Vienna Premiere


Of all the cancelled work trips this year, I’m especially missing the visit I should have made to Vienna this month, where the so-called Giant Organ in the Stephansdom, Vienna’s Cathedral, was re-inaugurated this weekend. I wrote a year ago about my previous visit, where I joined a competition jury (the winning works were played on the opening day); and about this organ and its complicated story, now happily resolved with the unveiling of a magnificent instrument refurbed by the Austrian firm of Rieger.

It’s not exactly new, in that it recycles a big 1960 instrument, long unplayed because of acoustical and structural problems due to its placing behind some impenetrable masonry. A 1991 instrument positioned at floor level then provided organ music for worship, but seemed an insufficient instrument for such a national building. (And the story actually began much earlier with the destruction by fire of a previous, much-loved organ in the last days of WW2.) Incredibly to a British person, the Cathedral’s music staff calmly set about righting this problem by raising several million euros, both from public funding and small citizen donations. Now the best bits of the two organs, plus a lot more, can all be accessed at once from a very suave-looking new console.

Besides reading acres of new organ music for the Cathedral’s competition, my other small contribution to this re-awakening was a few minutes of music written for an opening Partita, played by Stephansdom music supremo Konstantin Reymaier, who invited a group of us composers to base our music on a classic Wienerlied with a strange religious undertone; Herrgott aus Sta’ by famed chansonnier Karl Hodina. I wish I’d been there, no doubt remarking “how Viennese is this!”every so often.

(Pictured - my rather scary snap of the Stephansdom taken from the 'old' organ loft, in September 2019.)

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer