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The Walcker Organ in Riga Cathedral

Frederik Magle

Staff member
I have had the pleasure of playing concerts on the magnificent pipe organ in Rigas Doms (Riga Cathedral), Latvia, on several occasions. Though it's been a while since I last visited Riga, it is one of the organs (if not the) that has made the biggest impression on me, out of all the pipe organs I have played around the world.

Riga Cathedral from 1215-26 is the largest church in the baltic country Latvia. The organ in Riga Cathedral was build by the company E.F.Walcker & Sons in 1882-83 and was inaugurated on January 31th, 1884 (Franz Liszt composed a piece for the inauguration). The organ has 4 manuals and pedal, 116 voices, 124 stops, 144 ranks and 6718 pipes. 18 combinations and General Crescendo. At the time of its completion it was the largest organ (and indeed the largest and most advanced technical device) in the world! The cost of the instrument was 80,000 DEM - a most significant amount of money in 1883.

The organ was completely restored by the Dutch organ company "Flentrop" in 1981-83 and is now in perfect playing condition. When I was visiting in 93-94 two organ builders was responsible of keeping the instrument in good condition and tune, as their full time job! During my extended rehersals an organ builder was present at all times. He was sitting in a room inside the organ and could be contacted by pressing a small button next to the organ console.

The entire action is mechanical (tracker action) with "Barker" pneumatic levers on the 1st and 2nd manual to ease the otherwise enourmeous pressure. A picture of the console can be seen below:


However, what really stands out about this instrument is not its size, but the incredible beauty and quaility of the voices. Never, anywhere else, have I heard such beautiful flutes and strings. All the individual voices contain such warmth and expressiveness, yet without sacrifying clarity. The extremely high standard of quality is something that unfortunately seems to have been sacrficed in many later mammuth organs, where quantity seems to have been prioritized above quality. Not so in the 1883 Walcker organ in Riga Cathedral - and not only in regards to tonal quaility, back then the craftmanship was also of the very first class. Something I was able to see for myself, when I was given a tour inside the organ. The organ is huge: approx. 25 meters (82 feet) tall, 12.5 meters (41 feet) wide, and 10 meters (33 feet) deep. Inside there is web of stairways, ladders, platforms and bridges inbetween the pipes. The largest of the 6,718 pipes are actally more than 10 meters tall and 0.7 meters (2.3 feet) wide.

The picture of front of the organ below does not give the impression, but in the space between the Rückpositiv facade (the pipes closest to the camera) and the great (main) organ facade there is room for a symphony orchestra or a very large choir... The Walcker organ was build behind the original facade which was made by the organ builder Jacob Raab in 1601, but the facade was enlarged for the construction of the Walcker organ:


This is an organ that should be heard live. No recording can truly capture, but only hint at the magnificence of this instrument and the amazing acoustic quailities of the Riga Cathedral, something which is also of importance for the overall tonal quaility of the organ and the experience of the listener (and performer). I strongly recommend visiting Latvia and the great pipe organ in the Riga Cathedral.

When I visited in 1993 and 1994 some recordings was made of my concerts. The first concert in 1993 was broadcasted live on radio and televison and a recording of J.S. Bach's Toccata & Fugue in D-minor (BWV 565) can be downloaded here.
In 1994 I recorded a CD with my first Concerto for organ and orchestra and some of my organ works. The CD was called "The Infinite Second" - more info here

The Complete Stop List (Disposition) of the Organ in Riga Cathedral:

I. Hauptwerk

Principal 16'
Flauto major 16'
Viola di Gamba 16'
Octav 8'
Hohlflöte 8'
Viola di Gamba 8'
Doppelflöte 8'
Gemshorn 8'
Quintatön 8'
Bourdon 8'
Dulciana 8'
Quinte 5 1/3'
Octav 4'
Gemshorn 4'
Gamba 4'
Hohlflöte 4'
Rohrflöte 4'
Terz 3 1/5'
Quinte 2 2/3'
Octav 2'
Superoctav 1'
Sexquialtera 2 fach
Cornet 5 fach 8'
Mixtur 6 fach 4'
Scharff 4 fach 1 1/3'
Contrafagott 16'
Tuba mirabilis 8'
Trompette harmonique 8'
Cor anglais 8'
Euphon 8'
Clairon 4'
Cornettino 2'

II. Brustwerk

Geigenprincipal 16'
Bourdon 16'
Principal 8'
Fugara 8'
Spitzflöte 8'
Rohrflöte 8'
Concertflöte 8'
Lieblich Gedeckt 8'
Viola di Alta 8'
Dolce 8'
Principal 4'
Fugara 4'
Salicet 4'
Flauto dolce 4'
Quinte 2 2/3'
Superoctav 2'
Waldflöte 2'
Terz 1 3/5'
Sexquialtera 2 fach
Cornet 5 fach 8'
Mixtur 5 fach 2 2/3'
Äolodicon 16'
Ophicleide 8'
Fagott & Oboe 8'
Oboe 4'

III. Oberwerk

Salicional 16'
Lieblich Gedeckt 16'
Geigenprincipal 8'
Viola d'amour 8'
Wienerflöte 8'
Gedeckt 8'
Salicional 8'
Harmonika 8'
Bourdon d'echo 8'
Bifra 8' + 4'
Geigenprincipal 4'
Spitzflöte 4'
Traversflöte 4'
Dolce 4'
Piccolo 2'
Mixtur 4 fach 2 2/3'
Vox humana 8'
Basson 8'
Clarinette 8'

IV. Schwellwerk

Quintatön 16'
Flötenprincipal 8'
Unda maris 8'
Melodica 8'
Flûte traversière 8'
Bourdon doux 8'
Äoline 8'
Voix céleste 8'
Viola tremolo 8'
Piffaro 8' + 2'
Flötenprincipal 4'
Gedecktflöte 4'
Vox angelica 4'
Salicet 2'
Harmonia ätheria 3 fach 2 2/3'
Trompete 8'
Physharmonika 8'


Principalbaß 32'
Octavbaß 16'
Violonbaß 16'
Contraviolonbaß 16'
Subbaß 16'
Flötenbaß 16'
Gedecktbaß 16'
Quintbaß 10 2/3'
Octavbaß 8'
Hohlflötenbaß 8'
Gedecktbaß 8'
Violoncello 8'
Terzbaß 6 2/5'
Octavbaß 4'
Hohlflöte 4'
Octav 2'
Sexquialtera 2 fach
Mixtur 5 fach 5 1/3'
Grand Bourdon 5 fach 32'
Bombardon 32'
Posaune 16'
Trompete 8'
Corno 4'


Violon 16'
Bourdon 16'
Dolceflöte 8'
Violon 8'
Viola 4'
Flautino 2'
Serpent 16'
Bassethorn 8'

Feel free to post your own comments about the organ in Riga Cathedral and this article. In order to do so you must first register a user name. It takes less than a minute: Click here to get started...
Last edited:


New member
I really agree. It is wonderful. I have played recitals there a few times and it is really a special feeling.

Last winter I was invited to Riga to be a member of a groop discussing coming restoration works on the instrument. It is old now and needs service and a better action for manual IV, which is from 1985 by Flentrop. Quite a few pipes are from 1962. The old pipes where used in the war industry and was reconstructed by Eule. Since they are very well made we decided not to replace them.

The most important thing is to reduce the playing of the organ. After the last restoration in 1885 it has been played far too much and it is now important really to have a plan for the use in recitals. It must be well kept for coming generations.

Frederik Magle

Staff member
Thanks for that very interesting information! It's been a while since I've visited Riga and I must admit that I haven't been following the latest developments, but it's good to hear that the instrument will be taken good care of. I agree there needs to be some sort of limit to its use so it does not get worn. It's a pearl of an instrument that needs to be preserved for the generations to come.

Please keep us posted on any new development you are involved in (or know of)regarding this instrument.


New member
Cathedral organ

Wow! The pipe lineup is beautiful and the organ is huge! The organ at
the Madisonville First Methodist is the wicks I play on and it's only half
that size. That doesn't mean that my church's organ can't thunder with
the same quality of a much bigger organ. I've tried it. I also finally
began learning Taccata & fugue on the little wicks. I had the fun of
playing an antique old pump organ. Thank the good Lord for the one
who invented how to use a fan and vacum hose to make a pipe organ
work:clap: without all of the work of pumping by foot or hand. I don't
know how old it was but it was an old parlor organ.
judy tooley:cool:


Admiral of Fugues
and First Methodist has what to do with this thread??

Frederik, a wonderful instrument, which is sadly, not recorded often enough. Can you recommend any good recent CD recordings?


New member
Walcker organ

Wow! The pipe lineup is beautiful and the organ is huge! The organ at
the Madisonville First Methodist is the wicks I play on and it's only half
that size. That doesn't mean that my church's organ can't thunder with
the same quality of a much bigger organ. I've tried it. I also finally
began learning Taccata & fugue on the little wicks. I had the fun of
playing an antique old pump organ. Thank the good Lord for the one
who invented how to use a fan and vacum hose to make a pipe organ
work:clap: without all of the work of pumping by foot or hand. I don't
know how old it was but it was an old parlor organ.
judy tooley:cool:

What was I saying?:rolleyes: I meant to say was that's a beautiful display of pipes
on that organ and it was huge! That was what I wanted to say.
judy tooley


New member
Is the Walcker firm still building organs?

It appears not, sadly. According to http://www.methodisttemple.evansville.net/walcker.htm "[FONT=arial, helvetica]We are disappointed to report that the Walcker Organ Company is no longer in business. For information about the company's history you can visit the website: http://walckerorgel.de/. The site is in German, but you may contact: Gerhard Walcker. He remembers working with the people of Methodist Temple and sends his best regards."[/FONT]

Arvin B

New member
Thanks for the links.

I browsed and translated the Walcker site and it appears to disagree with the church web site. It says on the Walcker site they offer, "New building of Organs."

Does anyone know more about this?


New member
Corno, what pretty organs! I looked at the pictures and had to look up
some german words to understand what they said but I got to see some
of the pipe organs. They are outstanding!
judy tooley


New member
Thank You

I have always had a fascination for the organs that the great composers used and others have used to play their music. When I retire, I wish to learn to maintain these works of art. If it were possible to still be a renaissance man that would be me. Yes I am an engineer but one who still uses his hands and has to know everyone else's job enough to show them how to do it. To be able to help those of you who can use these tools would be right up there with working on the next moon shot. To listen to the different organs and organists, to hear you make the organs sing with all their differences is just short of hearing God because I hear God's work from the organist's fingers and almost can feel the hands that built the organ. God bless you all. I hope I have not been too heavy and that you understand.

Corno Dolce

Admiral Honkenwheezenpooferspieler
Hi Terry Scott,

Welcome to a wonderful site with lots of friendly people. I really liked reading what you wrote. It sounds as you have a passion for, as Mozart said: the King of Instruments. As an organist I have the chance to see and play many different *wonder machines*. It tantalises me knowing that to build a good pipe organ requires use of both sides of the brain.

You spoke of being an engineer, which I surmise that you have probably had the privilege of formal academic studies. The late Charles Brenton Fisk whose firm C.B. Fisk, builds some of the finest instruments known was a Nuclear Engineer. So, I wish you best of success in realizing your dream of learning the science and art of organ building.


CD :tiphat::tiphat::tiphat:


Admiral of Fugues
engineers always think they know everything, however, the art of building an organ is not just physical, one needs to have an extremely fine ear for the subtelties of tonal blend and voicing, if you're tone deaf, then organ building might be a challenge.

Organ Matters

New member
Riga cathedral and inspirational instruments


I am encouraging the compilation of a list of specifically inspirational instruments and have included it and given a link back to this thread from http://www.organmatters.co.uk/index.php/board,6.0.html

Inspirational instruments of a more specialised nature include Albi Cathedral, St Maximin and now Rieti - and of a totally different genre, San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice on account of the perfection of placement and acoustic there.

It's wonderful to have the heads up on this instrument at Riga as so many of us outside the Nordic world would have never have known about it otherwise. Thanks so much for drawing attention to it here.

As a matter of insterest, hotels for the inauguration of the Reiti instrument are totally full. Perhaps if organs can be known to be good for tourism, perhaps even the metaphirical accountants, bank managers and musically indifferent philistines of various sorts who worship only Beelzebub might sit up and take notice of great organs as being good for business!

(Sorry - this is not intended as a class insult to accountants and bank managers but there are many in our age who have lost touch with anything other than the rat race of our so-called civilisation that ignores culture and the heritage of the wonderful things around that our predecessors left for us for our benefit.)

However, the bottom line is that organs have to be seen as being a good investment. In England too many are scrapped, allowed to fall into terminal decay or "replaced" by electronics on account of so-called economy or greed of space.

When people hear such organs as this at Riga, it must inspire appreciation of the King of Instruments and the desire to maintain and build new instruments. Personally, I am not inspired by St Paul's cathedral in London - it is poorly sited and does not speak with a clear direct voice, masked by acoustics and delivering mood tone colours as anything approaching melody or rhythm merely swirls around from the darkness of a cavern. Although the initial trumpet fanfare of http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDEClOtNZbU is clear, beyond 1:10 there's a lot of confusion. In such national cathedrals the siting of an instrument must be West End for integration of the organ, the music and the acoustic. Perhaps this, in addition to size and tonal variety, might lead to the supremacy of Riga?

Best wishes

David P