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Wilhelm SAUER was born on the 23rd March in Schönebeck near Friedland, in the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. His father, Carl Adolph Ernst SAUER, was a Blacksmith by trade, and had moved to Mecklenburg from Pomerania in 1820. He bought a Smithy in Schönebeck and married Johanna Christine Elizabeth SUMKE in 1822.

1835 saw the start of SAUER’s Organ Building. Ernst SAUER, self-taught, built an organ for Schönebeck Church. This work caused him to be noticed in the Residence and the Consistorium, and resulted in a “Stipendium” from the Grand Duke with the proviso that he should better himself as an Organ Builder. Ernst went to Ratzmann in Ohrdruf.

Ernst SAUER sold the Smithy in Schönebeck, and settled in Friedland; there he bought land and built his workshop. He commenced commercial organ building.

Wilhelm’s elder brother, Johann Ernst SAUER, died on 27th December. Born on 28th January 1823 Johann Ernst was heir-apparent to the Firm, and was already helping his father with organ building.

On account of his talent, Wilhelm’s father wished to send him to the Bauakademie in Berlin. However - the prevailing conditions, Revolution in Germany, economic worries, the fact that, following his brother’s death, Wilhelm would now succeed his father, - all caused the plan to falter. Wilhelm started his apprenticeship with his father.

The Schönebeck parish records report that Wilhelm SAUER will be travelling abroad at this time. The purpose of the journey was to be research. He held Aristide CAVAILLÉ-COLL in Paris and Eberhard Friedrich WALCKER in Ludwigsburg to be of prime importance. In addition to this he was also in England and Switzerland, where he wished to settle. However his father ordered him to return home.

The organ for St. Mary’s Church, Friedland was built by father and son together. The results of Wilhelm’s studies abroad bore fruit here. Soon Wilhelm was entrusted with the Direction of the Firm’s branch in Deutsch Krone, now the polish town of Walcz, which his father had established to avoid high customs dues.

On 1st March Wilhelm SAUER announced the opening of his own business in Frankfurt-an-der-Oder. It is not known why he later spoke of 1857 as the opening date. In October 1856 he worked on the organ in the Reformed Church in Frankfurt (the present-day Friedenskirche), and was already registered as a “Master Organ Builder”. The Works were situated at No. 3 Crossen Street, now 1 May Street, in the Damm Suburb, now polish Slubice. He rented rooms in the yard of the “Golden Lion” tavern, and began to build his organs with the help of 10 workers.

On 1st March, 1859 Wilhelm SAUER married Minna Auguste PENSKE, the daughter of the Kantor. In the same year a 22-stop organ was ordered for the new Evangelical Church in Tilsit, East Prussia, now Russian Sovetsk, through the good offices of a building inspector in Gumbinnen, present-day Gusew. This proved to be a breakthrough. At first, however, SAUER could not gain a foothold in the Berlin district because the influential organ adviser August Wilhelm BACH was against him on account of his “Französelei”, by which is meant the influence of French organ building. On 14th December his daughter Johanna was born.

Business connections in Prussia were developing very quickly. A branch was opened in Königsberg in Preussen, now Kaliningrad, which was sold again after improvements in infrastructure.

SAUER delivered his first large organ to Berlin. The Christuskirche was not subordinate to the Prussian state, and therefore not to the organ consultant BACH. So SAUER was able to gain increasing influence in Berlin after all.

The new Firm built its first organ abroad: St. Petersburg. Up until 1914 41 instruments followed to czarist Russia. At a relative’s suggestion – probably his father’s – a Coat of Arms was established for Wilhelm SAUER and his descendants.

On 16th February SAUER purchased the freehold of No. 13 Park, nowadays 13 Paul Feldner Street, to establish his own estate here. The house, which is still known today as the “Sauer House”, had been built in 1785 on the street side of the Park. The building of the workshops etc., began during the same year.

Workshops, Boilerhouse and an outhouse were ready. The safety certificate of the boiler was dated 22nd July, 1867. One year later he built the “Organ Hall”, conceived as an erection, exhibition, and demonstration room. Wilhelm SAUER, himself a good organist, has surely demonstrated and tested an organ or two here. He also went again to CAVAILLÉ-COLL in Paris and studied the nature of harmonics there. At the same time work started on the organ, Opus 125, for the Franciscan Church in Frankfurt (today’s Concert Hall), in which signs of his studies can be discerned. The pedal organ received a Quint 5 1/3, Tierce 3 1/5 and Septième 2 2/7 as independent stops. This was very unusual for that epoch. The number of employees had definitely increased. The newspaper “Urania” reported that each week about 110 Taler had to be paid in wages, which indicated a considerable number of workers. These men were happy to work with him, as the power of the steam engine worked the saw and planing machine, and so removed some of the hard physical labour from the work. The business situation was good to them, indeed they could not fulfil all the orders.

On 21st December the newly-built St. Thomas’ Church in Berlin was dedicated, and with it the new SAUER organ, in the presence of King WILLIAM 1st of Prussia. It was a 4-manual, tracker action, organ with 52 stops.

Wilhelm SAUER’s wife died on 4th October, aged 36. The fire in the house was probably also at this time, which destroyed important documents.

SAUER commenced his “Secret Handbook” – an interesting document about the commercial development of the by-now 20-year old Firm. On 7th September 1878 he married his second wife Ida Henriette Elisabeth BAUER, the daughter of a brewery owner and town councillor of Potsdam.

On 2nd February the Imperial Patent Office in Berlin granted SAUER Patent No. 14576 for his “Kombinationsvorrichtung an Registerzügen für Kirchenorgeln” (Combination Action for Church Organs).

SAUER was awarded the Distinction of “Akademischer Künstler”.

By order of the Cabinet SAUER was named “Royal Organ Builder” on 18th April.

After SAUER had already built a new organ for St. Peter’s Leipzig, came an order this year for a new instrument for the famous church of St. Thomas. In 1902 and 1908 this organ was rebuilt by SAUER in consultation with St. Thomas’ organist, Karl STRAUBE.

At the beginning of the nineties, probably in 1892, SAUER changed his action system. Until then he had utilised tracker action, but now he gradually charged to pneumatic. The reason for this lies in the hand. The ever-larger organs demanded by customers for Cathedrals and Churches, and also for concert halls could no longer be controlled mechanically. This system was at the limits of its practicality; other organ builders had already gone over to Pneumatic action. The advent of Paul WALCKER in the Firm gave a decisive impulse to this.

During this time many organs left the workshops. Wilhelm SAUER was at the zenith of his life’s work. Decorations and Honours were showered upon him during succeeding years. Of the Distinctions awarded by the highest dignitaries, and the many gifts of honour bestowed on him only one has survived to the present day: A small silver tumbler, presented to him by the Church Council in Dorpat, on the occasion of the inauguration of their new organ. Around 1900 SAUER acquired the freehold of No. 1 Leipzig Street in Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, which was used as a wood store.

During this time SAUER celebrated his 70th birthday, and was travelling tirelessly: to mention but a few he went to Holland, the Rhineland, Leipzig, Dresden and Nauheim. Honours for his life’s work mounted up during the final years of his activity. So, amongst others, he received the “Roter Adlerorden (1899) (The order of Red Eagle), Verdienstorden für Kunst und Wissenschaft (1899) ( Order of Merit for Art and Science), Kronenorden (1901) ( The Order of The Crown), Medaille für Kunst und Wissenschaft (1905) (Medal for Art and Science), Roter Adlerorden mit Schleife (1906) (The Order of the Red Eagle with Bar), Ritterordern (1909) (Knight). SAUER reciprocated with his skill for his many awards. So he donated organs for the Pentecost Chapel in Potsdam, the Home for the Blind of the Hermann Schmidt Foundation in Königswusterhausen, St. Saviour’s Chapel in Mirbach, the Luther Foundation in Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, for his home parish in Schönebeck, and the Fernwerk (Echo Organ) for the Garrison Church in Berlin.

From 1st October, 1910 the Firm was known as “W. SAUER - Inhaber (Proprietor) Paul WALCKER”. Paul WALCKER was by this time already 64 years old. From the technical point of view he trod a new path. SAUER had remained faithful to his cone chests (Kegellade), and had only built a few pneumatic ones (for example the Positive in Berlin Cathedral), but WALCKER changed his system and increasingly built pneumatic actions, not however charge actions as SAUER had done, but exhaust actions. In 1913 WALCKER built his first electric action for the organ of the Jahrhunderthalle (Centenary Hall, now Hala Ludowa, Hall of the People) in Breslau, now Wroclaw. As war broke out in 1914, so the number of orders decreased, and in the summer of 1917 WALCKER handed the business over to his nephew Oscar WALCKER from Ludwigsburg. During these 7 years about 90 organs were built.

On 5th September, 1917 Oscar WALCKER transferred the management to Master Organ Builder Karl RUTHER. It was a difficult start, but as the years passed he developed the business, thanks to prudent leadership, into an efficient undertaking. First he modernised the equipment; the old boiler had become unusable. The central drive for the machines was abolished, and each machine was electrified, during 1919. During the inflation organs were successfully sold outside Germany, especially in Holland, Sweden and Norway.

Inflation and uncertainty were stabilised by the introduction of the “Rentenmark” in November 1923, and by the Banking Regulation of 30th April, 1924 coincidental with the establishment of the new Reichsmark. The German economy soon started to recover; orders for the home market increased, Berlin and Silesia were the main outlets, but new and large organs were delivered to other areas.

The political situation was changed permanently by the Nazi’s “Seizure of power”. Immediately pressure was put on the Business, but not yet directly. After the apparent stabilisation of the economy the staff increased in numbers to a record of 100-120 during the years 1936-1936, until the outbreak of World War 2 caused a sudden, albeit temporary, halt to the organ building trade. The majority of organ builders were called up for military service. Only a few elderly and very young workers remained to complete jobs already started, or did repairs here and there to existing instruments. One of the last organs is Opus 1631 built in 1940 for the cemetery church in Bunzlau, now Boleslawiec.
In 1945 the Firm’s Archives were almost completely lost as a consequence of the war. Only a rediscovered console-book gives information about the years 1924-1934, and the remains of an Opus-book from 1934 until Opus 1619, built in 1939. After that there is no information. Only a few discoveries of organs after Opus 1619 have been made up until now. Amongst them is Opus 1672, built in 1943, which is a 2-manual house organ with 17 stops for Professor Förstmann in Magdeburg. The circumstances surrounding its completion are not known. With the proclamation of “Total War”, by Reichsminister Dr. Göbbells, organ building finished. The last employees in the business had to build munitions chests, and at the end a few old colleagues were employed in the fire watch service until Frankfurt was occupied in April 1945.

During May 1945 Frankfurt was plundered. The equipment of the Works also fell victim to this orgy of looting. As Frau SPALLEK and her son Gerhard returned to Frankfurt they found the buildings open and neglected. In June 1945 Anton SPALLEK was one of the first of the original workforce to return. A littler later the Red Army confiscated the Works and established a de-lousing station there. Anton SPALLEK, as the first, seized the initiative for the continuation of the SAUER Works. He sought to safeguard some of the materials and tools lying around – the machines had long since been removed. At his suggestion the recently constituted Town Council officially appointed him on 10th September, 1945 to direct the completion of all organ building contracts.
On 20th September, 1945 Dr. Oscar WALCKER transferred the direction of the Firm to him, which he retained until 1966. At the end of 1945 the workforce consisted of 6 people, of whom 4 were from the original staff: Anton SPALLEK, Walter NOACK, Joachim KLAUSS and Gerhard GÄBLER. Newcomers were Frau SPALLEK, who ran the office, as well as Gerhard SPALLEK, who was an apprentice.
The 1st job after the war was the repair of the Catholic Church Organ in Frankfurt-an-der-Oder. There was no money available for the fresh start; Every Mark had to be earned the hard way. In spite of this an income of 653,56 Reichsmarks had been achieved by the close of the year. This result was good.
The position of the Firm SAUER before the war regarding Capital, Material and Equipment is not known. What is known, however, is that the Business was amongst the leading firms of German organ-builders. It possessed excellent workers, endowed with discretion and professional skills, and was fully committed to the “Organ Reform Movement”. (Even before 1939 Slider Chests were again being built.) There were over 100 employees at Headquarters and in the branches at Berlin, Breslau (now Wroclaw), Hamburg, Cologne, Weimar and Dünnow (Pomerania).
In February 1946 the Russians relinquished the works, and so once again the workshops were available. Mountains of rubble and rubbish had to be removed. Very little of use was found; most of it had deteriorated or was lost through other causes.
Although second-hand materials were used, the first post-war organ left the works during this year (Opus 1673, St. Canisius’ Church, Berlin- Charlottenburg, 9 stops.) Further orders followed, and by 1949 the workforce had risen to 18. By June 1947 there were, once again, a few machines available. Dr. Oscar WALCKER died on 4th September, 1948, and Karl RUTHER on 24th November, 1956.
Around 1950 the first government orders were received. Amongst these were organs for the National Theatre in Weimar, the Berlin State Opera, and the Radio Committee in Berlin.
On 8th November 1957 work ceased for a day. The Frankfurt Organ Builders celebrated the centenary of their foundation with friends and guests of the Business.

The workforce had increased to 30. Gerhard SPALLEK became a “Master Organ Builder”. On 1st March 1966 the managers at WALCKER’s decided he should succeed his father. From this time dates the policy of building predominately tracker organs with slider chests, begone in 1957, and now considered to be established. During this time also much care was taken to improve the means of production as well as social conditions. New machines and tools were installed. At the same time great efforts were put into export. Admittedly at the Posen (now Poznan) Fair their attendance bore no fruit, yet contact was established in 1965 with Soviet organ experts. By May 1972 7 Organs were delivered to the Soviet Union as well as 6 to the Federal Republic of Germany and 1 to Poland.
In 1972 the Firm was nationalised as “Volkseigenen Betrieb SAUER” (literally “People-owned Firm SAUER). However it held fast to the technical and tonal ideals of SAUER organs.
Larger instruments with 3-manual and upwards of 50-60 stops were by now a feature of the building programme nearly every year, as well as many 2-manual, small organs and positives. They went to customers in the former USSR and Czechoslovakia, to Poland and west Germany, and a Positive Organ was delivered to Ghana.

In April 1989 the Firm was awarded collectively the First Prize of honour in the Music Industry at a ceremony in Plauen – a recognition of the hard work of the entire Firm during the proceeding years.

On 7th September Dr. Werner WALCKER-MAYER re-possessed the Business, and during 1993/4 the new factory was built in Müllrose, and inaugurated on 8th July, 1994 as the new Headquarters of the Firm. On 1st January 1996 the Firm was re-constituted as “W.SAUER Orgelbau (Frankfurt/Oder) Dr. Walcker-Mayer GmbH und Co. KG”.

In October 1999 Dr. WALCKER-MAYER opened proceedings to file for Bankruptcy in respect to his Organ Works in the Saarland, which began on 1st January 2000. In connection with this he terminated his function as Proprietor and Secretary of the Firm W.SAUER.

The 27th January 2000 is an important date in the history of the Firm. Under the name “W.SAUER Orgelbau Frankfurt (Oder) GmbH” the firm applied to be entered in the Trade Register, which was done on 19 June, 2000. Since the 27th January 2000 the fate of the Firm was to be in the hands of the four SAUER partners and colleagues Herr Orgelbaumeister Peter FRÄSSDORF (technical Director), Herr Michael SCHULZ (commercial Director), Herr Orgelbaumeister Peter DOHNE (production Director) and Herr Ulrich BÜTTNER (skilled worker).

Translation: John PRYER, M.A. (Oxon), F.R.C.O. 
Organist: Alexandra Palace, LONDON

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