava and a compound stop. There was usually a Trumpet stop and a second, split reed stop with a 4' Trumpet in the bass half and a Vox virginea for solo passages in the treble half. Rounding off the disposition were a 8' Gedackt and one or two small Flute stops. This kind of instrument was ideal for liturgical purposes; this disposition pattern was unique to the Kingdom of Sweden (of which Finland was part).
New musical ideas emerged in organ building in the last two decades of the 18th century. These manifested themselves not so much in the disposition as in the sound, which became broader, louder and more fundamental-dominant. The dynamic range of the disposition also increased. The Schwan organ in Nauvo from 1791 is a good example.
Of the slightly under 40 organs built in the 18th century, six still exist.

A quiet period - the early 19th century
The era of Swedish rule came to an end when Finland was annexed by Russia and became an autonomous Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire in 1809.
The early 19th century was a fairly quiet time in organ building, not just in Finland but elsewhere too. The late Baroque was a thing of the past, and Viennese Classicism was past its prime. Orchestras and orchestral music went through unprecedented changes, and the fortepiano supplanted clavichords and harpsichords. A new approach was sought in organ building too; this actually had its origins in the late 18th century but did not blossom until the mid-19th century.
The most important thing in Finnish organ building in the 19th century was the founding of the first permanent organ builder's workshops and the consequent possibility for an organ builder to actually make a living at his trade. All earlier organ builders had had another job on the side. This development had far-reaching consequences, most visibly the increase of the number of organs in the country by a factor of twelve, from slightly over 30 to over 400.
Olof Schwan built an organ in Mikkeli Rural Parish Church in 1800, but it burned down six years later. Per Strand built an organ in Hämeenlinna (1819) and another in Loviisa (1841). The latter was destroyed when the church burned down in 1855. Estonian-born Johan Råman, master builder of the Town of Hämeenlinna, emerged as an organ builder in the 1820s. The organ of Urjala Church (1830) seems to have been his first project, an instrument quite classical in both design and musical properties. By contrast, the Råman organ in Kuopio Cathedral (completed 1839) was the first Finnish instrument to incorporate the new ideas of the day.
The organ of Turku Academy is a chamber organ, a type rare in our country. The positive built by Gustav Andersson in 1820 and now housed in the Sibelius Museum is also of this type, but it is curious - and apparently unique in Finland - in that it has an automatic player system with a few pieces 'programmed'. Wilhelm Meyer, a German builder, built a two-manual organ in Viipuri in 1839; this instrument was moved in 1895 to Ylitornio Church, which was subsequently destroyed.
Gustav Andersson, one of Sweden's best-known organ builders, built large organs in Oulu and Turku Cathedrals at the turn of the 1840s. His organs embodied the musical trend that had already shown itself in the Schwan organ in Nauvo, the Strand organs and the Kuopio organ mentioned above. The Andersson organs had a powerful, dark and broad sound with a strong bass presence, although the treble had weight too. Andersson built his organs with a solid structure and robust details. Anders Thulé, his apprentice and foreman who later settled in Finland, continued his style.

From the first organ builder's workshop to the Customs Act - 1843-1862
Anders Thulé, a peasant farmer's son born in Kila in Sweden, was in charge of installing the organs at Oulu Cathedral and Turku Cathedral on behalf of his employer Andersson; Thulé was apparently also largely responsible for the voicing. The Andersson organ built in Inkoo brought Thulé to western Uusimaa, and while he was there he was commissioned to build an organ in Tammisaari. He received a second commission from Kangasala, and in early 1845 he moved there with his family and apprentices and set up a workshop.
Anders Thulé's organs were mature, fully developed instruments with a broad, powerful and singing sound and with dramatic terracing of stop volumes. Thulé dimensioned his Principal pipes according to the changing mensuration principle, with the ends of the range being relatively wide and the mid-range relatively narrow. This principle is an old one. Dom François de Bedos, the well-known French organ theorist, used it almost exclusively; by the 19th century, however, it had become almost extinct.
Anders Thulé organs have relatively strong Principals and reeds, whereas his wood Flöjt d'amour is very soft. His Violin stops are not sharp. According to current knowledge, Anders Thulé built 36 organs, of which a third (14) are chamber organs with two to four stops. These were intended not only for home use but in some cases for church use too.
German organ builder Walcker built a large organ in Nikolai Church in Helsinki (today Helsinki Cathedral) in 1846; only the façade has been preserved. This instrument and the organ of Turku Cathedral were the largest organs in Finland in their day. The Helsinki organ was in the German Romantic tradition, while the Turku organ was in the Swedish Romantic tradition.
There was in Finland a law prescribing the privileges of an organ builder, dating back to the era of Swedish rule (1774). This law dictated that a craftsman was only allowed to set up as an independent organ builder after passing an examination set by the [Swedish] Royal Academy of Sciences. Not even all organ builders in Sweden had this qualification; in Finland, no organ builder had it. The permit procedure was discontinued with the enacting of the Act on Trade and Industry in 1879, after which everyone was free to pursue any trade or profession without limitation.
During this period, one in four organs was built by amateur builders. Some did excellent work in their own right, others were content to imitate professionals. Over 50 new organs were built in all in these years.

From the Customs Act to the second Finnish organ builder's workshop - 1863-1872
The new Customs Act of 1863 decreased the prices of all foreign imports, including organs. Although the number of foreign-built organs in Finland did not immediately swell, new builders appeared on the scene. The Language Act of 1863 declared Finnish to have an equal status to Swedish (previously the only official language of the land), and as a result Finnish began to appear in organ-building documentation - tenders, contracts and even some inspection reports. It was also at this time that organ terminology in Finnish was created; over the following decades, it was amended, specified and established.
New Swedish names on the scene were Åkerman & Lund (Vaasa, 1866; the Old Church in Helsinki, 1869) and Frans Andersson (several small organs in Åland). Estonian builder Gustav Normann built two organs in Finland. The Marcussen organ in Uusikaupunki was installed by the young Jens Alexander Zachariassen, who later settled in Finland and set up his own highly successful business. Brothers Johan and Teodor Buchert built their first organ in Sakkola in 1844, but their other four organs in Finland date from the first half of the 1860s. Only two façades and a handful of pipes remain of the work of these highly skilled professional builders.
Anders Thulé added a forte-piano function to some of his single-manual organs. In this design, the slider chest was divided into two halves, with the quiet stops on one side and the loud stops on the other. All the forte stops could be activated at once by depressing a pedal. This function is similar in effect and technical design to the combination action developed by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, France's most notable organ builder. Because of the double pallets, Anders Thulé often fitted these organs with a Barker machine.
Both Anders Thulé and, later, Zachariassen, provided some of their organs with a melody chest. The stops on these chests reinforced the melody voice even when the organist was playing a polyphonic texture. An aid to playing in trio, the concept was reincarnated in the pneumatic organ as the melody coupler.
Industrialization progressed in Finland, and economic welfare increased. The number of organs built, however, was slow to grow. Between 1863 and 1872, slightly over 30 organs were built, partly by amateurs. These organs had slider chests and mechanical action, and there was little change in sound at least in the work of any individual builder, although newcomers such as Normann of Estonia and Åkerman of Sweden augmented the sound colour palette as a whole.

Generation shift and competition - 1872-1879
When Anders Thulé died in February 1872, his son Bror Axel took charge of the workshop. The first organ built by Jens Alexander Zachariassen in Finland was completed in the same year. Bror Axel Thulé, who was generally considered unlikely to succeed, was faced with a competition situation. However, his first organ, in Mikkeli Rural Parish Church, was well received. Zachariassen quickly increased his output, and between 1872 and 1879 he built 50% more organs than Thulé did in Kangasala.
Petter Lybäck, precentor at Kruununkylä Church, built a few organs which resembled those of Åkerman in style. German builder Wilhelm Sauer built one organ in Finland, and Hans Petter Springert, precentor at Kalanti Church who had studied with Åkerman, built five. Gustav Normann built six organs. The number of amateur builders increased considerably; many of them came from Åland or the Swedish-speaking region of Ostrobothnia.
Zachariassen repaired the Andersson organ in Turku Cathedral. The changes he made to its disposition show how sound ideals had changed, while the installing of a Barker machine demonstrates that a lighter touch was called for.
Zachariassen established himself as a Finnish organ builder. His organs were well received; they were considered bright and clear in sound and of high quality technically. Box bellows were his hallmark, and were so highly thought of that in some cases tender documentation even required box bellows of other builders. Most of Zachariassen's façades were Neo-Gothic in style.
Bror Axel Thulé went to the World Fair in Paris on a study trip in 1878. On this trip he also acquainted himself with organ building, organ builders and organists in a variety of countries. As a result, the influence of his father in his work decreased. The sound of the Kangasala organs became more homogeneous, more intensive and more closely related to German Romanticism.
Of the some 100 new organs built in these years, about one in seven were commissioned by private individuals; the rest were built in churches.

Pneumatic experiments - 1880-1889
About 100 new organs were built during this period (Zachariassen built 42 and Bror Axel Thulé built 38). Only a few instruments were foreign-built. Walcker built an organ in Kokkola, Åkerman & Lund in Kumlinge and Isokyrö. A Hill organ of English manufacture was installed at the Finlayson factory church in Tampere. Finnish-built organs stood up well in comparison with their foreign counterparts.
Both Zachariassen and B.A. Thulé, working independently, developed the stop channel chest in the early 1880s. This was a remarkable innovation in several respects: it provided a more stable air supply, a lighter touch, better retention of tuning and greater resistance to climate changes. Because registration was easy and light, it enabled the construction of a number of auxiliary devices. Bror Axel Thulé patented his hanging-valve chest in 1886. Zachariassen's chest, designed by Johan Kaupelin, was simpler than Thulé's but not as easy to maintain.
Bror Axel Thulé was the first in Finland to use a pneumatic action, in the organ of the Alexander Church in Tampere (1885). The building contract allowed the builder to make changes to the technical specifications, although it was stipulated that such changes were not to diminish the value of the organ. It was not specified what these changes might or might not be. The disadvantageous location of the organ, together with the heating system (continuous heating, single-glazed windows) caused problems and much argument. What was surprising was that the pneumatic action worked but the portion of the organ operated through the Barker machine did not. This confusing result probably delayed the introduction of the pneumatic action, and it was not until 1887 that the next pneumatic organ was built, in Vesilahti. Thulé built two further pneumatic organs before the appearance of the pneumatic organs of Lappee Church (Zachariassen, 1891) and Johannes Church in Helsinki (Walcker, 1891).
In the mid-1880s, Zachariassen's nephew Johannes Lassen Zachariassen migrated from Denmark to become workshop foreman. The nephew had a solid training and was already an experienced organ builder. The reputation of Zachariassen's workshop was apparently largely due to his expertise. Jens Alexander, for his part, expanded his business to selling pianos and manufacturing corks.
Two ambitious young men worked at Bror Axel Thulé's workshop in the early 1880s: Albanus Jurva and Karl Gustav Wikström. Both went on to study abroad on a Government grant: Jurva with Walcker in southern Germany, Wikström in America. They returned to Finland in the 1890s.
The Golden Age of Finnish culture was approaching. The Church Act redefined the post of what used to be the precentor as an appointment unequivocally for a musician. The training of cantors, as they were now known, was begun in Church Music Colleges. Hymn singing was standardized with the introduction of a printed hymnal with music, or chorale book. New skilled organists were trained, and the estimation of the organ as a musical instrument increased.

Pneumatic action into full play - 1890-1899
In the final years of the 19th century, the fully-developed pneumatic action replaced the mechanical action in all but the smallest organs. The pneumatic action changed the playing properties of organs - the touch became very light - but the changes in sound that occurred had had their origin in the introduction of the stop channel chest while the mechanical action was still dominant. The pallets on this chest type open at slightly different times, and as a consequence the attacks had to be made less precise in voicing. This development continued over the change of action.
In the mid-1890s, the Marcussen organ builder's workshop in Åbenrå, Denmark had to recall Johannes Lassen Zachariassen, and as a result business gradually declined at the Zachariassen workshop. Jens Alexander Zachariassen's son Aleksander Gabriel, who took over the workshop in 1902, was not motivated to develop organ building further, but he did not wish to shut down the workshop either.
Karl Gustav Wikström returned from America in 1893 and settled in Naantali. Albanus Jurva founded an organ builder's workshop in Lahti in 1895. There was potential for this great increase of building capacity alongside Thulé and Zachariassen, since the demand for new organs was constantly growing.
Bror Axel Thulé built almost 40 school organs. They had a case resembling an upright piano, one open stop and octave couplers, and some had swell shutters operated by knee levers. The first of these instruments was built in 1880, but most of them date from the period between 1899 and 1902.
The organ façades of the 1890s were sturdy, often heavily decorated, and architecturally cast in one of the then current revival styles. Although façades were usually designed on a case-by-case basis, Zachariassen apparently used German style manuals as models for the façades of his later organs. Bror Axel Thulé also had a style manual - albeit rather late in his career - for clients to choose which option they preferred.
Organ dispositions varied little from one builder to the next. As organs became larger, new stops were added according to a specific pattern. In the 1890s, the number of stops above 4' and of solo reed stops was reduced. Octave couplers rendered the overall sound coherent and broad, and a large number of character stops provided variation for quieter tones and solos.
During this decade, 125 new organs were built, 51 of them in Kangasala and 33 in Uusikaupunki. Jurva built 13, Wikström built seven and German builder Walcker built five. Eight organs were built by other foreign organ builders. Only a handful was built by other Finnish builders and amateurs.

New features in the façade - 1900-1909
A definite change in mensuration and voicing can be observed in the last Zachariassen organs of the 1890s. The bold, clear sound concept became diffuse and equalized, and the overall sound became softer. This remained the sound of Zachariassen organs up to the last ones.
Bror Axel Thulé's dispositions lost the high Octave stops, and in many cases a Rauschkvint was used instead of a Mixtur. Although the sound was becoming conspicuously narrower, many Kangasala organs of this period still have a rather broad sound. The Principals became more active, the Violin stops stronger and the Flute stops more intensive. As a result, the overall sound seems firmer, sharper and bolder.
The pneumatic action evolved through technical variations. Thulé pursued innovations methodically, while Zachariassen preferred to use a mechanical tracker action and mechanical couplers on his consoles even with pneumatically operated chests.
The façade of the Toholampi organ from 1907 is an interesting indication of things to come. The emphasis was moving to the pipes themselves, with a significant reduction in the wood framing structures. Several revival-style façades were built even after the Toholampi organ, but in the following decade the framing structures vanished altogether.
Architect Josef Stenbäck evidently designed the organ façades for all the churches he designed. All of Stenbäck's façades consisted wholly of dummy pipes. Their design incorporates Neo-Gothic elements but also contemporary features. They are handsome in appearance and balanced in composition.
Between 1900 and 1909, a total of 163 new organs were built: 76 by Bror Axel Thulé, 49 by Jurva or the Lahti organ factory. Walcker's name is on ten instruments from this period, and Zachariassen's on eleven. Albanus Jurva rented his workshop out to Walcker in 1907 and stayed on as foreman. This arrangement only lasted for two years, and Walcker continued to build organs in his own name during that time too. Karl Gustav Wikström's curious career as an organ builder came to an end when he died at his work voicing the Nilsiä organ in 1909.

New sound ideals - 1910-1917
Bror Axel Thulé died in 1911 and was succeeded by his son Martti Tulenheimo, a graduate engineer. The policy of the Kangasala workshop changed noticeably. The most conspicuous reform was that the façades now no longer had wood frames around the flats. The dispositions also changed, and the voicing became sharper. The organ sound began to resemble that of a harmonium.
The First World War and Finland's struggle for independence brought a quiet period to organ building. During the Civil War of 1918, some organs were destroyed, and to this day some instruments have bullet holes as a reminder of this period.
The workshop of Jens Alexander Zachariassen wound up its business; as long there were craftsmen still in its service, there was work available for them, but the workshop's last organ was built in Hirvensalmi in 1916.
Organ building in Lahti also ended, with the building of the Nummi organ in 1915 and an isolated repair job following that. J.A.G. Hymander, director of the Lahti organ factory, emigrated to France. Albanus Jurva moved to America.
Between 1910 and 1917, 99 organs were built, a slight decline on the previous decade.
After 1917, the debate on the Alsace organ movement was introduced to Finland. The research on old organs that had begun in Alsace before the First World War had called existing organ building principles into question. Aarne Wegelius (1891-1957), organist of the Old Church in Tampere, was acquainted with the movement. He launched public debate and eventually brought about major changes and reforms.