Monday, March 27, 2017

The Story Of A Church Organ

A special concert was held at the Sant Antoni parish church in Sa Pobla on Saturday. It was to mark the 300th anniversary of the construction of the church organ. The concert, an organ recital (naturally enough), accompanied by a brass quintet, was a mark of the esteem with which church organs in Mallorca are held: just as much as the churches themselves. By coincidence, there was another event for a church organ on the same evening. A book about the organ of Santa Maria la Major church in Inca was presented; a recital followed.

The parish of Sant Antoni Abat in Sa Pobla dates back to 1357. Building of the current church was started in 1696, work on the bell tower having been started one hundred years previously (that alone took some sixty years to finish).

There was already an organ, for which documentary evidence is available from the start of the seventeenth century. We learn, for instance, that on 4 January 1609 it was decided to pay 30 pounds to the organ carpenter Comes (no Christian name) to give the organ a new varnish. In 1634, there was a visit to the parish by the Bishop of Mallorca, the Catholic Church's "Visitor General" (like a chief inspector) and an advisor to the crown: quite some set of dignitaries therefore. The record of this visit was in the "ordinances" of "La Pobla", as opposed to Sa Pobla, and it was presumably made in order to consider more than just the organ. Anyway, it was agreed that four pounds should be paid for work on the keys and that the work should be completed within two months.

Thirteen years later, there was another visit. This time it seems as if the Visitor General was unaccompanied. The ordinances book was to note that Don Diego Escolano was none too impressed with the organ: it was "badly out of tune". In the intervening thirty-four years, things clearly improved. The bishop (a different one) paid a visit in 1679. The organ, he concluded, was in good condition.

Better condition or not, there was a question as to whether the existing organ was going to be good enough for the new church. Well, if there is to be a new church, it really could do with a brand spanking new organ as well. Which of course is what was eventually agreed.

The new organ was finished in 1717. How long it took to build it isn't certain. The best reckoning is that work took place between 1700 and 1717. What is certain is that the master organ craftsman was Damià Caymari, who had been responsible for a previous organ - that of Nostra Senyora dels Socors in Palma. Damià, it would appear, could well have been the brother of another craftsman (and organist), Jaume Caymari, who in 1700 was paid eighteen pounds for work on the organ - the old one. Although there was a question mark over whether Damià and Jaume were brothers, it is now said that there was a "dynasty" of organ builders called Caymari.

It wasn't to be for more than 250 years that there was real confirmation that Damià had been responsible for both the Sa Pobla and the Palma organs. This was to come from Gerhard Grenzing, who entered the story of the Sa Pobla organ at a time when it was all but dead. The Sa Pobla chronicler Alexandre Ballester wrote that in 1960 the organ sounded awful. The registers were all wrong, the bellows didn't move properly. The grand organ, he said, was destined to a "slow death".

The death seemed to have come when in 1967 the parish acquired an electronic organ. Romanticism as well as the organ were being consigned to the dump of history. However, as with many other things of a traditional nature that were to find rebirth in the aftermath of Franco's death, the organ became the subject of restoration. In 1976, talks started with the master restorer, Grenzing. Two years later, with the support of the Obra Cultural Balear, there were more talks. A budget proposal was made. The rector called for donations, a restoration committee was set up. The town hall was to give money, so were banks, the local farmers cooperative and individuals. It took until 1986 for a definitive contract to be made with Grenzing. The cost was three million pesetas (around 18,000 euros).

On the "Opuslist" for the Gerhard Grenzing company, it says that "an historical organ is like a defenceless living being asking us to respect it as we try to preserve it". In Sa Pobla they did preserve it. This Opuslist of numerous restoration projects still being undertaken has a note which says modestly and simply: Sa Pobla (Mallorca), Spain - Parróquia de Sa Pobla, 1987. Thirty years ago they completed the restoration of the now 300-year-old organ.

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