Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments
Friday - a perfect sunny spring day with an earlier start at 8 a.m. takes us into Krems proper (our hotel was on the outskirts, overlooking wine terraces). First a scramble up cobbled lanes to the Piarist’s Church, where the 1875 Capeck organ, recently restored by the Swiss firm of Kuhn, beguiled with its sweet romantic warmth, though not lacking either brilliance or clarity. Then a tumble down the hill to the city Parish Church. The large, eclectic Hradetzky organ, three times as large as the Capek, was impressive for its bold variety, but lacked charm. In both cases, the resident organist, Ronald Peter (who dashes between churches to cover Sunday services) was our musician.
Next we boarded a river cruiser for the three-hour trip up river to Melk. Being on the water, coasting through verdant, scenic wine country, several evocative castle ruins, and two of the churches we’d visited the previous day…seen from a different perspective…proved both soothing and exhilarating. The monastery at Melk, the largest and most opulent in Austria, is famous for its library, its winery, and its magnificent worship space, ripe with ornate decorative details, paintings, gold highlights, and an historic organ case into which Gregor Hradetzky built his masterpiece in 1976. Father Bruno, who has played here since the sixth grade, provided a brief yet friendly demonstration of the various stops. Our departure was delayed somewhat by a forgotten photographer’s bag left back in the church, but we managed to keep mostly on schedule as we drove to Matzleinsdorf bei Melk nearby.
Here, the parishioners decided to expand their little church, but in an unusual way. The addition to their original Baroque building is in a kind of Bauhaus modern style, and to keep with that theme they commissioned the Pieringer organ shop to build a very contemporary instrument to a visual design of architect Michael Kitzinger. It looks like a large rectangular birchwood box, with a few tone openings at the top but otherwise very little representation of organ pipes. Inside this case are 12 ranks of beautifully voiced organ, played from a comfortable console on the side, making a full and colorful impact in the room. The quality of workmanship was exemplary, and again we were charmed by the builder himself, who was present for the demonstration by Wolfgang Kogert.
Another hour’s drive through the rolling countryside brought us into Linz, a populous, industrial city where we first visited the large Parish Church. The instrument here, with at least half of its pipe from the 19th century (played by Bruckner, who served here as organist for more than a dozen years), is a new construction by Woehl of Germany. Dark and powerful, it does present a thoughtful player with many beautiful opportunities.
Quickly we continued to our hotel, a Marriott Courtyard…contemporary, classy and comfortable, for a delicious meal of cream soup (a kind of spinach-and-garlic), chicken breast with gravy and vegetables, and chocolate cake with whipped cream, which fortified us for the last (6th!) organ of the day, the magnificent 1968 Marcussen with 70 stops at the ‘new’ cathedral, a neo-gothic mammoth completed in 1924. Wolfgang Kreuzhuber, who has served here for nearly 30 years, plays us an intense Bach Fantasy and then an improvised demonstration of all the stops, imaginative and beguiling in his virtuosity. In the darkened room, the sounds were particularly magical…though even the bright of day this organ qualifies as a masterpiece.
And now to sleep…