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Ian Ball

Colston Hall

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Have just spent a happy 2 hours registering Saint-Saens and Wagner on Bristol's Colston Hall organ: Solo strings 16, 8, 8, 8, 4, Cornet des Violes; French Horn; seering hot Orchestral Trumpet; subs and supers galore; Open Woods you can actually use, 32' reed to die for...sheer bliss. Took me right back to my postgrad year at Manchester Cathedral - surely this is the sister organ, but with a much finer/bigger Great chorus. Shame about the 16, 8, 4 Trombas tho :blink: - not on a par with Redcliffe. Perhaps the pressure's too low? On top of full Gt & Sw choruses it's just like adding a cloying leathered diapason. Good on their own but pretty useless otherwise. Better to use the Solo Orch Trumpet with sub & super as Gt reeds - awesome - and a perfect balance for the mixtures.

 

Shame too about the console - battered, scratched and unloved. Must be worth at least £40K alone? If this were in Germany or the US, it would have a padded cover and be treated with as much respect as a concert Steinway.

 

Anyway, if anyone's about: Sept 25th - featuring members of Bristol & District Organists Association; 7.30pm; FREE admission. This organ deserves wider attention! :unsure:

 

Ian

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You can also have a go yourself - ring the hall and they will usually oblige if the console is out of it's cupboard and nothing else is going on at the time. I was surprised how 'modern' bits of it sounded and as Ian Ball writes above - combined with chunks of sonic material straight from Ely Cathedral (pre Wills/Clutton) and Redcliffe.

 

AJJ

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I remember playing in part of a composite recital a few or more years back on this instrument. I enjoyed playing it very much and I remember the piston setting to be of the ON NEUTRAL and OFF position, in a cupboard by the stage. I can't remember the overall sound of the instrument only that a friend of mine looks after the organ. I suppose it's a Harrison of it's time going by Mr. Balls observations. St Mary Red is a different organ. Still prefer Coventry Cathedral Organ though! p.s. Isn't the C-Hall going to go under major restoration at some point? p.p.s Birmingham Town Hall opens in October!

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I went to this concert on Tuesday and congratulations to all concerned especially the Bristol & District Organists Association (BDOA) for trying to keep this instrument going. I had not heard it for 40+ years and forgotten how magnificent and colourful it is. As Ian says in his original post - great flue choruses, strings galore, orchestral voices etc. Both console and hall are however looking a bit worse for wear.

 

It was an excellent evening all round. Without denigrating the other performers who showed off mainly the choruses, Ian Ball lifted the programme to a new level by demontrating the orchestral side of the instrument in the Wagner/Lemare transcription of the Liebstod from Tristan and Isolde and then gave a stunning performance of the final movement of Symphony 3 Saint-Saens, arr Briggs, both of which put the recently installed 'capture' system (as I understand it partly funded by BDOA) to full use.

 

I gather this is an annual event run by BDOA providing a rare outing for this magnificent instrument.

 

I also went and heard great performances of Stanford and Elgar played by Paul Walton in Bristol Cathedral at lunchtime that fitted the organ like a glove, and the cathedral choir singing Sumsion and Bainton at evensong. Quite a day!

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From the priory CD specs. I have, the Great reeds at Colston Hall are on 9", whereas Redcliffes are on 12" and the Colston Solo Trumpet and Tromba are on 15" the same as the Redcliffe Tuba. The acoustics of the Hall are not as good as those of St Mary Redcliffe as far as getting the most out of a reed pipe is concerned.

 

Another point I find interesting about Colston (H & H 1956) is that the mixtures nearly all contain a 17th, partly the reason why this organ has such a refreshing sound (others may use other adjectives). I realise that H & H often used a 17th in what they called their 'Harmonics' during the first half of the 20th century, but usually all their stops called 'Mixture' were made up of unison and fifth sounding ranks only. None of the Colston stops bear the name 'Harmonics', but I'm willing to accept that the Priory booklet may have a few misprints. However, the usual 'Harmonics' tends to have a flattened 21st as well as a 17th: a tuner's nightmare I would have thought!

 

There were two consultants according to the NPOR listing: H.K. Andrews and W.K. Stanton. Most probably at least one of these gentlemen was, or had been, the organist and had fond memories of the tierce mixtures from the pre war-organ by Henry Willis & Sons. Just to add confusion to the plot, in his 1936 tonal scheme at Colston, Willis (III?) called a three rank pedal mixture 'Harmonics'. And I thought this was just a H & H characteristic.

 

Cuthbert Harrison may have agreed with the two consultants on having the tierce mixtures, or may well have 'given in to pressure' whilst still recovering from his experience of working with Dr Downes. There is an interesting essay by Mark Venning in the BIOS Journal no. 23 which illustrates the 'Great Adventure' as Cuthbert called it, and is well worth reading (again). I'll quote my favourite bit, as it sheds a little more light on the two contrasting personalities and could act as a gentle warning to keen consultants, dopey or otherwise:

 

In Cuthbert Harrison's reply to Ralph Downes of the 15th September 1952:

 

"I do not know where to turn. I have your letters of September 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th, and your postcard of the 14th in front of me, and if I fail to answer anything to which you want a 'detailed' reply, I think you had better send me a questionnaire which I can answer in words of one syllable."

 

Sorry to have drifted off topic slightly. Also, perhaps the subject of tierce mixtures should belong in the nuts and bolts section.

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Guest Cynic
From the priory CD specs. I have, the Great reeds at Colston Hall are on 9", whereas Redcliffes are on 12" and the Colston Solo Trumpet and Tromba are on 15" the same as the Redcliffe Tuba. The acoustics of the Hall are not as good as those of St Mary Redcliffe as far as getting the most out of a reed pipe is concerned.

 

Another point I find interesting about Colston (H & H 1956) is that the mixtures nearly all contain a 17th, partly the reason why this organ has such a refreshing sound (others may use other adjectives). I realise that H & H often used a 17th in what they called their 'Harmonics' during the first half of the 20th century, but usually all their stops called 'Mixture' were made up of unison and fifth sounding ranks only. None of the Colston stops bear the name 'Harmonics', but I'm willing to accept that the Priory booklet may have a few misprints. However, the usual 'Harmonics' tends to have a flattened 21st as well as a 17th: a tuner's nightmare I would have thought!

 

There were two consultants according to the NPOR listing: H.K. Andrews and W.K. Stanton. Most probably at least one of these gentlemen was, or had been, the organist and had fond memories of the tierce mixtures from the pre war-organ by Henry Willis & Sons. Just to add confusion to the plot, in his 1936 tonal scheme at Colston, Willis (III?) called a three rank pedal mixture 'Harmonics'. And I thought this was just a H & H characteristic.

 

Cuthbert Harrison may have agreed with the two consultants on having the tierce mixtures, or may well have 'given in to pressure' whilst still recovering from his experience of working with Dr Downes. There is an interesting essay by Mark Venning in the BIOS Journal no. 23 which illustrates the 'Great Adventure' as Cuthbert called it, and is well worth reading (again). I'll quote my favourite bit, as it sheds a little more light on the two contrasting personalities and could act as a gentle warning to keen consultants, dopey or otherwise:

 

In Cuthbert Harrison's reply to Ralph Downes of the 15th September 1952:

 

"I do not know where to turn. I have your letters of September 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th, and your postcard of the 14th in front of me, and if I fail to answer anything to which you want a 'detailed' reply, I think you had better send me a questionnaire which I can answer in words of one syllable."

 

Sorry to have drifted off topic slightly. Also, perhaps the subject of tierce mixtures should belong in the nuts and bolts section.

 

An interesting post, thanks for this.

 

As I understand it,the two major organs built immediately after the RFH were regarded by the firm as 'anti-Downes organs'. The Colston Hall is one, Harrow School Speech Room is the other. They were anxious to prove that they were still capable of the results which customers had been accumstomed to expect. Bear in mind that the RFH caused an immediate furore when opened - not all Downes' fault, of course, but certainly not H&H's. They had gone out on an incredible limb, and been put to trouble and anxiety like no organ they had built before. I wouldn't be surprised if they had lost money on it too, because Downes' methods took a great deal longer to execute than those they were used to.

 

You ask about Tierces and the designers. I know little about W.K.Stanton, except that I believe he was on the staff of Bristol University at the time. H.K.Andrews was (at the time) organist of New College, Oxford - an organ where all three Mixtures contained Tierces (A Father Willis rebuilt by Rushworth and Dreaper). He also designed (some years later) the H&H organ of Trinity College Oxford. I played it while it was as he wanted it and enjoyed it very much, though it was both gentler and smoother-toned in several respects then than it is now. For instance, his Great did not have a mixture and there's an H&H IV-ranker there now.

 

I can't resist adding a (I swear 100% true) 'gory story'. At the time of the Trinity organ's installation, I was a pupil at New College School and such an organ story could not be suppressed or be ignored when heard! Dr.Andrews played for the organ's inauguration and promptly died at the console (a nice way to go). However, the spiral staircase proved so tight that in order to remove him from the gallery, they eventually solved the problem by dropping the dead body over the gallery into a blanket.

 

 

[P.S. Cheeky to say so, I know, but I have worked with Priory: As a general rule, I would not put too much faith in any of the information contained in their booklets.] ;)

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There were two consultants according to the NPOR listing: H.K. Andrews and W.K. Stanton. Most probably at least one of these gentlemen was, or had been, the organist

I don't know if he was the resident organist, but Walter Stanton was Willis Grant's predecessor as Prof of Music at the University. Wasn't Ken Andrews at Oxford? (New College?)

 

EDIT: Sorry, I responded too soon, before reading Cynic's post!

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By way of contrast to the recent thinking at the Manchester Town Hall, it's very heartening to see that the authorities at the Colston Hall are taking a far more enlightened approach. I don't think this has been mentioned on this board yet (apologies if I've missed it) but the rather wonderful Harrison and Harrison concert organ there has been removed and is being refurbished by its makers in time for the hall's re-opening in 2020.

Although I've not seen this on Harrison's own website yet, it's mentioned on the Colston Hall website - https://www.colstonhall.org/about-us/organ/ - where there's a rather fun video giving the organ some well-deserved publicity.

According to the local media, the cost of this work is £1million, so a major chunk of cash by anyone's reckoning. It's great that the hall authorities are prepared to invest so much to keep an important part of Bristol's musical heritage alive.

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Excellent!  A really fine organ.  I remember playing it from time to time when I was a student, and demonstrating it to the Organ Club.  On that occasion, the last player had been Carlo Curley and the piston settings were, to put it mildly, surprising.

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The Colston Hall organ continues to have a loyal following in the city and its surrounds. The authorities are happy for people to play when convenient and the local organists’ association holds regular events there. It will be interesting to see how things pan out with the hall developments, certainly the foyer extension is a lovely venue already.

A

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I also read somewhere that they were thinking of changing the name of the hall as it is connected with the slave trade?

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Us Bristolians (even naturalised ones like me) know a thing or two about the slave trade, as it's always been taught in schools regardless of any other curriculum requirements. Edward Colston, after whom the hall was originally named, made a lot of money in trade including slaves, and was a great philanthropist to the city of Bristol - something which by the standards of the day was held to be admirable. However, those standards have changed. There have long been voices advocating the removal of various memorials to Colston. However, for me the Colston Hall name change is much less problematic as it was not founded or endowed by him but merely named after him, something that can easily be changed to reflect and strengthen the hall's quite remarkable history and role at the centre of so many public activities in Bristol. I have been to pop concerts, classical concerts, noisy school activities, lectures on science and engineering, particularly the wonderful Faraday Lectures for schools given by my engineering institution, the IEE, now IET - but I have never heard the organ! Fascinating to learn that the hall makes the organ available in an apparently very accommodating and reasonable manner to those who wish to have a go in a responsible manner.

Sorry if this is a bit tangential to organs, but organophiles are inevitably part-time historians!

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38 minutes ago, Damian Beasley-Suffolk said:

Us Bristolians (even naturalised ones like me) know a thing or two about the slave trade, as it's always been taught in schools regardless of any other curriculum requirements. Edward Colston, after whom the hall was originally named, made a lot of money in trade including slaves, and was a great philanthropist to the city of Bristol - something which by the standards of the day was held to be admirable. However, those standards have changed. There have long been voices advocating the removal of various memorials to Colston. However, for me the Colston Hall name change is much less problematic as it was not founded or endowed by him but merely named after him, something that can easily be changed to reflect and strengthen the hall's quite remarkable history and role at the centre of so many public activities in Bristol. I have been to pop concerts, classical concerts, noisy school activities, lectures on science and engineering, particularly the wonderful Faraday Lectures for schools given by my engineering institution, the IEE, now IET - but I have never heard the organ! Fascinating to learn that the hall makes the organ available in an apparently very accommodating and reasonable manner to those who wish to have a go in a responsible manner.

Informative and thoughtful comments, Damian. I would be against changing a name just for change’s sake but I would support a name-change for Colston Hall. It is a fine building and I played there in a tremendous concert that marked the end of an extended education project by the English Chamber Orchestra in schools in the more deprived areas of Bristol featuring hundreds of local school children. Sadly we didn’t use the organ on that occasion either!

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