Sydney Town Hall

 Hill & Son 1886-89, 5 manuals, 127 speaking stops, tubular-pneumatic/Barker lever




Photograph posted on Facebook (October 2013)

Please click here for a virtual tour of the Sydney Town Hall

 

Historical and Technical Documentation by Kelvin Hastie, © OHTA 2005, (last updated October 2005)

 

The foundation stone of the first section of the Town Hall was laid on 4 April 1868 by Prince Albert, Duke of Edinburgh and comprised the current vestibule (the original Town Hall) and civic offices.  Designed by architects Wilson, Bell & Bond, this was completed in 1869.  In 1879 the City Architect Thomas Sapsford prepared plans for the completion of the building, including the Centennial Hall, all of which was opened on 27 November 1889.  The clock tower had earlier been completed in 1881 and the clock and chimes installed in 1884-1885.  Built in sandstone in an Italian Renaissance style, the building incorporates a wealth of carved detail, mosaic pavements, elaborate plasterwork, stencilling, joinery, and etched and stained glass.  The whole complex has, in recent years, been carefully restored under the direction of heritage architect Howard Tanner, and the building was re-opened on 20 February 1992 by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.  This massive undertaking involved the reinstatement of the splendid original decorative schemes, as well as reproductions of the wrought iron 'electroliers', that once graced the interior.

Upon completion, this was the grandest and most impressive civic complex in the British Empire and included the Centennial Hall, the largest of its kind.  The hall incorporates a massive ceiling in moulded zinc manufactured by the Sydney firm of Wunderlich, stained glass windows depicting Australian flora and a floor of Tasmanian blackwood and tallowwood.  The faux marble pillars were part of the original plans but only realised in the 1991 restoration.  The Hill & Son grand organ is the focal point of the hall and located in a massive elliptical cove. [1]




 

The history of the Town Hall organ has been very well documented and so will not be covered extensively here. [2]   Built between 1886 and 1889 by Hill & Son, of London (and not provided with a job number), the instrument was instantly famous for then being the world’s largest organ and for the novelty of its full-length 64-foot Contra Trombone stop.  It remains the world’s largest organ without any electric action components and is of international significance as representing the pinnacle of British achievement in the Victorian era, even though its conservative design was the subject of debate at the time. [3]   It is easily the best-known of all Australian organs and is the source of admiration around the world, not only for the immensity and opulence of its tone and for its magnificent case, but also for its high level of originality and the quality of the restoration work.

Although the organ is considered substantially original in condition, several changes have been made over the years.  The most significant of these was the lowering of the pitch to concert standard by S.T. Noad in 1939, this change being most noticeable in the reed stops, which are coarser in tone colour as a result.  A comprehensive restoration was undertaken over ten years from 1972 by Roger H. Pogson Pty Ltd and many of the minor changes (such as the swapping of ranks between Swell and Choir) were reversed.  Other changes retained to the present are the balanced swell pedals (the provision of which necessitated the removal of four composition pedals for the Great), the concave/radiating pedalboard, the transposition of Swell Piccolo from 2’ to 1’, the addition of the high-pitched Carillon bells to the Solo, the enclosure of the Solo orchestral reeds and the enclosure of the entire Choir division (originally only the reeds were enclosed). [4]   During the work carried out by Roger Pogson some alterations were made to the pneumatic action operating the Choir division and the console timbers (originally in fumed oak) were lightened during repolishing.



 


Click here for more pictures

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

"Prelude (3.2MB), Fugue (5.7MB) and Postlude" (5.6MB), "Prelude in C" (3MB) by Bruckner, played by Mark Quarmby

Demonstration of the 64' Contra Trombone played by Michael Dudman

Click here for a schedule of this year's Town Hall Organ recitals


Listen to and watch Kurt Ison play Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor" BWV 565


Watch the City Organist, Robert Ampt, demonstrating the organ to English organbuilder, John Mander



 Hill & Son 1886-89 (5/127 tubular-pneumatic/Barker lever)  

GREAT
Contra Bourdon
Double Open Diapason
Bourdon
Open Diapason I
Open Diapason II
Open Diapason III
Open Diapason IV
Harmonic Flute
Viola
Spitz Flöte
Gamba
Hohl Flöte
Rohr Flöte
Quint
Principal
Octave
Gemshorn
Harmonic Flute
Twelfth
Fifteenth
Mixture
Cymbel
Sharp Mixture
Furniture
Contra Posaune
Posaune
Trumpet
Clarion


SWELL
Double Open Diapason
Bourdon
Open Diapason
Hohl Flöte
Viola da Gamba
Salicional
Dulciana
Vox Angelica
Octave
Rohr Flöte
Harmonic Flute
Gemshorn
Twelfth
Fifteenth
Piccolo
Mixture
Furniture
Trombone
Bassoon
Trumpet
Cornopean
Horn
Oboe
Clarion


CHOIR (enclosed)
Contra Dulciana
Open Diapason
Hohl Flöte
Lieblich Gedackt
Flauto Traverso
Gamba
Dulciana
Octave
Violino
Celestina
Lieblich Flöte
Twelfth
Fifteenth
Dulcet
Dulciana Mixture
Bassoon
Oboe
Clarinet
Vox Humana
Octave Oboe


SOLO
(small reeds enclosed)
Bourdon
Open Diapason
Violin Diapason
Doppel Flöte
Flauto Traverso
Stopped Diapason
Viola
Octave
Harmonic Flute
Flauto Traverso
Harmonic Piccolo
Contra Fagotto
Harmonic Trumpet
Corno di Bassetto
Orchestral Oboe
Cor Anglais
Octave Oboe
Contra Tuba
Tuba
Tuba Clarion
Carillon Bells


ECHO
(enclosed and non-expressive)
Lieblich Gedackt
Viol d'Amour
Unda Maris II
Viol d'Amour
Flageolet
Glockenspiel
Echo Dul. Cornet
Basset Horn


PEDAL
Double Open Diapason Metal
Double Open Diapason Wood
Contra Bourdon
Open Diapason Metal
Open Diapason Wood
Bourdon
Violone
Gamba
Dulciana
Quint
Octave
Prestant
Bass Flute
Violoncello
Twelfth
Fifteenth
Mixture
Mixture
Mixture
Contra Trombone
Contra Posaune
Posaune
Trombone
Bassoon
Trumpet
Clarion

32
16
16
8
8
8
8
8
8
8
8
8
8
6
4
4
4
4
3
2
3 Rks
4 Rks
4 Rks
5 Rks
16
8
8
4



16
16
8
8
8
8
8
8
4
4
4
4
3
2
1
4 Rks
5 Rks
16
16
8
8
8
8
4



16
8
8
8
8
8
8
4
4
4
4
3
2
2
3 Rks
16
8
8
8
4




16
8
8
8
8
8
8
4
4
4
2
16
8
8
8
8
4
16
8
4
2




8
8
8
4
2
4 Rks
4 Rks
8



32
32
32
16
16
16
16
16
16
12
8
8
8
8
6
4
4 Rks
3 Rks
2 Rks
64
32
16
16
16
8
4

TC


+




+


^
^




+



+

+










^





^




*














^






~














































































 COUPLERS

 Great to Pedal

 Swell to Pedal

 Choir to Pedal

 Solo to Pedal

 Swell to Great #

 Swell Super Octave [to Great] #

 Swell Sub Octave [to Great] #

 Solo to Great #

 Solo Octave

 Choir to Great #

 Swell to Choir

 Solo to Choir

 Echo to Swell

 Pedal to Great Pistons

 Tremulant to Swell (toe lever)

 Tremulant to Choir and Solo (toe lever)

 Tubular pneumatic key, stop and
 combination action (vacuum for stops).

 Mechanical action with pneumatic-lever
 assistance for Great and couplers
 marked #  

 Compass 61/30

 Pistons (internally adjustable):

 3 to Echo

 7 to Solo

 8 to Swell

 8 to Great

 7 to Choir

 6 to Pedal (toe levers)

 Balanced swell pedals for Choir, Solo   

 orchestral reeds and Swell

 No. of pipes = 8,756

Pitch a1 = 440Hz




Wind pressures:

Great:

Flues 90mm (3 ½”)

Reeds  128mm (5”)

Swell:                                 

Flues 90 mm  (3 ½”)

Reeds 128 mm (5”)

Choir:

Flues & Reeds 70mm (2 ¾”)

Solo:

Flues 78mm  (3”)

Orchestral reeds 128 mm (5”)

Tubas 256mm (10”)

Echo:

Flues and reeds 58mm (2 ¼”)

Pedal:

Flues 82mm (3 ¼”)

Reeds 115 mm (4 ½”)

+ On 128mm (5”) wind

* Originally at 2’ pitch

¶ On 90mm (3 ½”) wind

§ Metal bars from A#

^ German nomenclature (the use of the umlaut) has not been correctly engraved on these stops (viz. Röhr Flöte and

Höhl Flöte)

~ “Celestina” appears on the stopknob although “Celestino” appears in several published specifications of the organ.

 



Mixture Compositions:

Pedal Mixture 4 Rks: 10.12.15.19

Pedal Mixture 2 Rks: 19.22

Pedal Mixture 3 Rks: 10.12.15

Great Mixture 3Rks:

C - f# 0 :  17.19.22

a0 - a1 :     15.19.22

a#1 - c4 :   8.12.15

Great Cymbel 4 Rks:

C - c0 :    19.22.26.29

c#0 - c1 :  15.19.22.26

c#1- c2 :    12.15.19.22

c#2- c4 :     5.8.12.15

Great Sharp Mixture 4 Rks

c - f#0 :     19.22.24.29

g0 - c2 :     15.17.19.22

c#2 - c4 :    8.12.15.17

Great Furniture 5 Rks

C - c0 :        17.19.22.26.29

c#0 - c1 :     15.17.19.22.26

c#1 - c2 :    12.15.17.19.22

c#2 - c4 :    1.5.8.12.15

Swell Mixture 4 Rks

C - c0 :     19.22.26.29

c#0 - c1 :  15.19.22.26

c#1 - c2 :    12.15.19.22

c#2 - c4 :   5.8.12.15

Swell Furniture 5 Rks

C - c1 :     17.19.22.26.29

c#1 - c2 :    15.17.19.22.26

c#2 - c4 :   5.8.12.15.17

Choir Dulciana Mixture 3 Rks

C - g 0 :    17.19.22

a#0 - a#1 :  15.19.22

b1 - c4 :    8.12.15

Echo Dulciana Cornet 4Rks

C - c4 :     1.8.12.15

Glockenspiel 4 Rks

c0 - c4 :     1.12.15.17


Photo taken looking up from console (MQ)


From a postcard c. the turn of the century
(before the construction of the underground railway)


The following images have been taken during the 2011 and continuing cleaning of the organ by Rodney Ford.




Echo fluework during cleaning, the Bassett Horn is yet to be reinstalled.




Another view of the Echo division.




Solo fluework, C side following cleaning work.




Solo Tubas, C side, during installation following cleaning. The Tuba Clarion 4 yet to be reinstalled.

 

 



[1] Visitor’s Guide to Sydney Town Hall. Sydney: Sydney City Council, c.1995.

[2] A complete history of the construction and musical use of the Town Hall organ was written in 1999 by OHTA Patron, Robert Ampt, who has been City Organist since 1977.  The volume comprises 208 pages and is copiously illustrated, including numerous colour plates.  (Robert Ampt, The Sydney Town Hall Organ: William Hill and Son’s Magnum Opus [Woodford, NSW: Birralee Publishing, 1999].  The specification also originates from this source).

[3]  See for example: George A. Audsley, The Art of Organ Building (New York: Dover Publications, 1965, reprint of Dodd, Mead and Co. edition of 1905), 723-24.

[4] Ampt, 180.