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Latvian churches are rich in terms of beautiful old organs, the sounds of which lift the soul and calm the spirit. The organ has been a traditional sacral musical instrument in Latvia since the fifteenth century.
There are around three hundred-or-so organs of an historical nature, these being instruments that had been made by 1945 and which had been designed to be located in a specific room or space, taking into account its acoustic possibilities. Thanks to this customised approach, there are no two identical pipe organs. Every instrument is unique. Therefore the fact should be considered that, despite the long period of isolation, Latvian churches have retained authentic pearls of organ building, which surprises the most acknowledged organ experts of Europe.
Two of them are the most outstanding, these being the Ugale Church organ with its original pipes which are more than three hundred years old; or the instrument in St Trinity Church Liepaja, which is now the only one in the world that is able to play music on the original 7,000 pipes that were made by Heinrich Andreas Contius. With 131 registers, four manuals, and a huge number of pipes, it was the largest pipe organ in the world until 1912. Today it is the largest unrestored historical mechanic instrument, and the largest pipe organ in Latvia.
The products of masters
Over the centuries, Latvian organs have been made by the most distinguished European masters, as well as by the most skilful local ones. The man behind the building of the organ at St Trinity Church Liepaja - Heinrich Andreas Contius from Halle - was highly appreciated by the famous composer, Johann Sebastian Bach.
Contius also constructed the organ for St Jacob’s Church. The most famous organ is that of Riga Dome Church, which was built by the company E F Walcker & Co in 1883/84; this highest achievement in organ-building during the late Romance period has been acknowledged as being one of the most valuable historical instruments in the world. The organ has 124 registers, four manuals, and a pedal, and 6,718 differently-sized pipes - some of which are built using different materials - which are placed on 26 wind bins. The sizes of the pipes differ. The biggest ones are 10m long, but the smallest are only 13mm. The composition that was written for the consecration of Riga Dome Church’s organ, ”Nun danket alle Gott”, was written by Ferenz List. At the moment, the organ circular, which was built in 1601, is being restored, so it is currently covered in scaffolding. The current condition of the organ as an instrument allows its careful and cautious use in concerts, making it a unique musical and spiritual experience.
Oldest organ in Riga
Several first-class instruments have once sounded in St Peter’s Church, but the oldest organ in Riga can be found in Riga Reformed Church. Unfortunately, it can no longer be heard. In their turn, instruments built by W Sauer still sound in Old St Gertrude Church and St Jesus Church. E F Walcker & Co organs can be heard in the Tornakalns, St Paul’s and St Martin’s churches, giving one an opportunity to play the form of Romance organ music that is favoured in Europe.
Organ music concerts
One of the greatest experiences is a concert of organ music, especially if it happens in the old Dome Church. It is the cathedral seat of the archbishop of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran church and one of the most prominent concert halls in the world, in which the most outstanding organists and vocalists perform. Once a year, at the beginning of July, listeners are gathered together to attend the international festival of organ music which is known as Riga Dom. In its turn, the international Organ Music Festival in Liepaja traditionally takes place at the end of August. Organ music festivals and concert cycles are also organised by other Latvian churches whose instruments are in good condition and which are ready to be played such as, for example, those in Jurmala and Dubulti where it is possible to catch the organ music festival, Vox Angelica.