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The Organ In The Wills Hall At Bristol University

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I took my daughter to an open day at Bristol University a week or so ago (and yes that makes me feel very old!) during which time we attended a talk in the main hall of the stunning Wills building. I was interested to see the 4 manual organ console clearly visible at the back of the stage, with pipework visible through the screens around the back of the stage. NPOR seems to suggest a mixed and confusing history for this instrument. Has anyone played or heard it - whats it like?

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I took my daughter to an open day at Bristol University a week or so ago (and yes that makes me feel very old!) during which time we attended a talk in the main hall of the stunning Wills building. I was interested to see the 4 manual organ console clearly visible at the back of the stage, with pipework visible through the screens around the back of the stage. NPOR seems to suggest a mixed and confusing history for this instrument. Has anyone played or heard it - whats it like?

 

Heard it? Yes - lots. Played it? Never.

It was regularly used for recitals, degree congregations, etc, when I read music there almost 40 years ago, but undergraduate organists were never allowed anywhere near it. However, that was in Willis Grant's time, and things may well have changed for the better thereafter. Anybody have more recent info? VH?

 

If I might be permitted another brief reminiscence: the acoustics in the great entrance foyer of the Wills Building are wonderful. At the end of (Autumn) term a bunch of us would go halfway up the great staircases to left and right and sing carols, alternating 'Dec' and 'Can'. That was in the days before the world went security-mad and anyone could just walk in unchallenged. I doubt one could do that now, even if 'bona fide'.

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I took my daughter to an open day at Bristol University a week or so ago (and yes that makes me feel very old!) during which time we attended a talk in the main hall of the stunning Wills building. I was interested to see the 4 manual organ console clearly visible at the back of the stage, with pipework visible through the screens around the back of the stage. NPOR seems to suggest a mixed and confusing history for this instrument. Has anyone played or heard it - whats it like?

 

It is very much of its time - the spec. on the NPOR is not totally what it should be - there is an article in a back edition of The Organ by David Drinkell (ex Belfast Cath. - now in Canada) about it - 'will try and dig it out.

 

AJJ

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Nice instrument this one in the Wills Memorial Building. I have heard it quite a bit and did, for a while, have lessons on it. It was restored a few years ago (2004/05, I think) for a considerable sum but before that restoration was sanctioned it was proposed - by someone among the powers that be within the university at the time, I won't say who - to replace it with a brand new electronic organ. My father told me of this and he joined the campaign to persuade the powers that be that the pipe organ should be restored, not replaced. Lastly, I should say that the organ there in the Great Hall is a three manual console, not 4: the third (top) keyboard controls 2 divisions.

 

The campaign was a success and the organ was subsequently restored for a considerable sum. It is in fine voice and is still used for degree congregations but there aren't so many recitals on it these days. My next chance to hear it is likely to come on 17th July when my cousin collects his 2:1 B.A degree in Theology.

 

As far as organs in Bristol University go as a whole, the organ normally used for purposes such as concerts is in the Victoria Rooms (2 manuals, 15 stops by William Drake in 1996).

 

Speaking of organs at Bristol University, I am aware that the organ of First Church of Christ Scientist, Clifton, Bristol has been sold to the university and is to be placed in the chapel at Wills Hall. The current specification of this Clifton instrument is:

 

First Church of Christ Scientist, Clifton, Bristol

Peter Collins, 1983 and sold to Wills Hall, UOB, 2007 due to closure of church.

Possible installation believed to be set for Summer 2007 and to be done by Peter Collins.

 

Pedal:

16' Subbass

 

Manual I:

8' Gemshorn

4' Principal

2' Octave

 

Manual II:

8' Gedact

4' Rhor Flute

1⅓ Spitz Quint

 

However, the organ is to be placed at the back of the chapel on a balcony which will mean some alterations to the instrument. The balcony to cieling space is thought not to be enough for a 16' pipe so something is to be done about that. In addition, there is to be a new case and three new stops. I don't have the names of the stops but I will try and find this out.

 

Dave

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I'm totally confused. I never played this organ during my Bristol days or even took any interest in it - I was focused somewhat on other things in those days - but the vision I have dredged up from the sludge at the bottom of my brain is of three decker console. DHM will no doubt tell me I'm going senile, which I probably am, but one of the two rather seriously conflicting specs on NPOR does indeed say that the Solo Organ is played from the Choir manual.

 

So: do the two NPOR specs indicate the state of the organ at different dates, or (as is hinted there) is one of them unreliable? If the console is now a four-manual, did it once only have three and when was it altered?

 

Was Willis Grant a Downes fan? The spec looks slightly Downes-ish to me and the date is about right.

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This seems to be the more up to date spec.

 

AJJ

 

 

I doubt if Downes had much to do with that spec. He would not, for instance, have specified a Tierce in a department with no quint rank!

For all that, and one or two strange gaps (no Swell Oboe, for instance) I'm sure that it could give a goodish account of itself.

 

Definitely one worth keeping and (sh..) perhaps developing/modifying.

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Speaking of organs at Bristol University, I am aware that the organ of First Church of Christ Scientist, Clifton, Bristol has been sold to the university and is to be placed in the chapel at Wills Hall.

Rumour had it, when I was there, that Dame Monica had given the money for the chapel on condition that no organ be ever erected in it. Can anyone else with Bristol connections confirm or deny that? Should we expect to find her in an ongoing burial rotation posture?

 

However, the organ is to be placed at the back of the chapel on a balcony which will mean some alterations to the instrument. The balcony to ceiling space is thought not to be enough for a 16' pipe so something is to be done about that.

Forgive me for being picky, but wouldn't the Subbass be stoppped, and therefore only approx 8ft?

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Rumour had it, when I was there, that Dame Monica had given the money for the chapel on condition that no organ be ever erected in it. Can anyone else with Bristol connections confirm or deny that? Should we expect to find her in an ongoing burial rotation posture?

LOL. Maybe, and your message is the second time I have heard that bit about Dame Monica. But apparently a generous donation - specifically for this purpose, IIRC - has made this organ possible.

 

Dave

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This seems to be the more up to date spec.

 

AJJ

 

Hi

 

You're almost certainly right - the other stop list on NPOR is flagged "specification uncertain" - it probably dates from the 1950's-60's. The one you've linked to is dated 2001 and was probably noted by an organist who played for some event there. (I do know who from the source code, but we don't generally reveal sources unless there's a specific reason - and only then (if the person is still alive) - with permission.

 

The other stop list comes from the Charles Drane notebooks (he's no longer with us!) - and was possibly derived from a magazine or similar (but it could have been a site visit).

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Hi

 

You're almost certainly right - the other stop list on NPOR is flagged "specification uncertain" - it probably dates from the 1950's-60's. The one you've linked to is dated 2001 and was probably noted by an organist who played for some event there. (I do know who from the source code, but we don't generally reveal sources unless there's a specific reason - and only then (if the person is still alive) - with permission.

 

The other stop list comes from the Charles Drane notebooks (he's no longer with us!) - and was possibly derived from a magazine or similar (but it could have been a site visit).

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

Sometimes it's quite interesting to try and work out who the sources are - some of us from here appear (the live ones at any rate) - mine is very obvious! Back to Bristol though - I seem to remember that in the Drinkell article (in The Organ) mentioned above he felt that the instrument was effective but that some rather unorthodox coupling had to be done to achieve this - considering the rather '60s scheme (the lone Tierce on the Solo with its Nazard elsewhere, Cornet on the Positif etc.).

 

AJJ

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Sometimes it's quite interesting to try and work out who the sources are - some of us from here appear (the live ones at any rate) - mine is very obvious!

 

AJJ

 

Hi

 

True - but it's also very easy to get it wrong! There are a number of surveyors with the same initials and hence similar codes. We have to be careful that we get the right one!

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Hi

 

True - but it's also very easy to get it wrong! There are a number of surveyors with the same initials and hence similar codes. We have to be careful that we get the right one!

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

'Could be a problem!

 

AJJ

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Sometimes it's quite interesting to try and work out who the sources are - some of us from here appear (the live ones at any rate) - mine is very obvious!

 

Mine might not be so obvious: if it has the letters DCH next to it then the information could well have come from me.

 

Dave

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'Could be a problem!

 

AJJ

 

Hi

 

As far as I'm aware, it's only happened once (and is now resolved) - and that was not just the same initials but the same name! We are prettgy careful - and the editors can access the surveyor database to check things if need be.

 

As far as DHC is concerned, it is a Dave Harris, so it probably is you (there is an address, etc. in the database, but that's not public knowledge.

 

For what it's worth, my code is ADN (TDN had already gone when I joined the team) - so anything with ADN as the source code is down to me

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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As far as DCH is concerned, it is a Dave Harries, so it probably is you (there is an address, etc. in the database, but that's not public knowledge.

A couple of corrections, Tony.

 

Dave

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I remember this organ as being a three manual - also remember listening to the late great Nicholas Danby play it during a master class in the 80's - the Trompeta Real damn near scalped me as I was sat in front of the case where it was positioned!

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An update on the Wills Hall situation.

 

1. Installation was to have taken place in the summer of 2007: I understand that this has had to be delayed as alterations are required to the gallery (or more specifically, I believe, to the structure thereof) so I don't now know when installation will happen.

 

2. There will be three new stops added to the organ: a tierce, a mixture (not sure as to composition of it) and, I think, a Saliconal. I am not suprised about the addition of the mixture.

 

3. The work is being done by Peter Collins, who built the instrument in 1983 in the First Church of Christ Scientist, Clifton. However a new case is to be built for the instrument.

 

IIRC, I was told that the organ, plus removal and re-installation costs, come to about £12,000.

 

Dave

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Apologies for reviving a very old thread, but a Google search on this organ has brought me here!

As the recently appointed University Organist, I am due to be hosting a visit to and giving a talk on this organ next month. All I know is what's on NPOR. I'd be extremely grateful if anyone could furnish me with a copy of the David Drinkell article mentioned above.

Paul Walton

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Sorry Paul, my set of ‘The Organ’ given away some years ago. Fast running out of space! Possibly a set in the University Library or someone in the BDOA?
 

A

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