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date: 04 April 2020


  • Arthur W.J.G. Ord-Hume


A large barrel-and-finger organ ( see Barrel organ ) built by Flight & Robson. It took five years to build and was opened in 1817 at their premises in St Martin’s Lane, London. It could be played by up to five organists at once, each from an individual keyboard, or it could be played automatically using pinned wooden barrels. When played mechanically, the Apollonicon was said to replicate an entire orchestra. It had three barrels, each 61 cm in diameter, which rotated together. The main barrel was 2.44 metres long and occupied the centre front of the machine. A second barrel of the same size was situated at the rear of the instrument while the third, shorter barrel was to the right of the front barrel; this played the lowest two octaves plus two kettledrums. It was at first powered by a steam engine (then a relatively new source of power) but this proved unreliable and was replaced by manual power. The instrument stood 7.31 metres high, 6.1 metres wide and 5.5 metres deep. Stop-changing was automatic, using a toggle mechanism invented by Flight, each register being operated by one special key on the barrel keyframe. Contemporary accounts of the organ being played by six performers at once are based on an early description of the instrument as ‘having the effect of six organists’. This effect was in part the result of the provision of a set of ‘German pedals’, a rarity on a British-made organ at that time. For almost a quarter of a century the Apollonicon was the only concert and public recital organ in London. By ...

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Musical Opinion
Journal of the Royal Musical Association