History – Kotzschmar Memorial Organ
The Kotzschmar Memorial Organ was built and installed in the new Portland City Hall Auditorium (now known as Merrill Auditorium) following a disastrous fire in 1908 that destroyed the previous City Hall. Publishing magnate and Portland native Cyrus H. K. Curtis, founder of the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal, commissioned the Austin Organ Company of Hartford, Connecticut, to build and install the organ as a gift to the people of Portland, Maine, the city of Curtis’s childhood.
Curtis, whose middle initials stand for Hermann Kotzschmar himself, named the organ after his music teacher, Hermann Kotzschmar, a man he greatly admired and respected. Kotzschmar, a classically-trained German musician, brought his expertise and love for great music to Portland, Maine, in 1848 and lived there until his death in April 1908. During this 60 year period, Kotzschmar was involved in every worthy musical endeavor in Portland as a teacher, conductor and performer. He had a pivotal and lasting influence on Portland’s rich cultural life.
The Kotzschmar Memorial Organ was one of the largest pipe organs in the world when it was built. While its original cost was $30,000, that cost doubled before the organ was completed and dedicated in 1912. Today its replacement value is estimated to be between $4 million and $5 million. Having a great concert organ was a very big deal for a small American City in the early 20th
century. This gift raised the prestige of Portland immensely in the great music world.
In 2012, the Kotzschmar Memorial Organ, then 100 years old, was removed and a complete renovation commenced. The Centennial Renovation of the organ took more than two years to complete. The fully revitalized organ was dedicated on September 24, 2014, a triumph for Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ, the City of Portland, Maine, and other Kotzschmar Organ devotees around the country and world. Read more about the Centennial Renovation in the John Bishop article
Hearing the Kotzschmar Organ in person played by world-class organists is a musical thrill that few people ever forget. From soft, incredibly beautiful whispering sounds to thundering bass notes that rumble through the floor and seats of the auditorium, the Kotzschmar Organ continues to delight thousands of patrons each year with its incredible musical range and versatility.