Hidden virtuoso

Ancient music is probably not the first thing one thinks about when pondering the multiple uses of conveyor belts, but overlooking the Austrian city of Salzburg at the Hohensalzburg Fortress, a unique Habasit belt carries out a melodious tradition which dates back to the 16th century.

The Salzburger Stier (Salzburg Bull) is the oldest operating mechanical pipe organ in the world. It was installed as early as 1502. In 2001, the Austrian government approved an intensive restoration of the organ, and a Habasit power transmission belt was chosen as a reliable and long-lasting element in a complex arrangement of sound.

The instrument is constructed of a wooden barrel with a series of pegs and rods hammered into the surface. When the barrel turns, the bars slide under the levers and open the vents beneath metal pipes which release air creating long or short notes. The organ plays every day at 7 a.m., 11 a.m. and 6 p.m., and each song is followed by a haunting roar reminiscent of an angry bull. This beastly association is no mistake but was part of the original intention behind the organ.

The story of the painted bull

Although the history of the Salzburger Stier is shrouded in legend, a few facts remain. The Fortress, which is its home, was built in 1077 as a symbol of Catholic power over the region. The only time the fortress came under attack was in 1525 when a group of peasants besieged the castle, but this is where the history behind the symbolic bull becomes less clear. The story goes that those locked within the fortress began to run out of food. They had one last steer to survive on, and rather than eating the creature, they painted it a different color two or three times each day and then walked him along the highest wall of the fort in order to give the illusion of an endless supply of food. Apparently, the trick worked and the peasants eventually gave up and went home.

The less colorful, but perhaps more accurate background of the bull tells the story of Salzburg, a lavish city having strayed far from the authority of the Catholic Church. In 1495, Archbishop Leonhard von Keutschach was commissioned by the Pope to restore religious order. The Archbishop had the organ built as a call to worship every morning at 4 a.m. and every evening at 7 p.m. There is some debate as to what music was originally played by the organ, but after some renovation in 1753, twelve short songs (each for every month) composed by Johann Ernst Eberlin and Leopold Mozart were played – songs, which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart himself must have heard as a child growing up in the city.

Without a doubt, the ominous cry of the bull has remained the same. It was a constant reminder to the people of Salzburg that Rome`s power was always at hand.

The roar remains

Today the roar is usually drowned out beneath the thunder of traffic in the city far below, but after more than five hundred years, the mechanical organ still turns. Now equipped with the durability of a Habasit belt, it is not a tradition that is likely to go silent anytime soon. (ST)

Check out the videos to see the Habasit power transmission belt in action or plan a trip to the beautiful city of Salzburg and listen to the Salzburger Stier yourself.



Sonja Strimitzer Marketing

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