Little is known of the first organ in the cathedral - if indeed it was even the first, because it is at least possible that there were earlier instruments of which we know even less. Michael Praetorius mentions this Blockwerk instrument a number of times in his “Syntagma musicum II”, De Organographia (1619) and says it has “recently been removed”, presumably by Heinrich Compenius, who seems to have received at least some of the pipes in part-payment for his new instrument begun in 1604. From this one could infer that the instrument stood on the west gallery, which was completed in the third quarter of the 14th century. Praetorius tells us a little about the instrument, for example, that it had 24 bellows needing 12 blowers and that the 16 keys of the descant manual were each 3 inches wide. He even provides an engraving of these:

Magdeburgisch Clavier

They were, he says, to be played with the entire fist. However, he also remarks that they were viereckicht, that is, square or oblong, making it clear that he did not actually see the instrument before it was taken down. Rudolph Palme, a pupil of August Gottfried Ritter in the 19th century(and his successor as “Royal Prussian Organ Consultant for the Province of Saxony”) and author of an influential but factually challenged article in the periodical Zeitschrift für Instrumentenbau, “Die Orgelwerke Magdeburgs einst und jetzt, nebst kurzen Mitteilungen über die Kirchen”, dates the organ to 1361. Here he is in fact quoting a cathedral guide book of 1863, Der Dom zu Magdeburg. Historische, architektonische und monumentale Beschreibung der Cathedrale. Herausgegeben von C.L. Brandt, erstem Custos an genannter Kirche und Lehrer am Dom-Gymnasium, who in turn is quoting Praetorius - wrongly, as a careful reading of De Organographia reveals, because Praetorius’ recording of the inscription
Faberin fact plainly refers to the organ in the cathedral in Halberstadt, some 55 kilometers away, which was still extant but no longer playable. The same applies to the attribution of the instrument to the priest Nicolas Faber: it is possible, but we do not know.

The date of 1361 has seemed attractive because the new cathedral, replacing the romanesque building which was destroyed by fire in 1206 and on which construction had begun in 1208 or 1209 reached a state of completion in which it could be consecrated in 1363. However, it should be noted that this meant that only in that year did the construction in the west reach the second story, which in turn means that only then was the organ gallery in a state in which an organ could actually be built upon it.

It should be considered that an organ in the west was not actually usual at the time. The organ in Halberstadt was in the south transept, as can still be seen today, and in general the proximity to the usual daily activity of a cathedral or minster church was obviously desirable. Yet the design of the window in the west of the cathedral definitely indicates that it was meant to enliven the appearance of the exterior, and it seems likely that its appearance from inside the church was considered unimportant - because an organ would stand in front of it?

Emporenfenster aussen

gallery

At any rate, it is recorded that the Emperor Karl IV, visiting the cathedral in 1377, heard de papheit sungen im tedeum und mit den orgelen, the clergy singing the Te Deum with the organs - in the plural. And when in 1498 the Archbishop Ernst gave the orders for the construction and decoration of his burial chapel, he specified that it was to be located intra Turrem sub Organis maiorem ad occidentem: between the towers under the larger organ in the west.

In 1536, the organ builder and monk Brother M. Michael built an organ for the cathedral in Halle, which was confiscated by the cathedral chapter in Magdeburg owing to the excessive debt incurred by the subordinate chapter in Halle and brought here in 1541. Heinrich Compenius possibly repaired this instrument in 1603 while removing th Blockwerk instrument in preparation for his new instrument, the installation of which began in 1604. As he did so he recorded the specification. Palme prints this but maintains that this was the organ that Compenius removed and equates it with the Blockwerk organ of 1361 (his date). In fact, this was the organ mentioned below in a guide-book possibly unknown to Palme, who at one point writes “unless the cathedral had three organs, which seems unlikely”, but which was definitely the case. This is obviously not the same instrument, since it is definitely not a Blockwerk and, as we see below, was not on the gallery. It will be seen that this organ, like many others of its time, included stops making up a Plenum, which were not in "Chorton", as well as others which were, making it essentially two instruments in one. But these stops could naturally not be used together. The apparently fell into disrepair and was unplayable for many years, but was repaired by the cathedral organist Georg Tegetmeyer, as we read in a cathedral guide book of 1716:

“Eigentliche Beschreibung / Der Welt berühmtem / DOM KIRCHE, / Fundation, Raritäten / und Zieraths / ......
/ der Stadt Magdeburg”, Ausgabe von 1716:

“Proper description / of the World famous /
CATHEDRAL CHURCH, /
 Foundation, Rarities / and Decoration ....
of the city of Magdeburg”, Edition of 1716:

15. Die kleinere Orgel befindet sich über dem Eingange in das Hohe Chor von der Seiten / wenn man zur Paradieß-Thüre herein kömmt, von welcher der gemeine Mann lange vorgegeben, als wenn sie vom Teuffel besessen wäre, so aber ganz falsch und irrig, indem selbige nur durch lange Unachtsamkeit unbrauchbar worden, nunmehro aber durch die Geschicklichkeit des jetzigen Organisten and der hiesigen hohen Stiffts-Kirche, Herrn George Tegtmeyers, Anno 1715. in solchen Stand wieder gebracht ist, dass sie allezeit bey der Musique gerühret wird.

15. The smaller organ is located over the entrance to the choir on the side, where one comes from the Paradise porch; the common man had long said of it, that it was possessed by the devil, but this is wrong and misled, because it had simply become unplayable by long years of neglect. But it has now, in 1715,  been repaired, thanks to the craftsmanship of Mr George Tegtmeyer, the present organist of this high foundation, and is always played as accompaniment to the music.

16. Über diß ist auch ein Positiv auf einem sonderlichen Chor von lauter hölzernen Pfeiffen, mit 6. Stimmen und 1. Tremulant, so Anno 1619. zu Cassel von Georg Weißlanden,  aus Amberg bürtig gemacht, einen sehr lieblichen und anmuthigen Resonanz giebet, und vor der Reperation der vorhergehenden Orgel zur Music gebraucht worden.

16. Apart from this, there is also a Positive on a special gallery, which has only wooden pipes. It has 6 stops and a tremulant, and was made in 1619 in Cassel by Georg Weißland, who came from Amberg; it gives a very delicate and sweet tone, and was used for accompaniment until the repair of the aforementioned instrument.

Mit dieser Orgel wird jährlich am Nachmittage des Michaelissontags, insonderheit den zu Tausenden hereinströmenden Landleuten, ein Volksschauspiel gegeben. Nach Absingen eines Liedes wird nehmlich die Orgel mit vollem Werke gespielt, wobey sich sämmtliche daran befindliche Figuren mit ihren musikalischen Instrumenten bewegen. Nach Beendigung des Orgelspiels schlägt der Hahn dreymal die Flügel und es lässt sich eben so oft ein Hahngeschrey hören, welches man durch eine einzelne Orgelpfeife oder auch durch das Mundstück einer Hoboe bewerkstelligt.

Wann und woher dieser seltsame Gebrauch entstanden sey, ist nicht bekannt, wiewohl er ursprünglich zur Feyer der Verläugnung Petri gedient haben mag. Aber es wäre Pflicht, diesem Unfug ein Ende zu machen. Denn abgesehen auch davon, dass dieses Schauspiel der Würde eines Tempels entgegen ist, und manche Verunreinigungen und selbst Verwüstungen zur Folge hat, so ist es auch nicht ganz ohne gefahr, da in dem ungeheuren Gedränge sowohl, als auch durch das sehr besorgliche Herabstürzen der durch Zeit und Würmer wandelbar gewordenen Figuren von einer so bedeutenden Höhe leicht ein Unglück entstehen kann. Dennoch sind bisher die zuweilen gemachten Versuche, diesen Missbrauch abzuschaffen, vergeblich gewesen, weil der Landmann nun einmal so sehr daran hängt, dass die Messleute durch die Aufhebung dieser Volkslustbarkeit sehr zu verlieren meinen.

On the afternoon of the Sunday after Michaelmas this organ is used for an unusual spectacle, especially for the rural population who stream into town in their thousands. That is: after a song a song has been sung, music is played on the full organ, during which all the figures in the case with their instruments are set in motion. After the music is finished, the cock flaps his wings three times and crows as often, which man simulates by using a single organ pipe or by blowing on an oboe reed.

When and how this peculiar ritual became established is unknown, although it perhaps originally had something to do with Peter’s denial of Christ. But it is really necessary to put an end to this nonsense. Apart from the fact that this exhibition is not appropriate to the dignity of a temple, and results in sundry defilement and even devastation, it is not without its dangers, because in the tightly packed masses of people, considering the fact that the figures, which have become unstable through age and worms, could easily plummet down from their great heights, there could easily be a misfortune. Nevertheless, all attempts thus far to end this abuse have come to nothing, because the countryman is so atteched to it, and because the tradesmen at the market fear that they would lose a good part of their income, if this popular entertainment were to be abolished.  

Eustachius Zehne, “Die Hochstiftskirche / oder / der Dom in Magdeburg”, 1784: Der Zulauf des Volkes ist an diesem Tage sehr groß, vorzüglich von jungen ledigen Landleuten, welche glauben, daß sie, wenn sie den Hahn haben krähen hören, noch in demselben Jahre sich verheirathen werden.

Eustachius Zehne, “The collegiate church / or / the cathedral in Magdeburg”, 1784: The throng of common people on this day is very large, especially of young, unmarried country folk, who believe that, if they have heard the cock crow, they will marry within the year.

This organ was the only one of the five instruments in Magdeburg mentioned by Praetorius  which survived the almost total destruction of the city under Tilly's troops in 1631 (when the siege ended, the once flourishing metropolis had a population of just 400). Accounts of the damage incurred vary widely, with Brandt claiming in 1863 that the soldiers had stolen all the metal pipes. By 1632, however, all lost or damaged pipes had apparently been replaced or repaired; by whom is not known. Beginning in about 1650, a series of organ builders visited the instrument following complaints by the organists Meyer and Götten about its condition; finally, a contract was signed with the organ builder Johann Decker of Quedlinburg for a thorough repair. But Jacob Hasse, cathedral organist from 1766 and noted consultant had no very high opinion of Decker’s work, and introduced a new figure to the scene in 1699: none  other than Arp Schnitger, whom he had encountered while approving the newly completed organ of St. Johannis in 1690. The great builder examined the organ and submitted a report and quotation. Schnitger wrote:

Auf Anforderung des Herrn Hassen, Organiste der Domkirchen, habe ich mit denselben die Orgel alsda genau durchgesehen, und befunden, daß viel und mancherley Fehler darin vorhanden, so sehr nötig, daß sie auff folgende arth außgebessert und in guten Stand gesetzet werden.

1. Müßte aus dem Manual die Windlade herausgenommen werden, von Neuem abgerichtet und durchgehents nue gefüttert, die Ventile Schmäler gemachet und mit neuen Federn und angehenge versehen. So müßten auch neue pompeten durch die ganze Lade und durchgehents mit Mennig und Leim woll auß geleimtränket werden.
2. Alles Pfeiffwerk herausgenommen, gerenovieret und auff den neuen Wind woll eingerichtet, geintoniert und rein gestimmet.
3. Vor das Klein Gedackt, so nichts nützet, könnte füglich eine Vos humana 8 Fuß thon kommen.

Im Rückpositiv
1. wird die Windlade wie im Manual vorgenommen und in Guthen Standt gesetzet, im gleichen daß Pfeiffwerk.
2. vor den alten Dulzian würde ein Neuer gemachet.
3. Die Trommet 8’ ist unrichtig in der Mensur, darzu müßten die Großen Pfeiffen Neu gemachet werden und werden dazu durchgehents neue Hosen und Köpfe mit den Stim Krucken erfordert.
4. vor die alte Flöte 4 fuß ein neuer Nazard 3 fuß.
5. vor der einen 2füßigen Floite, so nichts taucht, ein Sifflöt 1 fuß.

Im Brustwerk
1. eine neue Windlade
2. Gedackt 8’ lieblich von Holz, neu.
3. Spitzflöte 4’ bleibet.
4. Octave 2’ bleibet auch:
5. Waldfloite 2 Fuß neu.
6. Sexquialt 2fach oder Scharf 4fach neu.
7. Hautbois 8 Fuß oder Schalmey 4 Fuß neu.

Im Pedal
1. werden die Windladen wie die andern Tractirt.
2. vor den Gedact 16 fuß ein offener Baß 16 fuß von Holtz.
3. die Rohrwerker als Posaunen 16 fuß, Trommet 8 fuß, Trommet 4 fuß, Cornet 2 fuß sein alle unrichtig in der Mensur, darzu müssen alle die größten Pfeiffen neu gemachet werden, und werden darzu nach der itzigen arth neue mundtstücke, Hosen, Köpfe und Stimmkrucken erfordert.
4. vor die Cymbel eine offene Floite 2 fuß.
Ferner müsten die 6 alte Bälge voneinander genommen und mit Leder und Pargament Neu bezogen werden. Darzu würden noch drey Neue Bälgen gemachet von guten Eichenholtze, sampt noch einige neue Canele, mit einen sonderlichen Tremulant, so zum Pedal allein soll gesondert werden, und würde das Pedal von
dem Werk gesepariret.

Having been requested to do so by Mr. Hasse, organist of the Cathedral, I have carefully examined the organ to be found there and established that there are many diverse problems to be found in it, so that it must be improved in the following ways:

1. The windchest of the (main) manual must be taken out and made true, everything newly lined, the pallets made narrower and equipped with new springs and attachments. New purses (Pulpeten) must be made for the whole chest and everything flooded with size and red lead.

2. All the pipework must be taken out and restored and then adapted to the new wind, voiced and tuned.
3. A Vox (sic: vos) humana could replace the Klein Gedackt, which is useless.

In the Chair organ
1. the chest will be put into good order just like that of the manual, the pipework in the same way.
2. A new Dulzian will be made to replace the old one.
3. The 8’ Trommet (Trumpet) is wrongly scaled, the large pipes will have to be remade, this means they need new boots and blocks with tuning wires.
4. Instead of the old 4’ flute, a new nazard 2 2/3’
5. Instead of the 2’ flute, which is useless, a Sifflet 1’.
 

In the Brustwerk:
1. a new chest
2. a sweet toned Gedackt 8’ of wood, new.
3. Spitzflute 4’ can stay.
4. Octave 2’ can stay too.
5. Waldflöte 2’ new.
6. Sesquialtera II or Scharf IV new.
7. Oboe 8’ or Schalmey 4’ new.

In the Pedal:
1. the chests will be handled in the same way.
2. An open bass 16’ of wood replaces the Gedact 16’
3. The reeds, to wit the Posaune 16’, Trommet 8’, Trommet 4’, and Cornet 2’ are all incorrect in scale, so that all the larger pipes must be newly made and require new boots, shallots, blocks and tuning wires in the modern way.

4. Instead of the Cymbel, an open flute 2’.
Furthermore, the 6 old bellows must be taken apart and newly covered with leather and parchment. In addition, three new bellows will be made from good oak, as well as some new wind canals, with a separate tremulant, especially for the pedal, so that this is separate from the rest of the organ.

Schnitger’s quote for 997 Rtl. was turned down; no work was done for another 70 years, and then by Christoph Treutmann the younger. This local dynasty of organ builders had historical connections with Schnitger, and Treutmann seems broadly to he cfollowed Schnitger’s plan thinking. Writing in 1769, Treutmann reiterated a number of Schnitger’s criticisms, notably that pallets did not open far enough, that the Dulcian was “too short and of wood” and in general leaving no room for doubt as to his thinking on the short-length reeds:

Es seynd die Rohrwerke insonderheit sehr kurz mensuriret, also daß an der Posaunen 16’ Fuß sechs Fuß, an der Trommet 8’ drei Fuß und an der Schalmey 4’ zwei Fuß an der Länge fehlet, da es dann einen jungen Thon angiebet, keine Stimmung hält, auch keine gravität hat, welches doch der Baß haben sollte.

The reeds in particular are far too short, the 16’ Posaune by 6 feet, the 8’ Trommet by 3 feet, the Schalmey 4’ by two feet, so that they give a feeble tone, do not keep their tuning, and have no gravity, which the bass should have.

ONWARDS:
A new case and the nineteenth century

Its specification was recorded by Michael Praetorius, together with 4 other organs in the town’s churches. The organ boasted three manual divisions, including a 32' Principal in the Oberwerk, going down to low F (24' length). There were 42 stops, 2 Tremulants, Birdsong and Drum effects. Praetorius records that there were 12 leather bellows but gives no further details.

Woodcut, 17th century

The case of the organ was extremely richly decorated with its 42 figures, 12 of them were moving. A strange ritual involving the golden rooster on the Rückpositiv, which  could flap its wings and even apparently crow (although it is reported that this was actually done by blowing on an oboe reed) was often described; here an account from Koch, op cit:

The organ built by Heinrich Compenius the younger from Halle in 1604 / 1605 was considered to be one of the great instruments of its time. The payment of the last installment to the organ builder is recorded in 1605; however, a cathedral guide book by the dean of the cathedral, J.F.W. Koch (undated, but plainly written at a time when the Compenius organ was still standing), remarks that

20. Ehe man zur Abseite fortgeht, wird man wohl thun, einige Schritte in die Mitte des Schiffs der Kirche zurückzutreten um einen Blick auf die grosse Orgel zu werfen, welche über der Capelle in einer Höhe von 50 bis 108 Fuss steht und mit einer Menge von vergoldetem Schnitzwerk und Statuen geziert ist. Diese können durch Ziehwerke in Bewegung gesetzt werden. So z.B: David und Salomo, welche die Köpfe drehen; zwey Engel mit einer Laute und Zitter, welche sich ganz umwenden; mehrere Trompeter, welche das Instrument ansetzen und abziehen, und ganz oben ein schwarzer Adler, der sich in die Höhe hebt. Auf dem vordern Rück-Positiv steht in der Mitte ein Engel mit dem Notenbuch, der mit einem Stabe den Tact schlägt und zu seinem Füssen und vergoldeter Hahn, der mit den Flügeln schlägt......

20. Before one goes off to the side, it would be well to take a few steps into the middle of the nave and look back towards the great organ which stands above the chapel at a height of 50 to 108 feet and which is decorated by a large amount of gilt carving and many figures. These can be made to move by means of wires. So, for example, David and Solomon, who turn their heads, two angels with a lute and a zither, who can turn around completely, a number of trumpeters, who set their instruments to their lips and away again, and, right at the top, a golden eagle, who rises into the air. On the Rückpositiv stands in the middle an angel with a musical score, who beats time with a stick, and at his feet is a golden cock, who flaps his wings.....

Sie hat 43 klingende Register; ist von 1604 bis 1615 gebauet, und ein Werk des damals berühmten Hallischen Orgelbauers Heinrich Compen. ...... Die Wappen und Namen dieser vier Künstler (Anm.: Bildhauer usw wurden benannt) stehen unter an der Orgel, so wie auch folgende Inschrift:

    Laudate Deum in tympano et choro; laudate eum in chordis et organo. Psalm CL

    Anno Domini MDCIV die XV. Maji inchoatum est hoc opus organicum et completum est ultima Novembris anno 1615. opera Henrici Compenii civis Hallensis

It has 43 speaking stops, and was built between 1604 and 1615, being a work of the famous organ builder Heinrich Compen from Halle...... the names and arms of these four artists (the carpenter, sculptor etc. having been named) stand below the organ, as well as the following legend:

    Laudate Deum in tympano et choro; laudate eum in chordis et organo. Psalm CL

    Anno Domini MDCIV die XV. Maji inchoatum est hoc opus organicum et completum est ultima Novembris anno 1615. opera Henrici Compenii civis Hallensis

Since Tegetmeyer only became organist in 1715, the repair of the organ was obviously a priority. The Weißland positive was presumably bought at the behest of one of his predecessors, possibly second hand, to serve as a continuo instrument for the Figuralmusik which had been established. It, together with the choir, was located on the “Scholars’ Choir”, probably a wooden gallery construction over the screen, which is now very narrow, no more than a three-sided wall, except for the small pulpitum. The Michael organ was on the upper ambulatory, a fair distance away. Nevertheless, the positive seems to have been too limiting for the new organist. It fell into disrepair and was broken up; Johann Friedrich Ludwig Sievers, cathedral organist 1776 - 1806, recorded towards the end of the century that the “remnants of an old organ” were lying on the upper ambulatory, the so-called “Bischofsgang”.

Treutmann carried out the work 1769 - 1772. August Christoph Meinecke, writing in his Beschreibung der vorzüglichen Merckwürdigkeiten und Kunstsachen der Stadt Magdeburg in 1786 records that

and he goes on to give its specification at this date. According to this, the organ had a 32’ Posaune in the Pedal - a stop for which the family was famous - but no 16’ reed. This seems unlikely.

History until c. 1750