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York’s Tannenberg Organ

Lewis Miller drawing of Tannenberg and his last organ.
Many of us are familiar with the beautiful 1804 Tannenberg organ at the York County Heritage Trust. Free public concerts are given on the organ each year during July and August on Fridays from 12:15 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. It is amazing to me to hear the different sounds each talented local organist draws from the 200-year-old instrument.
Only nine of the 42 known organs built by David Tannenberg still exist, so we are lucky that this last of his organs, built for Christ Lutheran Church, has survived. It did some moving around the last two centuries. It was first installed in Christ’s stone church. When that was torn down and the brick church built 1812-14, it was installed in the north gallery, where it was used continuously until 1893, until a new and larger pipe organ was donated.
The Tannenberg was moved to their “beehive” chapel in the summer of 1905 and painted a dark color. The organ was given by the church to the Historical Society of York County in 1945 and removed by Frederick J. Furst. The organ, however, could not be reconstructed until the historical society moved to larger quarters at 250 East Market Street in 1959. At that time Mr. Furst was engaged to put it together again and restore it to playable order. It was moved from the second floor of the historical society building to its present first floor location in 1988. Since that time, there has been additional restoration and more to be done in the future as funds are raised.
To read more about the Tannenberg organ and its builder, see my recent York Sunday News column below.

York Has David Tannenberg’s Last Organ–and David Tannenberg

David Tannenberg, the famous 18th century Moravian organ builder was born in 1728 at Berthelsdorf, near Herrnhut, Germany. His parents had fled from their native Moravia (present Czech Republic) because of religious persecution. They were members of the Unitas Fratrum (Unity of the Brethren), now known as the Moravian Church.
Tannenberg left Europe at the age of 21 to come to the Moravian settlement at Bethlehem, Pa. Two months after arrival he married Anna Rosina Kern, who had been on the same ship, the Irene. They were married with 27 other couples in what is known as “the great wedding” at Bethlehem.
Tannenberg followed his trade of joiner (cabinetmaker) there. He sang in the Moravian services and may have had other musical talents. When renowned organ builder Johan Gottlob Klemm moved to Bethlehem in 1757, Tannenberg became his apprentice. They built four or five organs together before Klemm died in 1762.
Tannenberg then started his long solo career, building at least 42 organs, large and small, for German-speaking congregations, and even some for individuals, from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. The Tannenbergs moved to Lititz in 1765. He first worked out of his home, then a small stone shop, where he averaged an organ a year for nearly forty years. Known Tannenberg organs ranged from one with four stops made for the Moravian congregation in Graceham, Md. to the 34-stop organ built for Zion Lutheran Church, Philadelphia. The organ pipes and mechanical parts were made by Tannenberg in Lititz. They were assembled, then disassembled and transported by wagon to the final site. A case would be built onsite and the whole organ then completed.
As he aged, Tannenberg started looking for an assistant. Of the five Tannenberg children, the two boys were trained as organ builders, but David, Jr. was dismissed from the Moravian congregation, probably because of his Revolutionary War militia activities, contrary to the pacifist views of the Moravians. The other son, Samuel, died young. Tannenberg thought of having one of his three daughters learn organ building, but the Moravians would not permit it. Joiner Jacob Schnell didn’t work out, so Tannenberg asked Philip Bachman to come from Herrnhut. Bachman, a trained musical instrument manufacturer, arrived in 1793. He married the youngest Tannenberg daughter, Anna Maria. Bachman took over the installation of the organs, especially those further away, such as the two existing organs at Salem, the Moravian community in North Carolina. There was eventually an apparent rift over money between Tannenberg and Bachman, perhaps aggravated by Anna Maria’s death in 1799.
Letters from Tannenberg to the congregation at Salem expressed his disappointment at not being able to travel there to construct their large organ in 1800. He even indicated that, being widowed some time before, he had married his second wife in anticipation of having someone to take care of his affairs in Lititz while he was in North Carolina.
Even though he suffered a stroke in September 1803, Tannenberg felt well enough to make the trip to York in April 1804 to install the organ he had built for Christ Lutheran Church, a gift to the congregation provided for in the will of Barbara Schmidt. While tuning the nearly completed organ, he apparently suffered another stroke and fell from a bench or scaffold. He died here two days later, May 19, 1804. He was buried at the Moravian cemetery, then at Princess and Water (Pershing) streets. Artist Lewis Miller transcribed a hymn, Rest Safe, which was sung at Tannenberg’s funeral. It was composed by Miller’s father, the singing teacher at Christ Lutheran. The Moravian cemetery was moved to Prospect Hill in 1908.
Of the 42 organs known to have been built by Tannenberg only nine exist, and several of those have been so altered that only the case seems to be left. York originally had four Tannenberg organs. The first, a chapel organ for the York Moravian congregation, was completed in 1765 or 1768. In 1780 Tannenberg came here “from Lititz to set up a beautiful new organ for Mr. Fischer….” That customer was probably clockmaker and painter John Fischer, whose Feb 1809 estate inventory includes “one chamber organ.”
Lititz and York Moravian congregation diaries say Tannenberg was also in York during August and September, 1784 to install an organ in the German Reformed church.
Of these four, only his last organ, the 1804 Christ Lutheran instrument, still exists. When the stone building in which it was first installed was replaced by the present brick Christ church around 1814, the organ was installed on the north gallery. It was used continuously until 1893, when it was replaced by a new, larger pipe organ. It was moved to the “beehive chapel” and used there for around 50 years. In 1945 the organ was given by the church to the Historical Society of York County (now part of York County Heritage Trust).
This beautiful, in sight and sound, Tannenberg organ was reassembled after the historical society moved to 250 East Market Street in 1959. After undergoing several restorations the organ is now the centerpiece of YCHT’s great hall and is played often. York County Heritage Trust offers free concerts on the Tannenberg by noted local organists each summer from 12:15 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. on Fridays during July and August.