St Peter's Organ
The organ at St Peter’s was designed and built by skilled craftsmen from world renowned London firm Mander Organs. From inception to installation, the project took nearly four years.
The firm, established in 1936 by Noel Mander, was initially a modest enterprise. It blossomed after the war as it sought to get working organs into bomb-damaged churches. In the 1960s, Mander began to build new organs, some of which employed mechanical actions.
By the time Noel Mander retired in 1983, the firm’s reputation had been boosted by a number of significant contracts, including the rebuilding of the Grand Organ at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Since then the company has been directed by Noel’s son, John Mander.
Over the past twenty years the company has developed markets around the world, notably in Australia, Japan, Scandinavia, North America and the Middle East.
The St Peter’s Commission
The new organ at St Peter’s is a three-manual mechanical (tracker) action instrument with 39 stops. As with many English churches, it proved difficult to find an acoustically suitable site for the organ. Only after careful consideration has it been located in the same spot as its predecessor. The Great Organ is in the front of the case with the Choir Organ behind it and the Swell Organ at the rear. The swell box has an additional set of shutters facing west which the organist can choose to link to the swell pedal to improve the egress of sound to the Nave.
Mechanical action (where the connection between keys and soundboard is effected by a finely balanced mechanism of rods and levers) has proved more reliable and longer lasting than electric actions generally favoured in the post-war period. Over time, organists have come to recognise that the more traditional mechanical action gives them better control over the way the pipes speak and tactile feedback from the opening pallets, leading to a more musical performance.
The control of the stops, however, remains electric. This allows for the inclusion of a computerised system whereby the organist can set up collections of stops that can be recalled at the push of a button.
The modern art of organ building
Today’s organs need to be far more versatile than ever before. Organists and their audiences seek wide variation in tone and the rendition of music from many different eras and geographical regions.
While it is clearly impossible for one instrument to produce authentic performances of the whole organ repertoire, they should, at least, be musical.
This is achieved by scaling and voicing the organ for a high degree of blend so that the organist can select from almost unlimited combinations of sounds and registers to recreate the music as effectively as possible. Acoustics play a crucial role in this so the old carpets have been removed from St Peter’s. This has had the pleasing side-effect of enhancing congregational singing and the effectiveness of the choir.
While an organ should suit a building musically, its appearance is also very important. Typically a large piece of furniture, an organ that is designed with little sympathy for the overall style of the church can dominate a building.
We have sought to create a design that gives the organ the appearance of having been in St Peter’s church forever. The carvings and casework mouldings take their inspiration from design features already in the church – notably the gothic screen and the pulpit.
In years to come the stained English oak casework will mature, bringing it into even closer harmony with its architectural environment.
We hope that this organ will give pleasure to many generations of congregations and that it will assume an important role in the biennial International Organ Festival for which St. Albans is so famous.
A good organ not only provides inspiration for organists to find new tone-colours to play with, but also to explore the vast organ repertoire. We hope that this will be the case at St Peter’s.