Pipe Organs of Malaysia
St. FRANCIS XAVIER CATHOLIC CHURCH
James A Riddell
Two manual and Pedal 6 stops
This twin-spired neo-gothic structure was built on the site of an old Portuguese church on Jalan Laksamana (Riverside) in Malacca by a French Roman Catholic priest, Rev. Father Farvé, in 1856 and was finished by Rev. Father Allard in 1859. This church is named in honour of St. Francis Xavier, a prominent16th-century Jesuit missionary also known as the ‘Apostle of the East’ who visited Malacca several times on jis way to the Far East between 1545 and 1552. It is believed the church was modelled after the Cathedral of St. Peter in Montpellier, southern France. The main differentiating feature being a portico added on to the Malacca church in 1963.
The first pipe organ was installed in the late 19th century but no information on the builder or description of the organ has survived to the present day. However, it has been recorded that a Mr. W. J. Garcia of Singapore repaired the organ or even rebuilt it in 1917.
W. J. Garcia was the main person in Singapore who worked in tandem with British organ builders to build tropicalised pipe organ components out of local wood like teak for the frame, etc. He was primarily trained as a piano maker and built tropicalised W J Garcia pianos for the Southeast Asian market. Garcia's only son, W. H. Garcia joined his father's business in 1928 after an apprenticeship with Broadwood & Sons. W J Garcia handled the installation of the Hill, Norman & Beard organ in Orchard Road Presbyterian Church and the Beavington & Son organ in the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd and possibly built some of the components according to the builder's instructions.
The present pipe organ in St Francis Xavier Church is a Riddell organ installed in the second half of 1932 and is probably the earliest known Riddell pipe organ in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur-based organ builder James A. Riddell constructed this organ at the first floor workshop of the Robinson Piano Co. at Old Market Square (today’s Medan Pasar) in Kuala Lumpur.
The organ has 100 tropicalised wooden pipes made from local wood and over 300 metal pipes imported from England. The actions, pedal-board, frame and pipe-mounting were all built in Kuala Lumpur using local materials. Only the ivory keys and stops were imported. The bellows are operated by a three horse-power electric motor and could be worked manually in case of electricity failure. The organ was constructed between January 1932 and July 1932 and is still playable today.
Specification of the Riddell organ is:
1. The Straits Times of 11 July 1917 at page 10.
2. The Singapore Free Press & Mercantile Advertiser of 13 July 1932 at page 12.
Organ photograph and specification provided by Leonard Selva.
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