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#121 Colin Pykett

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Posted 30 July 2015 - 10:30 AM

I have a feeling that history will not be enamoured too much with Downes meddling. His Buckfast creation is now gone and his influence on the organs in the RFH, Gloucester and St Albans cathedrals has all but dissolved.

 

 

I have some difficulty with the term 'meddling' being applied to Downes's work.  Views about organ advisers naturally vary widely, but he worked at a time when several (if not many) of his peers were not musicians at all - Cecil Clutton was an example, who could barely play a note.  I have seen him described as "a boorish and independently wealthy dilettante with too much free time whose disproportionate influence and lack of social graces bore scant correlation to his actual talents".  This too might be unfair, and it's a view which is unlikely to be universally shared, but it confirms that we all probably have our own favourites among both past and present members of the breed.  Clutton's close buddy and another amateur, George Dixon, dismissed in print the sound of the instruments Bach played as "sausage frying".  That sort of thing is not organ consultancy.

 

Looking at him objectively, Downes was highly qualified and experienced as a musician (unlike those just mentioned) and he also did a great deal of research to support his consultancy interests.  Even today one can still learn much from his book 'Baroque Tricks' about the scaling, voicing and other organ building practices of great 17th and 18th century European organ builders.  It is a testament to his dedication that he was able to discover so much about their work while the Cold War was at its height, with access to some instruments, and indeed to much scholarship, being so difficult.

 

So I would not say he was a mere meddler.  His legacy is bound to be viewed differently today, if only because we are all experts with the advantage of 20/20 hindsight.  But I venture to suggest that many will still pause to consider what he did carefully before forming a judgement.

 

CEP


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#122 Vox Humana

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Posted 30 July 2015 - 12:24 PM

Looking at him objectively, Downes was highly qualified and experienced as a musician (unlike those just mentioned) and he also did a great deal of research to support his consultancy interests.

 

Although not really relevant to the point at hand, it is also worth remembering that, in the late '60s at least, he was a highly sought-after teacher at the RCM, indeed probably the most highly sought-after, at a time when the RCM boasted virtually all the big organist names on its teaching staff.* He was also much respected as a performer. Personally I didn't like his style, but that probably says more about me than him.

 

* In 1967 the only currently notable performers on the RAM's teaching staff were Simon Preston and Arthur Wills (and Preston, I heard, was rarely present). TCM had Harry Gabb (I think it was). Everyone else of note was on the RCM's list. How many of these could actually teach I don't know (and no doubt some lesser-known names were better), but names were undoubtedly a big draw then, as I am sure they still are - and they always looked good on a CV. 



#123 David Drinkell

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Posted 30 July 2015 - 01:27 PM

There is a thread "Lt. Col. George Dixon and Cecil Clutton" on this forum which makes interesting reading.

I met Clutton a few times. He was, certainly, somewhat eccentric and tended to say what he thought without much consideration for tact. As a player (he only took up playing the organ relatively late in life), he was a competent hand at Baroque music, especially French, at a time when a lot of players of FRCO standard had no idea regarding its registration, interpretation or authentic sound world. I heard him play Guilain's second suite on his house organ at Blackheath. It was a stylish and convincing performance, although interspersed with the odd "Damn!" when he hit a wrong note. (The organ was like its owner - it took no prisoners but could do a lot more than its specification might suggest. It was, above all, fun, although not everyone would have liked it).

Whatever may be the pros and cons of the multum-in-parvo ideas promoted in their different ways by both Dixon and Clutton, it's worth remembering that, especially in his latter years, Clutton became convinced that traditional English methods of voicing could and should form the basis of instruments which could give convincing renderings of a very large part of the repertoire. In this he was, I feel, more sensible than those - and there are still some about - who would base their schemes on narrower, continental ideas.

#124 Vox Humana

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Posted 30 July 2015 - 01:56 PM

Whatever may be the pros and cons of the multum-in-parvo ideas promoted in their different ways by both Dixon and Clutton, it's worth remembering that, especially in his latter years, Clutton became convinced that traditional English methods of voicing could and should form the basis of instruments which could give convincing renderings of a very large part of the repertoire. In this he was, I feel, more sensible than those - and there are still some about - who would base their schemes on narrower, continental ideas.

 

That, actually, was the thing about the Downes/Walker at Buckfast. Possibly because of its origins and despite the appearance of the specification on paper, the voicing of the fluework was essentially English Romantic - or at least it sounded like it. It was bright, but not particularly incisive - and I don't think that was just a product of the detached console.



#125 AJJ

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Posted 01 August 2015 - 06:51 AM

....and his influence on the organs in the RFH, Gloucester and St Albans cathedrals has all but disolved.

Having heard two of these three since work has been done on them in recent years it would seem to me that neither has changed radically and indeed both still sound very much like Downes instruments. St. Albans sounds far less 'lean' from minimal revoicing and has gained stops that possibly would have been there originally had there not been budget constraints or had RD not had a seeming problem with 2' principal stops. The RFH is still as it was though to my ears at least sounding much better. In both these cases the consultants involved in more recent work have kept the basics of voicing and design etc. intact.

I can not comment about Gloucester.

A
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#126 Barry Oakley

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Posted 01 August 2015 - 07:07 AM

To my ears these all sound different and improved since rebuilding. No doubt Downes was on hand when his creations were being originally voiced. I would be surprised if he were not.



#127 mgp

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Posted 02 August 2015 - 10:17 PM

I had the opportunity to play the Sei Gregusset variations at the RFH using the registrations given by RD in his 1958 Pye recording.  Sounded much the same to me.



#128 firstrees

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Posted 20 January 2017 - 10:38 AM

I have just noticed this, on the Abbey’s website: www.buckfast.org.uk/gallery/213.

 

One thing in particular is striking: the beautifully carved console - elements of which look as if they will be repeated in the pipe shades.

 

I can’t wait to hear it in situ.



#129 David Drinkell

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Posted 20 January 2017 - 03:34 PM

It looks like a typically ornate North American console from the first half of the twentieth century to me - no criticism intended by that, just an observation.  I look forward to hearing opinions of the instruments when they are completed - with luck I might even hear or play them myself!



#130 Vox Humana

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Posted 21 January 2017 - 12:01 AM

I was reliably informed about a month ago that installation is scheduled to begin in March.



#131 firstrees

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 11:25 AM

Slightly embarrassing: I'm unable to locate the specification.

 

The links I've previously used no longer work.

 

Could anyone furnish one that does, or post the spec. here, please ?

 

Many thanks.



#132 pcnd5584

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Posted 22 April 2017 - 10:23 PM

To my ears these all sound different and improved since rebuilding. No doubt Downes was on hand when his creations were being originally voiced. I would be surprised if he were not.

 

Barry - I can speak of the instruments of both Gloucester Cathedral (on which I had regular lessons with David Briggs for several years), and Saint Albans (which I have played for choral services) from first-hand experience. I can assure you that the influence of Ralph Downes has certainly not dissipated - either with the passage of time, or as a result of additions or alterations.

 

To take first Gloucester Cathedral. There was virtually no revoicing, and only a few additions on the Pedal Organ, a re-pitching on the West Positive, one re-voiced rank on the G.O., and a subsequent addition of a Trompette Harmonique to the West Positive. The rest of the instrument is, tonally, as left by Downes (well, Philip Prosser, to be strictly accurate).

 

In the case of Saint Alban's Cathedral, again there have been a few additions, but the instrument is substantially as it was left after the re-pitching of the chorus mixtures some years ago.

 

David Drinkell and Vox Humana make valid comments about Downes: he was a player and teacher of some repute. He was well-travelled, and had studied many historic instruments, the better to inform the decisions which he made when designing the organ of the RFH.


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#133 firstrees

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Posted 25 April 2017 - 10:28 AM

A container is, e'en now, on its way Devonwards - according to Ruffati’s FacadeBook.

 

I believe the Abbey Organ’s webpage was 'taken down' and only (very) recently restored - in a revised version: www.buckfast.org.uk/ruffattiorgan.

 

The installation, for example, will now be "completed before 2018." There are other re-wordings and corrections. I can only assume this explains the temporary absence of the page. 

 

I emailed the builders, only to be informed that all communications regarding the organ are being handled exclusively by the Abbey.

 

I would imagine that, once the container arrives, there will be a flurry of new and exciting photos.



#134 pwhodges

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Posted 25 April 2017 - 02:18 PM

I was interested to note this paragraph at the end:

 

 

The result builds upon the ideas behind the design of the original Walker/Downs instrument, and enhances them significantly. The old organ was removed initially to protect the pipes (currently held in storage) from restoration work.

Paul



#135 firstrees

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Posted 11 May 2017 - 05:05 AM

The Ruffatti has landed: www.buckfast.org.uk/photos/224/arrival-of-the-new-ruffatti-organ-26th-april-2017



#136 Vox Humana

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Posted 16 May 2017 - 09:24 PM

There was a short piece about the new organ on the South West's local TV news this evening. It starts at 18:00 here.



#137 DaveHarries

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Posted 29 May 2017 - 03:01 PM

Slightly embarrassing: I'm unable to locate the specification.

 

The links I've previously used no longer work.

 

Could anyone furnish one that does, or post the spec. here, please ?

 

Many thanks.

Specifications for both instruments can be found at :

https://www.buckfast...k/ruffattiorgan

 

I will be interested to see who does the opening concert: quite a trip from Bristol but I may attend.

 

Dave






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