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Salisbury Cathedral 1887 Father Willis Organ

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Salisbury Cathedral 1887 Father Willis Organ

Postby B. Milan » Tue Mar 10, 2009 1:14 am

Hello everyone,

We are pleased to announce that MDA will have the honor of offering the Hauptwerk community the means to perform on one of the greatest organs in England, the Father Willis organ in Salisbury Cathedral. The initial release is planned for Q4 2009. We will have a similar system to the Bovenkerk Hinsz and will be offering it in several volumes. For a bit of history about Salisbury Cathedral and the Willis organ please read on!

Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral is one of Great Britain's most remarkable and historic monuments dating from the medieval era. Unlike most large cathedrals from this period which took generations to complete and featured architectural styles from several periods, Salisbury Cathedral was built in a startling 38 years dating from 1220-1258 and maintains the same medieval architecture throughout the building, a rare feature not generally found in buildings of this magnitude.

Salisbury Cathedral also features the tallest spire in England reaching 404 feet (123 meters) and is just minutes away from the historic site of Stonehenge, perhaps Great Britain's most famous monument. The cathedral also contains the world's oldest working clock as well as Britain's 'Bill of Rights', the Magna Carta. Nearly 500,000 people visit the cathedral each year in addition to the thousands that attend weekly services.

The "Father" Willis Organ

The cathedral is also home to one of Britain's greatest and well known pipe organs which was built in 1877 by Father Henry Willis (1821-1901). The instrument consists of 61 ranks and 65 stops over 4 manuals and pedal with two main cases on the north and south sides of the quire and an additional case for the 32' pedal pipes in the north transept.

Photo used courtesy of Salisbury Cathedral
Click picture for larger view

In an edition of The Musical Times from the year 1898 a supplement titled A Portrait of Henry Willis discussed the origins for Henry Willis' nickname 'Father' Willis. Similarities were drawn upon Henry Willis and Father Bernard Smith, a 17th century organ builder for the King. The article from the publication was written as follows:

" Two hundred years ago there lived in this country a great organ builder whose instruments were the glory of their maker. Two of his nephews were associated with him in his business. Partly to distinguish him from his younger relatives, but more especially as a mark of high appreciation of his great abilities and artistic worth, he was canonised (sic), so to speak, with the title "Father". His name is familiar enough in the history of organ building - Father Smith. Henry Willis is also assisted by a younger generation, having two sons - Vincent and Henry - working with him, in whom he has great confidence and hopes. It is natural, therefore, that he, the greatest organ builder of the Victorian Era, will be called Father Willis."

The Willis building firm also had several inventions and patents which helped pave the road into modern organ building as we know it today. Some of these include:

• Thumb pistons - Patented 1851
• Barker pneumatic lever key action - Pioneering use 1851
• Pneumatic stop action - Patented 1851
• Radiating and concave pedal board - Invented 1855
• Angled stop-jambs - Credited with the invention 1855
• Simple tubular pneumatic key action - 1867
• Tubular pneumatic key action to divided organ - 1872
• 'Servo-pneumatic' or 'floating' pneumatic lever key action - Patented 1884
• Electro-pneumatic key action - Pioneering use 1885
• Fully pneumatic key action with pneumatic coupling - Patented 1889
• Fully adjustable thumb pistons - Patented 1882

Father Willis' system of scaling did not rely on regular halving ratios and therefore it was possible to manufacture and voice flue ranks with a smooth 'power curve' throughout the compass. Many firms have attempted to copy these scales by careful measurement, but have failed. These are secrets which are very much guarded by the firm and only its closest advisers are allowed access to them.

Photo used courtesy of Salisbury Cathedral
Click picture for larger view

High-pressure reed voicing, in particular some 16" wind pressure Tuba ranks have been a specialty all their own throughout the history of the Willis company.

The organ has been hailed by many as the finest Willis organ ever built. A statement from then Oxford Music Professor, Sir Frederick Ouseley written to the Salisbury organist (in 1877) John Richardson read:

"I honestly believe that you have the finest church organ in the world - certainly the best in England, and I heartily congratulate you on the same."

Later, Father Willis himself said to Sir Walter Alcock, organist at Salisbury from 1917-1947, that he believed the organ was his best work to date.

Very few changes have been made since it was originally built and nearly all pipework is original and still cone tuned. Some minor changes to the instrument included the following:

1934 - Willis firm added a modern action along with a detached console. Solo division was enclosed.
1969 - Willis firm renovated the organ (cleaning, re-leathering etc.)
1978 - Harrison & Harrison renewed the console mechanisms and electrical system.
1993 - Complete overhaul, releathering actions and reservoirs.
2006 - Console restored by Harrison & Harrison with new Keyboards and Piston System.

Photo used courtesy of Salisbury Cathedral
Click picture for larger view

The organ is well maintained and tuned on a monthly basis. It is actively used for weekly services and is in constant demand for recordings by organists from around the world. The Father Willis organ at Salisbury Cathedral is no doubt one of the finest examples of organ building in England from any period in history.

For more information on Salisbury Cathedral and the Father Willis organ please visit:

Special thanks to Salisbury Cathedral, in particular Daniel Cook, Salisbury Cathedral's Assistant Director of Music and Organist for making this project possible. A percentage of the proceeds from the sales will be donated back to the church.

For recordings of the Willis organ we recommend Daniel Cook's recently released CD "The Organ Music of Sir Walter Alcock" released by Priory Records product # PRCD 1008

The Organ of Salisbury Cathedral
Willis 1876, 1934, 1969, Harrison and Harrison 1976, 2006

Great Organ

1. Double Open Diapason 16
2. Open Diapason No 1 8
3. Open Diapason No 2 8
4. Stopped Diapason 8
5. Claribel Flute 8 (24 from No 4)
6. Principal No 1 4
7. Principal No 2 4 (1934)
8. Flute Couverte 4 (1876 Piccolo transformed)
9. Twelfth 2 2/3
10. Fifteenth 2
11. Mixture 15,17,19,22 IV
12. Trombone 16
13. Trumpet 8
14. Clarion 4

I Swell to Great 16’
II Swell to Great
III Swell to Great 4’
IV Choir to Great 16’
V Choir to Great
VI Choir to Great 4’
VII Solo to Great 16’
VIII Solo to Great
IX Solo to Great 4’

Swell Organ

15. Contra Gamba 16
16. Open Diapason 8
17. Viola da Gamba 8
18. Vox Angelica 8
19. Lieblich Gedackt 8
20. Octave 4
21. Flûte Harmonique 4
22. Super Octave 2
23. Mixture 17,19,22 III
24. Hautboy 8
25. Vox Humana 8
26. Contra Fagotto 16
27. Trompette 8 (1876 Cornopean)
28. Clarion 4
X Tremolo
XI Octave
XII Sub Octave
XIII Unison Off
XIV Solo to Swell

Choir Organ (unenclosed)

29. Leiblich Gedackt 16
30. Open Diapason 8 (1934)
31. Flûte Harmonique 8
32. Lieblich Gedackt 8
33. Salicional 8
34. Gemshorn 4
35. Flûte Harmonique 4
36. Lieblich Gedackt 4
37. Nazard 2 2/3 (1934)
38. Flageolet 2
39. Tierce 1 3/5 (1934
40. Trumpet 8 (1934)
XV Tremolo (1934)
XVI Octave
XVII Sub Octave
XVIII Unison Off
XIX Swell to Choir 16’
XX Swell to Choir
XXI Swell to Choir 4’
XXII Solo to Choir
XXIII Solo to Choir 4’
XXIV Great Reeds on Choir

Solo Organ (enclosed)

41. Violoncello 8 (1934)
42. ‘Cello Célestes 8 (1934)
43. Flûte Harmonique 8
44. Flûte Harmonique 4
45. Cor Anglais 16 (1876 Choir 8’ transformed)
46. Clarinet 8 (1876 Corno-di-Bassetto)
47. Orchestral Oboe 8
48. Tuba 8
49. Tuba Clarion 4
XXV Tremolo (1934)
XXVI Solo Octave
XXVII Solo Sub Octave
XXVIII Solo Unison Off
XXIX Great to Solo

Pedal Organ

50. Double Open Diapason 32
51. Open Bass 16
52. Open Diapason No 1 (From 50) 16 (1934)
53. Open Diapason No 2 16
54. Violone 16
55. Bourdon 16
56. Lieblich Gedackt (From 29) 16 (1934)
57. Octave 8
58. Viola (From 54) 8 (1934)
59. Flute 8
60. Octave Viola (From 54) 4 (1934)
61. Octave Flute 4 (1876 Great Flûte Harmonique 4)
62. Mixture 12,15,19,22 IV
63. Contra Posaune 32
64. Ophicleide 16
65. Clarion 8
XXX Solo to Pedal
XXXI Solo to Pedal 4’
XXXII Swell to Pedal
XXXIII Swell to Pedal 4’
XXXIV Great to Pedal
XXXV Choir to Pedal
XXXVI Choir to Pedal 4’

Combination Couplers

Great and Pedal Combinations Coupled
Generals on Swell foot pistons


Eight general pistons
Two general cancel pistons
Eight foot pistons and cancel to the Pedal Organ
Eight pistons and cancel to the Choir Organ
Eight pistons and cancel to the Great Organ
Eight pistons and cancel to the Swell Organ
Eight foot pistons duplicating Swell pistons
Eight pistons and cancel to the Solo Organ
One piston for the Couplers
Stepper, operating general pistons in sequence

Reversible Piston: Great Trumpet 8’ on Choir
Reversible foot Pistons: Great to Pedal, 32’ flue, 32’ reed

Balanced expression pedals to Swell and Solo Organs

The manual compass is 61 notes; the pedal 30 notes
The actions are electro-pneumatic
The couplers and combinations are on a solid-state system
The pistons are instantly adjustable, with 512 general and 16 divisional memories
The pitch is c=528
Brett Milan
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Postby Stefanussen » Tue Mar 10, 2009 1:26 am

Awesome, Brett! Looking forward to it!

Edit: Do you have any pictures of the console?
Rob Stefanussen
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Postby giovdan » Tue Mar 10, 2009 2:54 am

Great Bret!!!!!!!!
I was years ago in Salisbury, the building is perhaps the most beautiful Cathedral of England and Organ one of the most exciting I have ever heard!
Hey Bret, because you have not posted pictures of the 32' main pipe placed in to the gallery?....... Are impressive!!!

For Rob:
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Postby prinzipal » Tue Mar 10, 2009 4:16 am

Very good news about Hauptwerk the last days (Mac 64bit support)..but this news for me are the best

I wish you good conditions for the recording of this great instrument.

I don`t really know the basics of willis organs, this one, how I could see on the photos is divided in 2 parts in face to face position. Where is the organ console installed? From which position will the organ be recorded? Maybe this is a company secret from MDA, but perhaps some information could be published ;-)

Thanks and best regards,
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Postby dhm » Tue Mar 10, 2009 4:50 am

Excellent news - congratulations, Brett!
One small correction, if I may:
It is actively used for weekly services

English cathedral organs are used for daily choral services, not just weekly.
@ Prinzipal:
Where is the organ console installed?

The console is in a loft on the south side, to the west of the pipes.

Best wishes,
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Postby deWaverley » Tue Mar 10, 2009 5:18 am

That really is yet more excellent news...can't wait! This is exactly the organ that Hauptwerk is missing at the moment. I just hope and pray (and I'm genuinely not trying to be provocative here) that you will agree that this instrument needs to be sampled just a little 'closer' than the Metz.

But does this mean we all have to have 4-manual stacks from now on?...eek!

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Postby fantapavela » Tue Mar 10, 2009 6:17 am

Oh my gosh I am fainting....


Thank you Brett!!! Is just a wet version planned or a dry also?

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Postby Disorganised » Tue Mar 10, 2009 7:20 am

OMG! I have played this organ - and it it is divine.
(Any chance it will be priced in British £'s??!!)
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Postby micdev » Tue Mar 10, 2009 7:47 am


I don't know how you and Martin did that, but considering the demand for this organ by recording organists and it use on a daily basis, I think that the fact that you will be able to record it (a job that will require I'm sure a few days/nights) is a proof that Hauptwerk is considerer as a serious, professional, highly regard product in the organ world.

Are you planning to do 2 recordings? One wet and one dry? This would be great

deWaverley wrote:But does this mean we all have to have 4-manual stacks from now on?...eek!

I guess so ;-0 .... with the PAB, Bovenkerk, Salisbery, Zwolle and others, 4 keyboards is becoming more and more interesting..... $-)

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Postby OneTrack1 » Tue Mar 10, 2009 9:16 am

Excellent News Brett.

Demand is surely to be very high for this set. Please can you do everything you can to keep the price correspondingly low!!

Thank you, JohnS.
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Postby RoyKnight » Tue Mar 10, 2009 9:31 am


What a beautiful English Organ. O have a CD of Michael Murray on that instrument. The Tuba is wonderful! I'll look forward to it.

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Postby RichardW » Tue Mar 10, 2009 9:34 am


I know it is a bit early to be thinking about Christmas presents but ...

The initial release is planned for Q4 2009

... that could just be mine sorted out!

Excellent news and congratulations.
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Re: Salisbury Cathedral 1887 Father Willis Organ

Postby gingercat » Tue Mar 10, 2009 9:42 am

B. Milan wrote:The initial release is planned for Q4 2009. We will have a similar system to the Bovenkerk Hinsz and will be offering it in several volumes.

Hi Brett,

I know it isn't always possible to know up front how long a particular set will take to make, but would it be possible upon releasing the first volume of this set to issue an eta for the remaining volumes? I had hoped (expected) the subsequent Hinsz volumes would have come in relatively rapid succession after the first one was released. It makes it more difficult to decide which sets to purchase if you don't know how long it will be before you have the "complete" organ.

Chris Blaylock
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4 Manual Console, 32 R&C Pedalboard, 3xExpression, Solenoid coupler tabs
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Postby pwhodges » Tue Mar 10, 2009 10:59 am

This is fantastic news - my favourite* organ, which was for a time also my local one :) I used to sing in a chamber choir conducted by the present DOM (David Halls), and recorded some of their concerts in the cathedral, including a few organ items.

A tiny correction on the building of the cathedral. Although it was completed in the short time-frame you list, the original design did not include the spire, which was added in the next century.


* Well, joint with the even more original Willis in Reading Town Hall (1864/1882).
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Postby PeterD » Tue Mar 10, 2009 11:06 am


This is really the most fantastic news and having the Willis must really be the crowning glory for Hauptwerk.

We go every year to the Advent Service at Salisbury " from Darkness into Light" whereby the Service starts in pitch darkness save one candle- and from this one candle hundreds more are lit - the light advancing steadily up the Nave. The final hymn on the Willis " Lo He Comes" is a truly thrilling sound and always the best possible start to Christmas.

I'm intrigued how you will handle the acoustic as the organ sounds quite different depending where you sit - I think the Nave is the longest in England,

Anyway - sorry to wax so uncharacteristically lyrical but this is just wonderful news !

Very Best

PS - Graham Won't this just about do instead of St Mary's Redcliffe ?
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