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Accompanying Choral Evensong - What Swell Reeds?


Colin Harvey
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What do people find are the most useful reeds to have on the swell organ to accompany Choral Evensong? I recently visited an establishment which only had 2 swell reeds - a 16' basson and an 8' vox humana and it was obvious that accompanying the choir was very difficult with just those resources.

 

I feel that a quiet reed which blends with the foundations upto 4' or 2' is really useful - something like an Oboe or Hautboy at 8' pitch, with a louder reed for "full swell". I find the oboe is best at 8' pitch - it gives a muddy effect if it's at 16' pitch and doesn't work with that useful combination of just 8' foundations.

 

Also, I don't find the "trumpet with closed box" makes a particularly useful expressive oboe effect because when you open the box, it turns into a Trumpet....

 

What do people think?

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I would agree that an Oboe 8' is very useful for adding gentle colour to the flues, and for subtle effects in the psalms. Full swell at Worcester is hard to beat, this organ has an 8' Oboe, 8' Cornopoean, then trumpets 16', 8' & 4'. What a thrill!

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One of the difficulties with the Organ Reform Movement was that it had a strong anti-romantic ideology. Instruments that were rebuilt during this time succumbed to having romantic registers removed for those of a different nature and purpose. The late Edwardian organ was a choral accompaniment medium with many mp and mf colours in diapason, flute and soft flue form as paralled with the German symphonic instrument- colours could be experienced at pp,p,mf levels as well as louder of course.

 

The neo-baroque organ is not about wide variances in volume- it is about terraced dynamics where a narrow scaled Octave 4' sits upon a wide scaled flute and then can be joined by a Principal 8' etc.

 

My own 35 stop 3 manual which was designed as a romantic accompanimental organ fell victim to a massive 1970s rebuild which removed the essential Swell reeds for choral accompaniment and indeed, for congregational accompaniment. The Oboe 8' was removed for Contra Hautboy 16', Horn 8' for Trompette 8' and Vox Humana 8' for Clarion 4', add a sharp mixture and you have a registrational headache for any Evensong. The Trompette is only okay to sing with by closing the box, although I have had this rank revoiced.

 

The first essential is a Oboe 8' because that blends with both Flute 8 & 4 and Principal 8 & 4 combinations. Then a closed tone reed Horn 8' or Cornopean 8'

 

In an ideal world you would have these reeds plus 16,8,4 Chorus reeds as in later Willis organs.

 

Of course those blessed with 16 and 8 woodwind reeds on the Choir are doubly blessed for the Office of Evensong.

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I would agree that an Oboe 8' is very useful for adding gentle colour to the flues, and for subtle effects in the psalms. Full swell at Worcester is hard to beat, this organ has an 8' Oboe, 8' Cornopoean, then trumpets 16', 8' & 4'. What a thrill!

 

I agree totally - I think that Worcester has one of the most versatile and thrilling Swell organs in the country. I loved the contrast of the two big 8p reeds, but also found the oboe delightful and most useful.

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What do people find are the most useful reeds to have on the swell organ to accompany Choral Evensong? I recently visited an establishment which only had 2 swell reeds - a 16' basson and an 8' vox humana and it was obvious that accompanying the choir was very difficult with just those resources.

 

Well, Christ Church, Oxford is similar - a Cor Anglais 16p and a Voix Humaine at 8p. However, this is a most musical organ and it works surprisingly well. This said, the one change I would make to the specification would be to swap the VH for an Hautbois 8p, as I would personally find this more useful for accompaniment. I would also add curtains round the loft so the organist does not have to sit on the floor when eating Sunday breakfast whilst playing the first service. (Since we had to vacate our lodgings early on the Sunday morning, we had to miss breakfast in the Halls.) :P

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Well, I think that it is fair to say that generally the English Swell Oboe is a little rounder in tone than an Hautbois by, say C-C (or another French builder). Of course, the timbre will vary from one builder to another. Having said this, the name 'Hautbois' is used occasionally by British builders, as is the older English 'Hautboy' (or is this merely an anglicisation?).

 

With regard to a Cornopean, again the tone may vary, but generally examples of this stop tend to be less close-toned than a Horn, but more full-bodied than an Arthur Harrison Swell Trumpet, for example. (Some of these can be surprisingly fiery and bright-toned).

 

Anyone else have any thoughts?

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And then there is the german Oboe...Thinner and louder

than the french Hautbois.

Wether the "Hautboy" is an english version of the french

is open to debate. The french Hautbois dates back from

F-H Clicquot, not before.

 

Thess stops - I mean the english and the german Oboe- are very often

diminutive chorus reeds, not solists.

Hence lots of confusion about its use by C. Franck. Even many french

Hautbois are rather crude compared with St-Clothilde's.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Well, yes. People often forget that C-C usually placed the Hautbois (or Basson-Hautbois) on the flue-chest, so it was often included with the Fonds 8p. Presumably at Ste. Clothilde, the comparatively small box in which the Récit was placed also has some bearing on the effect of this stop.

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Well, Christ Church, Oxford is similar - a Cor Anglais 16p and a Voix Humaine at 8p. However, this is a most musical organ and it works surprisingly well. This said, the one change I would make to the specification would be to swap the VH for an Hautbois 8p, as I would personally find this more useful for accompaniment. I would also add curtains round the loft so the organist does not have to sit on the floor when eating Sunday breakfast whilst playing the first service. (Since we had to vacate our lodgings early on the Sunday morning, we had to miss breakfast in the Halls.) :)

 

Actually, this is the organ I was thinking about! I totally agree that it is a very fine musical instrument (if a bit loud) and I like it a lot. My point is directed more at the modern "post-neo-classical" organ (I think they are still a bit self-concious to be termed "neo-romantic"), where one often comes across something like a 16' basson and an 8' Trumpet, which I don't find entirely convincing or useful. I find the sound of foundations with a reed like an oboe (like Ste Clothilde...) is a useful and distinctive colour on the swell organ which is often overlooked.

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  • 1 month later...
Guest Roffensis
Well, Christ Church, Oxford is similar - a Cor Anglais 16p and a Voix Humaine at 8p. However, this is a most musical organ and it works surprisingly well. This said, the one change I would make to the specification would be to swap the VH for an Hautbois 8p, as I would personally find this more useful for accompaniment. I would also add curtains round the loft so the organist does not have to sit on the floor when eating Sunday breakfast whilst playing the first service. (Since we had to vacate our lodgings early on the Sunday morning, we had to miss breakfast in the Halls.) :(

 

Christchruch old organ was fasr better tonally, however. i heard it before it was removed, it was typically English, Willis resbuilt a lot by H and H but what you would expect for C/Evensong. The current job just doesn't gel with me at all, and note that in all cases of recordings made there of the choir lately, they go to places like Dorchester Abbey or Leominster Priory, not for acoutrical reasons either. The reverb there is ok, its enough. Just! Pity though, I well recall a group of students outside saying "if only we had the old Willis back".

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Interestingly one of the best recordings I have of Choral Evensong repertoire with some fantastic organ 'backing' in the psalms is on a CD called 'Show Yourself Joyful' recorded in St Pauls Church, K Street, Washington - the whole thing is directed by Jeffrey Smith (now at Grace Cathedral San Francisco) - the organ is a large 4 man. Schoenstein with much romantic voicing and the sort of multiple swell boxes one associates with this builder including 32' reeds under expression and real strings etc. The nearest thing over here is I suppose St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol.

AJJ

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Interestingly one of the best recordings I have of Choral Evensong repertoire with some fantastic organ 'backing' in the psalms is on a CD called 'Show Yourself Joyful' recorded in St Pauls Church, K Street, Washington - the whole thing is directed by Jeffrey Smith (now at Grace Cathedral San Francisco) - the organ is a large 4 man. Schoenstein with much romantic voicing and the sort of multiple swell boxes one associates with this builder including 32' reeds under expression and real strings etc. The nearest thing over here is I suppose St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol.

AJJ

 

I share your interest with Schoenstein; this is another builder I would like to see building some organs in continental Europe.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Guest Roffensis
Well, yes. People often forget that C-C usually placed the Hautbois (or Basson-Hautbois) on the flue-chest, so it was often included with the Fonds 8p. Presumably at Ste. Clothilde, the comparatively small box in which the Récit was placed also has some bearing on the effect of this stop.

 

On the4 subject of cavaille Coll, its worty mentioning the backlast aginst his work in the past, it was certainly out of fashion for a very long time, even up to the 1960s. Many of his organs were ruined both in france and in England as being too "orchestral. Examples are Manchester Town Hall, and Blackburn Cathedral, the latter of whom had the lot melted down. Given todays more enlightened views and the way that we preserve even those organs which we may dislike for our future generations, it is interesting to ponder that Blackburn certainly could have been restored as a C.C. I know it had been altered, but I feel sure that a major builder could have reversed it all, as fine as the current organ is. Now it seems that what few C.C. ranks we have left in Britain are jealously guarded.

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Cavaillé-Coll's organ were considered obsolete sometimes up to 1980,

while his less-well known contemporaries, the belgian romantic builders

and even some germans are respected since a rather short time indeed.

 

In France and Belgium today, the "worse period", the "nadir" of organ-building is the "neo-classic" one, for instance the Gonzalez (France) or secondary builders like Delmotte

(Belgium), which were intended as "large-repertoire" organs, and one does not need to be a prophet to guess "who's next", so automatically, predictably does the History run.

 

This is the reason I believe we'd pursue three aims together:

 

-Create something new

-Protect and promote what we like from the past

-But simultaneously, respect and protect what we don't like

(Which is systematically what our parents liked)

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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  • 1 month later...

Indeed. Insofar as the suitabilty of swell reeds is concerned, for the lighter colouring of the flue-work, I find a good Hautbois indispensable. Next would come a really good Trumpet; (I generally prefer this to a Cornopean, but of course, it depends on the voicing of the individual ranks). In fact, an Arthur Harrison Swell Trumpet is often ideal - it has the requisite body, but with some fire and life, too. After this, I would wish for a good 16p reed, possibly a Double Trumpet. This should, of course, be a separate rank, ideally smaller-scaled than the unison and not too thick in the bass - too much weight there leads to an unpleasantly muddy effect and renders the stop much less useful for growly verses in the Psalms, for example!

 

I have often wondered why builders transposed a perfectly good Hautbois (or Oboe) to 16p, merely to gain some sub-unison tone on the clavier. Such ranks are generally too thin and quiet really to be successful and it is then usually impossible to use it at unison pitch to colour the foundation stops.

 

Whilst the 4p reed - Clarion - comes last, I am firmly of the opinion that it is a vital ingredient in the full swell effect. Ideally it should be almost as loud as the unison rank, but kept quite bright in timbre.

 

Naturally, people will differ - this is one of the interesting points about the organ. There is almost always merit in every scheme. The difference challenges our inventiveness. :P

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