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Post Classical Or Retrospective Romanticism?


MusingMuso
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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

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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. [My emphasis.]

 

MM

 

MM, I have no wish to quote you out of context; however, I would be interested to learn whether or not it is your intention to imply that the pipe-work of organs which were built either by William Hill or by 'Father' Willis is insignificant?

 

Furthermore, how old does the pipe-work in any given instrument need to be before one should deem it historical?

 

Just wondering....

 

:blink:

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MM, I have no wish to quote you out of context; however, I would be interested to learn whether or not it is your intention to imply that the pipe-work of organs which were built either by William Hill or by 'Father' Willis is insignificant?

 

Furthermore, how old does the pipe-work in any given instrument need to be before one should deem it historical?

 

Just wondering....

 

:blink:

 

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

 

 

 

In 1910, "Father" Willis would have been relatively modern, would he not?

 

MM

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

In 1910, "Father" Willis would have been relatively modern, would he not?

 

MM

 

How is this relevant today, MM?

 

In 1664, the pipe-work currently surviving on the Positive and G.O. soundboards here on the Minster organ would have been brand new.

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How is this relevant today, MM?

 

In 1664, the pipe-work currently surviving on the Positive and G.O. soundboards here on the Minster organ would have been brand new.

 

 

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

 

 

I would think that this was the relevant bit:-

 

 

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 etc........?

 

MM

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"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?

(Quote)

 

-Do we have understand the Baroque ?

 

My guess: partially only. We grasped some things, others were left out,

because they were disturbing for modern, neo-baroque theories.

 

-Are we at risk to oversee the diversity in the romantism ?

 

Of course we are. The very idea to supress the mixtures -a very, very timely post-romantic idea-

to be handled as a "Warning" signal testifies for this.

The one who wants to understand (really) the romantic organ should:

 

1)- Read Dom Bédos.

 

2)- Study 18th century's central and south german and british Mixtures.

 

3)- Read about, and listen to, classical italian organs.

 

4)- Explore this website:

 

http://www.casparini.0nyx.com/Casparini/caspfram.htm

 

 

After that we could go on further.

 

Pierre

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"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?

(Quote)

 

-Do we have understand the Baroque ?

 

My guess: partially only. We grasped some things, others were left out,

because they were disturbing for modern, neo-baroque theories.

 

-Are we at risk to oversee the diversity in the romantism ?

 

Of course we are. The very idea to supress the mixtures -a very, very timely post-romantic idea-

to be handled as a "Warning" signal testifies for this.

The one who wants to understand (really) the romantic organ should:

 

1)- Read Dom Bédos.

 

2)- Study 18th century's central and south german and british Mixtures.

 

3)- Read about, and listen to, classical italian organs.

 

4)- Explore this website:

 

http://www.casparini.0nyx.com/Casparini/caspfram.htm

After that we could go on further.

 

Pierre

 

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

 

 

I believe the important word is "understanding," and in this respect, I suspect that the organ-builders understood rather more than those who made the decisions, and this why Thomas Hill stands out in his work at Sydney Town Hall.

 

The turn of the century, from around 1900 to 1930, was the age of the dilettante and the self-appointed organ "experts," which I am afraid, must include Lt Col George-Dixon and that bi-cycle pedalling novice, the Rev Noel Bonavia-Hunt.....but there were others!

 

This is the whole point of this topic.

 

Fashion is always the preserve of a new generation who think they know best.

 

MM

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

I believe the important word is "understanding," and in this respect, I suspect that the organ-builders understood rather more than those who made the decisions

 

Of course, and it never was as true as today...

 

 

Fashion is always the preserve of a new generation who think they know best.

 

....Ditto: never was this as true as today....

 

Pierre

MM

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

In 1910, "Father" Willis would have been relatively modern, would he not?

 

MM

 

 

In 1910, Father Henry Willis would have been dead for nine years.

 

If what you mean is that his organs will still have seemed 'modern' this is unlikely. Most of his famous instruments (by then) were getting on for fifty years old. The later FHW organs had adjustable pistons (Hereford, Lincoln, Tenbury) but few others did. Few had 'modern' string tone - much prized at the time. You can see where popular taste lay in the direction that his grandson (HW3) went - up-to-date consoles and more keenly voiced solo effects.

 

The common moan of Father Willis's critics was that the louder registrations on a large Willis were always reed-dominated. This was certainly the chief criticism aimed at the original Albert Hall job, and one can observe the steps that H&H went to to redress this percieved problem - much increased pressures and scales for the diapason work generally. Mind you, this is one reason that a Father Willis organ can sound superb in French repertoire because the same sort of tonal ideal is found in C-C organs. It has been pointed out how much of the early large Willis schemes imitate C-C ones. Mind you, C-C himself did not recommend Willis. I believe I have seen it written that he favoured Lewis.

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In 1910, Father Henry Willis would have been dead for nine years.

 

If what you mean is that his organs will still have seemed 'modern' this is unlikely. Most of his famous instruments (by then) were getting on for fifty years old. The later FHW organs had adjustable pistons (Hereford, Lincoln, Tenbury) but few others did. Few had 'modern' string tone - much prized at the time. You can see where popular taste lay in the direction that his grandson (HW3) went - up-to-date consoles and more keenly voiced solo effects.

 

The common moan of Father Willis's critics was that the louder registrations on a large Willis were always reed-dominated. This was certainly the chief criticism aimed at the original Albert Hall job, and one can observe the steps that H&H went to to redress this percieved problem - much increased pressures and scales for the diapason work generally. Mind you, this is one reason that a Father Willis organ can sound superb in French repertoire because the same sort of tonal ideal is found in C-C organs. It has been pointed out how much of the early large Willis schemes imitate C-C ones. Mind you, C-C himself did not recommend Willis. I believe I have seen it written that he favoured Lewis.

 

 

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

 

 

Well, I think we are finally getting nearer to the truth. Perhaps the word "modern" is not what I intended to imply; rather the words "relatively recent."

 

What interests me about the period immediately after 1900 or so, is the abrupt change in fashion, and the problems this caused. It is the difference between vintage cars and veteran cars, where the only link was a steering wheel (when it wasn't a tiller).

 

The way in which a whole generation just dismissed almost anything which went before as "old fashioned," was quite extraordinary, and it is much the same as the difference between Victorian ballroom dancing and the Charleston. I don't think there was ever an age whereby, in just 30 years or so, almost everything changed; perhaps driven by necessity, but in the hands of much younger people who demonstrated enormous arrogance.

 

There was absolutely no respect for the past, or so it seems, and this is the crux of what I am angling at.

 

Prior to that, there WAS respect for what had gone before.

 

Now pulling the debate up to date, is the current rejection of most things "neo-classical" (for lack of a better term) simply a repetition of history, in which valuable lessons are rejected out of hand?

 

So many organs were the victims of Edwardian vandalism, and perhaps there is the danger that the best achievements of the "neo classical" period could be treated not just with scepticism, but with downright hostility, and by a younger generation who, in claiming to be more enlightened, are possibly nothing of the sort.

 

MM

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The way in which a whole generation just dismissed almost anything which went before as "old fashioned," was quite extraordinary ...

 

There was absolutely no respect for the past, or so it seems, and this is the crux of what I am angling at.

 

Prior to that, there WAS respect for what had gone before.

I don't think it was "quite extraordinary" at all. It was quite normal. Was what happened earlier really "respect for what had gone before" or merely inertia in the face of a relative lack of musical development - the "if it ain't bust, don't fix it" philosophy?

 

Any student of medieval music knows that there were then no classics. As soon as fashion changed existing music was discarded in favour of the new. Much of it was ephemeral from the start. The status of the medieval church composer has been likened to the modern day ladies who arrange the flowers.

 

Things did not really begin to change significantly until the nineteenth century. The British took Handel to their hearts and repeated performances of Messiah and a few other things ad nauseam, but in whatever contemporary way seemed approriate and without much commitment to historical accuracy. Wesley worked hard to promote Bach, but was happy to do so in whatever contemporary way served that end (he didn't have much choice with the organ musc, given the general lack of pedals). Here are the tentative beginnings of an awareness and respect for the past as living art rather than antiquarianism (as exhibited by the very erudite John Hawkins). But apart from Handel and Bach, what other "old" music was being revered? Not much if any. It really wasn't until the twentieth century that the musicological bandwagon really got rolling properly and finally changed the way people appreciated music so that a reverence for the past became the norm.

 

I think attitudes towards the organ need to be seen in this wider cultural context.

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I don't think it was "quite extraordinary" at all. It was quite normal. Was what happened earlier really "respect for what had gone before" or merely inertia in the face of a relative lack of musical development - the "if it ain't bust, don't fix it" philosophy?

 

Any student of medieval music knows that there were then no classics. As soon as fashion changed existing music was discarded in favour of the new. Much of it was ephemeral from the start. The status of the medieval church composer has been likened to the modern day ladies who arrange the flowers.

 

Things did not really begin to change significantly until the nineteenth century. The British took Handel to their hearts and repeated performances of Messiah and a few other things ad nauseam, but in whatever contemporary way seemed approriate and without much commitment to historical accuracy. Wesley worked hard to promote Bach, but was happy to do so in whatever contemporary way served that end (he didn't have much choice with the organ musc, given the general lack of pedals). Here are the tentative beginnings of an awareness and respect for the past as living art rather than antiquarianism (as exhibited by the very erudite John Hawkins). But apart from Handel and Bach, what other "old" music was being revered? Not much if any. It really wasn't until the twentieth century that the musicological bandwagon really got rolling properly and finally changed the way people appreciated music so that a reverence for the past became the norm.

 

I think attitudes towards the organ need to be seen in this wider cultural context.

 

 

Yes.

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"So many organs were the victims of Edwardian vandalism, and perhaps there is the danger that the best achievements of the "neo classical" period could be treated not just with scepticism, but with downright hostility, and by a younger generation who, in claiming to be more enlightened, are possibly nothing of the sort."

 

(Quote)

 

Though many of these "achievements" were done with Gyproc plaster-plates etc, nobody

wants to touch them in Belgium.

"First protect what you do not like".

 

Pierre

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I don't think it was "quite extraordinary" at all. It was quite normal. Was what happened earlier really "respect for what had gone before" or merely inertia in the face of a relative lack of musical development - the "if it ain't bust, don't fix it" philosophy?

 

Any student of medieval music knows that there were then no classics. As soon as fashion changed existing music was discarded in favour of the new. Much of it was ephemeral from the start. The status of the medieval church composer has been likened to the modern day ladies who arrange the flowers.

 

Things did not really begin to change significantly until the nineteenth century. The British took Handel to their hearts and repeated performances of Messiah and a few other things ad nauseam, but in whatever contemporary way seemed approriate and without much commitment to historical accuracy. Wesley worked hard to promote Bach, but was happy to do so in whatever contemporary way served that end (he didn't have much choice with the organ musc, given the general lack of pedals). Here are the tentative beginnings of an awareness and respect for the past as living art rather than antiquarianism (as exhibited by the very erudite John Hawkins). But apart from Handel and Bach, what other "old" music was being revered? Not much if any. It really wasn't until the twentieth century that the musicological bandwagon really got rolling properly and finally changed the way people appreciated music so that a reverence for the past became the norm.

 

I think attitudes towards the organ need to be seen in this wider cultural context.

 

 

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

 

 

I don't see what this has to do with the abrupt change in fashion between 1900 and 1930 (or thereabouts), or the current clamour to install mock Cavaille-Coll sounds into as many new organs as possible. When I refer to "Post Classical" or to "Retrospective Romanticism," I am talking about abrupt and often misguided change, and the danger of throwing the baby out with the bath-water.

 

I'm sure the points made by "Vox" are valid ones; though even well into the 20th century I would suggest that certain historic instruments continued to be respected, as the re-build at Doncaster PC by Norman & Beard demonstrated. It was also the age (in the the 1930's) of Dolmetsch and the dawning days of early-music performance practice. Meanwhile, our transatlantic cousins were already beetling off the Germany to hear Silbermann organs, and returning home to copy the sound.

 

It seems to me that Arthur Hill did much the same as Thomas Hill or William Hill, Lewis would have continued to do what Schulze had done (if he hadn't been kicked out), Walker did what Walker always did, AND YET, there were a musical set of buffoons around who really seriously wanted the NEW sound of Hope-Jones, and for the main-stream organ-builders, that must have been a nightmare....indeed, I know that to be so.

 

MM

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"So many organs were the victims of Edwardian vandalism, and perhaps there is the danger that the best achievements of the "neo classical" period could be treated not just with scepticism, but with downright hostility, and by a younger generation who, in claiming to be more enlightened, are possibly nothing of the sort."

 

(Quote)

 

Though many of these "achievements" were done with Gyproc plaster-plates etc, nobody

wants to touch them in Belgium.

"First protect what you do not like".

 

Pierre

 

 

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

 

 

 

That's because they're too busy worrying about concrete bridges!!!!

 

 

B)

 

 

MM

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

I don't see what this has to do with the abrupt change in fashion between 1900 and 1930 (or thereabouts), or the current clamour to install mock Cavaille-Coll sounds into as many new organs as possible. When I refer to "Post Classical" or to "Retrospective Romanticism," I am talking about abrupt and often misguided change, and the danger of throwing the baby out with the bath-water.

 

MM

 

Surely that is the risk with all change. When steam trains were introduced they were seen to give swift, easy and relatively inexpensive transport compared to stage coaches, canals, or shanks' pony. When cameras wers first available they were big, expensive, cumbersome, and needed a whole range of chemicals, plates and expertise to make them work. Roll film changed all that, making it easier for all to own and use a camera, and with more general ownership came reduced price of both equipment and film. The limited number of pictures on early cameras was corrected by 35mm, taking not just 8 or 12, but 36, and in a smaller machine which could be easily carried, and whose film professional processors would print for you. Now this is also regarded as too few, as digital cameras easily hold hundreds of pictures, all of which are what you want, as failures can be deleted. No expense or material is involved printing in finding out if a picture is of use - a screen shows exactly what you have.

But.

With all change comes loss. Trains (and later motor cars) meant that the more leisurely forms of transport, especially canals, fell out of use, and a way of life died. Similarly stage coaches disappeared from our roads. Old cameras now are in museums, not in use, and to see, as one does occasionally, a 35mm camera (I sell cameras for a living) maks one realise how small, convenient and simple to use modern digital cameras are. Film to make them work is getting rarer, though, and no doubt sometime in the foreseeable future they also will be museum pieces.

 

Organs are surely the same. Father Willis was responsible for the rebuilding and destruction of many old instruments. I believe it was Samuel Wesley who wrote, regarding the Organ in Exeter cathedral before FHW rebuilt it, that 'three times the power and brilliancy is available today than from pipes voiced in John Loosemore's days', and he was right. At the time it must have seemed a revelation. Elsewhere Willis apparently 'lost' a request to retain an existing Green chorus, and replaced it with his own, new pipework. All this was far earlier than 1900. Now we look back with regret at what we call, probably correctly, vandalism. Similarly the improvements in reed voicing techniques, giving sounds which actually sounded like clarinets, oboes, trumpets and the like rather than a rasping squawk must have wonderful to hear for the first time ever. Little wonder they wanted these new ways of doing things.

 

When I learned to play, I was introduced to an Organ tutor by Walter Alcock, which included the comment that 'There can be little doubt that in recent years mixtures have become too prominent', suggesting a Dulciana Mixture instead, describing the tone as 'Silvery'. The demand then was for imitative voices, and that demand was driven by players, musicians, not builders. We now doubt their taste, but they were sincere men, and believed what they were asking for was the way forward. More recently the reaction aginst orchestral instruments led to the so-called baroque revival, resulting in instruments that future, even present generations, may come to dislike. I have a fairly recent book which I can't find at present, and whose author's name I can't remember, which remarks regarding neo-baroque Organs that 'they are not liked'. 'Was New College a good idea?' Need I say more? It seems to me that the much acclaimed virtues of a few years ago - balanced choruses, brilliant, clear mixtures, werkprinzip layouts and the rest, are being questioned and challenged today just as were Willis, Lewis, Hill and the rest challenged a hundred years ago, and they in their turn had challenged earlier ways of building Organs. This forum has asked on occasion for suggestions for stoplists for imagined instruments, and comments have often included the need for string tone. When I worked in 'the trade' strings were rare in a new Organ, apart from an occasional rather mild, full toned Salicional on the Swell, there to help fullness of 8ft tone as well as to provide string (ish) tone on its own. Beating ranks were rare.

 

Times change, ideas change, that's the result of being alive. None of which answers the question about babies and bathwater, of course. Is it a risk? Of coure. The real problem when things are changing is to know which is which. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I have no doubt that in the future some of our decisions will be regarded as unwarranted, flawed, regrettable. Which doesn't mean that we just do nothing; that is, unfortunately, rarely an option.

 

Regards to all

 

John

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Surely that is the risk with all change.

 

(snip)

 

Times change, ideas change, that's the result of being alive. None of which answers the question about babies and bathwater, of course. Is it a risk? Of coure. The real problem when things are changing is to know which is which. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I have no doubt that in the future some of our decisions will be regarded as unwarranted, flawed, regrettable. Which doesn't mean that we just do nothing; that is, unfortunately, rarely an option.

 

Regards to all

 

John

 

 

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

 

 

What a wonderful reply from John! I love it sincerely, because it avoids getting bogged down in detail. Instead, it highlights the nature of fashion and change, which will mean quite different things to different people, and in the avid pursuit of which we all probably share similar guilt. The concept of losing things in the process of change is also something which I

possibly haven't thought too much about; perhaps placing a question-mark after the words 'improvement' and 'progress.'

 

So with this in mind, I shall hesitate to use derogatory terms; especially since I so admire the best theatre organs, which really were cutting edge technology and the apogee of musical ambition in their day; containing as they did the most wonderfully imitative orchestral registers. Furthermore, the theatre organ was probably a more honest musical instrument; being described as a "Unit Orchestra" rather than as a "Grand Organ."

 

That stated, almost any musical instrument requires a specialised and specific sonority if it is to be recognisable, and the tonal parameters are therefore distinctly limited. It may be possible to produce a plastic recorder of reasonable musical quality, but the shape of the wooden instrument is what dictates the end product, and the choice between plastic and wood is only critical to those who have a significant understanding of what the best instruments sound like. To the small child, a recorder is a recorder, irrespective of what it is made from.

 

Equally, the sound of an organ only really works within very specific parameters, and once those are stretched too far, or when inconsistent elements introduced, the musical effect is proportionally less rewarding. We can hear the effects of this inconsistency in many Edwardian re-builds of Victorian-period instruments, where leathered diapasons and close-toned reeds are wedded to older pipework of quite different character. Equally, it can be heard in so many re-builds of romantic instruments, where new quasi-baroque pipework sits uncomfortably on top of smoothly voiced and heavily regulated foundation tone: no longer a complement, but more a musical carbuncle. In the former category, other topics of discussion spring to mind, such as the instrument in Manchester Town Hall, and in the latter category, the instrument of Selby Abbey as it is now.

 

If the organ is a chorus instrument, I think it would be true to suggest, that when the scaling and voicing treatment of the Great 8ft Diapason has been decided upon, the musical parameters of the whole instrument are fixed, and only certain things are then possible if the best musical-result is to be obtained. Moving outside those parameters may be the organ equivalent to calling 100 men on a stage a "Male voice choir," where half of them are Tuvan throat-singers, and the other half , Welsh tenors.

 

Some things just don't work too well!

 

Organists tend to be seduced by stop-lists; as if this or that flute, a particular type of Mixture or a French-style reed is to be preferred or not, as the case may be. However, I can think of a couple of modest two-manual instruments which I have played, with almost identical stop-lists; one by T C Lewis and the other by Abbott & Smith from the 1920's.

 

The first has that noble Anglo/German-style of sonority, whilst the second is much smoother in tone. Both are tonally excellent and musically satisfying, but what you could never do is to pluck ranks from one instrument and get them to work, as voiced, within the ensemble of the other. So perhaps it is more a question of tonal compatibility than it is a question of stop-lists, and perhaps the one striking similarity of each of these organs, is the fact that they are chorus instruments, in which each rank gels perfectly with the whole ensemble.

 

It is this sense of ensemble which separates the best work of organ-builders from all eras; whether the name on the console is that of Cliquot, Schnitger, Silbermann, Muller, Henry Willis, Skinner of Boston, Walcker, Cavaille-Coll, or something more up to date, like the magnificent organ of St.Ignatious Loyola, New York, by Mander Organs, upon which so much praise has been heaped.

 

In the memoirs of Herbert Norman are a number of very poignant observations, which start with the following statement:-

 

There are writers who like to imply that artistic endeavour in British

organ-building died in the 1880s, and that witless commercial production

largely replaced the art of organ-building; that musicians were deprived

and denied musical instruments. I deny that it was like that.

 

He goes on to describe the problems associated with working alongside consultant "professional recitalists" who often charged the organ-builder 5% of the contract price for the privilege, and further hints at the dangers of the humble workman (the organ-builder) not conforming to their wishes. Long gone were the days when someone like "Father" Willis could totally disregard the desire to retain the Samuel Green chorus in one organ, and replace them with pipes of his own!

 

Herbert Norman also describes the demand for refinement, and quotes the directions given in the pipe-shop book of the Hill company (when the two companies were amalgamated, but working seperately in the same premises), which would proscribe the Diapason tone as, " "of heavy metal and devotional tone." The pipe shop interpreted this as being largely of lead, and voiced slow!

 

Interestingly, Herbert Norman also describes his early days in the voicing-shop when he was learning the trade, where each competed with the other to copy a rank of Father Smith pipes, voiced open-foot, without nicking and made of rich pipe-material.

 

Another fascinating revelation concerns the response of organ-builders to Robert Hope-Jones, who led by Willis (I'm not sure which one), in a rare spirit of co-operation, met to discuss ways of counteracting the upstart telephone-engineer from Birkenhead. Apparently, nothing was achieved, but it does demonstrate the awareness by certain leading organ-builders of the very real, destructive influences of the Hope-Jones style.

 

Of course, we are all aware of the eventual outcome. Organ-builders such as T C Lewis being ousted as "old fashioned" (possibly among other reasons), many fine Victorian instruments ruined for all time by "tonal improvements," the evolution of the Arthur Harrison organ and the steady march towards the funereal gravity of the Edwardian instrument, in which all cursory nods in the direction of classical chorus-building were to be strongly discouraged. It was also the age of the Duesenburg and the Bentley; those monstrous accretions of all things over-weight and overtly excessive.

 

Is it any wonder, that organ-builders struggled to adapt to this new style of musical decadence, which in fairness to Arthur Harrison, was eventually resolved in favour of musicality by expert hands and a fine ear? Equally, one should never overlook the achievements of Willis; Hill, Norman & Beard, John Compton (with his effective adaptation of the Hope-Jones concept), and even lesser names such as that previously mentioned; Abbott & Smith of Leeds.

When the revolution came, it didn't exactly arrive with a whimper, as we all know, and if the Festival Hall raised the eyebrows of the establishment, the organ at New College Oxford was nothing short of astonishing; coming as it did from an English organ-builder. One suspects that the latter organ, as well as the lovely Frobenius at Queen's College, were the ones which rescued the "orgelbewebung" from an early and uncertain death in the UK.

 

I think what concerns me, is the rush to deride the classical organ format, and to retreat into some sort of cosy retrospective English romanticism. If the classical movement taught us anything at all, it reminded us that the organ is a chorus instrument, and not just a strange collection of pipes playing the occasional cameo role. This is quite a different concept to a post-classical one, which keep in mind the integrity of the whole, and the relationships of each division with the next.

 

MM

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The demand then was for imitative voices, and that demand was driven by players, musicians, not builders. We now doubt their taste, but they were sincere men, and believed what they were asking for was the way forward. More recently the reaction aginst orchestral instruments led to the so-called baroque revival, resulting in instruments that future, even present generations, may come to dislike. I have a fairly recent book which I can't find at present, and whose author's name I can't remember, which remarks regarding neo-baroque Organs that 'they are not liked'. 'Was New College a good idea?' Need I say more? It seems to me that the much acclaimed virtues of a few years ago - balanced choruses, brilliant, clear mixtures, werkprinzip layouts and the rest, are being questioned and challenged today just as were Willis, Lewis, Hill and the rest challenged a hundred years ago, and they in their turn had challenged earlier ways of building Organs.

As John suggests, the influence of players must not be underestimated.

 

In 1878 (not 1880 as given on NPOR) John Stainer inaugurated the Henry Willis organ at the Guildhall in Plymouth, the specification having been drawn up by him in consultation with Willis. Exactly how much say in it Stainer actually had I do not know, but what emerged was very similar in size and scope to what Willis subsequently did to his organ in Reading Town Hall - it was an entirely typical Willis scheme. In 1905 the borough organist, Harry Moreton, possibly in conjunction with John Hele, drew up a scheme whereby Hele would double the size of the instrument. In the event only part of this work was done, the main casualties being the upperwork on the Orchestral Organ (as the projected Echo Organ became rechristened) and the additions to the upperwork on the Great. What did go ahead were the more octopodian features, notably the provision of a new, enormous, heavy pressure Open Diapason I on the Great (Willis's stops being relegated to Open II and Open III), the replacement of Willis's Tromba with a honking great, Tuba of truly offensive scale and tone (though, surprisingly perhaps, not entirely devoid of upper partials) and the 8' and 4' stops of the Orchestral Organ (which actually had some nice sounds). Hele did some further work to the instrument in 1924, though this was mainly on the constructional side; only a few stops were added to the 1905 scheme: http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=N10581.

 

Moreton belonged to that generation that had little time for upperwork. On his private recordings on the Guildhall instrument, done in the late 1930s (which is how I have an idea of what it sounded like), it sounds as though he was using no stops on the Great above 4'. He boasted how, on the rebuilt Hele of 1941 at St Andrew's, he had had the Swell Mixture voiced down so much that it could be used with the 8' flute alone. In short, Moreton was the archetypal "orchestral" organist typical of his generation. In this he had the full connivance of John Hele, who himself was an FRCO.

 

The Rushworth and Dreaper currently at St Andrew's (the Hele having been blown up about three days after the rebuild was completed) is as much a product of Moreton's as of William Lloyd Webber's and exhibits exactly these tendencies. There are no real choruses on this instrument, despite the presence on the Great of both a Superoctave and a Fifteenth (as alike, incidentally, as two peas). The tonal concept of this organ is uncompromisingly horizontal.

 

As MM points out, against this background the classical revival came as a breath of fresh air. It is true that there has since been a reaction to it - we see it on this forum - but at the time it revolutionised the British attitude to the organ. Instead of opaque, churchy or orchestral sonorities, the organ sparkled with life, colour and clarity. This went hand-in-hand with a new attutide on the part of organists. No longer was the organ to be thought of as a one-man band - a convenient, but inevitably inferior substitute for an orchestra. We were encouraged to regard it as an instrument which was fully the equal of any other, one that had a proper repertoire of its own; it did not need to subsist on orchestral arrangements and other secondhand hand-me-downs. It was a question of musical integrity - and, for the first time in generations, the organ had it. And this new attitude achieved a reasonable degree of recognition. I feel sure that this is at least partly why the RFH recitals back in the 60s were viable. Heavens, in those days, even BBC took the instrument seriously with regular recitals broadcast on the "Third Programme".

 

Now the pedulum has swung again. With a few notable exceptions the current generation is again beguiled by the love of sonority for its own sake and the one-man-band aesthetic. Orchestral arrangements are again in vogue. Joe Public seems not to mind this in the least, but does it help the organ's cause in the eyes of other musicians? Have we thrown away what we gained in the 60s? I don't know, but I do wonder.

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... When cameras wers first available they were big, expensive, cumbersome ...

 

Like 'Gatso' traffic enforcement cameras, you mean?

 

... Organs are surely the same. Father Willis was responsible for the rebuilding and destruction of many old instruments. I

.believe it was Samuel Wesley who wrote, regarding the Organ in Exeter cathedral before FHW rebuilt it, that 'three times the power and brilliancy is available today than from pipes voiced in John Loosemore's days', and he was right. ...

 

Absolutely - cited in the monograph The Organs and Organists of Exeter Cathedral, by Betty Matthews, page 12. (The quote is slightly different, but the substance is essentially the same.)

 

... At the time it must have seemed a revelation. Elsewhere Willis apparently 'lost' a request to retain an existing Green chorus, and replaced it with his own, new pipework. ...

 

This was Wells Cathedral; Sir F.A. G. Ouseley entreated FHW to retain the Samuel Green pipe-work and voicing. As you suggest, Willis contrived to 'mislay' the letter containing this request.

 

... When I learned to play, I was introduced to an Organ tutor by Walter Alcock, which included the comment that 'There can be little doubt that in recent years mixtures have become too prominent', suggesting a Dulciana Mixture instead, describing the tone as 'Silvery'. ...

 

Which makes it all the more surprising (but heartening) that he did not have the choruses on the organ of Salisbury Cathedral revoiced (or the upper-work replaced with additional 8p ranks) at the time of the rebuild in 1934.

 

The demand then was for imitative voices, and that demand was driven by players, musicians, not builders. We now doubt their taste, but they were sincere men, and believed what they were asking for was the way forward. More recently the reaction aginst orchestral instruments led to the so-called baroque revival, resulting in instruments that future, even present generations, may come to dislike. I have a fairly recent book which I can't find at present, and whose author's name I can't remember, which remarks regarding neo-baroque Organs that 'they are not liked'. 'Was New College a good idea?' Need I say more? It seems to me that the much acclaimed virtues of a few years ago - balanced choruses, brilliant, clear mixtures, werkprinzip layouts and the rest, are being questioned and challenged today just as were Willis, Lewis, Hill and the rest challenged a hundred years ago, and they in their turn had challenged earlier ways of building Organs. This forum has asked on occasion for suggestions for stoplists for imagined instruments, and comments have often included the need for string tone. When I worked in 'the trade' strings were rare in a new Organ, apart from an occasional rather mild, full toned Salicional on the Swell, there to help fullness of 8ft tone as well as to provide string (ish) tone on its own. Beating ranks were rare.

 

This is a shame - undulants and mild strings are so useful in providing that slightly-indefinable quality - 'atmosphere' - for example, at the end of the administraton of the elements at mass. A chiffing Gedeckt just does not do it for me.

 

Times change, ideas change, that's the result of being alive. None of which answers the question about babies and bathwater, of course. Is it a risk? Of coure. The real problem when things are changing is to know which is which. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I have no doubt that in the future some of our decisions will be regarded as unwarranted, flawed, regrettable. Which doesn't mean that we just do nothing; that is, unfortunately, rarely an option.

 

Regards to all

 

John

 

The matter is a vexed question - had there been no changes to organ design, for the most part, we would have been left with small two-clavier instruments, utterly unsuitable for the type of work which organs are expected to perform in most of our cathedrals, for example.

 

It is probably impossible to answer.

 

Yes, we have lost some treasures - we will never know exactly how the organ of Wells Cathedral sounded prior to 1857. However, when Green 'completely repaired and enlarged' the instrument in 1786, it is highly likely that he erased much of the work of Thomas Schwarbrook, completed in 1728, (or 'Swarbrick') before him.

 

It is easy to regret the 'orchestralisation' of many British organs in the first half of the twentieth century. Yet, without this, there would probably have been no Baroque revival. A strong reaction is normally a response to an extreme - and itself, is likely to be a severe reflex.

 

It is also a simple matter to lament many of the changes which were instigated by our antecedents; for example, heavy-pressure, opaque reeds or the wholesale suppression of upper-work. However, I suspect that it is true to suggest that, were it not for these instruments provoking a sharp reaction (together with the advent of 'affordable' air travel and a wider historical knowledge of foreign instruments) I doubt that the organ of Wimborne Minster would afford me quite as much pleasure to play.

 

It is perhaps interesting - but not necessarily profitable - to contemplate what the British organ may look (and sound) like in the twenty-first century, without the intrusion of Hope-Jones, or the amateur interposition of Lt. Col. George Dixon. For my money, I am convinced that the type of instrument which was being designed and voiced by William Hill & Son, from about 1880 (William died in 1870) through to around the turn of the century, arguably repersents a more pure ideal. Well-designed choruses were retained, with musical yet lively reeds. These organs also possessed a good number of flutes and mild strings of great beauty - and quiet imitative reeds which, whilst perhaps never equalling the quality of those of Henry Willis II, were nevertheless beautiful.

 

It is heartening to see the enlightened and respectful way in which our own hosts have approached the restoration of several of Hill's instruments. Chichester Cathedral, Birmingham Town Hall and Eton College Chapel are three examples which immediately spring to mind.

 

I recently purchased a recording of the organ of Sydney Town Hall. Aside from the startling discovery of Tuba stops which I actually like, this instrument seems to me to embody all that was (and is) good of British organ building - and virtually nothing that is bad or unmusical.

 

I can think of no higher or more apposite accolade.

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page 12. (The quote is slightly different, but the substance is essentially the same.)[/font]

 

Thanks for that - I can't find my booklet on the Exeter job and was working from memory.

 

This was Wells Cathedral; Sir F.A. G. Ouseley entreated FHW to retain the Samuel Green pipe-work and voicing. As you suggest, Willis contrived to 'mislay' the letter containing this request.

 

And for this - I couldn't remember which Organ was involved.

 

This is a shame - undulants and mild strings are so useful in providing that slightly-indefinable quality - 'atmosphere' - for example, at the end of the administraton of the elements at mass. A chiffing Gedeckt just does not do it for me.

 

I didn't say I liked it! I agree entirely. There was usually a gentle tremulant, though, which was intended to provide a somewhat similar effect.

 

Regards to all

 

John.

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In 1878 (not 1880 as given on NPOR) John Stainer inaugurated the Henry Willis organ at the Guildhall in Plymouth, the specification having been drawn up by him in consultation with Willis. Exactly how much say in it Stainer actually had I do not know, but what emerged was very similar in size and scope to what Willis subsequently did to his organ in Reading Town Hall - it was an entirely typical Willis scheme.

Now is this spooky or what?

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