When I first moved to Germany back in 2000, I lived in Bonn. Around the corner from my apartment was a large, red-brick church. I thought – it’s bound to have an organ I can practise on – so I went round and checked it out. Oh my! This was one of Germany’s most famous organ concert venues – the legendary St Josef in Bonn-Beuel, home of the amazing 3-manual Oberlinger copy of a traditional French Romantic Cavaillée-Coll organ. I met the organist, Hans Peter Reiners, who gave me a key to the organ and a list of services I could play for. I hadn’t even seen the console yet!
Hans Peter Reiners, for those who have never heard of him, is a rather important figure in the German organ world. Hans Peter “reintroduced” the French Romantic organ style to Germany in the early 80s. Organ building in Germany after the Second World War was, shall we say, something of a mixed bag, with a dubious mix of neo-baroque nasties and bland-voiced instruments that could just about accompany a service. I’m generalising here of course – there were and are still some fantastic instruments out there, but the run-of-the-mill stuff was not always of the finest “Made in Germany” quality.
The original organ in St Josef was in dire need of attention and rather than fork out hundreds of thousands of Deutsche Marks, Hans Peter “recreated” a symphonic organ in the French style. The donor instrument was a Kuhn organ from Switzerland and after several visits to famous Paris organs including St Sulpice and Notre Dame to examine the pipework, Oberlinger was contracted to build the organ for St Josef.
The organ was opened in a series of concerts in 1981. At the console for the first series – no less than Daniel Roth (St Sulpice) and Pierre Cochereau (Notre Dame).
Over the years, there have been over 600 concerts, featuring organists from all over the world. Regular guests include Olivier Latry (Notre Dame, Paris), Vincent Dubois (Notre Dame, Paris), Kalevi Kiviniemi (Finland) and yours truly!
Over the years, the organ has been enlarged (32′ reed / chamades etc.) and more recently, the organ underwent serious changes, including addition of a choir organ at the front of the church and a central, moveable concert console (4 manuals and pedals) controling both organs. the new console is controversial – the “old” organ was split up into its individual chests allowing for “floating” manuals at the new console. This means that the Grande Orgue, Récit and Pedal divisions can now be split into 2 separate divisions each. This results in a 9-division organ spread across 4 manuals and pedals (2xGrande Orgue, 1xPositif, 2xRécit, 2xPedal, 2xChoir Organ). it can appear quite daunting at first, but once you get your head around the concept, it’s great fun! And then there are all the toys and features…
Here’s our visit to St Josef in April 2019.