There are very few existing documental references concerning the organ which occupied the original spot where today the Cavaille-Col organ of Santa Maria del Coro now presides, and for this reason little is known about the instrument, apart from that which we are told in Angel Inaraja’s book, “The Cavaille-Coll organ of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Coro in San Sebastian”, that it is a classical organ which had two keyboards and that, in the first quarter of the 19th century, was already in a deplorable state.
In fact, according to the afore mentioned Inaraja, a document from the 26th of September, 1826, exists in which the then parish of Santa Maria, requests a “good organ” for the church and asks that it proceed with the reparation or substitution of the existing instrument. But the economical situation of the city in those times was not especially good. It had still not recovered from the fire and plundering carried out by Wellington’s troops on the 31st of August, 1813, and they still had the first two Carlist wars to get through.
Up until the year 1840, the organ was neither repaired nor replaced. In 1842 it was mended to the extent that the organ’s tuning matched that of the orchestral instruments. With the arrival in 1844 of Jose Juan Santesteban as Master of the Chapel, the project of a new organ gathered fresh momentum. His constant complaints to the local government were finally heard in 1860, the year in which the city council of San Sebastian agreed to partially contribute to the cost of a new instrument.
Almost 40 years would have to pass before the request from the parish of Santa Maria could become a reality, 40 years that despite everything, were worth it.
Why a Cavaille-Coll:
Once it had been decided to replace the old organ of Santa Maria, it became necessary to choose which company would be commissioned with the new instrument. Various proposals were placed upon the table and amongst all of them, two significant ones stood out: on one hand there was the proposal that came from the Amezuas and which meant using the traditional local organ-builder; on the other hand, there was the proposal which arrived from Paris from the house of Cavaille-Coll, which would come to mean the usage of new aesthetic tastes which the company put forward and which had already found fame in Catalonia and in other parts of the country such as Lekeitio. According to Inaraja in his above mentioned book, the final choice of the Cavaille-Coll proposal was made due to the support of two greatly influentical organists of the time: Jose Ignacio Aldalur, an expert in organs from the french company and according to some, not too friendly with the Amezuas, and Jose Juan Santesteban, the referred to Master of the Chapel of Santa Maria who was knowledgable about the Cavaille-Coll organ in Lekeitio. Thus San Sebastian came into business with one of the most symbolic organ families in the history of the organ, a family who were responsible for a considerable number of instruments all over the Basque country.
Two and a half years of work:
Once the proposal favoured by Aldalur and Santesteban had been chosen, it was now up to the french company to present the details of their proposal, and it was then up to the local council and to the parish of Santa Maria to find and organize the finances for the instrument and to set up a committee to follow up the process. All this being done, there was nothing left to do but to get to work, and this they did. The work lasted two and a half years, almost one year more than was expected – the compensation for which being that the french company promised to deliver a completely new instrument, that is to say without using any pieces of the old instrument such as had been agreed at the beginning – and finally the organ was delivered on the 20th of June, 1863. Seven days later, the committee met to give their full agreement to the payment of the organ. The inaugural concert was played by Jose Antonio Santesteban, son of the Master of the Chapel and in his own time, his successor to the post.
Maintenance and various restorations:
The organ did not last long in its perfect state. The presence of rodents in the church and finally inside the instrument proved fatal for it. So in 1878, the Cavaille-Coll organ-builder, M.H. Carloni, wrote a report in which he detailed the serious deterioration suffered by the instrument and in 1880 the company who built the organ carried out a complete restoration of it. In 1882, the City Council of San Sebastian delivered all objects of worship to the Buildings Committee of all parishes, by which meant the organ became property of the church. Existing records of the Buildings Committee of the parish of Santa Maria bear witness to the special attention given to the conservation of the instrument. Nevertheless, the years passed by and in 1928, it was deemed necessary to repair the instrument which was suffering under the attack of moths. At that time, Josa de Olaizola was the resident organist and the person in charge of following the restoration process. To help pay for some of the costs of the restoration, a concert was organized at which Marcel Dupre, who was visiting San Sebastian at the time, took part. The concert was held on September the 7th of that year, and was attended by famous musical personalities such as Jesus Guridi, Aita Donostia, Pablo Sorozabal and Luis Arteaga, amongst others, and as guest of honour, the Queen, Maria Cristina. The second reparation of the organ took place in the year 1929 and this time Fernando Prince was the person in charge, an organ-builder who after the disappearance of the Cavaille-Coll company in 1899, had taken charge of the instrument’s maintenance. The Buildings Committee praised the work of Prince which was finished in July of the same year. Another 40 years would have to pass before deciding to undertake another restoration, which was to be exact, carried out by Organeria Espanola S.A. in the year 1973. The work took 10 months and the reinauguration of the organ was made to coincide with the date in which Santa Maria was consecrated as the Basilica of Santa Maria del Coro. The man in charge of the reinaugural concerts was at that time the resident organist of Notre Dame in Paris, Pierre Cochereau, and diverse groups and associations such as the Donostian Choral Society were invited to take part in the celebrations.
1863 – 1879 Jose Juan Santesteban
1879 – 1906 Jose Antonio Santesteban
1906 – 1940 Jose Olaizola
1940 – 1969 Juan Urteaga Loidi
1969 – 2009 Jose Manuel Azkue
2009 – Loreto Aramendi – Ana Belen García – Alize Mendizabal – Gorka Cuesta