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Cuba: restoring and relocating the Merklin-Schütze organ in Havana 

26.02.2018 - Article

The Federal Foreign Office has supported the restoration of the historic Merklin-Schütze organ in the Iglesia San Francisco de Asis in Havana as part of its Cultural Preservation Programme since October 2017.

The Merklin-Schütze organ in Havana
the Merklin-Schütze organ in Havana© Martin Rost

Built in 1858 for the Iglesia de Caridad in Havana, this almost fully preserved organ, which has been unplayable for decades, is one of the most valuable cultural assets of the historic part of the old town in Cuba’s capital, protected by UNESCO. The Iglesia de la Caridad del Cobre is one of the most important churches in Havana. The instrument is not only among the best organs in the country in terms of craftsmanship and artistry, but is also one of the oldest preserved organs in the entire Caribbean.

A joint project

Baltisches Orgel Centrum Stralsund e.V. (Baltic organ association, BOC) is completing the restoration of the organ built by the two renowned German masters Joseph Merklin and Friedrich Schütze in cooperation with the local restoration workshop Oficina del Historiador de la Ciudad de La Habana and veteran Swiss organ builder Ferdinand Stemmer. Cuban craftsmen are being trained to maintain the instrument in the future. After undertaking scientific research on comparative instruments, stock-taking and purchasing necessary materials and tools, the complete organ mechanism was entirely dismantled and transported from the Iglesia de Caridad to the Iglesia San Francisco de Asis for restoration in November 2017, where the pipes were also repaired and cleaned. During the further course of the project, the casings will be restored and the ongoing work will continue to be documented.

The keyboard of the historic organ
The keyboard of the historic organ© Martin Rost


Music as a bridge between cultures

A playable, fully restored historic church organ in line with good conservation practice is the objective of this comprehensive restoration project. Musical events with soloists from Cuba and abroad can be held that will help to foster both international exchanges of musicians and the tourist industry. Moreover, the historic organ is urgently needed for training church musicians and for supporting church music in general. Thanks to a cooperation agreement between the Instituto de Estudios Eclesiásticos P. Félix Varela and the College of Catholic Church Music and Musical Education in Regensburg, young organists have had the opportunity to receive training in Havana since 2016. This is the first time that Catholic Church Music has been offered as a university subject in Cuba. Students will be able to use the organ during their studies after the restoration work has been completed.
The Iglesia San Francisco de Asis, a restored church in the heart of Havana’s old town protected by UNESCO, is one of the most important tourist attractions and a major venue for classical concerts such as the annual Semana de Música Sacra.
Thanks to the restoration of the Merklin-Schütze organ with funds from the Cultural Preservation Programme, an important testimony to Cuba’s cultural past is being preserved for future generations.
The project partners are the German World Heritage Foundation and the Baltisches Orgel Centrum e.V., as well as the Archbishop’s Office of the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba. The project is being completed in connection with the church music training programme recently launched by the Catholic Church in Cuba.

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