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Most people I have these conversations with think that New College is an utterly appalling musical instrument with little or no artistic value. This goes for players and builders.

 

I, however, am completely in love with it, or at least the idea of it. I think it is a magnificently brave and thoughtful wake-up call to the organ world which is generally successful as long as you don't play Rheinberger or Howells on it.

 

I keep hearing rumours that terrible things are to be done to it, that the temperament keeps changing, the None is going to turn into a Dulciana, and stuff like that.

 

I was interested to see, in this atmosphere of organ reform and responsible restoration, what people would do to New College?

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I was interested to see, in this atmosphere of organ reform and responsible restoration, what people would do to New College?

 

Not very much is the answer I think. It IS an important instrument and although it may have its shortcomings for choral accompaniment, the New College Choir does not seem to have suffered so very much by it. It is an organ of immense character and if you start tinkering with it, you won't get anywhere, just as all our attempts to make romantic organ suitable for the classical repertoire were fruitless. I think it is just as pivotal for the development of the English organ in the 20th century as was the RFH organ.

 

John Pike Mander

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This is the kind of organ I fighted against 20 years ago. Now that the fashion is rapidly evolving towards something else, we must absolutely resist the tentation to "upgrade" (update?) them. If we want Dulcianas, Vox angelicas etc, better to build a second organ; anyway, leave that one alone.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Or maybe something the other way round like at Lancing College with its newish 'out and out' Frobenius at the front and an almost Romantic ' old-but-completed' Walker at the back. I played New College a few years ago and it sounded very good but looked its age - rather like an elderly kitchen cabinet in places - there's a Walker of similar vintage and tonal leanings in Bristol going the same way!

AJJ

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Grant Degens and Bradbeer were an organ building firm ahead of their time in the sense that they were not following any English organ building trend at that time. I think that John Pike Mander's post on the topic is spot on. "It IS an important instrument .....It is an organ of immense character and if you start tinkering with it, you won't get anywhere" I don't think that even Noel Mander built any tracker instruments of any size prior to 1970 - though Corpus Christi College, Cambridge was originally to have been Tracker Action. But please correct me on this if I am wrong! I am sure someone will!

G D & B built many fine instruments - though inevitably some were finer than others. The best instruments they built - the following were all new tracker action instruments - included The Lyons Concert Hall in York University (1969 III/30), Our Lady of the Seven Dolours, 264 Fulham Road, SW10 (specification drawn up by Alan Harverson - 1969 III/26), basically a two manual instrument spread over three manuals, and the first organ in Britain to combine all mechanical key action with electric stop action and adjustable setter pistons, St Paul's Girl's School, Hammersmith (1970 II/18) St Mary's, Woodford (1971 III/32) and, of course, New College, Oxford.

They also used electro pneumatic action and direct electric action, particularly in the earlier stages of their crusade. St Mary of Eton, Hackney Wick, (1965 II/35) which celebrated its fortieth birthday this year and was heard in recital last month by Jane Parker-Smith (April 2005) combined both parts of the 1895 Walker organ within the Swell, with an entirely new Great organ. It sounds quite magnificent in the cathedral like acoustics of this church. It must still be working or Jane wouldn't be playing it!

For those of you who are interested in this firm - there was some friendly rivalry between Noel Mander and Maurice Forsyth-Grant - M F-G has written an excellent History of the firm and its organs, combined with an autobiography, "Twenty One Years in Organ Building", published by the Positif Press. Described by Canadian Organ builder Donald Pole as "the very epitome of organ building writing", it is still available. It includes full details of the construction of the New College Oxford Organ with numerous photographs.

A review of the organ in Tooting Methodist Church (1968 II/16) by Cecil Clutton is to be found on Organs and Organists online in the reviews section:

http://www.organsandorganistsonline.com/reviews.htm

 

Clean New College Oxford - it may need it after 40 years - Replace any worn parts if necessary! Do not alter it!

 

John Foss

(At one time a Director of Grant Degens and Bradbeer)

http://www.organsandorganistsonline.com/about.htm

http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/orgofftop/

 

 

...I played New College a few years ago and it sounded very good but looked its age - rather like an elderly kitchen cabinet in places - there's a Walker of similar vinatge and tonal leanings in Bristol going the same way!

AJJ

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...I played New College a few years ago and it sounded very good but looked its age - rather like an elderly kitchen cabinet in places - there's a Walker of similar vinatge and tonal leanings in Bristol going the same way!

AJJ

 

- assume you mean that thing down a bit from Clifton Cathedral with the blue windows and the bizarre spear on top of the roof, strange case with a sliding glass door and the aluminium action? Quite like it.

 

 

Anyway, I'm so glad there is a consensus to leave it alone, though I fear we may have to start a preservation society. I must admit - apart from the Metzler at the University Church, and possibly that gorgeous Johnson at St Catz, Cambridge, New is my favourite Oxbridge organ (and that includes Magdalene and Pembroke). No offence!

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There is of course something of a paradox here: "we", the "romantic guys", will have to protect neo-baroque organs! But wat else can we do? To "Neo-romanticize" Neo-baroque organs? Where would we end up? And as Mr Mander said, we do know such "improvments" do not work...

 

By protecting valuable neo-baroque organs, preserving the remaining ancient ones, and even continuing to reconstitute organs from styles of which too few remain (like the ancient english organs), we shall build a credibility for whatever new style we can create. This means that less new organs will be build, and more will be professionally (respectfully) restaured. Then there will be more variety of styles represented in any area. This I believe is the "normal" situation. Like in nature, we need diversity; any too dominant species is a temptation to "slash it down". And round and round we go...

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Yes, I would concur with these thoughts. I have not played New College - only heard it (a recent Organ Scholar attempting Elgar Sonata, in G (i) - not particularly edifying). Therefore, I am hardly in the best position to offer an opinion. However, from hearing broadcasts and recordings and looking at the scheme, I suspect that I may not particularly like it.

 

Notwithstanding, I do agree that it was (and is) an important milestone in British organ building and as such, should be left well alone.

 

Deadsheepstew, I would not worry about the None; apparently all that will happen is that the pipes are being equipped with new hessian underclothing and a new wimple....

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  • 4 weeks later...
Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk

As one who got to know both instruments at an impressionable age, I continue to be sorry to lose the old New College organ. I still think that it was a very fine romantic beast. For all that, the GD&B is/was an amazing achievement and absolutely must not be lost. I agree with the earlier posting that compared its importance to the RFH instrument.

 

I should add, however, that anyone who hears it now is not exactly hearing it in its original state which was quite a bit louder. Due to the choice of revoicer being the excellent John Bailey (now i/c Bishops @ Ipswich but one of the team that originally built it) the concept if not the volume has been retained. Rumours of it being heard in different tunings is quite accurate. A thorough retuning to a succession of temperaments must be very expensive but this has happened, I believe. It is quite possible that this strategy was recording-project driven, and if so this may be thought understandable if unusual.

 

I will never forget hearing performances from both Simon Preston and Jonathan Rees-Williams upon it on the same afternoon in the 1970's (both of them at the top of their game) and thought the whole experience uniquely stunning. Although not equally subtle in all repertoire, the New Coll GD&B was supremely exciting and suprisingly flexible then - a very bold and effective statement, in fact. Visually, it still shocks: very 60's/70's but then it was, wasn't it?

 

I do hope that this instrument will not fall victim to changing fashion. When the GD&B went in, it and the Frobenius at Queens were the only Organ-Reform-Movement instruments around - Oxford has gained plenty more since, but I still rate the first two the highest. Meantime, several good accompaimental-biased organs have gone and several colleges have been blessed or cursed with singularly ill-matched replacements.

Ah well.....!

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Guest Barry Oakley

Grant Degens and Bradbeer were an organ building firm ahead of their time in the sense that they were not following any English organ building trend at that time. I think that John Pike Mander's post on the topic is spot on. "It IS an important instrument .....It is an organ of immense character and if you start tinkering with it, you won't get anywhere" I don't think that even Noel Mander built any tracker instruments of any size prior to 1970 - though Corpus Christi College, Cambridge was originally to have been Tracker Action. But please correct me on this if I am wrong! I am sure someone will!

G D & B built many fine instruments - though inevitably some were finer than others. The best instruments they built - the following were all new tracker action instruments - included The Lyons Concert Hall in York University (1969 III/30), Our Lady of the Seven Dolours, 264 Fulham Road, SW10 (specification drawn up by Alan Harverson - 1969 III/26), basically a two manual instrument spread over three manuals, and the first organ in Britain to combine all mechanical key action with electric stop action and adjustable setter pistons, St Paul's Girl's School, Hammersmith (1970 II/18) St Mary's, Woodford (1971 III/32) and, of course, New College, Oxford.

They also used electro pneumatic action and direct electric action, particularly in the earlier stages of their crusade. St Mary of Eton, Hackney Wick, (1965 II/35) which celebrated its fortieth birthday this year and was heard in recital last month by Jane Parker-Smith (April 2005) combined both parts of the 1895 Walker organ within the Swell, with an entirely new Great organ. It sounds quite magnificent in the cathedral like acoustics of this church. It must still be working or Jane wouldn't be playing it!

For those of you who are interested in this firm - there was some friendly rivalry between Noel Mander and Maurice Forsyth-Grant - M F-G has written an excellent History of the firm and its organs, combined with an autobiography, "Twenty One Years in Organ Building", published by the Positif Press. Described by Canadian Organ builder Donald Pole as "the very epitome of organ building writing", it is still available. It includes full details of the construction of the New College Oxford Organ with numerous photographs.

A review of the organ in Tooting Methodist Church (1968 II/16) by Cecil Clutton is to be found on Organs and Organists online in the reviews section:

http://www.organsandorganistsonline.com/reviews.htm

 

Clean New College Oxford - it may need it after 40 years - Replace any worn parts if necessary! Do not alter it!

 

John Foss

(At one time a Director of Grant Degens and Bradbeer)

http://www.organsandorganistsonline.com/about.htm

http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/orgofftop/

...I played New College a few years ago and it sounded very good but looked its age - rather like an elderly kitchen cabinet in places - there's a Walker of similar vinatge and tonal leanings in Bristol going the same way!

AJJ

 

Did not GD&B have connections with the great John Compton, whom many consider to be ahead of his time?

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Did not GD&B have connections with the great John Compton, whom many consider to be ahead of his time?

 

'Rippin' of Grant, Degens and Rippin was an ex Compton man as was 'Degens' - see 'Twenty One Years of Organ-Building' by Maurice Forsyth-Grant pub. Positif Press.

There is an organ in the chapel at Aldeham School near Elstree in Hertfordshire (NPOR ref D00099) - Forsyth-Grant's ex house organ - containing Michell & Thynne pipework (including some amazingly lush strings) with Compton style luminous stop console. I visited Aldenham as an impressionable teenager and was amazed by some of the sounds there including some very 'up front' voicing and an a rather bizzare sounding Cornet on the Great with ranks: 8/9, 8/11, 8/15. There was also a second more conventional Cornet. In quite a big acoustic the organ sounded very fine.

AJJ

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I only ever heard the GD&B at New College on Peter Hurfor'ds Bach recordings, which I've not listened to for at least 20 years. I remember it coming over as being in a fairly dead accoustic and it crying out for something warmer and more sympathetic.

 

I have only encountered two GD&B instruments in the flesh: St Paul's Girls School, Hammersmith; and St Mary's South Woodford. I remember being very impressed with the St Paul's Girl's School instrument, more so than the Mander in St Paul's Boy's School, which was in a tiny room and had a lot of organ for such a small chapel.

 

But I thought St Mary's was a real gem. It was 25 years old when I first heard and played it and it sounded as fresh as a daisy. I think the tonal finishing on it was meticulous, which was not always the case with other builders in the neo-classical mode. And the organ fills the accoustic well, without being over powering, and has some soft stops to provide a satisfying dynamic range. The church has a small, warm but quite lively accoustic - one in which choirs and instrumentalists have to work hard at to achieve a real pianissimo. It's easy to achieve a mezzo forte without any effort.

 

One of the things that impressed me was that the Pedal Bourdon 16ft was soft enough to use agains Swell strings, and yet had enough foundational tone to use against bigger manual registrations.

 

I have heard the instrument in concert, recitals and in services, but I've never heard a recording. And I have turned pages for somebody who played, very effectively, the first movement of Elgar's G Major Sonata on it. And I've even heard it give a reasonable account of some Howells.

 

The St Mary's Woodford instrument seemed to have the flexibility to fulfil its primary role of leading hymn singing, accompanying the choir and being a versatile recital instrument - a feat which not many builders in this style achieved. And the tuning stability was remarkable. Despite a lot of upper work and quite a few reeds, I was told the organ was only tuned once a year. I heard it at different times of the year in all four seasons. Only once, on a really baking hot day, did I ever hear a note or two on a reed complain. And in winter, the church is generally only heated on Sundays.

 

This is not the instrument that this thread was about, but I cannot imagine anything that could be done to St Mary's Woodford to improve it tonally. I wouldn't be surprised if that also applied to all of the other instruments from this builder. St Mary's could possibly do with a few more pistons, as there are only three to each manual department, although I've heard plenty of people manage well enough with the existing registration aids.

 

In short, I think the builder achieved everything that the church wanted in a pipe organ. When I was last there - in around 1998 - it was serving the church very well indeed.

 

This is perhaps an unfair comparison, but I believe the GD&B organ at St Mary's fulfils its role as a parish church organ far more successfully than the Downes/H&H insrtrument does as a concert organ at the Royal Festival Hall. Maybe that will change when the improvements to the RFH accoustic has been completed, and the organ has been rebalanced. Perhaps then we will hear, for the first time ever, what the RFH organ is supposed to sound like.

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  • 6 months later...
Guest Lee Blick

I was lucky enough to spend the whole day practicing on the GD&B at St. Mary's, Woodford. It was a delight to play, especially for Bach and Buxtehude. Give me something like this which has character than a boring 'Romantic octopod' organ anyday. I loved the chiffy flutes and the immediacy of the Positive at eye-level was great. I agree with Anthony, it is a real gem.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I adore New College. The Pedal Prinzipal 16 is rather like Clifton Cathedral, in that it becomes whatever you want it to be. Unlike so many baroquey instruments, there is a huge amount of colour - celestes, quintadenas, bourdons, chimney flutes, open flutes. Manual reeds of copper and wood as well as traditional materials. Really good tremulants. It's actually a quite small specification but you can get a lot out of it. I'd take it over a lot of the modern stuff that's coming out and often is disappointingly bland.

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Twenty One Years of Organ Building was a book that when bought, never put down, even now I still like to open it. When I lived in Hull, there was/is a church that had a GDB organ installed, and according to the book, it came off ok. I do not know if it is still there tho. I love the recording that Priory madeof Keith John (what ever happened to him?) playing at St. Marys, Woodford, and the Bach piece at 18 minutes is stunning

Peter

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, . I love the recording that Priory madeof  Keith John (what ever happened to him?) playing at  St. Marys, Woodford, and the Bach piece at 18 minutes is stunning

Peter

 

 

He went on to make several more recordings for Priory, including one of " Pictures at an Exhibition" at the Tonhalle, Zurich. More recently he recorded the Elgar Sonata and his own transcription of the Enigma Variations on the Temple Church organ which I seem to remember was the Organists' Review Record of the Month when it was reviewed in that journal. And deservedly so in my opinion.

 

BAC

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I spent the day not so long ago at St Mary of Eton, Hackney, which pre-dated St Mary's Woodford - in fact the newly appointed incumbent there, Alan Pigott, greeted me on the steps of the church with the programme of the recital I had played at the opening in 1965, 40 years previously. It was a nostalgic moment.

It was after visiting St Mary of Eton that Sir David Lumsden (he was not "Sir" David then!) opted for G D & B as his choice of organ builder for New College.

SME is in need of a little love and care - but it is still in overall sound condition and eminently playable.

The Church is in a "development" area and near the site of something called the Olympic Games, which I gather are to be held in London in the foreseeable future, so there is a chance that the work needed to bring it up to scratch might be undertaken.

Young Norwegian organist Jarle Fagerheim fitted both Hackney and Woodford into a day's visit recently - you can read about it on his website http://www.kirkemusikk.net/jarle/ click on gallery > London, which includes photos of both Hackney and Woodford as well as the toaster in my brother's kitchen.

It's nice to see a thread like this developing and to know that G D & B are not forgotten!

John Foss

www.organsanorganistsonline.com

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  • 1 month later...
Not very much is the answer I think. It IS an important instrument and although it may have its shortcomings for choral accompaniment, the New College Choir does not seem to have suffered so very much by it. It is an organ of immense character and if you start tinkering with it, you won't get anywhere, just as all our attempts to make romantic organ suitable for the classical repertoire were fruitless. I think it is just as pivotal for the development of the English organ in the 20th century as was the RFH organ.

 

John Pike Mander

 

And so ay all of us (who possibly know what we are talking about).

 

Frank Fowler

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  • 1 year later...
And so ay all of us (who possibly know what we are talking about).

 

Frank Fowler

 

After much talk on various threads (though I can't find one when I want one) about the emasculation of New College and the disappearance of some squeakies, I am pleased to report the following facts to the assembled company -

 

1) The None is firmly in place

2) The whole is tuned to a mild unequal temperament

3) The top rank of the Teint is still missing

4) The Chamade is terrific, best I have heard

5) The Pedal Nachthorn 2 is one of the most outstanding sounds I have encountered, followed closely by the Gt Spitzflute 8

6) The whole thing is wonderful

 

It may not be the kind of instrument you'd want to play all repertoire on, and I'd dearly love to have heard it before its revoicing, but I was staggered at the explosion of colour and how musically it was all handled. I'm very grateful to the organ scholar and Dr H for allowing me and a friend a couple of hours on it this afternoon.

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2) The whole is tuned to a mild unequal temperament

Thomas Young, so I'm told. I wouldn't call it mild though. I'd hate to have to play Rubbra in A flat on it.

 

But then I hate playing Rubbra in A flat, full stop.

 

As for the voicing, I do wonder. It's been a loooong time, but I remember being bowled over by the breathtakingly beautiful and crystal clear colours of St Mary's Priory, Fulham when it was brand new. I played New College a few weeks ago and, while it is still unquestionably a wonderful instrument, I was quite surprised to find it had hardly any point of contact with my (rose-tinted?) memories of Fulham. I'd bet my bottom dollar that it wasn't anything like so mellow when it was first built. I would go so far as to wonder whether it is only a shadow of its former self. Certainly I've heard Klais and Rieger instruments that are more brittle. But I may be way off the rails as usual. What do the cognoscenti think?

 

Totally agree about the chamade. :blink:

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
Thomas Young, so I'm told. I wouldn't call it mild though.

 

As for the voicing, I do wonder. It's been a loooong time, but I remember being bowled over by the breathtakingly beautiful and crystal clear colours of St Mary's Priory, Fulham when it was brand new. I played New College a few weeks ago and, while it is still unquestionably a wonderful instrument, I was quite surprised to find it had hardly any point of contact with my (rose-tinted?) memories of Fulham. I'd bet my bottom dollar that it wasn't anything like so mellow when it was first built. I would go so far as to wonder whether it is only a shadow of its former self. Certainly I've heard Klais and Rieger instruments that are more brittle. But I may be way off the rails as usual. What do the congnoscenti think?

 

Totally agree about the chamade. :)

 

Although not part of the congnoscenti (I am a country bumpkin), I can say that this was such an influential sound in my youth. I remember hearing it soon after it was finished and playing a concert in 1972 when I was in Rome. Spectacular moment for me. Such electricity. For a young British organist, the wow factor was off the top. But such an instrument with so few foundational stops for some areas of accompaniment, there were always going to be some limitations. I know that Adrian Gunning has a private recording made of a concert I did in 1985 to celebrate The Year of Bach, Handel and Scarlatti. I heard part of it when he gave a lecture to The Organ Club some years back. That shows the original sound wonderfully. The organ was re-cast some time afterwards into the present sounding organ. (One sound that completely went was the delicious mélange that was produced by playing the Gt 8fts Principal & Flute with the Tremulant. Extrordinary - but now not there).

I thought that it was/is more Valotti now but with the 1/6 Pythagorean Commas moved from their normal positions in the circle of fifths - thus not entirely conforming to the notion that F is the absolute best key followed by C and Bb and then G. It sounded as such when I last was teaching there. But my old ears might be playing tricks ..... I shall ask the previous OS for help. Now he is part of the congnosenti.

 

best wishes,

Nigel

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After much talk on various threads (though I can't find one when I want one) about the emasculation of New College and the disappearance of some squeakies, I am pleased to report the following facts to the assembled company -

 

1) The None is firmly in place

2) The whole is tuned to a mild unequal temperament

3) The top rank of the Teint is still missing

4) The Chamade is terrific, best I have heard

5) The Pedal Nachthorn 2 is one of the most outstanding sounds I have encountered, followed closely by the Gt Spitzflute 8

6) The whole thing is wonderful

 

It may not be the kind of instrument you'd want to play all repertoire on, and I'd dearly love to have heard it before its revoicing, but I was staggered at the explosion of colour and how musically it was all handled. I'm very grateful to the organ scholar and Dr H for allowing me and a friend a couple of hours on it this afternoon.

 

 

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

 

 

I've always liked this organ, even if it is a bit far away for me.

 

It just shows what could happen when they blended old Compton men with a few bottles of Malt.

 

:)

 

MM

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I thought that it was/is more Valotti now but with the 1/6 Pythagorean Commas moved from their normal positions in the circle of fifths

Surely Valotti and Young are just the same pattern rotated round the circle of fifths?

 

Paul

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
Surely Valotti and Young are just the same pattern rotated round the circle of fifths?

 

Paul

Indeed so. My source finishing his thesis says "It is Young temperament but ......... it is, by now, probably nothing of the sort and has become 'New College' temperament."

 

By the way, a young Matthew Copley worked on the original organ when in G D & B - doing mostly the reeds, I think.

 

All the best,

Nigel

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