Choir organs at St Peter's: a brief history

The four organs: a brief history and their specifications

Smith of Bristol, 1855

The original organ in St Peter's was built by Smith of Bristol in 1855, and was housed in the gallery over the west doors.

This instrument has 2 complete Manual Organs–compass of each CC to F in alto, 54 notes; and an independent Pedal Organ of 1 complete stop–compass from CCC to F tenor, 30 notes. Is enclosed in case, 10ft 7in wide, 11ft 9in deep, 17ft 6in high; with front speaking pipes, gilt, and ornamentally arranged. The Reed Pipes are of Fine Spotted Metal.

Great Organ
Open Diapason8
Stop Diapason Bass 8 tone
Viol di Gamba 8
Twelfth2 2/3
Sesquialtra, 3 ranks
Trumpet, pierced for full-size pipes

Swell Organ
Open Diapason8
Stop Diapason8
Twelfth2 2/3

Pedal Organ
Open Diapason 16

Swell/Great Great/Pedal Swell/Pedal
Three composition pedals to Great
Auxiliary Bellows
Radiating Pedals

Norman & Beard, 1912

The second organ was built by Norman & Beard in 1912 and was housed in the front south corner, behind, and speaking into, the Sanctuary area. Its sister is the beautiful organ in the Melbourne Grammar School Chapel. Its limited access for maintenance, changes in musical fashion, along with its primary tonal focus of speech (the Sanctuary!), led to its replacement. This organ was dismantled and stored in the hall balcony in 1966 and a small 2-manual instrument hired from Hill Norman & Beard was placed in the church gallery.This was withdrawn by HN&B when Fincham gained the contract, and a piano was used from 1972-74. The choir had moved to the gallery in 1962 prior to the restoration of the chancel, in the middle of the decade.

Great Organ
Open Diapason Large8
Open Diapason Medium 8
Dulciana   8
Clarabel   8
Principal   4
Harmonic Flute4
Fifteenth   2
Trumpet   8

Pedal Organ
Open Diapason 16
Cello   8

Swell Organ
Open Diapason 8
Leiblich Gedacht 8
Voix Celeste8
Horn   8

Choir Organ
Viol d'Orchestre 8
Leiblich Flute4

George Fincham & Sons, 1974
Consultant: David Rumsey

Built in 1976, the present instrument (and its concurrently built sister previously in St Francis' Church, Lonsdale Street, and now replaced by Casavant Frères, Canada), was the first mechanical action instrument built by the Fincham Company for a number of decades. Using principles of design from the 17th century (but using modern materials: eg plywood and non-wooden trackers) and in an era where the organs built on earlier principles did not abound (do they now!) the consultant for the organ, David Rumsey sought to provide the parish with an organ capable of playing earlier repertoire more successfully. This organ is, in my experience, unique, in having the consultant's name on the builder's plate (though David Rumsey explains that this was at the builder's insistence).

Wisely, the instrument was placed along the principal axis of the building, which necessitated it being placed centrally in the rear gallery, to allow Werkprinzip design characteristics. A specification was sent for approval by Fr Michael Wentzell to Marie-Claire Alain in Paris, and following this being declared unsuitable, Fr Taylor sought the advice of David Rumsey, appointing him consultant.

Octav   4
Nazard2 2/3
Octav   2
Tierce   1 3/5

Quinte   1 1/3

FlütenPrincipal 8
Mixtur   III
Fagott   16

Coupling: II/II/PII/P
Tuning System: Equal temperament
Pressure: HW 72mm, Ped 87mm, RP 78mm

George Fincham & Sons, 1975
Wentzell Memorial Organ

Following the untimely death of the brilliant Australian organist, Fr Michael Wentzell (1939-1973) who was associated with the parish at that time, a subscription was raised for a chamber organ to be a memorial in St Peter's Church where it has lived since. It enjoyed a short holiday across the river, doing service during the rebuild of the organ in Christ Church, South Yarra. Its absence however, prompted the Vicar and Vestry to have it not return to the church, and it was thus put it on the market.

This physically cumbersome, but very well crafted instrument was sold in 1999. A Subcommittee has recommended to the vestry its replacement with a truly portable organ with greater posibility of rental and use in various parts of the building.

Its specification is:

Gedackt 8
Principal 4
RohrFlute 4
Gemshorn 2
Mixture III
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A Replacement Chamber Organ

A portable organ in St Peter's is essential for more intimate accompaniment work, continuo playing with orchestral instruments and, if portable, may be hired out.

The Wentzell Organ was used often for Evensong and for playing early music more authentically. It is vital to a balanced programming for certain events eg the Annual Carol Service and The Concert Series.

A portable chamber organ was completed in 2006 by Stewart Organs of Richmond, Victoria. This was essentially a refurbishment of an existing organ, and it is permanently housed in the church.

The assistance of Mrs Margaret Robbins in providing details of the demise of the Norman & Beard organ and of the interim arrangements to 1976, is acknowledged.

Alae Taule'alo