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Colin Pykett

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  1. One frequently comes across differing opinions about the speed at which organ music should be played. Bach is a case in point, with some players exceeding any reasonable speed limit in my humble opinion, whereas at the opposite pole are those who prefer the 'slow Bach' style. It struck me that perhaps one aspect of the matter concerns contemporary organ blowing practice at the time the composer put pen to paper. Prior to the 19th century when hydraulic, steam, town gas, oil and finally electric blowing entered the arena, everything depended on human muscle power and the relative awkwardness or otherwise of the organ blowers one happened to have. Frequently these would hang around in churchyards while waiting for an organist to appear, who would then toss them a few coins in the hope of having enough wind for the duration of her/his practice session. They would often be village boys or old men with few other employment opportunities (my late father was one such in his youth in the 1920s and he told some amusing tales about pompous and irascible organists), and Elvin's book on organ blowing has some similarly delightful anecdotes about the touchy relationship between the performer and the blower(s). There is also a popular (fictional?) song written apparently in a Somerset-like vernacular bemoaning the arrival of electric blowing at the singer's church and his consequential loss of employment (lyrics in another post below). Then there is that wonderful photograph of the motley collection of blowers at Notre Dame in Paris who were not pensioned off until the 1920s when electric blowing arrived (paid for at least partly by public subscription here in the UK). Against this background, would it be unreasonable to suggest that composer-organists in those days automatically bore in mind the problems they might face if they wrote music which would either be beyond the physical capabilities of their local blowing community, or at least might annoy them? And as part of this, would they (perhaps unconsciously) play at a speed and with relatively economical registrations (defined in terms of wind demand) intended not to arouse too many skirmishes or objections? A possible example of music which could have verged on the unacceptable from the blower's perspective might be Bach's Piece d'Orgue (BWV 572). Its extended allabreve section is usually played loudly today, and sometimes very slowly and ponderously. But I really do wonder whether the poor organ blowers would, or could, have put up with it very often if rendered in this manner! A recording exists of Gottfried Preller playing this piece on the restored 'Bach' organ at Arnstadt where, although played loudly, he takes it at a fair lick. Although today's Arnstadt organ has its manual blowing apparatus, it also has an electric blower, and on Preller's recording I suspect the latter was used as there is no audible vestige of the 'live' winding which one might otherwise have expected to detect (even though he begins and ends the CD with the calcant bell to the blowers!). The bottom line of these musings is this: might an appreciation of contemporary blowing practice shed some light on likely metronome speeds and perhaps registrations also?
  2. How astonishing, both that the vicar declined to lead such an important occasion and that somebody should grumble about the odd few seconds here or there. Regarding accurate timing though, it's possible to buy new Chinese analogue wrist or pocket watches very cheaply which almost invariably have a sweep seconds hand. Either quartz or mechanical versions are made, and they can be found online or even on market stalls at prices starting from around £20. They are usually identical to the much more expensive ones in retail jewellers' shops but tend to be the rejects from the factory's quality control system for one reason or another, often simply that the mechanical ones don't keep time to better than a few minutes per day. Presumably it would be more expensive to regulate them carefully than to sell them on. (Their movements are also identical to those often sold today under former 'posh' brand names such as Rotary). Like others here, I have found watches useful in church services generally but tend to carry a cheap one around in case of loss or damage. I also sometimes use one with a sweep seconds hand to time beats when tuning an unusual temperament by ear. One feels an empathetic connection to the tuners of yesteryear when doing this, rather than using an electronic tuning device or phone app!
  3. I am grateful to those forum members here who have put so much thought into their Remembrance services - as I myself have done in my time when at the console. Yesterday, though, we were at a local McDonald's for lunch as part of a day entertaining one of our little grandsons, and my wife and I were touched to find that they also had observed a two minutes' silence just prior to our arrival (though one wonders quite how 'silent' a place full of youngsters would actually have been!). But the aspect of Remembrance I always recall most strongly is having been part of a family which lost members during both world wars, as so many families did, yet I was never really able to find out much about what had actually happened. I am old enough to recall the devastation and austerity of my early childhood in a coal mining area, and can dimly remember an uncle who died in the early 1950s essentially from his experiences sustained working on the Burma Railway. I also knew vaguely that another uncle had died during the war a few years before I was born. He was 21, the son of my grandfather who himself still carried shrapnel around in his leg from the first world war. He was also in the Home Guard in the second. Yet nobody scarcely spoke of it, and this troubled me as a child and into adulthood. I definitely knew I was not supposed to ask questions, so I wonder whether others experienced this in their families? It was obvious that, to their dying day, the subject never lost its rawness for my parents and others. It was only a year ago that I finally discovered what had happened, decades after my parents and grandparents themselves had passed on. Thanks to the internet, I found that my uncle had been shot while on guard duty in the small hours of the morning at Cultybraggan POW camp in Scotland which was reserved for particularly vicious nazis and is now a museum. He was taken to the nearby Gleneagles Hotel which had been commandeered as a military hospital where he died some hours later. I was even able to find a copy of his death entry dryly noted by the duty doctor doing his ward rounds, with my grandfather's so-well-known signature confirming his identity. He and perhaps his wife must have travelled by blacked-out train all the way from the midlands to get there and back again, and I can only guess at his state of mind during that dreadful journey. The next week a funeral notice appeared in a newspaper in his home town (a paper where the boy himself had been a Linotype operator before the war), together with another a few days later thanking friends and relatives for their expressions of sympathy. This information was also turned up on the internet, together with a picture of his grave where he had been buried with full military honours. Its beautiful headstone still looks as new as the day it was made, all wonderfully maintained to this day. I am not sure who does this - it might be his former regiment, the Royal Artillery, or the British Legion - but I am grateful to them, and to a lady I've never met who keeps it tidy especially at Remembrance tide. As I said, until last year I knew none of this, but it is the sort of stuff that matters about Remembrance Day for me and countless others, and I am so pleased that we still celebrate it so that those who were lost are not forgotten. I realise none of this is directly about the organ and its music, but it is the backdrop of much which is about the organ at this time of year.
  4. As well as the pieces mentioned above, another one I have used on these occasions is 'Sunset', as often played by the Royal Marines band (Green's arrangement for full band plus solo). It seems to go down well as a fairly gentle piece at the beginning or end of a service, and not too difficult to play on the organ either. Be aware, though, that people tend to stand up when they hear it, so don't get taken by surprise!
  5. I played both the large partly Edwardian Walker and the smaller Frobenius choir organ at Lancing some years ago. At that time the Walker had an unusual mix of actions ranging from mechanical through pneumatically-assisted through tubular pneumatic through electropneumatic to electric couplers. This is not to disparage a basically exciting playing experience, but when I then transferred to the smaller Frobenius I was overwhelmed by its tonal beauty and the precision of its meticulously conceived action. One can also have the best of both worlds in that the Walker can be played electrically from the Frobenius console. (Still nothing to do with Rouen, I'm afraid, though my excuse is that I'm clearly not the only sinner here in this respect ... )
  6. I was speaking to Alan Thurlow after a recital by Roger Fisher at Chichester in the early 2000's when he said that the Allen was still in situ and at the west end. Sorry to be taking the thread further away from Rouen though.
  7. One aspect of installing a house organ of anything more than the smallest size are the problems involved when you (or your beneficiaries should you have moved onto higher things) want to sell the building. The vast majority of prospective purchasers simply do not wish to see an organ of any sort when they view the place - ask any real estate agent. I've even had to hide a digital organ in the garage in order to get rid of a property on the advice of the agent!
  8. I would have hesitated to suggest that pedal tones could be obtained using digital techniques were it not for the fact that the method has been resorted to by some of the best pipe organ builders in some of the most prestigious venues such as Southwell Minster. Even if Niccolo might not like the idea as a permanent solution, he might try it as a stop gap while trying out various other options using pipes. But beware that radiating the lowest frequencies is a quirky business at the best of times regardless of whether one uses pipes or electronics. Quiet flue tones are often more difficult than reeds in terms of things like 'not-spots' within the room, and commercial subwoofers if using digital techniques can be disappointing considering their cost. A successful quiet 16 (or even 32) reed can be obtained in a smallish room using free reeds, with or without resonators. These can be obtained from old reed organs. So there's a lot of scope for experiment for those with the inclination to try various options. Also Damien's posts on patents were extremely useful - thank you for that guidance.
  9. Thanks Steve. I hope you can resolve your problems. That's possible John, though I think they are of the 'open' type which let ambient sound through. Must check this though - good point. Thanks for the kind remarks John. Since becoming a member of the hearing aid generation I've come across instruments which were distinctly different to what I had been accustomed to previously. In one of them the treble (penultimate) octave of the great 15th was excessively prominent whereas this was not so without the aids. My first thought was that the frequency response of the aids produced a peak in that region when combined with that of my ears. However when I checked the top octave of the 4 foot principal, which sounds at the same pitch of course, there was no problem. So I assumed the artefact was probably genuine and related to the organ itself rather than the aids. It would be instructive to take a young person with some musical experience along to see what their excellent ears tell them about experiences like this one.
  10. Having looked back through the posts above, some points seem to have been made several times and it might be worth summarising them: 1. Since hearing aids are mainly optimised for speech they may not work as well, or as expected, for organ music. Several posters have remarked on the peculiar 'celeste', 'warbling' or 'fairground' sound imposed on organ music (as well as other sorts). 2. Better results for organ sounds might be obtained if your audiologist provides you with a separate, user-selectable, setting or 'program' for music. This can be done on the cheapest aids and those offered by the NHS as well as the more expensive ones, but it seems that you might have to ask explicitly for it to be done rather than assume it comes as standard. 3. In some (most?) hearing aids the music program seems to turn off some or all of the clever automatic processing used for speech, in particular the 'whistle block' facility to prevent acoustic feedback. 4. The above means that when you switch to 'music' mode, your aids might start whistling (mine do). This can be stopped by turning down the volume, though it means that the amount of compensation the aids can then offer is more limited than in 'speech' mode. But all this must depend on the type of hearing defect you have. The list above applies to me, and no doubt my type of hearing loss has unconsciously coloured what I've just written (I have moderate bilateral presbycusis - age related hearing loss in both ears with a moderate and similar amount of hearing still remaining). Therefore none of it is written in tablets of stone and you would be best advised to take the advice of your hearing professional. Having made this necessary disclaimer, I nevertheless think it's fair to say that we have jointly made useful progress here. I've never seen anything like this before, and should therefore like to thank all those who have contributed so positively by sharing their knowledge and experiences.
  11. Thank you for reminding us of this, and I apologise for not having remembered it and starting this one which has covered some of the same ground - though it's been most interesting all the same and I have found it valuable. I do have difficulty finding out such things on this forum though - sometimes the search facility seems to work better than at others. Am I missing a trick here? Maybe there's a better method for turning up previous related topics or messages than using search? Anyway, apologies again.
  12. Rather similarly to Rowland's story above, I heard a radio broadcast a very long time ago in which John Lill said that the one instrument he really envied and wished he had learnt was the organ. He said something like 'it's singing ability is so sublime, so different to the transient sounds of the piano'.
  13. Over 10 years ago I put together an article about age-related hearing loss (the most common type which eventually affects many if not all of us) and its relation to the sounds of the organ. It's at http://www.pykett.org.uk/arhlandob.htm if you are interested. It includes mp3 clips of how organs might sound to people having varying degrees of ARHL and these have since been used quite widely as demo pieces in educational, musical and audio circles. That was around the time I realised I would probably benefit from hearing aids at some point in the future, but I wondered how they would cope with my musical interests. Subsequently I did get them and found that the answer to the question is 'not very well' at least for me. However, for everyday purposes where speech is important, they seem to be amazingly good. I recently got a new pair of NHS aids (Bernafon JU7 C) with the optional 'music program' I mentioned previously. Although still experimenting with them, so far they don't really improve the major features of my musical hearing defects in that (like John Robinson) I still can't hear much beyond top A on a 2 foot stop (7 kHz). That's because it's been made abundantly clear to me several times that if your hearing has gone, then it has gone and no amount of amplification can compensate for it. So although I was naively expecting them to restore things like the sound of a cymbalstern in a particular recording, they either don't do it or they do it unsatisfactorily. For me, the best solution for recorded (not live) music so far is simply to use an old fashioned hi-fi amplifier incorporating adjustable tone controls (EQ in modern parlance). So I still use my old Linsley Hood amp from the 1970s which has the rare luxury of switchable corner frequencies for the tone controls, and I suspect this provides as much compensation for my hearing defects as I'm likely to get. Like Owen Turner, I've found audiologists (and even ENT consultant surgeons - whom I have paid to see privately at no mean fees) seem unwilling or unable to engage with one at the level of music or acoustical physics. Maybe they feel at a disadvantage with patients who know something about Hz and the dynamic range of orchestral brass. Whatever the reason, they either don't know the answers to questions I should like answered, or they retreat into a defensive shell. Also the whole subject of hearing aids involves some degree of pressured selling and commercial secrecy about what the aids actually do with audio signals, so going into your local high street provider can be like going to your local car dealer for a new vehicle in terms of the very expert selling pressures you encounter. On the basis of what various acquaintances have said, I'm not sure paying for more expensive aids would necessarily achieve much where music is concerned. They certainly offer more in the way of things like bluetooth connectivity, or being able to adjust them from your iPhone rather than fiddling about with awkward physical switches on the aids themselves, etc. So I haven't yet tried them myself.
  14. I wonder whether it might be worthwhile to have a discussion about the merits of the many hearing aids which are available in relation to their effectiveness when playing or listening to the organ. They range in price from nothing (the NHS types in the UK) to several thousand pounds, though it is far from certain whether paying more will automatically result in better performance where the organ is concerned. There are also several other matters, such as whether one's audiologist knows enough about music rather than speech (for which all hearing aids are actually optimised). S/he might provide a 'music' program if you ask for one, which can be selected manually, but quite what this might do on a particular product is shrouded in mystery. Generally it does little more than turn off most of the clever processing used for speech, so that (for instance) the things can be prone to burst into oscillation and thus produce that annoying feedback whistle which used to be so common with older types. Not the sort of thing you want to happen at the Albert Hall I suggest. And then, quite what is meant by 'music' to the aid itself? Does it mean the aids when switched to this mode are better for attending a mega-decibel pop concert rather than for the organ or going to a classical orchestral concert? And the effect of different aids on different types of music can be dramatic, since the sustained tones of the organ are interpreted by some of them as the onset of feedback and so they do the most peculiar things in trying to prevent it. For example, you can suddenly find the organ you are playing is apparently full of warbling celeste stops as the aids attempt to prevent what they think is feedback by modulating the frequencies or phases of the signals several times a second! On top of all this sort of thing is imposed the type of hearing loss you might have. I could go on to describe my own experiences in more detail, but preferably would like some reactions from other members before doing this as it might be of little interest. In any case, it's only polite to invite others to step up to the podium first!
  15. At one church where I played regularly earlier this century I tried to fit myself round the likes and dislikes of as many factions (if that's the right word) which I identifed in the congregation. There were those who plainly were traditionalists and enjoyed having the organ, and sometimes my introductory music was simply a segwayed medley of hymn tunes played quietly rather than pieces from the organ repertoire. This clearly worked on at least one occasion when a very elderly lady came up to the console after the service, supported by her daughter, who said touchingly with tears in her eyes how much she had enjoyed hearing the old tunes which her father used to play on the reed organ at home when she was a little girl. On other occasions I would sometimes play the piano rather than the organ, such as for an impromptu Evensong when so few turned up that the vicar thought it would be better if we all occupied the chancel. On that occasion only the hymns were accompanied. That went down well also, the lay reader commenting afterwards that "my word, an organist who deigns to play the piano. We must have him stuffed!". (I knew her well and it was said and meant entirely kindly). Or sometimes I would willingly give the whole service over to a worship group who then did their own thing. Despite all this, though, there were obviously some at that church for whom nothing would have been enough and who probably regarded me as a 'snowflake' - though I consciously did nothing as far as I am aware to encourage this view. Some of these people were even in the choir, among those I would normally have regarded as friends and allies! So in the end I gave up and left. Yet even after that I got calls imploring me to come back for services such as weddings and funerals when presumably they couldn't get anyone else, which I turned down because I disliked being at the beck and call of those who thought they could use me as a convenience. I suspect this story will resonate with some other members of the forum. It's nothing to do with octave couplers but it does have a connection with the original poster's remarks above.
  16. Isn't history wonderful! I was present when the 1953 coronation was broadcast live on television, which itself was a rare and expensive novelty what with sets retailing at around £80 at a time when the average working man brought home perhaps £7 per week gross. The new Sutton Coldfield transmitter had only brought single-channel BBC TV for the first time to the heaving unwashed north of Watford a few years earlier, and we were thus able to enjoy (?) it on a 405-line monochrome 9 inch screen in the largest room my extended family could find in one of their dwellings, so that as many friends and neighbours could squeeze in as possible. (Nerd alert - even though it was only a few years old, that TV tube was then showing signs of the central bluish ion burn which eventually rendered it useless. A common problem then before the days of ion trap technology. However an aunt remarked that it proved that "they were obviously experimenting with colour", bless her). It was actually great fun from my point of view because of the party atmosphere, though I must admit to having been bored stiff by the broadcast itself, except for some of the music and the sound of the organ emerging from that tiny loudspeaker which even then impressed itself on my juvenile mind. At junior school we had had the benefit of a special edition of the New Testament handed out to every pupil, as well as a 'Coronation Mug' of the sort which even today still spills off the shelves of the lesser antique shops. But I'm afraid I can't shed any light on whether Latin was used. What a philistine I must seem ...
  17. When I kicked off this topic I was only too aware that I was having a self-indulgent rant. So it's interesting that some others seem to incline in a similar direction all the same. In particular, VH's thoughtful and professional remarks summarise exactly what I meant. Although I find the music of Bach and his contemporaries is at its most attractive when played on the instruments which were around at the time, this is only a personal opinion and I certainly wouldn't want to impose it on anyone else. In any case, some harpsichords sound better than others, which were amusingly described some while back on this forum as sounding like a 'drawer full of cutlery'. I can't recall who said that but I love it as it can be so true! On the other hand I've heard the most sublime, golden and warm sounds from some of them both on recordings and live. I think there can be more mileage than might sometimes be thought concerning the pitch (as distinct from the temperament) they are tuned to. The so-called 'Baroque pitch standard' (if there can be such a thing) of A415 is a semitone flat from today's almost universal A440, and it results in a gentler timbre to my ears on at least some instruments, if not the majority. It's a totally different matter to merely switching a digital instrument down a semitone, because in that case there's no timbral change at all since exactly the same samples are used at both pitches. But it's not straightforward to retune any acoustic keyboard instrument, as the thing needs time to settle down to the new set of string tensions. It can easily involve several retunings over a period of some weeks or even longer before you can assess the result properly, and it definitely needs to be done by an expert. Therefore it's not surprising that people are unwilling to retune on a whim, since it takes just as long (and it's just as expensive) to put it back again if you don't like it. It obviously couldn't be done for a piano which might be needed the following week for a concerto performance in which the orchestra would be expecting an A440 instrument.
  18. Thinking a little more about converting one of the 8 foot flutes into a 4 foot one, I assume the Claribel uses full length (not stopped) pipes down to tenor C. It would, in theory, be possible to convert it directly into an open flute of 4 foot pitch by boring nodal holes approximately half way up each pipe - in other words, convert it into a 4 foot Harmonic Flute. Some careful regulation (adjustment of power across the rank) would almost certainly be necessary to get the desired tone as well as, more importantly, proper blend with the Stopped Diapason. An advantage of doing things this way is that no transposition of pipes would be required, so the amount of messing about with the sound board and rack boards would be minimal or zero. But as mentioned in my previous post, you would be well advised to put the job into the hands of an expert. And if it didn't turn out well, the holes could be plugged and glued again if the pipes are of wood, returning the organ tonally to where it was previously and without having done much mutilation to the pipework. If of metal, the holes could be re-covered by a simple soldering job. Some 8 foot claribels are of harmonic construction themselves over at least part of the compass, implying that they use double-length pipes, though I'd be a little surprised if such extravagance applied here with this baby organ. But if it is the case, then delete everything I've just said. But I emphasise again that all this is entirely theoretical. I haven't seen, heard or played the instrument so it's all just armchair musing on my part.
  19. You have two 8 foot flutes, so would you be willing to forego one of them in favour of a 4 foot flute as an alternative to an octave coupler? The majority of the new rank could perhaps be made up from the sacrificed 8 foot one in the hands of a sufficiently skilled voicer, so that it matches the remaining 8 foot flute. Or perhaps forego the Dulciana, although two 8 foot flutes strike me as a bit extravagant in such a small instrument and I imagine the contemplative quietness of the Dulciana is something you would not want to lose in circumstances such as during Holy Communion. I don't know of course, not having heard or played the instrument, so these suggestions might well be ill-founded.
  20. Not exactly an organ topic, but do others find Bach and contemporary composers' works played on the piano as much as a turn-off as I do? I've just this minute switched off BBC R3 when they started playing (aka advertising) a recent CD of (D) Scarlatti thus rendered. It's not so much the blatant anachronism of using an instrument that barely existed at the time, but the fact that the romantic excesses of a powerful modern concert grand plus the exaggerated antics of some executants verge on the revolting to me. (I'm not all that keen on it for some of the 19th century repertoire either ... ) Plus, of course, the major issues of temperament and even pitch. One cannot really know what temperaments would have been preferred in view of the whole subject boiling around in a melting pot at the time, though the probability of equal tuning would have been low I suggest - but don't start me on that. And as for A440? It would have resulted in a lot of snapped violin strings, and wouldn't have done the wooden frames of harpsichords and early Silbermann-type pianos much good either. I wouldn't have minded quite so much if they had had the grace to use an actual or ersatz fortepiano tuned to some reasonably 'authentic' temperament and pitch, but no - not on this CD at least. I'm not expecting any replies. But thanks to the forum for letting me get it off my chest. And, on a barely related topic which concerns attendance at concerts, I discovered a dreadful thing about my mobile phone yesterday. If you have set an alarm call, you still get the alarm even if you have switched off the actual phone - at least, on mine. I think the only way to be absolutely safe is to physically take out the battery prior to the commencement of the concert. Thank goodness I discovered this the easy way (in the kitchen as it happens) rather than the hard way at the RFH or wherever ... Anyway, I now realise why this seems to happen so often at live events. Doubtless this is well known to those who've made the transition into the 21st century better than I.
  21. I too was very saddened by this news. David was one of those whom I never managed to meet but wish I had, and he was one of the members who made it so worthwhile belonging to this forum. It's certainly true that his knowledge of the instrument was encyclopaedic as others have said above, and I thought it might be worthwhile posting this link describing his researches into the organs of East Anglia where he obviously had a special interest: http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/norfolkorgans1.htm His family and friends are in my thoughts.
  22. " ... 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 ...
  23. 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.
  24. 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.
  25. 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.
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