The Cathedral Organ was built by Henry Willis I (“Father” Willis) in 1876/77.
Willis was the greatest British organ-builder of his day; but the placing of the instrument on both sides of the quire stretched the technology of its day to the limit, and by the turn of the twentieth century much of the north side (the side opposite the console) was unplayable.
In 1905 Harrison & Harrison of Durham were commissioned to rebuild the instrument, thus beginning an association which has lasted over a century. As well as restoring it to working order they revoiced Willis' work considerably, also preparing for new additions. The completion of this work was delayed by financial constraints until 1935.
In 1970, towards the end of Conrad Eden's distinguished tenure of the post of Organist, Harrison & Harrison again rebuilt the instrument, installing a new console and making further significant additions which, while in keeping with the ideas of the time, also respected the integrity of the existing instrument.
Further house-keeping work, as well a few more developments, have now left the organ fit for service in its third century. It has four manuals (controlling five manual divisions) and pedals; 98 speaking stops and 23 couplers and accessories; and 5,746 pipes. No mere figures, however, can do justice to its sound or to its effect in the building. Concept, design, placing, voicing and environment combine to make it one of the most triumphantly successful organs of the English-speaking world, a legend in its own lifetime.
Several recordings are available; but there is no substitute for listening to it live in the building, where almost daily it continues to fulfil its roles of accompanying choir and congregation and adorning the liturgy through solo repertoire.
THE LAUS DEO ORGAN
The Laus Deo organ was built for Durham Cathedral in 2004. The gift of a supporter of the Cathedral Choir and its work, Dr David Boardman, it was designed by Neil Richerby and built by Lammermuir Pipe Organs at their workshops in Oldhamstocks, East Lothian. This 4-stop chamber organ evokes the sound-world of the organs of Father Smith, and the casework echoes the dark oak of the Cathedral's seventeenth-century choirstalls. The organ is versatile, and makes another colour available to the Cathedral musicians: it is used regularly as a continuo instrument in performances of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European music, and as a chamber organ in Masses by Mozart and Haydn, in addition to its more usual role in the accompaniment of English music from Byrd and Tallis to Boyce.
The organ has one manual and no pedals, with four stops: an 8-foot wooden Stopped Diapason, a 4-foot metal Principal (the gilded pipes are on display), a 4-foot wooden Nason Flute, and a 2-foot open wooden Fifteenth, after the fashion of Father Smith. The keyboard has a transposing facility, to enable it to perform at baroque pitch, and there is a pedal which operates a shifting mechanism, to allow for the speedy cancellation of all stops apart from the 8-foot. The organ is mobile: wheels within the casework can be lowered in order to move it, and it has proved invaluable in concerts and other events in the nave, the Galilee Chapel and the Chapter House.
A history of the organs at Durham Cathedral has been written by Richard Hird and can be found on his website -www.duresme.org.uk
Further information can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register website.
Click here to see the stop list for the Cathedral organ