The Holtkamp Organ Introduction, History, Description and Specifications
The abbey church organ is the last large contract that Walter Holtkamp, Sr., completed before his death. He designed the instrument in consultation with Abbey organist, Father Gerard Farrell OSB, with additional input from inaugural recitalist, Flor Peeters (1903-1986) of Belgium, one of Fr. Gerard's teachers. Many contemporary organists consider it to be Holtkamp's magnum opus.
The Holtkamp Organ Company traces its lineage back to 1855 only one year older than the founding of Saint John's when G.F. Votteler established an organ shop in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1903, the first Holtkamp, Herman Heinrich, came from St. Mary's, Ohio, to join the then retiring Henry Votteler. Control of the firm, now named Votteler Holtkamp Sparling Company, passed to Herman's son, Walter, in 1931. The Holtkamp Organ Company emerged in 1951.
Under the direction of Walter Holtkamp, Sr. (1894-1962), the reputation of the company grew until it became known as one of the finest in the country. Holtkamp was an early pioneer of the so-called "organ reform movement (Orgelbewegung)" in this country. The movement was characterized by a departure from the orchestral tones of the previous generation. Musicians and organ builders alike sought a return to the centuries-old aesthetics of the pipe organ as an instrument for music of Bach, Buxtehude, Couperin and Frescobaldi, rather than transcriptions of Wagner and other 19th century orchestral composers.
Contracted in April, 1960, the instrument was completed in November, 1961. The organ pipes were placed behind a red cloth, acoustically transparent screen, chosen primarily for architectural considerations. With the interior of the church so monastically austere, not to mention large, a pipe display was thought to be inappropriate and, perhaps, might be dwarfed by the scale of the room. The organ was never conceived for concert use but, rather, to serve the monastic community at prayer.
Solemn Blessing and Dedication
The Holtkamp organ was blessed by Rt. Rev. Abbot Baldwin Dworschak OSB on St. Cecilia's Eve, 21 November 1961, at 8:30 p.m. Sir Flor Peeters, KSSil, KCSGreg, played the dedicatory recital that included works by Buxtehude, Dufay, Sweelinck, Bach, Handel, Franck, Messaien and the organist.
Holtkamp, Cleveland, Ohio, 1961
Manuals: 61 notes, C - c" "
Pedal: 32 notes, C- g'
46 registers, 47 speaking stops, 3 blanks, 65 ranks
Standard Unison Couplers
Great to Pedal Reversible (thumb and toe-stud)
6 General Pistons (thumb and toe-stud),
5 Divisional Pistons (each),
1 General Cancel
Sforzando Reversible (pedal latch-down)
SSL Combination Action (32 levels, replacing original setter-board)
The entire organ is under 2 ¾ inches wind pressure.
• Blessing and Dedication of the Holtkamp Organ. Collegeville: Saint John's Abbey and University Church, 1961.
• "Dedication of the Holtkamp Organ," The Record (Nov. 10, 1961) 1.
• "St. John's Abbey & University, Collegeville: Abbey Church." Central Minnesota Organ Crawl, November 16, 2002. With Tour Guide Michael Barone. N.p., 2002, 5-8.
For online resources, see the list of Important Links in the right column of this page.