The organ built between 1853 and 1855 by Friedrich Ladegast has made Merseburg Cathedral world famous. Behind its impressive Baroque façade are 5,687 pipes. This makes the Ladegast organ in Merseburg one of the largest and most beautiful-sounding Romantic organs in all of Germany.
As part of the Orgelklang 12 (Organ Sound 12) series, regular organ concerts are held on selected Saturdays at 12 o’clock, which visitors to Merseburg Cathedral can experience during their visit. The programmes are always arranged by major organists. With a valid cathedral admission ticket, you can enjoy 40 minutes of organ music and spiritual words. Upcoming dates can be found here.
Merseburger Orgeltage (Merseburg Organ Days)
Experience concerts of a very special kind during the Merseburger Orgeltage (Merseburg Organ Days) held every September. During this time, you can see major organists and ensembles from all over the world at Merseburg Cathedral.
Tour offer: ringing cathedral treasure
End your visit at the Merseburg Cathedral with a very special musical experience – a short concert with the romantic Ladegast organ. You can easily book our “ringing cathedral treasure” for your individual group tour and listen to this “Queen of Instruments”. Our Visitor Centre is happy to help.
Duration: 15 min or 30 min
Costs: 100.00 € (15 min) or 150.00 € (30 min) plus admission price
History of the Ladegast organ
The first evidence of an organ in Merseburg Cathedral is from the end of the 13th century, when the canon Conrad Hevestrit, who is documented from about 1280 to 1299, bequeathed 12 marks “ad organa” (for the organ) in his legacy – an enormous sum at that time, which could well have served for the construction of a new organ after the cathedral renovation in the 13th century. We do not know anything more about this organ, which is occasionally mentioned in documents – either about its layout and disposition or about its place of installation.
Notes on organ repairs in the late 16th and first half of the 17th century suggest that there was a swallow’s nest organ in this period, which was located in the western part of the cathedral on the northern high wall, perhaps on the north-west tower, and had a Brustwerk (chest division) and Oberwerk (upper division) as well as a pedalboard and Rückpositiv (positive).
In the Baroque period, Merseburg Cathedral served as a court church for the collateral line of the Dresden Wettin Duchy of Saxe-Merseburg, which resided in the adjacent palace. In addition to the altar furnishings, the cathedral owes much of its furnishings to this “ducal period”, including an organ which, after it was first rebuilt in 1665/66, was completely renovated again in 1693 and received a new façade in 1697.
Installed at that time in the late-Gothic nave, this magnificent Baroque façade still dominates the cathedral today: Reaching up to the vault, it fills the space between the towers, while the gallery with the Rückpositiv sweeps sideways to the western nave pillars. With ornate, solidly gilded acanthus carvings, decorated with music-making angels and cherubs holding coats of arms, this impressive organ wall has been preserved essentially in its late 17th century form to the present day.
The work, which was probably begun by Zacharias Theisner in around 1693, was not accepted until as late as 1713 and was then rejected by two acceptance commissions as unusable, after a damning expert opinion had already been given by the Halberstadt organ builder Christoph Gloger in 1698 to no avail. Immediately afterwards, in 1714, Johann Friedrich Wender had to thoroughly overhaul the organ (including completely new windchests and six new bellows), expanding it from 41 to 50 voices “without detriment to the initial façade” and adding a “special clavier for the Rückpositiv on the lower choir”.
After this extensive rescue operation was positively received, Wender received a further commission in 1715 to once again “improve and enlarge” it: Several voices were “partly altered, partly added as new” to bring it to a total of 66 stops, including a new steel console. A new Brustwerk with a fourth manual (now the lowest) was also added. Nevertheless, Wender apparently could not achieve the quality and coherence of one of his own newly built organs.
The consecration of the organ did not take place until 17 October 1717. It is assumed that much work has been done to the façade during the many years since its acceptance. The monogram of the “violinist duke” Moritz Wilhelm (1712-31) on the Hauptwerk (great organ) is a sign of this continuing expansion and reconstruction.
The long-serving Merseburg Cathedral organist Wilhelm Schneider (1824-1843) considered his cathedral organ to be “a very irregular organ from the beginning”. Along with his successors Carl August Ritter (1844-1847) and especially David Hermann Engel (1847-1877), who was also the “royal organ inspector” of the Prussian province of Saxony, he endeavoured to make lasting improvements.
At Engel’s suggestion, the renovation of the “giant organ” was, unusually, entrusted to a “young, and at that time still largely unproven master” whose rebuilding proposal was “as well as being extraordinarily inexpensive, also the most comprehensive” among the submitted offers and who had recommended himself to Engel above all by “the extraordinary solidity and artistic efficiency ... in the construction of two smaller country organs in this region”: Friedrich Ladegast (1818-1905) from Weißenfels, the great central-German organ builder of the 19th century, who would earn his fame through the construction of this organ.
Between 1853 and 1855, he built a completely new organ into the old Baroque case, which now contained a total of almost 5,700 pipes and the old steel console with mechanical action and slider chests in 81 stops, making it one of the largest organs in Germany at the time.
Franz Liszt took a lively interest in the construction of this instrument – significant in terms of organ and music history and the first Romantic large organ in central Germany – and it inspired him to write his most important organ works. The consecration of the organ on 26 September 1855 met with an enthusiastic response. In addition to the compositions by Liszt himself, the great sonata by his student Julius Reubke, who died young, premiered on this organ in 1857. The Merseburg Cathedral organ, which through Ladegast and Liszt became an authentic instrument for the Romantic organ music of the 19th century, also remained a concert instrument of the highest order for older organ works, due to its wonderfully versatile sound.
However, as part of extensive repairs since the 1960s, significant alterations without a clear sound concept of their own have severely disrupted the self-contained Ladegast disposition through the arbitrary replacement of many of the stops. In addition, there were serious signs of wear on the windchests and the action. The supply of wind had also become problematic. On the other hand, the “Merseburg Organ Days”, founded by the long-serving cathedral organist Hans-Günther Wauer (1951-96), had helped the cathedral organ to gain a previously unknown wide audience.
In 1994, at the suggestion of Michael Schönheit, under whose chairmanship the Freundeskreis Musik und Denkmalpflege in Kirchen des Merseburger Landes e. V. (Friends of Music and the Preservation of Monuments in Churches in the Merseburg Region) had taken over the sponsorship of these traditional organ days, a symposium of organ experts gathered to discuss the condition of the organ and the aim of the radical repairs and restoration that had become necessary.
In a comprehensive renovation lasting from 2001 to 2004, the firms Eule, Scheffler and Wegscheider, as recommended by this symposium, restored the organ to its original intonation in a joint project which went beyond the urgently needed technical repair work, restoring it as far as possible to the Ladegast sound of 1866. In coordination with Vereinigte Domstifter (United Cathedral Foundations), the restoration was initiated and managed by the Freundeskreis Musik und Denkmalpflege, under its chairman Michael Schönheit.