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The Queen of Instruments

Updated: Nov 8, 2020

Video is produced by Musikverein Wien. A film by Kerem Unterberger. Loosely translated below by Joan Hill

The Musikverein, or the Viennese Music Association, was established in 1812, following the path of democratization in Austria. The building, designed by architect Theophil Hansen, was blessed by Emperor Franz Joseph and opened in 1870. The building itself is of high renaissance style–with caryatids, columns, and mythological figures–stands near Ring Strasse in Vienna, quite near the opera house, and the many fine museums that populate the area. Its Gold Room, glittering gold and full of color, is lauded as one of the world's foremost music halls.

Hansen incorporated a cabinet for the organ pipes. This cabinet has been used for the three organs that have graced the Goldene Saal to date. The most recent organ was installed on March 26, 2011. The linked video shows us the process of producing "The Queen of Instruments." The organ makers' mission was to create an instrument optimized for the hall; its finely-tuned sound would be heard clearly from pianissimo to fortissimo to all-out thunder. Its transparent and various sounds would also harmonize very well with the orchestra. This new organ, made by Rieger Orgelbau, would be able to create all possible effects.

So, first old pipes were taken down. The new pipes, all 6,138 of them, must fit in the Hansen cabinet. Metal pipes were cast absolutely from scratch–from deciding upon the metal composition and bringing this molten metal to flawless completion through intensive labor: the pipes were molded, cut, cleaned, and polished by hand. Then they were aggregated and connected to the mechanics of the console, which is electronically triggered by the manuals and stops, of which there are 81! Each pipe must then be tuned and the sound refined to match the requirements. Individual, sensitive articulation of the instrument was attained through this long process.

In 2010, the montage of this queen began. The old steel foundation was removed and replaced with a wooden one. Some of the 150 year—old larger metal pipes were retained and reused for the new organ. The very heavy console, weighing tons, was lifted with pulleys to its place in the cabinet. Everyone holds their breath, hoping that it does not crash below to the hall or through the gilded balcony walls. It doesn't. Whew! Pipes are then mounted and tuned to achieve optimal harmony in the room and with the orchestra.

A 4-manual movable keyboard console, which sends the electronic signals to the console surrounded by pipes, is placed on stage. Once more, the entire organ is tuned. It is now ready for its inauguration.

On March 26, 2011, Bishop Christoph Schoenborn blessed the Queen, whose benefactors are Peter and Karla Puehringer. This Queen of Instruments is deemed to be a pure success.


Written by

Joan Hill, Artful Journeys Director

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