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Robert Sharpe

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  1. Only just picked up on this. The Diapason celeste is actually tuned flat. The note in the tuner's book about the number of beats is of many years ago, I think. The comment about the Diapason celeste was made because we changed the two stops round at the start of the year, making the (Hill) Open Diapason the unison, and the (Walker) Violin Diapason the celeste. This latter stop is, along with the Gamba and Voix Celeste, on the 7 inch pressure shared with the reeds. It took a little while to get the tuning right but I think it's sorted now. The unison is still engraved 'Violin Diapason' but in fact is the Open. This stop is the Hill No 1 Open from the 1859 Great and is a most effective solo stop as well as chorus stop, and it was Francis Jackson's comment that Bairstow often used it as such in the tenor register with the tremulant which prompted the experiment.
  2. Lovely singing, but this isn't York Minster Choir! In fact, the words aren't from the Book of Common Prayer but a variation of it and I suspect that it may be a visiting choir from Australia on further investigation of the other videos listed. I don't actually think it is even recorded in the Minster (it would be virtually impossible to get such a noiseless recording during a live evensong in the summer) and the accompaniment is a different style from John's.
  3. The two 32 feet flue stops at York are both Elliot & Hill work from 1833/34. The fire was 1829, and the new organ and case (the present one) completed just a few years later. Quoting from Thistlethwaite The Making of the Victorian Organ, "Hill resorted to zinc (being both cheaper and more stable than he usual compound of tin and lead) but found that it, too, had its problems. It needed to be heated before it could be manipulated, and there was then the question of howto manipulate it. To over come these difficulties, he 'conceived the plan of bending into shape the sections of the cylinders designed to form the tubes by means of triple rollers. These were so placed that the sheet of metal passing between two of them was caught by a third, the axis of which was depressed at will, so that it was forced out of the horizontal and curved so accurately that no farther manipulation was needed.' By this means, short cylinders were manufactured (each about 3' long) which were then joined together to form the pipe bodies of the 32' register. The mouths were formed of plain metal. Hill's machine was widely used in the manufacture of iron tubes and boilers." Because the York work happened shortly before that of Birmingham Town Hall (1834, also zinc), York can claim to have the first 32' stops made in the UK. Thistlethwaite goes on to note that after the zinc basses made for York and Birmingham, Hill went on to use it regularly throughout his career.
  4. You're welcome. It was rather a long job but so much is speculated about this organ that I felt some facts would be useful. I meant also to add that in 1960 the console was moved to the east (where it was in the Hill incarnation when the soundboards of the Great ran north to south) and the nave console added. As the layout remained unchanged, the player is able to hear very little of the organ when playing from the screen. I'm glad you have enjoyed the Truro recordings. I have not made any definite plans for recordings in York yet, as I'm so busy with the choir (I train the girls and the boys so it is a pretty non-stop job) and occasional recitals. There are one or two possible ideas, however! Best wishes Robert
  5. I wasn't going to respond to this discussion, but as there is now rather a lot of incorrect information being posted as fact, perhaps I may be permitted to present the facts and also an opinion of the current situation at York Minster? The present organ layout and structure date from the 1903 Walker work which was effectively a new organ. Several Hill ranks were re-used, including some of the smaller Great chorus ranks, and the foundations on the Choir. Also the bigger pedal flue ranks including the 1834 Elliot & Hill 32' stops. The 32' metal, incidentally, is the first to be made in the UK. The Great and Swell soundboards run from west to east, meaning that the sound in both Quire and Nave is to some extent reflected rather than direct. The Choir soundboard runs from north to south and the sound of this division is much more focussed in the Quire than the Swell and Great. In 1903, there were four Great reeds as now, 16 and 8 Walker Posaunes with "pepperpot" resonators, and 8 and 4 Trumpets (Hill stops, revoiced by Walker). All four stood on 7" wind together with the two largest open diapasons, the octave, twelfth, fifteenth and one mixture. The other fluework stood on 4 1/4" on a second soundboard. Rather like Lincoln (completed five years earlier in 1898, and the organ I knew well as a student), Dr Noble used to boast that he could use full organ to accompany the choir. The layout in Lincoln is not unlike York and the Lincoln organ was finished one year after Dr Noble came to York in 1897. Dr Bairstow was dismayed by the lack of power for big congregations, not just in the Nave but also in the Quire. Shortly after his arrival in 1913, Harrisons were called in. They provided new pipes for the larger Great chorus ranks (still on the 7" wind), removed the Trumpet and Clarion and increased their pressure to 12", placing them on a new 2-slider electro-pneumatic soundboard above the rest of the Great and revoicing them as Trombas. The sliders they vacated on the 7" soundboard were used for Harrisons bigger Mixture scheme and the drawings show that the larger Mixture V occupied two sliders. The famous Tuba Mirabilis on 25" wind and also electro-pneumatic action was also added at this time. All the paperwork for this work (and later) plus the drawings is still in the house where I now live, where ECB and Arthur Harrison met to discuss the work. The rest of the organ remained on the Walker tubular-pneumatic action with the Walker console (on the south side). The Trombas were a splendid climax to the tutti in the Nave - a bit like the Solo Tubas in this regard at St Paul's. They were very loud in the Quire but invaluable there played from the Choir for Tuba effects via the "Trombas on Choir" transfer. There are several recordings which show he splendid quality of these stops, not unlike those at Ripon. The big Tuba of course faces West and the enclosed Tubas are not huge solo stops. In 1928, the organ had suffered badly from the effects of the new heating system and the action had become very unreliable. The money was raised largely by individual gifts, to provide a new electro-pneumatic action throughout and a new Harrison console (still on the south). The Trombas were revoiced a second time (actually third as they were Hill stops) on 15" wind (perhaps for greater smoothness or maybe for even more sonority in the vast nave?). The choir clarinet was transferred to the solo and replaced by a little mixture, the solo box was enlarged to enclose the small (Walker) 16 and 8 tubas and the viole d'orchestre also put in. The Ophicleide (the personal gift of the Dean, Lionel Ford) was added on the north side of the case in the screen on 25" wind, and at 16, 8 and 4 pitches. In the booklet, this is described as "a suitable bass for the tuba mirabilis" but undoubtedly what was sought was a huge pedal reed to underpin the big great in the Nave, rather like the Ophicleides at Durham which were made only a few years after York. There is no doubt this was a magnificent super-Romantic organ, well able to dominate the building and also able to accompany the choir. It was possible to make "uncouth" noises in the quire when using the largest sounds (designed for the Nave). During the 1950s, organists began to take much more interest in performance practice and stylistic registration. Dr Jackson also began international travel, in particular to Denmark where he experienced the neo-baroque revival and mechanical action, well-sited, low pressure instruments. It is not difficult to imagine how the sounds of the York organ (particularly as heard then from the console immediately below the south front pipes from which the Great division speaks) may compare unfavourably with the lighter, brighter sonorities of 1950s Denmark. In 1960, the 7" Great soundboard (large fluework and Posaunes) was lowered to 4 1/4" and the fluework remodelled for this pressure (and note it had ever been designed or made for anything other than the 7" wind). The Tromba and Octave Tromba were brought down from the two-slider soundboard to this soundboard and revoiced (a fourth time) on 4 1/4" (they had never been this low, even when Hill stops pre-1903). The Posaunes were put up on the two-slider soundboard (never on direct electric action, note) and remained on the 7" wind. They therefore became the larger of the Great reeds both because of the high position and because the Trumpets were so much reduced in power. Although the Contra Posaune and Posaune knobs were duplicated on the choir, in practice this was not as seemed because they remained on the two-slider chest. Therefore if one was drawn on the choir, a relay prevented them sounding on the Great. The mixtures were remodelled, utilising the fact that the 5 rank one had been on two sliders. On the pedal, the Ophicleide was reduced to 6 1/2" and the Walker voicer boasted that he had managed to get it down this low from 25". It had been made and scaled as a 25" stop of course so was now, like the Trumpets and larger fluework, doing a job it was never made or voiced to do. Some small changes were also made on the Choir, and the Great Open Diapason I (of four opens) moved to the Pedals (revoiced on the lower wind) where it replaced the original Hill Open Wood with its Harrison 8' extension. The remaining Open Wood is a 16' extension by Harrisons of the Elliot and Hill 32' stop and is very light. The Hill stop was made into a 32' bourdon by Walkers and found its way to Ampleforth College! It was at this point that the organ for the first time contained stops made and scaled to do other jobs from those which they were transformed into doing. The organ became famous because of Dr Jackson's magnificent recordings on it, most made with the microphones at the head of the south transept (where it sounds superb still) or even in the tower! In practice, it was much much lighter in the building and less effective in leading a congregation than before (though more sparkling) because of the modifications which altered ranks made and voiced to overcome the disadvantages of the layout. The intention was to make a separate instrument in the Nave, but this has never happened. The 1993 work recognized the issues with the Great reeds and a new four-slider chest was made for all four of them, on the same 7" wind. The Posaunes were softened a little, being thought too "dense" and the Trumpets gained in stability from being returned to a pressure nearer to that for which they were scaled and made. They are still by no means powerful, however. The sliders vacated by the Trumpets made room for the Cymbal and Cornet introduced in 1993. A pedal chorus was also added then, sited on a slider soundboard in the screen to the south of the case. Three lighter pedal reeds are also on this soundboard. The original Harrison two-slider Tromba chest (later Posaunes) was re-used for the new Solo "Bombarde" which is NOT en-chamade but simply a hooded trumpet, and is placed facing into the Quire on the north side of the case immediately behind the curtain. The second slider is vacant. The intention was still to make a Nave organ, even though later some reflecting screens were placed above the Great reeds and the Pedal chorus, presumably with the intention of helping nave projection. So this is the correct historical information for those of you who are interested. There are many beautiful (and famous) sounds, but the instrument suffers from its weak internal layout. Projection across the lantern/tower space into the Nave is I think hampered more by the fact that the pipes speak to the South than by the size of the space itself. The Swell, almost all Walker, is the most integrated division. The Great, an impressive sized section, suffers to a certain extent from the history outlined above, with many stops doing a job they were never quite made to do. The quieter sounds as heard in the Nave can sound very lovely by virtue of the slightly reflected sound rather than direct, much as at Lincoln. However, we are fortunate to have an instrument of great colour which is heard daily by the very large congregations who come here for services. Perhaps I may meet some readers at one! Best wishes to all. Robert Sharpe York Minster
  6. I have an early edition where the F sharp minor section has the registration marking "Recit Flutes 8, 4 et Hautbois". This seems to make sense and also explains the "Anches Recit" direction later. Best wishes Robert
  7. I think I am right in saying that the Sacqueboute is an 8' pedal reed at St John's. It is a darker version of a Trompette used by Aubertin in more intimate situations. There is also a Quinte 1 1/3' on the Recit to act as a tonal pinnacle. BA explained to me that with the prominent octave harmonics of the 4' Flute (overblowing) the lack of a 2' register is not noticed. There is one in the Cornet of course. To clarify further on the flutes (the beautiful hand written labels don't have enough space!), the GO has a stopped metal 8 and open wood 4, the Positif has a wooden 8 and flute a cheminee 4, the Positif 2' is a Flageolet (described by Bernard as a "luminous" register), both the Recit flutes are wooden and overblowing in the treble (a speciality of his and a quite wonderful sound). The Recit is not to be thought of as a swell in the conventional English way but a third manual of colours at the very top of the organ. Putting the Traversieres and Cornet behind shutters would kill the beguiling effect of these Aubertin pipes.
  8. That's interesting that Simon requested the cancellers as I had always assumed David Briggs did so following his time at Hereford which of course has them. The Pedal foot piston canceller at Truro was altered to reverse the 32' in 2002 as it was never used. The little cluster of three stops on the RH jamb comprises Great and Pedal Combinations Coupled, Generals on Swell Foot pistons and Full Organ. The Pedal Divide drawstop resides with the Pedal stops on the LH jamb. The only couplers in the Great rows are the five Great couplers. The couplers are engraved in black and red as described. The header label question is interesting as there is indeed no curved label over the three couplers. It would be nice to include this and also an original Father Willis nameplate if one could be found. The 1963 console with just two double rows on each side with the Solo department immediately above the Swell followed the original Father Willis console pattern. Most of the original Father Willis stop knobs on their long rosewood rods survive in a cupboard in the crypt, but a number are missing. Best wishes Robert Sharpe
  9. On very occasional visits to this splendid forum, I see that the Truro Willis crops up from time to time as a topic of interesting debate. As the current "curator" of this magnificent musical instrument, I wonder if regulars will mind if I clear up one or two points of recent discussion? I discussed Paul Derrett's view of Hele's work with Mark Venning recently. Heles I believe simply put in a new blower in the 1920s(?) and at the same time "toned down" the Great 8' Tromba. Although claimed as revoicing (and the tone was changed), this was done simply by placing felt in the tops of the pipes which Lance Foy removed prior to the most recent restoration. There was no proper revoicing even though this may have been reported as such, and the original tone was easily recovered and very dramatic it is too. I think it is safe to say that the organ is as FHW left it tonally. Many people also do not realise that only the first bay of the nave was finished when the organ was put in so all the balancing was done in a conjectural way. Moreover, the instrument was intended to have a case (there is a Pearson design for it) and both these facts may go someway to explaining the very bright sound of the instrument. It is folklore that the Great 16' and 8' flues speak on the 7" windpressure together with the 8' and 4' reeds. The fluework is all on the 4" pressure! I know that all the booklets, past and present, state that the higher pressure is used but they are wrong, as we have measured! The soundboard arrangements are a little complicated and it is possible to think that the fluework is winded with the reeds. What is the case, however, is that the Great 16' reed is on the 4" pressure with the fluework, thus preventing a transfer to another manual or the pedal. Such a transfer is possible with the swell reeds (where the 16' is on the 7" pressure) and has been discussed. It would also be possible to have a transfer for the 8' and 4' Great reeds (to Solo or Choir) which we have also discussed. Both these would certainly provide a little more flexibility. May I also point out that both the mixtures break twice, in conventional Willis style, not by a whole octave. The Tuba is undoubtedly much more useful in its new position though still not particularly powerful (it is masked in single notes by Full Swell with the box open). Although the original slider (part of the solo soundboard) remains untouched, there is no action or wind to it so a reversal of the 1991 work would take a little longer than the half-day which is claimed in various documents. In terms of the sound of the organ, much of the magnificence of the tutti is lost down the nave where many sit for recitals, and it is certainly best to sit near the front or in the crossing where the organ's reputation is justified. When the building is full, it is necessary to lead hymns boldy which can sound over-powering at the front of the nave or in the quire. Half-way down the nave however, the sound falls off. It is certainly not the case that it is possible to drown a full cathedral of singers with this organ, but it can do all that is required of it in terms of leading singing. It is very easy to draw comparisons with other instruments purely from a paper stop list. The solo flutes at Truro are both crystal clear and not at all fat in tone and both orchestral reeds and the flutes combine in every way. The chorus work is balanced for the building and there is certainly no sense of the diapasons being in the least bit fat when heard in the cathedral even though the larger one sounds quite full-bodied to the player. Although a solo swell box would be useful, in practice it is rarely missed and as the solo stands in front of the choir, would be impossible anyway. The Ophicleide is perfectly balanced under the full organ when playing English music; it can stand away a little from the tutti in French repertoire where the manual parts tend to be higher and it is certainly true that a second pedal reed (and 32' extension of it) would be the one additional set of pipes which I feel would be of considerable use. I am interested by the comparisons with the old Worcester organ - they are like chalk and cheese. Finally, if anyone would like to play this remarkable cathedral organ and form their own judgement, please feel free to get in touch and I would be very happy to show people the organ, mine and the cathedral's diaries permitting. Best wishes Robert Sharpe
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