THE LARGE BÄTZ-WITTE ORGAN
From the beginning of the Reformation in 1572 until 1757 the congregation sang without accompaniment, led by a precentor. The singing of psalms took up a large part of the service. After the Reformation it became customary in The Netherlands – in contrast to other countries and in spite of the lively French psalm-tunes – to give all notes the same value (whole notes). Also all verses were sung of the given psalms. This slow way of singing was meant to be practical: before the Reformation only the choir sang, and now the whole congregation had to learn the tunes, the simpler they were, the better, it was thought. A Dutch (rhymed) translation of the psalms by Datheen was used dating from 1566. After a while this was criticised for being old-fashioned, and so in 1773 a new translation was commissioned by the States General, the governing body of the country.
THE FIRST ORGAN
To facilitate the singing the consistory asked the city council on December 1, 1756 for permission to purchase an organ. The consistory left the decision whether this should be a new or a second-hand instrument to the city fathers, who would be providing the loan. In the end an existing oak organ casing with sculpted ornaments for Honselersdijk was bought. Extra pipes were supplied by Jacob Robbers. The outlay for the organ came to roughly 2290 guilders. To repay the loan the council allowed the church to hold an extra collection annually at Christmas. Also, permission was given to hire an organist, at the yearly stipend of 250 guilders. This organ was delivered in 1757 and served the church for almost a hundred years.
On the 21st of September 1852 the consistory finalised a contract with the famous firm of organbuilders of Bätz and Co. of Utrecht to build a new organ. The estimate for this instrument was 8170 guilders, not counting the cost of extra work. The church members received a written request for a donation towards this new organ, and the amount of 6180 guilders was pledged, which covered most of the cost. A later collection brought in another 930.50 guilders. The old organ was last used on Sunday the 17th of September 1854. Two days later it was sold by public auction held in the constistory room for 310 guilders.
The new organ was completed in 1855, by the famous firm of organbuilders of J. Bätz & Co from Utrecht. From 1849 this firm had been led by the German organ builder C. G. F. Witte. He was the business partner and later successor of Jonathan Bätz. The Bätz company had existed for more than a hundred years and was therefore a well-established firm of good reputation and great experience. C. G. F. Witte, and later his son, J. F. Witte stayed true to the traditional Bätz style, building solid, powerfully sounding organs. The sound was first and foremost conceived as accompaniment to congregational singing, which was robust in those times. However, besides powerful registers Witte organs always also boast softer, individual sounds, so that despite their practically inspired disposition there is also plenty of scope to express qualities needed to play more musically demanding concert works.
After September 1854 a start was made to build a new encasing for the organ on a new organ gallery, which rests on marble pillars. The sculptures, including to figures on the middle part were ordered from J.C. Levendag. After the casing had been painted Witte’s firm began to assemble the inner works of the new organ on the 16th of April 1855. On the 11th of July the final testing was completed, and the result was found to be excellent.
In 1957 some changes were made to the organ, which were not carried out with respect for the character of the instrument, nor with the foresight to preserve the exististing material: parts of the organ no longer deemed necessary were thus simply thrown out. Early 2001 the organ building firm Steendam restored the organ to its original state of 1855, undoing the damage done in 1957. The newly restored organ was dedicated on June 16, 2001.