The organ was built by Harrison & Harrison of Durham in 1923, and restored by them in 1992. It was the company’s first organ in a concert hall. Built on a grand scale, it is recognised as one of the finest instruments of its type. It sits high up on the east side of the hall, dominating the stage and speaking straight out into the room.
Harrisons’ latest (2020) specification document for the organ can be found here.
THE CAIRD HALL AND ITS ORGAN
We’re rather proud of our Harrison and Harrison concert organ here in the Caird Hall.
When Sir James Caird had the hall built for the people of Dundee, he wanted the best of the best. Hence Harrison and Harrison – the ‘Rolls Royce’ of British organ builders – were commissioned to build the organ. The City Architect James Thomson had designed a magnificent hall which would have an excellent acoustic, so work began to design and build an instrument fit for this superb concert hall.
There may have been a little city rivalry in play, as a new Norman and Beard concert organ had not long been installed in the Usher Hall in the capital city, so Dundee wanted their civic organ to be better than Edinburgh’s!
Dr Alfred Hollins, an eminent organist based in Edinburgh, was asked to design the organ; he had designed organs in churches and town halls around the world, so Arthur Harrison (manager of the Harrison and Harrison at that time) knew the job was in safe hands.
After various discussions, the specification for an organ of three manuals with 50 speaking stops was drawn up and work began on building the organ in the Harrison workshop in Durham in 1922. The organ was then brought up to Dundee and installed in the hall in 1923.
Alfred Hollins gave the inaugural recital on the organ on 27 June 1923. (In fact, the official opening ceremony for the hall didn’t take place until 26 October, carried out by HRH The Prince of Wales [later King Edward VIII].)
Three years later, Dundee Corporation appointed its first City Organist. Having been appointed in December of 1926, James Hinchliffe went on to hold the office until 1970. No other City Organist has come anywhere close to matching his 43 year tenure.
Having been played for many concerts over the years, the organ’s condition had deteriorated badly by the 1970s. In the 1980s a group of local folk who were enthusiastic about the organ got together to form a Caird Hall Organ Trust and they raised the money needed to have the organ restored back to its former glory. After a ‘decommissioning concert’ by our FOCHO President Gordon Stewart, the organ was removed and taken back down to the Harrison workshop in February of 1991, brought back in the December, and was re-commissioned in 1992 at a concert by the renowned international recitalist Carlo Curley.
During the rebuild the pitch of the organ was raised slightly so that it could be played with orchestras, which has enabled it to be used in many orchestral concerts over the past few years.
As solo or accompanying instrument, it is a joy to play and to listen to. Each stop has its own unique sound. One stop rings round the hall beautifully – full organ fills the hall gloriously! Harrison and Hollins truly created, as it has often been acclaimed, ‘the finest concert organ in Scotland’. It truly is the pride and joy of Dundee – do come and hear it for yourself!
From the considerable collection of artefacts collected from checking vaults, donations and other means, FOCHO realised that we had enough material to mount an exhibition related to Dr Alfred Hollins. Leisure and Culture Dundee kindly provided space within the Caird Hall for this display. Advice on the setting out of the exhibition was provided by the curators at the McManus. Have a search in your attic or garden shed. You never know what you might turn up!
Archiving of information relating to FOCHO has been carried out from an early stage in the life of the charity to ensure nothing is missed. The Archive is sub-divided into appropriate headings, e.g. Agenda & Minutes, Reports to Committee, etc. Included is a large section related to Dr. Alfred Hollins and this includes compositions held by FOCHO, correspondence, collected artefacts to him etc. FOCHO were also given the Caird Hall Organ Trust data by Dundee City Archives that relates to the 1991-92 restoration. Offers of donations of relevant material are always welcome. If you can assist in preserving the archive and would like to help, no previous experience is necessary, please contact a member of the committee. You will be extremely welcome!
FOCHO are always willing to come to any meeting group to give a talk on the relationship of Dr Alfred Hollins with the planning of the organ when the Caird Hall was being built and opened in 1923. Think about FOCHO when planning your next syllabus.
In 2015 Jim McKellican, FOCHO’s founding Chair, published a comprehensive history of the instrument. This is available to buy from the Caird Hall, but a taster can be downloaded here
To view the full organ specification on the National Pipe Organ Register, click here
Pedal flue-work 4 to 6 inches;
Pedal reeds 18 and 20 inches;
Orchestral flue-work and reeds 6 inches
Tuba 20 inches
Great flue-work 5 inches, reeds 18 inches
Swell flue-work and light reeds 5 inches
Swell chorus reeds 10 inches
Action 12 inches
Organ photos courtesy of Leisure & Culture Dundee and Colin Lowson