Sir Louis Matheson Pipe Organ
Did you know?
Unless you’re a Monash graduate, you probably wouldn’t be aware of the provenance and significance of the pipe organ which graces the platform of the Robert Blackwood Hall tucked away in suburban Clayton, Victoria. It is the Southern Hemisphere’s only example of the work of master organ builder, Jϋrgen Ahrend, whose magnificent instruments can be found in the great cathedrals and concert halls of Toulouse, Frankfurt, Edinburgh, Stuttgart, Munich, Milan and Hamburg to name a few. How’s that for good company?!
Monash’s Louis Matheson Pipe Organ was constructed by hand in Ahrend’s workshop in northern Germany before being shipped to Melbourne and installed in the Robert Blackwood Hall in 1980. Each pipe is hand crafted and even the casing timbers were handpicked by Ahrends and seasoned by the builder himself for over ten years. Click here to see some of the extraordinary work that goes into making a single pipe. Multiply that by 3097 and you have some idea of just what a remarkable piece of work she is.
Crunching the numbers
4 keyboards (manuals)
12 months to construct
12.5 days to reassemble after transport from Europe
850+ donors who contributed to its cost
30 years old this year.
But it’s not really about the numbers. Mostly we love her because she’s a little bit sexy and sounds absolutely awesome!
The Louis Matheson Pipe Organ is the first example seen in the Southern Hemisphere of the work of Jurgen Ahrend, widely recognised as one of the finest organ builders and restorers of the present era.
The Organ represents a return to the principles of construction enjoyed by the instrument in its Golden Age of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
It is conceived of as a work of art with integrity of form and as a sensitive medium for the performance of other works of art. It seeks beauty not through complexity and an attempt at universality, but on the contrary through simplicity and consciously determined limitations.
The organ was constructed in Ahrend's workshop in Leer, a town in northern Germany very near the Netherlands border. The case and other woodwork are made from oak, selected and seasoned by the builder for over ten years. Pipes are made from tin, lead and oak. Facade pipes are 75 per cent tin. Keyboards are of boxwood and ebony and stop-knobs of boxwood.
In most aspects of construction Ahrend has followed the methods of the 17th-century organ builder Arp Schnitger (whose position in the history of organ building is similar to that of Shakespeare in literature), but in key action he has preferred the more sensitive suspended mechanical action used by classical French builders. Electricity in the organ is confined to the blower motor and lights above the keydesk and pedalboard.
At the very least the Louis Matheson Pipe Organ is a unique contribution to the Australian organ scene. But one need not hesitate to go further and herald it as one of the great organ monuments of the 20th century, worthy of taking a place beside the masterpieces of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
by John O'Donnell