A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Apollonicon
APOLLONICON. The name given to a large 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. Martin's Lane. Prior to building the Apollonicon, Messrs. Flight and Robson had constructed, under the inspection of Purkis, the organist, a similar but smaller instrument for Viscount Kirkwall, a well-known musical amateur. This instrument, being exhibited at the builders' factory and attracting great attention, induced its fabricators to form the idea of constructing a larger instrument upon the same plan for public exhibition. They accordingly in 1812 commenced the building of the Apollonicon. They were engaged nearly five years in its construction, and expended £10,000 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 in altissimo. There were forty-five stops, several of which gave excellent imitations of the tones of the wind instruments of a complete orchestra, viz. flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, horn, and trombone. A pair of kettledrums were inclosed within the case, and struck, when required, by curiously contrived machinery. The manuals were five in number, 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 were attached a swell and some composition pedals, and also a pedal keyboard of two octaves. The manuals were detached from the body of the organ, so that the players sat with their faces to the audience and their backs to the instrument. The barrels were three in number, 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. To 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 instrument, with the exception of the keyboards, was inclosed in a case twenty feet wide and deep, and twenty-four feet high, the front being divided into three compartments by pilasters of the Doric, surmounted by others of the Ionic order. Between the upper pilasters were three paintings by an artist named Wright, the central one representing Apollo, and the others the Muses Clio and Erato, all somewhat larger than lifesize. The mechanical action of the Apollonicon was first exhibited in June 1817, when the barrels performed the overtures to Mozart's 'Clemenza di Tito' and Cherubim'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. The following programme, performed by him in 1830, affords a fair sample of the quality of these selections:— overtures to Mozart's 'Zauberflöte' and Paer's 'Sophonisba'; divertimento by Purkis on Swiss airs; the grand scena for soprano from Weber's 'Freischütz'; songs by Barnett and Phillips; and movements by Pleyel and Dussek. For some time annual evening performances were given under the superintendence of Thomas Adams.At various periods additional sets of barrels were provided which performed the following pieces: the overtures to Mozart's 'Idomeneo,' 'Nozze di Figaro,' and 'Zauberflöte'; Beethoven's 'Prometheus'; Webers' 'Freischütz' and 'Oberon'; and the military movement from Haydn's twelfth symphony. The performance of the overture to 'Oberon' in particular has been 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 the younger Flight (the present representative of the firm), who used for the purpose a micrometer of his own invention. About the year 1840, the exhibition of the instrument having become unremunerative, the Apollonicon was taken down and its component parts employed in the construction of other organs. A lengthened technical description, illustrated by engraved figures, of the instrument made for Lord Kirkwall will be found embodied in the article 'Organ' in Rees' Cyclopedia.
[ W. H. H. ]