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

The case of the David Beck organ in the Martinikirche in Halberstadt - their place in the history of art and in the history of organ

The case of the 1596 Beck organ is interesting both from the point of view of the history of art and of the history of the organ. It is one of the most luxurious cases in the in the Northern Europe of the sixteenth century and reveals an unrivalled artistic ambition. Its wealth of ornaments and decorative figures makes a great impression on the observer. It reflects the need of display of a Renaissnce prince obsessed with art and music. With this instrument, initially constructed for the chapel of his of his castle in Gröningen, Duke Heinrich Julius of Braunschweig-Lüneburg created the ideal type of princely organ in the age of mannerism. The construction of this organ, soon known world-wide, was one of the Duke’s most audacious undertakings. Demands concerning sonority and decoration would result in the realization of an organ not the most imposing but the most grandiose of the age. Beck’s opulent and lavish creation is a kind of encyclopaedia of all the sonorities one could imagine and desire around 1600.

However one cannot grasp the total architecture of the organ in its overwhelming beauty without the Rückpositiv, in the mind at least. Separated from the organ in the nineteenth century it is now to be found in the church at Harsleben. The imposing position of the Pedal towers, which descend to the lower level of the tribune below, show the largest pipes in all their length and magnificence. The Pedal specification is a significant element in the history of the organ. Generally known by the term “Hamburg case” the structure of Beck’s organ is an early and immensely example for its type.

The 1610 organ by Compenius in Frederiksborg castle near Hilerod, in Denmark, also realized at the behest of Duke Heinrich Julius, and originally intended for the castle of Hessen halfway between Halberstadt and Wolfenbüttel, is considered to be the most important tonal instrument of Central German organ building around 1600. In the same way the case of Beck’s organ is a unique symbol of what organ building could best produce in terms of architectural and sculptural splendour between the end of the Renaissance and the beginning of the Baroque. At this level it can only be compared to the most magnificent Italian, French, Dutch and Spanish cases of the era.

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