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The Arp Schnitger organ standing today in the St.Peter-und-Paul-Kirche of Cappel - a little village east of the river Weser estuary - had initially been built in 1680 for the Dominican monastery St.Johannis in Hamburg which no longer exists. It replaced an instrument there dating from 1567 with a high rate of certitude, from which Arp Schnitger adopted a number of late renaissance stops. Unfortunately no records were kept in the Hamburg State Archive about this occurence. But sitting above the console an inscription in golden letters has been preserved, stating that the organ was built by Arp Schnitger "from April until December 1680".
It was the first work of the organ maker in Hamburg. There is evidence that in 1688 Schnitger carried out some smaller works perfecting the instrument, yet no documentation has been passed down to this day. A document by Schnitger's first biographer, the Dutch organist Siwert Meijer, quotes that Schnitger "in 1679 made a new opus for the St.Johannis church in Hamburg with 30 voices, two keyboards and an independent pedal". Further sources mention six bellows for the wind supply.
The organ had endured the 18th century without any changes or damage. During the French occupation of Hamburg (1806 - 1814) by Napoleon's troops the church served to store buffer stock and was never used for religious services anymore. The organ probably mainly survived since it was dismantled in 1813 by the Hamburg organ builder Geycke and stored in a monastery room adjacent to the church.
In December 1810 the church in Cappel and a fairly new organ built by Georg Wilhelm Wilhelmy in 1800 burnt down completely, leaving the parish for about six years without an instrument. It was thus a welcome coincidence that the Schnitger opus from St. Johannis was offered to them for 2000 Reichs-Talers as initial price. A ship transport for the parts from Hamburg to Cuxhaven was arranged, the rest of the route to Cappel with horse and cart. In the course of 1816 Wilhelmy re-erected the organ within slightly more than four months; it was played first on Christmas Eve the same year. He was paid 385 Reichs-Taler in gold currency. The parish decided to spend an additional amount of 15 Reichs-Talers for a Zimbelstern with "harmonically tuned bells". The statues on top of the organ wre removed to enable it to fit on the organ loft. These statues are now above the altar at the front of the church.
Since the beginning of the 17th century not only rich Hanse cities like Hamburg had good sounding and magnificently equipped organs, it was not unusual even on the countryside to install them in comparatively small churches. Yet it presumably took a while for the Cappel parish councel to fully recognize what a gem they had acquired, the more so as Schnitger's name had not been mentioned in the sales contract.
In 1846 the same organ builder carried out some minor repair works but introduced no changes beyond that. Due to the remoteness of Cappel village the organ remained unaffected for 100-years; it prevented it from any adaption to the prevailing taste of the 19th and 20th century. When during the organ renovation movement the instrument's high merit became realized it was restored 1939 in several steps by Paul Ott, Goettingen, followed in the years 1976/77 by comprehensive overhaul works which Beckerath organ workshop carried out. The company reworked the Zimbel III to the Hauptwerk manual and the Cornet 2 in the Pedal, all other stops remained unaltered. Organ case, Principal (tin) pipes of the facade, manuals and wind chests were designed and built by Schnitger.
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