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The Father Willis Organ's National Importance
Here are extracts from is Cecil Clutton's tonal assessment of the organ, written in 1946.
The St. Bees specification exhibits certain features unusual at the period, which have since become almost commonplace. Most striking is the insistence upon completing the essential flue and reed choruses, even at the expense of pretty tonal tit-bits, and in this respect only too many modern organ architects have very much to learn from the example of St. Bees
But it is the rigid economy of the design for which the specification is most conspicuous, and it is that feature of making the utmost of any given number of speaking stops which has so outstandingly characterised all Col. Dixon's work as an organ architect. Within thirty-five speaking stops have been compressed all the important effects to be looked for (but not always found) in a cathedral organ
The organ is fortunate in having the whole of a large and lofty transept for its accommodation, and its layout is therefore most spacious. When he first visited the church in 1896, Willis himself remarked that he had seldom seen a more magnificent site for an organ. In its voicing, he evidently set out to excel himself; perhaps the old man even guessed that it was to be practically his swan song.
The full swell is second in fame only to St. Paul's, and in effect I doubt if it has ever been surpassed.
The reeds have an indefinable richness of tone which quite disarms criticism. This is particularly true of the basses, and Willis asserted that the contra posaune was the best he had ever made. In the lower register it makes a beautiful pedal solo.
When, to the remarkable economy of the almost perfect specification, is added the miraculous proportioning of the stops one to another, and the splendid voicing, it is not difficult to divine the secret of the instrument's amazing flexibility. On the surface, there is no reason to lead the player to expect such adaptability; but in the fact the organ is at home alike with Sweelink or Karg-Elert.
The St. Bees organ is, indeed, an apt monument to the men who designed it and the master who built it. One must hope that its original shape will never be materially altered, for it is an instrument of outstanding importance in the history of English organ building."