Tarragona, Kathedraal

Opus 1117

The new Verschueren organ of Tarragona Cathedral

Between 1562 and 1567, Salvador Estada and Perris Arrabassa built an organ for the Cathedral of Tarragona. The organ’s cases were carved by Jeroni Sanxo and Perris Ostris to a design by Mn. Jaume Amigó. As the result of various rebuilding projects, this instrument was entirely lost, save for the fabulous historic case within which Verschueren Orgelbouw were commissioned to build a new organ.  The idea of creating either a hypothetical restoration or an eclectic organ was deliberately avoided. Instead, inspiration was drawn from the historical links between the Southern Netherlands and the Iberian Peninsula. In the 16th and 17th centuries in particular, intensive contact took place between musicians and instrument builders from the two geographical areas and the original organ in Tarragona was built by organbuilders with Southern Netherlands roots. Knowledge gained during the last decennia, both through the restoration of historic organs and the building of new ones, was applied in the construction of the new organ in Tarragona. In addition, research was carried out into various organs both in the Netherlands and elsewhere and many sources were studied. The new organ is not a ‘style-copy’ but rather a new instrument inspired by historical ideas and points of departure. 


Construction of the organ and organ case

In truth, there is no real organ case as such but just a façade located in the last bay of the nave before the transept. The case of the ‘Cadireta’ is located within the balustrade. The dimensions and layout of the historic façade determined the form of the new organ which has been built on a pine base, installed behind the façade.

In the centre of the main case, at the same height as the feet of the façade pipes, are located the two wind-chests of the Organo Major. The largest pipes of the Flautat Major are winded via conduits from the pipefields on either side. In order to attain a direct dissemination of the sound, the wind-chests of the ‘small’ pedal (all pedal stops of 8’ or higher) are located directly behind the 16’ front pipes. The ‘Orgue de Dalt’ is located above the Hoofdwerk, in the centre of the case. Due to the limited depth of the organ case, the pipework is divided between upper and lower chests (an analogy can be drawn here with both Northern Dutch examples and the Brebos organs at El Escorial). The Cadireta is located behind the organist’s back in an independent case which forms part of the balustrade. The Contrabaix and Bombarda of the pedal (both full-length 16’ stops) are located in a niche behind the organ at the same height as the Cadireta. The four wedge bellows are located behind the ‘large’ pedal stops. The decorative ‘crown’ on the organ case seems very likely to have had no more than a decorative function throughout its existence. 

The organ case has doors of monumental proportions. At the time of the organ’s construction, these were decorated by the Italian painter Pietro Paolo da Montalbergo. The doors will be returned to the case following restoration. When closed, they cover the front of the Organo Major. The façade pipes of the Cadireta and the Orgue de Dalt (dummies) are screened by decorated cloths which function as blinds which can be rolled up and down.  The organ case was restored on site by  Jesús Mendiola and Emma Zahonero.


The concept

The Organo Major can be described as an extended principal chorus; an idea which references the organ’s history and the organ traditions of the 16th and 17th centuries in general. The composition of the various mixtures has been conceived so that a large number of different plenum registrations can be realised. The repeating tierce rank of the Alemanya can be added separately to the plenum. The specification of the Organo Major has been expanded through the inclusion of an Espigueta, a Corneta and a Trompeta Real. The division of the Corneta between treble and bass can be adjusted from the usual  c’/c#’ to the Catalonian standard b/c’.
The ‘Organo de dalt’ features a wide variety of principal and flute stops at different pitches offering possibilities for many varieties of solo and chorus registration. The division’s pair of reeds stops are voiced to be usable with the flues.

The Cadireta features a principal chorus with the Bordó allowing both a ‘petit plein jeu’, and a ‘cornet décomposé’. The Cromorne completes the ensemble.
A fully-realised independent pedal division offers possibilities for the performance of a large proportion of the classical German and French organ literature. Scalings and details of construction were derived from the manual stops.  A Trompetteria has also been added to the specification of the Organ Major. The scalings were drawn up on the basis of work by Jean-Pierre Cavaillé (the grandfather of the famous Aristide Cavaillé-Coll). His organs demonstrate important similarities with the French Classical style and with the instruments which we know from the Liège tradition. The ‘Regalies’ were designed according to a description by Mariano Tafall.

The majority of the metal pipework contains 23% tin. The façade principals and the resonators of most reeds contain a further  80 % tin. The sheets of organ metal were thinned by hand.

The construction and scaling of the reeds is drawn from historical examples from the Flemish tradition. These stops feature beaked shallots. The Bombard has wooden resonators and boots.


Technical construction

The technical aspects of the organ are built on a base of pine beams and are accessible via passage-boards and ladders all of which are made of solid wood. The stack of four wedge bellows is located behind the organ and can be activated both by hand and via the electric blower. The wind trunking is made of pine. Pipes which do not stand directly on the wind-chest are winded via conduits made of organ metal or made of pine. 

The slider wind-chests are made of oak. The grooves are lined with sheets of cross laminated wood. The wind-chests of Hoofdwerk and pedal feature double ventils in order to minimise the mutual influencing of the speech of individual stops.

The key actions are mostly of the suspended type. Rollerboards are made of oak, trackers from pine, cut along the grain, and all wires are made of brass. The Cadireta has a sticker-and-backfall action. 

The manual keys are covered with boxwood (naturals) and ebony (sharps). The key fronts are covered in parchment. The stop knobs have been turned in walnut and are located on either side of the manuals. The stop names are in Catalan and have been calligraphied onto parchment.


The new organ is the outcome of a creative process. Although points of departure were observed from historic organbuilding, it is not a ‘style-copy’ but a new Verschueren organ. In conceiving the instrument, we have strived to realise a coherent concept without interfering with the beautiful historic organ case. The project was carried out in close consultation with advisors Hans van Nieuwkoop, Wim Diepenhorst and Jordi Vergés i Riart. The project received significant financial support from Mr. Jaume Costa and Mrs. Rosa Pallejà.


                                                                                                              Verschueren Orgelbouw Heythuysen B.V.

                                                                                                              Johan Zoutendijk