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Henry Willis Organ






Described as ‘the voice of Jupiter’, the Hall’s organ was once the largest instrument in the world.

Construction

Designed and built by Henry Willis at a cost of approximately £8,000, the Hall’s Grand Organ was built in just 14 months – a swift construction considering the size of the instrument.

Henry Cole and Prime Minister William Gladstone visited Willis’s Rotunda Organ Works in Camden Town, the construction site for the instrument, and noted its brilliant tone.

First performances

The organ was moved to the Hall in time to be played at the venue’s Opening Ceremony (pictured) on 29 March 1871. The organ’s wind system was powered by two steam engines.

Further work to fully complete the organ was finished in time for the first ever recital, a concert by English organist William Thomas Best on 18 July 1871.

Michael Broadway curator of the Organ, 2017

Restoration

A two year restoration was undertaken from 2002-2004 by Mander Organs of London at a cost of £1,500,000.

The work saw the pipes restored, and the sound liberated with the reinstatement of the high wind-pressures which had been reduced in the 1970s, as well as the removal of an unseen ceiling installed within the organ case.

A further stop was added, and the total number of pipes increased to 9,999.

Key facts

Today the largest of the 9,999 pipes measures 2 ft 6” in diameter, 42 ft high and weighs almost 1 tonne – the smallest pipe is about as wide as a drinking straw.

The organ measures 70 ft high and 65 ft wide, and weighs in at 150 tonnes.

If laid end to end, the pipes would span approximately nine miles.

Notable users

The Hall’s organ has been played by notable composers and organists such as Anton Bruckner, Charles-Marie Widor, Camille Saint-Saens, George Thalben-Ball, Dr Stephen Cleobury and Dame Gillian Weir.

The instrument has also been used by a host of contemporary artists who can’t resist the opportunity to use one of the world’s most recognisable instruments in their Hall shows. Recent artists to have incorporated the organ in their performance include Muse, Nitin Sawhney, Eels and even McFly (pictured)!

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