From appointed supplier to the royal and imperial court to a commercial company
Franz Rieger did not want to become a gardener like his father. He was interested in music and the arts of the craftsman; two preferences that can be combined very well in the organ building profession. So, that is what he chose.
After he had finished with high school in his home town, Jägerndorf (currently Krnov in the Czech Republic), he moved to Vienna, the capital and royal residence, where he applied to the master organ builder, Joseph Seybert, who was known for his thorough work. The latter took him on as apprentice. One can image what an opportunity this was for Franz, not only for learning his craft, but also for becoming acquainted with Vienna’s musical life.
As was customary at the time, after completing his apprenticeship, Franz, became a journeyman so as to broaden his horizons under different masters.
In 1844 he sat for the Master’s Exam and, aged 32, returned to Jägerndorf as qualified master organ builder. There he had to offer proof of his skills with his first assignment. Fortunately, an opportunity arose in the castle church nearby Jägerndorf, where he was given the chance to build an organ with 20 stops on two manuals and pedals.
Opus 1 was a success. The business grew into a large firm, known for high quality organ building, that in 1852 was included in the commerce and trades address book of the Austrian Monarchy.
In the meanwhile, Franz Rieger married Rosila Schmidt, with whom he had nine children.
Both of these (his firm and his family) occupied him his life long. He was no doubt pleased that two of his sons, Otto and Gustav, were interested in organ building. Like their father before them, they went to Vienna together for their apprenticeship; this time under Franz Ullmann. On completing this, they also became journeymen. It is known that they spent time in Bamberg and Würzburg in the workshop of Balthasar Schlimbach, at the time one of the best known organ builders.
In 1873 they returned home, aged 26 and 25, full of ideas and energy. Their father gave them a free hand, and so the firm, Franz Rieger and Sons, was founded, in which their father continued as advisor until 1880. He died in 1886.
Clearly the two brothers were not only outstanding organ builders, but also excellent businessmen: the quality of their instruments was not adversely affected by the rapid growth of the firm, as often happens during transitions to larger capacity; on the contrary, the retention of the highest technical perfection, an innovative spirit and constant searching for new technical, and particularly musical possibilities, were the reasons for the exceptional success of the brothers.
Their success began in 1873 with a gold medal at the Viennese World Exhibition for Opus 1 (the opus enumeration was started anew in 1873) and continued with orders from Vienna, and soon also commissions for exporting to Norway, Istanbul, Gibraltar, Rome and Jerusalem. To this were added orders from Germany and Russia.
Nevertheless, the small rural communities were not forgotten: a programme of standard models, or “series organs”, of various sizes made it possible to provide less well-off churches with high quality instruments. From the perspective of a modern organ specialist, it would be possible to object that all these instruments were very similar. That’s true! But they were all of high quality.
In 1879, Franz Rieger was honoured with a gold medal of merit. In 1896, Otto and Gustav Rieger were named as “appointed suppliers to the royal and imperial court”.
At this stage, a mere 25 years after the founding of the new firm, there were more than 150 members of staff working in newly built workshops comprising almost 20 000 square meters. Many of these lived in apartments belonging to the company, constructed right around the firm, that were the first dwellings in the city to have electric lights, with power from a company-owned generator running on wood off-cuts (biomass) from the factory (In those days one was still proud of smoking chimneys!)
However, the company was also exemplary with respect to social matters: Rieger instituted health and accident insurance for its staff, the so-called “brotherhood chest”, that was fully maintained by employer contributions.
Stylistically, the organs followed the trends of the time, at least in so far as these did not compromise quality. The firm primarily built mechanical cone chests, only a few pneumatic and almost no electrical actions, as they were aware of the latter’s limited reliability and lifespan.
This was the Romantic period in organ building when powerful stops were sought-after, which could only be achieved with high wind pressures. To this end, an electrical “universal blower” was developed. This was also the beginning of large concert hall organs.
In 1903, after Otto Rieger had died and Gustav had retired to attend to his private affairs, Otto’s son, also called Otto, took over the firm’s management. He was himself an excellent organist and master of these concert hall organs. With Albert Schweitzer, he simultaneously played an authoritative role in the Conference of the International Music Society’s section on organ building and became an advocate of the so-called “reformed organ”, i.e. an instrument with mechanical action, slider chests and fewer orchestral tonal colours. Each to his own …
Otto founded a branch of the firm in Budapest that experienced great success, especially with their above-mentioned series organs. Otto also delivered the first export overseas (to Mexico). However, the First World War’s shadow was already visible. Otto and others had to join the defence force.
When he returned from the war, the world was a different place. Instead of being in the Austrian Monarchy, the firm was now located in the Czech state, the market had collapsed, the personnel had been decimated. Otto’s life ended two years after the War, in 1920.
Otto’s school friend, Josef Glatter, joined the defence force after finishing school and then chose the military as his career. He was lieutenant-colonel in the Engineering Corps (the General Staff of the Engineering Forces) and through his marriage to Hilda von Götz became Josef von Glatter-Götz by the most gracious decision of the Emperor. He also went home to Jägerndorf after the war.
Josef had no doubt learnt a great deal in the technical division of the General Staff that enabled him to reorganise a previously large company and to manage it through difficult times. That was recognised by Otto Rieger who appointed him as general manager of the firm. After Otto’s untimely death, Josef received the power of attorney from Otto’s widow and, in 1924, acquired the company. Otto had no successors in his family, so the firm went to a friend who, in this hour, brought with him the right attributes for taking the firm to new heights and for starting a new family tradition. He already had two sons for this: Egon and Josef.
At first, new markets had to be opened up. In order to get a foothold in the German market, he opened a branch in Mocker, on the other side of the border that was only 7 kilometres away. Through this device, the Rieger firm, had captured two thirds of the total greater German export market by 1937/38. At the time, they were still building highly Romantic organs, besides those championed by the so-called “Organ Movement” in which the ideals of the classical slider chest organ were revived.
It was exactly in this area that his two sons were active when the Second World War broke out and, on the orders of the Reich’s government, the Rieger firm had to begin producing ammunition boxes. Inter arma musae tacunt …
Egon fell in the first days of the Polish campaign. In the army headquarters in Berlin, Josef wrote a readily useable service manual for the tank commandos and designed an anti-aircraft tank, “Kugelblitz”, that was praised by the Führer, but never built.
In 1945, on the strength of the Beneš Decrees, all German property was confiscated and the German-speaking population deported. At this point, it is difficult dealing in a few sentences with the pain caused on all sides. Here, at the cutting edge between East and West, innumerable tragedies were linked to the people, of whom we matter-of-factly record that more or less 10 families from Jägerndorf were reunited in Schwarzach/Voralberg.
As it happened, the organ building firm , “Behmann”, was located in Schwarzach and, before the War, had offered to enter into a cooperation agreement with Rieger. The Glatter-Götz father and son and their colleagues, all with families, were relieved to be able to find accommodation in these workshops. In the event, the municipality set one condition, understandable under the circumstances: living quarters were not to be used. So, several national labour service barracks were organised and put up in an abandoned shooting range in “Eulentobel” to make a barrack camp called “Little Jägerndorf”.
Austria was divided into four occupation zones, which for all practical purposes, made travelling impossible, despite its being indispensible for organ building. Nevertheless, they succeeded in getting orders for a number of restorations and in doing the work, besides which they kept afloat by making window frames and wicker chairs, and running a sauna, in which Josef Glatter-Götz Junior was a sought-after masseur. Glatter-Götz Senior died in 1948.
The first breakthrough came in 1950: Josef had built a small, purely mechanical action organ of 6 stops; and it happened that Paul Hindemith and Herbert von Karajan saw this instrument, were delighted with it, and used in with their orchestras. Encouraged by this, Josef went with such an organ to the World Exhibition in Chicago where he managed to sell it.
As a result, the USA became an important market, at first for smaller standard model instruments that, with their fascinating and ingenious engineering, were built in large numbers for a time.
Although the spirit of the times was different, Josef Glatter-Götz maintained the ideals of the mechanical slider chest organ and became one of its pioneers, thereby influencing organ building, particularly in Germany and the USA, and thus also worldwide. He also tried many things that did not prove to be effective, through which his successors and students learnt a great deal, as also his “colleagues”, as one is inclined to call competitors.
Some of his organ façades have become “classical”. Examples are in the Barfüß Church in Augsburg, in Villich nearby Bonn, in Altach/Voralberg and in Oggau on the Neusiedler Lake, where he was fined 5000 shillings for contravening the heritage protection laws. His last design, however, warrants special mention, namely the one in Ratzeburg Cathedral.
It was in connection with this organ that the third Glatter-Götz generation came to the fore: Caspar, Raimund and Christoph.
Caspar did his apprenticeship at the Rieger firm before becoming a journeyman and doing time with von Beckerath, Kuhn and Kern. In 1968 he became director of the Rieger workshop. After the father’s passion for experimentation, his priority was thorough craftsmanship and the greatest possible perfection of the organ action together with a functional aesthetic, ideals that were achieved in the Ratzeburg organ for the first time. In this period, the formula for building optimal mechanical actions was developed that made it possible to play even the largest instruments purely mechanically; something that was in great demand at this time, when a degree of fundamentalism in these matters was common.
At the same time, Raimund, after having studied design in Vienna and doing his apprenticeship with Klais in Bonn, joined the trio as independent architectural designer on a project basis. As one hundred years earlier, there were once again “Rieger Brothers”; but this time in the form of a commercial enterprise.
In 1972, the firm moved into a new workshop building that was enlarged considerably in 1992; a modern business with the emphasis on creating a “living” environment, where a cafeteria, fitted with an industrial kitchen, and beer garden were regarded as priorities.
In this period, the standards achieved were set. Tonally, an independent style was followed, but it was one that aimed at the greatest possible flexibility for all styles of organ music. Wherever possible, the architecture of the instruments followed this approach by introducing modern forms into what were mostly historical buildings.
Caspar left the company in 1993 to take over a firm in southern Germany.
With his successor, Wendelin Eberle (*1963), a significant new dynamism entered the firm. He had been trained here, but had also observed other practices widely and educated himself thoroughly.
Perhaps it was a counter-reaction to their father’s aim of having all three his sons in the firm, that Caspar, Raimund and Christoph, who between them had 8 children, could not motivate any of them to take up organ building (or did not really want to do so). Therefore, another change of “dynasty” was unavoidable.
Christoph suffered from Parkinson’s disease and in 2003 no longer considered himself able to lead the company adequately. Accordingly he asked his friend, Wendelin, to become his successor; just as Otto Rieger, 80 years or three generations previously, had passed his baton on to a friend.
The change-over occurred on the 1st of October, 2003.