Main case: base with view of the Brustwerk
Main case: base with view of the Brustwerk

The decoration of the case - an incomparable richness

The decoration of the case of the Gröningen castle organ is quite outstanding. It has a definitely baroque character and strong influences from the Italian tradition. At first side one could even think that the décor is part of the Counter-Reformation (translator’s note: an anomaly at this Protestant court)! This is only at the end of the sixteenth century but some of the sculptured parts even make one think of a profusion worthy of the Rococo. However they also co-exist with sculptured panels and symbolic figures of a totally Renaissance inspiration.

The largest pipe in the towers and the flats was surrounded by a sculpted and gilded sheath, a rare type of ornamentation. From afar the gilded elements can pass for simple interlacing, but they are in fact very fine reproductions of stringed and reed musical instruments and various decorative elements, including many exotic fruits and a hunting trophy. Flutes and cornets are also represented. These different instruments are also found at the outsides of the pedal towers, this time painted on a wood cut-out. When one looks at the higher parts of the case one can see that there is not the slightest surface which is not sculpted, painted or gilded, portraying a multitude of decorative figures and cherubs.

The access doors to the different tonal divisions leading to the small Pedal and the Brustwerk are of a more typically Renaissance decoration. They also represent music making angels playing the lute, the bass viol or a cello, as well as wind instruments in the shape of hunting trumpets. Many varieties are fruits are represented on the entire surface of the case with a predilection for exotic ones. The case of the Rückpositiv, which can be seen in Harsleben, presents the same type of ornamentation, laden with symbolic figures. One might think that this constitutes a replica of the main case. It is nothing of the sort. The motifs are on the same construction but the décor is clearly intended to be independent. The fairly recently underwent a restoration involving the paintwork, red having replaced the original blue and gold. One needs to imagine a unified color scheme in order to get an idea of the ensemble of the two cases.

The artist, charged with the decoration of the cases must have been very famous because it seems he enjoyed total freedom of expression for its realization. The splendor of the Gröningen organ was certainly the result of the wish of Duke Heinrich Julius to strike the imagination, aided by the fame and unassailable quality of the artist’s work.

Source: Jean-Charles Ablitzer - The David Beck Organ of the Castle Chapel in Gröningen