Sydney Opera House
Concert Hall Grand Organ

Ronald Sharp 1979, 5m., 131 sp. st., mechanical and electric








Historical and Technical Documentation by Mark Fisher
© Mark Fisher 2004; OHTA 2005, 2009 (last updated January 2009)


 

The Grand Organ was designed and built, during the period 1969 to 1979, by the Sydney organ-builder Ronald Sharp, assisted by Mark Fisher, Myk Fairhurst and Raymond Bridge, his personal staff.  During the final 17 months of construction, four members of the Austrian organ-building firm of Gregor Hradetzky, were on site, also working under Sharp’s supervision and specification, to assist with the work.

 

Sharp’s organ-building career began in 1960, when he was commissioned to build a new choir organ for Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral. In 1964 he then employed Raymond Bridge, a cabinet-maker, together with Mark Fisher who, like Sharp, was a self-taught organbuilder. The new organ at Knox Grammar School in 1966 was the first product of this team and the instrument won the admiration of English organist Peter Hurford, who recorded for Decca on both the Knox organ and the new organ, also by Sharp, for Wollongong Town Hall.

 

Hurford was invited to become consultant for the Opera House organ; and his admiration of Sharp’s work, which by then had attracted worldwide acclaim, led him to recommend Ronald Sharp to the New South Wales Government Organ Committee to be the builder of the Concert Hall organ.

 

Many people doubted that such a huge pipe organ, as proposed by Sharp, particularly one using mechanical key action, could be built by him - or anybody. Controversy raged throughout the construction years, until finally Sharp’s magnum opus was completed at a cost of 1.2 million dollars, under the supervision of the NSW Department of Public Works, which was also responsible for supervising the construction of the Sydney Opera House. The Department handed over the completed instrument to the Opera House Trust on 30 May 1979 and the opening recital was on 7 June 1979.

 

The Concert Hall Grand Organ is still believed to be the largest mechanical-action organ in the world.  It is 16 metres high, 13 metres wide, a total of 8 metres deep and weighs 37.5 tonnes. The four largest pipes of the Prinzipal 32’ hang on the rear wall and weigh an additional 6 tonnes. The organ is built on a cantilevered steel platform, overlaid with a 100mm thick floor of laminated brush-box timber and it is all contained in a shell-like concrete chamber. The underside of the platform carries the white birch plywood ceiling above the choir gallery.

 

In April 1994 Mark Fisher, who shared a major role in the design and building of the organ, and who left Ronald Sharp at the end of 1981 to commence his own business, was invited by the Opera House Trust to return to the organ, to take control of its ongoing maintenance and tuning. During that time, gradual refurbishment of some sections of the organ has been carried out together with other work, all carefully maintaining the philosophy of the builder.

 

In July 2001, the organ was shut down, while its original electronic control system was replaced, with a more comprehensive system. During this changeover, the stop jambs, name board, thumb and toe piston rails were rebuilt with other new sections of the console added, together with a performer’s consolette, in order to accommodate discretely the many new controls. The organ was re-opened in April 2002 by Olivier Latry and has since been in regular use, though not often heard in solo organ recitals.

 

The organ contains six departments: Pedal, Rückpositiv, Hauptwerk, Oberwerk, Brustwerk and Kronwerk.  There are 131 speaking stops, 201 ranks and 10, 244 pipes. The façade contains 109 burnished tin pipes and 24 bronze bells. The largest and smallest pipes have speaking lengths of 9.7 metres and 6mm. The organ’s wind supply is generated by nine blowers situated throughout the organ.

 

The attached five manual and pedal drawstop console contains 172 stop knobs (of various types), 107 thumb pistons, 43 toe pistons, 12 midi pistons, three swell pedals and an infinite speed and gradation crescendo pedal. There are two closed circuit TV screens, together with various communication aids to the stage, stage manager and hall.

 

The organ has mechanical key action, electrical stop action, mechanical and electrical couplers and a Solid State Logic CFM300 piston capture system. It is also fitted with a performance recording and playback facility for the performers use in evaluating registration; and for organ demonstrations, where the playback unit can be operated from three locations within the Concert Hall.

 

An electronic upgrade, held over from 2002, was completed in October 2008 by Adrian Wadey of Solid State Organ Systems (UK).[1]



 

Ronald Sharp 1979 (5/131 mechanical and electric)



59*
45
58
57
44
43
42
56
41
55
54
40
39
53
38
52
37
36
51
50
49
48
47
46
35
34
33
32
31
60



138
139
153
154
137
152
151
150
136
149
148
135
147
134
133
132
131
130
129
128
146
142
145
127
143
144
141
140



114
113
112
125
126
124
111
123
122
121
110
109
108
107
106
120
119
118
117
105
116
115



91
92
104
103
90
102
101
89
100
88
99
87
98
86
85
84
97
96
83
95
94
170
171
172
93



29
28
27
26
15
14
25
24
13
12
23
22
11
21
20
19
10
9
18
17
16
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
30



65
64
63
75
62
74
73
61
76

HAUPTWERK
C1 - c61
Prinzipal
Gedackt
Oktav
Gamba
Querflöte
Holzflöte
Rohrflöte  
Quint
Grossnasat
Oktav
Gamba
Spitzflöte
Grossterz
Quint
Nasat
Oktav
Hohlflöte
Terz
Piffaro
Terzian
Kornett Mixtur
Mixtur
Scharff
Zimbel
Kornett
Trompete  
Trompete    
Trompete
Glocken
Tremulant

RÜCKPOSITIV
C1 - c61
Prinzipal
Fiffaro
Gedackt
Quintadena
Oktav
Nachthorn
Rohrflöte
Nasat
Oktav
Spitzflöte  
Terz 
Quint 
Sifflöte  
Oktav 
Quint 
Oktav
Quint
Oktav    
Quint   
Oktav      
Sesquialtera
Ophicleide  
Rankett   
Ophicleide  
Trompete  
Dulzian    
Glocken
Tremulant

OBERWERK
C1 - c61
 
Holzprinzipal   
Quintatön 
Prinzipal   
Salizional 
Schwebung 
Spillflöte
Oktav
Salizional
Waldflöte
Querflöte  
Rauschpfeife   
Terzian       
Mixtur
Scharff
Terz Zimbel
Septimen Kornett
Kopftrompete 
Trompete
Oboe
Vox Humana  
Schalmei
Tremulant

BRUSTWERK
C1 - c61
Gemshorn
Unda Maris
Offenflöte
Gedackt
Prinzipal
Quintadena
Nasat
Flachflöte
Terz
Quint
Septime
Schwiegel
None
Glöckleinton
Scharff
Zimbel
Musette
Krummhorn
Regal
Trompetenregal
Glocken
Glockenspiel
Glockenspiel Reiterate
Kuckuckflöte
Tremulant

PEDAL
C1 - g32
Prinzipal
Holzprinzipal  
Oktav   
Violonbass
Subbass  
Rohrquint 
Oktav     
Violon  
Gedackt 
Grossterz
Quint     
Oktav 
Blockflöte
Terz        
Quint   
       
Septime 
Nachthorn        
Bauernflöte  
Rauschpfeife  
Mixtur        
Scharff 
   
Posaune 
Posaune  
Fagott
Trompete 
Dulzian
Trompete
Singend Kornett
Glocken
Tremulant

KRONWERK
C1 - c61
Kornett
Trompete
Feldtrompete
Vox Humana
Helltrompete
Ophicleide
Ophicleide
Glocken
Tremulant



16
16
8
8
8
8
8
5-1/3
5-1/3
4
4
4
3-1/5
2-2/3
2-2/3
2
2
1-3/5
IV-VI
II
VI
VI
V
IV
VI
16
8
4
2




8
8
8
8
4
4
4
2-2/3
2
2
1-3/5
1-1/3
1-1/3
1
2/3
1/2
1/3
1/4
1/6
1/8
II
16
16
8
8
8
1




16
16
8
8
8
8
4
4
4
2
II
II
V-VII
IV
III
V
16
8
8
8
4




8
8
8
8
4
4
2-2/3
2
1-3/5
1-1/3
1-1/7
1
8/9
II
II
I
16
8
8
4
2/3







32
16
16
16
16
10-2/3
8
8
8
6-2/5
5-1/3
4
4
3-1/5
2-2/3
2-2/7
2
1
III
V
VII
32
16
16
8
8
4
2
4+2




VIII-XII
16
8
8
4
16
8
2






 

ANCILLARIES

173    Kuckuck

174    Nachtigäll

175    Zymbelstern

176    Tympanon

 

Glocken-Zymbelstern

Bronze hand bells

Tympanon

Soft bass drum roll

 

 

COUPLERS

Drawstops

72      Oberwerk to Rückpositiv

70      Rückpositiv to Hauptwerk

69      Oberwerk to Hauptwerk

68      Brustwerk to Hauptwerk

67      Kronwerk to Hauptwerk

71      Kronwerk to Rückpositiv

66      Brustwerk to Oberwerk

82      Rückpositiv to Pedal

81      Hauptwerk to Pedal

80      Oberwerk to Pedal

79      Brustwerk to Pedal

77      Kronwerk to Pedal 4

78      Kronwerk to Pedal

 

 

COUPLERS

Rocking tablets

155    Rückpositiv to Rückpositiv 16

156    Rückpositiv to Rückpositiv 4

157    Oberwerk to Oberwerk 16

158    Oberwerk to Oberwerk 4

159    Brustwerk to Brustwerk 16

160    Brustwerk to Brustwerk 4

161    Kronwerk to Kronwerk 16

162    Kronwerk to Kronwerk 4

163    Rückpositiv to Hauptwerk 16

164    Rückpositiv to Hauptwerk 4

165    Oberwerk to Hauptwerk 16

166    Oberwerk to Hauptwerk 4

167    Kronwerk to Hauptwerk 16

168    Kronwerk to Hauptwerk 4

169    Hauptwerk and Pedal Pistons

 

 

 

ADJUSTABLE PISTONS

General Pistons

15      Generals duplicated by toe studs

Departmental Pistons

10      Rückpositiv

10      Hauptwerk

10      Oberwerk

10      Brustwerk

10      Kronwerk

9        Pedal duplicated by toe studs

 

Reversible Pistons
(duplicated by toe studs)

Oberwerk to Rückpositiv

Rückpositiv to Hauptwerk

Oberwerk to Hauptwerk

Brustwerk to Hauptwerk

Kronwerk to Hauptwerk   

Kronwerk to Rückpositiv

Brustwerk to Oberwerk

Rückpositiv to Pedal

Hauptwerk to Pedal

Oberwerk to Pedal

Brustwerk to Pedal

Kronwerk to Pedal  4

Kronwerk to Pedal

 

 

 

ACCESSORIES

100 levels of memory available for each piston

A piston sequencer is fitted to the capture system

Programmable crescendo pedal

4 (3 adjustable) crescendos for each memory

1 tutti piston programmable for each memory level

2 channels of MIDI per department

The scope of any department, general  or reversible pistons is alterable

Tremulant speed and depth controls

Glocken-Zymbelstern speed and key controls

 

 

 

ACTION

mechanical key action

electrical stop action        

Couplers 79-82, 66 - mechanical

Couplers 67-72, 77, 78,155-169  - electrical

S.S.L. CFM 300 capture system

electric action to percussions and playback

wind supply is by nine Ventus blowers

 

 

 

SUMMARY OF PIPES AND STOPS

131 speaking stops

201 pipe ranks

10, 244 pipes

Front pipes 95% tin

 

 

 

RECORDING AND PLAYBACK

The Organ is fitted with a performance recording and playback facility for the performer's use in evaluating registration; and for organ demonstrations, where the playback unit can be operated from three locations within the Concert Hall.

 

 

 

CONSOLE

Five manual and pedal drawstop console

Concave-radiating pedal board

Adjustable bench and music desk

Oberwerk main and echo swell pedals

Brustwerk swell pedal

Infinite speed and gradation crescendo pedal

172 stops

107 Thumb pistons

43 toe pistons

12 MIDI pistons

2 Closed Circuit TV screens (front view of stage and close up view of conductor)

Speaker – to organist from stage

Telephone – organist / stage manager

Microphone – organist to PA system

Performance cueing lights (Ready/Not ready & Stand-by/Go)

 

 

*Numbers refer to those shown on the drawstops

 

 

Published by Mark Fisher

Pipe Organ Reconstructions Pty Ltd

June 2004

 

[1] 'Off the Chest,' The Sydney Organ Journal, vol. 40, no. 1 (Summer 2008-09), p. 37.

 

 

 


During 2020 the Concert Hall was closed for a complete refurbishment during which time the organ was sealed up and covered.





[Photos: Alan Caradus (July 2020)]