In 2015 Peterborough Cathedral embarked on re-pitching its nineteenth century Hill organ from old philharmonic to standard concert pitch. Now that it is at standard pitch the organ can be used with modern orchestral instruments, and choristers trained to sing at the same pitch used elsewhere. The work was undertaken by Harrison and Harrison, organ builders, between July 2015 and December 2016.
You can watch the fascinating story of the organ's re-pitch by following Pipewatch, a series of short videos featuring different aspects of the project.
Robert Quinney, former Director of Music, makes the case for re-pitching the Cathedral organ
History of Peterborough Cathedral Organ
The present instrument can be traced back to 1894 when William Hill built a new organ incorporating some pipework from previous instruments. Hill was one of the two most celebrated organ builders of the nineteenth century, and his instruments were designed in a somewhat more classical style than the more symphonic organs of his rival Henry Willis. The main organ is situated in the north triforium, behind a case designed by Dr Arthur Hill, and the Choir Organ and two pedal ranks are in the north choir aisle.
The organ has 86 speaking stops spread over four manuals and pedals. It includes comprehensive Great and Swell Organs of 19 and 18 stops respectively, with a large palette of 8’ colours and a complete chorus from 16’ pitch to two mixtures on both divisions. Unusually, every rank in the Pedal Organ is independent (there is no extension even for the 32’ ranks), as are the two Swell Oboes and the two Solo Clarinet ranks (16’ and 8’).
The Choir, Swell and Solo divisions are all enclosed. The Solo division incorporates twelve ranks of gentler orchestral colour as well as a Tuba at 16’ and 8’ pitches in a separate box.
National Pipe Organ Register entry
Organists and Directors of Music
Of the organists of Peterborough Cathedral, few before the twentieth century would be familiar to singers or musicians, though two anthems by Thomas Mudd (1631-32) and some Psalm chants by Haydn Keeton (1870-1921) remain in the repertoire. Henry Coleman (1921-44), a pupil of Sir Sidney Nicholson, published many organ compositions and two books on choir training. Douglas Hopkins (1946-1953) went on to become organist at Canterbury Cathedral, while Stanley Vann (1953-1977) succeeded him and transformed the choir at Peterborough, contributing significantly to the choral repertory. Christopher Gower (1977-2004) directed the Choir through challenging times, instituting the Cathedral Festival which ran from 1982-1996. He was succeeded in 2004 by Andrew Reid, who has become Director of the Royal College of Church Music. Robert Quinney held the Directorship of Music for a short time from 2013-14 before going on to teach at Oxford University, but made great strides in championing the organ's re-pitching. The current Director of Music is Steven Grahl.
Among the many assistant organists and articled pupils at Peterborough were Thomas Armstrong, Malcolm Sargeant and Simon Lawford. The current Assistant Director of Music is David Humphreys.