In 1970, the Edwardian organ fell victim to the worldwide Organ Reform Movement.
This proclaimed that the real heart of the organ was in J S Bach’s Northern Europe. polyphonic not symphonic, was now the preferred style where clear bright neo-classical organs found favour over the romantic orchestral organs like the one in the Auckland Town Hall.
In 1969 Auckland organ builders George Croft and Son were given the responsibility for the organ makeover. Under the new management of Kenneth Aplin, Crofts canvassed interested organists for their views. Kenneth Aplin says the resulting rebuild was a distillation of their ideas – a detached playing console being a unanimous request. The contract was duly signed with a price tag of $72,000.
Most of the organ’s pipes were replaced by 4000 new pipes made in Holland and Germany that conformed to the classical ideology. A few of the original Norman and Beard ranks were retained : the façade pipes, some of the larger pipes, and imitative ranks to broaden the tonal range.
The 1970 instrument represented a high point in New Zealand’s neo-classical organ world and it was generally hailed as a success. A comment from one observer summed up the feeling of the majority, “Gone is the Auckland Town Hall organ with its massive sound. In its place has emerged an organ of classical design which should give listeners a completely different conception of the field of organ music”.
Organ Reform Movement – “Back to Bach”
In the early 1930s a group of German scholars formed the Orgelbewegung (organ reform movement) which sought a return to the ideals of Bach’s time. They believed design had lost its way and had veered too far from its tradition. After the hiatus of the Second World War, the movement spread around the world. During the following 30 years most romantic organs were drastically altered and internationally thousands of new organs were built on the Bach model.