Brisbane City Hall Organ


The photograph of the 32-foot pipes of the Royal Albert Hall Organ featured on the cover of our August 2002 Journal reminded me of the massive 32-foot bottom C pipe of the Brisbane City Hall organ. It is a full length pipe and to install it the builders, Hill Norman and Beard, placed the foot of it in a storeroom underneath the main organ chamber. I suspect from the absence of any similarlength pipes that it is a Diaphone probably covering the lower half of the bottom octave.

      Mr. R. Boughem OBE, the City Organist, allowed me the privilege of amusing myself with it for an hour or two much to the delight of some Japanese tourists. I think from my days at Rye that there must be more photographs of the back of my head in Japan than anywhere else in the world.

      As far as I could ascertain the organ was built around the beginning of the last century as a 4-manual instrument. It was shipped out to Australia but never installed until the early 1930s when the City Hall was built. Previously there was not a hall large enough for it. Its fifth manual was added when it was installed. The manual layout follows theatre organ practice with an orchestral organ on the fourth manual and the two solo organs, one enclosed and one not, on the fifth manual. The unenclosed organ had 8ft and 4ft Tubas and the two together had you ducking for cover at the console.

      I found it a comfortable organ to play with plenty of playing aids. For instance the general crescendo pedal could be switched out of action and had a light to show when it was active. In addition there were 4 swell pedals and 4 switches which enabled you to couple any swell pedal to any box. What I did find daunting however was the row of thirty-two coupler tablets running from one side of the console to the other.

      My favourite piece of console equipment was the music desk, which could be adjusted by a wooden lattice arrangement for both distance and height. My neck muscles were very grateful.

Ron Downs
Camber, East Sussex

Editor: - The bottom C of a 32ft Open Diapason is truly enormous, but each semitone rise in pitch reduces size surprisingly quickly allowing the remainder of the bottom octave to be housed within the organ case. A “Diaphone”, however, is a stop closely related to, and is part of, the “reed” family. They have thick brass reeds, which have leather faced valves securely attached to the vibrating end and, when they vibrate, they open and close an aperture in a wooden shallot producing its note. This is amplified by a tapered wooden resonator resembling a Trombone pipe. Producing prodigious power, they were much loved by cinema organ builders.

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