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Organ

Listen to the Audio Guide and discover:

  • What the organ was like in the 1950s after the post-war restoration as described by Eric Naylor, a bell ringer at the time
     
  • How it was decided that a new organ was needed and how Bath Abbey's Director of Music, Peter King, selected the Klais team for the task 
     
  • What happened when the Klais team came to take the organ back with them to Germany in 1996
     
  • What it means to 'voice' the organs pipes and how these are controlled by organist
     
  • What happened to the 4,000 organ pipes while the organ was being rebuilt
     

 

Where is the Abbey's organ located?  

An organ has been situated in the north transept since 1868 where it remains today. The Abbey’s previous organs were located on the north side of the choir and even in a gallery in the middle of the Abbey, level with the clear glass windows you’ll see if you look up!

The first organ in the north transept was installed at ground level in 1868. It was built by William Hill of Bristol and larger than the previous organ. 

After an unsuccessful attempt to divide the organ between the north and south arches of the tower in 1892, Hill, Norman and Beard built a new instrument in the gallery in the north transept (where you see it today).  This organ was completed in 1914 at a cost of just over £3,000 (worth about £130,000 today!). 

 

The impact of the WW2 air raids

In April 1942, during the Second World War, bombs dropped by German air raids blew in many of the Abbey’s windows, including the great East Window and the windows of the north transept around the organ. The organ wasn’t damaged by the explosions at that time.

However, six years later, it was found that glass splinters and damp from the windows in the north transept had in fact damaged the instrument and repairs to the organ began in April 1948. All the dirt and broken glass was removed by June, but the post-war restoration of the Abbey’s organ wasn’t completed until December 1949.  The total cost of the repairs was £3500 (worth about £80,000 in today’s money).

The organ was refurbished again in the 1972.  However, by the 1990s it was in serious need of further work.  

 

Rebuilding the Organ in the 1990s

The reconstruction of the organ became part of the Abbey’s ‘Abbey 2000’ project, which aimed to restore, repair, and improve other elements of the Abbey, including cleaning the stone and putting in a new lighting system. Several organ-building firms, including a German organ builder called Klais in May 1990, were invited to submit their proposals for how they would reconstruct the organ (a process known as ‘tendering’). 

The Abbey's current Director of Music, Peter King, was already in this post at the time and was instrumental in the rebuilding of the organ. In the Audio Guide, Peter describes how and why Klais’ plans were chosen over the others.

The organ was going to be in Germany for a year and the Klais team came to take the main Abbey organ away in January 1996. Whilst it was being worked on the Abbey used a smaller electronic organ for services. The Abbey had also managed to borrow a small chamber organ.

 

 

Moving the organ to Germany

The Klais team had to take the organ apart and remove it piece by piece, and pipe by pipe. 

You could hold a 1 cm pipe in the palm of your hand, but it took several men to lift the larger pipes into the articulated lorry that had to be long enough for them!  All but the longest 32 feet pipes were removed.  32 feet is about 10 metres tall (the height of 5 fully grown men!). 

The organ was taken to Bonn in Germany where Klais have their factory.  There they worked on the organ and made 2,000 new pipes for it.  The pipes are an important part of the instrument.  When the organist presses a key on the keyboard, air (known as “wind”) is blown through a pipe causing it to make sound.

A third of the pipes in the new organ are reed pipes, which makes the Klais organ an exciting musical instrument!

Did you know how the many different types of pipes in the organ are controlled? Listen to the Audio Guide to find out from our Director of Music, Peter King, just how this is done.

 

Starting the reconstruction in 1997

After a year in Germany, the organ was returned in January 1997.  

It took people with many different skills to reconstruct the Klais organ when it was returned to the Abbey. The Klais team was the same as that who had removed the organ, with the exception of one man who was responsible for “voicing” the new organ’s pipes.

Listen to the Audio Guide to find out from Peter what it means to “voice” the pipes and also how the magnificent organ was finally reconstructed.

 

Storing 4,000 pipes

The façade of the organ is the part of the organ that you can see, but, as you have heard, there’s a lot more behind it!  It took three months to construct the workings of the organ before the 4,000 pipes could begin going back in.  So the pipes had to be stored somewhere in the meantime.  In the following clip, Peter explains where they were kept and how they took advantage of the scaffolding that was up for the cleaning of the inside of the Abbey to find a solution for where to store the pipes while they waited to go back into the organ. 

 

An audible difference

One other difference between the pipes of the old organ and the new Klais organ is the mouths of the pipes. If you look at the organ you can see them. The mouths of the pipes are the v-shaped openings about a third of the way up from the bottom of them. When the first two ranks of pipes were put back into the organ the first musical notes were played on it. When the pipes were voiced and the organ tuned there was an audible difference in its sound and musical quality. Find out more in the Audio Guide as Peter King describes how the reconstruction of the organ by Klais made a difference to its sound.

 

Celebrating the new Klais organ

On the 4th of October 1997, Peter and Philip Klais (owner of the Klais organ building firm) gave a special lecture and demonstration of the new organ.  The instrument was dedicated by the Archdeacon of Bath during a special evensong service.  After the service, the first recital was given on the new organ by Nicolas Kynaston, who was involved as a consultant in the reconstruction of the organ from the very start.

The second piece he played that night is called “Orpheus” by the composer Franz Liszt.  In this final clip, you can hear the opening of the piece played on Bath Abbey’s organ.  It is taken from the Peter King’s CD “Liszt: The Essential Organ Works” which you can buy from the Abbey shop or from the Regent Record’s website www.regentrecords.com .