MusingMuso Posted July 13, 2007 Share Posted July 13, 2007 Under the title of the Manchester Town Hall thread, we stepped back into an era, (just after the turn of the 19th century) when organ-builders were faced with rapid changes in musical fashion. Those changes in fashion possibly had their equivalent in the wider musical world, which had turned away from the more classical styles of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, and now embraced the music of Wagner, Richard Strauss and the Russian composers such as Tchaikovsky. It was an "expressionist" age of relatively brief duration, which rapidly gave way to the "impressionistic" style of Debussy and Ravel, in particular. In organ terms, one must suppose that it was the change in fashion from Bach and Mendelssohn (with appropriate transcriptions of Handel), to the shady world of orchestral transcription and the excessive expressionistic chromaticism of organ-composers as diverse as Reger, Bairstow and Herbert Howells (all very different). There is always the danger, I think, that with the dubious benefit of hindsight, we may indulge in post-romantic judgement, and regard this or that organ-builder as better or worse than the next, when the real truth is somewhat different. Surely, it must be the case, that in responding to this change in musical fashion, organ-builders were forced to move away from what they knew best or at least had lived with for more than a generation. It possibly doesn't matter whether one thinks in terms of German, Dutch, American or English organ-building, because each country developed its own response. The comparison between organ-builders like T C Lewis and Robert Hope-Jones, has its equivalents abroad, and one which we would readily understand is the huge difference between American instruments built by Hook & Hastings, and those of Ernest Skinner. It is often the difference between cheese and chalk. In so many ways, the Lewis & Co (not T C Lewis) re-build at Manchester Town Hall demonstrates this sudden and dramatic shift in musical taste, but so too do other instruments, such as the many "improvements" carried out to old William Hill organs, "Father" Willis organs and even those containing historic pipework of real significance. It was as if nothing could be allowed to get in the way of "progress," even if that progress was, in so many ways, destructive and short-lived. A further factor is the relative wealth of nations, which makes possible rapid change, (or none at all), as the case may be. Countries with immense wealth, such as American and the UK around 1900, could enable a new generation to rapidly mould older things into something "new and exciting," even if this meant destroying much that was good in the process. In a country such as Holland, which was slow to industrialise, national wealth was a fraction of what it is to-day, and yet, this was the very factor which enabled the treasures of the past to survive; and what treasures there are! In England, perhaps even more than in America, the past was almost totally obliterated by "progress," but that progress was as diverse as that which preceded it, and as Pierre Lauwers points out, there is seldom anything new which isn't a re-working of older ideas. It would be a shame to anticipate every possible aspect of the debate before it happens, so I should perhaps limit myself to a question. Are we in danger of failing to understand both the "Baroque" movement and the sheer diversity of "romanticism," and if so, will not similar mistakes of revisionism be made to-day, as were made in the rush to leather every Open Diapason and surpress every Mixture? MM Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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