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"To hear evensong [at Southwark Cathedral] ... is an experience, for atmosphere and for loveliness of sight and sound, comparable with that to be had at King's College, Cambridge." These words, written by Andrew Freeman in the journal The Organ in 1928, are as true today as they were then.
Southwark Cathedral is situated on the south-west corner of London Bridge, and is within easy walking distance of major tourist attractions such as the Tate Modern art gallery, the Millennium Bridge, the Globe Theatre, the Clink Prison, the London Dungeon, and the Britain at War Experience. Admission is free at all times (unlike at some other London cathedrals!) and a warm welcome awaits new visitors and regular worshipers alike.
The cathedral's organ was built by Lewis & Co. of Ferndale Road, Brixton, south London, and completed in 1897. Thomas Christopher Lewis, the company's founder, was renowned for building instruments that had a bright, vibrant tone which, in part, was due to his use of low wind pressures. Consequently, he was somewhat out-of-step with the trend at the time, which was tending towards high wind pressures and rather thicker tone. The instrument's action was, and is, electro-pneumatic with slider chests, and the main case was designed by the noted Victorian architect Arthur Blomfield.
Apart from routine maintenance, the instrument remained untouched until 1952, when Henry Willis & Son undertook a major rebuild, during which the wind pressures were increased. The balanced Swell pedal and the hitch-down Solo pedal were replaced by Willis's Infinite Speed and Gradation pedals. The Choir organ - which had been housed in front of the Swell - was relocated to the north side and a new console was installed adjacent to it (the original console was on the south side). The Choir organ's Flauto Traverso was replaced by a Nazard, and a Tierce was provided on a new slider. A number of new couplers were also provided and the Violon unit (32'-16'-8') was extended by 12 pipes to create a Viola 4'.
Some years after the rebuild it was thought that the Willis changes, though undoubtedly well-intentioned, detracted too much from the original concept, so the decision was taken to restore the instrument to the Lewis specifications. The Durham-based firm of Harrison & Harrison was engaged and the work was carried out in two stages. Firstly, in 1986, the electrics were renewed and although the Willis console was retained, it was given a solid state action with eight memory levels for the combination pistons and four for the Crescendo pedal. Also, the Willis swell pedals were replaced by balanced pedals. In 1991, the main work was undertaken, including the revoicing of the stops on Lewis's original wind pressures. A Lewis Flauto Traverso rank was obtained for the Choir organ, to replace the one discarded by Willis, and the Nazard and Tierce were removed - meaning that the Great organ's Octave Quint is now the instrument's only mutation register. The two prepared for drawstops on the Pedal were also disposed of. Thus, the stop list is now as Lewis left it, except for the Viola 4' which was retained because it was a gift in memoriam.
Trumpet 8
Mixture IV
Cornet III-V
Super Octave 2
Octave Quint 22/3
Flute Harmonique 4
Octave 4
Stopped Diapason 8
Flute Harmonique 8
Open Diapason II 8
Open Diapason I 8
Bourdon 16
Contre Viole 16
Solo 4 to Great
Solo to Great
Swell 4 to Great
Swell to Great
Swell 16 to Great
Choir 4 to Great
Choir to Great
Swell (enclosed)
Clarion 4
Oboe 8
Voix Humaine 8
Horn 8
Contra Fagotto 16
Mixture IV
Flautino 2
Rohr Flote 4
Geigen Principal 4
Voix Celestes 8 (TC)
Viole de Gambe 8
Rohr Flote 8
Open Diapason 8
Lieblich Bordun 16
Unison Off
Sub Octave
Solo to Swell
Solo (enclosed)
Trompette Harmonique 8
Tuba Magna 8
Clarinet 8
Orchestral Oboe 8
Cor Anglais 16 (TC)
Trombone 16
Flute Harmonique 4
Unda Maris 8 (TC)
Vox Angelica 8
Flute Harmonique 8
Unison Off
Sub Octave
Great to Solo
Trumpet 8 (e)
Bombarde 16 (e)
Posaune 16 (d)
Contra Posaune 32 (d)
Octave Flute 4 (c)
Viola 4 (b)
Flute 8 (c)
Violoncello 8 (b)
Dulciana Bass 16
Sub Bass 16 (c)
Violon 16 (b)
Open Bass 16 (a)
Major Violon 32 (b)
Great Bass 32 (a)
Solo 4 to Pedal
Solo to Pedal
Swell 4 to Pedal
Swell to Pedal
Great to Pedal
Choir 4 to Pedal
Choir to Pedal
Mixture III
Lieblich Gedeckt 2
Flauto Traverso 4
Lieblich Gedeckt 4
Salicet 4
Dulciana 8
Salicional 8
Lieblich Gedeckt 8
Geigen Principal 8
Lieblich Gedeckt 16
Unison Off
Sub Octave
Solo to Choir
Swell to Choir

Great & Pedal Combinations Coupled
Generals on Swell Foot Pistons
See the stop list of the Lewis organ formerly at St Peter's, Eaton Square.
The Pedal organ's Great Bass 32' - extended from the Open Bass 16' - is resultant for its lowest seven notes. The full-length 32', the Major Violon, is of quiet but pervading string tone, and the five lowest notes of the department's only straight rank, the Dulciana Bass, are stopped. There is a certain amount of clang-tone from the fiery Bombarde (16-8), while the Posaune (32-16) is a little quieter in volume and broader in tone. Those people who know these stops well sometimes refer to them as "the Pedal artillery"!
The diapasons are the chief interest on the Great organ. Lewis was greatly influenced by the work of the organ builder Edmund Schulze and, in particular, by his instrument at Doncaster Parish Church. Schulze employed low wind pressures and made his diapason pipes with wide mouths and low cut-ups, resulting in a bright, edgy tone with an almost bell-like quality. Both Schulze and Lewis believed that a stop's carrying power should be obtained by clarity of tone, rather than by volume alone, though it is generally considered that "the Lewis sound" is more refined than that of Schulze. At Southwark, even when accompanying a large choir at full volume, it is rarely necessary to use anything more than the Great organ's Open Diapason No. 2 - such is the brightness and clarity inherent in its tone - with Swell stops coupled and appropriate Pedal.
The Cornet is the only mixture on the instrument to include a third-sounding rank (a 17th) in its composition; all of the others are quint mixtures with first and fifth-sounding ranks only. The light-toned Trumpet is designed to blend with the diapason chorus rather than dominate it.
The lowest 17 notes (CCC-Tenor E) of the Contre Viole are borrowed from the Pedal organ's Violon, and the bottom two octaves of the Bourdon are derived from the Pedal's Sub Bass. The Stopped Diapason 8' is a little louder than the Harmonic Flute 8' but the two stops have a shared bass octave. The harmonic flutes are a Lewis speciality; their tone having a liquid and slightly bubbly quality quite unlike other harmonic flutes then being made in the United Kingdom. They are warm and round, and may serve as solo voices or be combined with other stops. Indeed, an important part of the Lewis philosophy was that it should be possible to combine almost any stop with any other stop, without one having tonal or dynamic prominence over the other and with all stops adding to the timbre of the ensemble as a whole. To some extent, this seems to have been achieved by voicing each stop to speak at approximately the same volume as its neighbours, so that its tone-colour, rather than its volume, is what makes it audible when it is used in combination with those neighbouring stops.
The Swell organ faces north and is primarily designed for accompanying the choir within the Chancel; and with a diapason chorus, strings, flutes and reeds, it is well equipped for the purpose. Its diapasons, though not equal to the Great organ's in volume, are also bright, especially the Geigen Principal; a favourite Lewis stop. The strings are also typically Lewis, being of French origin and having a very acidic tone that is noticeably different to the string stops generally in production in this country at that time. Another Lewis trait is having a Horn, rather than a Trumpet, as the primary unison chorus reed. Indeed, the Swell organ - although a little larger than the average Lewis Swell - has the greatest number of Lewis trademarks, both in terms of stop names and their voicing. The department also possesses the instrument's only 4' reed, the Clarion.
The Solo organ's harmonic flutes are similar to the Great's, both in timbre and in volume, but of course the solo box can be closed to make them quieter. The Vox Angelica and its celeste, the Unda Maris, are of dulciana-type construction, so their timbre is gentle and ethereal and there is no hint of the cutting tone found in the Swell celestes. The orchestral reeds are fine examples of their type and they all combine well with either of the harmonic flutes. The Clarinet has a slightly less woody tone than some stops of this name but the Orchestral Oboe, with its spray of upper harmonics, is very characteristic. The Cor Anglais provides a quaint double to either of these reeds and may itself function as a solo voice. Although the 16' Trombone may seem out of place on what is largely a woodwind division, it can serve a number of purposes. In addition to being a petite trumpet it can provide additional reed tone for the Great or Pedal, and it adds dignified weight to the Solo organ's Tuba Magna and/or Trompette Harmonique. The volume of these high-pressure reeds is about equal, although their tone is somewhat different. The Trompette is splashy and incisive without being thin or rasping, while the Tuba has a slightly rounder tone, though it is also reasonably bright. These two stops, when combined, produce a commanding voice of almost overwhelming grandeur. They are voiced on 12 inches of wind, whereas the remainder of the instrument's stops all speak on 3.5 inches.
Although the Choir organ's Lieblich Gedeckt stops (16-8-4-2) have the same name, they are all independent ranks and, in fact, there is no manual extension whatsoever on the instrument. The Choir is a collection of diminutive foundations, quiet flutes and mild strings, but its proximity to the console means that, to the organist, it is very audible - much more so than the main portion of the instrument which, generally, speaks into the Nave rather than the Chancel. The result is a slightly disconcerting delay in sound reaching the player's ears, but this can be obviated by coupling some of the Choir organ's stops to the Great or Swell. The organ may sound wonderful from the listener's standpoint but, for the player, the remote sound of the instrument's main section can be ungratifying.
Despite this, the organ is a pleasure to play because it is both versatile and comprehensive. There are choruses (16' to mixture) on Choir, Great, and Swell; thirteen 16' registers; three 32's; five orchestral-type reeds; two sets of celestes; open and stopped flutes totalling 17 ranks; and two powerful solo reeds. All in an instrument of just 53 voices, 65 ranks, and 3,755 pipes! The restoration of the Lewis specifications is testimony to their design rationale, and proof that the scheme is as relevant and practical today as it was more than 100 years ago.
Further reading: The original piston settings on the Lewis organ
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