Sunday, January 25, 2009

Quieter music

After all the energetic music of yesterday, a quieter music for today. The organ at St Mary's Church, in Fort St George. More explanations will be filled in later!

Spent the whole day taking part in the Chennai Bird Race 2009; therefore this post is being written in pieces! What follows was written a while after posting the photo!

The church was completed in 1680, and it got its first organ seven years later. I am not sure if it is 'early' or 'late' for a church to get an organ seven years after its opening, but it was more by accident than by design that St. Mary's came by its first organ. In 1687, Curtana, an East Indiaman under Capt. Anthony Weltden was lying in the Madras Roads, in all likelihood on the way to the port of Mergui in Siam to deliver a message from King James II, ordering all Englishmen in the Siamese service to leave at once, ahead of military action against Siam. The Curtana must have had in its cargo a chuch organ, which was of little use in the martial mission it was undertaking. Capt. Walden offered to sell it to the Fort Council for 70 pagodas; the Council, recognizing that the organ was worth much more, decided to buy it for St. Mary's Church. It was a good bargain, for the instrument was well used - and probably well loved by the congregation, too, for the French took it away with them to Pondicherry after they occupied Fort St George in 1746 and Sir Eyre Coote went to the trouble of bringing it back to Madras in 1761 after defeating the French at Vandavasi.

It appears that St Mary's did not have an organ in the interim. The Curtana's organ was probably badly damaged during its transits to and from Pondicherry, so there was much back and forth between Madras and England on the matter of procuring a new organ, paying for the cost of the organ and for its shipping - the churchwardens were willing to pay the £300 price for the organ, but wanted the government to arrange for free passage for an organist to come to Madras. It is assumed that the government let this request remain in limbo and thus there was no organ playing in Madras for a long while. It was in 1859 that the church got its next organ, donated by Sir Adam Hay, in memory of his son, Capt. John Hay. Towards the end of the 19th century, the church commissioned William Hill & Son, of London to build an organ; and so, in 1894 the first organ, made exclusively for it was installed at St. Mary's.

That one has now lasted for 114 years; it has obviously had several restorations, the most recent one was by Cristopher Gray, completed in 2007. It is said that when Dr. Richard Marlow, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge played at the re-inauguration of the organ in 2007, St. Mary's Church was packed like never before!

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