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Vox Humana


father-willis

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I know we all love drawing up fantastical specifications of new organs "when we win the lottery", or when contemplating a-far, far off-rebuild of our day-to-day intruments adding as much as possible, mixing actions and including echo divisions away in lofty towers...or is that just me?! But even with serious thoughts of rebuild/restoration often a good many stops seem to almost place themsleves in the correct division. One that has puzzled me for some time though is the once so un/popular Vox Humana.

 

If dealing with a 2man instrument then it really must go on the swell (and we're talking romantic voxs here not baroque/classical where they may well be on the gt/ch).

 

On a 3 man there come some alternatives: on the swell, on the choir-being totally enclosed, or on the ch enclosed perhaps with a clarinet or just on its own.

 

On 4 mans there seems to be less agreement. The sw is a popular destination for voxs, but they are often also on the solo, enclosed totally, with a few or on its own (eg the voix humaine enclosed alone on the solo of the Grove organ in Tewkesbury Abbey). There also seems to be no rule governing their placement by the same builder eg Father Willis places them in swells and on solos (Truro, Exeter).

 

So what would you do? Where would you like your Vox Humana (on 2, 3 and 4 man schemes) and why?

 

Cameron.

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Guest Barry Williams

The recognition of the Vox Humana as an important tone, essential in much for the repertoire, is long over due. Thank you for raising the matter. For a great deal of 'romantic' French organ music it is a sine qua non.

 

I prefer the Vox Humana to be on the Swell. There are some instruments where the Vox Humana is in a Swell box inside the main Swell box, though I have never seen such an arrangment.

 

I have heard that a Vox Humana is to be installed at Godalming Parish Church later this year.

 

Barry Williams

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Guest Cynic
The recognition of the Vox Humana as an important tone, essential in much for the repertoire, is long over due. Thank you for raising the matter. For a great deal of 'romantic' French organ music it is a sine qua non.

 

I prefer the Vox Humana to be on the Swell. There are some instruments where the Vox Humana is in a Swell box inside the main Swell box, though I have never seen such an arrangment.

 

I have heard that a Vox Humana is to be installed at Godalming Parish Church later this year.

 

Barry Williams

 

 

I agree with Barry. Based on the repertoire I actually play than needs a Vox H, (Franck, 'sub Franck' and Lemare) the Swell is the place for it to go.

Of course on a large organ one can couple the thing wherever it is. Mind you, one wants it to swell up or down and wobble in time with the rest of the accompanimental sounds you have drawn.

 

In Theatre Organ Repertoire it needs to be with accompaniment too - in this case, lowest manual (I believe).

 

Although these stops are being specified a deal more regularly than they used to be, I rarely hear them actually used. This reflects their traditional weakness at staying in tune. The best new Vox Humana I know, without any doubt whatsoever, is that provided (on the Choir manual) by Nicholsons for Paul Hale's very clever Screen organ at Southwell Minster. In addition to carrying well, and staying in tune this has real solo qualities, rare in VHs.

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I rarely hear them actually used. This reflects their traditional weakness at staying in tune.

 

This would be the great advantage then of an electronic one - and I understand that in combination organs it is possible to fix the electronic voices to stay in tune with the pipework.

 

In fact I think someone else previously said that obviously a considerable saving on tuning fees would be obtained if all the reeds were electronic.

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Exactly like the Voix céleste is a reminder of the italian classic organ,

the Vox humana is a "survivor".

When towards the beginning of the 18th century, the "Schnarrwerk", i.e.

the short-bodied "Regal" family of reed stops, commenced to dissepear in

southern and central germany -leaving the organs nearly reed-less-, because

they did not go well with the new, italian-derived soft flue stops, one did stay,

though, in the specifications: our Vox!

The Voix humaine was, at the same time, the only Regal known to the french organ.

(Always on the Grand-orgue, but sometimes with a second one on a secondary manual).

The Regal family continued to be prised in northern Germany up to the arrival of

the Kratzenstein's free reeds (end of the 18th century), and in Spain/Portugal.

 

The problem of the Vox humana, as a Regal, is to have it blend with the others stops,

which was done during the romantic period by:

 

-Having it, of course, in the Swell. Sometimes even two times enclosed (a second box in the box)

 

-Leathering of the resonators.

 

-Very little openings of the resonators.

 

As far as modern organs are concerned, now, I would try to have it in a FERNWERK, that is,

a secondary division intended for soft, aethereal, mysterious effects, placed in another part

of the building than the main instrument.

The more the Vox is far away from the listeners, the better it is!

 

Pierre

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Guest Cynic
This would be the great advantage then of an electronic one - and I understand that in combination organs it is possible to fix the electronic voices to stay in tune with the pipework.

 

In fact I think someone else previously said that obviously a considerable saving on tuning fees would be obtained if all the reeds were electronic.

 

 

And to extend that argument, chefs would do better always to use powdered eggs and milk since neither of these could contain harmful bacteria.

Come on!!! For anyone to seriously suggest that an electronic reed is preferable to a real one.....sorry but IMHO this standpoint has totally lost it!

 

Electronic organs are getting better, electronic sounds can be entrancing but neither are real sounds in the way that any conventional instrument or the human voice make musical sounds. Their sound is not 'in the room'; it is pushed into the room via loudspeakers. Electronic organs are in many cases a very acceptable replacement/substitute for the real thing however they are not themselves the real thing.

 

Would you go to a theatre to watch a computer generated performance? Would you be happy for opera companies to use backing tapes as some Musicals have done? Would you treat your honoured guest to alcohol-free wines and lagers and pretend that these are the real thing? They are a damn sight closer to real drinks than electronic sounds are to pipes. This is not margerine and butter, this is someone advising us that we would be better off substituting engine oil for either.

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I think not.

 

Barry Williams

 

Maybe I have a bad memory - when I went to the Jennifer Bate recital at Godalming - after the organ had been restored about 18 mths ago - I seem to remember that an electronic 32 pedal reed had been included - and the Vox Humana was announced as to be installed shortly - I thought that this too would be electronic.

 

I used to practice there between 1973 and 1980 so I should have been paying more than a casual interest.

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Guest Barry Williams
Maybe I have a bad memory - when I went to the Jennifer Bate recital at Godalming - after the organ had been restored about 18 mths ago - I seem to remember that an electronic 32 pedal reed had been included - and the Vox Humana was announced as to be installed shortly - I thought that this too would be electronic.

 

I used to practice there between 1973 and 1980 so I should have been paying more than a casual interest.

 

 

I have just (literally three minutes ago) checked with the mananging director of F H Browne & Sons Limited, which company has been asked to install the said Vox Humana. I was assured that it is the intention to install pipes, not an electronic imitation.

 

Barry Williams

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I have just (literally three minutes ago) checked with the mananging director of F H Browne & Sons Limited, which company has been asked to install the said Vox Humana. I was assured that it is the intention to install pipes, not an electronic imitation.

 

Barry Williams

 

Thanks - my mistake :mellow:

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This would be the great advantage then of an electronic one - and I understand that in combination organs it is possible to fix the electronic voices to stay in tune with the pipework.

 

In fact I think someone else previously said that obviously a considerable saving on tuning fees would be obtained if all the reeds were electronic.

 

Hi

 

The tracking of pipe pitch incombination organs is not yet really accurate. I've been to presentations by Peter & Lucy Comerford (designers of the Bradford organ) and also played their combination organ in Addingham Parish Church. Although you can use a sensor to track temperature (and hence adjust the pitch of the electronics) it's actually not that straightforward - for example - where do you measure the temperature? Ambient in the room, in the swell box, incoming air to the blower, etc? These can all be different - sometimes by a significant amount. And that's before you even think about tracking departments in different places within a building (e.g. Werkprincipal layouts where departments are at different levels - hbot air rises!

 

I was shown how to clean and tune reed pipes (by one of Nicholson's tuners) many years ago - it's really not that difficult to do yourself - and many organists expect to tune their own reeds.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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And to extend that argument, chefs would do better always to use powdered eggs and milk since neither of these could contain harmful bacteria.

Come on!!! For anyone to seriously suggest that an electronic reed is preferable to a real one.....sorry but IMHO this standpoint has totally lost it!

 

Electronic organs are getting better, electronic sounds can be entrancing but neither are real sounds in the way that any conventional instrument or the human voice make musical sounds. Their sound is not 'in the room'; it is pushed into the room via loudspeakers. Electronic organs are in many cases a very acceptable replacement/substitute for the real thing however they are not themselves the real thing.

 

Would you go to a theatre to watch a computer generated performance? Would you be happy for opera companies to use backing tapes as some Musicals have done? Would you treat your honoured guest to alcohol-free wines and lagers and pretend that these are the real thing? They are a damn sight closer to real drinks than electronic sounds are to pipes. This is not margerine and butter, this is someone advising us that we would be better off substituting engine oil for either.

 

The best use of electronics in pipe organs is, of course, in supplying the lower frequencies on the pedal organ where speakers take considerably less room than ranks of large pipes, cost less to install, and where tuning difficulties are unnoticable in normal playing. An organ local to me has had several electronic pedal "ranks" installed as there was not room to use pipes to supplement a scheme which was deficient in 16' tone. These are not only very useful registers, but are indistinguishable from pipes. In fact, no visiting organist has ever realized that they are electronic stops even when tried individually, nor has anyone been able to discover where on a certain rank electronics take over from pipes when challenged to do so.

 

To my ears, it's when electronic ranks are used at higher pitches in pipe organs that blend becomes problematic. But I'd be delighted to be proved wrong!

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I love a good Vox Humana; but therein lies a question as to why so many Vox Humanas are horrible beyond belief.

 

I love the old baroque ones I've come across in Holland, but they are quite different to the ones we are considering here.

 

I played a romantic/late romantic hybriod Harrison, of which the Vox Humana was possibly the worst I ever heard

 

Then I knew an organ with a Vox Humana which had very dubious musical qualities, but which was superb for playing "The mosquito parade"

 

Very close to me is a Laycock & Bannister organ with a Swell Vox Humana, and as I have said to the Rev Tony Newham, it is utterely remarkable. Laycock & Bannister in their glory years were never noted for the outstanding tonal-quality, though they were typical enough of many provincial builders of the day. This particular Vox Humana is just magical, and on reading various inscriptions in the church, (carved in wood and stone for all to see), this rank was added at a later date, at the phenomenal cost of £100, when whole organs were being built for about £400 or so.

 

This addition happens to co-incide with the building of the organ at Heaton Baptist Church, Bradford, where Tony is minister, but where the old church and organ have since gone.That particular instrument had french reeds by Cavaille-Coll, it is believed.

 

So this solitary Vox Humana near to my home, could well be something quite special, and it certainly sounds to be of the highest quality. My instinct points towards Cavaille-Coll, but I cannot know for certain.

 

As for cinema-organ Vox Humanas, they don't come much better when the name on the music-desk is that of Wurlitzer.

 

David Coram qould probably like the description of the cinema organ Vox Humana given by Gerald Moore, (briefly a cinema organist) , in his biography, "Am I too loud?"

 

In referring to the stop, he let fly the following:-

 

"The best stop of all on this sordid box of tricks was the Vox Humana, which in combination with the Tremulant, produced a sound rather like the bleatings of a flock of sheep. .....you couldn't go wrong with the Tremulant and the Vox Humana!"

 

Then of course, there are those beautiful vintage Fr Willis Vox Humanas; and especially those with the pear-shaped resonators. I believe there is such a rank at St.Paul's Cathedral, and there is certainly one at St.Augustine's, Kilburn.

 

Now if people must install Vox Humanas, then the Cavaille-Coll, Wurlitzer and Fr Willis ones are the best, unless of course, you've stumbled across one of the excellent Norman & Beard Vox Humanas. So perhaps we should make an appeal for GOOD Vox Humanas!

 

Where to put them?

 

I could be rude, but a GOOD Vox should probably be on the Swell, unless it's a theatre organ, in which case it appears on every manual.

 

MM

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"Where to put them?"

(Quote)

 

As I said: remote, the most remote possible from the hearers.

In a box, or in a box inside the box, in the bottom of the building.

Then the harsh uneven harmonics (the buzz) will be subdued

enough to be engulfed in a whole harmony of the spheres.

 

Pierre

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OK, Pierre doesn't like Voces Humanae. We have to disregard his view in this matter. :mellow: Sorry, Piere.

 

I'd have to say that in Holland in April we didn't come across a single Vox Humana that was in a fit state to play. Which is unfortunate, because I had reserved Alain's Ballad en Mode Phrygien for such an instrument. But a superbly scratchy string stop came to the rescue of the scrumptious middle section in the Nieuwe Kerk at Delft. It was so laid back it could scarcely be bothered to speak.

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Not merely a beautiful Vox Humana, but fine playing, exquisite phrasing and a very elegant technique.

 

Barry Williams

I totally agree. In another of my silly questions, does everyone else move the bottom line of the left hand, in the opening of this Choral, into the pedal or do they struggle like me with what is on the printed page?

JC

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Guest Barry Williams
I totally agree. In another of my silly questions, does everyone else move the bottom line of the left hand, in the opening of this Choral, into the pedal or do they struggle like me with what is on the printed page?

JC

 

As in so much of Cesar Franck's music, a huge span is needed. I always use the pedals with only the pedal coupler drawn, notwithstanding the fact that I can stretch a tenth with each hand. I cannot see the point in struggling and possibly producing a less than perfect result, merely because of the original layout. Cesar Franck had huge hands.

 

Barry Williams

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As in so much of Cesar Franck's music, a huge span is needed. I always use the pedals with only the pedal coupler drawn, notwithstanding the fact that I can stretch a tenth with each hand. I cannot see the point in struggling and possibly producing a less than perfect result, merely because of the original layout. Cesar Franck had huge hands.

 

Barry Williams

 

It's actually laid out (for convenience) as a pedal line in the Dupre Edition - one wouldn't want to argue that that's not a sensible plan.

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Guest Barry Williams
It's actually laid out (for convenience) as a pedal line in the Dupre Edition - one wouldn't want to argue that that's not a sensible plan.

 

 

Yes. I also play from the Dupre edition but many people think these scores are 'inappropriate' or 'inaccurate'. In my experience the fingering, footing and layout is excellent.

 

I tried it 'hands only' after your post and found it extremely difficult. (I can stretch a tenth comfortably.)

 

Barry Williams

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Not merely a beautiful Vox Humana, but fine playing, exquisite phrasing and a very elegant technique.

 

Barry Williams

 

The playing is fine - but I find this Vox Humana to be too quiet - and lacking the 'edge' which I would desire when playing this piece. It is more the type of stop which I would associate with a cinema organ. The foundations also appear to lack 'bloom' and that slight aural transparency which is so apparent on the genuine 'French Four.'

 

To be honest, I prefer the recording which Maurice Clerc made at S. Sernin, Toulouse.

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