Day 89: Sound of Music

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Auditorium dome Brisbane City Hall

Brisbane Willis pipe organ BrismaniaBRISBANE City Hall is a landmark building fronting King George Square in the CBD and there are plenty of good reasons to stop in for a visit, not least among them to climb the clocktower and to see the fascinating History of Brisbane Museum.

However, this particular visit was to see and hear the return of its magnificent pipe organ,  which was pulled apart and moved off in February 2010, while City Hall was renovated.

It  took eight specialists  three years to  clean up and fix the organ and restore it to its original gold colour after years of being painted silver.

The organ was built in 1892 by Henry Willis and Sons of London for the Queensland National Agricultural and Industrial Association (RNA, “The Ekka”) at Bowen Hills and was first housed in the “Exhibition Building” which is now better known locally as the Old Museum.Brisbane Willis pipe organ Brismania

Until its arrival, the only pipe organs were to be found in churches, so this was Queensland’s first civic organ and it’s also the largest Father Henry Willis Organ in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the best preserved examples anywhere in the world. While no two pipe organs are the same, the closest comparison is in Westminster Abbey in London.

For the record, there are 4391 pipes, ranging from 300mm to 10 metres, 80 stops, it weighs 30 tonnes and has four types of peope – tin, zinc, wood and reed.

Five years after its arrival in Brisbane, the QNA was declared bankrupt and old Willis had to go to auction. Several  musicians joined together with the Brisbane Municipal Council and raised funds for its purchase.Brisbane Willis pipe organ Brismania

The good citizens of Brisbane invested 3000 pounds in the organ, which they saw as the future of local classical music.

After the amalgamated Greater Brisbane City Council was formed in 1925 they set to work on building City Hall and the organ’s first public recital was on 8 April 1930, for the official opening.

Now that the renovation program is complete, the council plans to have an organ committee to organise recitals and events, so it’s worth keeping an ear out.Brisbane Willis pipe organ Brismania

But even if you don’t get to hear it, it is still worth seeing as it sits grandly in the huge main auditorium, which easily found by continuing either straight ahead or going up to the balconies, on entering City Hall.

The auditorium has a circular design with fluted Corinthian pilasters around the perimeter walls and is based on the Pantheon in Rome.

A decorative frieze  above the stage also features a classically-inspired design of nymphs playing trumpets and cymbals.

Brisbane Willis pipe organ Brismania
Main auditorium Brisbane City Hall

The copper dome over the room, at 31 metres in diameter, is the largest in Australia.

The organ and the auditorium are well worth a look if you’re passing City Hall, as almost everyone must if they are in downtown Brisbane.