THE KLAIS ORGAN
The Victoria Concert Hall’s Klais organ is Singapore’s only fully mechanical organ, and has strong emotional links with generations of audiences. It was first installed in 1987 through fundraising efforts from the then-newly formed Singapore Symphony Orchestra Ladies’ League.
The Klais organ, built by German organ-builder Orgelbau Klais, replaced the St. Clair organ that had been built in the Victoria Concert Hall (VCH) some 50 years earlier in 1931. The St. Clair organ was named after Major W. G. St. Clair, founder of the old Philharmonic Society and the first editor of the Singapore Free Press, and its façade was retained after the installation of the Klais organ.
In 2010, with the redevelopment of the VCH and Victoria Theatre, the organ – consisting of a total of 2,012 pipes – was methodically removed piece by piece, repaired and stored in climate-controlled warehouses during the refurbishment period. Many donors and supporters of classical music, notably the Lee Foundation, stepped forward to provide financial support for the restoration.
When the VCH reopened in the second half of 2014, the organ once again took centrestage, providing awe-inspiring and delicate strains of music to old and new audiences. The Singapore Symphony Group started the VCH Organ Series in 2014 as a set of concerts to showcase the beauty and power of the Klais organ to the people of Singapore.
The manuals refer to the keyboards of the organ. The Klais organ is equipped with two manuals, with the upper and lower manual called the Swell and the Great respectively. In addition, there is a pedal board where the organist will play with his or her feet.
A ‘stop’ is one of many knobs on the sides of the organ keydesk, which literally stops the flow of air from the windchests to the pipes. Otherwise, one would have a cacophony of sounds once the blower is turned on. By ‘pulling a stop’, one engages a mechanism under a specific row of pipes, say a row of trumpets, so that when the organist presses a key, say middle ‘C’, the valve under that note opens and allows the air to rush into the pipe, causing the pipe to sound. In this case, a loud, attention-demanding trumpet playing middle C!
When one ‘pulls out all the stops’, the different 'colours' of the organ are all of a sudden engaged and ready to play. There is one more step to this process, where the organist uses his or her hands to play massive chords and rushing, roaring passages, or uses his or her arms and elbows to produce a deafening cluster of noise.
A ‘stoplist’ contains all the different 'colours' of the organ. Listing the stops is like listing the orchestra personnel in a concert for example: 10 violins, 4 horns and 2 flutes.
Like the orchestra, the organ employs different families of instruments. The intrinsic sound of the organ is produced by the Principal family of stops with names such as Principal, Octaves, Choral bass. Then there are families of stops imitating orchestral instruments like the flutes (German: flöte). Names to look for include Rohrflute, Oppenflute, Bourdon and Gedackt. The reeds are a special category. They imitate woodwinds and brass instruments for example oboe (hautbois), bassoon and trumpet.
We would like to thank the following organisations and individuals for donating towards the restoration of the Klais Organ.