The Organ

The Schulze Dynasty: Organ Builders 1688-1880

Bryan Hughes: The Schulze Dynasty, Organ Builders 1688-1880
Musical Opinion
ISBN 0-9544074-1-5

The recent restoration of the Schulze organ at St Bartholomew’s, Armley has brought back into focus the genius of German organ builder Edmund Schulze. Despite building or re-building relatively few organs in Britain, his influence was immense. Hearing the Armley Great chorus, complete with the famous five-rank Mixture, or revel in the many and varied quieter stops and the chorus and solo reed registers one realises that this was no ordinary organ builder. How timely, then, that Bryan Hughes has summarised his significant research into the work of the Schulze family.

Hughes begins with a biographical and chronological overview of the Schulze family, starting with organ builder and carpenter Hans Elias Schulze (1688-1762). There is much of interest in the early history of the Schulzes, and the author includes the results of his research on the output of the firm, including organ specifications and details of surviving instruments. Given the ability to travel freely in that part of Germany these days, it is an obvious area to visit to compare Schulze organs, though Hughes gives us a fair impression, it would seem, of the company’s early work. Reading this opening chapter makes one realise the origins of the Schulze organ – including Armley and Doncaster in the work of the Silbermanns, as Bryan Hughes points out. Indeed, I recall a quote from Sumner that said that if you wanted to hear a Silbermann chorus go to Doncaster. We also learn about the family as people. I had always thought of Edmund as the solitary artist, only to find that he was married to someone with a rather exotic name and had six children by her! There seems to have been an element of the workaholic about him, and he was away working when his wife died. The whole family seems to have been blighted, with the sad deaths of Edmund and most of his brothers within a short space of time resulting in the winding up of the business by 1880. The chapter concludes with photographs of Edmund’s grave and his great-great granddaughter.

The firm really begins to gain a reputation in the nineteenth century with J.F. Schulze (1793-1858) at the head, with many major contracts in Germany and, increasingly abroad. Already in these instruments we see the standardisation of specifications and mixture compositions, along with the experimentation with solo and ‘colour’ registers that were to form the basis of organs such as those at Armley and Doncaster. Then, of course, there is the 1851 Great Exhibition organ and the beginnings of British interest in the Schulze firm. Significantly, it was Edmund who came over with the organ; and the rest, as they say, is history. Chapter two deals in some detail with the Great Industrial Exhibition, and this is welcome, for it puts into context the effect that the two-manual brought over from Paulinzella must have had on an English organ fraternity that was still wary of ‘German’ instruments. While most of the material about 1851 and its consequences for the British organ is available elsewhere, it is extremely useful to have it in one place, for comparisons and contrasts can be drawn. What an exciting time it must have been, with the native organ building school finding its feet alongside French and German products. The chapter is significantly enhanced by primary source references, specifications – including of Willis’s big gamble – and illustrations, giving us a clear flavour of the time.

The remaining chapters – apart from the conclusion – are broadly chronological in order, following as they do the progress of Schulze – the firm as well as the ‘star’ son Edmund – through nearly 30 years’ work in Britain. Chapter three, therefore, takes us to Northampton Town Hall, where the Exhibition organ ended up. Charles McCorkell was the benefactor and devotee of this instrument – compare him with T.S. Kennedy and Meanwood. The organ must have been magnificent – and what a sound when enhanced by the Cavaillé-Coll stops! Yet by 1915 the organ had been dispersed, never to be re-integrated. This is a theme that emerges later in the book, as for example with the smaller Doncaster organ or the large four-manual at Charterhouse School. Even now, we have the seeming disgrace of Hindley. At least Bryan Hughes has carefully logged what he can of the Schulze instruments that are no more, including the work that the firm did at the Temple Church in London, Leeds Parish Church and elsewhere. Chapter 16 provides a valuable record of preserved and lost pipework in Britain.

The major surviving Schulze organs receive detailed treatment, starting with St George’s Doncaster, where there is a fascinating account of the fire that destroyed the church and organ and paved the way for Edmund’s magnum opus as well as much historical and technical detail that will be new to most readers. The Armley church covers three chapters – its time at Meanwood, the brief installation in Harrogate – with a section on the smaller Schulze that replaced it – and then Armley. Again, Hughes has brought together much primary and secondary source material with detailed technical analysis of the instrument. Tyne Dock and Hindley receive a similar treatment and there is a summary chapter on ‘The English Schulze’ analysing his impact on British organ building in the nineteenth century and beyond as well as the firm’s technical approach. There is a useful gazetteer covering instruments in Britain and abroad, and a precise, useful index.

The book is gloriously produced in A4 format, with many colour and black and white illustrations as well as diagrams – notably of pipe layouts. It is thoroughly referenced, and while I have some minor quibbles about the citation style, the bibliographical material evinces the hard work – and love – that has gone into this monograph. I hope that it stimulates both interest and further research into the work of Edmund Schulze and his organ-building family. This has to be an absolute must-buy book.