John Clemm

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John Clemm
Johann Gottlob Klemm

Village near Dresden, Germany
Died1762 (aged 72)
Other namesJohannes Klemm
Occupationorgan builder
Known forBuilder of the first church organ in America

John Clemm (also Johann Gottlob Klemm and Johannes Klemm; 1690–1762) was a German-American organ builder. He is noted for being first professional organ builder in the United States and for building the first church organ in North America.[1] He taught the renowned organ builder David Tannenberg the trade. Clemm concentrated on building and repairing church organs for the nascent Moravian Church in North America.

Early life and education[edit]

Johann Gottlob Klemm was born in a village near Dresden, Germany, in 1690. He was the son of an organist, organ builder, and schoolmaster. He took up theology studies at the Universities of Freiberg when he was fifteen years old for two years. In 1709 he went to the University at Leipzig.[2]

Early career[edit]

He decided against ministry and returned to Dresden in 1710 to take up a career in instrument building. Clemm learned the trade as a keyboard instrument builder and organ builder in Dresden from Andreas Silbermann and his brother Gottfried Silbermann.[3][4] He developed a friendship with Moravian leader Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf and built a harpsichord for him. In 1726 he joined the Moravian Church and moved to Herrnhut on the estate of Zinzendorf. Clemm was in attendance at the communion service on August 13, 1727. He was a group leader who taught boys and led services.[5]

Clemm followed the Moravian ways for some years, but ultimately became disillusioned with Zinzendorf's leadership around 1730. The squabble was over doctrine and distrust of pious people. Clemm and his family remained in the community of Herrnhut for a few more years until they emigrated to America in 1733 with the Schwenkfelder family.[4]

North America[edit]

Clemm settled in Philadelphia in 1736 and lived as a Separatist. He constructed organs and keyboard instruments for churches of the Moravians in America. He dropped his German name he was born with, Johann Gottlob Klemm, and anglicized his name as John Clemm.[2] Clemm moved to New York City in 1737. He proposed a Schema for a large organ for Trinity Church in 1738. It was approved and he started construction of the organ in 1739.[6][7][8] He finished it in 1741 and was paid the final payment then.[9][10] It was the first church organ built in America.[1][11][12]

Clemm returned to Pennsylvania in 1747. There he repaired and built organs in the Bethlehem area for the Moravians and assisted Gustavus Hesselius.[13] In the spring of 1748 Clemm moved with the Tannenberg family to Nazareth, Pennsylvania. He started at that time teaching David Tannenberg organ building techniques. Together they built five organs for the Moravians. Clemm was America's first professional organ builder.[2][5]

Late in his life Clemm dictated an autobiographical memoir, which was edited anonymously. He became gravely ill at Bethlehem on May 2, 1762, and died on May 5 at the age of 72.[2][3]


  1. ^ a b Stuart 1954, p. 18.
  2. ^ a b c d Libin, Laurence (2007). "The Personalia of John Clemm". The Tracker, Journal of the Organ Historical Society. 51 (3): 4–16. John Clemm, or Johann Gottlob Klemm, the first known professional organ builder in British colonial America.
  3. ^ a b Baker 1992, p. 1850.
  4. ^ a b Ogasapian 1977, p. 3.
  5. ^ a b Knouse 2008, p. 276.
  6. ^ Musical Courier 1955, p. 39.
  7. ^ Schlesinger, Jr. 1987, p. 85.
  8. ^ Organ 1893, p. 174.
  9. ^ Ogasapian 2007, p. 59.
  10. ^ Hubbard 1908, p. 261.
  11. ^ Kane 1997, p. 25.
  12. ^ Presser 1905, p. 370.
  13. ^ Baker 1992, p. 340.


  • Baker, Theodore (1992). Baker's Biographical Dictionary. Schirmer Books. ISBN 978-0-02-872415-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Hubbard, William Lines (1908). American History Encyclopedia of Music. I. Squire. p. 261. the first American built organ to be installed in a church was that constructed in 1741 by Johann Gottlob Klemm (John Clemm) for Trinity Church in New York.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Kane, Joseph Nathan (1997). Famous First Facts. H.W. Wilson. ISBN 978-0-8242-0661-1. (#1304) The first organ built in the United States was constructed by Johann Gottlob Klemm, also known as John Clemm, of Philadelphia, PA.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Knouse, Nola Reed (2008). Music of the Moravian Church. University Rochester Press. ISBN 978-1-58046-260-0. Klemm changed the spelling of his name to John Clemm and began work as the first professional organ and keyboard builder in America.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Musical Courier (1955). Musical Courier. The first American-built organ is said to have been erected by John Clemm in Trinity Church, New York, in 1739, and became famous for that fact.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Ogasapian, John (1977). Organ building in New York City. Organ Literature Foundation. ISBN 978-0-913746-10-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Ogasapian, John (2007). Church Music in America, 1620–2000. Mercer University Press. ISBN 978-0-88146-026-1. Trinity Church in New York finally ordered an organ in 1739. It was to be a three-manual instrument, the largest in the colonies and the first known for certain to have been built in North America. The builder was Johann Gottlob Klemm (1690–1762). Klemm, or ClemmCS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Organ (1893). Organ. The first organ built in this country was constructed by John Clemm of New York, for Trinity Church, of that city, in 1739.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Presser, Theodore (1905). Etude: The Music Magazine. Presser. The first organ built in this country was constructed by John Clemm, of New York, for Trinity Church.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Schlesinger, Jr., Arthur M. (11 November 1987). Almanac of American History. Random House Value Publishing. ISBN 978-0-517-60353-6. The New York City Trinity Church is the recipient of the first church organ constructed in the American colonies. The instrument is made by Moravian organ builder Johannes Klemm.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Stuart, Suzette (1954). The Living Church. Morehouse-Gorham Company. Trinity Church had the first church organ made in this country, the work of John Clemm of Philadelphia, completed in 1741.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)