In the early 1930’s most organs were built with an electric or pneumatic action and had a so-called « garden fence façade ».
As early as the late 1930’s followed the change to slider chests, a system which was from then on consistently built. From 1937 Metzler returned to building organs with a mechanical action. The decision to build only with this type of action was taken notably early. It was a decision which was born of the organ builder’s own conviction, since the customers for this „innovation“ needed to be won over first. The fact that the breakthrough nevertheless did gradually take place, whilst organs with an electric action continued to be built for a long time afterwards in other places, is not least accredited to the work of Oskar Metzler Jr. With ingenuity and a wealth of ideas he strove to improve every detail to perfection until the now light and precise key action no longer had to endure criticism. The willingness to be innovative was also demonstrated through the change to diaphragm bellows, a system invented and patented by Ing. Maag, which achieved the much demanded steadyness (and also unfortunately a certain rigidity) of the organ wind, as well as saving space in comparison to the old bellows system.
Of great importance for the life-span, reliability and aesthetics of an organ is the quality of the wood used. For this reason Oskar Metzler Jr. made it his job to personally oversee all phases of the wood preparation that is from the choice of tree trunks, the cutting in the company’s own sawmill and the correct storage in the open, right through to the appropriate selection of wood pieces.
It would be incomplete to present the history of an organ building company without mentioning the external influences. Among these are musical and performance practice trends, influential experts and advisors (with, in some cases, strong personal opinions), or architects who left their mark on an entire generation. These influences can be helpful or a hindrance to the development of organ building, but are never without consequences.
Work in collaboration with the organ expert Ernst Schiess was such a result, and presented clear ideas concerning stop-list, constructional design, façade design, scaling and voicing.
Hansueli Metzler, who was sent from his school bench directly into the voicing department due to a personnel shortage, was soon able, thanks to a thorough training as organist, to show considerable skill in this field and was able to put Ernst Schiess’ ideas into practice. Although these instruments represented a clear turning away from the warm-sounding Romantic type based on the fundamental 8’ range with few mutation stops, the tiny foot holes and numerous nicks enabled the production of similar well-balanced, sweet and coherent tonal characteristics to those before, but a touch weaker and less vibrant.
In spite of this, Hansueli Metzler was able to retain his independence in voicing issues. The study trips to Holland and Denmark which he undertook together with his brother Oskar and Hans Füglister in 1951 proved to be a turning point in the tonal-stylistic development. In these countries firms such as Flentrop, Frobenius and Marcussen had consistently put into practice the demands of the Organ Reform Movement, with a return to the principles of Baroque organ building. Enclosed cases, strict division layout, no nicks in the languid, low wind pressure and pipes with an open foot achieved in the instruments visited in Jaegersborg, Varde and other places a convincing transparency and brilliance.
In order to find a way towards the desired breadth and variety of sound, personal contact was needed with the partly unaltered historical pipes of the Bossard choir organ in Muri, Canton Aargau, and the Silbermann organ in Arlesheim. These, with their wide flues, high cut-ups and regular nicks disproved some of the dogma which was being preached around this time.
These complex restorations also brought Metzler into contact with other practices in historic organ building, so that the soldering of stopped pipes, the hammering of the pipe metal as well as the freely breathing wind supply all contribute to the vitality of playing and tone.
The standard of intonation achieved since the end of the 1960’s which lends the diapason chorus a singing and radiant brightness, the flutes suppleness, warmth and poetry and the reeds a characteristic strength spread the reputation of the name Metzler far beyond the borders of Switzerland and brought significant commissions to the company from Holland, Germany, England and Italy.
The aesthetic development of the instruments also ran parallel to the advancements in tonal design. The first enclosed cases constructed from solid wood were proudly presented as early as the 1950’s. The architect Ernst Vogt designed a number of particularly eye-catching symmetrical façades. The previously mentioned Scandinavian influences were also to be seen later in this area of organ building, when the Danish organ builder Poul-Gerhard Andersen caused something of a stir with his case designs.
With the entry of the Dutch organ builder Bernhardt Edskes into the firm in 1963 the dependence on external designers came to an end. In addition to this his close affinity with organs of the old masters, particularly Dutch, coupled with his youthful enthusiasm and powers of persuasion gave the company the necessary impulse to venture to take further steps forward, for example finally dispensing with electric registration systems. It was also of particular importance to him to reintroduce significant features of classic façade design, such as the clear definition of the rails, hand-carved pipe shades and other ornamentation. At first these changes occurred quite subtly, later more boldly and lavishly.
For many years this turn towards historic case building was condemned from many sides as betraying the spirit of the times or scornfully dismissed with the description «gingerbread style» until gradually the meaningfulness of a stylistic unity incorporating the internal construction, sound and external appearance was recognised. This led to an increased number of firms turning towards this style of building both in Switzerland and abroad.
Organ façades built in an historical style always find a spontaneous and lasting acceptance among the general public. Such cases prove the continuing existence of the skilful craftsmanship of our master joiners, an art thought by many to have long died out, and will be received with great respect far into the future. This will certainly improve the survival chances of such organs.
On the other hand the pressure from monument preservation and architectural circles to search for new design ideas does, understandably, increase and causes the areas of organ construction and organ design to come into conflict with one another.
This can, of course, prove fruitful, which is why we are open to accepting work in collaboration with external designers. The following are a number of important principles which should be observed when undertaking such a partnership:
It is our wish for the future that we will continue to make many interesting encounters from which, on a basis of mutual respect, high quality modern solutions will result.