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