The Harrison Organ of All Saints Church, Tooting
The Great division is on the whole a smooth toned division of moderate power that does not dominate and is topped by some of the finest reeds in the country. The principal chorus is scaled somewhere between the open diapason number one and two and thus is not too far away musically from either. The open diapason number one is not the heavy pressure leather lipped variety but rather a bolder version of the open number two. It has a great deal of character and is harmonically well developed, floating, as it does, on the churches generous acoustic. It adds not only weight but a certain warmth which is immediately apparent even at the console. The principal is a few pipes smaller than the big open and imparts brightness whilst being very smooth and even toned throughout its compass. The two foot is again smaller in scale and brightens the chorus without dominating; it is remarkably well voiced in this respect. The twelfth is, like its two foot neighbour, quite gently voiced and adds colour to the chorus. We come, as we must on Harrison and Harrison organs of this period, to the harmonics. This stop you will either love or hate. This harmonics is in original condition. It has not been revoiced or changed in any way as the firms larger organ in Bristol has. It is not as strident as one would at first expect and can top the principal chorus without the incisive drag of the seventeenth or the unmusical scream of the flattened twenty first. It does not, as with so many other examples need to be drawn with the reeds. This stop can be used to add colour and brightness to the chorus. It does add definition in the tenor and clarity in the treble which belies its composition. It does not however add brilliance to the chorus; this is supplied to the organ as a whole by the mixture of the Swell. The principal chorus is not forced in tone and gives a solid and highly musical backbone to this instrument. There is also the sixteen foot Contra Geigen, which also doubles as the Pedal Violone. This stop does not swamp everything with a Victorian stodge but can be used to add a useful weight to the chorus. It also adds a harmonic development to the full chorus giving it colour as well as gravitas. In the warm acoustic of the church it is a very usable rank indeed.
There is a choice of two flutes at unison pitch. The largest of the two is the Hohl Flote (Note the German nomenclature). This fills the building in much the same was as would a harmonic flute and can be used as such in the principal chorus. Using it with the open diapason number two adds definition to the unison of the principal chorus without the weight of the number one. It does however have exquisite solo properties and floats beautifully on the churches already mentioned acoustic. In a medium sized Great it is helpful that this rank has several uses. Its smaller partner, the Rohr Flote is something of a Lieblich Gedakt in its voicing; it is very round and has a rich harmonic development which gives that typical lift to the treble of each note. The four foot harmonic flute is more musical than the harmonic flutes of Willis and has many uses. The 8’ and 4’ flutes together with the harmonics produce an interesting sound which could have many unusual uses. Messian would have revelled in this!
It is now time to come to the reeds. Superlatives fail to do justice to these two ranks. They are big, bold and harmonically rich. They are also loud; very loud. These are real trombas though and do not cross the line which sees them becoming small Tubas. Because of this they make remarkably good chorus reeds and, whilst being very loud, do not obliterate everything underneath them. That being said, they also make fine solo reeds and there is just enough of them to be used as a solo against full organ. They are also available, by transfer, on the Choir division where they happily drown everything else on that division should the hard pressed organist forget to silence the other ranks before using them!
The Swell division is a relatively powerful division and is equal to that of the Great rather than its servant. The principal chorus is bright while the reeds dominate. The full swell is louder than the full Great without its Trombas. Because of this it is far more useful than just colouring the Great as would a letter powered division. The reed chorus consists of a 16’, 8 and 4’ of loud trumpet tone and all have wooden resonators. The 16’ is not much smaller than the 8’ and growls nicely in its tenor register giving a much fuller reed chorus sound than that of a typical Willis or Hill. The reeds are voiced on 8” of wind which gives them a powerful but musical tone. The 4’ Clarion is a very bright example and has a very bright characterful sound, adding much brilliance (even without the mixture) to the chorus. Together the reeds are magnificent and the full Swell is finer and of greater impact than many cathedral instruments. The Oboe is a very useful rank as it is definitely a chorus reed. There is a problem with the Oboe on many organs where the voicing of this rank is a compromise between that of a solo and chorus reed. The example found here is very much part of the chorus, and a very useful part it plays too. It provides a very convincing small full Swell.
The principal chorus is bright and, being voiced on 4 inches of wind as are the Great flues, and of considerably greater power than other builders of the time. The 8’ Open is more like a second open of the Great division and is particularly telling in the body of the church. The 4’ Gemshorn is not much narrower and adds a useful brightness to the unison. The 2’ is of quite round flute cone and is more useful in a trio than as part of the principal chorus. The chorus is topped by the mixture, the unusual composition of which is 12.19.22. This stop is particularly bright in a very German manner. The quint ranks are voiced quite boldly to contrast with the 17th and flattened 21st of the Great Mixture. Its only unison rank being the 22nd, which is suitably narrow in scale. On paper its composition does look a little odd, with two quint ranks but only one unison. However, it works; and it works remarkably well indeed. It is strident and tops the principal chorus, which is largely helped by the quint ranks being of considerably more power than the corresponding tierce rank in the Great Harmonics. This is good news to the organist as this mixture is the dominant principal sound in the organs full sound and pushes the Harmonics into second place to give a very convincing plenum (The Great Harmonics adding just enough of a North German accent to the plenum). The use of the super octave coupler to the Swell plenum is very effective as the breaks of the Mixture are very sensibly arranged. Because of the wind pressures and relative power of the Swell care should be taken with the Swell pedal as opening the Swell box too early in crescendi will cause the full Swell to dominate. With the box half way open a more traditional balance with the great can be achieved. One observation that must be noted is the weight of the Swell pedal; it must be the heaviest pedal in Christendom! The organist virtually has to brace themselves against the iron bars behind the playing bench to open it. The sub octave coupler in this division is not meant for the full Swell sound; the 16’ Double Trumpet being too large for such effects. Its use is cataclysmic in the full Swell and best reserved for the quieter stops, of which we shall now take a look. The Lieblich Gedeckt (Sic.) is a soft and moderately bright flute of wood but is not in the style of a Willis organ. It floats on the acoustic and the ears do not grow tired of its tone. Organists looking for a more conventional Gedacht tone should go for the Rohr Flote on the Great. The two strings on this division are the quiet crowning glory of the instrument. The wooden Echo Gamba is not as quiet as the name would suggest and works well with the flute to give a sound somewhere between the Open Diapason and the flute on its own. Used with the stunningly beautiful Voix Celestes the sound is glorious to behold and the beats are so well regulated throughout the compass that there is no feeling of speeding up as one ascends. With the box shut the organist has at their disposal the ultimate pianissimo and the sound that pilgrimages are made to hear. With the sub and super octave couplers the effect is spine tingling and Heaven must surely be somewhere near.
The division is placed at a distance to the main organ, directly behind the south choir stalls. The heavy and richly carved nature of the stalls helps to disguise the division’s presence. The division is enclosed with the shutters opening to the ceiling of the church. There are very generous openings to allow the sound to fill the building remarkably well. There is a principal chorus of 8’ and 4’ and the wind pressures are only one inch less than that of the Great. The Open Diapason being of equal power to that of a more normally balanced Swell division. The 4’ is not much narrower and is of great help in accompanying the choir (the division being directly behind and closest to the singers). The 8’ Claribel Flute is a beautiful flute rank of moderate power and its 4’ companion giving quieter 4’ flute tone than that of the Great. There is also a Viola Da Gamba which is really a solo orchestral string. It is utterly enchanting and is one of the highlights of this particular instrument. In these days since the organ reform movement it is a reminder of just what a well voiced romantic organ is; this rank shows how a truly romantic organ should sound. There is a further flute at 2’ pitch which is scaled to top the flute chorus, so this organ has what very few others do; a proper 8’, 4’ and 2’ flute chorus which is both telling and enclosed. There is also a very useful 16’ of moderate string tone. This is useful in a variety of ways. The glory of this division comes in the form of the two orchestral reeds. The Clarinet is frighteningly like its orchestral prototype and is quite unnerving in this respect as it floats on the acoustic of the cathedral like building in which this instrument sits. Its fellow reed, the Orchestral Oboe is utterly beautiful; it is narrow and possesses the most hauntingly hollow tones. If the player is brave enough it can be used to tremendous effect with the orchestral string. The combined sound is striking to today’s ears. Organs just don’t have the tonal pallet this instrument is blessed with. It is unashamedly romantic, but very bright. It is beautifully soft and subtle, yet has one of the loudest tuttis in London.
The pedal here is pre organ reform movement and this rather shows in the fact that there is nothing available higher than 8’ pitch. The division is based on the Great Bass 16’. This is a very fine open wood without the slightest trace of a delayed onset and no coughing quint tone. It is remarkably smooth as well as very generously scaled. Because of this smoothness it is useful in quiet manual combinations where foundation is still required. There is also a 16’ Violone which is somewhere between an open metal and its orchestral double bass prototype, although there is still some bow scrape at the onset of speech, this transient does not dominate. Altogether this is a very useful stop. The Subbass is deceptively quiet at the console but on hearing the organ from the body of the church the player is immediately reassured. The 8’ stops are extended as one would expect but add firmness and a remarkable definition to the division. The 32’ Harmonic bass is quinted from CC down and sounds very quinty from the console. In the church however this stop is remarkably effective and underpins the whole organ like a real 32’ rank. Now we come on to the pedal reeds; they are huge and they are romantic! The 16’ Ophecleide is one of the loudest there is. It has a pleasing and reedy rough edge to it, there is nothing of the overly smooth and round reed to be found here, but care must be taken when using it in anything but the loudest combinations. At the console it is devastating, whilst in the church it loses a little of its destructiveness but doesn’t diminish in any other way; you have been warned!
So how would one describe this organ as a whole? It is one of the finest examples of an English romantic organ in the country and it is tonally untouched. It never went through the tonal changes (Particularly to the mixturework) of its big brother in Bristol and, because it was so very well built, hasn’t completely fallen to pieces in the intervening 110 or so years. It is now as it was on the very first day of its existence. It tells us a great deal about the English romantic organ. The Swell is no mere foil to the great and care must be taken when using the full Swell so as not to destroy the balance of it and the Great; so one must play this instrument musically, not just playing as one would elsewhere, but taking into account how this instrument was designed to be played. The acoustic in which this instrument swims is as perfect an acoustic as an organ could wish for. It really is like playing a cathedral instrument and leaves the player with a sense of having been part of something rather special. Even the dreaded Harrison Harmonics is friendly and has its use in the plenum as well as the tutti. The astute player will realise that because of the volume and presence of the Swell division the shine comes from here and not the Great principal chorus; the Harmonics adding a north German accent to the organ for use in the classical repertoire. The quieter stops are sublime and well worth exploring. The tutti of this instrument is truly thrilling and is a sound that is seldom heard outside a cathedral. It is an easy organ to play for an organist of any ability; everything is just in the right place, and there are even two Swell to Great stops for the forgetful player.
We have looked at the tonal resources of the organ in some detail, although nothing is quite as good as listening to it in situ; but what is this organ like to play? What is it like to be an organist and sit down at this mighty beast? Well, the first thing that any player will notice is the console and it is a Rolls Royce of a console too. The console is large; nothing is cramped or too close to something else. The stops are arranged in their usual places with those of the Great and Choir on the players right and the Swell and Pedal to the players left. They are at 45 degrees to the manual claviers. The stops to each department are backed with a contrasting black hardwood in standard H&H house style. This does give the console a very opulent appearance. The manual touch is not too deep but the notes do sound closer to the bed of the key rather than higher up. This means that a positive playing technique will work very well. The touch of the manual keys is also very good, they are somewhere in the middle of too heavy and feather light. There is just enough weight under each key to let the player know that there is a very serious instrument under his or her fingers. The pedal keys are not in the slightest springy and don’t, as some do, force the pedals back up under the feet of the organist. So from a physical act of playing the notes, this instrument is a delight and thus very easy to play. The sound at the console is very much quieter than in the church as the organ is some thirty feet away to the right and then buried in the transept. You cannot see all of the case from the console. Although it is distant the sound is still heard in balance when playing; the difference is volume. If anything, the Great is slightly less prominent and the instrument certainly loses some power but nothing in the way of clarity. The only thing which is really not easy to judge at the console are the pedal reeds. These sound devastating to the point of being unusable. They obliterate everything else to the player’s ears. This can be safely ignored as the whole instrument gains a coherence in the body of the church and is mainly to do with the positioning of the pedal reeds in the case as the player hears a more direct sound than the rest of the organ. Despite the Choir division being much closer to the player than the rest of the organ there is no sense of the instrument being dispersed; everything speaks together and more importantly to the player, feels together under the fingers. The playing aids are very good and compliment this organ well. There are as many divisional pistons as could be possibly needed and there is the relative luxury of general pistons. Unusually the pedal (and great when the pistons are coupled) pistons are on the left of the choir and swell pedals and are of Harrisons lever type rather than the more usual toe studs. There are, rather unusually, two Swell to Great couplers; one in its usual place under the stops of the Great and another under the stops of the Swell. Mentions has been made already of the weight of the Swell pedal; this excessive weight is due to the mechanical run that the rods have to take, being some fifty feet with several direction changes. This organ is definitely a player’s organ. It is an utter delight to play, with everything being comfortable, generous and in exactly the right place. At once this large organ shrinks to a very manageable size and the player can concentrate on the music, not handling the organ itself. In the body of the church this is a bold and smooth toned instrument, but one with brilliance and shine as well as true romantic foundation. All in all, this is a beautiful organ in a wonderful acoustic and the playing experience is one of the best to be had in the country. If you get the chance to go to south London do pop in and listen to or play this rare monument to true romantic organ building.
The 1906 Harrison & Harrison Organ
All Saint Church, Tooting
The organ that imposingly fills the south transept of All Saints church in Tooting is a magnificent instrument built in 1906 by the Durham firm of Harrison and Harrison. It was voiced by the great Arthur Harrison himself and is a lasting testimony to the skill of the firm. It is an unashamedly romantic instrument of the period and the church is fortunate that it has never been touched, improved or altered in its 110 year history. The organ sits in an imposing case designed by Walter Tapper. The console is placed some distance away from the pipework, being in the south choir aisle. Although the distance is some fifty feet the action is
very quick and there is no noticeable delay when playing even the most complex of music. The console is a Rolls Royce of consoles and is beautifully appointed with all the playing aids one could need. From the console the organ can be heard in balance but much of the volume is lost. What sounds thrilling at the console is devastating in the nave of the church! The action is a not too light and is very responsive. The key depth is just right and all of the manuals are very well adjusted. The console is so very well made that any player sitting at it for the first time is immediately aware that something rather special awaits before even turning on the blower. Let’s take a look at the tonal resources of this magnificent instrument.