Previous instruments in the Akerk
The first proof that there was an organ in the Akerk is a mention in the archives from 1475 of a new altar ‘onder de orgele’ (under the organ). In 1558 a contract was made up in which ‘mester Andreas oerghelmaker’ (Andreas de Mare) would renew an organ. In 1654, Theodorus Faber was commissioned to make a new instrument. In 1651 Faber had made an organ for the church in Zeerijp, and a visit there was reason enough for the Groningen church trustees and municipal authorities to grant him the contract for the Akerk. Faber died in 1659, but the organ was not yet finished. The municipal authorities considered Tobias Bader, but this bore no fruit. Then Andries de Mäer (Andreas de Mare II) was requisitioned, but his behavior made him persona non grata and he was banned from the city. At last the organ was finished by the most influential Dutch organ maker of the time, Jacobus Galtus van Hagerbeer of Amsterdam, who carried out several (disposition) alterations to the instrument. When it was delivered in 1667, it was a 16’ organ with 40 stops on three manuals and pedal. Four years later this organ was destroyed in the night of 1 May, 1671, when the tower was struck by lightning, caught fire, and fell through the roof and the vault. In 1674 the church was repaired and in 1675 a new tower was completed.
The first Schnitger organ
In 1697 Arp Schnitger (1648-1719) completed a 16’ organ of 34 stops on four (or perhaps three) manuals, that was augmented by a Borstwerk of six registers above and beyond the contract. The design drawings, made by the carpenter Allert Meijer, are extant. In the provinces of Groningen and Friesland this was the only Schnitger organ with a full bass octave in all divisions. But this instrument too – the largest made by Arp Schnitger in the Netherlands – was not granted a long life: thirteen years after the inauguration the badly rebuilt tower collapsed ‘by zagt en klaar weer’ (by mild and clear weather), and destroyed the proud instrument. The following 115 years there was no organ to accompany the congregation in the Akerk. In 1815 the Schnitger organ that had been built in 1702 for the nearby Academie- or Broerkerk was moved to the Akerk.
The second Schnitger organ
In 1699 Schnitger was contracted to build a new organ with two manuals and pedal for the Academiekerk. In 1701 it was decided to augment the organ under construction ‘met noch een Clavijr en eenige stemmen’(with one manual more and several stops), which resulted in an organ of 33 registers (see Dutch text for specification). As with other Schnitger organs in Groningen, the case was made by Allert Meijer and all the carvings by Jan de Rijk. In 1702 the instrument was completed. Schnitger had used about ten stops from the previous organ, which had been made from 1674 till about 1678 by Hendrick Harmens van Loon. The pipework of this organ must have been made by the above-mentioned Andries de Mäer with whom Van Loon collaborated after 1672. Van Loon was organist of the Akerk.
In 1754 Albertus Anthoni Hinsz worked on the Academiekerk organ; besides cleaning and repairing it, he added a coupler between Rugpositief and Hoofdwerk. In 1784 cleaning and repairs were again required, and a number of reeds of the Pedal stops were renewed. A wooden partition was also added behind the carvings of the Borstwerk doors, to dampen the sound.
On 23 September, 1814, the organ was given to the Akerk by decree of King Willem I. (The Academiekerk was made available to the Catholics in 1821; in 1894 it was torn down to build a new church.) In 1815 the organ was moved by Johannes Wilhelmus Timpe (1770-1837). The stopped registers, excepting the 16’ Quintadena (RP), were provided with new caps. The disposition was unaltered, but the organ case was not: the space between the Rugpositief and the main case was reduced, making the space for the player less comfortable. The lower part of the main case was made as wide as the upper part. Telamones were made to support the side towers. The carvings atop the Rugwerk and the main case were replaced by relatively tall statues and vases to give the organ more grandeur against the high west wall. All the carvings and statues were made by Matteus Walles and his son Anthonie.
In 1831 Timpe replaced the Borstwerk by a Bovenwerk placed front-to-back behind the middle tower. To achieve the necessary structural solidity, beams were added above the tops of the case between middle and side towers, giving the organ what looks like a low attic.The 8’ Vox Humana was moved from the Hoofdwerk to the new Bovenwerk. The 8’ Dulciaan of the Rugpositief was put in the empty space; and the Rugpositief got a new 8’ Trompet. The Sexquialter (RW) was made into a 1’ Flageolet, which in 1857 was removed in favor of the Dulciaan, which was then returned to the Rugpositief. The 1-1/3’ Quint (RP) became a 1-3/5’ Terts, composed partly of pipework from before Schnitger’s time. The pedalboard was renewed and a coupler was added between Pedal and Rugpositief; a tremulant was removed. Later, the organ was probably tuned to equal temperament.
In 1855 Petrus van Oeckelen rebuilt the organ in the Martinikerk. The organ of the Akerk couldn’t lag behind, and in 1857 it was modified by Van Oeckelen & Zonen to suit the ‘eischen des tijds’ (demands of the times). The Hoofdwerk was enlarged from nine to thirteen stops on two new chests, which were so large that the back wall of the main case had to be sacrificed. New pipes were made for the notes C#, D#, F#, and G# of the existing stops. The Pedal was enlarged with a 16’ Subbas, a 10-2/3’ Quint, and an 8’ Violon, which were placed on two extra chests in the lower part of the case. On the channels for C# and D# new pipes were placed - Schnitger’s chest lacked these tones - except for the Bazuin, since there was not enough height to contain them. The pedal mixture was removed, including its action. The manuals were renewed, and the stop knobs were also renewed, copying the new ones (from 1855) in the Martinikerk. The bellows were placed in the tower.
Several times Jan Doornbos carried out repairs; in 1920 the wedge-shaped bellows were replaced by a reservoir. In 1924 Doornbos built a swell box around the Bovenwerk; the 8’ Fluit travers (BW) was replaced by an 8’ Voix celeste (on pneumatic cone chests).
In 1928 Klaas Doornbos changed the 8’ Violon (Ped) into an 8’ Holpijp. About this time the 2’ Cornet (Ped) was removed. In 1935 the 16’ Bazuin was renewed; because of the long resonators it had to be placed on a pneumatic cone chest against the west wall. A new pedal mixture was made, which was also placed on separate pneumatic cone chests for reasons of space.
In 1939 the 6’ Quint (HW) from 1857 was replaced by a 2-2/3’ Nasard, and the composition of the Hoofdwerk mixture was changed. In 1946 a 1-1/3’ Quintfluit was placed on the Bovenwerk, later it was moved up to be a 1’ Flageolet. In 1952 the 1-3/5’ Terts (RP) was moved up to be a 1 1/3’ Sifflet, with several treble pipes being renewed. One choir of the Scherp (RP) was also renewed; the old pipes found a place in the 4’ Octaaf of the Bovenwerk. In 1953 the firm of Flentrop altered the scales of the Bazuin resonators from 1935.
In 1977 the organ was partly dismantled during the restoration of the church and then enclosed in crating. In 1989/1990 Orgelmakerij Gebr. Reil b.v. of Heerde made the instrument playable again, with repairs to some parts. All the pneumatic parts were removed. The Bazuin was provided with new boots, blocks, shallots, and tongues, but it remained where it was. In 1997 almost the whole interior was dismantled in preparation for a restoration which was to be carried out by Reil.
In 1992 the Stichting (Foundation) Der Aa-Kerk, since 1987 the owner of the building, asked Rudi van Straten to make up a plan for restoration. This plan was revised in 1995 and in 1997, after the instrument had been dismantled and stored at Reil’s workshop, it was followed by a Wijzigingsvoorstel (modification proposal). For the plan to be carried out, a permit was needed. Objections were made to the plan, and some parties appealed the decision. Three of the submitted objections were found to have standing, i.e. were permitted to be heard by the judge. The most important objection was that concerning the manner of reconstructing the main case. TNO-Bouw of Delft then made a report on the constructive state of the organ, with the assistance of three experts. Finally in February of 2004 a steering committee was formed in which all parties were represented. For the Stichting der Aa-Kerk, Peter van Dijk of Utrecht was a member. He was asked to be the consultant for the restoration project.
The goal of the project was to restore the organ in the state it had been in at the moment of dismantling in December 1996, but of course with some strengthening of the back of the main case because of the alterations made to it in 1857. The bass of the 16’ Bourdon (HW), removed in 1990, would also be put back. The Bazuin resonators (from 1935, later modified) were replaced with new resonators in Schnitger’s measurements. In the Scherp (RP) the 1’ choir (1952) was replaced from a1 to c3 to better match the scaling of the rest; in the Sifflet new pipes were made for g2-c3 for the same reason. A new lost-wind tremulant in the style of Timpe was made for the bovenwerk. The swell box and its machinery were removed. A new organ bench was provided, in the style of Timpe. The work was completed in August of 2011, and the organ was officially inaugurated on Friday, October 14, 2011.