Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Harris, Renatus

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HARRIS, RENATUS or RÉNÉ, the elder (1640?–1715?), organ-builder, according to Burney came from France with his father about 1660. Thomas Harris, his grandfather, however, was known in England as an organ-builder apparently at an earlier date, and built an organ for Magdalen College Chapel, Oxford. A Thomas Harris of New Sarum, possibly the father of Renatus, agreed to build an organ for Worcester Cathedral, 5 July 1666. On the death of Ralph Dallam in August or September 1673 (see his will in the Registers of the Archdeaconry of London), Renatus, whose father died at about the same time, found his only important rival in ‘Father Smith’ (Bernhardt Schmidt). The competition between these two organ-builders culminated in the famous contest over the Temple Church organ in 1684 (cf. Rimbault, History of the Organ, p. 105; Macrory, Few Notes on the Temple Organ). After May 1684 Smith and Harris both erected organs in the Temple church, and exhibited the good points of their instruments, Blow and Purcell performing upon Smith's organ, and Draghi upon Harris's. The contest lasted a year. New reed stops were added at intervals, and each builder challenged his rival to make further improvements. In this way the vox humana, cremorne, and double bassoon stops were heard for the first time by the public. The dispute was at length decided in favour of Smith's organ, the other, by Harris, being adjudged ‘discernably low and weak’ for the church. Harris suffered no loss of prestige by this defeat. ‘Now began the setting up of organs in the chiefest parishes of the city of London,’ wrote Tudway (see Hawkins, iii. 693), ‘when for the most part Harris had the advantage of F. Smith, making, I be- lieve, two to his one.’ Harris's workmanship was superior to Smith's, but it may be inferred from the decision at the Temple that the tone of his organs was less powerful or poorer in quality. Harris also shared court patronage with his rival, and supplied the private chapels of James II with organs (Moneys received and paid for Secret Services, Camden Soc., pp. 144, 169, 180, 196). Certain advertisements in the ‘Post Boy,’ 12 and 30 April 1698, point to the continued rivalry between the two masters. Here Harris announces the demonstration at his house, Wine Office Court, Fleet Street, of the ‘division of half a note into fifty gradual and distinguishable parts, and’ (this experiment having been successful) ‘into one hundred parts, not mathematically, but purely by the ear.’ Smith, with others who had declared these feats to be impracticable, was specially invited to attend the first display. The suggestion that Harris should build an organ for St. Paul's Cathedral (Spectator, 3 Dec. 1712) came to nothing. In later life Harris retired to Bristol and followed his business there until his death about 1715.

Rimbault (History of the Organ, p. 127) gives a list of thirty-nine organs built by Harris, in four of which—those at Salisbury, Gloucester, and Worcester cathedrals, and St. Sepulchre's—he assisted his father. Harris supplied organs to the church of St. Sepulchre, Snow Hill, 1670; St. Botolph, Aldgate; St. Dunstan, Stepney; St. Nicholas, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1676; All Hallows Barking, Great Tower Street; Chichester Cathedral, 1678; Lambeth Old Church, 1680; Winchester Cathedral and College Chapel, 1681; St. Michael, Cornhill, 1684; Bristol Cathedral, 1685; Hereford Cathedral and King's College Chapel, Cambridge, 1686; St. Lawrence, Jewry, 1687; St. James's, Piccadilly (intended for Whitehall Catholic Chapel, but given by Queen Mary to the church), 1687; St. Mary, Ipswich, and Christchurch, Newgate Street, 1690 (formerly in Whitehall, now at St. Michael Royal); All Hallows, Lombard Street, 1695; St. Andrew Undershaft, 1696; St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, 1697; St. Andrew, Holborn (this was part of the rejected Temple organ), 1699; St. John's Chapel, Bedford Row, 1703; St. Giles, Cripplegate, 1704; St. Clement, Eastcheap, 1709; Salisbury Cathedral, 1710; St. Bride, Fleet Street; Ely Cathedral; Jesus College, Cambridge (now in All Saints); Wolverhampton Collegiate Church (part of Temple organ); Norwich Cathedral (attributed to Harris); St. John's, Clerkenwell; Bideford Church, Devonshire; Cork Cathedral (probably finished by John Harris); St. Mary's, Dublin (these nine without date); and lastly St. Mary's, Whitechapel, 1715. For the organ in Bristol Cathedral Harris was paid 550l., for that at Hereford 700l., and for that at St. Andrew Undershaft 1,400l. There is a rare print of the organ built for Salisbury Cathedral in 1710. For full particulars of repairs, &c., of the Magdalen College, Oxford, organ, see Bloxam's ‘Registers of Magdalen College, Oxford,’ ii. cxxvi et seq., 289, 347 et seq.

Harris had two sons, John (fl. 1737) and Renatus (d. 1727?), both organ-builders. The younger, Renatus, who died early, made the organ for St. Dionis Backchurch, 1724. John had the care of the Magdalen College organ until 1737; in the following year he was living in Red Lion Street, Holborn, and had a partner named Byfield, who married his daughter. Harris and Byfield's organs were supplied to the churches of St. Mary, Shrewsbury, 1729; Grantham, Lincolnshire, 1736; St. Mary, Haverfordwest, 1737; St. Alban, Wood Street, 1738; St. Bartholomew Change and Doncaster parish church, 1740. At Bristol they built organs for St. Mary Redcliffe, St. Thomas, and St. James; the organ now in the church of St. Thomas Southover, Lewes, Sussex, was said to have been made by them for the Duke of Chandos, and removed from Canons in 1747 (Rimbault).

[Burney's Hist. of Music, iii. 437; Hawkins, iii. 692; Hopkins and Rimbault's Hist. of the Organ, pp. 119–36; Bloxam's Reg. Magd. Coll. Oxford, ii. c, cxxvi, clxxii, 204, 283, 286 et seq., 289, 347 et seq.]

L. M. M.