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Arp Schnitger
Born (1648-07-02)2 July 1648
Died 28 July 1719(1719-07-28) (aged 71)
Golzwarden (now in Brake, Lower Saxony)
Nationality German
Occupation Organ builder
Schnitger, Schriftzug.jpg

Arp Schnitger (2 July 1648 – 28 July 1719 (buried)) was an influential Northern German organ builder. Considered the most paramount manufacturer of his time, Schnitger built or rebuilt over 150 organs. He was primarily active in Northern Europe, especially the Netherlands and Germany, where a number of his instruments still survive.


Schnitger was born near Schmalenfleth in Oldenburg, Germany, and was baptized on 9 July 1648 in Golzwarden. The exact date of Schnitger's birth is unknown; the scholar Gustav Fock hypothesises it was on 2 July 1648, a week before his baptism. Schnitger was born into a family of woodworkers and wood carvers. He was apprenticed at the age of 18. Between 1666 and 1671, Schnitger studied organ building with his cousin Berendt Huss (c. 1630-1676) in Glückstadt and worked as a journeyman. In 1682, Schnitger and his workshop moved to Hamburg. In 1708, he was appointed organ builder of the Prussian court. In 1684, Schnitger was married to Gertrude Otte (1665-1707). His sons Franz Caspar and Johann Jürgen Schnitger trained with their father and continued his work after his death. His burial was recorded in the parish of St. Pancratiuskirche at Neuenfelde-Hamburg on 28 July 1719.

Schnitger was one of the most prolific builders of his time, having built approximately 95 new instruments, rebuilt about 30, and repaired or renovated another 30. He ran several shops and had a team in Magdeburg, in Bremen and in Groningen. His organ designs typify the essential North German organ: multiple divisions, usually with a rückpositif (division on the gallery rail, behind the player's back); large, independent pedal divisions, often placed in towers on either side of the main case; well-developed principal choruses in each division with abundant reeds, flutes, and mutation stops; and meantone temperament. All of these features could be found on North German organs prior to Schnitger's activity; Schnitger's genius lay in his ability to synthesize these elements into a prototypical style of organ building, and in his prolific output. The latter was made possible by his good business sense: Schnitger was one of the first builders to use cost-cutting measures on a large scale to ensure the affordability of organs for small village churches.

One of Schnitger's landmark instruments, the organ at St. Jacobikirche, Hamburg, was a renovation and enlargement of an instrument previously rebuilt in 1636 by Gottfried Fritzsche (1578–1638).

Notable examples of his work still in use

  • St. Cosmae und Damianikirche, Stade (Schnitger's first organ, completed in 1676 after the death of his teacher Berendt Huss)
  • St. Peter und Paulkirche, Cappel (perhaps the most authentic of Schnitger's organs still in existence, originally in the Johanniskirche, Hamburg, 1680)
  • St. Pancratiuskirche, Neuenfelde, Hamburg (completed in 1688, his largest two-manual instrument);
  • St. Ludgerikirche, Norden (1688)
  • Martinikerk, Groningen, the Netherlands (1692)
  • St. Jacobikirche, Hamburg (perhaps the most famous surviving Schnitger organ, completed in 1693)
  • Grote or St. Michaëlskerk, Zwolle, the Netherlands (completed by his son Franz Caspar after Schnitger's death)


Organs like these are credited with inspiring the renaissance in organ building during the early twentieth century, with a return to tracker action and smaller, more cohesive instruments, as distinct from the late-Romantic trend of extremely large symphonic organs. In particular, the organ at the Jacobikirche, Hamburg, played a pivotal role in the organ reform movement beginning in 1925, as a series of conferences taking place at historical organ sites in Germany and Alsace was inaugurated there.

A number of Schnitger's organs were featured on recordings by E. Power Biggs, who is generally credited with reintroducing them to modern listeners. More recently, Schnitger's organs can be heard on several recordings by German organist Harald Vogel. Schnitger's instruments in Groningen, Uithuizen, Noordbroek and Nieuw Scheemda were featured in the documentary Martinikerk Rondeau, in which Jurgen Ahrend, Cor Edskes and Bernhardt H. Edskes detail Schnitger's life and demonstrate his working methods. Schnitger's organs have also served as inspiration for many modern builders; GOArt, a Swedish organ building consortium, has even gone so far as to build an exact copy of a Schnitger organ for research purposes.

Surviving Schnitger organs

year town church picture manuals stops original by Schnitger
1668–1675/1688 Stade (D) St. Cosmae et Damiani Stade Cosmae Orgel.JPG III/P 42 case, prospect, 35 stops (8 partly)
1677–1679 Bülkau (D) St. John the Baptist Buelkau 2005 Arp-Schnitger-Orgel- by-RaBoe 01.jpg I c. 10 case, prospect; today II/P/22
1678–1679/1709 Jork (D) St. Matthias Jork Matthiaskirche Orgel (01).JPG III/P 35 case, prospect; today II/P/22
1680 Cappel (D) St. Peter and Paul Cappel 02.jpg II/P 30 case, prospect, 18 stops, 10 other old stops re-used by Schnitger → Organ of St. Peter and Paul in Cappel
1678–1682 Oederquart (D) St. Johannis Oederquart Orgel.jpg III/p 28 case, prospect; today II/P/17
1682–1683 Lüdingworth (D) St. Jacobi St.-Jacobi (Lüdingworth) 002.jpg III/P 35 case, prospect, 14 stops (complete or partly), much old pipework reused by Schnitger (half of the organ)
1684 Elmshorn (D) St. Nicolai Elmshorn Nikolai Orgel (3).jpg II/P 23 case; today III/P/33
1686 Hamburg-Bergstedt (D) Ev. Church Kberg schnitger orgel.jpg I 8 case, 2-3 stops
1687 Blankenhagen (D) Village Church Blankenhagen Orgel.jpg II/p 12 case, 4-5 stops
1687 Steinkirchen (D) St. Nicolai et Martini Steinkirchen Orgel (2).jpg II/P 28 case, prospect, 13 stops, 8 other partly
1683–1688 Hamburg-Neuenfelde (D) St. Pankratius Neuenfelde St. Pankratius Orgel (3).jpg II/P 34

case, prospect, 18 stops

1688 Mittelnkirchen (D) St. Bartholomäus Mittelnkirchen Orgel (1).jpg II/p 22 6-8 stops; today II/P/32
1688–1690 Hollern (D) St. Mauritius Hollern Orgel Prospekt.jpg II/P 24 case, prospect, 13 stops (complete or partly)
1686–1688/1691–1692 Norden (D) St. Ludgeri Orgel Blick vom Langschiff.jpg III/P 46 case, 13 stops, 8 old stops reused by Schnitger → Organ of St. Ludgeri in Norden
1691–1692 Groningen (NL) Martinikerk (Groningen) Orgel Martinikerk Groningen.jpg III/P 53 case of the pedal, prospect, 6 stops, other old stops reused by Schnitger; today III/P/52 → Organ in the Martinikerk at Groningen
1689–1693 Hamburg (D) St. Jacobi Arp Schnitger organ St. Jacobi Hamburg.jpg IV/P 60 43 stops (complete or partly), some reused by Schnitger → Schnitger organ (Hamburg)
1693 Groningen (NL) Pelstergasthuiskerk Groningen Pelstergasthuiskerk orgel.jpg II/p 20 case, 2 register (7 partly)
1693 Eutin (D) castle Eutin Schlosskapelle Orgel (2).jpg I 9 case
1693–1694 Grasberg (D) Luth. Church Grasberg Schnitger Orgel.jpg II/P 21 case, 14 stops → Organ of the Grasberg church
1695–1696 Noordbroek (NL) Hervormde Kerk Noordbroek orgel.jpg II/P 20 case, 10-11 stops; today II/P/24 → Organ at the Dorpskerk at Noordbroek
1695–1696 Harkstede (NL) Hervormde Kerk Harkstede Orgel.jpg I 7 case, prospect, 5 stops; today I/p/9 (10)
1696–1697 Peize (NL) Hervormde Kerk Peize orgel.JPG II/P 22 case, prospect, 4-6 stops, old stops reused by Schnitger
1697–1698 Strückhausen (D) St. Johannes Strückhausen Orgel 52417347.jpg II/p 12 case of the Hauptwerk, 2 stops; today II/P/15
1697–1698 Dedesdorf (D) St. Laurentius Dedesdorf Orgel.jpg II/p 12 case of the manuals, 10 stops; today II/P/18
1697–1698 Golzwarden (D) St. Bartholomäus Golzwarden Orgel 53882074.jpg II/P 20 case; today II/P/22
1699 Nieuw-Scheemda (NL) Hervormde Kerk 4760090 Nieuw Scheemda Orgel.jpg I/p 8 case, 4-6 stops
1696–1699 Mensingeweer (NL) Hervormde Kerk 4871418 Mensingeweer Orgel.jpg I 9 case, prospekt, 6 stops
1699 Ganderkesee (D) St. Cyprian und Cornelius Ganderkesee Orgel78.jpg II/p 16 case, prospect, 9 stops; today II/P/22
1700–1601 Uithuizen (NL) Hervormde Kerk 20130617 Kerk Uithuizen orgel.jpg II/P 28 case, 19 stops, 6 others partly → Organ in the Jacobikerk at Uithuizen
1701 Maia, Portugal Monastery Church San Salvador Moreia da Maia Salvador Orgel.jpg II 12 case, 11 stops
1701 Mariana, Minas Gerais (Brazil) Cathedral Nossa Senhora da Assunção Órgão trópia-LF.png II/p 18 case, prospect, 14 stops (complete or partly); probably by Schnitger's co-worker Heinrich Hullenkampf
1699–1702 Clausthal-Zellerfeld (D) St. Salvatoris Clausthal-Zellerfeld St. Salvatoris 03.jpg III/P 55 case; today II/P/29
1699–1702 Groningen (NL) Der Aa-kerk Groningen Aa-kerk Orgel (1).JPG III/P 32 case, prospect, c. 13 stops, 10 old stops reused by Schnitger; today III/P/40 → Organ in the Aa-kerk in Groningen
1702 Estebrügge (D) St. Martin Estebrügge, Martini (5).JPG II/P 34 case
1704 Eenum (NL) Hervormde Kerk 4795201 Eenum Orgel.jpg I 10 case, prospect, 4-6 stops; today I/p/10
1704 Godlinze (NL) Hervormde Kerk 4795243 Godlinze Orgel.jpg II/p (?) 16 case, prospect, 8-9 stops; today I/p/12
1705 Accum (D) St. Willehad 8072706 Accum Orgel.jpg II/p 14 case
1707–1708 Lenzen (D) St. Katharinen Katharinen Lenzen 9 2015 06.JPG II/P 27 case partly, 2-3 stops
1707–1708 Hamburg-Ochsenwerder (D) St. Pankratius Spow orgelprospekt.jpg II/P 30 case, prospect, 5-11 stops; today II/P/24
1709–1710 Weener (D) St.-Georg Weener Ref Orgel.jpg II/p 22 case, 6 stops; today II/P/29
1710–1711 Pellworm (D) Old Church Pellworm alteKirche orgel MS P4140091a.JPG II/P 24 case, 11 stops (complete or partly)
1710–1711 Sneek (NL) Grote of Martinikerk 4784289 Sneek Orgel.jpg III/P 36 case, prospect, 10 stops (complete or partly)
1711 Ferwert (NL) Hervormde Kerk 4784380 Ferwert Orgel.jpg II/P 26 5 stops
1710–1713 Abbehausen (D) St. Laurentius Abbehausen Orgel 52413843.jpg II/P 24 case, prospect, 2 stops
1715–1716 Faro, Portugal Cathedral FaroOrgueCathedrale-LF.JPG II 22 probably by Schnitger's co-worker Heinrich Hullenkampf
1714–1716 Rendsburg (D) Christuskirche Rendsburg Christkirche Orgel (02).JPG II/P 29 case, 4 stops; today IV/P/51
1715–1719 Itzehoe (D) St. Laurentii Schleswig-Holstein, Itzehoe, Laurentii-Kirche NIK 2635.jpg IV/P 43 case, prospect; today IV/P/58
1719–1721 Zwolle (NL) Grote of Sint-Michaëlskerk Zwolle Sint-Michaëlskerk Schnitger Orgel.JPG IV/P 64 case, main part of the stops; finished by the sons Franz Caspar Schnitger and Johann Georg Schnitger

See also

Other sources

  • Peggy Kelley Reinburg (1982). Arp Schnitger, organ builder; catalyst for the centuries. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). ISBN 978-0-253-30927-3.
  • Cornelius H. Edskes, Harald Vogel (2002) Arp Schnitger and His Work (Organ Historical Society) ISBN: 9783954940929
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