The unmistakable chords of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor provided an atmospheric backdrop to my first visit to Notre Dame. That was many years ago now, and I still don’t know how we managed to time our visit so perfectly, but organ music always adds to the experience of visiting a cathedral.
Most of the time, I’m not lucky enough to be visiting when the organist is practising, but organs are things of beauty in their own right. Our recent researches for Heritage Weekends provided frequent opportunities for organ-spotting.
The Grand Organ in York Minster dates from the early 1830s and is one of the largest cathedral organs in the country. We were lucky to visit in Summer 2021, not long after the completion of a once-in-a-century restoration project. Whilst we did not hear it in action, the painted pipes were looking very smart.
Norwich Cathedral also boasts one of the largest pipe organs in the country. It was built in 1899, but damaged in a fire in 1938. A more recent addition is the Cymbelstern, a set of six bells with a rotating star, situated high on the east organ case, added in 1969 and an unusual feature for an English organ.
Hereford Cathedral is home to the ‘Father’ Willis organ, built by Henry Willis in 1892 – the first cathedral organ in the country to have adjustable pistons, which had just been invented by Willis. 32ft Bombarde stops were added by Henry Willis II in 1909.
It’s not just cathedrals and churches. Cinema-goers may no longer treated to a musical interlude on a mighty Wurlitzer during the interval, but some cinema organs survive. The Pallot collection in Jersey has several organs on display including a beautiful Art Deco Compton organ as well as its historic vehicles.
The central hall at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum is dominated by a huge concert pipe organ, originally commissioned for the Glasgow International Exhibition in 1901. I defy anyone entering not to look up and say ‘what a magnificent organ!’
Our research trips for Heritage Weekends were undertaken in 2021 and 2022
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