Organs and Organ Builders in Slovakia
1651 – 2006
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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. For services to the development of organ building he was decorated with the Gold Distinguished Cross and Crown.

The Gebrüder Rieger firm was founded in 1873. From that year they began to number their instruments from one. After their experiences in Germany, the brothers Otto and Gustav realized that, if their business was to be successful, they could no longer continue production in a workshop style but must construct a modern factory equipped with the latest machines and facilities which would be able to compete with the large foreign firms. Their further ambition was to introduce their work as quickly as possible to the international community. The very first instrument, identified as Opus 1, was sent in 1873 to the world exhibition in Vienna where it generated positive approval. The world exhibition of 1878 in Paris was of cardinal importance for the firm’s further development; the Krnov factory constructed two larger representative instruments for this exhibition. At both exhibitions the firm gained not only appraisals (1873 medal for progress – Fortschrittsmedaile, 1878 gold medal, the Paris National Academy diploma, the Austrian C. and K. (Imperial and Royal) Distinguished Service Cross), but chiefly prestige and very important international recognition.

In 1879 the Rieger brothers in Krnov began to build new factory buildings on ground measuring 15,000 square metres, expanded in later years. In 1884 the factory already had a large work space for 80 to 100 employees, a spacious organ room in which it was possible simultaneously to work on several large organs, a space for working with leather, spaces for erecters, tuners, metal workers, harmonium makers, extensive wood stores. The most modern manufacturing machines including ventilators and an electric dynamo were powered by a steam engine of 30hp. Steam also heated the manufacturing areas and the drying equipment for wood. The dynamo supplied electricity for eight arc lights and other lighting resources which illuminated the working areas. A residential house was built for the firm’s employees and an industrial health fund set up for their support when incapable of work. Success at world exhibitions quickly brought orders not only from Austro-Hungary but also from abroad (Norway, Denmark, Italy, England, Russia etc). A large number of orders were from countries of the former Austro-Hungarian empire to which the Slovakia of today belonged and international expansion of the firm necessitated opening a branch in Budapest in the 1890s. Initially this was aimed at the construction of parts, replacement work and instrument erection. Later, at a time of the factory’s greatest production, they built whole instruments there also. The significance of the Rieger firm was emphasised also by visits of many well-known personalities, among which were Emperor Franz Josef I in 1880 who awarded Otto Rieger a knighthood and conferred on the firm the appellation “court supplier”. Another award was received by Otto Rieger from Pope Leo XIII called knight of the Order of the Holy Grave. The firm’s first era ends with the death of Otto Rieger, senior. He died 12.12.1903 in Vienna. His brother and partner Gustav went into seclusion and the firm was taken over by the son of the deceased co-owner, Otto Rieger junior. Gustave Rieger died two years later in 1905 in Vienna. Otto Rieger junior (born 22.5.1880 Krnov) studied the organ building trade in his father’s firm and was preparing for study trips to Paris and America. His father’s premature death, however, thwarted these plans and as a 23 year old he had to take care of the factory. In 1909 he was named, together with the Viennese organ builder Josef Ullmann and Prague’s Heinrich Schiffner, a member of a working committee of the organ builders’ section of the International Music Company which was preparing an international regulation for the building of organs. Like his father, Otto Rieger junior also acquired many awards. The Pope conferred knight of the Cross of St George and the title Avvocato di San Pietro and from the emperor’s court the title of court organ builder and court supplier. During his activity the firm recorded a sharp expansion which the First World War stopped. After the war ended, he was unable, however, to normalize the firm and died prematurely on 20 December 1920. This task was entrusted to Engineer Jozef von Glatter-Götz who became manager on 12 May 1920 and from 7 November 1924 the firm’s owner.

Josef von Glatter-Götz (born 17.11.1880, Krnov) following studies at a military academy he made his career in the army. After the First World War, however, he returned to civilian life and learned the organ building trade in the Gebrüder Rieger firm. He headed the factory until 1945 and died in Schwarzbach on 12. 2. 1948.

After the First World War, business returned to normal as early as the mid 1920s. In 1925 the respective work areas increased to 4940 square metres and gradually the number of employees also rose from 100 to as many as 160 workers and 10 clerks. Glatter-Götz also constructed a new branch workshop in the village of Mokre, along with it, however, the established workshop in Budapest also operated successfully. Running the firm was also shared by Josef von Glatter-Götz’s sons: Egon (24.6.1911 Vienna – 8.9.1940 Poland) and Josef junior (15.12.1914 Vienna – 1.5.1989). The Second World War adversely interfered with the business of a successfully developing firm. Many employees had to commence military service and production was turned over to military manufacture. Up to 1945, half-finished instruments were completed, new organs were prepared in only limited numbers. Shortly before the end of the Second World War, the works in Budapest and Mokre were abolished. After the war ended, Josef von Glatter-Götz and family had to leave Czechoslovak territory. With some employees he left for Austria where he set up a new factory in the village of Schwarzbach which functions up to today (Orgelbau-Rieger). The owner’s departure meant the end of Gebrüder Rieger in Krnov and the business went into national administration.

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. more »»

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.