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Benjamin Waterhouse

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About Benjamin Waterhouse

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  1. Thanks for posting these recordings -- proof that the organ can be a musical instrument when placed in the proper hands! I found the Bach even more revealing than the romantic works, simply because the musical line was made so clear, whatever arguments could be raised about the propriety of the instrument or the stylistic approach. Wasn't there a thread recently about the restoration of this instrument, with some people expressing surprise at the very thought of spending money to bring an organ back to its 1926 state? If so, these recordings make a clear case for restoration, and show that the English organ from this period, when taken on its own terms, can be as coherent and exciting as anything from other eras. Benjamin Waterhouse
  2. Some of the engravings of small organs in Dom Bédos show keyboards with an intriguing bass layout: visually, starting on "D" and continuing up chromatically. Other keyboards miss out the first C#, which is pretty standard for the period, so maybe this mystery keyboard misses out both low C# and low D#, and to avoid starting with four white notes applies some kind of short octave layout. What would this be? Low C on the D# key? I can't find any details in the text. Does anyone have any ideas? Benjamin Waterhouse
  3. I've been following the tuning debate with interest, and I've spent a happy few minutes listening to some of the excellent samples on Brad Lehman's website. Just a couple of thoughts. Part of our fascination with Bach is that he successfully pursued two simultaneous goals -- musical and theoretical perfection. The 48 preludes are fugues are wonderful music, and also a masterful demonstration of technical skill, and I find the idea that Bach provided the clue to an appropriate tuning system on the title page perfectly plausible. However, perhaps this tuning system was just the last piece in his *theoretical* jigsaw puzzle. A previous set of pieces, the 2 and 3 part inventions, also involved a clear key scheme: a rising scale, with major and minor pieces on the white notes from C to A, a minor piece on the white note B, and major pieces on the black notes Bb and Eb. This can be seen as summing up "normal" practice, pushing the unequal tuning system to its expressive boundaries (as far as F minor, for example), and enjoying the enharmonic surprises when they occur. The "48" approach is completely different, presenting a piece in C sharp major not for its particular expressive qualities, but just as a piece. Perhaps this was Bach (not for the first time) looking "forward", compared to "backward" (or maybe sideways) for the inventions. I could also raise a heretical point here. We are so used to the unfairness of the universe in depriving us of perfect thirds and fifths in all the keys that we ignore something that actually works in our favour: the more sharps or flats there are in the key signature, the easier it is to transpose a piece into a familiar key. A piece in C sharp major can be read quite easily in C major, for instance. So, to sum up -- perhaps the temperament indicated is proposed as a satisfactory *theoretical* solution to playing the pieces as written, but at the same time as a departure from normal practice. Would practical musicians not simply have shifted the more difficult pieces into more accessible keys? Was Bach just in a theoretical mood that day? Benjamin Waterhouse
  4. The story so far: Pierre Lauwers made a plea for the preservation of British organs, based on the idea that, to avoid the mistakes perpetrated on the continent, organs should be preserved for their unique qualities and characteristics. The discussion focused on the organs of Arthur Harrison as representing all that is best, or worst depending on your position, in British organbuilding. Somewhere along the line, someone made the point that organists should choose repertoire to suit the instrument they are playing. This was promptly dismissed on the grounds that any repertoire suited to an Arthur Harrison was bound to be second-rate. I think this is worth a separate discussion. The idea of quality in music (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven et al. at the top; everyone else in descending order thereafter) is familiar from music classes, but quickly leads to gridlock if applied too literally. In the field of organ music, it is especially dangerous since many of the "great" organ composers (Franck, Buxtehude, Widor) are considered second-rate in a wider context. In my experience, it is often the "minor" composers of a given era that provide the most period flavour. Since any organ recital is basically a tour of the past, it makes sense to find repertoire that will allow the organ to shine, even if this involves playing music outside the accepted canon. And even if it means playing transcriptions, if they are authentic to the period, since they can actually improve the "quality" level. It seems a little harsh to insist on quality while banning transcriptions. A hypothetical question: would you rather go to a recital to hear (for instance) Frank Bridge played on a Hope-Jones, or Bach played on a Willis/Harrison/NeoClassical Rebuild Co. with electro-penumatic action and 96 memory levels? Benjamin Waterhouse Quebec
  5. Yes -- my point entirely. Since the Récit and Écho divisions were treble only, the pipes were already close together, often on a simple chromatic chest. The mounted corned was found on the Grand Orgue, and sometimes in very large organs on the Positif. Perhaps to produce the same kind of melodic lift, the tubing solution allowed pipes that would otherwise have been dotted about the treble ends of the chests to be brought closer together. Unlike the Jeu de Tierce, the ranks could not be used separately and could therefore be voiced for a single purpose -- to produce a gorgeous cornet sound. Apparently the Jeu de Tierce and the Cornet were considered as two entirely different beasts, even though nominally made up of the same pitches, since they are sometimes specified as contrasting solo voices in the repertory.
  6. Just to add a couple of thoughts on the rationale behind "mounted" cornets, at least in French classical organs. In addition to the space saved on the soundboard and improved projection, it also made the cornet more melodic. Since the soundboards were generally laid out diatonically (C and C sharp sides) or with the notes grouped so that adjacent pipes were a third apart, mounting the cornet was a way to re-arrange the pipes chromatically and allow them to "draw", i.e. influence each other. However undesirable in other stops, this makes a mounted cornet more vocal in sound. Also, the pipes stand on their own mini-soundboard, with the five pipes for each note standing on a groove fed by a single conveyance from the main chest. This probably also improves blend. I'm not sure how much (if any) of this holds true for English organs, or indeed if any mounted cornets (as opposed to the "sesquialtera in the bass to meet a cornet in the treble" variety) have survived.
  7. Just a couple of thoughts on the English Dulciana. Although it was originally (I believe) introduced as a solo or colour stop, and in fact displaced the 4-foot flute on English chamber organs, the reason it became established and lasted for so long is that it is really very useful. Although taken on its own I agree that "insipid" is probably the best description, when used in combination with the other 8-foot registers on a given manual it opens up endless new colouring possibilities. Most importantly, on the Great of a 2-manual organ, alone or with the 8-foot stopped flute, it creates a virtual Choir for accompanying or contrasting with the Swell. In other words, the addition of a single stop adds the illusion of a third level of sound. Ideally, I suppose, the Great should have four 8-foot stops: Open and Stopped Diapasons, Harmonic Flute and Dulciana. If this has to be cut down to three, as in most early 20th-century Casavants, then a Melodia often stands in for both the Stopped Diapason and the Flute. Benjamin Waterhouse Quebec
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