Jonathan Dimmock plays the 1871 "Father" Henry Willis organ located in a splendid 19th-century church building in Göteborg, Sweden, since 1998. The rare and almost entirely intact three-manual organ was built in 1871 by "Father" Henry Willis for St. Stephen's Church, Hampstead (a part of London), England. The program is comprised of works that such organs inspired or for which they were intended.
Herbert Howells: Saraband (For the morning of Easter), No. 2 from Six Pieces for Organ
Herbert Howells: Master Tallis’s Testament, No. 3 from Six Pieces for Organ
Herbert Howells: Psalm Prelude, Set 1, No. 1, on Psalm 34, verse 6
Edward Elgar: Sonata in G, Op. 28, mvt. 1
Frank Bridge: Adagio
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Rhosymedre from Three Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes
Kenneth Leighton: Paean
George Thalben-Ball: Elegy
Gustav Holst: Jupiter Theme from “The Planets,” Thaxted tune for the hymn “I Vow to Thee My Country”
Cary Ratcliff: Psalm 84
David Johnson: Trumpet Tune in A
David Conte: Soliloquy
Gerald Near: Sarabande on “Land of Rest” from Suite for Organ
A British Organ: Sounds of an Empire
The empire built by the British during Queen Victoria's reign 1837-1901 celebrated a burgeoning arts scene that, at mid-century, mounted musical performances on a grand scale such as wildly popular performances of 2,500 people singing Handel's Messiah. Such wide enjoyment of oratorio encouraged the creation of organs which imitate the fullness and power of a contemporary orchestra so as to accompany choral performances in public halls where orchestras were either unavailable or would benefit by the addition of a pipe organ. Such orchestral organs invited the transcription of orchestral works for solo organ concerts, as well as new works composed for the new style of organs. The smooth, blending, and powerful sounds created by Willis for such instruments became a trait sought for church organs, as well, to accompany choirs in new musical works as well as older works which were suitably adapted and ”romanticized” to meet the prevailing taste, and to lead hymn singing in an increasingly more orchestral style. Thus, Henry Willis was chosen to build the organs for St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Albert Hall in London, as well as the cathedrals in Salisbury, Oxford and Canterbury. He also built or rebuilt the organs at the Cathedrals of Truro, Salisbury, Carlisle, Exeter, Canterbury, Lincoln, Durham, Glasgow, Wells, and Hereford, as well as the organ at Windsor Castle.
Organs like the Willis organ heard on this CD and built in the mid-to-late 19th century, including the very organ recorded here, were widely prevalent in larger English parish churches during much of the 20th century. As the century waned, some churches closed and finer organs were relocated. Some moved beyond the British empire, and the 1871 Willis organ recorded on this CD is now in Sweden, and more about it appears below.
In the early 20th century, Herbert Howells (1892-1983) was taking organ lessons from the cathedral organist in his native Gloucester, where the cathedral organ was built by Henry Willis. Howells’ strong interest in music and composing, encouraged by his father’s avocation as an amateur organist, led in 1912 to a scholarship at the Royal College of Music in London where he studied with C. V. Stanford, Charles Wood, Walter Parratt, and Charles Parry, and taught after 1920 for the rest of his life. Howells’ many compositions in all forms include substantial organ music. Saraband (For the morning of Easter) and Master Tallis’s Testament, both composed in 1940, were published in 1945 as Nos. 1 and 3 in Six Pieces for Organ. Twenty-five years earlier, in his early 20s, Howells composed his Psalm Prelude on verse 6 of Psalm 34, which was published in 1916.
Cary Ratcliff (b. 1953), a native of California, resides in Rochester, New York, where he studied composition at the Eastman School of Music, works as music director at Bethany Presbyterian Church and as a keyboardist with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. He composes in all forms, from opera and oratorio to children's songs, and his choral works are finding a wide audience. Psalm 84 was composed in 1984 as one of five pieces based on Genevan psalm tunes in his Psalmbook.
George Thalben-Ball (1896-1987) moved with his family from Australia at age three to London, where he became a chorister and learned from the choirmaster to play piano. He studied organ with several of the teachers of Howells and settled in 1919 at the Temple Church, London, where he was organist for longer than 60 years. He was curator of the Willis organ at Royal Albert Hall and was appointed in 1949 as Civic Organist at the Willis organ of Birmingham Town Hall, playing weekly recitals for 30 years. His Elegy was published in 1944 and derived from an improvisation he played to fill time at the end of a daily radio broadcast on the BBC. He is said to have appended his mother’s family name following an encounter with the established and wealthy conductor Thomas Beecham, who asked the organist his name. “George Ball.” Quipped Beecham, “How singular.”
David Johnson (1922-1987) was greatly adept at composing trumpet voluntaries in the style of British composers from the time of Purcell forward. A native of San Antonio, Texas, he attended Trinity University there, the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, and Syracuse University, where he taught 1951-1970. He moved to the University of Arizona, Tempe, and was organist of Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix. His many works for organ and organ and brass are published, and he composed Dexter, the tune to the hymn “Earth and All Stars.” His Trumpet Tune in A was published in 1974.
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was a leading figure in British music and had been a church organist for two years (1895-97) early in his career. Though he professed poor skill at playing the organ, his relatively few compositions for the instrument are of high quality. Rhosymedre was composed in 1920 and was published with two other pieces as Three Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes. Vaughan Williams edited the English Hymnal 1906, writing some tunes for it and harmonizing others, and is generally known as Britain’s great composer of the 20th century. He was the great-great-grandson of the potter Josiah Wedgwood through his mother’s side, and was raised from age 3 in the family home, Leith Hill Place in Surrey, following the death of his father who was vicar in the Cotswold town of Down Ampney. He donated Leith Hill Place to the National Trust in 1944.
Edward Elgar (1857-1934) grew up in Worcester, England, where his father ran a music store and was organist at St. George’s Roman Catholic Church. In such an environment, Edward pursued a strong natural curiosity about music aided by access to many instruments which he taught himself to play and all of the sheet music. Active in the Worcester musical community and organist of St. George’s, he married in 1899 one of his violin students. She assisted him in pursuing recognition of his talent as a composer, and his fame grew greatly during the 1890s, culminating in 1899 with the enormous success of his Enigma Variations. Elgar composed his organ Sonata in G for a visit of American organists to Worcester Cathedral in 1895 and, according to an inscription on the manuscript, he completed it in a single, inspired week.
David Conte (b. 1955) is professor of composition and conductor of the chorus at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. A Fulbright Scholar in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, a Ralph Vaughan Williams Fellow and an Aspen Music Festival Conducting Fellow, Conte graduated from Bowling Green State University, Kentucky, and received master’s and doctoral degrees from Cornell University. In 1982, Conte worked with Aaron Copland preparing a study of the composer’s sketches. His compositions include five operas, choral and orchestral works, film scores, and solo instrumental works. His choral work An Exhortation sets to music words spoken by Barack Obama on November 4, 2008, upon winning the Presidential election and was performed at the inauguration in Washington, D.C., on January 20, 2009. Solioquy was composed in 1995 as one of six works for organ.
Gerald Near (b. 1942) studied composition, organ, and conducting at the University of Michigan, then undertook graduate study at the University of Minnesota with Dominick Argento, composition, and Thomas Lancaster, conducting. His church positions have included Director of Music and Organist of St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Dallas, and composer-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John, Denver. In 1982 he received a McKnight Foundation Fellowship. He has composed much church music including evening canticles for the choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge. The second movement of Suite for Organ is based on the hymn tune “Land of Rest,” was published in 1966.
Gustav Holst (1874-1934) composed his most famous work, The Planets, between 1914 and 1916. During a vacation with friends in Spain in 1913, one of his fellow travelers introduced Holst to astrology, thus sparking Holst’s imagination toward creation of The Planets. The work is in seven movements, one for each of the planets known by 1914, omitting Pluto (discovered in 1930). Holst adapted the melody of Jupiter in 1921 to fit the text beginning “I vow to thee, my country,” and named the resulting hymn tune Thaxted after the town in Essex where he lived for many years. Holst, the son and grandson of organists, took his first professional musical post as organist in a Cotswold village church and conducted the choral society in another village nearby. A painfully debilitating malady unrecognized in Holst’s youth, as well as asthma and poor vision, made childhood miserable, especially as his demanding father insisted upon hours of violin practice and, later, piano practice. Eventually unable to play reliably without great pain, Holst took up the trombone professionally and pursued his talent as a composer. At the Royal College of Music he studied with Stanford and, in 1895, met Vaughan Williams, beginning a lifelong friendship. He became music master at St. Paul’s Girls School in 1905 and music director at Morley College in 1907, retaining both posts for the rest of his life. Despite prolific composition, he wrote no solo organ music.
Frank Bridge (1879-1941) The Adagio in E was published in 1905 as one of three works in his first album of organ works. He, too, was a student of Stanford at the Royal College of Music and had grown up in a musical family. His father trained him as a violinist, and he played professionally as a violist, primarily in distinguished chamber music ensembles, and conducted until he was able to devote his time to composition. Though not known as an organist, he published more than a dozen organ works.
Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988), a boy chorister at Wakefield Cathedral in his native city, composed prolifically in all forms, including substantial bodies of Anglican church music and of organ music, both secular and sacred. After an education at the Royal Academy of Music, London, and Oxford, he held professorships at Oxford and the University of Edinburgh. Paean was composed in 1966 on commission from Oxford University Press.
The Willis Organ in Göteborg, Sweden
“Father” Henry Willis (1821-1901) of London, England, built the organ in 1871 for St. Stephen’s Church in Hampstead, London. The church closed in the early 1980s and the organ was purchased and dismantled by Taco Boersma of Holland, and stored in Amersfoort. It was purchased by Tore Johansson of Tostareds Kyrkorgelfabrik in 1992, then renovated in 1993 and installed in the Organ Hall of the Göteborg
University School of Music.
As originally situated in Hampstead, the organ was built into a chamber with a small façade
visible at the front, above the
console. Both sides of the organ had pipe façades, with the Violone Metal 16' on the left and the Grand Open Diapason 16' on the right. In Göteborg, the Violone Metal 16' pipes were placed in a new front façade designed in period style by Tore Johansson.
The organ was moved 1997-98 to Örgryte New Church (Örgryte nya kyrka) in Göteborg. Örgryte is an affluent section of Göteborg where the university’s Göteborg Art Organ Center (GoArt) allied with the church as the site of two exemplary pipe organs: the Willis and the highly regarded creation of a new organ as if it had been built by the great 17th-century north German, Arp Schnitger.
The Willis organ is largely preserved in its original condition. In 1902, the Willis firm
enclosed the Choir in an expression box and
replaced the original Choir Gemshorn 4' and
Piccolo 2' with a Gamba 8' and Voix Celeste 8'; also added were the Pedal Bourdon 16' and
possibly the Swell-to-Choir coupler. In the 1993 renovation, the Gamba and Voix Celeste were moved to the Swell and the Gemshorn and
Piccolo were reconstructed using as a model the Willis organ at St. Stephen’s in Edinburgh. The Choir enclosure was removed. At some point, the Pedal division was converted to tubular-pneumatic action, possibly when the Pedal Bourdon 16' was added. Mechanical key action replaced the tubular-pneumatic action when the organ was moved to Örgryte New Church (1998). The concave radiating Pedal clavier and the 30-note compass are believed to be original. Shutters of the Swell enclosure are operated via the original hitch-down pedal.
The Willis Organbuilding Dynasty
The son of a carpenter and active musician, Henry Willis became an accomplished organist early in life and apprenticed in 1835 to London organbuilder John Gray. Starting his own
business in London by 1845, he secured in 1847 the important job of rebuilding the organ in Gloucester Cathedral as a
consequence of his familiarity with the esteemed musician and churchman, S. S. Wesley. Greatly ambitious, he found funding to create a 70-stop
organ for the Great Exhibition
of 1851—a pet project of Prince
Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. The very large organ included innovative and
forward-looking features that made playing it easier than an organist would expect for an
instrument of its size, such as the incorporation of a Barker
lever to ease the key action. Newfangled aids to registration, including the likely first combination pistons between manuals, expanded possibilities for musical expression. The impression left by this organ and his friendship with Wesley led to Willis’ selection in 1855 to build a large new organ for St. George’s Hall, Liverpool, where he incorporated the first Pedal keyboard which was both concave and radiating. His firm built about one thousand organs before Henry Willis’ death in 1901.
The word “Father” is often appended to Henry Willis’ name to distinguish him from three other organbuilding Willises named Henry. Four generations of the Willis family continued the firm until 1997 when Henry Willis IV retired. The family sold its interest in the company in 1998, and the firm is now situated in Liverpool.
1871 Henry Willis Organ
Built for St. Stephen’s Church, Hampstead, England
Relocated 1992-3 to Göteborg University Organ Hall, Sweden
Relocated 1998 to Örgryte New Church, Göteborg
Great C-g3, Man. 2
16' Double Diapason
8' Open Diapason
8' Claribel Flute
2' Super Octave
Swell to Great 16, 8, 4
Choir to Great
Choir C-g3, Man. 1
8' Lieblich Gedact
4' Flute Harmonique
8' Corno di Bassetto
Swell to Choir
Swell C-g3, Man. 3
16' Contra Gamba
8' Open Diapason
8' Lieblich Gedact
8' Voix Celeste
8' Vox Humana
16' Grand Open
16' Violone Metal
Great to Pedale
Swell to Pedale
Choir to Pedale
76mm (3") windpressure except stops marked with asterisk *135mm (5") windpressure
Four composition pedals controlling Great & Pedal stops
Three composition pedals controlling Swell stops
mechanical action to manuals, Barker lever to Great, new mechanical action to Pedal (1998)
Jonathan Dimmock is well-known internationally as a recitalist, choral conductor, accompanist, continuo player, ensemble musician and church organist. He has held musical posts at Westminster Abbey in London (Organ Scholar), the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City and St. Mark’s Cathedral in Minneapolis. A graduate of Oberlin Conservatory and Yale University, his teachers and mentors include Dame Gillian Weir, Simon Preston, Thomas Murray, William Porter, Harald Vogel, and Haskell Thomson. In 2006 he was appointed Organist at St. Ignatius Church, San Francisco, Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church, Lafayette, and Congregation Sherith Israel, San Francisco. He also serves as Organist for the San Francisco Symphony. He has toured widely on five continents, has been featured on numerous radio and television broadcasts, and has recorded more than thirty CDs. He is co-founder of the highly acclaimed American Bach Soloists, founding director of AVE (Artists’ Vocal Ensemble), and founding President of Art to the Nations, using music in international conflict resolution. He is deeply committed to healing our broken world through the beauty of music