The Cathedral organ is a three-manual pipe organ built by Rieger Orgelbau of Austria for the opening of the Cathedral in June 1973. The specification was drawn up by Joseph von Glatter-Götz, then managing director of Rieger, in conjunction with John Rowntree of the Society of Saint Gregory Organ Advisory Group. It has 1,830 pipes.
The contract price in 1973 was £18,000 – the Brustwerk Cimbel being donated by Herr Glatter-Götz at his own expense. It was originally intended that the organ from the pro-Cathedral (a 19th-century Vowles instrument) would be installed in the new Cathedral, transformed into a row of pipes on a shelf suspended above where the choir would have been in that scenario. Part of the unfinished shelf can be seen to the left of the organ, as can the original console position to the right – a hexagonal space now often used by the Cantor.
The design of the case for the Rieger organ was by Herr Glatter-Götz, and reflects the triangles, hexagons and the proportions (1:√3) on which the design of the Cathedral building is based. The case is made of ash, great care having been taken to match the wood throughout the Cathedral to the extent that it was sourced from all over Europe. The pedal pipes have the copper flamed to complement the scheme. Copper was more economic as a pipe metal than lead or tin in 1973.
There are 26 speaking stops, with no extensions or duplexing. The keyboard, pedal and stop action is completely mechanical. Apart from five reversible foot pedals to the couplers (situated to the left of the swell pedal) there are no playing aids whatsoever. There is no III/I manual coupler. The keyboards are reversed with white sharps and ebony natural keys. The pedal board is a hybrid of the RCO standard pedal board specification (concave and radiating) and a straight pedal board as would have been found in earlier organs. The pedals extend to F and the manuals to G. The blower is a Swiss Meidinger model and the wind supply to the chests of the Schwimmer form.
The Cathedral building has two acoustic zones: one for music on the Sanctuary and one for speech in the Nave. The organ echoes this design with the tone cabinets projecting towards the Nave, apart from the Rückpositiv which speaks into the Narthex and thus supports singing on the Sanctuary and has as a consequence more indirect sound (reverberation) in the Nave. Originally the Brustwerk was to have been unenclosed, but this was felt to be a little too uncompromising and, after much discussion, it was encased in glass shutters. The Werkprinzip tonal design, with narrow scaling and tone cabinets, is ideal for the acoustic with its warm resonance.
Although of modest proportions and scale for a thousand-seat room, it speaks with great clarity (largely due to a neo-Baroque voicing style) and control (due to a sensitive, atmospherically compensated, mechanical action). It is the only instrument of its type in the South West of England, and attracts recitalists, recording artists and students from throughout the UK and abroad.
The organ enhances the liturgy with colour of tone, and is the sole instrument used to accompany the Solemn Mass each Sunday – quite a challenge, given the lack of pistons or other playing aids. This is the character of the organ: uncompromising and challenging, exciting to play – and consequently to hear – as the organist tackles all kinds of repertoire with an 18th century Austrian musical accent.
The great organ historian BB Edwards wrote: ‘I was allowed to play this for an hour. Superb… I would not, however, want to play it regularly in liturgical use.’ John Norman in The Organs of Britain wrote phrases such as: ‘a model of achievement [with a] strong personality’.
Stephen Bryant is Director of Music of St. Edward’s School, Cheltenham, and Organist of Clifton Cathedral. He was educated in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and whilst in the sixth form he was Organ Scholar at Newcastle Cathedral. He moved to Manchester University to read music, during which time he studied the organ with Gordon Stewart, directed several choirs and orchestras as well as being Organ Scholar at Blackburn Cathedral. After graduating he completed a PGCE course before initially teaching in Liverpool. In 1999 he moved to Bristol and has since
taught in two of the independent schools within the city.
In September 2006, he was appointed Director of Music of St. Edward’s School, Cheltenham, where he is responsible for the direction of the music both academically and within the extensive extra-curricular framework. He conducts the school’s choirs and orchestras in their extensive programme of concerts and services, including visits to Tewkesbury Abbey and Clifton Cathedral as well as touring across Europe. The many significant performances he has directed include ‘The Snowman’ (playing live with the movie), Lionel Bart’s Oliver! and the world première of a specially commissioned mass setting by Ian Higginson, ‘Missa Sancti Eduarde’.
Stephen has been Organist of Clifton Cathedral since September 2000, a post he combines with his full-time teaching position. He has undertaken various recordings, broadcasts and tours with the cathedral choir, including broadcasting live on BBC1 as well as various broadcasts on BBC Radio 4. He is in demand as an organist, having already performed throughout the UK, Europe and America. He was a prize winner at the Oundle International Summer School and a finalist in the Royal College of Organists’ Performer of the Year competition in 2002.