Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments
Saturday - I’m sorry that these reports seem to be so sporadic and slow in being posted. Such is the challenge of our very full itinerary, which gets us on the road by 8 a.m., keeps us totally engaged through the entire day, then often concludes late at the hotel for dinner, sometimes with an additional event following, so there is little time to compose one’s thoughts and get them sent to the home office for processing. Even so, everyone seems to be having a really fine time…so something good must be happening.
This day dawned in Linz sunny and clear, and after a short our day’s first visit was to the organbuilder Kögler, just across the street from the famous St. Florian monastery (which we will visit tomorrow). The building in which the organ shop is located was constructed as a ‘test piece’ for the architect and decorator responsible for the later major Baroquization of the monastery complex…and additionally the facility stands adjacent a reflecting pool and fountain, across from the monastery greenhouse…so the setting is quite picturesque.
Kögler builds in ‘traditional manner’, instruments that are totally mechanical-action, with no screws or nails in the woodwork, and all pipe voicing done entirely on-site…just like in the 17th and 18th centuries. Two instruments were in various states of completion, one large pipe organ in German Baroque manner for Glasgow, Scotland, another for Austria in Italian style. Both allowed our group to see their guts…and begin to grasp both how complicated and, ultimatey, how simple the basic mechanism of the organ is. Keyboard, pallets, wind chests, pipe types, bellows, decorated and carved cases, all together creating an instrument of physical and aural beauty.
Then a long drive through scenic countryside and across the border into Germany for a visit to Passau, a city on the Danube. Tour buses and boats park and dock a few blocks down hill from the impressive Cathedral of Saint Stephen in which is located the largest pipe organ in all Europe (nearly 18,000 individual pipes). The group was introduced to some of its key elements while visiting in the organ gallery (where three of the five ‘organs’ are located; the other two are in the choir area up front and in the ceiling above the central aisle, played by electric action), and then found seats downstairs for the noon recital by guest soloist Edgar Krapp from Munich. Bach’s D-minor Toccata and the Widor Toccata, plus works by Pachelbel, Langlais and Reger, provided a grand demonstration.
In the next hour we were free to wander the narrow, cobble-stoned streets to shop and find a lunch or ice cream cone before again boarding our coach headed towards Schlägl, a spiritual and cultural center in Upper Austria since the 13th century. Here the community of some 40 monks operates a profitable brewery and maintains no fewer than five pipe organs. The oldest of the batch, from 1634, is quite incredible, with a brilliant, silvery voice. The new Kögler instrument in the intimate choir space at the front of the church (where the monk’s daily worship takes place) also impresses with its refinement. Christopher Zehrer, in his early 20s and only a few months into his job here, showed real skill, both in improvisations and repertoire (Kerll, Muffat).
After a quick refreshment allowing some to sample the local brew in a stream-side gasthaus, Otto our coachman drove us on to Wilhering, where the Cistercian monastery church is one of the most impressive Rococo monuments in Upper Austria (I know, everything seems to be qualified as ‘most impressive’, but it always seems to be true!). Fantastic three-dimensional plaster decorations, gold leaf everywhere, frescos and oil paintings and carved altar pieces….and in the arch on the left side across from the pulpit this curious one-manual organ by Rummel (which, when the bench is tipped upside down and some other doors are closed, seems to disappear into the woodwork, literally). Eight stops, only, the soft ones dulcet and lovely, the principal chorus incredibly full and ringing.
And in the back, another organ, from the 19th century by Leopold Breinbauer (the builder who, after the torch had passed through several generations, is at the beginning of the Kögler shop’s history) from 1884…a rather different, somewhat rough but exciting sound…both organs demonstrated by Ikarus Kaiser, who has been in the position for 9 years and is kept sufficiently busy with the numerous services here that he has not yet had time to make a CD of the organs! The adjacent garden, in a process of renovation, includes some very old trees…a stunning weeping beech, in particular, and a huge fir that towered nearly 200 feet tall.
The sun was setting as we continued on to Linz, dinner at the Courtyard Marriott, and overnight.