Létourneau Organ 1998

Photo:Pastor de Lasala 2005
Photograph Copyright © Pastor de Lasala.


During the 1980's the Hill, Norman & Beard organ began to fail: at times only the Hill section could be used due to ciphering from the Whiteley. In 1990 a Heritage Grant was received and the Whiteley pipework was taken out and cleaned with some revoicing. At this time the 17th was removed from the Swell mixture to help overcome tuning problems.

The capture system which had been added in the early 1980's, increasingly failed with stops changing anytime at random. In 1994 the console stop action was refurbished as an increasing number of stops could only be changed manually. The Whiteley actions were rewired in an attempt to overcome the ciphering and a new Solid State Logic capture system was installed at the console with the understanding that it could be reused in any new instrument. This capture system featured a Sequencer, so the former "Swell to Great" toe piston became the "Next" piston and the "Pedal 8" toe piston became the "Previous" piston. This system boasted 64 levels of General memory (with 40 generals per level of memory) and 8 levels of Divisional memory. Three programmable crescendo settings were also available. Memory cards could be added to the system which gave another 32 levels of Generals, 8 levels of Divisionals and another crescendo setting per card.

On the night before the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1992, the organ completely failed and many frantic hours were spent getting the organ to play again in time for the nationally televised service. The then Dean, Bishop Ken Short, set up an organ committee to report to Chapter on the state and future of the organ. The committee appointed Ray Holland as an organ consultant and Ian Bell (then working for Manders, an English organbuilding firm) was brought out to write an independent report on the condition of the instrument and to make proposals as to what should be done. The report indicated that both the Hill and the Whiteley organs had limited life remaining and that urgent work needed to be done.

Several schemes were considered: (i) a complete restoration of the Hill, Norman and Beard 1952 instrument; (ii) a complete restoration of the Hill instrument; (iii) a complete restoration and enlargement of the Hill instrument; and (iv) a completely new instrument. The enormous problems of balance and time delays between the organ and choir were considered and a professional acoustic report was commissioned. Consideration was also given to resiting the instrument so that it would be much closer to the choir.

Scheme (iii) was Ian Bell's favoured one, with the Hill organ being resited in the two bays where the HN&B console and Kinloch organ were. Scheme (i) did nothing to readdress the relationship problems between the choir and organ. Scheme (ii) could have been placed near the choir, but would have been little more than an historical curiosity, as when the Hill organ was originally built, little of the church's repertoire had even been conceived and congregational hymn singing had not even developed. Scheme (iv) was ruled out on financial grounds. It was found that enough original Hill pipework remained to reconstruct the organ, and that those ranks which had been lost over the years could be easily replicated from available documentation. Mander's had recently completed a rebuild of the organ in St John's College Cambridge, a Hill instrument of similar vintage to that in Sydney, and two ranks of pipes not used in St John's new organ were made available to the cathedral. A nave division for congregational support was recommended to be placed in the south transept. This concept would have preserved the Hill aspect of the organ, eliminated the delay and balance problems between the choir and organ and also the tuning problems between the two sections of the HN&B instrument.

Soon after, Boak Jobbins was appointed Dean of the Cathedral - he was not happy about the amount of space the organ would have taken up in the southern aisle (Broughton Court area) and also the fact that building an organ there would determine for the future the style of Cathedral services and limit the possibility of flexible use of the building. He proposed a different course of action.

Talks and plans to re-orient the building or at least to change the internal layout began and the organ design was revisited with this in mind. After many considerations, the only viable option was to adopt Scheme (iii), leaving the whole instrument in the south transept, but brought forward about one metre to aid projection into the building. The choir would then be relocated somewhere near the organ.

The organ committee then had to decide on how the instrument should be enlarged in order to cope musically and authentically with the enormous amount of repertoire (mostly from the Romantic period from which the Hill organ belonged) required in a cathedral situation. Three areas were found to be severely lacking in the original Hill specification, those areas having previously been made up by the addition of the Whiteley organ. These areas were (i) a large chorus with the ability to accompany and lead large congregations on special occasions and for use in large-scale organ works (to replace the Whiteley Great); (ii) a stronger pedal division (the acoustic report showed that bass frequencies responded far better in the cathedral than higher frequencies) to match the new chorus, this would replace the Whiteley pedal stops; and (iii) a Solo division, so necessary in the accompaniment of choral repertoire, and the performance of solo repertoire of the nineteenth and twentieth Centuries.

Tenders were then called from several organbuilders from around the world, including Australia. The committee chose Orgues Letourneau Ltee from Quebec. They had restored the Hill & Son organ in Christ Church St Laurence, George St, Sydney; built several new instruments in this country and were recognised internationally for their quality of workmanship. The committee's report went to Chapter and was accepted. Due to financial constraints and initial advice that it could not be accommodated in the space available, the Solo division was not agreed to, but Chapter asked that all necessary provisions be made and space be left in the instrument so that it would be possible to be added later. A proposed specification of the Solo seeks to preserve the best of the Whiteley pipework (itself historic pipework, being the only example of this builder's work in the country) and a couple of the best ranks from the HN&B organ.

The contract was signed and in October 1996, the Hill organ was dismantled and shipped to Canada. Michael Deasey, the Cathedral Organist, played the last recital on the combined organ at 1.15 pm on Thursday 10 October, 1996.

During the organ's absence, the transept stonework was cleaned and the ceiling and windows were repaired. A gallery was constructed at the front of the transept to support the new Hill-style four manual console. The SSL capture system was removed from the old console just after Easter 1997 and sent overseas to be reprogrammed for the new instrument. Six pistons on the Great, Swell, Solo and Pedal were wired with fixed combinations to enable the Whiteley to be able to be used for services while the Hill was away.

Four organ builders arrived in Sydney on 2 April 1998 and a large working-bee, organised by Cathedral Warden, Warren Southward, and comprising many Sydney organists and a team of senior students from the Cathedral School, unloaded the first of two 40' containers on Friday 3 April. The second container was unloaded by another working-bee the following Thursday. Work progressed quickly and four weeks later, Fernand Letourneau and another two organbuilders arrived to join the four others. They were also assisted by Peter D G Jewkes Pty Ltd of Sydney. Fernand Letorneau oversaw the tonal finishing and returned to Canada on 3 June 1998, the first four builders having returned two weeks earlier. The organ was dedicated and opened at Evensong on Sunday 21 June 1998.

For a much greater detailed account of the restoration work, readers are encouraged to read the articles by the organ consultant, Ray Holland, published in the Sydney Organ Journal Winter and Spring editions 1998.

As a summary of the restoration work done, the action of the Great, Swell and Choir manuals has been returned to mechanical. The organ has dual action and these manuals can also be played with electric assistance. Coupling is electric except to the Great which is mechanical (switchable to electric assistance). The Pedal and Bombarde divisions are electro mechanical action.

As much as possible has been used of the original Hill organ, including the Great and Choir chests. In doing so, the Great and Choir's original specifications have been restored.

The tallest facade pipes were built in Germany and stencilled in Melbourne by Marc Noble following the original patterns found on the original pipes now in St Paul's Cathedral, Bendigo. The lower facade pipes will be re-stencilled at a later date to match the vivid colours of the new pipes.

The Swell chest was not in good condition and had been altered several times, so a completely new Swell chest and Swell box were made. This allowed for altereations to the Swell division. A new Celeste rank was made to be used with the Cone Gamba. A 16' reed, Vox Humana and 4' flute were added to the specification. It had been documented by Hill that his Swell "Echo Dulciana Cornet V" had been a rather unsuccessful experiment, so two new mixtures were added; the first being a standard four rank Quint mixture, and the other, a Sesquialtera. This Sesquialtera was designed to balance with the diapasons as well as with the flutes to allow flexible use as a Cornet.

The Pedal has been restored with a few additions. A Pedal Principal 8' and Pedal Mixture III have been added. The Davidson 32' extension of the Open Bass 16' was an unsatisfactory stop, and when the organ was dismantled, it was discovered the stop was only full length down to bottom A flat, from there it was stopped, with bottom C and C sharp sharing the same pipe! This rank has been successfully extended to full length throughout. The original Quint 12' was not restored.

The re-instated Violon 16' (in the facade) was increased to 58 notes and forms the Violon 16' on the Bombarde Division. This is the only borrowing on the organ. The Pedal Trombone 16' has been reconstructed with wooden resonators and extended down an octave to form the 32' Contra Trombone and up an octave to form the 8' Trumpet. This and the 32' Double Open Wood are the only extensions on the organ.

The Bombarde Division is new and consists of an aditional Diapason Chorus, a Grand Cornet and Bombarde reeds at 16' and 8' pitch.

Live recordings of the organ can be downloaded as an mp3 file by clicking on the links below.

Toccata on O Filii et Filliæ by Lynnwood Farnam (2.9MB) played by Mark Quarmby

Toccata Aurora - (aka Gothic Toccata) by Graeme Koehne (10.4MB) played by Mark Quarmby

Vierne Méditation (8MB) played by Mark Quarmby

The Specification is as follows (a Swell Octave coupler has since been added):