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AEOLUS / Instruments / Organ / Schyven Organ of Antwerp cathedral


The Pierre Schyven organ of Antwerp Cathedral

Schyven Organ of Antwerp cathedral

Pierre Schyven Organ (1891), Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp (B)

The organ in Antwerp Cathedral (IV/90, 1891) is the biggest instrument ever built by the famous belgian organ builder Pierre Schyven. It is undoubtedly a masterpiece of 19th century Belgian organ building.

Antwerp Cathedral is eternally grateful to Miss Eugenia Kempeneers, a faithful parishioner who bequeathed the princely sum of 150.000 francs for the construction of a new pipe organ. When the money came into the possession of the church wardens in 1888 they nominated a panel of experts to take charge of the project. Panel members included the Cathedral organist Joseph Callaerts, his brother François who was Director of music at the Cathedral, composer and organist Edgar Tinel, a Canon of the abbey of Averbode, and musicologist Léon de Burbure.

Joseph Callaerts considered the organ which Aristide Cavaillé-Coll had built for the church of St.-Sulpice in Paris an excellent reference. He dreamed of this renowned French organ builder constructing such an instrument for ’his’ organ loft. The panel of experts invited a tender from Cavaillé-Coll but also from the Belgian organ builder Pierre Schyven and the German firm of Walcker and Co. The organ builders were at liberty to re-use the pipes of the previous organ (III/48) if they so desired. The new instrument was to be housed in the existing organ chest dating back to 1657, a masterpiece containing statues and other sculptures magnificently carved by Peter Verbrugghen the elder (1615-1668) according to a design by Erasmus Quellin (1634-1657). It soon became apparent that a choice would be made between Cavaillé-Coll and Schyven. For 150.000 francs the latter proposed an organ with 87 stops, with four manuals and pedal. His French counterpart proposed an instrument with 76 stops but which surpassed the budget of 150.000 francs.
Owing to his excellent reputation, Cavaillé-Coll was given the chance to win the tender provided that he would include the ’eleven missing stops’ free of charge The frenchman refused. Three members of the organ commission voted in favour of Schyven, and two in favour of Cavaillé-Coll (votes by the Callaerts brothers quite likely).

Esthetically speaking the instruments by Schyven and by Cavaillé-Coll are quite similar. The reeds of the French organ builder are generally stronger, while the foundation stops by Schyven are rounder and finer in tone. The tutti sound of the Schyven organ is less powerful than that of the large Cavaillé-Coll organs but then again there is the plenitude of Schyven’s poetic 8’stops. Pierre Schyven learned the trade from organ builder Merklin-Schütze & Cie who had workshops in Brussels and Paris. Joseph Merklin was often absent on business trips and so it transpired that in 1851 Pierre Schyven came to lead the workshop in Brussels. In 1870 he actually took over the workshop along with two business partners and founded “Pierre Schyven & Cie.” He built one of his first big instruments in 1874 for the Church of our Lady in Laken (III/52). The organ in Antwerp Cathedral is the biggest instrument he ever built. It is undoubtedly a masterpiece of 19th century Belgian organ building.



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