Before restoration                                                    After restoration                        

The restoration of the beautiful 18th century organ in Santa María de la Asunción Tlacolula, a town in the eastern Valley of Oaxaca, is now finished. The first phase of the project, the restoration of the case and the decorated façade pipes was supervised by Oaxacan restorer Eric González Castellanos. The second phase, the restoration of the organ itself, directed by the Gerhard Grenzing organ building shop (El Papiol, Spain), began in October 2013 and was finished in mid-February 2014. The organ was reinaugurated on February 23, 2014, during the Tenth International Organ and Early Music Festival.

There are now eight restored organs in the state of Oaxaca, but this is the first restoration project organized by the IOHIO. We have been considering organ restorations for years, but felt that first we needed to prepare the ground. Over the course of 13 years we have been documenting, conserving, and analyzing the organs; playing them in concerts and providing keyboard instruction for students; and increasing awareness of the organs through lectures, publications, recordings, and our festivals. Finally the time was ripe to bring another silent Oaxacan organ back to life.





Documents in the Tlacolula church archives indicate that the organ was built in 1791 by organbuilder Manuel Neri y Carmona for $700 pesos, with an additional $200 pesos for the gilding. However, one of the tallest interior trumpet pipes is incised with the date “1666,” and stylized square crosses appear on several other interior pipes. These crosses are associated with the period of strong Dominican influence in Oaxaca, which spanned the 16th to the mid-18th centuries, and they began to disappear as the influence of the order waned. Since the last Oaxacan organs with Dominican crosses incised on their pipes date from the 1740s, we can assume that the pipework of the Tlacolula organ was built before the case of 1791.

The pipe work of the organ is almost entirely homogeneous and seems to have been recycled from a previous instrument, since at the end of the 18th century $700 pesos would not have financed the construction of a complete organ. However, it could have covered the cost of the case, bellows, and interior components. Based on this, the Tlacolula organ may have the oldest complete pipe work of any organ in Oaxaca, with a sound hearkening back to the 17th century.

The 1791 case of the organ is stylistically an anachronism, since it was painted and gilded in baroque style at a time when such decoration was no longer in vogue. In contrast, all other Oaxacan organ cases of the period have a natural finish or are painted one color in accordance with the prevailing calmer and less turbulent neo-classic aesthetic. The faces on the façade pipes are similarly out of historical context, since this decorative characteristic had largely disappeared in Oaxaca by the mid-18th century. Their finely rendered, individualized expressions contrast dramatically with the ferocious mascarones typical of late-17th and early-18th century Mexican and European organs, yet at the same time, they do preserve the baroque tradition.