The Willis Organ - 1877
Salisbury Cathedral is fortunate to possess one of the finest pipe organs in the world and in musical and historical terms it has few rivals. It is continually sought after by recitalists and recording companies, apart from its more important liturgical role when hardly a day passes without it being played for a service. Such a valuable treasure from the past is to be cherished and cared for with constant vigilance.
Built over a hundred years ago, this masterpiece sounds today much as it did in 1877. Unfortunately this cannot be said for many other organs of similar vintage, for with changing tastes, organists and builders have often tried to 'update' and 'improve', with the result that the original conception is often completely obscured. But no man can improve a masterpiece. No one would dream of updating a Rembrandt, modernising a Michelangelo or improving a Stradivarius. The work of a genius should be left intact for mankind's benefit.
Sir Frederick Ouseley, Professor of Music at Oxford, after trying out the new Willis in Salisbury in 1877, wrote to John Richardson, the organist, saying, 'I honestly believe that you have the finest church organ in the world - certainly the best in England, and I heartily congratulate you on the same.' Dr. John Stainer, the organist of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, agreed with him and thought that the instrument was even finer that the organ Father Willis had built for St. Paul's in 1872. Henry Willis himself later confided in Sir Walter Alcock who was the organist of Salisbury from 1917 to 1947 that he considered the organ at Salisbury his best.
Thanks to the vision of the various organists and the skill and devotion of the organ builders and tuners, this instrument is as magnificent as ever. Its greatness lies, like the Cathedral itself, in its completeness, for each rank compliments the overtones and undertones of every other rank. 'No single stop is of undue power, yet the final result is greater than the sum of its parts: delicate, transparent, Gothic: tall rather than broad: tone in height', writes Peter Temple. It has immense vivacity of sound which is always arresting, exiting and alive. It is perfectly designed for the building, a tapering, tonal spire of sound.
Details of Organ recitals in 2012.
David Halls, Director of Music, is shown playing part of Louis Vierne 'Carillon de Westminster'. This clip is taken from 'The Grand Organ of Salisbury Cathedral' DVD recorded and produced by Priory Records Ltd.
Technical details of the 1877 Henry Willis organ.
Details of Organ Scholarship
For future local and national concerts, see www.organrecitals.com
Caring For The Future
Providing that wind can be brought to the pipes at the right time and at the right pressure, there is no reason why the organ should not continue to sound as fine in a hundred years' time - and more: but the regular maintenance of such a complex machine is very costly. The tuner pays a monthly visit, does what he can to tune and regulate nearly four thousand pipes and tends to minor problems at the console and inside the organ. Then, every so often, major work has to be faced. Leather, which is used extensively throughout the organ, has to be replaced in trunking, reservoirs, drawstop actions, concussion bellows and in a variety of pneumatic motors. The electric components, including the solid-state system, have to be maintained. The blowing apparatus, situated on the north side of the Cathedral requires regular servicing, as do the two humidifiers. Then, every fifteen years or so, the entire organ has to be thoroughly cleaned - and this means every pipe. All this work is highly skilled and correspondingly costly. There is no NHS for this patient: he has to go private.