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The Organ

The earliest surviving reference to an organ in St. Michael’s Cornhill dates from 1459. The present 63-stop, 3-manual instrument contains many pipes from Renatus Harris’s 2-manual west gallery organ, whose opening recital was given in 1684 jointly by Henry Purcell and John Blow (from Westminster Abbey) and G.B. Draghi (organist to Charles II’s Queen, Catherine).

It has been enlarged and enriched by several leading English organ builders including Harris(1704), Green (1790), Robson (1849), Bryceson (1868), Hill(1886/1901), Rushworth & Dreaper (1925/61/75) and Nicholson(2010). Its full-bodied tone and wealth of finely voiced tone-colours make it an ideal vehicle for the English and French solo romantic repertoires and as a service accompanying instrument. It also boasts old and ravishingly beautiful quiet flute registers. The buildings radiant acoustics add warmth and glow, to produce the sound widely known through recordings and radio broadcasts.

The thorough restoration by Nicholsons in 2010 has proved to have been a great success, but it could not have taken place without an Organ Restoration Appeal, which raised the cost of approximately £500,000. Many supporters of the organ recitals contributed with enormous generosity, both financially and in time and effort. As a result of the sums raised by the church, we were able to prove to the Heritage Lottery Fund that the cause was a worthy one which deserved complementary assistance.

The HLF's press release is reproduced: Unique church organ will be restored with Heritage Lottery grant A City of London church organ that occupies a unique place in the history and development of keyboard musical instruments is to be restored, thanks to a grant of £349,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The organ at St. Michael's Cornhill was built in 1684 but no fewer than six of England's most prominent organ builders have enlarged and enriched it over the years. The church of St. Michael is where the Royal College of Organists was founded in 1864 and is the venue for the world's longest running series of organ recitals which began in 1916 and continues to this day.



'An Organ of distinction,
one of Londons finest,
most famous and
most cherished'

 

The current poor state of the organ's complex mechanics is threatening the continuation of the recitals. In addition to restoring the instrument, the HLF grant will make possible a schools education programme that will target children and higher education students. Secondary schools will be involved in a 'sound art project' to develop a series of recordings that chart the transformation of the organ from its fully dismantled state to its complete restoration.

The St. Michael's organ was originally built by Renatus Harris although re-builds took place by Samuel Green in 1790, Joseph Robson in 1849 and in 1868, William Hill & Son in 1865 and 1901, and Rushworth and Dreaper in 1926 and again in 1961 and 1975. The restoration now planned will preserve the organ in its 1926 state. The instrument is housed in the Grade I listed church rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1672 after the Great Fire of London. Its tower, also designed by Wren and added in 1722, is one of the City's most familiar landmarks.

Commenting for St. Michael's Cornhill, Jonathan Rennert, the Director of Music, said: "Thanks to the HLF, and to a large number of partner donors - both individual and corporate - this wonderful organ will now be restored to its full mechanical reliability and musical glory." Explaining the importance of the award, Head of HLF for London, Sue Bowers, said: "This instrument provides a unique chronicle of the development of organ building in England encompassing a period of three centuries. Its restoration will also provide a valuable learning opportunity for students of all ages." Dr Francis Jackson, Organist Emeritus of York Minster, describes our organ as ‘an organ of distinction, one of London’s finest, most famous and much cherished’, and he continues: ‘Its complete restoration is now due and is essential to save the instrument from falling silent….I heartily support the efforts that are being made to bring about its restoration.’

Patrons of the Appeal included Sir David Brewer, Sir David Howard (Alderman of Cornhill Ward), Dame Gillian Weir (international virtuoso organist), Dr Francis Jackson CBE and Sir Nicholas Jackson. Dr William McVicker was Advisor to the project. The Organ Committee (a sub-committee of the PCC) was chaired by Alex Saward.

 
 

© 2013 St Michael's Cornhill in the City of London, St Michael's Church Vestry, Cornhill, London EC3V 9DS