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I'd like to see and hear a range of very good large organs. I like the reverb that occurs in a large church or cathedral, so I would prefer that over a concert hall. Also, since I would like to hear it, I need a location which either has concerts or predictable times when you can hear practice. For example, once I was lucky enough to visit St Paul's Cathedral in London and happened to hear the organist rehearsing. There are also scheduled recitals, Sunday Organ Recitals, so that is one answer to my question.

Which are the locations of Europe's largest pipe organs and how can I find them?

I say Europe partly because I am in Europe, but also because I guess that the most impressive organs are here. I am happy to be proved wrong in this assumption.

You may ignore COVID-19. Assume that life eventually returns to normal and what used to be possible becomes possible again.

(The title and text is plural to indicate that I don't expect a single answer, but a range of recommendations of well regarded organs. I hope that this makes the question less opinion based.)

My interest is musical rather than religious, so I don't require any specific religion or denomination nor will I reject any. Ideally, I would like recitals unconnected to religious services, but that is not essential. I happy to behave appropriately and respectfully if I need to attend a service.

I am concentrating on cathedral or large church organs rather than the concert hall ones because the experience is quite different.

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    On the contrary, Stoke-on-Trent is quite convenient. Make that an answer and I'll give it a vote. – badjohn Dec 30 '20 at 11:19
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    Presumably you know that there are different styles of organ appropriate for different styles of music? So if you like the French style of almost symphonic music you need to go to France and if you like Baroque then Germany might be a better bet. – mdewey Dec 30 '20 at 16:08
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    As a reminder, Stack Exchange is designed to suss out a single definitive answer, and questions which solicit suggestions, reviews, examples, or other open-ended lists are a poor fit for the Q&A format. – choster Dec 30 '20 at 17:58
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    have you tried looking for people who keep ice in their bathtubs? – user253751 Dec 30 '20 at 19:03
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    I used to run across the television program Joy of Music in which the organist Diane Bish would travel to various places and play the organs there. It looks like the number of episodes is enormous, so it wouldn't be practical to watch them all, even if you could afford to. Nevertheless, it might be worth checking the list of episodes for some ideas, and, if you can stream any of the episodes where you are, it might be worth checking out. List by country is here. – Will Orrick Jan 2 at 18:57

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Several cathedral/church locations in Europe are listed here https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/latest/organs/, for example:

  • Freiberg Cathedral in Germany

  • Basilica of Valère in Sion, Switzerland

  • Church of St Pierre des Chartreux in Toulouse, France.

From a comment it seems you are in the Midlands, UK. The Victoria Hall in Stoke-on-Trent is renowned for its acoustics and has a world-class organ dating from the 1880s http://www.victoriahall-organproms.co.uk/organ_d.htm (disclaimer: my home town!)

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A number of the constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge have good organs and good organ scholars to play them. In consequence they have some very good organ performances, many of which are open to the public, many of those being free of charge. Primus inter pares is probably the King's College chapel organ, on which free organ recitals are given every Saturday in term-time, and which has been sounding particularly good since the restoration finished three years ago.

Once the world gets back to normal, that is.

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    Oxford also has a number of colleges with excellent organs and organ scholars, and are free to visit for church services, and is possibly an easier journey than Cambridge (although I would recommend both!) I'm most familiar with Merton College and Magdalen College but a bit of googling should give you a list. As with Cambridge, the organs are backed by world class choirs (or vice versa) and I am constantly surprised that the free Evensongs are not better attended given that people pay a lot of money to hear the choirs when they are on tour. – andrew g Dec 31 '20 at 11:44
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    The OP seems particularly interested in large instruments in large buildings. Oxford and Cambridge colleges have many high quality instruments but they are (mostly) sized appropriately to the (relatively small) college chapels they are in. As an ex-Cambridge student (and an organist) Kings College is not really a good place for organ recitals, because the reverberation time is just too long to hear any details. (St. John's college would be a better choice to hear a "large" organ IMO). – alephzero Dec 31 '20 at 15:34
  • @alephzero given that King's chapel is the largest fan-vaulted space in the world, it does rather seem that your objection boils down to "Cambridge colleges are too small for this, except the one that's too big". I accept that Goldilocks will not want to come to Cambridge to hear the organs, but it is possible that the OP might <grin>! – MadHatter Jan 1 at 7:56
  • @andrewg I'm an Imperial man, myself, but I live in Cambridge, so I answered about what I knew. In no wise did I intend to denigrate Oxford - or any other university that has a good pipe organ - and I am grateful for your comment, which makes an excellent point about the choirs. I'm not sure I agree that it's any easier to get to, though (except this week, when King's Cross station is closed). – MadHatter Jan 1 at 8:00
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The Monastery/Palace of Mafra, Portugal is one of the largest of its kind in Europe and can have 6 organs playing at the same time.

The six organs of the Basilica of the National Palace of Mafra constitute a unique ensemble in the world, not because of their number, already remarkable, but because they were built at the same time and originally conceived to play together, they were built by the two most important Portuguese organ makers of their time - António Xavier Machado and Cerveira and Joaquim António Peres Fontanes.

Right now the Municipal Townhall of Mafra, supported by the Portuguese Ministry of Culture is promoting a contest open until the 16th of April 2021,

"International Composition Prize - Organs of the National Palace of Mafra"

which aims to create a new repertoire for this magnificent instrumental set, classified as World Heritage by UNESCO.

So stay tuned for some magnificent concerts in 2021

edit: the first concert 2021 "Concerto de Reis for 6 organs", January 9th, 2021 at 21h00 UTC. Live at: https://www.facebook.com/camaramunicipaldemafra

Performed by the Schola Cantorum of Santarém Cathedral, under the direction of Pedro Rollin Rodrigues, accompanied by the six organs, which will be played by André Ferreira, Daniela Moreira, Diogo Rato Pombo, João Santos, Margarida Oliveira and Sérgio Silva, with musical direction by João Vaz. The concert will be transmitted through the Facebook of the Municipal Townhall of Mafra.

update: unfortunately, due to new COVID-19 travel restrictions in Portugal on weekends, in force as of today January 7th, 2021 23h59, the concert was cancelled

enter image description here

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All main European cities have cathedrals and most of those use the main organs in the main services. Maybe not every Sunday but almost all of them will have them in use for the Easter and Christmas services.

You will need to research which of the main churches in really big cities will do the best or longest organ playing around the services.

When you look up organ concerts in the city you happen to be in, do not discount concert halls, as some of them have organs that are as good as most of the church or even the cathedral organs. And it they are happy to organize an organ concert, it will be worth your time and money.

I am not a lover of organs, will escape out of a church as soon as the organ starts. The last event was an organ playing while I was still in the RC (Roman Catholic) cathedral in Haarlem, the Netherlands (called St Bavo, as is the old/former cathedral in the same city) and this had been posted locally in the concerts list of the 'things to do' website.

In London I would check the concert list as well as the 'activities' list of St Pauls, Westminster Abby as well as Westminster Cathedral (which is the RC cathedral for the area.)
In Paris, again the same listings and for all the main churches. I remember my father telling very enthousiasticly about the organ in the Saint Eustache, but he did mention organs in many of the main churches and cathedrals he visited in France. And not just at the main church holidays but also on random Sundays.
In Germany I have only visited one main church, the Dom in Cologne and indeed, it had a main organ and they played it.

In short, each main church in Europe is likely to be worth visiting.

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  • Thanks. Organ music is not my major interest but, nonetheless, I want to hear it at its best. Religion is not important. I am an atheist but that does not prevent me from enjoying music with a religious connection. – badjohn Dec 30 '20 at 11:22
  • I don't discount concert halls and my local one, Symphony Hall in Birmingham, has a good organ. However, it is a different experience from a cathedral organ. Not better or worse, just different. – badjohn Dec 30 '20 at 11:24
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    It is not the religious service which has the best music, it is that the organ is often played around that service, but there are often also concerts around the main religious holidays. – Willeke Dec 30 '20 at 11:25
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Wikipedias article on Arp Schnitger includes a list of his surviving works: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arp_Schnitger.

They are located mainly in northern Germany and the Netherlands.

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    The Great Church in Zwolle has a Schnigter (which sounds superb) but unfortunately it is being cleaned for the next 5 years. So be warned. – NL_Derek Dec 31 '20 at 22:51
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I live in the Netherlands and there are so called 'open monumenten dagen' (in English Heritage days). On such days, many churches (and other cultural places like windmills, old farms, historic buildings) are open to the public. A few years ago I visited a number of churches in Alphen aan den Rijn en Leiden where the organ was played almost the whole day so your chances of finding a place where the organ is actually played is much higher. These heritage days are at the same moment all over Europe so perhaps you could plan your visit around those days, the Wikipedia page (Heritage days) shows you those dates.

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  • The last many years these days happened in September. – Willeke Dec 31 '20 at 13:47
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You might try to find "organ associations" in various countries and see if they can give recommendations or ideas. I know that in Gothenburg there is an active such, https://www.organacademy.se . They did a festival October 2020. I would believe that members there might be as interested as you and could give long lists of interesting places and organs.

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In the UK, a good place for "binging" would be the annual St. Albans International Organ Festival. Two weeks of wall-to-wall listening to the world's best young (under-30, or thereabouts) players competing against each other. https://organfestival.com/

There are similar festivals (both competitive and non-competitive) in many European countries. As well as the obvious locations (e.g. in France, Holland, Germany, Spain) check out Eastern Europe (Poland, Slovakia, Estonia, etc) which have many fine instruments.

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If your tastes run to the French organ repertoire perhaps the most famous builder was Aristide Cavaillé-Coll and a list of extant organs by him is in Wikipedia at Existing Cavaillé-Coll organs.

There are even a few in the UK rather to my surprise so when travel becomes easier in the UK you can sample a few without a passport.

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It isn't a church, but if you are ever in Austria, you can hear the Kufstein Heroes' organ daily at noon.

You can hear it all over town. You don't want to be too close. It is loud.

I heard it once while traveling. My wife and I stopped in Kufstein on our way back to Germany from Lofer in Austria. We were in Kufstein around noon. I don't remember what it sounded like, except it was loud and I wasn't expecting it.

We were on the walkway shown in the last panorama on this page. That's in the fortress, not too far from the organ.

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