Apollonicon

The Apollonicon was a larger chamber organ of peculiar construction, comprising both keyboards and barrels, erected by Messrs. Flight and Robson, organ builders, and for many years publicly exhibited by them at their rooms in St. Maartin’s Lane.

Prior to building the Apollonicon, Flight and Robson had constructed, under the inspection of Purkis, the organist, a similar but smaller instrument for Viscount Kirkwall.

This instrument, being exhibited at the builders’ factory and attracted great attention, induced its fabricators to form the idea of constructing a larger instrument upon the same plan for public exhibition.

In 1812 they began building of the Apollonicon. They worked for nearly 5 years in constructing it and spent 10,000 pounds in perfecting it.

The instrument contained about 1900 pipes, the lowest (twenty four feet in length and twenty three inches in aperture) sounding GGG, and the highest sounding a.

There were forty five stops, several of which gave excellent imitations of the tones of the wind instruments of a complete orchestra, i.e., flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, horn and trombone.

A pair of kettle drums were enclosed within the case, and struck by machinery.

There were five manuals, a central one comprising a scale of five octaves, and four others, two on either side of the central one, each having a scale of two octaves.

To the central manual there were attached a swell and some composition pedals, and also a pedal keyboard of two octaves. The manuals were detached form the body of the organ, so that the players sat with their faces to the audience and their backs to the instrument.

There were three barrels, each two feet in diameter and eight feet long, and each acting on a distinct division of the instrument. In their revolution they not only admitted the wind to the pipes, but regulated and worked the stops, forming by instantaneous mechanical action all the necessary combinations for producing the various gradations of power.

The secure the means of performing pieces of greater length than were usually executed by barrels, spiral barrels were introduced, in which the pins, instead of being arranged in circles, were disposed in spiral lines.

The Apollonicon, with the exception of the keyboards, was enclosed in a case twenty feet wide and deep, and twenty four feet high.

The mechanical action of the Apollonicon was first exhibited in June 1817, when the barrels performed the overtures to Mozart’s ‘Clemenza di Titl’ and Cherubini’s ‘Anacreon.’

In November following a selection of sacred music was played on the keys by Purkis.

The mechanical powers of the instrument were for nearly a quarter of a century exhibited daily, and on Saturday afternoons Purkis performed selections of music on the keys.

For some time annual evening performances were given under the superintendence of Thomas Adams.

The performance of the overture to ‘Oberon’ in particular was recorded as a perfect triumph of mechanical skill and ingenuity, every note of the score being rendered as accurately as though executed by a fine orchestra.

The setting of the music on the barrels was entrusted to Flight, who used for the purpose a micrometer of his own invention.

About the year 1840, the exhibition of the instrument became unprofitable, and so the Apollonicon was taken down and its component parts employed in the construction of other organs.