Marmoutier: Église abbatiale
Most churches of any age at all have aspects that can be attributed to the different generations that built the church and worshipped in it over the years. A baptismal font will be dated from a specific time, for example, or a memorial altar might clearly date from the years following WWII. The Abbey Church of Marmoutier is no exception, and in its structure, you can quite clearly see the contributions not only of different years, but of different centuries and style periods in the history of the church in Europe. The church itself is built of a reddish local sandstone, not unlike many other buildings in this part of Alsace. This building, however, contains elements of Romanesque, Gothic, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century styles in layers that are clearly separated and distinct from one another.
As you can see in the photograph to the right, the West façade is almost stereotypically Romanesque. It is fortress-like in its solidity, with the rounded arches arranged in horizontal bands and small windows that give almost no relief to the appearance of solid stone. The central bell-tower and its two octagonal companions even have a heavy, almost squat, appearance. The promise of a Romanesque church is not fulfilled in the rest of the building, however, for what is seen here - - the Porch and narthex, with the towers above - - is all that remains of the Romanesque building that was begun in the eleventh century.
If you walk around the church to the left (the north) and look up and back toward the West end, you can see that there is an enormous contrast in architectural styles, even though the same stone was used for the nave. The nave was begun over a century after the narthex and the West façade, and as you can see in the the second photograph, its Gothic style makes the original towers of the older part of the church look almost anachronistic in comparison. The nave was actually built in the third quarter of the thirteenth century, and, as in all examples of Gothic architecture, those flying buttresses indicate the possibility of more wall space devoted to windows. Those windows show the typical Gothic pointed arch shape that leads the eye upward and makes the solid rounded arches of the older part of the building look earth-bound by comparison. The decorative spires that sit atop the column of each flying buttress are slender and graceful, and as you see in the photograph, they also make the Romanesque roofs of the towers look like they belong on the ground, not in the air.
After the building of the thirteenth century was completed, the convent of Marmoutier fell upon hard times and its resources were depleted. Much of its property and even the windows and altar of the church were destroyed in the first half of the sixteenth century in uprisings that were part of the Peasants' Revolt that occupied much of central and southern Germany. Then, in the eighteenth century, the church entered a new phase of restoration that resulted in the commissioning of a new choir, with its main altar, and the organ. The church survived the French revolution and the dissolution of the monasteries and convents, and in 1805 Marmoutier was made a parish church. The present windows, one of which is shown to the right, were installed beginning in the nineteenth century. In their use of brilliant colors they continue the tradition of lighting the interior of the church that was established as a part of the Gothic style.
The present choir, including all the carved wookwork of the stalls and the altar, dates from the middle of the eighteenth century. The carvings are rich in detailed vines, leaves and other Rococo figures, and they are among the best examples of the style in Alsace.
In 1710 Andreas Silbermann (1678-1734) built a new organ for the Abbey Church at Marmoutier. Earlier Andreas and Gottfried, his brother, had worked together, but Gottfried had not long before left Strasbourg for Saxony, in order to set up his own organ- building concern there. In fact, both Andreas and Gottfried had traveled a bit, and Andreas himself had worked in Paris with Alexandre Thierry from 1704-1706. While he was there, Andreas absorbed the fundamental elements of Parisian - - therefore French Classical - - organ building. The Marmoutier organ, like his other instruments, has the technical construction and pipe scaling of a classical French organ. On the other hand, the voicing gives the instrument a German accent: the Plein jeu is stronger, and the stopped flutes have more color in their sustained tone.
In its overall design, the case appears to be that of a typical French Classical organ. When you look at it,
When the organ was built, it consisted of only two manual divisions (Hauptwerk and Rückpositiv) and a single stop in the pedal: a 16' Subbass. In 1746, the organ was enlarged by Johann Andreas Silbermann - - Andreas' son, who was continuing the family business of organ-building in Alsace. He added
In 1915 the pedalboard was replaced with the usual German type: a flat, straight pedalboard, having the long keys associated with German, British and American organs. Of course, no machine can last for more than 200 years without some mechanical problems developing, and the organ at Marmoutier is no exception. After WWII it was in need of heavy maintenance and repair work, and in 1955 the organ was restored by Ernst Mühleisen and Alfred Kern of Strasbourg, working under the supervision of Albert Schweitzer. They made only two changes to the instrument:
It is part of the history of Alsace that names of stops and divisions of this instrument show a mixture of German and French, just as the sounds themselves are a blend of the two organ-building traditions.
|2 2/3'||Nazard||1 3/5'||Tierce|
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© 1999 James H. Cook