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Tuning at the Albert Hall


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There has been some duplication of this subject, so I will follow bam’s lead by repeating here the post I made in response to his on the ‘Nuts and Bolts’ thread “Albert HallI inaccuracies - again”:

One can’t say that the original work of Henry Willis was totally expunged by the first re-build and massive enlargement by H&H.  The present appearance of the case is entirely due to him.  How much, if any, of the original pipe work remained without re-voicing by H&H is unknown by me.  John Mander equally considers it to be a Harrison organ (see the “Tuning at the RAH” thread) and, very modestly I felt, did not add Mander’s name to the builder’s plate.  

This may be entirely apocryphal, but I have some vague recollection that Willis (which by then would have been HW III) ‘disowned’ the organ after the H&H work.  Agreed that the BBC and the RAH descriptions are misleading.


In my local cathedral (not difficult to guess which) the builder’s plate states: Henry Willis 1851/4, Henry Willis & Sons 1897, Additions Hele & Co 1905, Harrison & Harrison 1938 and 1988.  I would have thought that something similar to this would have been appropriate at the RAH, and I would definitely include Mander’s name.  After their work on the organ (however conservative John Mander claimed it to be), it was immediately obvious that they achieved a significant and dramatic improvement.

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 My reading of the situation is that HWIII kept his nose clean and said very little directly about the Harrison rebuild,  but left it to henchmen like Batigan Verne to stir things up - as in a long correspondence in The Organ.

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Perhaps we shouldn't be too hard on Radio 3 describing it as a 'Father Willis' instrument if that is now the line the RAH is taking, however inaccurate it may be.

From what has been written, about 80% of the pipes and the case are Father Willis; the sound picture, the console and about 20% of the pipes are Harrison; and the mechanism, one stop and some tonal tweaks are Mander.  The programme for the the 2018 organ concert was titled 'Grand Organ Celebration' and describing it as a 'Grand Organ' could hardly be more accurate.

I've dug out Ian Bell's article in the November 2004 'Organists' Review' and there's an interesting paragraph which mentions that HWIII was very keen to get the contract.

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Well, yes, it’s entirely understandable that HW III was keen to get the contract.  The organ was built by his grandfather and HW III always  strongly promoted the Willis tradition, and wasn’t afraid of adding his own stamp on FW organs, e.g., at Salisbury Cathedral and St George’s Hall Liverpool, as just two examples.  I’m very interested in the statistics which you quote.  In terms of number of speaking stops, H&H increased the size of the organ in 1933 from 110 to 149 which roughly equates to 26% being additional.  I had always assumed that the majority of the pipework was still by FW, but unsure to what extent it might have been revoiced by H&H.  As observed earlier, in spite of his own distinguished work, John Mander considers this to be a Harrison organ!

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The 80% / 20% split comes from Ian Bell's articles in some old programmes (June 2004 and October 2006) where he wrote that H&H added 2000 additional pipes. I wonder if his book on he instrument, mentioned in the OR article, will see the light of day?

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  • 4 months later...

I contacted one of the RAH trustees and drew his attention to the inaccuracy as it appears on the RAH website.He put me in touch with a member of staff at the hall and she sent me aletter staing that the matter would be corrected..

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But how should the RAH organ be correctly described?  Do the people at the RAH have a clear idea about what their website should say?  Is the organ a Harrison, as John Mander seemed to suggest?  (I thought he was being unnecessarily self-deprecating, as the Mander rebuild seemed to transform the instrument.)  But isn't it a fact that the majority of the pipework is by Father Willis, albeit that the general opinion seems to be that H&H so transformed the instrument that it lost its essential Willis character.  So, what do people think it should be called?  

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I agree with Rowland that JPM was being very modest about their involvement at the RAH. Of course, there is some merit in keeping ancient console labels, but, I see no problem in a multi label that lists those who have been involved in the organ during its history. So, in the case, Henry Willis and Sons, Ltd 18xx, Harrison & Harrison, 19xx Mander Organs 19xx. Not sure if there is a Willis label anywhere at St Paul's - but surely the organ there is still described as a Willis of 1872 rebuilt by Mander in 1972-77, etc. 

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Yes, I agree with this approach both for the console label and what the public should be told on the website or in printed programmes.  Of course, it potentially loses some prestige (although, regardless of what is being said here, I suspect for some people it will always be “the Father Willis”).  But the same can be said of other originally FW organs around the country rebuilt by H&H, the first, I think, at Wells, then Gloucester among others.  

The H&H console label at Winchester lists everything from Henry Willis 1851/4 to the latest rebuild by H&H 1988 - including Hele’s additions of 1905, of which, (possibly to VH’s relief!) only 100 pipes remain in the present organ of about 5,500 pipes. I haven’t been up in the organ loft for very many years, but there were various plaques nearby recording details in the organ’s history, and I imagine that they are still there.

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