Austria, Upper Austria
Zisterzienserstift, Hauptorgel

© pictures Orgelbau Kuhn AG, Männedorf/Schweiz

The main organ on the west gallery of the collegiate church in Wilhering

After the catastrophic fire in 1733, when a large part of the whole Cistercian abbey was destroyed, the famous collegiate church was rebuilt, and it has been preserved up to the present day. The result was integration of the cases of the main and chancel organs into the magnificent Rococo interior in an architectural unity that would be hard to surpass in richness and wealth of colour.

The late baroque main organ, the front of which is still preserved, was installed in the early forties of the 18th century, when the abbot was Johann Baptist IV Hinterhölzl OCist. The latest findings made in the course of the current restoration indicate that this organ was built by Master Johann Ignaz Egedacher of Passau, (1675-1744). According to a later description by the organ builder Matthäus Höfer in 1844, the organ already had a total of 26 stops, divided between great and pedal organ, as well as a balustrade positive. It can be proved that Höfer carried out several repairs to the organ. Among the many collegiate organists in the 18th century we may name Simon Anton Weiss and Franz Xaver Weinwurm; the 19th century is represented by the well-known church composer Matthias Pernsteier, Adolf Festl and Matthäus Obermüller. Anton Bruckner played both organs during various stays in the collegiate church of Wilhering, as was handed down in reports by previous Fathers and former choristers.

In 1883, Abbot Alois Dorfer OCist instructed the young organ builder Leopold Breinbauer (1859-1920), from the neighbouring small town of Ottensheim, to build a new, generous sized main organ. This was to be finished in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the abbot's priesthood in August 1884, but in fact it took several months longer. The celebratory opening concert with the organist of Linz Cathedral, Karl Waldeck and the organist of Wilhering collegiate church, Franz Pressl, was finally held on 11 December 1884. Karl Waldeck contributed his own composition for two organs. Together with Friedrich Arnleitner, a music teacher from Linz, Waldeck had taken a leading role in the artistic conception of the much praised new organ in Wilhering collegiate church. Among visitors at the opening concert was Prince Ferdinand I of Saxony-Coburg, later Czar of Bulgaria, who had a special affinity with modern organ building.

Breinbauer's first large organ had 30 stops, divided between a great organ and a chancel organ placed in the lower case, as well as the pedal organ. In accordance with organ building at that time, Breinbauer already used the system of the mechanical cone valve chest. He was faced with a particular challenge in that he had to fit the new organ into the comparatively small, original organ case. For this reason he constructed a new level above the actual great organ, on which some stops of higher pitches were set up. Consequently, organizing the mechanical control of these stops by means of multiple branchings in the action was very complicated. The balustrade positive from the earlier organ, on the other hand, was retained only visually, as a front, and no longer had any speaking stops. A particular novelty was constituted by five combined drawstops driven across additional bellows.

Since Leopold Breinbauer held the quality of sound produced by the original organ in great esteem he retained several stops, particularly in the pedal organ, and voiced them according to his own ideas of tone. In his artistic conception he also seemed to take the chancel organ as a model, by taking its relatively high pitch. Although the two organs originated in completely different styles, Breinbauer interpreted them in the sense of an ideal whole, each with its own characteristics, perfectly adapted to the space in Wilhering collegiate church with its tremendous acoustics.

In the 20th century the new organ was played by, among others, Karl Orel, who later moved to Kremsmünster and finally as cathedral organist to Brünn, Johann Kirchschläger, the father of the Austrian Federal President, the gifted concert organist and later teacher at the Mozarteum, Otto Rippl, composers Julius Webinger and Franz Gruber, who was simultaneously prefect at the collegiate grammar school, and after the second world war the well-known composer, P. Balduin Sulzer OCist, and the teacher at Linz Conservatory, Johann Winterberger.

In the years 1976 to 1981, the Oberösterreichische Orgelbauanstalt undertook a partial rebuild and expansion of the organ. In the style of that period these interventions were influenced by a neobaroque sound picture. In order to give the balustrade positive its sound back, the console was moved and extended by a third manual. At that time this measure required removal of the combined drawstops, and reworking of the existing keyboards. In addition, seven Breinbauer stops were completely replaced. Many more stops were similarly revoiced to achieve a sound pattern as near to baroque as possible. The Conservatory teacher, Johann Wilfried Hübl, became collegiate church organist in 1981, and was succeeded by Ikarus Kaiser in 2001 up to the present time.

Since the workings of the organ were greatly prone to failure, the firm of Kuhn Organ Builders Ltd, having successfully completed the renovation of the chancel organ, was instructed to undertake a thorough restoration of the main organ also. With regard to the original Breinbauer parts that were still functioning, the concept foresaw a major return to the original condition of 1884. To this end the stops Flauto dolce 8‘ in the great organ, Filomele 8‘, Dolcissimo 8‘ and Mixtur 4 ranks in the lower case and, in the pedal, a Bombarde 16‘ with free reeds had to be rebuilt on the basis of known scales, on the pattern of other Breinbauer organs in Upper Austria and Southern Bohemia, as well as in individual cases by means of parts that had been passed down by chance in the chancel floor and in the oratory of the collegiate church. It proved possible to complete the Geigenprincipal 8‘ stop by using pipes from a dismantled Breinbauer organ in Mühlviertel *1. The stops Cornett 4 ranks and Mixtur 5 ranks in the great organ also had to be restored to faithfully reproduce the original. The latter stop and the Gemshorn 8‘ stop were removed from the lower case and once again placed in their original location in the great organ. Reworking the complicated mechanics and the renewed connection to the combined drawstops posed a particular challenge. The stops of the balustrade positive were voiced more gently and as far as possible brought closer to the romantic sound of the organ. To intensify the sound of the 8‘ basis, the Quintade 4‘ that had been changed again after the extension was rebuilt as an 8‘ stop once more, and the fine sounding Oboe 8‘ stop, which however was not part of the Breinbauer organ, was taken from the lower case and placed in the balustrade positive. To the same end, the Trompete 8‘ stop from the great organ was set up on its own two windchests in the archway outside the historical organ case, with its own discreet fittings. The colourful design of the stop labels followed historical models of other Breinbauer organs still in existence.

The restoration now completed will mark a vital stage in the long term preservation of this first significant great organ by Leopold Breinbauer. Thanks are due to the convention of the collegiate church of Wilhering, above all to Abbot Reinhold Dessl, and P. Prior Johannes Mülleder who is also chief financial officer of the collegiate church endowment.

Ikarus Kaiser 2018
*1 Mühlviertel: region in Upper Austria

Translation RS 2018