Organ building and the Orgelbewegung in the German Democratic Republic by Markus Voigtby Markus Voigt | Het ORGEL | Year 105 | (2009) | Issue 5
Markus Voigt Organ building and the Orgelbewegung in the German Democratic Republic
Het ORGEL 104 (2009), nr. 5, 26-43 [summary]
The organ culture of the German Democratic Republic (DDR) can only be understood against the background of economic, political, and ideological circumstances.
Organ building firms (including 4 state firms and 17 private firms), in which 250 people worked, were organized into the Artikelgruppe Orgelbau in 1981. The firms were strongly dependent on each other and there was no competition: the only relevant factors were the shared need to acquire materials and to get along collectively with the socialist government.
To judge the style of life and standard of living in East Germany it is essential to consider the very subtle influence that the government, particularly the Ministry for State Security (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, Stasi), had on the populace. The true tragedy consists of the differentiated struggle between intellectuals and the highest levels of government, a very unequal struggle. Many highly placed employees of organ building firms were involved in this struggle. The churches as main clients of the organ building firms played an important role at the end of the DDR as important supporters of the opposition, in which employees from the organ building branch participated.
Organ building firms functioned as a reservoir people working and living creatively who with neither theological nor (church-)musical diplomas attempted to escape the narrow limits of socialist life.
The marked rise in interest amongst the populace (and especially the younger generation) for organs and organ concerts at the beginning of the seventies was closely related to the extremely advanced process of secularization imposed by the state; the intellectual Marxist dogmas were apparently unable to satisfy peoples emotional and religious needs, and organ concerts filled the gap.
Great interest among members of the Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschland, SED) led to the governments building concert halls with new organs. This solved the dilemma that SED members had to visit church buildings if they wished to hear an organ concert. By placing organs not in churches but in concert halls a statement was also made that the instrument, despite its association with religion and cult, could still find a place in socialist art.
Photos Jan Smelik