South Congregational Church

Hartford, Connecticut

Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company, Opus 1181, 1950

Built by the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company in 1949, this example of the work of G. Donald Harrison is a rare survivor from its period. The organ is located in a shallow and wide chamber within the structure of the handsome tower, providing excellent acoustical egress. The Swell Organ is placed against the rear wall of the chamber, and is arranged upon two side-by-side windchests, each immediately behind its own set of expression shutters. Directly beneath the Swell Organ, the Choir Organ also is against the rear wall, its expression shutters directing the sound upwards towards the chamber opening. The Great Organ is situated in front of the Swell Organ, immediately behind the front pipes of the instrument. On either side of the Great Organ the pipes of the Pedal Organ are planted on their own chests.

Initially the console was partially enclosed within the organ façade, but remodeling after a serious fire in the early 1960s permitted the console to be brought forward so that the organist could better hear the instrument and still direct a choir in the organ loft. Other than this small modification – which also resulted in a rearrangement of the display pipes of the organ – the instrument is entirely as it was built originally.

South Church has always been a good steward of this organ. In addition to providing for its regular servicing, the congregation wisely arranged for the instrument’s complete restoration when the earliest signs of fatigue began to show. In 1995 the entire organ was removed section by section from the church, leaving part of the organ available for regular services during most of the project. The pipework was cleaned and regulated, the chassis of the organ rebuilt and adjusted to original performance standards, and the original builder’s console carefully returned to its like-new condition.

Opus 1181 has several distinguished musical resources. The Choir Organ is home to a breathtakingly beautiful Unda Maris as well as a colorful Cromorne, while the Swell Organ includes a lucid Geigen Diapason, a charming pair of strings, and a woody 16’ Clarinet that can serve both as a solo voice or a suitable double to the brilliant Trompette and Clairon stops. Three 8’ foundation stops on the Great Organ offer contrasting and yet compatible unison tone to the ensemble of the organ, the whole undergirded by a 16’ Contrebasse that provides plenty of weight as well as definition to the Pedal Organ. There are a total of thirty-one stops and thirty-one ranks totaling 1,868 pipes in all. Mr. Floyd Higgins has been Organist-Choirmaster at South Church for several years, and he uses the instrument to very great advantage.