The Peterborough Cathedral William Hill Organ

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About the Instrument

Thomas Thamar was comissioned to build an organ for Peterborough Cathedral in 1661, which was completed in 1663. This instrument was considered to be too small by the then Chapter, and it was enlarged in 1681 (possibly by Schmidt or Harris), however very little information survives about this instrument and its fate. In 1735, a new instrument and case was built by a local Peterborough builder, John Ulrich Killeburgh, which was then rebuilt by William Allen in 1809. Further alterations were made, including a new case on the screen in 1830, and in 1868 it was rebuilt and enlarged by William Hill.

The organ screen was removed in 1883, and in 1894 Hill & Son built the present instrument, incorporating some of the 1735 and 1868 pipework. The Great, Swell, Solo and Pedal divisions are located in 3 bays of the north triforium, with a case designed by Dr Arthur Hill filling the central bay. The Choir Organ is in the north quire aisle, along with with the Pedal Bourdon and Bass Flute. The console was originally placed in a gallery north of the choir stalls. In 1930 the organ was rebuilt and enlarged by Hill Norman & Beard, updating the instrument to electro-pneumatic action, with a new console being installed in a gallery above the south choir stalls. HN&B retained most of the 1894 pipework, but made a number of tonal alterations and additions.

The organ was restored by Harrison & Harrison in 1981, with some tonal changes, but broadly guided by the original Hill concept. Following a fire in the Cathedral in 2001, the organ was dismantled, overhauled, and reinstated by 2005. During this work, the Choir division was moved one bay to the west, bringing it directly beneath the main organ case, the console was re-orinented, and new electrical systems were installed.

The Hill Instrument was originally constructed at old Philharmonic pitch (approximately A = 452). There had been discussion over the years about the possibilty of changing the organ to concert pitch which date at least as far back as the days of Stanley Vann in the 1970s. In 2015, approval to alter the pitch was granted by the Cathedrals Fabric Comission for England. Harrison & Harrison very sensitively undertook the work, ensuring that the the instruments integrity was preserved, and allowing for the possibility that the work could be reversed at a later date if this were ever desired. The pipework was retuned where possible, with pipes being extended where neccesary, and all the working being meticulously documented. In addition to the pitch change, tonal changes were made, including the addition of a new Tuba Mirabilis which was produced in the style of Hill, along with the addition of a Pedal 16 Open Wood (originally listed as the Open Diapason Wood, which is now provided by an extension of the 32 Open Diapason), and the addition of a Nazard and a two rank Sesquialtera (based on the Nazard) on the Choir. The re-pitch is widely regarded as being a great success, with the instrument considered by many to speak even better in the building at the lower pitch. The current instrument comprises 89 stops, and around 5,400 pipes over 4 Manuals and Pedals, with enclosed Swell, Solo and Choir divisions, with a compass of 61 notes on the manuals and 31 notes on the Pedals.

The Sample Set

One of the pre-requisites for proceeding with the re-pitching of the instrument was that the sound of the instrument should be captured and archived in some way at its original pitch. Traditionally this would have been done by recording some reference pieces of varied repertoire, but with the development of the Hauptwerk virtual pipe, there is now the possibility of creating a playable archive recording. With this in mind, a few ranks of the organ were recorded in 2009, and it very quickly became apparent that this would be huge undertaking, involving the recording and processing of hundreds of hours of Audio.

A Robot was built in order to play the notes and select stops (using the built in combination system), which allowed sampling to be performed non stop right through the night, with absolute accuracy in terms of note lengths (for multiple releases), and ensuring sufficient gaps between all notes for the building acoustic to die away. As an added bonus, it is also possible to collect the marker positions for the note start and key release at the time of sampling, which saves time and effort in later processing.

The recordings were made in nine overnight sessions over a period of a few months at the beginning of 2015, with an additional two nights of recording made in 2017 following the repitch to capture the tonal changes and some of repitched pipework. Sustain samples of at least 8 to 10 seconds were recorded for every note, with a minimum of 3 releases per note, with some ranks having up to 5 different lengths of release. Microphones were placed in the organ itself, right up close to the pipework, as well as ambient mics in multiple locations between the choir stalls and further down the nave. The main source used for the stereo set is based on a microphone in on the south side of the choir stalls, very close to the console itself, being around a few feet closer to the organ case, and a few feet lower than the bench. All audio was recorded and processed at 96KHz and 24 bit (32 bit floating point), using RME Octamic II and soundfield MKV / SPS422B preamps, with RME A/D conversion from a Fireface ufx. Microphones used were Soundfield MKV / Soundfield SPS422B, Core Sound Tetramic, Earthworks QTC40, ADK TL51, AKG C414, Rode NT4. Tremulant affected samples of all notes were recorded where possible, although the Swell tremulant was not functional in the original sessions, and so these were recorded post repitch.

This version of the sample set recreates the organ as it was just prior to its re-pitch in 2015, being at the higher pitch of around A = 452. There will be an update available at a later date which will reflect the current specification and pitch following the re-pitching.

Considerable effort has gone into developing post processing methods and software to optimise the creation of the very highest quality samples. In particular careful consideration has been given to optimising the trade off between removing background noise and preserving the intricate detail in the sound to give it life. . In addition to processing note samples, all blower, stop, switch, key, tremulant and action noises have been reproduced, and a significant number of impulse responses taken from various locations within the organ, which have been used to recreate parts of the reverb tail which were lost below the building noise floor.

The Tremulant affected ranks on the Choir, Swell and Solo use a combination of tremulant affected samples and hauptwerk modelled tremulants where required (mainly for the Swell, due to a malfunction during recording sessions), and where the Hauptwerk model is used, these use individual waveforms for every note and are programmed to match reference recordings. The enclosure models for the Swell, Choir and Solo are all carefully prepared on a rank by rank / note by note basis using reference recordings, and the wind system has been modelled based on meaasurements of the real organ and test recordings of the pipework. The samples have been programmed with multiple loops (up to 9) for added realism.

The Organ Controls are all faithfully reproduced and fully functioning, including the solid state logic Capture system with 128 general level memories and 8 divisional levels.

System Requirements

Note: This sample set is intended for use only with Hauptwerk Advanced edition version 4 and above. You will need a Hauptwerk advanced licence and enough free ram to be able to load all ranks.

In order to get the best performance from this organ, we recommend using a PC or Mac running a 64 bit operating system, with an up to date multi core processor (4 or more cores is ideal), and a minimum of 20Gb of memory, and at least 50Gb of free hard disc space. The approximate memory requirements for each volume are listed below.


The sample set is available in 4 parts; a Free trial set, Volume1, 2 & 3 - See below for the specifications

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Further information can be found in the Organ Instructions / Information file (pdf) which can be downloaded here

Audio Samples

 Below are some example pieces recorded using the Peterborough Hill sample set (Stereo version)

(Recordings are included with very kind permission from Christopher Brown and David Lamb)

# Audio Title Composer Performed by
1 Toccata (Moto Perpetuo) Alec Rowley David Lamb
2 Allegretto, Op. 29, No. 2 (Three compositions) Arthur Foote David Lamb
3 Grand Choeur Charles Grey David Lamb
4 Grand Choeur No. 2 in C major Alfred Hollins Christopher Brown
5 Psalm Prelude Set 1 No 1 Herbert Howells Christopher Brown
6 Prelude and Fugue in C minor BWV 549 J.S.Bach Christopher Brown