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The revitalization of organ instrumentation

The revitalization of organ instrumentation

Thro­ugho­ut the cen­tu­ries the music of St. Mary’s Church has been clo­se­ly asso­cia­ted with three pipe instru­ments: small organ in the southern aisle, cho­ral and gre­at organs. So they could rega­in the­ir per­fect sound the 21st cen­tu­ry revi­ta­li­za­tion was a neces­si­ty, promp­ted by orga­ni­sts and other musi­cians who had com­men­ted on the instru­ments and insti­ga­ted to “reha­bi­li­ta­te” them.

The cau­se of the revi­ta­li­za­tion was also a need to measu­re the music stan­dard of the organs up to the arti­stry of the inte­rior design of the church, name­ly, the Gre­at Altar sculp­ted by Veit Stoss. And when upon seve­ral years of reno­va­tion and rese­arch works we can final­ly admi­re the altar of the Assump­tion of the Bles­sed Vir­gin Mary in its full gran­deur, ano­ther ambi­tion has also been reali­zed, that is, to make the organ music reso­un­ding insi­de the church ful­ly equ­al to this archi­tec­tu­ral beau­ty, the pearl of Cra­cow which St. Mary’s Basi­li­ca is con­si­de­red to be.

The pro­ject of revi­ta­li­za­tion of organ instru­men­ta­tion in St. Mary’s Basi­li­ca com­men­ced in 2015 when at the requ­est of our parish the Arch­dio­ce­san Com­mis­sion for Church Music, pre­si­ded by Mons. Robert Tyra­ła, asses­sed the sta­te of the Basi­li­ca organs. The sub­se­qu­en­tly publi­shed con­test for a con­trac­tor to reno­va­te the gre­at and the medium organs pro­vi­ded the bid­der, Rie­ger Orgel­bau, the pre­sti­gio­us com­pa­ny from Austria, based in Schwa­rzach – a glo­bal leader among pipe organ buil­ders. The com­pa­ny can boast its most famo­us con­struc­tions of the organs in St. Stephen’s Cathe­dral in Vien­na,  the Church of the Holy Sepul­chre in Jeru­sa­lem,  the Basi­li­ca of the Nati­vi­ty in Beth­le­hem as well as in phil­har­mo­nic halls of Vien­na, Paris, Seoul, Shan­ghai or Shenzhen.

The pro­cess of revi­ta­li­za­tion of the organ instru­men­ta­tion of St. Mary’s Basi­li­ca lasted seven years and incur­red huge amo­unts of orga­ni­za­tio­nal and finan­cial expen­ses. For­tu­na­te­ly, we were aided by a gro­up of bene­fac­tors-and-friends who fun­ded one pro­spect  stop, Comarch S.A. IT com­pa­ny which bought the title of a co-foun­der and Wen­de­lin Eber­le, the organ master him­self who fun­ded one stop of the cho­ral organ.

At the begin­ning of the work, we gave the faith­ful the well-pre­se­rved organ of the southern aisle – Tomasz Fall’s  8‑stop posi­ti­ve from the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry which accom­pa­nied Fri­day nove­nas, Way of the Cross servi­ce and many other cele­bra­tions under the Holy Cross. The organ requ­ired only some minor repa­irs which were car­ried out by local organ master Lech Sko­czy­las who cle­aned and retu­ned the instru­ment in 2016.

The 14-stop cho­ral organ, con­struc­ted by Kazi­mierz Żebrow­ski in 1912, were rein­stal­led on 15 Decem­ber 2018 after an exten­si­ve reno­va­tion car­ried out by Rie­ger Orgel­bau company.

On 14 May 2022 we will open the lar­gest instru­ment of the Basi­li­ca. It requ­ired both recon­struc­tion and com­ple­te resto­ra­tion, both  guaran­te­ed by the Rie­ger com­pa­ny. Upon meti­cu­lo­us arran­ge­ment of the organ cabi­net the gre­at organ has now 62 stops inc­lu­ding 8 of histo­ric value which ori­gi­na­te from the older instru­ments of St. Mary’s Church. The oldest, 18th-c. stops of Flu­te Major 8’ and Flu­te Minor 4’ were also pre­se­rved. The organ pro­spect has gained a new appe­aran­ce thanks to two towers added to it. The enti­re cabi­net has also been enri­ched with deco­ra­ti­ve wood­ca­rving. The refur­bi­shed pro­spect is main­ta­ined in the clas­si­ci­stic sty­le of Igna­cy Ziar­nic­ki.  The gal­le­ry has rega­ined its ori­gi­nal design. The reno­va­ted gre­at organ is ope­ra­ted by the 4‑manual con­so­le which allows to play simul­ta­ne­ously the chan­cel organ. The Set­zer stop action con­trol  sys­tem allows an easy ope­ra­tion and the newest elec­tro­nic sys­tem makes it possi­ble to record and re-play music at any time.

The resto­ra­tion of the organs of St. Mary’s Basi­li­ca has con­tri­bu­ted to the gene­ral revamp of the­ir sur­ro­un­dings. The recon­struc­tion works were car­ried out behind the organ in the pres­by­te­ry and in the main cho­ir loft. The ste­el fra­med struc­tu­re has been built along with the beams sup­por­ting the exi­stent gal­le­ry. The new sound­pro­of wooden flo­oring has been fit­ted and the sta­ir­ca­se up to the gal­le­ry has been refur­bi­shed. The main gal­le­ry under­went com­ple­te engi­ne­ering and aesthe­tic resto­ra­tion, its bot­tom recon­struc­ted and mis­sing ele­ments added. The adja­cent Jan Matejko’s poly­chro­mies and small sta­ined glass win­dows have been reno­va­ted as well.

Calen­dar of Resto­ra­tion Works of the Organs of St. Mary’s Basi­li­ca in Cracow

2015 – the asses­sment of the con­di­tion of St. Mary’s Basi­li­ca instru­men­ta­tion by Arch­dio­ce­san Com­mis­sion for Church Music
2016 – Com­pe­ti­tion for resto­ra­tion and con­struc­tion of organ instru­ments won by Austrian com­pa­ny Rieger
2016–2017 – conc­lu­sion of con­tracts betwe­en St. Mary’s Parish and the Rie­ger com­pa­ny for work on St. Mary’s musi­cal instruments
2017 – pre­pa­ra­to­ry and plan­ning stage
2018 – resto­ra­tion of the chan­cel organ — the instru­ment was con­se­cra­ted and com­mis­sio­ned on Decem­ber 15, 2018
2019–2020 – con­struc­ting the com­po­nents of the gre­at instru­ment in Schwarzach
March 2020 – the out­set of Covid-19 pan­de­mic, lock­down in Poland and in Austria delay­ed work
Autumn 2020 – assem­bly of new gre­at organ; resto­ring works pre­se­rving the monu­men­tal frag­ments of the old pro­spect and deco­ra­ti­ve works con­nec­ted with the new parts of the organ cabinet.
Spring  2021 – 1st sta­ge of tuning and voicing the instru­ment and con­ti­nu­ing works on the gallery
6th July 2021 – tech­ni­cal com­mis­sio­ning of the organ con­duc­ted by the Arch­dio­ce­san Com­mis­sion for Church Music
Autumn  2021 – testing ste­ady soun­ding of all stops (par­ti­cu­lar­ly monu­men­tal ones). Testing the elec­tric con­trol, regi­ster sys­tems and con­nec­tions betwe­en instruments
Win­ter  2021/​2022 – ending the resto­ra­tion works of the gal­le­ry balu­stra­de and disman­tling the scaffolding
Spring  2022 – 2nd  sta­ge of tuning and voicing the instrument
5th April 2022 – final accep­tan­ce of resto­ra­tion works on the nave cho­ir and gal­le­ry balu­stra­de with the par­ti­ci­pa­tion of a repre­sen­ta­ti­ve of the Pro­vin­cial Offi­ce for the Pro­tec­tion of Monuments
14th May 2022 – bles­sing of the gre­at organ