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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: “St. Stephan's Cathedral…”

December 19, 2013

Mr. Barone:

I recently visited St. Stephan's Cathedral in Vienna. I understand that the magnificant organ in the rear gallery is unplayable. Do you know the history and reason why the organ has not been maintained or playable. I can't seem to find any explanation on the net.

Thank you for any information you can provide. I enjoy listening to your program in Portland, Oregon

John LaVeille


From what I have been told (by a former organist at the Cathedral), the organ in the rear gallery was built in the period shortly after the end of WW2.  Vienna was, for a time, partly in Soviet control, and access to materials throughout war-ravaged Europe proved problematical. The instrument was cobbled together from various available resources (in many cases donated from builders elsewhere in Austria and Germany), but the quality of materials (and in some cases workmanship) was somewhat below par.  Also, since that time, the aesthetics of the post-war 'organ reform' movement (featuring exposed pipework, with a tendency to high-pitched, intense tone) have shifted to something else.

Though there is some sentiment that the gallery organ should eventually be repaired and made functional again…as a monument to post-war determination despite privations…the cost would be enormous, and no one has found the money to mount that restoration.

The newer Rieger up front was better positioned, too, to support post-Vatican II liturgical needs (the choir positioned in front), and does an amazing job of filling the cathedral.




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