Cathedral Organ Overhaul Complete

A cause for celebration, just in time for Easter, is the  end of over six weeks of intensive overhaul work and comprehensive scaffolding on the main Cathedral organ.

The overhaul of this complex beast has been undertaken by a team of specialists from the renowned Austrian firm of Rieger, led by Michael Fritsch. The four of them have been spending 14-hour days dismantling, cleaning and voicing every one of the 3644 pipes, from enormous to tiny. During the voicing phase the Cathedral had to be closed to give the silence needed to achieve pitch perfect tuning.

The last overhaul was 27 years ago, and the organ has been subject to a huge amount of wear and tear from its constant use, accumulating large amounts of dirt and dust. As well as work on the pipes, all the bellows have been releathered, the keyboards refelted, and the pedals completely adjusted and relaid.

The Cathedral Organist, Professor Steven Grahl, is thrilled with the transformation. ‘It feels very different, like a brand new organ. It sounds brighter, the pipes have a new clarity, there’s more vibrancy in the colours, the key touch is even and it’s beautifully in tune. Rieger have done a wonderful job. It’s work that involves mechanics and a huge amount of artistry to bring the pipes in harmony with each other.’

The organ has gone through many revisions, but has always stood on its beautiful c 1635 screen, and it retains a few pieces of its original case dating from 1680, a time when organs were being reintroduced into churches after the Puritans had taken them out. The current innards date from the 1970s, when Rieger reconstructed  it with extra pipes. Not only has it been rebuilt many times, it has also moved around the Cathedral, from the Chancel to the South Transept to its current position at the West End which it reached in 1884, a move largely determined by the need to cram the increasing numbers of students into the Nave and Chancel.

You might like to check out the Rieger website to read about their long history and appreciate the specialist world of the organ-builder.  From the idyllic village of Schwarzach in the Vorarlberg region of Austria, teams go all over with world to build and repair organs. So the next time you hear the mighty Rieger roaring out in all its glory, or deftly negotiating Bach in the expert hands of the Cathedral’s organists you’ll have a better idea of all the work and care that has gone into its upkeep.


To find out more about the work that has gone into the overhaul of the organ you can watch the video below to hear Michael and Steven talk about all the work that has gone into making sure the organ is in fine playing condition for the next 20 years.