The instrument, originally designed for use in Paris drawing rooms, is just seven years older than the Chapel’s Willis organ which is currently undergoing restoration.
“The two instruments will be a perfect pairing,” said Director of Chapel Music Katharine Pardee.
“The Alexandre Harmonium brings all kinds of possibilities for making music with students – wonderful music by Antonín Dvořák for strings and harmonium as well as music by Gabriel Fauré and César Franck. Today it is rare to hear French and German nineteenth century music written for harmonium played on the actual instrument – the organ is often used as a substitute; this is such an opportunity,” she added.
Despite having the ability to subdue the level of sound for a drawing room, adjustments to the harmonium’s inner and outer shutters allow a volume which, combined with the acoustics of the chapel, create a full, rich sound. Knee levers on the front of the organ can be used to control the shutters, affecting the level of ‘swell’. To ensure that the harmonium would be in tune with the organ, each of the organs 276 reeds was scraped near to where they were riveted in place, returning the instrument to the correct pitch.
Explaining how the College came to purchase the instrument Katharine said: “We were looking for something to take the place of the Willis organ while it was being restored and we found that it cost as much to hire an electronic substitute as it was to purchase this wonderful instrument which is so much more worthy of this beautiful space.”
You will be able to hear the Alexandre Harmonium played in Chapel at 6pm Sunday services for the rest of term and it will be played at forthcoming concerts along with the newly restored organ. Details to come.