David Tannenberg, Prolific 18th Century Moravian Organ Builder

A podcast featuring MMF Asst. Director, Gwyneth Michel, at the organ.

Website for Lititz music research and concerts of the Lititz Collegium Musicum (including the 1787 Tannenberg), Jeff Gemmell, Organist and Director –

A very fine listing of organs and their history (by Philip T. D. Cooper, organist and organ historian) may be found at: davidtannenberg.com


SALEM, North Carolina

Historic Winston-Salem, NC is home to two restored 18th century American-made organs by David Tannenberg. Beginning with Bethabara (1753), the Moravians settled a tract of land in North Carolina, named it Wachovia, and proceeded to build the towns of Bethania (1759), and Salem (1766). The first pipe organ arrived in 1762.

For more about Moravian organs and the story of the journey of organs from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, please consider Organs in the Wilderness by Charles Vardell, available online from MMF.

EXCERPT from Old Salem Museums & Gardens website:

The completion of the restoration of the largest surviving pipe organ built by David Tannenberg was a fifteen-year project for Old Salem Museums & Gardens and a nearly one-hundred-year odyssey if one considers the first step of the restoration was the careful storage of the organ when it was removed from Home Moravian Church in 1910. Even though Old Salem Museums restored the organ and provided a new home for it in the Old Salem Visitor Center, the organ is still owned by Home Moravian Church.Tannenberg Organ in Salem 2

As William Armstrong wrote in his fine essay In Splendid Service: The Restoration of David Tannenberg’s Home Moravian Church Organ (Old Salem Museums & Gardens, 2004):

David Tannenberg, the organ builder was a German-speaking immigrant who lived most of his life in the small Moravian town of Lititz, Pennsylvania. He had no formal training in organ building; instead he learned his profession by working with an experienced organ builder, Johann Gottlob Klemm, also a German-speaking immigrant. Tannenberg learned his profession well, building or helping to build nearly fifty organs in six states and with such excellence that his surviving organs are highly prized today—as the careful renovation of the organ built in 1799/1800 for the Moravian Church in Salem attests.

The first organ that Tannenberg built for Salem was in 1798 for the Gemeinhaus (congregation house), a building that served many functions, including the worship space for the town. This one manual organ was installed by Philip Bachmann, Tannenberg’s son-in-law. This organ now resides in the Single Brothers’ House in Salem.

organ case sketch

organ case sketch

While Bachmann was in Salem in 1798, there were discussions with him and with Tannenberg via letter about Tannenberg keyboard2ordering a new, large organ from Tannenberg for Salem’s new church, then in the planning stages. It was decided to have an organ with two manuals and pedals. Ground was broken for the church by the end of May 1798 and the next month, on June 12th, the cornerstone was set. The following year, in November 1799, Philip Bachmann returned to Salem with one of the windchests and other parts of the organ. Bachmann worked with cabinetmakers, blacksmiths and other Salem craftsmen to complete and install the organ.


The wind source for the organ was three large organ bellows, which were to be located in the church attic above the organ. The choice was for either treading or for pulling the bellows, and treading was chosen. Originally, the treading was done in the attic, but this was changed in October 1802 so that the treading was done in the organ gallery. This location, which allowed better communication between the organist and the person treading the bellows, was used until the organ was dismantled in 1910. The bellows have also been restored and are installed with the organ.

LITITZ, Pennsylvania

EXCERPT from Lititz Moravian Church website:

Three of the seven pipe organs owned by the Lititz Moravian Congregation are still in use and listed below. The 1787 Tannenberg was installed when the present sanctuary was consecrated. Ninety-two years later, in 1879, a Hook and Hastings organ replaced the Tannenberg.

1787 Tannenberg Organ

1787 Lititz

1787 Lititz

Tannenberg completed the building of an organ for Lititz Moravian Church – his own church – in the summer of 1787. It was dedicated along with the new church building on August 13. It was placed in the west gallery with two wedge-shaped bellows in the attic above the organ. – Philip T. D. Cooper

1793 Tannenberg Organ

The smaller of the two Tannenberg organs now located at Lititz Moravian Church was originally constructed for the Moravian Chapel in Graceham, Frederick County, Maryland. Tannenberg arrived there with the organ on April 25, 1793, and it was played for the first time on May 4. The organ was used continuously until 1957 when it was given to the Lititz Moravian Church and was set up in the Single Brothers’ House. The organ is completely original. It was reconditioned by James R. McFarland in 1984. – Philip T. D. Cooper

More details of the Tannenberg organs at Lititz, PA, may be found at http://lititzmoravian.org/Content.aspx?ID=109