New pipe organ for St Vitus Cathedral resounds for first time

Photo: archive of St Vitus Organ Endowment

The new pipe organ for St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague resounded for the first time on Monday in a workshop near Barcelona, in Spain, where the instrument is being built. The pipe organ was commissioned by the Catholic Church and part of its cost, estimated at 80 million crowns, was raised in a public collection.

Photo: archive of St Vitus Organ Endowment
The man to test the new pipe organ for St Vitus cathedral, a symbol of Czech statehood and home to the Czech crowns jewels, was Josef Kšica, who will be playing the instrument in Prague’s most famous temple. He shared his first impressions with Czech Radio:

“It went really well. It really is a unique instrument. I have to say I am utterly charmed and I cannot wait to play it in the cathedral.”

Mr Kšica only played about a third of the organ’s keys, since its full sound would be too strong for the workshop.

“The pipe organ in Prague is pneumatic, so the sound is slightly delayed. This has a mechanical key action, with four manuals, so it is very accurate. The pedal is also accurate, because it is electric, which helps to sound the bass tones.”

The current provisional organ with its 4,500 pipes, built in 1932 and located in the left wing of the cathedral, is not strong enough to fill the whole church. The newly built organ will have 6, 500 pipes and its sound should fill the whole space of the monumental building.

The renowned Spanish organ-maker Gerhard Grenzing, whose company won a public tender to build the new pipe organ for St. Vitus, says the construction itself was not the most difficult part of the whole process:

“The hardest moment was when we discussed the height of the organ with the monument protection authority. It would have been hard for us to lower the organ, because we know it would be more difficult to make it sound right.”

Panská Skála,  photo: Magdalena Kašubová
The new instrument will be installed in the neo-Gothic organ-loft from 1929, located above the main entrance, but only after some adjustments are made, explains Štěpán Svoboda, organologist from the Prague Archdiocese:

“The choir loft needs to be strengthened and the current wooden construction and floor replaced. We also have to bring electricity, because the current supply is insufficient.”

The author of the design of the instrument, Slovak car-designed Peter Oláh, says he found inspiration in Panská Skála, a basalt hill near the North Bohemian town of Kamenický Šenov, which resembles an organ pipe:

“We didn’t want to make a pseudo-historic instrument. We wanted to create an impression that the composition is floating in the air. We regard it as a jewel to crown the cathedral, as a necklace hanging below the rose window.”

The new pipe organ for St Vitus Cathedral will now be disassembled and transported to Prague. It will first resound through the cathedral on June 15 next year, on the Day of St Vitus, the patron saint of Bohemia.