On this Historical Organ Study Tour so far we have climbed a number of vertical spiral stairways to access the organ console. But today at the Cathedral St. Étienne in Metz was the first time we ever crawled up to a true swallow’s nest organ.
In case you’ve never heard the term before, here is the definition from Wikipedia: A swallow’s nest organ (French: orgue en nid d’hirondelle, German: Schwalbennestorgel) is form of pipe organ which takes its name from its resemblance to the nests built by swallows. Rather than placed on a gallery or on the floor, the swallow’s nest organ case sits on a platform suspended on a wall, with the wall as its sole support. In some churches it was wedged into the triforium (a shallow arched gallery built into a wall above the nave). In swallow’s nest organs from the Renaissance period, the base of the suspended platform, called a tribuna, typically tapered into a point. There is generally only room in a swallow’s nest for one person, the organist, who accesses it by a ladder or from a staircase concealed behind the wall.
Swallow’s nest organs were particularly common in churches during the Middle Ages and Renaissance where they were symbolic of “divine music” stemming from the effect of the instrument floating above the congregation. The effect was accentuated when the organ was being played by the resemblance of the opened chest doors to wings. Its name was likewise symbolic. During the Middle Ages birdsong became equated with the song of angels.
We were divided into groups of six people to climb through the cramped, winding stairway up to a narrow catwalk above the nave, until finally we reached the organ. It was only sixty steps up to the catwalk level, but of course it seemed like a lot more with no end in sight! At the end, you can see how dirty it was up there, and our hands turned black with all the soot! Grant Hellmers was a good sport to have his picture taken with dirty hands!
Eddy Hodak was kind enough to take a video of me playing a movement from François Couperin’s Messe pour les convents:
What a great adventure!
In the morning we drove to the town of Talange where we saw an Italian-style organ at the Église Jésus-Ouvrier. In 2006, rather than restore the big organ in the back gallery of the church, the city of Talange decided upon an organ in historic Italian style. It was a most unusual instrument as you will see by the photos below. The organ was strapped to the wall by a plank, not to keep it from falling over in an earthquake, as I initially thought, but because the tax structure is different. If it were not strapped to the wall, it would have been classified as a piece of furniture and subject to taxes. But since it was strapped to the wall, it was considered part of the building, and under the ownership of the city!
Notice the short keyboard and the itty-bitty pedals!