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1. The history of the Pieter Backer organ of the Bonifaciuschurch of Medemblik
History Pieter Backer orgel

For a report on the history of the Pieter Backer organ we rely on this website on three sources:

< In 1967 an LP record appeared on which Willem Talsma plays this Pieter Backer organ. The text on the sleeve of this LP record was written by Cor Edskes and gives an overview of the history of this instrument which was built by Pieter Backer.
< Gerard Verloop published several booklets about the organs of Oosthuizen and Monikkendam. From this we have copied several parts.
< Finally, the most recent is the history of the restoration that was carried out during 1988 to 2000.

Some of the pictures published on this page date back to 2000 when the organ case was still made of imitation oak. The pictures showing the imitation mahogany were made after the restoration.
The organ of the Boniface church at Medemblik 1671-1785

As far as the history of the organ in this church is concerned the preserved archival materials contain very little information. It is therefore impossible to give a complete picture of the history of this organ. We may conclude that the existing instrument was not the first in this church building. The building of this organ was completed in 1671. This is mentioned on a carved tablet which is attached to the back of the Positif. Pieter Backer, the organist at Medemblik, is mentioned as the builder.

This carved tablet was in fact the coat of arms of the organ builder. The two striking features here are the compass and the ruler. Many builders, as well as organ builders, have introduced these two attributes into their coat of arms. We only need to mention people such as Schnitger and Silbermann. For compass and ruler were instruments that played an integral role in the whole process of organ building in earlier years. Only very little is known about the organ builder Pieter Backer. In the chronicles of Cornelis Jansz. Opperdoes, dated approximately 1670, we read about the year 1668: "In the month of May Mr. Pieter Backer, who is organist here in Grootebroek, was appointed in the place of the late organist with a salary of three hundred guilders plus free accommodation or fifty guilders instead".
The further antecedents of Pieter Backer could not yet be brought to light.
The fact that Pieter Backer had a predecessor as organist proves that there was already an organ in this church building before the existing instrument.

His predecessor, Hendrik Jansz. Prins, had become quite well known because of his song book "Medemblikker Scharrezoodtjen". His tomb stone is now located in the Boniface church.
With Pieter Backer we come across the combination organist and organ builder, which was quite common some centuries ago. Apart from his activities of organ builder in Medemblik we know very little about him. During the years 1674/75 he carried out some repair work on the organ of St. Stephen's church in Hasselt (O). Besides other things he also added some more stops to this organ. During the year 1676 he carried out some work on the organ of the Grote Kerk in Hoorn. This was mentioned in a booklet by C.A. Abbing titled "Brief history of the City of Hoorn" ("Beknopte geschiedenis van de Stad Hoorn") published in 1839. The total cost of these repairs was 2000 guilders. Also here Pieter Backer was referred to as organist and organ builder in Medemblik. The chronicles of Opperdoes tell us something about the building of the organ of Medemblik as follows:
"In the same year (1670) he commenced work on this organ and continuously worked on it during the time that he resided here for a period of two years. As requested, two or three other organists inspected the completed work and declared that the job was well done. The case and other work was done by the cabinet maker Jacob Dirckz. Laechlant. The engraving on top of the case, and on the case itself, was done by Jan Meegh. After the death of Jan Meegh, the engraving on the lower part of the case as well as the coat of arms was done by Johannes Kinnema of Alkmaar. Besides that, the organ was painted and the front pipes were gold plated by Adrijaan Spangjaert".

Apart from these particulars, which speak for themselves, there is very little further information available. The building contract was most likely lost. Some financial accounts did remain preserved. From these we are able to conclude the following: For the pipe work 1034 pounds of lead was used and for the soldering of the pipes 7.5 pounds of solder was used.
From these quantities we must conclude that in any case by far the greatest part of the metal pipe work was fabricated by Pieter Backer. By studying the old pipe work, one comes to the same conclusion with the exception of a number of pipes of the Octaaf 4' and the Holpijp 8' of the Borstwerk. Also, the case was most likely completely renewed perhaps with the exception of the pedestal of the main organ. This shows a number of older characteristics. It is still obvious today that mainly lead was used for the pipe work. Backer's pipe work has a very high lead content.

It has been suggested from time to time that even more pipe work, including the windchest of the Borstwerk, might be from an even earlier date. This, though, is not very likely. One concludes this mainly because of the small size of the Borstwerk. This does not necessarily prove this because the playing practice of those days when using the Borstwerk did not need a great size.
It can be concluded from Pieter Backer's financial account of the performed work, that he strongly maintained the traditional conception of the Dutch organ building. From the financial accounts it can also be concluded that the organ already possessed a Positif at the time of the original construction. This refers to the lowest organ. It is possible that this Positif had a limited size. During the later restoration reference is made to the size of the case which was considered too small. Furthermore, it appears that the organ possessed doors that could be opened and closed by means of ropes. Tin foil was glued to the front lead pipes. Ten dozen pieces of tin foil were obtained from Amsterdam. Obviously, Amsterdam had a certain reputation for the production of beaten tin foil. This Amsterdam tin foil was also obtained for the organ in the Stadtkirche in Celle (Germany). This happened in the years 1952/53 when the previously mentioned instrument was built by Hermann Kroeger.
Much wood turning work for the organ was carried out by Evert Hans Spaniaert. There were also some musical instruments with the turning work for instance 15 horizontal pipes and 15 Schalmei pipes. It is not clear if these pipes were placed in the front of the organ or in the inner part of the organ.
It is possible that parts of the reed pipes are meant here.

It is remarkable that with this organ the unique Regaal of the Borstwerk is manufactured entirely from pear wood. The head and resonator are made from one piece. It is the only stop of its kind in our country. Some people are of the opinion that this stop may originate from an even older organ. However, taking into account all the turning work, then it is almost certain that this stop was added by Pieter Backer.

It is regrettable that we are not able to form a complete picture of the original disposition of this organ. This is mainly because of the restoration of the Positif. At that time the organ was placed on the northern wall of the church. This happened quite frequently in those days.
Apart from some acoustical considerations there were possibly also other considerations for placing the organ on the Northern wall. This could have been influenced by the mystical sentiment of the Middle Ages. For the northern side with the view on the altar, was the left side - as the word implies - the sinister side. This was the side where the devil resided. In the Middle Ages the organ was often regarded as an instrument of the devil. Think for instance of the devils' heads that were frequently fixed to the front pipes. For this reason it is not so surprising that the northern wall was chosen as the preferred place for this instrument.

The first time we hear about changes to the organ, after the original work, was in 1766. It is a statement from the organist Goedkoop Smit in Medemblik. He was organist in the second half of the previous century. His statement must therefore be viewed with a certain amount of scepticism. Apparently, he was also the reporter for M.H. van 't Kruijs, who also mentions this organ in his collection of specifications. According to this information four bellows were renewed and a new stop was also added.
It is not possible to determine which stop this was and neither was the name of the builder known.

In 1784 the Positif appeared to be in a substandard condition. Some pipework even disintegrated during the tuning. They asked for advice from the organ builder Bätz in Utrecht, who had already been responsible for the maintenance of this instrument. In 1778 he was asked to take care of the maintenance after he ended his partnership with his two brothers. Bätz was contracted to carry out quite some extensive work. Regrettably this contract could not be found anywhere either. The first mention about this matter we find in the "Boekzaal van de Geleerde Waereld", November 1785, page 618 where we read:
"Medemblik 2nd October 1785. The Reverent A.C. Swaving formally acknowledged the restoration of this organ in the Grote Kerk in a sermon about Psalm XXXIII: 1b,2: "For praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the LORD with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings". This same instrument has been expertly improved by Mr. Christopher Bätz (organ and harpsichord builder in Utrecht). He also added a Positif consisting of the following stops:
1 Preastant 4'
2 Holpijp 8'
3 Roerfluit 4'
4 Quint 3'
5 Octaaf 2'
6 Sexqualter 2 ranks discant
7 Mixtuur 3, 4, 5, 6 ranks halved
8 Trompet discant 8'
9 Dulciaan bass 8'
This as well as the restored work was meticulously examined by the Messrs. Bruinier, organists at Enkhuizen, and proven to be most satisfactory".

Apart from adding the Rugwerk the activities of Batz continued. A completely new organ balcony was constructed. This was placed on top of four stone pillars. We read the following words on the tombstone of Nelis Sijbesten Kuypers who died in 1667:
"Het orgels soet accoort mogt ons als grafnaelt weze. Daaronder ruste wij meer als een eeuw voor deze. Haar nieuwe steuncolom verdreef ons uyt dat sant. De meester van het graf, Jan Ham, boodt ons zijn handt en heeft aan 't kil gebeent dit graf ter woon gegeve. Dit zij te zijner eer op deze steen geschreve A 1784".
On 28th September 1785 Batz' work is completed. Because the work proved to be more extensive than expected Bätz asked for an extra payment. He refers to the alterations of the pipes of the manual. No mention is made of the exact alterations. The total cost of the work came to 4,913 guilders, 6 nickels and 12 pennies. It is almost certain that at that time the shutters were also replaced by carved shutters which are still present today. In an inventory dated 13th March 1799 the alterations of 1784/85 are mentioned again including the specification of the Rugwerk. It is also mentioned that the bass of the Holpijp consists of wooden pipes. Also, that the Sesquialter consists of two ranks and that the mixture supposedly has 2-4 ranks, which is incorrect.
They also mention that the Borstwerk remained unaltered.

The organ was repaired in the year 1809 by the organ builder J.W. Gerstenhauer from Monnickendam. The cost of these repairs was 250 guilders. In the previous century this organ was also maintained by Knipscheer and later on by Flaes and Brunjes. In 1853 mention is also made of the stops Sexqualter, Quintadeen and Octaaf 4'. This possibly refers to the stops of the Manuaal. Broekhuijzen supplies the details of the specifications of this organ in his collection of specifications which is as follows:

Prestant 8'
Bourdon 16'
Quintadeen 8'
Octaaf 4'
Superoctaaf 2'
Sesquialter 2 ranks
Mixtuur 4 sterk
Trompet 8'


Holpijp 8'
Octaaf 4'
Superoctaaf 2'
Sesquialter 2 ranks disc.
Regaal 8'

Holpijp 8'
Prestant 4'
Roerfluit 4'
Quint 3'
Octaaf 2'
Sexqualter 2 ranks disc.
Mixtuur 3-6 sterk
Trompet 8' disc.
Dulciaan 8' bass

Playing aids:

2 valves
Sexqualter 2 ranks disc.
exhaust valve

After the fire in the year 1517 only half the church was rebuilt. In 1858 plans are ripening to make the church smaller. A smaller church, though, won't benefit the organ. Therefore, on 31st January 1859 it was decided to proceed with this project to make the church smaller in a gothic style. They requested permission from the local town council to place the bellows of the organ in the tower.
The organ builder J.H. Overdiek in Medemblik received instruction to move the organ to the western wall. He was also asked to perform some repair work for the amount of 300 guilders. This also included the changing of the console. In 1861 the organ suffered some damage caused by a lightning strike. Several pipes had melted and the windchest had cracked. The organ builder van Dam from Leeuwarden was asked to repair the damage. Even though there was apparently an accurate and detailed record of the condition of the organ, it could not be found in the archives. According to the collection of specifications of M.H. van 't Kruijs this repair job was supposed to have cost an amount of 2000 guilders. Only from the instrument itself one was able to ascertain what repair work van Dam had carried out. A Gedektfluit 4' was placed in the Borstwerk in the place of the Sesquialter. In the Manuaal the Trompet 8' was renovated, de Scherp was removed, a Roerfluit 4' was added and the Quintadeen was changed into a Holpijp 8'. The largest pipes of the Bourdon 16' were replaced by wooden ones. Because of insufficient space these were placed outside the case. It is not clear if the windchest was completely renewed. It is possible that Bätz had already done that. In any case the arrangement of the pipework was changed by van Dam.

No changes were made to the Positif. After van Dam's activities no more significant work took place. The front pipes which originally were covered with tin foil were now covered with aluminum bronze. Finally, the manual coupler which had lasted 15 years was replaced by a foot pedal. In 1964/65 some repair works were carried out by the company Flentrop of Zaandam. The whole organ was cleaned and some damages were repaired. The windchest of the Borstwerk (dat nog uitgestoken cancellen heeft) was completely reglued. The manual coupler was brought back to its original condition. The specification remained unchanged. The pipework was tuned according to the temperature of Andreas Werckmeister (approximately 1700). From the length of the pipework it can be concluded that a similar temperature was also used by Bätz in 1784/85. Therefore, this organ is one of the first that was restored to its original tuning.
The recent history 1986 - 2000

1986 - Klaas Bolt was invited to visit this organ in July 1986 and advised the church wardens, looking ahead to a complete renovation, to repair the bellows.
- Upon closer examination it became apparent that the condition of the whole organ was far from excellent.

1987 - The organ committee of the Nederlands Hervormde Kerk (OCNHK) undertook, as requested, a complete examination of the organ and reported on 24th August 1987. On 27th September 1987 the church wardens requested Klaas Bolt to take upon himself the task of adviser for the restoration.

1988 - Klaas Bolt negotiates with the company Flentrop and on 24th May submits a quotation from that company for the amount of 522.000 guilders. The church wardens write to the Mayor and City Council Members and request to include in the budget for the next few years an amount of 540,000 guilders for the restoration of the organ.

1989 - Because of the rapid deterioration of the bellows financial assistance is applied for to carry out the restoration of the wind supply. Permission is granted by the RDM to carry out this work, however, only part of the restoration is allowed.
The company Flentrop is asked to carry out the restoration of the bellows.

Restoration of the bellows

Due to the lack of wind the sound of the organ deteriorated more and more and therefore it was decided in 1989 to begin with the restoration of the bellows.
Early November all four bellows were dismantled and hoisted from the tower and were going to be taken to the organ builder Flentrop's workshop in Zaandam. Before that happened workers of the City of Medemblik dismantled the room which housed the bellows to enable them to install several inspection windows. This would facilitate future maintenance. The wind channel between the tower and the organ was leaking so much that it also had to be dismantled. However, the problem was that when the tower was restored this channel was inadvertently covered with cement which made it necessary to completely dismantle the channel.
After that it became apparent that the whole thing was only kept together by leather remnants. It really was a miracle that up to that time the organ still produced a reasonable sound. During this restoration the bellows were completely dismantled, the timber joints repaired, cracks in the timber closed up and several timber parts replaced. Everything was put together again with a top quality glue and the whole thing was provided with new leather. Just in time for the church services for Christmas 1989 the bellows were put back in the tower. A new wind motor was mounted and the works were handed over.

During the restoration of the church building some young people had entered the building through the empty window frames and caused considerable damage to the organ. Most of the damage was done to the front pipes which could be repaired by Flentrop. Fortunately, the boys were picked up by the police fairly quickly and the damage could be recovered.

1990 - Klaas Bolt passed away and in his place Jan Jongepier was appointed as adviser. He consults with the RDM and the Flentrop company.

1991 - Jan Jongepier resigns for personal reasons. - The restoration of the church now comes into view which limits the financial possibilities for the restoration of the organ.
1992 - Mr. Cor Edskes is appointed as the new adviser. He consults with the RDM as well as with the rest.cie and arch.buro in matters relating to the organ during the restoration of the church building. It is decided to leave the organ inside the church till after the completion of the church restoration in order to come to a balanced view about the manner in which to restore the organ. This was necessary in connection with the climate as well as the acoustics of the restored church building.
Mr. Edskes prepares a report as well as an assessment with some variations relating to the phasing of the restoration.

Mr. Edskes prepares a report as well as an assessment with some variations relating to the phasing of the restoration.

The RDM raises objections to the cost of the restoration of the Hoofdwerk. - The restoration of the bellows was paid by the SPBO and is settled together with the 80% subsidy.

1993 - The RDM commits to paying for phase 1 for an amount of f 189.598. This needs to be paid by 1997/1998. However, included in this is the conclusion that the RDM considers the cost of phase 2 and 3 too high and requests further details.

1994 - Flentrop is given the order for restoration. Formal commencement date needs to be no later than 31st December in connection with the conditions from the sponsors.

1995 - In March the dismantling of the pipework and windchests is commenced.
1996 - The re-installation is delayed due to the climate in the church. In the winter of 1995/96 one became increasingly concerned about damage to the restored organ due to the low relative air humidity.

1997 - After agreement has been reached about the humidification and the climate in the church building the Rugwerk is brought back. During the final examination the final result was critically listened to by the government authorities. Hans Steketee, the director of Flentrop organ builder at that time, gave a demonstration on the organ. One of the government authorities, Onno Wiersma, judged the result and considered it to be exceptionally good. This resulted in obtaining permission (as well as subsidy) to commence the final stage of the restoration.

1999 - The organ builder Flentrop receives the order to carry out the restoration of the Hoofdwerk and the mechanics.
In October 1999 the pipes and windchests are removed from the organ and transported to Flentrop's workshop. The main consideration of this restoration was to maintain the organ in the condition left by van Dam in 1861. The only exception was the Borstwerk. There the pre-1861 situation was re-constructed. Van Dam removed the Sesquialter, placed a Roerfluit 4' in the place of the Octaaf 2' and filled the empty space left by the removal of the Sexqualter with the descant pipes of the Octaaf 2'. The reason for this change was that the Roerfluit, which was situated directly behind the Regaal, hindered the tuning as well as the speech of the stops which were placed behind the Regaal. Flentrop made a new Sesquialter and pipes for the baskant of the Octaaf 2'.
In this way the specification of the Borstwerk was the same again as in 1671.

Reprinted with permission from the website of the Bonifaciuskerk

Thanks to mister Leo Schoof from Australia for the English translation

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