The Organ Maker, Josef Sies

the Story

Josef Nikolaus Sies was born on 4th December 1818 in Schnann, as son of the farmer and tradesman, Jakob Sies and his wife, Maria Anna Kerber. It is not known where he learnt the art of organ building. Organs made by Sies clearly differ to works by his Tyrolean counterparts in respect of disposition, tone quality, technical details and case design. Without doubt, Sies possessed sophisticated carpentry skills, which is reflected in his instruments. His love of wood meant that he used wooden pipes for the lower register of manual keyboards, even when other organ makers of his time had long been using metal. His particular hallmarks are his unique mixtures of thirds, as well as the wide and low cut metal pipes for the 4‘flutes. His preference for neo-Romanesque forms is amply demonstrated in his brochures. 

Works

The earliest verifiable organ building activities by Josef Sies were repair works to Glurns parish church organ in 1846; his last dated work was repairs to the organ at Stilfs / Stelvio in 1885 – both in South Tyrol. The four decades in-between were filled with prolific activities, the results of which shape the Tyrolean organ scene to this day. His first piece is referred to as a six pipe organ stop from Trafoi/South Tyrol (1848). Sies earned public commendation in „Bothen for Tirol und Vorarlberg“ for his organ for Schleis/South Tyrol (1850). The following year, he built an organ for the Sanctuary of the Holy Three Fountains at Trafoi/South Tyrol.

Sies achieved his final breakthrough with his works for Laas (1853) and Cortina (1855) – both in South Tyrol – and with several extensive repair works in the Bozen lowlands and Bozen itself. An extract from an expert committee’s report on the Bolzano parish organ: The sound or the organ, which was previously in a “recognised poor condition”, now shows power and dignity, with pure intonations and works in a “solid and fluid” manner. For this reason, we recommend Sies unreservedly as “Master in his field”. (Innsbruck „Volks- und Schützen-Newspaper“; 1855) Several new organ builds and renovations were to follow: In South Tyrol: Schleis -1850, Terlan - 1856-57, Sarnthein - 1858-59, Dorf Tirol -1859, Hafling – 1859, Völs am Schlern - 1863, Terlan - 1864, Meran- Obermais, St. Valentin -1864-65, Völser Aicha – 1870, Meran – Untermais, Maria Trost - 1876, Margreid - 1876, Tyrol: Pfunds – 1852, Nauders – 1868, Innsbruck Ursuline Church – 1875, Innsbruck (Dome of St. Jakob) - 1875, St. Jakob a. Arlberg - 1879, Strengen – 1866, Imst, St. Johannes - 1884, Santa Maria Val Müstair, - 1868 (Graubünden), San Marco Church, Trient – 1876.

Pictures of organ builder, Josef Sies: Traxl Wolfgang, Tyrol’s organ scene by Alfred and Matthias Reichling – Nauders parish archives. The creative artistry that Josef Sies displayed in his works was a gift that ran in the family: Both his brothers, Johann Anton (born 29th April 1817, dec. 29th January 1873) and Philipp Jakob (born 6th April 1820, dec. 25th February 1863 in Klagenfurt) were well known painters who worked for South Tyrolean churches.

Documents verify that Sies’ brother Alois (born 24th January 1826 in Schnann, dec. 6th January 1871 in Amden/Switzerland) worked as his assistant. On 21st December 1870, Josef Sies acquired the “Butcher dwelling at the copper court“ with a herb garden and two meadows from “Bergler” daughter, Katharina Mayr in Völs am Schlern / South Tyrol. His job description in the purchase contract is interestingly described as “organ fabricator”. A term of the time that did not allude to a large company, but as guarantee for good, quality workmanship. Josef Sies never married and died on 17th February 1886. The monuments of Sies’ life works are the organs he built. They were highly regarded during their constructor’s lifetime and are still able to impress us today.