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Guest Roffensis
Which instrument is this, please, Cynic?

 

 

St.George's Hall, Liverpool perhaps? :P

 

Well at least it would be used then.

 

Sorry, I know what organ you mean!

 

R

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Indeed, and (as I understand it) serving officers of the RCO at the time jaunted all over Europe to find their ideal organ-builder for that project...

.

[pause]

.

... at members' expense.

or even ex-Members! One of the reasons I resigned from the RCO.

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Guest Cynic
or even ex-Members! One of the reasons I resigned from the RCO.

 

 

Me too.

 

The organ that has migrated (with considerable effort) into The Valleys is the organ of 11th Church of Christ Scientist, Nugent Street, WC1.

Portman Estates have bought the church and it is being converted for use by a Theatre School who need the main auditorium to be converted to a total of three floors. I'd have thought they would have had a use for it as it stood, but what would I know?

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Guest Patrick Coleman
The organ that has migrated (with considerable effort) into The Valleys is the organ of 11th Church of Christ Scientist, Nugent Street, WC1.

... I'd have thought they would have had a use for it as it stood, but what would I know?

 

Some of us are glad they didn't have a use for it. :P

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"Gently mocking or not, it is my firm opinion that mechanical action is (in the final analysis) for either the players' or the builders' benefit. Assuming that excessive wind-pressures are avoided, I am confident that no listener would ever be able to tell the difference in an instrument of any size."

 

I disagree, if only because a good organist will play differently on a good mechanical action.

 

Bazuin

 

I would have to disagree with this generalisation, Bazuin.

 

I can think of a number of instances where this was plainly not the case - or at least, not better, which is, I think, what you imply here. In particular, there was the occasion at an opening recital on a recently restored (and reinstated) pipe organ which was reconstructed with two consoles and a dual action (i.e., not simply with contacts fitted to a tracker action). The recitalist was (and is) considered to be world-class. The first half was performed on the console with mechanical action; the second on the mobile console (with electric action). Aside from the fact the the Bach piece (Prelude and Fugue, in E minor - BWV 548) had a somewhat wayward pulse in the Fugue, the articulation was anything but clear. Ironically, the articulation and general playing were better in the second half - played on the mobile console.

 

However, there was nothing to suggest from the playing in the first half that the music was performed on an instrument with a custom-designed new mechanical action.

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"Please suggest any French organ symphony by any composer that can be correctly registered and played on two manuals."

 

The point is that this is a teaching instrument. If the Rieger (not Reiger PD, this is the Dutch word for heron!) across the road can be considered a relevant teaching tool then why do we have to be so picky as to insist that a C-C copy has to have 3 manuals instead of two? The biggest problem is perhaps the addition of the Anches Positif. So add the Trompette and the 2' and leave the Fourniture and Clairon for the Anches GO. Problem solved.

 

Bazuin

 

Not quite. This is not at all the same as the effect of adding departments (or at least the reeds of each department), to achieve the terraced dynamics beloved of many French symphonic composers.

 

In addition, there are places where rather greater compromises would need to be made.

 

Personally I think that this particular Rieger instrument is horrible - and quite undistinguished tonally.

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Apologies - I and NPOR must be mistaken. Must learn to keep my big mouth shut! :)

 

The mutation I was thinking of was None 8/9 and there is a Teint mixture on the swell (at least, according to NPOR :) )

 

The None 8/9 is still there - no None (i.e. known) use, as organ scholars have often remarked. I believe the Teint II has lost its 16/19 rank and is now just 1 1/7.

 

David Lumsden and Maurice Forsyth-Grant visited new organs in Germany in the 60s, where such exotic 'Aliquote' were all the rage. Even Peter Collins managed to include a None in a 19-stop scheme in his Opus 2 at Shellingford in 1965 (now transposed to 1ft).

 

JS

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Guest Cynic
The None 8/9 is still there - no None (i.e. known) use, as organ scholars have often remarked. I believe the Teint II has lost its 16/19 rank and is now just 1 1/7.

 

David Lumsden and Maurice Forsyth-Grant visited new organs in Germany in the 60s, where such exotic 'Aliquote' were all the rage. Even Peter Collins managed to include a None in a 19-stop scheme in his Opus 2 at Shellingford in 1965 (now transposed to 1ft).

 

JS

 

 

I believe that the Pedal 16' Principal and the Teint II were gifts from Maurice Forsyth-Grant and the Cymbelstern was a gift from (then) Dr. David Lumsden. I am open to correction, of course.

 

I have been told that the whole of the Teint is still there, merely that the top rank has been stopped off with cotton wool (like the top rank of several mixtures at Chester Cathedral).

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I have been told that the whole of the Teint is still there, merely that the top rank has been stopped off with cotton wool (like the top rank of several mixtures at Chester Cathedral).

 

I wondered what had happened to the mixture scheme in this instrument.

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I would have to disagree with this generalisation, Bazuin.

 

I can think of a number of instances where this was plainly not the case - or at least, not better, which is, I think, what you imply here. In particular, there was the occasion at an opening recital on a recently restored (and reinstated) pipe organ which was reconstructed with two consoles and a dual action (i.e., not simply with contacts fitted to a tracker action). The recitalist was (and is) considered to be world-class. The first half was performed on the console with mechanical action; the second on the mobile console (with electric action). Aside from the fact the the Bach piece (Prelude and Fugue, in E minor - BWV 548) had a somewhat wayward pulse in the Fugue, the articulation was anything but clear. Ironically, the articulation and general playing were better in the second half - played on the mobile console.

 

However, there was nothing to suggest from the playing in the first half that the music was performed on an instrument with a custom-designed new mechanical action.

 

I think Bazuin's generalisation would assume a good mechanical action. I can guess the one you're talking about, and I think it would be fair to say it's not very good at all. I suspect the builders realised it was a white elephant and didn't bother regulating it.

 

Find a good one, however, and the playing of someone used to getting away with murder on one of the sloppier electric/pneumatic instruments will be shown up quite starkly, as many of us have doubtless witnessed and experienced for ourselves.

 

I'm not sure what you mean by 'custom-designed' mechanical action. What's the alternative?

 

Isn't the New College None currently the New College Twentysecond?

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"I think Bazuin's generalisation would assume a good mechanical action."

 

Precisely. The number of modern builders who can make a beautiful mechanical action (ie one which punishes your tehcnical weaknesses by affecting the way in which the pipes speak) is very limited.

 

"Not quite. This is not at all the same as the effect of adding departments (or at least the reeds of each department), to achieve the terraced dynamics beloved of many French symphonic composers.

 

"In addition, there are places where rather greater compromises would need to be made."

 

You're right. But once again, we are talking about a teaching instrument! Where else can an organ student in the Uk have regular access to an organ which gives him or her a direct link to the aesthetic of one or other major school of organ building? Its a pity the organ isn't better, but its only having 2 manuals is neither here nor there! In Amsterdam, the new Conservatory has a 19th century 2 manual organ by the Van Bever brothers, and the students have regular lessons on a 2 manual 1880-something C-C. They do not go around complaining about the lack of a third manual on either of those organs, believe it or not.

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

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"a 19th century 2 manual organ by the Van Bever brothers..."

(Quote)

 

Indeed; with a Van Bever organ, you do not need a third manual

for the vast majority of the romantic music.

But I do not think our friends here ever heard one. A 8' Montre alone

sounds like three Open Diapasons togheter.

The Van Bever brothers did it the belgian way, that is, like a dedicated model,

but "with more". Van Bever's model was Cavaillé-Coll, but after wider scales,

thicker pipes (in zinc!), etc. And yes this round and powerfull reed tone they

inherited, like all the belgian romantic builders, from Hyppolite Loret.

 

Pierre

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"I think Bazuin's generalisation would assume a good mechanical action."

 

Precisely. The number of modern builders who can make a beautiful mechanical action (ie one which punishes your tehcnical weaknesses by affecting the way in which the pipes speak) is very limited.

 

Bazuin

 

Do you therefore imply that old actions are generally better? If so, could you define 'better', please? Do you mean, for instance 'heavier'? This idea of 'affecting the way in which the pipes speak' is arguably spurious. There is little point in being able to open a pallet very slowly, thus emitting wind to a pipe or pipes gradually* - this has little practical value in music played faster than molto grave. It would certainly be of no use in the final movement from a Vierne or a Widor symphony - nor, for that matter, in a Bach prelude and fugue (unless one were to play it more slowly than the French were in the 1920s - '30s).

 

I must confess that, whilst I find the actions of the instruments in the cathedrals of (for example) Chichester, Christ Church (Oxford) and Portsmouth well balanced, comfortable and responsive, there is little one can do in the way of control (at any reasonable speed) that I cannot do on my (still responsive) 1960s electropneumatic JWW Walker organ.

 

In addition, I can see little virtue in a mechanical action being extremely heavy. Under such circumstances, it is likely that it will affect adveresly not only speed but also mitigate against good articulation - purely because one will have to tense one's fingers too much - not something a good concert pianist would expect to have to do.

 

 

 

* In any case, I can see little musical reason for actually doing this.

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Do you therefore imply that old actions are generally better? If so, could you define 'better', please?

 

Well, I certainly don't, and am now going to become even more tedious than anyone ever imagined possible. A good organ action is just as subjective as a good piano action. I think most would agree that it should be not so light as to destroy repetition, not heavy enough to cause unwarranted finger tension, absolutely evenly sprung throughout, and as free from friction and unwarranted mechanical noise as humanly possible.

 

Even when the first two points are covered, only a tiny number of instruments get point 3 right and even fewer point 4.

 

I think large 3/4 manual cathedral instruments of the last 35 years are not the best place to start looking for a good example (with the possible exception of Clifton), as their actions have so much hard work to do that this level of responsiveness is perhaps not always as prominent in the balance of compromises as it might be with a much smaller instrument. And I really don't think you can judge the difference between a good mechanical and good other action on that basis, without really allowing your fingers to explore, SLOWLY - never mind about fast playing and repetition just yet.

 

Next time you have a free hour, take almost any of the quality small village instruments around here - there's heaps of Bishops, G&Ds, Bevingtons and Hills to choose from. Look at the keys. Are they level? Lift up a handful of keys at the treble and bass to raise the thumper bar. Do some keys spring up but not others? Switch on the wind, sit sideways on to the Great, shut your eyes and slowly press a key - can you feel the pluck? How much bagginess and lost motion is there before you do? Are both the same on the next note, and the next one? Once you have broken the pluck, if there is one, can you feel the effect of any springing as the key goes down? Is the springiness of the next note more, or less?

 

Is there one single ideal note on the keyboard - tiniest bit of lost motion, clear pluck breaking away cleanly, remainder of key travel feeling largely unsprung, no sensation of wood chafing against felt or rusty metal, key hitting the deck without a feeling of anything bouncing back at you, releasing instantly and quietly and cleanly, without bouncing, and allowing good repetition? There's usually one such note somewhere no matter how carelessly maintained the instrument. With that one note, you should then try different fingers, speeds, angles, thoughts, whatever it takes to make a difference. You will find, I guarantee, that the pipe is capable of singing exactly what your finger is in a much, much subtler way than activating a switch can.

 

Then go for one of the really bad notes, and you'll find nothing of the sort is possible. Then, having sensitised yourself, try and play a scale, and it'll feel completely and utterly horrible. A day, or possibly two, of careful adjustment would most likely have the whole of that instrument feeling as crisp, even and full of nuance as the very best note you could find, with virtually limitless possibilities for expressive playing. (And no, there might not be any point if all you really do ever play is Vierne. I'm sure you do Bach Chorales at some point in the year too.)

 

Now look at the tuning book, and discover how many times a year this instrument (has it even got any reeds?) receives ministrations from the tuner. Three, four times a year? Apart from cruelty, war, injustice and all that stuff, there's one thing which makes me really cross - slapdash maintenance, poor attention to regulation and wanton adjustment of pallet springs to cure the odd squeak (frequently supplemented by elastic bands). In many thousands of cases up and down the UK, this is all that stands between an instrument being considered a 'clapped out village organ' and just as precise, revealing and delightful as the highest-regarded teaching organs in the world. It's so easy, and yet so few people seem to think it matters.

 

Something which made my mouth fall open at a young age was being informed by the managing director of a large West Country firm that, being a village organ, "it'll never be in tune like a town organ". Grrrr!

 

(PPPPPS - there are still too many Ws in Walker - JWW being the full initials of J.W. Walker. You know how some things really really annoy you...?)

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Dear Pcnd,

 

What do you think of the action in Alkmaar ?

 

Pierre

 

Whilst I have played a number of Dutch instruments, I have not yet played this organ, so I cannot answer this.

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"Do you therefore imply that old actions are generally better?"

 

Yes. Which is not to say that there aren't good actions built today.

 

"If so, could you define 'better', please? Do you mean, for instance 'heavier'?"

 

In the right context, yes. An organ designed to play French Classical music won't and shouldn't have a heavy action. The action is kept simple, the grooves are kept narrow and the reeds and mixtures are, of course, never used together. Nothing happens by accident. In Alkmaar (Pierre's question was a clever one!) the action is original and, to quote Pieter van Dijk, "like a Rolls Royce". It was copied for the Göteborg project by the way. It is deep and heavy and perfectly in tune with the scale and nature of the organ. As usual its horses for courses. Jürgen Ahrend's unbushed actions work perfectly in his chamber-musical instrument at Edinburgh and in the restoration in Leiden. In the larger organs he has restored, the action, however beautiful, is at odds with the nature of the instrument in my opinion. This is evidenced by some very strange recordings of the Hamburg organ which have been released in the last 15 years.

 

"This idea of 'affecting the way in which the pipes speak' is arguably spurious. There is little point in being able to open a pallet very slowly, thus emitting wind to a pipe or pipes gradually* - this has little practical value in music played faster than molto grave."

 

Sorry, but you NEED to go and play a lot more organs in a lot more places. But first, listen to one of the Novalis or Telarc Ton Koopman recordings (or the ASV James Johnstone recording) at the Waalse Kerk in Amsterdam, a really punishing organ (with a modern action!). Then compare it with the recordings of Jacques van Oortmerssen. Then come back and tell us if you still stand by your comment above.

 

"I must confess that, whilst I find the actions of the instruments in the cathedrals of (for example) Chichester, Christ Church (Oxford) and Portsmouth well balanced, comfortable and responsive, there is little one can do in the way of control (at any reasonable speed) that I cannot do on my (still responsive) 1960s electropneumatic JWW Walker organ."

 

Once again, and (quite genuinely) with the greatest of respect, please go and see something of the organ world beyond your shores. Take your Couperin (and even your Widor!) to France and your Buxtehude to Alkmaar, and even your Reger to Berlin.

 

"In addition, I can see little virtue in a mechanical action being extremely heavy. Under such circumstances, it is likely that it will affect adveresly not only speed but also mitigate against good articulation - purely because one will have to tense one's fingers too much - not something a good concert pianist would expect to have to do."

 

One good way to understand more about your organ technique and the way it effects the sound of an organ with a first rate action is to study clavichord for the while, and, if you can, get access to a pedal clavichord. I can recommend some clavichord-playing-for-organists courses if you're interested. It gives you a frankly terrifying (aural) glimpse into the shortcomings of your organ technique.

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

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"It is deep and heavy and perfectly in tune with the scale and nature of the organ. "

(Quote)

 

Hear, hear !!!

 

To facilitate the comprehension, let us compare with cars.

Should you put a light and direct steering to a two tons U.S. cruiser

of the 50's, what would happen in the first curve ? Yes, you are in

the landscape.

 

My conviction is the neo-classic and neo-baroque interpretations

of the ancient music have been much influenced by electric actions.

You cannot overspeed in Bach in Alkmaar or Waltershausen.

(Both indeed with original actions)

 

Pierre

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Well, I certainly don't, and am now going to become even more tedious than anyone ever imagined possible....

 

In many thousands of cases up and down the UK, this is all that stands between an instrument being considered a 'clapped out village organ' and just as precise, revealing and delightful as the highest-regarded teaching organs in the world. It's so easy, and yet so few people seem to think it matters.

You seem to end up rather contradicting yourself here, but I agree with your later comments entirely. I've played lots of clapped out small Victorian organs, thinking that if someone were prepared to spend a bit of time regulating the action the organ and getting it set up right, it would play totally brilliantly.

 

Modern mechanical actions, as built by many modern mainstream builders, have a few interesting factors to consider:

 

I think the first is that a lot of modern actions have been designed to try and win over organists used to Electric (or EP) actions as the organ reform movement tried to win over organists from their comfortable (but rather anodyne) electric consoles, so anything over 4oz drop weight across the compass of the keyboard is considered unacceptable in many quarters. Also worth bearing in mind that a mechanical action keybaord will be heavier in the bass than the treble, as the size of the pallets (and hence the pluck) increases - but an electric action organ is constant weight across its compass.

 

Similarly, it is also still viewed as unacceptable if different keyboards have different key drops and different weights on the same organ, irrespective of the character of the division it plays: whether it is a full 16' Great division with multiple 8 foot stops and masses of gravity, or a tiny little brustwerk with a single Vox humana. Some organists would expect them to feel exactly the same. But what sensitive musician in their right mind would expect such sharply different divisions and sounds to feel the same under their fingers? Unless they are used to electric action organs where they would expect every keyboard to feel the same...

 

Carrying on with this argument, this is one reason why many mainstream builders try to disguse the pluck point of the action so it feels like an electric action. This is achieved through introducing false touch before hitting the pluck point, masses of bushing (facilitating a spongey touch as well) and devices such as balanciers. I've played quite a number of modern mechanical action organs where the overriding sensation is that the builder has tried to hide the pluck in the action as much as possible.

 

The next expectation is that the action should be silent. I don't know that many historic actions that are completely silent (Bazuin is much better qualified to write about this than me), but it seems to be an expectation today that modern actions should be completely silent. Builders respond by achieving this through copious amounts of bushing through the action but the downside of this is spongeness and free play in the action. There is a balence to be struck between silence and free play - and most builders err on the side of caution to make the action as silent as possible. However, I have played a modern organ which was over-bushed and still not silent...

 

The next feature of modern actions seems to be to reduce the weight and momentum in the action by making wildly thin and fragile trackers - I remember one builder proudly boasting about their 0.8mm by 1.2mm tracker cross section. Ultra-thin trackers seems to be a modern development - no other period of organ building has trackers this thin. The downside of ultra-thin trackers is a loss of rigidity in the key action: the trackers whip around and flex dramatically under use and require much more support and I suspect this loss of rigidity in the key action can make an organ more skittish to play. Quite often, this work to reduce the weight of the action is mitigated by use of heavy modern components elsewhere, such as large plastic buttons and other large, heavy modern components just behind the console, heavy bushings and heavy tracker ends to hold the ultra-delicate trackers - it ends up being rather self-defeating. Even a fairly long tracker trace is going to have a negligiable mass compared to the mass of the key so why bother? Besides, wouldn't an action with virtually no mass at all be extremely unpleasent to play - rather like an over-light action? I remember reading an article by a clavichord builder, extolling the virtues of using a denser wood (I think he used chestnut) for the core of the keys, which gave a much improved touch over his usual material (lime?). True to being a Clavichord, where the interrelations are many and subtle, he also noticed a change in the quality of the sound. I think there is much to learn about accepting some mass in the key action - I think we many need to reconsider the aim to reduce key action component weight to the bare minimum.

 

The combination of these factors can add up to making modern mechanical actions spongey, sloppy, unreliable and having repitition problems in the wrong hands. However, not everything is bad with modern mechanical action: gearing is widely accepted (the standard seems to be about a 3 to 2 gearing - 3mm of travel at the key equates to 2mm of travel at the pallet); the use of floating beams means that the key depth is not troubled by seasonal movement (a big issue in actions with particularly long runs) and it is now possible to model the weight of the key touch so the weight of the keys can be predicted and designed.

 

There are further considerations to take into account with mechanical action: under mechanical action the pallets open much more slowly than they do under electric, pneumatic or e-p action. The speed at which the pallet opens will affect the speech of the pipes (especially if they're voiced quick, dull and flutey as they will be in a vintage Hill or Walker) - so pipe speech can be compromised if these pipes go onto electric action, or there is a dual action (e.g. electric coupling) in the organ.

 

Oh dear, I think I've been even more tedious...

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Sorry, but you NEED to go and play a lot more organs in a lot more places. ...

 

... Once again, and (quite genuinely) with the greatest of respect, please go and see something of the organ world beyond your shores. Take your Couperin (and even your Widor!) to France and your Buxtehude to Alkmaar, and even your Reger to Berlin.

 

Bazuin

 

To pick up on but one point (since I am tired and have only just finished work for today) actually I have - in several other countries and quite a number of instruments. I have written this in reply to one of your posts already.

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"To pick up on but one point (since I am tired and have only just finished work for today) actually I have - in several other countries and quite a number of instruments. I have written this in reply to one of your posts already."

 

Then please relate to these experiences in your postings rather than referring exclusively to modern mechanical organs in the UK.

 

Thanks

 

Bazuin

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One good way to understand more about your organ technique and the way it effects the sound of an organ with a first rate action is to study clavichord for the while, and, if you can, get access to a pedal clavichord. I can recommend some clavichord-playing-for-organists courses if you're interested. It gives you a frankly terrifying (aural) glimpse into the shortcomings of your organ technique.

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

 

Whilst I would not pretend to be a virtuoso organist, I am intrigued to read of 'the shortcomings of [my] organ technique'. I was not aware that you have ever heard me play any instrument, Bazuin - unless, of course, you intended a general reference; in this case, your wording was somewhat unclear.

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