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Bruce Buchanan

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Posts posted by Bruce Buchanan

  1. 7 hours ago, David Pinnegar said:

    Thanks. I thought Aberto was open and Cheio looked like stopped . . . until I saw  Cheio IV and Cheio V with Cimbala IV and Recimbala IV

    And what do the 12 and 24 mean?

    Presumably the Flautado is a more flutey sort of Diapason like the French. And what might be a Flauto Romano?

    The appear to be quite exotic animals . . . 

    Best wishes


    David P



    Rather than designate stop lengths in feet, the Portuguese, uniquely, I think, do so in 'palmas', or hand palms, the span from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger, nominally 8 inches. Thus, 12 palms equal 8ft and 24 palms are 16 ft.

  2. On 20/12/2019 at 18:01, chrisogorman said:

    The organ was originally built by Father Willis in 1882 and has been rebuilt several times since.

    In fact, the organ was originally built by Henry Willis in 1859, opened on Tuesday, 24 May that year (sermon by the Bishop of Oxford). The stop-list of the instrument has not yet come to light.

  3. This is alarming, but I cannot quite see it happening here. On the other hand...



  4. 2 hours ago, Barry Oakley said:

    Up until 20 years ago I lived in Sheffield and regularly attended orchestral concerts there. I was also a member of Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus during the 1980’s and it was very noticeable how dead the City Hall was in terms of any acoustic. The Willis organ there, it has a good typical specification on paper, remains largely unused on a regular basis.

    In more recent years the hall has undergone some internal work, partly to improve its dry acoustic but I cannot comment on any success other than a friend’s report that it is marginally improved.

    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. 

  5. 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.

  6. On 07/07/2019 at 17:21, David Drinkell said:

    A quick jab on a Swell piston could shoot the whole ensemble goodness knows where (Viola da Gamba being the launch vehicle).

    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.

  7. On 10/05/2019 at 17:44, David Pinnegar said:

    At the seminar the other day we were most privileged to have been joined by Martin Renshaw. He enlightened me that Willis organs were in their own temperament, not equal, and that nor were Cavaillé-Coll's . . . 

    I haven't seen much about this from other sources. Does anyone know of any?

    Best wishes

    David P

    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.


  8. On 11/04/2019 at 11:30, Rowland Wateridge said:

    The Great Exhibition of 1851 was, indeed, a turning point.  The Father Willis organ of 70 speaking stops has been variously described as ‘wasteful’ and having ‘unnecessary duplication’ (no certainty about the precise words or sources, but I think W L Sumner and, possibly, Stephen Bicknell).  I will leave to others, more expert than I, to judge the explanation given by Father Willis in 1851:

    ”The stops in the Great organ require no comment, further than to explain that whenever two stops of the same name occur, as 3 and 4; 6 and 7; 10 and 11; they are voiced to different qualities of tone”.  (The stops referred to are two of, in each case, Open Diapason 8’, Principal 4’ and Fifteenth 2’.)  Nothing earth-shattering about this now, although, less usually, all of the same stops were also duplicated in his 22-stops Swell, the second Principal and Fifteenth both being specifically labelled “(soft quality)”. 

    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. 13 hours ago, Colin Pykett said:

    [Writing about The Making of the Victorian Organ] Within its nearly 600 pages, only a meagre 25 are devoted to Henry Willis...

    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. 4 hours ago, David Drinkell said:

    Walkers, on the other hand, after producing some stunning work when Bob Pennells was in charge, had a tragedy when his son Mark succumbed to cancer at an early age and now seem to work on a smaller scale. 

    It was Andrew Pennells. His death was a tragedy for his family, but a disaster for British organ building.

  11. 1 hour ago, David Drinkell said:
    1 hour ago, David Drinkell said:

    Post from Tony Newnham on the Organ Matters board, June 24th 2018 :

    From Facebook this morning:-

    "It is with tremendous sadness that Henry Willis & Sons Ltd. has reported the death of Henry Willis 4 b. 19th Jan 1927 - d. 23rd June 2018
    Mr. Willis was the last member of the Willis dynasty to be materially involved in the family firm from which he stood down as Managing Director on his birthday in 1997, later appointing David Wyld to the position: he continued as the Majority Shareholder until the 28th November 1998.
    An obituary has been written by Bruce Buchanan and will appear in The Times tomorrow."


    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

  12. 8 hours ago, David Drinkell said:

    The posts from Paul Isom remind me that, some years ago the Ulster Society of Organists and Choirmasters spent a week-end in Kent and visited several new Walker organs.  If I remember correctly, Paul demonstrated that at St. George, Bickley and the assembled company was mightily impressed by his playing.  The demonstration included a piece by Denis Bedard, of whom I had not heard before, but have since played quite a few few pieces.  We also visited Bromley Parish Church and Lancing College.  I think all the cases are by David Graebe.









    By sad coincidence, David Graebe died two years ago today

  13. 1 hour ago, annewillis11 said:

    I was doing some census searches for someone else entirely and found the young Henry Willis I in Factory Row, Marylebone in 1841.  The senior organ builder was William Richardson, aged 45, and the other organ builders included Willis, James Miller, both aged 20 and Thomas Matthews aged 25. 

    According to Boeringer Richardson was ‘a London and Lancashire organ builder established 1845’, but I have found that Boeringer is not always accurate with his dates.  Matthews and Miller are not mentioned in Boeringer but apparently there was a BIOS article in January 1979 about ‘Matthews (Thomas): of London: unknown organ-builder’.  Subsequent census searches for Richardson, Matthews and Miller have not been successful; too many people and not enough information.

    I had always thought Henry Willis I was with Grey and Davison.  Frederick Davison was in Marylebone in 1841 , but I suspect this was his private address.  

    Was Willis a journeyman with Richardson, or was Richardson an outpost of Gray and Davison?  And when did Henry Willis I set up on his own account?

    The 1891 census is a  lesson not to have total trust in census returns.  In 1891 Vincent Willis is listed with the HWI family in London and described as 'single'.   1901 sees the Vincent Willis family in London with five children, the eldest, Esther then aged 12.  Also in the household was his brother in law James Arthur who is described as an 'organ maker'.  Did Arthur work with Vincent in Liverpool?  I can only assume that there was a slip by the enumerator in 1891 as Vincent had married Hannah Arthur in West Derby  in 1887 and had had at least two children by 1891 .


    In fact, you have misread the return. The address given is Fitzroy Row, adjacent to Gray & Davison's in Quickset Row, where the young Henry Willis lodged with Henry Miller and his family; their son James was an apprentice with G&D. Also lodging there was Thomas Mathews (possibly Matthews), an organ builder, I think with G&D. Richardson lived at a different address in Fitzroy Row.

    Henry Willis & Sons Ltd declare that they were established in 1845, by which I think they mean when the Willis 'shop opened at 2 1/2 Foundling Terrace. From 1841 or thereabouts until his return to London, Willis was in and about Cheltenham working for or perhaps with Wardle Evans, described in 1841 as a Teacher of Music. If anyone has the slightest knowledge of Willis' movements between 1841 and 1845, I shall be very glad to hear of it.

    Vincent Willis was another matter altogether. I have no doubt he told the enumerator in 1891 was he was single. He was that night at least at 9 Rochester Terrace, but his family where elsewhere. At least he described himself on that occasion as an organ builder. On the birth certs. of most of his children he is described as an electrician. After he left the Willis partnership in 1894, he eventually set up on his own in a small way as an organ builder and inventor in Brentford, employing from time to time his brother in law, James Arthur who lived with Vincent's family in Ealing.

    After Vincent was replaced in Liverpool by his younger brother Henry in 1882 and before his marriage in 1887, he was probably in London, but thereafter he seems to have been centred on Rhyl and Liverpool, but doing what?

  14. The origin of the work was a recitation of Paul Claudel's "Chemin de la Croix" at the  Brussels Conservatory in February 1931, Dupré improvising between each of Claudel's fourteen prose poems. Dupré told me (in late 1958) that though the music was improvised he had prepared the registrations beforehand.

    I believe the power of the piece comes from the musical meditations on Claudel's verses rather than any association one might make with the more familiar liturgy of the Stations of the Cross. Protestant and generally monoglot Britain might not fully appreciate this work as much as it does Dupré's other works.

    Bruce Buchanan

  15. Currently, I know of only one extant Willis, now in St Tanwg’s, Harlech, with non-stretto keys. St David’s, Newtown, Montgomeryshire had them before being rebuilt by Bishop. Gloucester Cathedral had them when pictured after the Willis work of 1844, but we do not know if they are Willis or earlier keys. About thirty years ago I examined an old Willis 2-manual organ in Hampshire not far off the road from London to Southampton. Maddeningly, I cannot remember where it was.


    If anyone knows of existing or reliably reported early Willis instruments with non-stretto keys I shall be glad to know of them.


    Likewise, I shall be glad to know of any extant Father Willis instrument with short compass Swell divisions or of reliable reports of such instruments. St Matthias, Stoke Newington (Dr Monk’s church) 1853, a 3-manual was surprisingly one such.

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