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University of Silesia in Katowice

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Katowice – City of Science, City of Music and city of organs

22.04.2024 - 14:54 update 30.04.2024 - 10:45
Editors: wc-a
Tags: 50 tygodni w Mieście Nauki

Each of 50 Weeks in the City of Science features a text about selected research in a given subject area carried out by scientists from the universities forming the Academic Consortium Katowice City of Science. The texts we publish give insight into the diversity of issues scientists deal with and show the research potential that is dormant in the universities of the consortium.

| Agnieszka Kliks-Pudlik |

Although Katowice has been awarded the title of the European City of Science 2024, the city is not only about science, especially since it was also the holder of UNESCO’s City of Music just several years ago. The element combining these two areas are pipe organs. The process of putting together this majestic instrument requires not only engineering precision but also remarkable timbre artistry. All these roads lead to Organ Week, Week #16 from among 50 Weeks in the City of Science.

‘The pipe organ tradition in Katowice and the entire region is extremely vibrant and dates back to the end of the 19th century. We have many churches with exquisite instruments intended for liturgical and concert purposes. Naturally, we cannot forget about three remarkable and modern instruments in the concert halls of the Academy of Music, the Silesian Philharmonic, and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra. Katowice is a European phenomenon in this regard,’ underlines Prof. Władysław Szymański, Rector of Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice.


Photo by Patrycja Chociej | Unsplash

Rich Heritage                                       

The heyday of building new churches and pipe organs was observed in the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century. ‘Together with the industrial boom, Upper Silesia (being a part of Germany and Wroclaw diocese back then) was prospering and had money to build new churches with marvellous instruments. This heritage of organ building has remained in many cities in the region to date,’ tells Prof. Szymański, a concerting organist, composer, and expert in the history of organ music in Upper Silesia.

The professor adds that organ building would not have been flourishing had it not been for the thriving back then culture of playing music at Silesian homes and churches. 

Since its dawn, Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice has been educating musicians who have made significant contributions to the growth of organ building and organ music. The oldest public university in Katowice was founded in 1929 as a National Music Conservatory. Among the group of the Academy’s first teachers, one can find Bolesław Szabelski – an organist and composer recommended for the position by his teacher, the very Karol Szymanowski; nowadays, one of the Academy’s halls is named after Bolesław Szabelski.

– The programme in Organ and Church Music has been studied at the Academy since its very beginning and still is an important piece of our activity. We have educated a plethora of well-known and recognised organists, composers and teachers,’ underlines the Rector.

Records of the Silesian Pipe Organs

The examples of scientific activity carried out at the Academy of Music are the Museum of Silesian Organs and the Organological Archives. The scientific unit is unique in Europe and has been founded and directed by Prof. Julian Gembalski. Its purpose is to collect, preserve and protect items related to pipe organs, their history, and related scientific publications, as well as exhibit this heritage in the form of a permanent museum display.

‘The Museum is our scientific and research station, thanks to which we may search for more historical elements and evidence of this rich pipe organ heritage,’ explains Prof. Władysław Szymański.

Owing to the Museum, it was possible to protect dozens of invaluable items from being destroyed. One example may be is a small 17th-century damaged instrument that has undergone reconstruction and found a new home at the chamber hall of the Academy of Music in Katowice. ‘It has had its authentic 17th-century look restored. Most importantly, it is not merely an exhibit but also serves our students and employees as a practice and concert tool, especially to perform the music of the 16th and 17th centuries,’ says the Rector.   

The Museum is located in the undergrounds of the main edifice of the Academy of Music. It is possible to visit it after prior arrangement.

Science for Music

Organ building is a process that requires quite some effort and cooperation between specialists in various fields.

Essentially, its structure has remained unchanged since the very first instrument invented in the 3rd century BC. A pipe organ consists of a wind system supplying air (bellows), pipes producing the sound, a keyboard and the entire valve mechanism that makes it possible for the pressure on a certain key to produce a sound of a certain pitch and timbre.

There were numerous attempts to improve pipe organs technology- and material-wise, e.g. by changing its standard mechanical construction (a key opens a valve located directly under a pipe and produces a certain sound) into electric or pneumatic relays; such an innovation, however, failed to be adopted.

‘Naturally, the organs built nowadays benefit from the latest technologies, e.g. by choosing the selection of materials and different processing methods. However, the biggest change is the registration pre-set memory (a microprocessor-based combinations capture system used in order to produce a particular sound – ed. note). In the past, all that used to be switched manually, e.g. during a break between two pieces or by another person standing by and assisting the organist. Today, it can be all done with one button, which significantly improves performance,’ emphasises Prof. Władysław Szymański.

Premiere of New Pipe Organs

Organ Week featured the premiere of new pipe organs constructed at the Concert Hall of the Academy of Music. ‘We have been waiting for it for 17 years! The instrument is remarkable in its architecture and timbre,’ emphasises the Rector.

The new pipe organ has three manuals (keyboards) and a pedalboard with 49 notes altogether (i.e. ‘types’ of single sounds that can be combined into combinations). ‘Truth be told, there is no such thing as a universal organ, but we have done our best to create an instrument adjusted to perform a vast array of pieces created in the last four ages in Central and Western Europe (also known as the German and French Circles). Apart from that, it is naturally a modern instrument equipped with the registration pre-set memory and built using the latest technologies,’ sums up the Rector.

Full programme on the event’s website.

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