Liebe zur Orgel

Gerard Bunk is considered “one of the very great organ artists in the first half of the 20th century” (according to the standard work Handbuch Orgelmusik 2002). For Bunkʼs first biographer Rudolf Schroeder, “organ playing in such unprecedentedly crowded abundance as in Bunkʼs life ... [was] only possible through the perfection acquired from the piano at a young age”: indeed, Bunk enjoyed training as a pianist first in his native Rotterdam, then in England (allegedly with Mark Hambourg in London) and finally at the Hamburg Conservatoire. He also remained a pianist throughout his life. He mainly taught himself to play the organ by, as he himself said, “listening, copying and imitating”. When in 1910, at the insistence of the Social Democrats, a “peopleʼs concert” was squeezed in at short notice as the first event of the Max Reger Festival in Dortmund at a low admission price, the twenty-two-year-old came into his own: He stood in for Regerʼs usual interpreter Karl Straube, took turns with Reger at the new Walcker organ in St. Reinoldiʼs Church and was subsequently recommended as a conservatoire lecturer by the composer, who was obviously taken with him (“The boy is good”). From 1925 Gerard Bunk finally worked as organist at St. Reinoldi and thus at a famous reference instrument of the Alsatian organ reform movement instigated by Émile Rupp and Albert Schweitzer. On this instrument with its rich specification (105 stops, the first organ with five manuals in the German-speaking area), he performed a large part of the repertoire known at the time at the organ celebrations (Orgel-Feierstunden). The press nicknamed him “the living organ history”.

In 1910, Bunk had sent his first published organ work, the Legend Op. 29, to Albert Schweitzer in Strasbourg. Schweitzer praised its style as “an effective combination of that of Mendelssohn and that of César Franck” and particularly praised “the serene and vivid layout of the whole.” Bunk sent later organ compositions to Lambarene, where Schweitzer “got an idea” of them on his tropical piano. Wolfgang Stockmeier, who appreciated Bunk for “a style of unmistakable personal idiosyncrasy”, describes the special tonal language using the example of the Passacaglia Op. 40 (1911): “Bunk makes use of all the technical possibilities of the alternating harmony of the late Romantic tradition and is no less daring than Reger, but his style is not so much characterized by sudden eruptions and is therefore clearer and more spacious.“

Bunkʼs special relationship with the instrument he favoured finds expression in the title of his posthumously published memoirs: Liebe zur Orgel.


I was friends with the organist at the time, Gerard Bunk, who was an important composer ...”
No one has reported on organ building and organ art over the course of the first half of the 20th century and recorded the image and development as he did.”
Albert Schweitzer