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Bangor Cathedral Organ


Guest Andrew Butler

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I have to say, however, that upon the last two occasions when I went to hear him he gave utterly remarkable performances. Remarkable in two specific areas:

1. He made the instruments sound easily as good as I had ever heard them before

2. Although I know he must have played every piece on the programme over a hundred times, it never felt like this.

I regularly make an effort to hear others play and some are consistent, others disappoint or thrill depending on the day/instrument. I would urge you to give CC at least one more chance. Put it this way, his recitals are not sterile affairs and (sad to say) there are other famous names where I find this to be the case.

I can second this. It was equally true of his opening recital on Plymouth's new zimmer frame this January. I went with some misgivings, but his playing was actually some of the most heartfelt I have ever heard from an organist and his pedal technique was quite awesome - well worthy to stand beside Virgil Fox and Cameron Carpenter. I was personally sorry that his programme was rather "down market", but he was playing to entertain - and that he certainly did. Against all my expectations it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

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You rummage, and I'll bear.

 

Rgds,

Cnut ... er, MJF

 

 

=======================

 

 

I think (hope) this is right, but checking through everything, I discovered an interesting fact about the chorus-work at both Sydney Town Hall and the Ulster Hall, Belfast.

 

According to one organ-expert, when Thomas Hill devised big choruses, such as that at Sydney, he stuck the scaling of 1:2 root plus a constant (whatever that means), with the result that the trebles are of huge scale. Hill didn't use Topfer scaling at all.

 

With such large-scale trebles, the voicing was very flutey, and of course, that possibly results in something quite similar to what is found in the best baroque organs, where the mixtures are never bright in tone, but add very specific brightness at very specific points in the harmonic spectrum. To this end, they used almost pure lead rather than metal rich in tin. Hill achieved perhaps much the same I suspect, by voicing big-scaled pipes on the flutey side, but I canot imagine that any Hill organ uses almost pure-lead pipes.

 

What fascinates me about Sydney TH from the recordings I have heard, is the extraordinary likeness of the chorus-sound to St.Bavo, Haarlem, and with quite similar reed-tone to complement it.

 

With the organ at Sydney, in spite of the fact that none of the Hill family ever went abroad to study old instruments, they somehow instinctively arrived firmly planted in the classical tradition, and those big choruses sound so refreshing, even to modern ears accustomed to organs built along neo-classical lines.

 

The suggestion is that Sydney falls into an Anglo-French tradition, but I'm not sure that I know enough to know why that may be.

 

Pierre could probably add to this usefully.

 

MM

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=======================

I think (hope) this is right, but checking through everything, I discovered an interesting fact about the chorus-work at both Sydney Town Hall and the Ulster Hall, Belfast.

 

According to one organ-expert, when Thomas Hill devised big choruses, such as that at Sydney, he stuck the scaling of 1:2 root plus a constant (whatever that means), with the result that the trebles are of huge scale. Hill didn't use Topfer scaling at all.

 

With such large-scale trebles, the voicing was very flutey, and of course, that possibly results in something quite similar to what is found in the best baroque organs, where the mixtures are never bright in tone, but add very specific brightness at very specific points in the harmonic spectrum. To this end, they used almost pure lead rather than metal rich in tin. Hill achieved perhaps much the same I suspect, by voicing big-scaled pipes on the flutey side, but I canot imagine that any Hill organ uses almost pure-lead pipes.

 

What fascinates me about Sydney TH from the recordings I have heard, is the extraordinary likeness of the chorus-sound to St.Bavo, Haarlem, and with quite similar reed-tone to complement it.

 

With the organ at Sydney, in spite of the fact that none of the Hill family ever went abroad to study old instruments, they somehow instinctively arrived firmly planted in the classical tradition, and those big choruses sound so refreshing, even to modern ears accustomed to organs built along neo-classical lines.

 

The suggestion is that Sydney falls into an Anglo-French tradition, but I'm not sure that I know enough to know why that may be.

 

Pierre could probably add to this usefully.

 

MM

As Kevin Bowyer said in his sleeve notes to "A Late Twentieth Century Edwardian Bach Recital":

 

"ah ... I should like a drink if I may. And ... think on these things ..."

 

Rgds,

MJF

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=======================

I think (hope) this is right, but checking through everything, I discovered an interesting fact about the chorus-work at both Sydney Town Hall and the Ulster Hall, Belfast.

 

According to one organ-expert, when Thomas Hill devised big choruses, such as that at Sydney, he stuck the scaling of 1:2 root plus a constant (whatever that means), with the result that the trebles are of huge scale. Hill didn't use Topfer scaling at all.

 

With such large-scale trebles, the voicing was very flutey, and of course, that possibly results in something quite similar to what is found in the best baroque organs, where the mixtures are never bright in tone, but add very specific brightness at very specific points in the harmonic spectrum. To this end, they used almost pure lead rather than metal rich in tin. Hill achieved perhaps much the same I suspect, by voicing big-scaled pipes on the flutey side, but I canot imagine that any Hill organ uses almost pure-lead pipes.

 

What fascinates me about Sydney TH from the recordings I have heard, is the extraordinary likeness of the chorus-sound to St.Bavo, Haarlem, and with quite similar reed-tone to complement it.

 

With the organ at Sydney, in spite of the fact that none of the Hill family ever went abroad to study old instruments, they somehow instinctively arrived firmly planted in the classical tradition, and those big choruses sound so refreshing, even to modern ears accustomed to organs built along neo-classical lines.

 

The suggestion is that Sydney falls into an Anglo-French tradition, but I'm not sure that I know enough to know why that may be.

 

Pierre could probably add to this usefully.

 

MM

First, I must confess that I am (what some would consider) an unmitigated philistine: I have not heard St. Bavo, Haarlem live, nor do I have a recording of it - deficiencies I must surely redress. However, I did hear it on friends' vinyls quite a number of years ago, and remember, in that rather misty way that distance in time provides, that it sounded quite wonderful. However, I can't recall ever thinking that there was any specific resemblance to the Sydney Town Hall. I can't make any comment beyond that on this point.

 

That said, whatever comparisons might be made with other instruments, the STH does have magnificent choruses. They are "classical" in the sense that polyphonic music naturally sits well on them. As I mentioned above, the mixture ranks are broad and fluty in tone, but the overall effect is quite brilliant. They hold the chorus together perfectly. You and I, MM, have expressed ourselves in different ways, but I rather suspect that we agree on this.

 

However, I'm not so sure about any of the STH pipework being "pure lead", with no tin content (or at least very little). I was part of a group many years ago which saw through it with Roger Pogson, who was responsible for its restoration, and he mentioned that the bass metal pipes were of zinc, with the remainder being of spotted metal. City organist Robert Ampt's book on the STH confirms that the metal pipework is of zinc from 6' down, and above it is of spotted metal, and this is broadly consistent with what Mr Pogson had said. Of course, while spotted metal is a tin / lead alloy, the relative proportions of tin and lead may vary significantly. It may therefore be that the proportion of lead is higher than in other instruments by the Hill firm (which I'm sure I've read somewhere was normally around 60%, as against tin 40%), although I wonder if increasing the lead content much beyond this would risk deformation, at least in the larger pipes. Maybe using lead alone for mixture pipes would have worked, because of their small size, but certainly I haven't heard of this in the context of the STH. Perhaps this is something on which someone with far more technical knowledge than me might care to comment.

 

Finally, the Hill firm was chosen, as I understand it, because of the committee's familiarity with other instruments it had built in Sydney, and with the Melbourne Town Hall, which dated I think from the late 1860s or maybe the early 1870s. The STH was expected to be in the same style as those other instruments, only grander in every way (and it was also to trump Melbourne to such an extent that there could be no come-back by that southern upstart). I have never heard any suggestion that the STH did not fulfill these expectations.

 

Rgds,

MJF

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First, I must confess that I am (what some would consider) an unmitigated philistine: I have not heard St. Bavo, Haarlem live, nor do I have a recording of it - deficiencies I must surely redress. However, I did hear it on friends' vinyls quite a number of years ago, and remember, in that rather misty way that distance in time provides, that it sounded quite wonderful. However, I can't recall ever thinking that there was any specific resemblance to the Sydney Town Hall. I can't make any comment beyond that on this point.

 

That said, whatever comparisons might be made with other instruments, the STH does have magnificent choruses. They are "classical" in the sense that polyphonic music naturally sits well on them. As I mentioned above, the mixture ranks are broad and fluty in tone, but the overall effect is quite brilliant. They hold the chorus together perfectly. You and I, MM, have expressed ourselves in different ways, but I rather suspect that we agree on this.

 

However, I'm not so sure about any of the STH pipework being "pure lead", with no tin content (or at least very little). I was part of a group many years ago which saw through it with Roger Pogson, who was responsible for its restoration, and he mentioned that the bass metal pipes were of zinc, with the remainder being of spotted metal. City organist Robert Ampt's book on the STH confirms that the metal pipework is of zinc from 6' down, and above it is of spotted metal, and this is broadly consistent with what Mr Pogson had said. Of course, while spotted metal is a tin / lead alloy, the relative proportions of tin and lead may vary significantly. It may therefore be that the proportion of lead is higher than in other instruments by the Hill firm (which I'm sure I've read somewhere was normally around 60%, as against tin 40%), although I wonder if increasing the lead content much beyond this would risk deformation, at least in the larger pipes. Maybe using lead alone for mixture pipes would have worked, because of their small size, but certainly I haven't heard of this in the context of the STH. Perhaps this is something on which someone with far more technical knowledge than me might care to comment.

 

Finally, the Hill firm was chosen, as I understand it, because of the committee's familiarity with other instruments it had built in Sydney, and with the Melbourne Town Hall, which dated I think from the late 1860s or maybe the early 1870s. The STH was expected to be in the same style as those other instruments, only grander in every way (and it was also to trump Melbourne to such an extent that there could be no come-back by that southern upstart). I have never heard any suggestion that the STH did not fulfill these expectations.

 

Rgds,

MJF

 

 

=======================

 

 

You misunderstood what I wrote, I think, unless I have gone barking mad and started writing in tongues.

 

I haven't checked, but I hope I wrote that, whereas Schnitger (for example) used almost pure lead for his Mixtures, that would never apply to a Hill organ. (I was implying that Hill always used spotted metal for his diapasons, save for the zinc ones you mentioned. That came as a surprise, actually).

 

I don't suppose that flutey voicing (Hill) and almost pure lead (Schnitger etc) are exactly interchangeable tonally, but in both examples, there would appear to have been a conscious effort to limit the riotous overtones of high pitched mixture ranks.

 

This is why, I suspect, such enormous mixtures (sometimes as many as 10 or 12 ranks) can sound entirely musical; given a half-decent acoustic. There is much the same thing to be found at Sydney TH, where the choruses really are very big indeed, with a wealth of upperwork.

 

As Pierre often points out, the use of almost pure lead for upperwork was very widespread across Europe in the baroque era, and the use of tin was usually restricted to a few reeds or case-pipes. Haarlem is a classic example, where the burnished tin pipes of the case (Cornish tin incidentally) suggest very rich pipe-metal, but a crawl inside the organ, reveals a lot of very dull grey or almost black pipes; largely made from lead. (I don't think that the Bavo organ has any wooden pipes, unless it was used for the quieter 16ft register on the pedal organ. I forget, to be honest).

 

Trust me, the pleno (with reeds) at Haarlem is a very rich, very smooth, yet brilliant sound; the reeds being astonishingly "English" in character. Whilst not the same as Sydney TH, there are striking tonal similarities.

 

MM

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You misunderstood what I wrote, I think, unless I have gone barking mad and started writing in tongues.

 

I haven't checked, but I hope I wrote that, whereas Schnitger (for example) used almost pure lead for his Mixtures, that would never apply to a Hill organ. (I was implying that Hill always used spotted metal for his diapasons, save for the zinc ones you mentioned. That came as a surprise, actually).

 

I don't suppose that flutey voicing (Hill) and almost pure lead (Schnitger etc) are exactly interchangeable tonally, but in both examples, there would appear to have been a conscious effort to limit the riotous overtones of high pitched mixture ranks.

 

This is why, I suspect, such enormous mixtures (sometimes as many as 10 or 12 ranks) can sound entirely musical; given a half-decent acoustic. There is much the same thing to be found at Sydney TH, where the choruses really are very big indeed, with a wealth of upperwork.

 

As Pierre often points out, the use of almost pure lead for upperwork was very widespread across Europe in the baroque era, and the use of tin was usually restricted to a few reeds or case-pipes. Haarlem is a classic example, where the burnished tin pipes of the case (Cornish tin incidentally) suggest very rich pipe-metal, but a crawl inside the organ, reveals a lot of very dull grey or almost black pipes; largely made from lead. (I don't think that the Bavo organ has any wooden pipes, unless it was used for the quieter 16ft register on the pedal organ. I forget, to be honest).

 

Trust me, the pleno (with reeds) at Haarlem is a very rich, very smooth, yet brilliant sound; the reeds being astonishingly "English" in character. Whilst not the same as Sydney TH, there are striking tonal similarities.

 

MM

You're right, MM - I did misunderstand you. Sorry about that, chief!

 

And if you were surprised about the Hill firm's use of zinc basses, I'm no less so regarding the use of lead. I would have thought that it would be much too soft, except in the smallest pipes. Has any pure lead pipework at Haarlem (or elsewhere) gradually deformed? Or did builders such as Schnitger know what its natural limits were? Or (perhaps more to the point) am I totally off beam here?

 

Rgds,

MJF

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You're right, MM - I did misunderstand you. Sorry about that, chief!

 

And if you were surprised about the Hill firm's use of zinc basses, I'm no less so regarding the use of lead. I would have thought that it would be much too soft, except in the smallest pipes. Has any pure lead pipework at Haarlem (or elsewhere) gradually deformed? Or did builders such as Schnitger know what its natural limits were? Or (perhaps more to the point) am I totally off beam here?

 

Rgds,

MJF

 

 

========================

 

 

You've just asked the most incredibly complex question!

 

To re-quote your re-quote, "I would like to have a drink....and think on these things awhile."

 

(No rest for the wicked)

 

 

MM

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Has any pure lead pipework at Haarlem (or elsewhere) gradually deformed? Or did builders such as Schnitger know what its natural limits were? Or (perhaps more to the point) am I totally off beam here?

 

 

===================================

 

 

The clue here is in the question itself, "Has any pure lead pipework....."

 

Pure lead is a fairly modern concept, before which there was no such thing. On checking the considerable quantity of notes gathered from various places, and handed me by my metallurgist brother when I was looking at lead corrosion in organ-pipes, it would seem that most lead was decidedly impure 300 years ago.

 

One American study observed the following percentage of compounds in very old "lead" pipes:-

 

Antimony (Sb) 0.75%

Copper (Cu) 0.06%

Bismuth (Bi) 0.05%

Tin (Sn) 1.00%

 

The presence of these additional metallic compounds means that, in such old pipes, the composition is that of an alloy, of which 1.86% is not lead at all, and which apparently provided greater physical hardness and strength.

 

In addition to this, tin is usually found in the same strati as lead, with some degree of intermingling in what must have been a volcanic layer activity at very high temperatures.

 

My brother tells me that other impurities are usually found, including arsenic and arseneous salts, which back then (300 years ago) would not have been refined out.

 

Antimony has long been used in even plain metal (30% tin) pipe materials, as a strengthening compound, so presumably, this was usually present in the relatively impure alloys used.

 

What I do not know off-hand, is whether, following the old lead casting process (which I believe isn't possible with very pure lead), any further working of the material was undertaken; such as rolling or hammering.

 

I'll search a little more for further answers.

 

However, in many old organs (presumably where the lead was not very favourable to casting and production of sheet-metal),

there have been many examples of pipes buckling, sagging, bending, cracking, splitting and generally misbehaving themselves over a period of time. Add corrosion to the equation, and its a miracle any surivive at all!

 

Somewhere, I have photographs of lead pipes in a state of total collapse, but I will have to dig around to find them.

 

Pierre Lauwers knows all too well, that some of the larger pipes installed by the belgian builder Ch.Anneessens, often collapsed under their own weight, due to the lack of Antimony in the pipe-metal smelting process. (In the organs where he used Zinc basses, this problem was avoided).

 

As a completely unscientific observation, I think it would be fair to suggest that the darker the pipes, the higher to amount of lead. On that basis, I think the darkest pipes I have ever seen are those in the case of the organ at the "Church in the Attic" ("Op Boom") in Amsterdam. The pipes are not just dull grey, they are a deep black, but still standing nontheless.

 

I'll see what else I can find.

 

MM

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