Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments
Thursday - We are up and going at the relatively sane hour of 8:45, the morning gray but our crew smiling in anticipation. We head up the Danube from our Krems hotel to the little village of St.Michael in der Wachau. First we stopped at the train station to pick up our organist-for-the-day, Elke Eckerstorfer, a young teacher at the Vienna Music School. The grounds of this ancient Wachau Valley parish church, from the 16th century, are accessed through a Gothic defense tower. The modest interior, smaller than Imbach, also features an astonishingly vibrant one-manual pipe organ. We started out providing our own wind, pulling on three leather straps that hung out of the left side of the case. Strange how seemingly modest instruments deliver maximal pleasure.
Returning a few kilometers downstream, our next stop was the picturesque town of Dürnstein with its blue porcelin tower decorations. The town is built on a steep hillside, close to the river, and remnants of ancient battlements and a castle ruin add to the sense of antiquity. Indeed, legend has it that Richard the Lion-Hearted was held captive in this very castle. The 1724 Panzner organ differs from the norm ‘at home’, in that its console, which faces the front of the church, is attached to the Positiv division hanging on the balcony rail, and the Hauptwerk and Pedal pipes are disposed in cases left and right further back in the loft. Using the ‘short octave’ proved to be a concern, particularly in the very confusing pedal division, but again the sound was delicious.
We wandered through the picturesque cobbled streets in search of lunch (a cheese sandwich and apricot tort with tea), and then headed downriver to the magnificent Herzogenburg monastery. The rococo organ case, a light green with gold decoration, houses an instrument created in 18th century fashion, with some old pipes but mostly 1960’s ‘organ reform’ contents. Evenso, in this space, we imagine its original qualities.
The sun had reclaimed the day by the time of our 3 p.m. arrival in Michelhausen, a tiny Baroque parish church into which Walter Vonbank had installed a 17-stop instrument in a very contemporary case…at the specific request of the local cultural commission. Vonbank builds ‘traditional’ organs, with classic voicing and mechanical action, and only the visual impression here is ‘modern’…though its elliptical decoration does echo the curves in the 18th century ceiling frescos. We were pleased to meet the personable maker of this interesting, high-quality instrument, who later joined us for supper in Vienna.
We then drove into Vienna proper (the rush-hour traffic was not so bad, amazingly), for a group evening meal at a restaurant near the Hofburg and the Austrian Chancellor’s residence, We were served a refreshing salad of asparagus, lettuce and chopped vegetables, a main course of boiled beef (a Viennese tradition) with rice, and dessert of lemon mousse. We then walked just up the street to the Michaelerkirche (quite a lot of Michaels in this day’s itinerary), for a concert and reception celebrating the release of our organ expert, Wolfgang Kogert’s, new CD on the New Classical Adventures label.
The hour-long drive back to Krems was mostly quiet, though with some sharing of personal stories as our convivial group members get familiar with each other.