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New Organs In Britain Since 1980

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A passing comment on another thread prompted these thoughts. Which entirely new organs built in Britain since 1980 could be called truly great? Who built them? What is it about these instruments that justifies such a judgement.

 

For the purposes of this discussion, "new" can include the remodelling of existing pipework so long the resulting organ represents something clearly different to what was there before.

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Truly great is difficult - but this one sticks in my mind :-

 

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=D03400

 

I found it very impressive when I encountered it some years ago. Integrity etc. in quite a nice acoustic with real thought from earliest design stages as to scales of pipework etc. resulting in a sort of 'bloom' at all levels. At the demo I went to we all sang a hymn. The action was quite nice also.

 

This is all a bit subjective though as I feel somewhat that it depends on what one likes!

 

AJJ

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Guest Cynic
Truly great is difficult - but this one sticks in my mind :-

 

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=D03400

 

I found it very impressive when I encountered it some years ago. Integrity etc. in quite a nice acoustic with real thought from earliest design stages as to scales of pipework etc. resulting in a sort of 'bloom' at all levels. At the demo I went to we all sang a hymn. The action was quite nice also.

 

This is all a bit subjective though as I feel somewhat that it depends on what one likes!

 

AJJ

 

Further suggestions (in no particular order) for what will inevitably be a fast-growing list:

Grosvenor Chapel, Mayfair (Drake)

St.Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham (J.W.Walker)

St.Mary's Twickenham (H&H)

St.Andrew's Holborn (Mander)

St.Anselm's Dartford (Tickell)

 

What qualifies them as truly great IMHO is that all are outstandingly effective for their size (no wasted stops) and the tone remains musical at all volume levels.

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So far, I am having difficulty thinking of any.

 

I have not played the JWWW at Birmingham, but if it is as musical as my own Walker, I will probably like it very much indeed.

 

With reference to Alastair's suggestion of Saint Barnabas, East Dulwich, I am pleased that he likes it, but to be honest, I preferred the previous instrument. I simply cannot find anything attractive (or particularly musical) about the voicing of the Tickell instruments which I have played or heard - Honiton, for example, I find to be rough, un-blending and really rather ordinary. Again, I preferred the previous instrument - which, whilst it did need a major restoration, did not necessarily warrant being discarded. I played it a number of times for concerts for a local choir and always found it to be in good working order and with a good variety of attractive tone-colours, many of which blended well together in all sorts of surprising ways.

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Honiton was not quite what I was expecting when I attended a recital there a while back - somewhat lacking in 'awe and wonder'. Dulwich at the hands of its DOM (and consultant) to me was something different altogether.

 

AJJ

 

PS pcnd's Minster organ was impressive when I last heard it - our visit coincided with the end of a wedding and at the hands of the previous DOM there was certainly a tingle factor. Mind you I did not hear it's most prominent features! :blink:

 

PPS To show how subjective all this really is - certainly, at the hands of its resident musicians I would suggest Bath Abbey too - but there are a few around here who would disagree perhaps!

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Built in Britain or by British organbuilders?

 

Assuming both:

 

St Paul's Deptford - William Drake - stunning

 

St Mary the Virgin RC Wandsworth - Stephen Cooke - charming little thing

 

All Saints' Ravensden - Robert Shaftoe - "an exceptionally good organ"

 

 

Is this still likely to happen - anyone know? - if so it will be impressive to say the least!

 

Abergavenny

 

AJJ

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pcnd's Minster organ was impressive when I last heard it - our visit coincided with the end of a wedding and at the hands of the previous DOM there was certainly a tingle factor. Mind you I did not hear it's most prominent features! :blink:

 

 

I take it you are referring to its, shall-we-say, 'outstanding attractions'?

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Isn't it a bit early to decide what are the great organs of the past 27 years yet?

 

I don't agree about Honiton - I think it is an excellent organ, very capable and versatile and it has awe and wonder for me. I certainly wouldn't describe it as rough or unattrative. Dulwich is similarly excellent and capable. However, I do know what pcnd is getting at - there's a certain restraint in Ken's organs, which is difficult to put one's finger on. It's almost as if they're too well disciplined and well balenced to allow themselves to produce really beautiful sounds. But it's a subjective thing and I'm talking b*****s.

 

Abergavenny is highly unlikely to see the light of day. The sources of funding became fatigued after a series of large fund raising efforts for various very expensive projects. There's also a new organist and DoM, who I'm led to belive is more interested in buttons than beautiful organs so that organ won't see the light of day in its original guise...

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A new thread perhaps - the greatest organs since 1980 that never got built?

 

AJJ

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I don't agree about Honiton - I think it is an excellent organ, very capable and versatile and it has awe and wonder for me. I certainly wouldn't describe it as rough or unattrative. Dulwich is similarly excellent and capable. However, I do know what pcnd is getting at - there's a certain restraint in Ken's organs, which is difficult to put one's finger on. It's almost as if they're too well disciplined and well balenced to allow themselves to produce really beautiful sounds. But it's a subjective thing and I'm talking b*****s.

 

Well, we can agree to differ, Colin.

 

However, I am not sure that you have appreciated fully the sense of my previous post. 'Restraint' was not a word which came to mind in describing the Tickell organ at Honiton. 'Rough' and 'un-attractive' are still the epithets which are uppermost in my memory - having played it (and its predecessor) on a number of occasions. The GO chorus I found to lack any singing melodic quality and, for that matter, any real excitement. The GO chorus at the Minster has considerably more musicality and rather better developed melodic quality. As for the reeds [at Honiton] - frankly, I would have sent them back. They sound un-finished. I certainly would not wish to play Franck - or even Couperin - on them.

 

Whilst it was not my intention to be overly harsh, I can only speak as I find.

 

I shall try to think more positive thoughts and name a few new instruments which I do like, after choir practice.

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A passing comment on another thread prompted these thoughts. Which entirely new organs built in Britain since 1980 could be called truly great? Who built them? What is it about these instruments that justifies such a judgement.

 

For the purposes of this discussion, "new" can include the remodelling of existing pipework so long the resulting organ represents something clearly different to what was there before.

 

 

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

 

 

1980?

 

Well that leaves me off the hook then.

 

:blink:

 

MM

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Well, we can agree to differ, Colin.

 

However, I am not sure that you have appreciated fully the sense of my previous post. 'Restraint' was not a word which came to mind in describing the Tickell organ at Honiton. 'Rough' and 'un-attractive' are still the epithets which are uppermost in my memory - having played it (and its predecessor) on a number of occasions. The GO chorus I found to lack any singing melodic quality and, for that matter, any real excitement. The GO chorus at the Minster has considerably more musicality and rather better developed melodic quality. As for the reeds [at Honiton] - frankly, I would have sent them back. They sound un-finished. I certainly would not wish to play Franck - or even Couperin - on them.

 

Whilst it was not my intention to be overly harsh, I can only speak as I find.

 

I shall try to think more positive thoughts and name a few new instruments which I do like, after choir practice.

 

I think I do fully appreciate the sense of your post, even if I do not think I would put it in such terms myself. I will go off on a different tack from your points and try to draw out something more productive and insightful, overlooking issues which may occur because of poor (or interfering, before David jumps in) maintenance and tuning. With Ken's work, we see a personal expression of what I term "Post Neo-Classical", where we see a return to more romantic elements. Swell divisions have made a comeback, we have seen more acceptance of nicks and regulation at the toes of the pipes.

 

The subject of choruses is an interesting one. Quite often what I find in post-neo-classical organs is a chorus with little treble ascendancy (treble ascendancy gives "melodic quality"), rather hoping that keeping the power the same through the compass will bring out the counterpoint in the middle parts. There is also a reliance on Toepfer normal scale as a basis for scaling so there is supposedly no variation of the quality of the sounds across the compass. Privately, I wish we could go back to Dom Bedos based scalings as I like the sound to develop its timbre across its compass. But I've learnt that scaling has a far more subtle effect that most people think - it's not the be-all and end-all that many think it is.

 

The other thing I find with many modern choruses is that the upperwork is pushed harder than the foundation work. 8' principals tend to be quite relaxed in their power output and are generally very pretty played alone. Then the 4' is pushed harder, the 2' pushed harder still (there are rarely 2 2/3s in modern choruses) and as for the mixtures... Generally, I think that builders scale the upperwork a few pipes smaller each time they go up in pitch and try to compensate by making it sing more by voicing it more loudly. This is the way they get the mixtures and upperwork to generate the power in the chorus work - complete opposite school of thought to traditional Victorian choruses, with powerful Open Diapasons and gentle 15ths. The excuse given by many organ builders for doing this to a chorus is "to get the upperwork round the corner into the church" - especially so for an organ facing across a chancel - as we all know the bass notes get round the corner more easily.

 

The other thing is there is still a reluctance for organ builders and voicers to go the full distance with nicking and other old tricks on voicing new organs - I feel it's still seen in some corners as an tool used towards the interests of romantic decadence. Actually, upto a point, nicking can make pipes speak quicker and smoother - come to Twyford to hear how really quite heavily nicked pipes can speak blindingly quickly and have very well developed "harmonic interest". It's also a lovely example of the "other type" of chorus.

 

I feel there are a few problems with the "standard" post neo classical type of chorus. It's difficult to build a smooth crescendo through the chorus as each new pitch added is louder than the last and draws attention to itself with a crash. A seamless crescendo, so revered by Victorian romatic organ builders, is not possible by addition and subtraction of stops. Done badly, and the upperwork can stand apart from the foundation stops and not blend - the other way of chorus building lends itself so much better to blending. Also mixture breaks are more apparent and are more difficult to manage. The sound of the full chorus is wearing on the ears, especially in intimate environments, but it can be effective and sound impressive in more spacious environments, especially with half-decent reeds. Marlborough College, a fine organ which I think is a good example of "post-neo-classical" at its best, is a good example of the type of chorus I mean, with all the pros and cons.

 

There are exceptions to this type of chorus in post neo-classical organs - the gorgeous Frobenius in Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh doesn't use these rules - the upperwork is more and more gently voiced. Like everything musical, it's a question of balance and bon gout and to my sensibilities Canongate is very much better thought out. I think this organ looks and sounds just right for the building and can do just about anything on its own terms. It is a very musical organ.

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Built in Britain or by British organbuilders?

Just to clarify, I deliberately avoided wording the thread "New British Organs" as I meant to encompass both British and foreign builders.

 

And yes, views are going to be subjective, but it's still interesting to see how different people's views vary and even the disagreements may be interesting - as is proving to be the case!

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The other thing I find with many modern choruses is that the upperwork is pushed harder than the foundation work. 8' principals tend to be quite relaxed in their power output and are generally very pretty played alone. Then the 4' is pushed harder, the 2' pushed harder still (there are rarely 2 2/3s in modern choruses) and as for the mixtures... Generally, I think that builders scale the upperwork a few pipes smaller each time they go up in pitch and try to compensate by making it sing more by voicing it more loudly. This is the way they get the mixtures and upperwork to generate the power in the chorus work - complete opposite school of thought to traditional Victorian choruses, with powerful Open Diapasons and gentle 15ths. The excuse given by many organ builders for doing this to a chorus is "to get the upperwork round the corner into the church" - especially so for an organ facing across a chancel - as we all know the bass notes get round the corner more easily.

 

The other thing is there is still a reluctance for organ builders and voicers to go the full distance with nicking and other old tricks on voicing new organs - I feel it's still seen in some corners as an tool used towards the interests of romantic decadence.

 

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

 

 

I am so delighted that Dennis Thurlow broke all the "rules" when he built the organ at St.Joseph's, Keighley.

 

As a consequence, we have a little bit of very light-nicking here and there, one of THE most beautiful 8ft Principals (ever so slow and interesting), a ravishing French-style Rohrflute of enormous scale, a 4ft Octave which sits just nicely atop the 8ft, and then 6 rks of Mixtures, very gently voiced, open-foot, no nicking and of plain-metal throughout. Obvioulsy, the 4 rk Mixture contains the 2ft throughout, and the 2rks mixture is a Sequialtera 12:17, but the effect really IS like a small St.Bavo.

 

So much for the Great (Hw), but in a way, I think the Positive (Bw) actually vindicates what Colin Harvey is saying, because that division contains a very assertive Tin 2ft Principal AND a 1.1/3ft Quint. The acoustic can carry it, but musically, I think it is just a little TOO much, even though one could never accuse it of being unmusical.

 

I have often said that another 2ft, in the form of a Flute, could happily replace the Quint so far as I am concerned, and the 2ft could benefit from being a little less bold.

 

Even with that notable "error" in mind, the end result is infinitely musical and beautiful, and in my book, unless beauty of tone is foremost in the minds of organ-builders, they may as well take up plumbing.

 

If there is one word I would use to describe so many of the old Netherlands organs, then it would be just that....."beautiful."

 

I'm afraid that, in the converse, there are many fine looking organs which are not at all beautiful.

 

To hi-jack the words of Jos van der Kooy when he described the Bavo-orgel, an instrument should be "beautiful to both the eye and to the ear."

 

MM

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

 

 

I am so delighted that Dennis Thurlow broke all the "rules" when he built the organ at St.Joseph's, Keighley.

 

As a consequence, we have a little bit of very light-nicking here and there, one of THE most beautiful 8ft Principals (ever so slow and interesting), a ravishing French-style Rohrflute of enormous scale, a 4ft Octave which sits just nicely atop the 8ft, and then 6 rks of Mixtures, very gently voiced, open-foot, no nicking and of plain-metal throughout. Obvioulsy, the 4 rk Mixture contains the 2ft throughout, and the 2rks mixture is a Sequialtera 12:17, but the effect really IS like a small St.Bavo.

 

So much for the Great (Hw), but in a way, I think the Positive (Bw) actually vindicates what Colin Harvey is saying, because that division contains a very assertive Tin 2ft Principal AND a 1.1/3ft Quint. The acoustic can carry it, but musically, I think it is just a little TOO much, even though one could never accuse it of being unmusical.

 

I have often said that another 2ft, in the form of a Flute, could happily replace the Quint so far as I am concerned, and the 2ft could benefit from being a little less bold.

 

Even with that notable "error" in mind, the end result is infinitely musical and beautiful, and in my book, unless beauty of tone is foremost in the minds of organ-builders, they may as well take up plumbing.

 

If there is one word I would use to describe so many of the old Netherlands organs, then it would be just that....."beautiful."

 

I'm afraid that, in the converse, there are many fine looking organs which are not at all beautiful.

 

To hi-jack the words of Jos van der Kooy when he described the Bavo-orgel, an instrument should be "beautiful to both the eye and to the ear."

 

MM

 

:-)

 

I'm so glad Dennis Thurlow broke the "rules" too.

 

I'm looking forward to going back to the Netherlands later this month.

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1) The subject of choruses is an interesting one. Quite often what I find in post-neo-classical organs is a chorus with little treble ascendancy (treble ascendancy gives "melodic quality"), rather hoping that keeping the power the same through the compass will bring out the counterpoint in the middle parts. There is also a reliance on Toepfer normal scale as a basis for scaling so there is supposedly no variation of the quality of the sounds across the compass. Privately, I wish we could go back to Dom Bedos based scalings as I like the sound to develop its timbre across its compass. But I've learnt that scaling has a far more subtle effect that most people think - it's not the be-all and end-all that many think it is.

 

2) The other thing I find with many modern choruses is that the upperwork is pushed harder than the foundation work.

 

3) Come to Twyford to hear how really quite heavily nicked pipes can speak blindingly quickly and have very well developed "harmonic interest".

 

4) A seamless crescendo, so revered by Victorian romatic organ builders, is not possible by addition and subtraction of stops.

 

There is so much generalisation here that I don't know where to start, but suffice it to say (in no particular reference to the point numbers above):

 

1) Seamless crescendos and scaling have far more to do with what objectives you are trying to meet. Most of your points generally seem to presume all organs should be either Victorian or at least all alike.

 

2) Your organ is by no means beyond reproach (as no instrument is) for irregularity in voicing; last time I played, there was one very raucous and loud note (50% louder at least) on the Gt Bourdon, and the treble of the Sw Open and Principal sounded like many of the pipes came from different ranks, as did several notes on the Twelfth and elsewhere (one of which in particular was hardly speaking at all). I mention this not because I wish to slag it off, because it's by no means a bad job, but because I am surprised you were prepared to accept that amount of irregularity given your knowledge and passion on the subject.

 

3) Not making any excuses for anyone, but I know of only two UK organ builders who make all their own pipework. (Indeed, today I heard of one firm who for a prestigious job have ordered front pipes from a very good firm, and inside pipes from a rather less expensive firm. How much of a shortcut is that!). It is generally the case that pipework bought in has the cutups already started, certainly in the trebles, and it is frequently the case that these are too high to begin with. The difficulty is what to do then. A few will send the job back to be re-done and allow the schedules to slip back six weeks; most will try to blend it in and make the best musical job of it.

 

4) Then, there is the consideration of time spent on site. Anyone working in a voicing room has to make certain decisions - perhaps guesses is not too strong a word - about the result, based on experience and gut instinct. It is perhaps presumptious, but a fact nonetheless, that a great many voicers did their formative training in the days of open toes, no nicking, experimental soundboards, Schwimmer winding and great extremes of tone quality. The generation that taught them how to work like this was also feeling its way in the dark, having been trained on leathered open diapasons and strings you could cut steel with. Is it any surprise the resulting muddle will take a couple of generations to sort out?

 

The situation is no different on the continent - several instruments we saw in France (none of Aubertin's, btw) had been wildly misjudged in the voicing room then compromised on site to allow something approximating the volume of the sound the person wanted to hear, with an obvious effect on the quality of the tone. One instrument in particular sticks out as being absolutely beautifully made down to the last detail, but hugely lacking in its 842 chorus which had been tamed to the point of flutiness and an inability to sustain anything else going on around it. Others overcame similar difficulties by being monstrously loud.

 

Back to the point - my turn to generalise grossly - I know of very few instances where a builder has spent an appropriate amount of time doing the voicing on site (in the case I am thinking of, 4 months for 20 or so stops), having done little more in the voicing room than get the things visually and audibly consistent (visually is important starting point - if it doesn't look like its neighbour, how can they be expected to sound and speak alike?).

 

What it all perhaps comes down to is whether it is possible to recognise "post-neo-classical" as a style; I don't feel it is. Most instruments seem to be built with some model, aim or historical objective in mind, used in some cases as a starting point for creativity and in some cases as a complete blueprint to create a historic experience. The canon of music is so broad and methods of playing and teaching so varied (just ask Ian Tracey and John Wellingham to give a joint masterclass and see what happens) that no one instrument can ever hope to serve it. That's not to say we shouldn't try, but hopefully we've got beyond 3 manual organs with Great, Recit and Ruckpositiv to do it; actually, in many cases we haven't, but there are certainly some cases (Aberdeen, St John's Oxford) where the builder's musical intuition and vision is in tune with something which is exciting and useful for the player rather than trying to be something it's not and can never be.

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It certainly looks lovely on paper (or rather, on-line). Maybe I'd have chosen something instead of the Oboe - a Sesquialtera, Cornet III, Trumpet, perhaps. And are the manuals really black naturals and grey sharps?

 

Agreed over the Oboe but it is quite a boisterous affair with no lids and with the Gamba (retained because it's a good soft solo register as well as anything else) makes a decent noise. Sharps are white skunk tail things.

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I note no one has mentioned the Marcussen in Tonbridge School Chapel. I have not heard this instrument in the flesh but it seems to be a very highly thought of organ and on CD sounds impressive. Equally, the Klais at Bath Abbey would seem to merit inclusion, even if it is a bit of a Marmite organ, with people either loving or hating it.

 

It is a pity that the names of Harrisons, Manders and Nicholson seem to be noticeable absent. I think from the starting point of 1980 until relatively recent, domestically our organ builders were going through a bit of a purple patch, not exactly producing top notch distinctive organs (St John's College, Cambridge, anyone?) but also because the most prestigious contracts were going to oversees builders. However, I think we could be at the beginning of a golden age for domestic organ building - Worcester Cathedral (Tickell and Nicholson organs), Llandaff Cathedral (Nicholson), Glenalmond College (Harrisons) to name just a few.

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Agreed over the Oboe but it is quite a boisterous affair with no lids and with the Gamba (retained because it's a good soft solo register as well as anything else) makes a decent noise. Sharps are white skunk tail things.

 

Stephen Cooke's 'reworking' of the Bevington at Westbury PC in Wilts. is also quite decent.

 

AJJ

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Deep breath: I like the Bridgewater Hall Organ...

Yes, it's not really powerful enough for the space it lives in, but the individual stops have character and beauty, each separate chorus is pleasing to the ear, and it works well registered 'horizontally' too (i.e. all the couplers, to build up getting all the flutes, all the principals, etc) which is a technique often employed there to try and give it more power. I've not played it, but would very much like to. (which I drop in to this just incase there's anyone with a contact/way in reading!)

The bottom line is we really enjoy going to hear it 2 or 3 times a year, and would rather travel the 90 miles to that, than 16 miles to hear the Symphony Hall organ.

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Deep breath: I like the Bridgewater Hall Organ...

Yes, it's not really powerful enough for the space it lives in, but the individual stops have character and beauty, each separate chorus is pleasing to the ear, and it works well registered 'horizontally' too (i.e. all the couplers, to build up getting all the flutes, all the principals, etc) which is a technique often employed there to try and give it more power. I've not played it, but would very much like to. (which I drop in to this just incase there's anyone with a contact/way in reading!)

The bottom line is we really enjoy going to hear it 2 or 3 times a year, and would rather travel the 90 miles to that, than 16 miles to hear the Symphony Hall organ.

 

 

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

 

 

We're back to familiar ground: the problems associated with many modern concert-halls, which have to be "multifunctional" and "multimedia" by design.

 

The problem is, the resulting acoustic is totally engineered and unnatural.

 

Food for thought indeed, when a better musical result could probably be obtained in such buildings with a top-notch digital organ rather than with genuine pipes!

 

MM

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