As planning started for the restoration of the cathedral, which would eventually begin in 1996, the question regarding the organ was from the beginning an important point of discussion. Through the mediation of Chancellor Dr. Helmut Kohl, the entrepreneurial family Quandt set up the “European Foundation for the Imperial Cathedral Speyer”, providing a major donation for the organ project. The commission for the construction of the organ was able to start their work in 2005, with their goal being the fundamental improvement of the organ situation in the cathedral. After considering all the technical and artistic aspects involved, the conclusion was reached that the only viable solution for the cathedral was to construct two new instruments. In 2008 the organ in the Königschor was completed, and three years later, the main organ in the western gallery was also finished. The builder of both instruments is the Orgelbauwerkstatt Romanus Seifert & Sohn from Kevelaer (Niederrhein), a company founded in 1885.
While the organ in the Königschor, modestly clad in its oak enclosure, was subtly nestled between two pillars, the main organ was constructed with other stylistic aims. The question as to the housing of the organ was answered easily enough; the niche in the cathedral gallery provided a pre-existing solution, set in stone. In this niche the architect setup a asymmetrical array of pillars that stretched over four levels and sloped to the right. This design is credited to the famous architect Gottfried Böhm, who worked in close cooperation with the Orgelbauwerkstätte Romanus Seifert. The entire instrument is elevated on a steel table, so as not to impede the accessibility of the gallery below.
The main organ has 5496 pipes, divided into 83 organ stops, and playable from 4 manuals and pedals. The largest organ pipe is the large C of the contrabass 32’ (16 Hertz), which is 10 meters long. In terms of its technical elements and the tones it generates, this organ unifies many of the achievements in organ building that have amassed over centuries of tradition. Mechanical, electro-pneumatic and electrical components allow the player to finely control the instrument, while computer technology helps the player to optimally engage with the organ’s almost unlimited tonal potential.
The sound design is deeply indebted to the organ building tradition of the Palatinate and southern Germany, as well as to neighbouring France. Providing the foundation for the organ’s sound are the principal stops, based on 32, 16 and 8 foot models, which, due to their rich vocal intonation, maintain their clarity in the 110 meter long church interior. However, the anchoring of the organ in the regional tradition is evidenced by the large selection of flute, string and reed stops, whose pronounced overtone spectrum lend themselves to mixing. Stylistically this instrument bridges the gap between Baroque and Romantic musical periods. For this reason the instrument exceeds the regular classical soundscapes, displaying a suitability for symphonic organ music. Dynamic flexibility is provided by both large playable swells, which are controlled by the second and third manuals. The range of sonic colour is rounded out with the expressive, high-pressure generated solo voices, as well as the romantic clarinet voice (with wind threshold) and Glockenspiel (Celesta). Both instruments, the organ in the western gallery and the organ in the Königschor, have independent characters, but can be played simultaneously through mechanical and electrical controls.