Nicholas Thistlethwaite The English Cathedral Organ in the 20th Century
Het ORGEL 97 (2001), nr. 4, july/august 30-40 [summary]

Chichester, Cathedral, Mander, 1986The history of the modern English Cathedral Organ begins in 1896, the year Robert Hope-Jones’s Worcester Cathedral organ was inaugurated. He applied electricity and placed sections of the instrument in different parts of the church, all playable on one console. The reason for doing this was the demands of musical practice in great cathedrals, which began to develop rapidly around that time. Nowadays, several sorts of services are held in different parts of the cathedral, as well as concerts and music congresses.

The organ builder has to solve two problems in this respect: where to place the organ, and how to control it. Hope-Jones was inspired by Willis to build separate divisions; new was his solution to apply electricity. This is important for three reasons: electricity made it possible to increase the size of organs despite the limited room for pipes in medieval cathedrals; to place the console in such a way that the organist could judge the effect of his own playing accurately; and to place strong stops or organ divisions where they were needed: in the neighbourhood of the congregation in order to lead congregational singing.

Corrolary to the increase in size of organs was the increased number of accessories. As a result, console design became an important aspect of organ building practice.

Three periods can be distinguished in English cathedral organ building: up to about 1920, the organs were pneumatic; from then until about 1975 they were electro-pneumatic; after 1975 tracker action systems were again sometimes used. The tonal designs of organs were influenced by Harrison & Harrison in periods 1 and 2, whereas Mander should be named with regard to the development of tracker organs.

It is to be hoped that the 21st century will see a move away from monster organs and a new willingness to match instruments to distinct liturgical spaces and tasks. That would represent the final modification of Hope-Jones’s ideas: by exploiting selectively electricity, but rejecting his notion that an organ dispersed around the building could adequately serve the needs of a great cathedral.