Organs and Organ Builders in Slovakia
1651 – 2006
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Rieger


The firm’s beginnings go back to 1844. At that time in Krnov there was a small organ builder’s workshop in which Franz Rieger was working; he was father of the owners of what in the future was the famous organ building concern called Gebrüder Rieger.

Franz Rieger (born 13.12.1812, Sosnová near Krnov) learned organ building in Vienna at Joseph Seyberth’s (the literature also mentions Andìlská Hora, Vindava or Opava). In April 1844 he bought a house in Krnov. In the same year he married and was accepted as a Krnov citizen. Up to 1873 he is said to have installed 32 organs with mechanical actions and slider soundboards.

His elder son Otto (born 3.3.1847, Krnov) was first trained in his father’s workshop. In 1864 he went to Vienna in order to improve himself in organ building at Josef Ullmann’s, then, via Bamberg, he reached Würtzburg where he worked at Martin Schlimbach’s. His younger brother Gustav (born 1.8.1848, Krnov) also followed the same route. After their return from abroad, the father integrated them into the business which henceforth was renamed „Franz Rieger & Söhne“. He worked with them even after 1873 when he entrusted the family business to them, in practice up to 1880. Franz Rieger died in Krnov 29.1.1885. more »»

Organ builder’s workshop

From its inception in 1873, the Gebrüder Rieger firm tried to grasp the most modern trends in organbuilding and implement them in their own production program. Hence the firm was not restricted merely to an austere acceptance of existing patents, and through its own technical solutions and improvements it contributed to the development of contemporary organ building.

The first period (1873 – 1920), when the business was headed by Rieger family members, is characterised by the gradual growth in production. In the first decade of the 20th century, production reached an average of about 90 organs per annum. The factory reached its peak in 1912 when as many as 105 organs were installed. A year later the Gebrüder Rieger factory installed its largest instrument, a five manual organ of 116 stops for the Vienna Konzerthaus. Their own invention of so-called combination stops which the firm had patented in 1880 makes a great contribution to the number of instruments made. By this method two stops are created from one rank of pipes to which a further 12 are added thereby saving material, space and, not least, financial means also. An organ thus became more easily available also for less solvent clients and the firm gained more orders.

During the whole of the first period the firm built instruments mostly with cone chests. Between 1895 and 1903 they experimented also with exhaust pneumatics which, however, did not acquit themselves well and were excluded from the production programme. From 1873 to 1895 the action was chiefly mechanical, some larger two and three manual instruments were equipped with the Barker lever. From 1895 a pneumatic note action was tested. Between 1897 and as late as 1904 organs were built with both mechanical and pneumatic note actions. After 1904 the pneumatic action is dominant. A few years after the firm’s establishment, tests with electric action were already being made. The first instruments with electro-pneumatic action date from 1887 and 1888. The electro-pneumatic system began to make its presence felt more frequently at the beginning of the 20th century mainly in the large well-known organs installed between 1903 and 1915. In the development of the electro-pneumatic system the firm cooperated with Engineer Friedrich Drexler from the beginning of the 20th century.

The manual compasses of the firm’s instruments were chromatic from the start: C – f3 or C – g3 for the manual and C – d1 or C – f1 for the Pedal. The reservoir bellows was the main part of the wind system. In the firm’s beginnings, instruments were provided with double reservoir bellows; soon, however, changed to a type of schwimmer bellows with a regulating valve which the firm had also patented. An evolutionary version between both types is the box bellows which, however, was used for a comparatively short time. Feeder bellows are wedge or in parallel, their number is between one and three and depends on the size of the reservoir. Compensating bellows were used only in the large instruments from approximately 1905 to 1910.

The firm’s organ specifications stem from the sound concept of the romantic period. After 1910 on the initiative of Otto Rieger junior, they began to implement reform efforts and directives of the 1909 regulation in the factory and this was mainly in the building of large organs. Their complete adoption was inhibited by the circumstances of the 1914 – 1918 war and the untimely death of Otto Rieger junior in 1920.

Following the arrival of Josef von Glatter-Götz to run the factory, the first task was to stabilise the business and secure new business contacts. For economic reasons the business focused on the production programme from before the First World War. They were building mostly instruments with cone chests and chiefly pneumatic actions, large organs with electro-pneumatic actions. The cone chests were made according to an original design. In 1929 – 1933 tests on new types of soundboard with stop channels were carried out. Two types of membrane chest were developed: with vertical and horizontal membranes which were destined for exported organs. Where electro-pneumatic soundboards were of this type, Reissner magnets were used. Another type were soundboards which had on the lower part of the upperboard fixed lever magnets with note pallets directly mounted on the armatures. Until 1938 the factory exhausted all possibilities to improve soundboards with stop channels.

About 1924 a new system penetrated Europe from the USA, the so-called “multiplex” (UNIT) which works on the principle of creating many stops of different pitch from one rank of pipes. Organs with the unit system had to substitute for the orchestra so they comprised, apart from their own ranks of pipes, a collection of sound effects and percussion instruments also. They were mainly built for cinemas, dance halls and others. The firm soon adopted the UNIT system and built several dozen instruments.

Under the firm’s leadership by Josef von Glatter-Götz, pneumatic action was perfected along with the construction of consoles, coupling and stop apparatus, improved was the appearance of consoles and their measurements and the organisation conformed to international regulation from 1931. Electric action also recorded great progress which was connected with the unprecedented growth of electro-technology during the first decades of the 20th century. The reservoir bellows (always schwimmer) made up the wind system to which was connected just the first manual and pedal. Other manuals had independent regulating valves with springs.

The ideas of the Organ Reform Movement which had brought positive results in the countries of western Europe and Scandinavia were not at all demonstrated in the construction of instruments. Only under the influence of strong competition at the end of the Second World War did the firm’s management decide that they would gradually include also into the production programme a type of organ with slider soundboards, mechanical or electro-pneumatic action and a new sound concept. The Gebrüder Rieger firm built the first such instrument for the large Rudolfinum hall in Prague in 1941. However, the organ was unsuccessful both technically and aurally.

About 1940 began the development of a two manual organ with slider soundboards and mechanical actions. Because of war circumstances, the instruments were completed as late as post 1945. A certain progress in its anxiety to introduce reform ideas into practice is noticeable only in the specifications. After 1933 higher pitched stops, aliquots or high grouped aliquot stops are more and more frequently included along with new stops into specifications. The voicing style and type of soundboards however remained unchanged therefore it was not possible to attain a basic change in sound quality.

The findings from research into the areas of construction and sound was initiated about 1940; qualified workers left the factory together with the owner Josef von Glatter-Götz in 1945 and Rieger-Kloss, successor to Gebrüder Rieger, were obliged to start the whole development from the beginning.

Text: Marek Cepko

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Engineering Office of the company Gebrüder Rieger. Gustav Rieger, the chief constructor and technical director of the company, in the background.