The Restoration of the Organ
Like the King’s College Choir, the Harrison & Harrison organ in the Chapel is famous the world over. Its case with gilded pipework surmounting the 16th century screen is as much a striking feature as the instantly recognisable sounds of the instrument. It fulfils an important role in the religious and musical life of the College and serves as an educational resource – many of today’s leading musicians have held the position of Organ Scholar at King’s.
An organ was first built in the Chapel in 1605 by Thomas Dallam, with successive re-buildings undertaken in the 17th, 19th and beginning of the 20th century. But it wasn’t until 1934 that the organ was enlarged and rebuilt in its present form by Harrison & Harrison, while still retaining some of the old pipework.
In the late 1960s the organ was overhauled, and in 1992 the console was renovated and the electrical system modernised. In 2009 Harrison & Harrison worked on three areas of the instrument: repairing and re-gilding the front pipes, some internal pipework, and upgrading the console. Bigger steps to improve the organ’s mechanism and layout were then recommended, including full cleaning, comprehensive re-leathering of the actions and some significant work on the wind system. After nearly eighty years of service, the Great Organ had become unreliable.
Made possible thanks to several significant donations, a “Great restoration” project took place over a period of nine months in 2016 to ensure that the organ continues to function optimally for the next generation. The pipework was removed from the case and returned to the Harrison & Harrison workshop in Durham for cleaning and repair. Meanwhile, in the Chapel, the empty case was cleaned, surveyed and restored before the pipes were reinstated. Then voicing and tonal regulation begun, and the Great Organ was ready for use at the beginning of the new academic year, with a sound as bright as ever.