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Colin Pykett

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About Colin Pykett

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  1. " ... I'm not suggesting the traditional console's days are numbered ... " I'm sure much of what you suggest could be done fairly readily in principle. But in practice I have yet to see what I would class as a 'cheap' organ console which would appeal to a wide enough range of customers (i.e. players). Even at the bottom end of the market, the stripped-down skeleton designs offered by turnkey suppliers of virtual pipe organs are still pretty expensive. You can easily exceed the £10k-plus mark without hardly thinking about it. And that certainly wouldn't cover motorised (or perhaps even non-motorised) stop controls, only touch screens. This is no criticism because they are usually made to order since the market is so small, they must needs use keyboards of reasonable quality, plus they require standard pedal boards and all the other things an organist expects to find. And they need to look the part in the sense of being moderately attractive as a piece of furniture. So I do wonder whether the traditional organ console will ever really disappear as long as the organ (pipe or digital) exists at all. Costs can only be brought down to rock bottom if you are content with a couple of cheap plastic MIDI controller keyboards balanced on a pile of books sitting on the dining table, with a manky umpteenth-hand pedal board shoved underneath. Don't laugh, I've seen them, as no doubt have others who might read this. It's one way to go, especially if you are at the early experimental stage of things. But I doubt it would be a solution which would offer satisfaction to most players. But, as you said, we digress ...
  2. I'm unsure of the 'expert' bit of what you said! All I can offer are some perspectives derived from having made various measurements on organ pipe sounds over many years. Regarding the point you made about the inner parts, this relates to what I (in common with many others I think) call transparency. I haven't been able to investigate Schnitger's registers yet in the detail I undertook for those of Silbermann, but I suspect the two builders would have produced much the same type of transparency using much the same techniques. In Silbermann's case I found that he seemed to somewhat throttle back the loudness of his Principals (at least the unison and possibly the 4 foot ones) over the middle two octaves or so of the compass compared with the bass and treble regions above and below that. This is an aspect mainly of regulation of course, though it might have also involved niceties of timbre to do with the relative strengths of the first (the fundamental) and second harmonics - in which case scaling would also be relevant as well as aspects of voicing practices beyond regulation. Whether he did it unconsciously or by design, I have no idea. This isn't really the place to elaborate the matter further but there's an article which might be of interest which describes the work in more detail: http://www.pykett.org.uk/silfluewk.htm If I am right, these master organ builders of the past must have had the most exquisitely acute hearing coupled with an intuitive understanding of what we would call the physics of music to achieve these results. Well, that's nothing new of course because we know that they did. What interests me is to ferret out how they did it, now that we are in possession of greater knowledge and sophisticated analysis techniques to be able to find out more about it. It's interesting that you referred to Schweitzer's opinion that Cavaillé-Coll's Montres were also transparent, unlike the majority of romantic Principals. The article above also analyses these two types of stop in the same way as a Silbermann Principal, and the differences emerged starkly - to the extent that it became obvious (at least to my possibly biased judgement) how the differences you alluded to relate to how quite simple parameters of the three types of register vary across the compass. One of the most important parameters is the acoustic power of the stop, which is an outcome of how the voicer regulates it, thereby shading its loudness across the keyboard. This might suggest that even unsatisfactory romantic diapasons could become more transparent and thus better-suited to Bach's music merely by re-regulating them to emulate Silbermann? Note that these are matters of regulation, or varying the tonal balances only by adjusting the acoustic powers of the pipes. I have long been of the view that this relatively simple matter is at least as important as adjusting tone quality or worrying about more complicated things like pipe scales, and moreover it can be applied to an unsatisfactory-sounding organ even after it has been built. Maybe Ralph Downes was one of those who showed the way here in relatively recent times, after he was 'converted' to this view by the well-known voicer Anton Gottfried early in his (Downes's) career. After watching Gottfried in action Downes wrote that he 'began to learn truths that were so simple that one could wonder why one had not thought of them before'. Although not really a matter for this particular forum, poor regulation is without doubt one of the reasons why some digital organs are so unsatisfactory. It is well known that one of their more mysterious defects is why they often sound so awful when many stops are drawn, when the individual registers do not sound too bad in isolation. Poor regulation is sometimes the cause (though not the only one). But although regulation sounds a simple matter, it nevertheless requires skill and experience and a highly educated 'ear' to get it right. It is quite possible that the better builders of yesteryear such as Schnitger and Silbermann knew all this and therefore regulated their organs to optimise their transparency.
  3. The issues raised here are important in a more general sense, and to my mind they can be summarised as the need to relate the subject of interest to the politics and socio-economics of its era, together with other major events at the time. Otherwise we get that distorted perspective of history which is so often presented in terms of nothing but monarchs, dates and battlefields. I find it unfortunate that historians themselves frequently encourage this - we all know of eminent academics lecturing us endlessly on television while striding pompously about on some undistinguished patch of grass which once had to do with some skirmish or other. Sitting through an hour of this sort of thing frequently tells us little of the real story behind events. It's not much different to a historian telling us that Marconi invented radio. Well, he didn't, in fact the very phrase is meaningless. No single person 'invented' it, and that is true for much else as well. Closer to home as far as this forum is concerned is the history of tuning and temperament. Some of what one comes across in recent literature is quite wrong (aside from arithmetical errors, which is another and altogether regrettable aspect). Andreas Werckmeister, for example, had a career shaped by the consequences of the Thirty Years' War when he was young. Were it not for this he would quite possibly have done something completely different. As it was, he was largely self-taught in some aspects of what he wrote about because he missed out on the chance to study more formally, and as a result was unaware of the parallel work of important contemporaries elsewhere in Europe (and they of he). This is not to underrate what he achieved, but his work does need to be read against this backdrop. It is particularly important not to presume that he and others at that time had our understanding of things like frequency, beats and harmonics for example, topics which are second nature to us but which were only hazily understood by Werckmeister and others - which is no criticism of course. And the appalling difficulties of doing arithmetic in those days is often ignored by today's authors with a calculator handily stuffed in a back pocket. Yet another issue is the dichotomy between the philosophical and empirical approaches to acquiring knowledge which exercised a controlling influence until the 19th century. Ignoring such matters renders some modern work on temperament anachronistic and of limited value. The relation of all this to Zimbelstern's posts is to emphasise how important it is to understand events in a broad context, and that can be facilitated by codifying the knowledge at the earliest opportunity. In other words, write down what might seem today to be humdrum and trivial matters. The longer we leave it, the harder it becomes for historians to derive an unambiguous picture of what happened. This is certainly true of tuning and temperament. Another example is the joy we experience when coming across some scrap of paper which illuminates what some long-departed organ builder was doing 150 years ago and how he was doing it. So for Zimbelstern to propose doing this for the fairly recent Orgelbewegung is laudable, while the information is still relatively fresh and available. I regret I can offer no assistance on this specific topic, but I applaud his approach and wish him well with it.
  4. That has to be true of course. It probably applies to the Netherlands as well. I guess I'm pretty much as well travelled as most though, if only because of my former job shoving me all over the place, and the phenomenon (of apparently greater awareness of and interest in the organ beyond the UK) seems quite widespread in my nevertheless finite experience. France - well, presumably it has to do with its organs and their music in the later 19th century as much as anything else, but surely there was a similar situation over here at that time, though probably for different reasons? Then, the organ was tremendously popular - Alfred Hollins in his autobiography refers to congregations of hundreds or even thousands at churches (mainly non-Conformist ones and the Kirk it would seem) who would listen raptly to his playing at quite ordinary services, let alone his recitals. Plus of course other players like Best performing on organs just as famous (like their builders) as the contemporary French ones. So why isn't there more residual evidence of this today in Britain when there apparently is in France, judging by the attendances they get at their recitals, at least the major ones? Then dear old Italy, where everything is so much more laid back and informal! I've observed people, many of whom are young, attracted in their droves off the street by the sound of an organ being played. They stand there for a while (because there aren't any vacant seats) before casually leaving again. Nobody notices or seems to mind, including the player. The place is continually heaving and in motion. (It's the same at their church services, even at cathedrals). I just love this relaxed attitude, so different to stuffy old UK! North America, especially the USA - I suppose the greater involvement of the population with the church still exerts a strong influence there which is beneficial to the organ, even though the effect is said to be somewhat on the wane now. And so on. So maybe there just isn't a simple answer to the question, but instead several different answers which apply to the various countries one considers.
  5. Like others here, I'm just as stumped as to why the organ doesn't press the buttons of the concert-going public in Britain. If the various very cogent reasons proposed are to explain it, why do they not seem to apply as strongly in other countries where the organ attracts a greater following (a phenomenon also remarked on above)? I realise this question has been posed several times before on this forum, but the dichotomy has existed for most of my remembered lifetime and I have no explanation for it.
  6. I too do not understand why this recital is scheduled for a Sunday morning. When I was working in London a long time ago now in the early 1990s, I attended many concerts including the Proms (I was fortunate in being able to live in Notting Hill just across the park from the gasworks, to which one could walk after an early dinner and get there in time for the event to begin). During those years there was always an organ recital, it was scheduled early in the evening (typically 6 pm as I recall) which meant that the main concert could begin afterwards - and I usually stayed for that as well. The audiences were not huge for the organ events but nevertheless respectable. The main problem in those days was the somewhat parlous state of the organ. It is therefore a great pity, now the organ has been so splendidly restored, that it seems to be so relegated in importance relative to other musical events at the Proms.
  7. There is an extract about 10 minutes long from the BBC radio 'Desert Island Discs' programme featuring Noel Rawsthorne at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p009n9xh It was broadcast on New Year's Day 1973. None of his music choices are included though they are listed on the web page.
  8. It's not the first time the organ has had problems with its electronics, though the background was different then: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg14619731-800-notre-dames-organ-falls-silent/ Then things got even worse: https://www.nytimes.com/1995/04/03/world/paris-journal-notre-dame-s-organ-and-computer-are-no-duet.html Though M Boisseau's reported jest at the end of this piece now sounds particularly unfortunate.
  9. For various reasons of no interest here I get involved in copyright issues quite often. The most recent arranger of a work will frequently be the copyright holder, or her/his estate if deceased. I assume the arranger you are referring to here is Clifford Harker, in which case the remaining copyright will probably have many years to run. One can encounter difficulties if one does not remember this. Another example is the 'Largo, Allegro, etc' variations by Festing arranged by Thalben-Ball. While Festing died in the 1750s, GTB's copyright will not expire for nearly 40 years yet. Therefore those who blithely upload their performances to youtube or other popular websites seemingly have no idea of the problems they will encounter if the copyright police (who continually and aggressively comb the internet for infringers) decide to take action. It is particularly vicious because, even if you take down an item should they contact you, you will quite likely still be taken to court if you refuse to pay them an arbitrary penalty for the period during which you were the infringer. The same can apply to those including it in recitals or on CDs etc without prior agreement. I'm not a copyright lawyer but one doesn't have to be. The rules are pretty simple and aggressively enforced as case law shows. If a plaintiff provides evidence that you infringed, the court will simply find against you with no further argument, and of course add costs on top of a fine or other penalty.
  10. There's a photo of the Christchurch polyphone here (source acknowledgement: NPOR): https://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/XMLFunctions.cgi?Fn=GetPicture&Rec_index=D06714&Number=3 If you look carefully you can discern the separate wood covers to the various chambers.
  11. I believe the Compton diaphone at Christchurch Priory was retained at the 1999 Nicholson rebuild. I played it at that time, and if my recollection is correct it survived as the 16 foot Contra Bass on the Nave pedal division. It certainly was not of the 'foghorn' variety, having a quiet grip and definition which many flue registers at that pitch could do well to imitate. However, if you prefer something of a more visceral (even if not quite foghorn) nature, you could try the well-trodden Hope-Jones examples at Pilton, Devon and Llanrhaeadr, assuming they are still there - I haven't been near either for some while now. There is also an 8-note Compton polyphone unit at Christchurch as I recall, forming part of the 32' Sub Bass pedal stop.
  12. Both this and the photo on the front cover are of St Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, NYC. Funnily enough I had the issue near at hand as I'm considering compiling an index for the several decades' worth I have amassed. There's an awful lot of highly interesting and in some cases important information which is, unfortunately, very difficult to access even in those cases where one can recall (usually vaguely) that something or other was once written about a particular subject way back in the mists of time. I don't think OR itself offers such an index, though I might be misinformed. If I'm correct though, it seems a great pity that so much information and, in many cases, scholarship, is so difficult to access.
  13. When I was an impressionable teenager I attended an Anglican evangelical church, and on one occasion my father decided to accompany me to a service. On entering he was asked by an earnest elderly lady whether he had been saved. "From what?" he replied, much to my mortification. During those years though I myself was "saved" by a rather fat though pale imitation of Billy Graham called Eric Hutchings. Looking back I can only cringe at my memories of what an utter load of rubbish it all was. How embarrassing it now seems. Actually I now realise that the only reason I went to church at all was because the buildings contained organs, and that particular one had quite a respectable three-decker which they allowed me to practice on. I doubt that would have been the case had I not agreed to be "saved" ...
  14. Something like this which relies on digital electronics will be at the mercy of everything which afflicts digital electronics, both its hardware and software. One issue concerns repairs if it goes wrong, at which point a consequential matter often arises concerning obsolescence. On the hardware side, will the necessary parts such as replacement printed circuit boards or the integrated circuits they contain still be available? Will the manufacturers of the system still be around to do the job? How rapidly will obsolescence take place - in the computer world it is difficult to have one repaired which is more than five years old for example, and even this figure is optimistic. Replacement rather than repair is the name of the game, and this is extremely expensive. And what causes the system to go wrong? In large, tall buildings one cannot rule out lightning strikes. We see all these factors arising so often in organs today that we are almost inured to it. I could go on, especially as I haven't even mentioned the software side of things. These are technological facts of life. It is entirely possible that they were taken into account before the instrument was designed and procured because they form part of the through-life costs of systems today ranging from washing machines to cars to, well, you name it. While they work they are great, but when they go wrong it's an entirely different ball game.
  15. Thank you, Zimbelstern. Yes, I came across this back in 2017 and it is indeed a most useful paper. I have to be careful not to hijack this IMSLP thread, so will limit myself to saying that one has to be very aware of historical milestones across several disciplines to properly interpret writings on tuning in this era. It was only towards the end of Werckmeister's life in the late 1600s that knowledge of the mere concept of absolute frequency, so casually taken for granted today, was becoming widespread and even vaguely understood - as witness the demonstration by Robert Hooke to the Royal Society of a piece of card held against a rotating toothed wheel. Lo and behold, it emitted a musical note! This was startlingly novel at the time (if it hadn't been it would not have taken place in front of that august gathering), and snippets of information such as this are essential to set the work of early temperament theorists against their proper background. Otherwise it is all too easy to look backwards with the benefit of today's hindsight and generate 'research' of which far too much is hopelessly anachronistic and thus of poor quality.
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