Westminster Abbey organ: all you need to know about Abbey's magnificent Harrison & Harrison organ

Everything you need to know about the formidable organ of Westminster Abbey

The organ in Westminster Abbey
Published: August 14, 2022 at 11:14 am
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Westminster Abbey organ has long been a fixture at major services and occasions at the Abbey, from royal funerals to royal weddings. But what does the Westminster Abbey organ actually look like? What make is it? Here is everything you need to know about it.

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What model is the current organ at Westminster Abbey?

The main organ is a formidable Harrison & Harrison model that was installed in 1937 for the coronation of King George VI.

So there are other organs at Westminster Abbey?

Yes, a Queen's Organ (made by Mander) in the Lady Chapel, where it is mainly used for small-scale services such as weddings and memorials; a five-stop continuo organ by Kenneth Tickell; and a practice organ by William Drake.

What does the Harrison & Harrison organ look like?

It's an 84-stop, four-manual instrument with two plain oak organ cases by the architect J. L. Pearson, decorated in gold and colour by W. Butchart.

Who were Harrison & Harrison?

It's a British organ making and restoring company, established in 1861 and based in Durham. In addition to its organ for Westminster Abbey, it has built and restored instruments for buildings including the Royal Festival Hall, St Albans Abbey and Coventry Cathedral.

Where exactly does the Harrison & Harrison organ stand in Westminster Abbey?

On the north and south sides of the nave screen.

Have there always been organs at the Abbey?

The first evidence of any organ at Westminster Abbey dates from 1304, and referred to 'a pair of organs' in the Lady Chapel. From the late sixteenth century there was an organ in the quire, which was played by Henry Purcell and John Blow. A new organ was built in 1827 for the coronation of George II. This was replaced in 1848 by a five-manual Hill organ, which was built where the Harrison & Harrison now stands.

Who plays the Westminster Abbey organ at special ceremonies and occasions?

The organ is usually played by Peter Holder, the Abbey's sub-organist

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Image by Getty Images

Authors

Hannah Nepilova is a regular contributor to BBC Music Magazine. She has also written for The Financial Times, The Times, The Strad, Gramophone, Opera Now, Opera, the BBC Proms and the Philharmonia, and runs The Cusp, an online magazine exploring the boundaries between art forms. Born to Czech parents, she has a strong interest in Czech music and culture.

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