100th Birthday of Emmanuel Cathedral


A large crowd of music lovers flocked to Durban’s Emmanuel Cathedral on 17 April 1912 eager to hear the first recital on the new organ, filling the church long before the starting time of 7.30p.m.

The Natal Advertiser  publicised three organ recitals for that week. On the next day, St James’s Anglican Church, Morningside, would be dedicating their organ, and on the Saturday evening there would be a grand recital in Durban’s City Hall. That was clearly a heyday for organ music: today we count ourselves lucky if there are three organ recitals in one year, and the magnificent organ in the City Hall has long been silent.

The Centenary of the dedication of Emmanuel Cathedral’s organ will be marked by a unique recital on 17 April between 1.00 and 2.00p.m., when no fewer than six well-known organists (see side bar) will display their talents as well as those of the celebrated Cathedral organ.

Over the past one hundred years this organ has added splendour and dignity to countless liturgical celebrations and special events including the consecration of the Cathedral in 1939, the consecration of 31-year old Bishop Denis Hurley in 1947, many special celebrations during the Marian Congress of 1952, the installation of Archbishop (now Cardinal) Napier in 1992, the burial of Archbishop Hurley in 2004 and the centenary of the Cathedral in the same year.

The organ has survived “being rebuilt and converted to electric action” in the early 1950s, and being put out of action when an electric storm in late 2010 totally destroyed the computers in the console and the organ itself. A slow process of replacing various parts with spares flown out from Germany as well as insurance complications, caused a delay of nearly eight months, according to Pretoria organ builder, Joop Admiraal.

Described as an English Romantic organ it took six months to build in the Abbott and Smith factory in Leeds, England. Before it was dismantled and packed for the long sea voyage to Durban, it was tested by Dr RR Terry of Westminster Cathedral who did some final overhauling before endorsing its readiness for Durban’s Cathedral:

“The organ has been seen by me, erected in your factory. I certify that I have thoroughly examined and overhauled the same and do consider that it is built well in conformity with the specification submitted to me … . I consider it to be a thoroughly satisfactory instrument and in good playable condition.”

Many other organists of repute in England also tried the instrument at the invitation of Messrs Abbott & Smith. Then it was loaded onto the  SS Umgeni, with Mr HP Naylor travelling on the same ship to supervise the installation in Durban.

The organ arrived in Durban harbour  on 21 January 1912, causing much excitement at Emmanuel Cathedral. Over the next six weeks Naylor supervised its assembly in the Cathedral choir loft by W. Kemp of City Organ Works, Pietermaritzburg, with a further week for tuning and finishing touches, before it was ready for the dedication and organ recital on 17 April 1912.

The assembling must have been a huge and complex task with 1,773 pipes of different sizes ranging from 32 feet to 2 feet in length, 46 stops, and weighing altogether about 13 tons,  to be hauled up into the choir loft and carefully put into place.

The wooden case in which the organ stands is itself a work of art, made of Austrian oak, designed in Durban by TPC McEvilly, with architectural features of several English churches including Westminster Abbey. Care was taken to ensure that the fully assembled organ would not only sound good but also be “a satisfactory visual termination to the views along the nave towards the west end”.

For the occasion of the dedication, the Cathedral Choir was augmented to 67 voices (21 sopranos, 17 altos, 14 tenors and 15 basses) conducted by their choir master, Patrick Beresford Smyly,  and with Mr FE Lee from Johannesburg brought in specially to play the organ for this great occasion.

Admission was by tickets which could be purchased “on the payment of a small charge” of 2s 6d at the various “music sellers” in town. Ladies were reminded that “hats must be worn in the church”.

The service on 17 April 2012 started with Bishop Henri Delalle OMI giving an address entitled “Music” based on the text “Praise ye the Lord with strings and organs”, and then blessing the organ which he prayed might help “all to realise the holiness, the wisdom, the majesty of the Almighty …”.  The organ recital that followed included music by Bach, Mozart, Rossini and Mendelssohn.

The special commemorative brochure proudly announced that the organ had cost 1350 pounds, and this had all been paid, leaving a small balance of 150 pounds which would be used to start a fund for its maintenance. Proceeds from the opening recital were also to go into that fund. Monthly organ recitals were promised as a further way of ensuring expert care for one of the largest organs in South Africa which has come to be regarded as the finest “romantic” organ in KwaZulu-Natal. In fact says organ builder Joop Admiraal, it is “unrivalled in South Africa for the sweetness of its sound.”

Fast forward to the special centenary recital to be held on 17 April 2012 which promises to be a memorable occasion. In preparation,  Admiraal has  checked and tuned the organ so that it will be heard at its best. The Cathedral benches will be turned around so that the audience will face the organ.



(A side bar to the article above)

Pinkie Mtshali, Director of Music at Durban’s Emmanuel Cathedral, has organised a unique ecumenical recital in which six local organists will play from 1.00 to 2.00p.m. on 17 April 2012:

–       Fr Henry Ratering CMM, Organist of the Monastery Church,  Mariannhill;

–       Christopher Cockburn of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Music School;

–       Melvin Peters, Organist of St Paul’s Anglican Church, Durban;

–       Barry Carbis, former Organist of Emmanuel Cathedral;

–       Peter Carruthers, Organist of Durban North and Stamford Hill Methodist Churches;

–       Don Powell, Organist for several Congregational and Methodist Churches.

A retiring collection will be taken at the end of the recital to help defray expenses. Secure parking will be available in the Cathedral grounds.