Stichting Cathedral Organ Leiden

Artistic basis

Have you ever visited an English cathedral and listened to its organ? From a soft whisper to a magnificent ‘full organ’ sound? This is a special sensation that cannot yet be experienced in the Netherlands. The Stichting Cathedral Organ Leiden is going to change this state of affairs by enriching the Dutch nation with these unique sounds.

The organ-loving Netherlands can boast a number of English organs, and there is no shortage here of interest in the works of Elgar, Howells, Parry and Stanford. Indeed, Anglican evensongs have long been attracting the attention of a growing number of listeners. However, the Netherlands does not yet have an English organ with the allure of that of a cathedral organ that can do full justice to the current public interest in the traditions of English choral and organ music.

The versatility of the English Romantic organ enhances not only traditional English organ works. It is also ideally suited to provide accompaniment for all manner of choral and community singing, and is eminently suitable for a great diversity of musical styles. For example, on this type of organ, full justice can be done to orchestral transcriptions and improvisations.

The Hooglandse Kerk in Leiden is the ideal location in which to use an English organ to its best advantage. Each year, this church is visited by tens of thousands of visitors from all corners of the globe, and is frequently the setting for all manner of events, including concerts and meetings of a religious, cultural, societal or commercial nature. Over a large number of years, the Hooglandse Kerk has become the traditional centre for choral, organ and orchestral concerts, with a special emphasis on English choral music. Many famous English choirs have performed in this monumental building, and all express their enthusiasm for its wonderful acoustics. The Leidse Cantorij, which has the Hooglandse Kerk as its home base, has also attracted much public acclaim with its concerts and evensongs.

Until now, choirs have been accompanied by the historic, internationally renowned De Swart / Van Hagerbeer organ. However, partly because of its very specific tuning, this Dutch baroque organ is less suitable for the accompaniment of English choral music or the performance of English organ works.

The Stichting Cathedral Organ Leiden has therefore taken the initiative of obtaining an English cathedral organ for the Hooglandse Kerk. The principal aim is to enable the optimum interpretation of English choral and organ music, in a suitable setting and for a broadly based audience. To this end, the Stichting Cathedral Organ Leiden proposes to build an instrument that is based on the size and tonality of the type of organ that can be found in the English cathedrals. Such an organ has the warm, orchestral tonality that is so characteristic of the period 1880 – 1920, the days of the celebrated organ builders ‘Father’ Willis and Harrison & Harrison. With the purchase of the Willis organ, the Stichting Cathedral Organ Leiden is assured of this monumental sound, guaranteeing the artistic success of the new instrument!

The organ, with its ‘Father’ Willis sound as basis, will have at least 55 registers, spread over four manuals (Great, Swell, Choir and Solo) and free pedal. I t will also have typically English registers, some of which will be heard for the first time in the Netherlands. The organ’s crowning glory will be a full length (ten-metre) Double Open Wood 32’, a 32’ reed and a high-pressure Tuba 8’.

Installation of the organ in the church will, of course, be carried out in an architecturally responsible way. By locating the organ in the east aisle of the north transept, near the church’s magnificent choir, the console will be at ground level, so that choirs, other musicians or even complete orchestras can be accompanied with ease. The audience will also be able to see the organist playing, which adds to the experience gained from the musical performance.

The organ will be used for choral and organ concerts, musical events, and during festivals and competitions. It will also be used for radio and television broadcasts and for CD and DVD recordings. The Stichting Cathedral Organ Leiden will introduce the organ to young people by means of special demonstrations and concerts. It will also be made available to organ teachers and students who wish to explore England’s choral and organ culture. Other organ enthusiasts will also be given the opportunity of playing the new organ.

Completion of this project will lead to numerous new cultural and educational opportunities. The plans therefore complement other national and local initiatives that aim to raise public awareness of the organ. The Stichting Cathedral Organ Leiden expects the construction of the large new English organ in the Hooglandse Kerk to stimulate interest in organ and choral music in Leiden and throughout the Netherlands.

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