The story of the Town Hall organ starts in 1907, when the Auckland City Council accepted “with feelings of exceedingly great pleasure” Henry Brett’s offer to donate an organ for the proposed Auckland Town Hall.
The organ was built by English organ-building firm Norman & Beard. It was shipped out to New Zealand and installed in a specially-prepared organ chamber. The inaugural recital was given by Mr Maughan Barnett (later appointed City Organist) at the opening of the Town Hall on 14 December 1911.
Henry Brett, was a former Mayor (1877–8) and City Councillor, and publisher and founder of the Auckland Star. He was knighted in 1927 for his services to the public and the newspaper industry. He had a great love of choral music, and sang in choirs in Auckland for over 50 years. A condition of Brett’s gift was that “a certain number of performances, to be hereafter agreed upon, be given free every year” and regular concerts have continued to be given. A plaque attached to the organ records Henry Brett’s donation.
At the time, the Auckland instrument was described as “the largest in New Zealand and the most modern in Australasia”. The Auckland Star reported that “the tonal structure is designed to give a great variety of tone colour, and such dignity, power and brilliancy, together with depth of expression, as is required for the size of the Hall”.
The organ reflected the “tonal school” of the time: smoothness of voicing, high pressure reed choruses; “massiveness” of tone for the Great Diapason choruses; narrowed-scale imitative reed and string stops for the Choir; varied wind pressures; an emphasis on weight in the pedal registers; a small group of tuba ranks that powerfully crowned the tutti sound of the organ.
The organs of that first quarter of the 20th century were judged on the basis of opulence, size, majesty, the proportions of their cases and pipe displays, and their musical effectiveness in a repertoire which encouraged popularity, brashness, sentimentality, virtuosity, intelligent musicianship, showmanship, and audience participation.