The restoration conduct is a work of self-forgetfulness: personal and contemporary tastes must be put aside, so as to better recover the past lives of the instrument and work with the greatest respect for the original maker. The restorator shall humbly let himself guided by the material he is granted to restore, without seeking any alteration or misappropriation.
The first step of any restoration process is a complete documentary study, including some research and an almost archaeological survey of all the different elements of the instrument, so as to gather their respective history and their successive repairs. That study must lead to an informed choice among different restoring options. One is the return to the original work, when the latter is sufficiently documented and has partially survived. The other is the return to one of the more recent times of the work, when it corresponds to a consistent and musically interesting state.
As stated by Cesare Brandi in his Théorie of restoration, restoration must not lead to the creation of a historical faux. Our conception of restoration is antithetical to the ideas of Viollet-le-Duc when he argues that “Restore is not maintain, repair or remake but reset a complete state that may never have existed at one time.” We defend on the contrary the principle that one should not change historical instruments according to our contemporary tastes, nor seek to right the mistakes of the work’s creator.
However, as we work almost exclusively on organs which are still used today for purposes of worship, our restorations must meet the criteria of functionality. Whenever possible, we try to preserve the integrity of a maximum of original components, but we must sometimes give way to the imperative of maintaining the instrument in working order. In such case, our restoration is guided by the will to maintain the integrity of the maker’s intention, the sensory properties and the original function of the organ. We do not ban the copy of missing old parts or the replacement of defective mechanical parts with new made ones, according to ancient techniques.
The various scenarios in organ restoration
We distinguish four types of restoration, as classified by Laurent Plet in his essay Sur la qualification en restauration d’orgues. These four categories lead to four very different restoration scenarios:
- Museological conservation: it concerns even incomplete and fragmented instruments, which were deemed of major importance, either as witnesses of a technique or as historical heritage documents. This kind of instruments must be transmitted to future generations without any modification. As such, they must undergo preservative operations only, without seeking any functional reconditioning.
- Historical restoration: it takes care of instruments which have lived several stylistic periods, when the preserved quality of the majority of elements allows a return to a previous state that will be consistent regarding history of music and of organ. As such, the goal of restoration is to return to a state whose existence is clearly attested, without alteration of this state. Elements which would not be reused will ideally be stored within the instrument, so as to allow their curation without dissociation.
- The historic compromise: it applies to instruments with historical remains of several periods, for which restoring a specific state is impossible. In such case, the restoration is a compromise between the different passed periods, including the most recent. It is more or less a “re-creation” of the organ based on its historical material.
- Historical reconstruction: it concerns instruments that have lost much of their historicity, because of the subsequent works following their creation. In this latter case, restoration is more or less a complete reconstruction of the instrument, on a mechanical and musical basis, in consonance with the remaining casework.
In our restoration conduct, we therefore clearly differentiate curation operations, simply aiming at ensuring the sustainability of the work, from rather more complex restoration operations, which range from the reconstruction of a casework item to the delicate filling of shims into a soundboard, in order to fix its airtightness.
Our operations are ruled by four essential points:
- Reversibility: all our interventions are made to be reversible, in case it would be someday decided to undertake “de-restorations”.
- Legibility: the completed or rebuilt parts must be identified by future generations. They are discretely dated and mentioned in a restoration file.
- Stability: all products used for our restoration treatments have been proven to be chemically stable over time.
- Compatibility: all our interventions are carried out in materials which are compatible with the original materials of the instrument, so as to prevent any mutual damaging reaction between materials.
Laurent PLET, note Sur la qualification en restauration d’orgues.
Cesare BRANDI, Théorie de la restauration, Paris, Editions Allia, 2011.
Salvador MUÑOZ VIÑAS, Contemporary theory of conservation, Paris, Editions Elsevier, 2005.