The historic HAMMOND organ restoration

HAMMOND is a big name in the world of musical instruments. But did you know that the brand’s iconic electric organ used to be manufactured in Latvia too? Only three HAMMOND instruments have survived to this day. One of them is HAMMOND of Liepāja Lutheran Church, which needs restoration.

The organ in Liepāja is a unique instrument, one of the rare examples of HAMMOND built before World War II. It was manufactured in 1937, in Latvia’s State Electrotechnical Factory VEF with a custom design by the local artist Ādolfs Irbīte.

The history of HAMMOND

The inventor of the electric organ, Laurens Hammond (1895-1973) was an American engineer and businessman. At the age of 17, he obtained the first patent for a self-made barometer, but in 1920 he invented a new type of clock that worked without sound and later allowed Hammond to establish his own clock manufacturing company in Chicago. Hammond's list of inventions also includes a synchronous motor, a gyroscope, various weapons of war, and an electric bridge table.

The sensational electric organ was patented in 1934, and among the first to appreciate the invention of Hammond were the father of the assembly line, Henry Ford, and composer George Gershwin.

Only three years later, HAMMOND organ became known in Latvia as well. In 1937, the State Electrotechnical Factory VEF began producing such electric organs, using domestic wood for decoration and a unique design by artist constructor Ādolfs Irbīte, who had his own design style that combined simplicity, functionality and a perfect sense of beauty. It was appreciated by every user of the radio set he created, as well as by professionals - the VEF radio set developed by Irbīte also received Grand Prix and gold medals at World Exhibitions in Paris and Brussels. Organs produced by VEF became very popular in the country.

The current situation

The fact that this cult instrument was once produced in Latvia has caused great resonance and interest among Latvian musicians. Unfortunately, a large number of authentic HAMMOND organs produced by VEF have perished. To this day, three instruments produced in Rīga have been preserved - one of them is HAMMOND of the Liepāja Lutheran Church, produced in 1937.

Liepāja's HAMMOND, which was still played at church services and concerts at the beginning of this century, stays silent for more than 15 years now. To make the organ sound again, we have started a restoration project under the leadership of Antra Dreģe, a music producer and a long-time representative of the professional music scene. Vitālijs Aišpurs, the head of the Electroacoustic laboratory in Riga Technical University and a great HAMMOND enthusiast, has already investigated the condition of the organ. The restoration of Liepāja's HAMMOND has been undertaken by Dutch vintage instrument restorer Gandert de Boo.

In the future, we also plan to take care of the restoration of the wooden parts of the instrument, as well as appropriate light and sound equipment, so that the use of the instrument is convenient for musicians and meets modern technical requirements. At the same time, it is also necessary to solve the issue of the heating in the church premises during the winter period, as well as to collect all the materials obtained during the project and create a permanent exhibition about the HAMMOND organ.

It has been possible to start this project thanks to the co-financing of the Liepāja city and The State Culture Capital Foundation, as well the support of our donors and listeners of two concerts dedicated to the HAMMOND restoration held in Rīga and Liepāja in 2021. We will deeply appreciate every donation and hope that the residents and the guests of Liepāja will be able to hear the sound of the instrument already in the summer of 2023!
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