Pierre Lauwers Posted May 17, 2007 Share Posted May 17, 2007 We, I mean myself and some others, are very worry about the situation of the organ Heritage in the United Kingdom. France, Belgium, and Germany, particularly, have seen their Heritage severely damaged since more than 150 years now ; first, a majority of ancient organs have been « updated » in the nineteenth century. And then the two world wars have taken their toll on what remained. The massacre did not even end there, for after WW II the « Reform » movement was exactly as disastrous as the 19th century ; not only were romantic organs destroyed, because they were « mistakes », but even important baroque organs have been condemned because they did not fit in the idea the scholars had of « the baroque » then. That situation lasted up to the 1980’s. I remember that epoch very well, having fight against it to the point to have to do with some professional restrictions…..You see what I mean. Now in continental Europe we have entered in a more interesting period indeed ; I call it « Post-néo-baroque ». All organ styles are now viewed as entities in themselves, that are not to be filed in a « Top-ten » manner like the teenagers rate the pop stars. This does not mean there is no more interest with the baroque organ, I’d say quite to the contrary ; the study of the huge baroque heritage goes even deeper, paying attention to minute detail, and above all ranking all regional styles on a par : the typical neo-baroque preconception : « Schnitger-Silbermann-Clicquot are the summits » is over, even, say, a limited, regional school we’d find in the middle of the Abruzzo area, or Süd-Tyrol, or wherever else « in the middle of nowhere » would receive attention and respect, be them « provincial » or not, no matter. But we are back from very far away indeed. Today in 2007, a good organ-builder can make a credible french Cornet. But we needed 75 years for that ! 75 years of trials and errors to be able to build a baroque Cornet again, a common stop that was to be find in every ancient french organ, the smallest included. This does not mean we had « bad » Cornets during 75 years ; some deserve protection, like many organs they are in, but as 20th century’s creation, not as baroque ones. This points out the importance of the Heritage we still have. If we continue to let it go, we shall never be able to reconstitute it, if a dedicate stage is passed. At a certain moment, we are in a danger zone, a point in which what remains becomes insufficient to ensure we can learn from it to reconstitute credible instruments. And this is inacceptable in any civilisation with any pretension to be a « develloped » one. We have the strong impression Britain experiences today, in 2007, the same situation that we had here up to the mid 80’s. And we want to say : « WARNING, do not make the mistakes we did ». I would like to present some points : 1)- There is no hierarchy among the styles. To decide –on which grounds ?- style A is « better » than style B equates to « playing God ». Who am I to judge a style, which is a complex creation that summarizes a whole culture ? Can I decide that, for example, the 18th century organ-builders in the London area were erring in the deepest darkness ? Or the italians in Venetia ? Why would I do that, save because I do not like what they did ? But must my taste decide to transmit or not to the next generations something I inherited, as if it were mine ? 2)- The « Repertoire » notion is a disastrous God-playing game, intended to make us act as if we were immortal. Sorry, but here we deal with nothing else than a fad. Who are we to decide the music we play today is, pedantly said, « Repertoire », while what was played in the 19th century was « fashion » ? Are we cleverer than our ancestors ? Why ? Because we have more technology ? But would we have these technologies if we would go back in the 19th century to « delete » it ? This « Repertoire » fad leads to infinitely dangerous misconceptions. Seen as a Holy Law, it allows us to decreet any organ should conform to : -What we play today -The way we play it (supposedly « correct », which is seldom the case !) And so we judge, and act as if the following generations would think the same –something we should know never happens-. But we prefer to oversee that, of course ; our children are ever wrong ! ah, these youths, during my time, they would (etc etc etc), a tune as old as the mankind. Any organ style fits in a dedicate cultural environment, like the music that was played in that place and time. In order to be able to continue to devellop itself, our civilisation needs to keep all these stages as a backup ; should we delete one, then a following generation will be lost, having to reconstitute it, like the 75 Reform years in the 20th century. So, rather than judging any style as « inferior » because it does not suit our today’s fads, we should protect what we do not like in the very first place , as endangered species. The implementation of our wishes we should restrict to the organs build new today. The others do simply not belong to us, and we have not the right to « better » them. 3)- There are no « Truths », but only liars. Save the Bible I know of no « Truth », because there is nothing more subject to change than those « Truths » the historic material is crammed with ! and why would it go differently with what we think today ? Again, are we wiser than our ancestors ? Let us take two strongly opinioned authors : G-A Audsley, and Norbert Dufourcq. Both tell us strong « Truths », but they are nearly 100% the reverse from each other. Would you dare decide which one is the « good » one ? So whenever we think we know the Truth, we lie. 4)- There is nothing more letal for any historic organ than a top virtuoso titular. These should absolutely restrict themselves to modern organs –I do not mean anytime, they can of course give Recitals on them, but as « organiste titulaire » !- I know this sounds strange, but it is a fact we realize more everyday : top players, highly educated and trained, are deeply involved in the « social games » of their day. They play what is fashionable today, the way it « must » be played today. They are in sheer competition with their peers, a serious affair ! Now let’s imagine we give them a Trost, a Joachim Wagner, a Wender organ, as Bach played them : be absolutely sure they will say these organs are not suited for Bach, only the Silbermanns –a builder Bach disagreed with !- or the Hildebrandts will do, while the actual palette of organs Bach played was wider by far. Take whatever historic organ you want, from a Renaissance type up to a Arthur Harrison, none will permit present-day « virtuosity ». Virtuosity today is not the same as Bach’s or W.T. Best’s ! Console design, weight of touch, key travel, attack, articulation, dynamic wind behavior, response of action, speed…..All differ from one kind to another, and none conforms to Today’s standard, which may be summarized as « a chamber-organ-like touch in any organ, the biggest included ». Now give this old thing –this invaluable treasure- to a Mr « I’m in the top three and I want to overtake Jones »……And see what disaster will soon happen. I won’t cite examples since they are so numerous I’d fill many pages more. Historic organs need to be in the care of introverted, poet players who do not care about social games, like for example Charles Tournemire , when asked why he played a meditation on a Voix céleste at the end of the Mass : -« Monsieur, why do you play so softly for the exit ? -« It is the exit ? Then, go out ! » (This said, I reckon even Tournemire tinkered with the organ he had in charge, so even that is not enough !) 5. The british Orgellandschaft is a particularly rich and interesting one. Yes, those tiny « music boxes » with no Pedals and strange, « wrong » Mixtures, as they were described by a leading british virtuoso in the 1980’s, are actually infinitely precious things, and here I shall attempt to explain shortly why : We can take for granted all organ types we know to descent from two Renaissance foyers : 1)- The Brabanter organ (Netherlands, then Liège in Belgium, other belgian areas) of the Niehoff type ; 2)- The Northern italian Renaissance organ. The first evolved from the medieval Blockwerk, and is the ancestor of the german, flemish, Liège, french and spanish organs ; The second, also evolving from the Blockwerk, gave birth to the classic italian (actually nearly the same as the Renaissance, with only regional idiosyncrasies) organ, the provencal organ AND…….Yes, the pre-Cromwell british organ. It is a RIPIENO organ, also a Diapason chorus, always based on an open 8’, with each rank on a seperate slide, and which ranks are named by numbers (douzième, quinzième, Vigesimanona, Twelfth, Fifteenth..) When the Restoration came the organs were rebuild –often replaced !- by builders coming from France and Germany/ Holland : the Dallams and the Harrises back from France, Bernhard Schmidt from Germany (where he learned with the same master than….Trost !), also we have here the first synthesis between the two branches of the tree, the next one happening in central Europe, with italian influencies having commenced to enter in central Europe (southern Germany, Switzerland, Austria, up to Poland) early, but with the real breaktrough in 1703 with the Casparini organ at Görlitz, a major synthesis between italian and german styles, designed by Casparini after having spent many years working in the venetian area. Even this new style (which, by the way, is the very Bach organ style in the second part of his career…) entered the UK with Johannes Schnetzler…..Later, many others foreign inluencies will happen (Schulze, etc) ; all in all, the british organ is an exceptionnaly diverse, interesting and precious one. This diversity must be maintained and protected. We need backups from all of these forms. 6)- In order to have enough backups, we need to keep all what we can. There are enough treads upon organs anyway to ensure we shall never have, say, ten baroque organs in a little town. The fires, the floodings, the closing churches and others reasons to move organs are enough by far to limit any style representation to an acceptable level. And this, of course, provided we avoid future wars, revolutions and other games of the same kind the mankind is so fond of… Of course we shall ever have more organs belonging to the previous fashion –which is always the “worse”- at hand, because the time has not made the household yet; please avoid to help! 7)- A 100% original historic organ barely exists. ….And so we often have several layers of historic “Substanz”. During the Neo-baroque period it was customary to empty the case, keep only the supposed oldest material, and build what was supposedly a baroque organ round it. That way, a typical neo-baroque “Restoration” may be summarized like this: 12 4’ Flute pipes kept, 2500 “romantic” pipes on the trash, 250 original, baroque pipes trashed because they were Hautbois and Viola di Gamba, which “could not be original since these stops did not exist then” , and 2750 new pipes by XYZ Gmbh after Töpfer scales. (I do not even exagerrate; it WAS so). In order to avoid further losses, we should or keep the organ in its last coherent form, or, if we decide to go a step or two earlier, make sure we can use the discarded material in another organ, and this, immediately, never with a storage in between…. We all know how the story of stored organ parts often ends! Well, enough said for this time. I could go on with a book –if interested, you can present me with a deal-…With the closing of churches etc there are already too much valuable british organs to be find on E-Bay. Is that acceptable? What would you say if the Louvre museum offered its collections on E-Bay? And then not enough, changing tastes, expressed as “needs”, are taking another, heavy toll. Please pay attention to the british organ Heritage. You are the keepers, not the owners; it belongs to us all, worldwide, plus our children, grand-children, etc. Best wishes, Pierre Lauwers Organ historian Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
Please sign in to comment
You will be able to leave a comment after signing in
Sign In Now