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Bruce Buchanan

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  1. Where is this, please. I think London.
  2. And yet and yet… Very many years ago, doing night work at St Paul’s, we took as usual our tea break at 2.00 am in the crypt mess with the two night watchman, who in those days patrolled the Cathedral each night. The conversation turned to the reverberation in the Cathedral (12 ¼ seconds according to HWIII and faithfully repeated by me ever since) and I remarked on the case of Sheffield City Hall where, as I amusingly put it, the reverberation ceases ¼ second before you lift you hands from the keys. The older of the two watchmen listened gravely as I expatiated, with all the skill and certainty with which youth is invariably blessed, on acousticians generally and Hope Bagnell in particular. Waiting politely to see if I had finished, the aged watchman then said that his experience was different. It turned out he had been a bassist, I think with the Hallé. It was the only hall, he said, in which he had been able to hear from his position among the basses what everybody else was doing. For this reason, he said, he felt he gave a better performance at Sheffield than anywhere else.
  3. I recall hearing the Spinks improvisation. It was broadcast from St Gabriel’s Cricklewood, a 1958 JWW rebuild of, I think, an earlier JWW. The organ was a new wine in old bottles, post Festival Hall essay, its high-minded ideals being compromised by extension, duplexing and the original pipework. My recollection is that the church had a deplorable acoustic, but as it was a favourite venue for musical events, that must be wrong. No doubt Spinks’s improvisation was academically correct, but I remember it mainly through disappointment. It seemed to plod its way from the beginning to the end without any emotional element. However, I had just returned from Paris and had a fairly fixed if juvenile idea of what an improvisation should be like. I have retained very little from my youth, but I still retain the fairly fixed if juvenile idea of what an improvisation should be like.
  4. There is room here for an interesting and perhaps useful digression. I know nothing of the organ in Fredericton Cathedral, but until convincingly assured otherwise, I decline to believe that the Viola da Gamba is the loudest and lowest pitched flue rank on the Swell Organ. If this drawstop is at the bottom of the Swell jamb then it is in the wrong position. I accept that a cup of coffee upset by a Bourdon 16ft is no less upset by a Gamba 8ft, but for some a bad situation is made worse by the malefaction being undertaken by a drawstop that should not be there in the first place. It is true that the transatlantic habit of setting out departments in columns of three might confuse the issue, but not here, I think. One of the many ways in which organists like to leave their mark (or legacy, as we now say) is to corrupt for their own convenience the settled and satisfactory anglophone convention for the order of drawstops on the jambs. With the exception of the late Henry Willis III, organ builders are often too pliant in accepting the organist’s whim in this regard; they assume too freely that a contested drawstop position might be a deal breaker. Frequently, one hears that the String and Celeste should be at the bottom of the Swell jamb so that the devising organist can easily, and without thought, reach for his musical crutch. Similarly, Open 8, Principal 4 and Fifteenth 2 (and other such choruses) are occasionally grouped together, sometimes in the middle of the jamb in the name of convenience but the confusion others. The sin is exacerbated when the drawstop heads are numbered, so that a newly appointed organist cannot easily rectify the matter without resort to the engraver at no little cost. So far as I can see, the Royal Festival organ faithfully adopts the convention (and I guess the Albert Hall organ likewise) for the sound reason that visiting organists are entitled to assess the stop-list on the jambs at a glance. The parish church may not have such a long procession of players, but if the average tenure of an organist is five years, that will be one (self) satisfied organist and nineteen disaffected ones in a century. But the one will be remembered.
  5. As regards Willis, there are no sources, not even Mr Renshaw, who essayed this myth fully twenty years ago after misconstruing or accepting a misconstruction by others of a paper dating from the 1970s showing the order of intervals used by Henry Willis and Sons Ltd for laying the bearings. In the method used by Willis (and in all other methods of laying the bearings for Equal Temperament) the beat rates of the fifths from C-G and the quicker rates for the fourths from C-F increase regularly as they ascend so that, in the Willis order of intervals, the test fourth C#-F# fits perfectly between C-F and D-G. Whether using the Willis order or anybody else's, the skilled tuner will produce the same, indeed the only, Equal Temperament result. Of Cavaillé's method of tuning, I have no partcular knowledge. But I do know that he was scientifically minded and skeptical. His methods of scaling, winding and action design are all logical and mathematical. He eschewed irregularity of any kind though no doubt with reconstruction work or awkward sites he had on occasion to compromise. So I doubt that his standard tunning temperament was irregular.
  6. Mrs Barbara Willis, briefly the widow of Henry Willis 4, died yesterday, peacefully at her home in India. She was 89.
  7. A little more good news here via Andrew Jolliffe, late of this parish, now a Parisien. https://www.resmusica.com/2019/04/16/le-grand-orgue-de-notre-dame-ne-serait-pas-detruit/
  8. The words quoted here are from Volume XXXIX (1852) of Newton’s London Journal, (properly, The London Journal of Arts, Sciences, and Manufactures, and Repertory of Patent Inventions. Conducted by Mr. W. Newton of the Office for Patents, Chancery Lane. (Assisted by several Scientific Gentlemen). There is no indication that they are Willis’s own words though I do not think that he would have objected to them. Possibly Newton or one of his Scientific Gentlemen interviewed Willis before setting pen to paper, but if so none of the bravado of the bumptious upstart got through the dispassionate filter of the writer (probably William Pole), who, incidentally, introduces the curious spelling ‘dulceana’ both in the stop-list and the commentary. As to the main point, the supposed ill of duplicated stops or perhaps stop-names attending the birth of large English organs in the first part of the 19thcentury, there was at the time a severe shortage of nomenclature. The same shortage existed in the 18thcentury without causing comment. Richard Bridge’s instrument at Christ Church, Spitalfields, perhaps the high-point of English organ building prior to 1851, has, amongst others, 3 Stopped Diapasons, 3 Open Diapasons, 4 Principals, 3 Trumpets, 2 Clarions, 2 Cornets, 4 Flutes (1 German) and 2 Fifteenths. No organ builder of those days was embarrassed to do likewise. Nor were Elliot or Hill or Camidge or whoever was responsible for the sad failure at York in 1832. The problem at York (and Birmingham 2 years later) was one of scaling. When the scaling issue was rationalized by Töpfer and others the matter of duplication became one of similar stop-names rather than repeated, homophonic ranks. The problem with the Willis 1851 Exhibition organ is, as we now see with the benefit of hindsight, the lack of chorus string tone, a variety that did not then exist. The writer of the article in Newton’s Journal referred to above, described the Choir Viol di Gamba as a small-scale tapering stop of ‘thin tone’, suggesting an imitative essay. Further on, speaking of the Dulcianas (16ft to III), he says that the effect “…when the swell is shut, is very remarkable, resembling a band at a distance.” That in itself was novel and not then possible to reproduce either at York or Birmingham. Willis relied on the Dulciana for some years to fill the position now held by strings in various forms. Wells Cathedral in 1857 had no manual string tone. Cranbrook in 1854 had a Gamba TC, but we must speculate about its tone and purpose. At Rawtenstall Methodist in 1860, a full compass Gamba appears on the Great, the mark of Willis’s middle period. However, it was not until the middle of the decade that a Great 8ft string became a regular feature. One imagines (despite Willis’s alleged overbearing nature) that organists had to be persuaded of their virtue. There is one exception to the lack of string tone in Willis’s early instruments, namely the Pedal Violon 16ft. The Exhibition organ had one as did Wells and subsequent sizable instruments. Willis himself thought that the Violon and the Bourdon combined together to form a third rank. And it is in the matter of the blending of one rank with another to form a third distinct sound that Willis might have explained, had he thought it worthwhile, his use of duplication.
  9. In fact, Dr Thistlethwaite allocates 30 pages to Henry Willis. These are, in my opinion, the most useful, accurate and dispassionate 30 continuous pages ever written about HW, and they are superior in every respect to the 65 pages uncritically strung together in 1955 by W L Sumner from HWIII's notes.
  10. I regret to report that Noël Rawsthorne died in the early hours of this morning. He was 89. Bruce Buchanan
  11. It was Andrew Pennells. His death was a tragedy for his family, but a disaster for British organ building.
  12. After 11 pages on this subject I rather fear I now need to see definitions of: 'Beautiful' 'English', and, referring to the Blind Listening thread, 'Organ'
  13. I have not written an obituary of HW4 for The Times. I have submitted one to the IBO Newsletter and another (by request) to the Journal of the AIO. Bruce Buchanan
  14. After a short illness, Henry Willis 4 died this morning at 8.00 am our time at his home in the Nilgris district of Tamil Nadu; he was 91. Bruce Buchanan
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