Mon, Dec 03, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Rumbling back to life

Barbara Dutli is out to restore Transylvania’s historical organs — one church at a time

By Isabelle Wesselingh  /  AFP, HARMAN, Romania

It is a unique opportunity in a country from which more than three million people have emigrated to find work.

Only about one-fifth of Transylvania’s approximately 250 organs have been restored so far, according to Kurt Philippi, an ethnic Saxon musicologist who has unearthed century-old music scores for organs.

“Saving the organs is like saving a part of our culture and identity,” he said, recalling the tragic fate of his community.

The Saxons settled in Transylvania in the 12th century when King Geza II of Hungary sought their help to defend the eastern border of the kingdom from Tatars and Turks.

They lived and prospered for centuries until World War II when many were enlisted, sometimes against their will, in the Wehrmacht because of their German ancestry.

After Soviet troops entered Romania in 1944, tens of thousands of Saxons were deported to labor camps in Siberia.

For decades under the Communist regime, Saxons were unable to leave Romania; they fled en masse to Germany after the fall of Ceausescu.

Romania’s ethnic Germans including Saxons numbered more than 630,000 in 1930; by 2002 there were fewer than 60,000 according to the latest available census figures.

Today the fortified churches built by their forefathers and listed by UNESCO as World Heritage — as well as organs with their intricate linden-tree ornaments — remain as their legacy.

Dutli hopes to save more of these masterpieces: “What is fascinating is to transform dead materials — wood, metal, animal skin — into something that produces great music.”

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