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Could Ralph Downes Be Described As A Dopey Berk?

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I tend to think 'process' and 'product' regarding RD - ultimately he was after the music to be realised in its most effective form. As a teacher and performer the results were obvious however when applying the process/product idea to the instruments he designed there seems a less clear sense of process. Instruments such as that at the London Oratory are indeed effective - one only has to listen to music played on them by sympathetic players to hear this (and the huge acoustic helps a great deal). However the manner by which they were 'arrived at' on occasions seemed to be decidedly experimental with the well known differences with organ builders etc. and on a recent visit to Buckfast Abbey the organ left me with a distinct feeling of having something missing tonally.

I once (as a teenager) sat for a couple of hours listening to him rehearsing for a recital after which he actually returned the fee because he felt that his playing was not up to standard. In my opinion the playing was first rate! I had dealings personally with him only once but when I did he gave me time and help that he did not have to give and he certainly came over as a man of great sincerity and consideration - a bit of a dogged perfectionist perhaps too but certainly no fool!

 

AJJ

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You can describe anyone as a dopey berk if you want. No doubt Albert Schweitzer and Virgil Fox are dopey berks to some. It's also very easy for someone to become a dopey berk with the benefit of hindsight, even though they apparently were not when they were alive.

 

I am, of course, a dopey berk, but am I worried?

 

I never knew Ralph Downes, though I saw him around enough when I was at the RCM. He seemed to pick up all the best pupils - or quite likely they picked him. As a sought-after teacher at the cutting edge of organ design he was the man of the moment. Charletan or not, that's some achievement for a dopey berk. As far as I could tell his pupils seemed to regard him highly too - there must surely be some who read this forum; maybe they can flesh this out a bit.

 

That said, I never enjoyed listening to his playing. It was rhythmically too wayward for me and just sounded insecure. This sort of thing is always subjective and personal of course, but I always felt he was relying on the listener to feel the living expression in the notes that would make sense of his rubato. With orchestral instruments this might have worked, but with the "flat" tone of organ pipes it just didn't. Rubato on the organ needs to be so carefully judged. But Downes was, and is, by no means alone in this respect.

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Guest Barry Williams

The term 'dopey berk' seems discourteous about one who appeared to be sincere. The distinctly weird results of his organ advising and design suggest something wrong somewhere. As I have indicated elsewhere on this forum, it is known that his hearing was seriously awry. I cannot help but feel that he was aiming at producing an effect that had never been acheived before. It is very sad that we still have to listen to such awful instruments. However, he is not the only 'organ adviser/consultant' whose work is regrettable.

 

Barry Williams

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It is very sad that we still have to listen to such awful instruments.

 

Barry Williams

 

I can think of quite a few others that this might apply to also!

 

AJJ

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"Awful" instruments? Is that not also discourteous? It is a long, long time since I heard Brompton Oratory, but it never struck me as awful. Actually my memory is of some rather fine sounds. Gloucester may be awful for accompanying Anglican choral music, but that does not make it an awful instrument per se, which it patently is not. The second largest organ south-west of Bristol is also a Downes instrument. There are things wrong with it, to be sure, not least the (apparent lack of) great reeds, but it retains a high reputation amongst the organs in the county - and its wealth of soft colour is the envy of all Anglican Romantics without exception.

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"Awful" instruments? Is that not also discourteous? It is a long, long time since I heard Brompton Oratory, but it never struck me as awful. Actually my memory is of some rather fine sounds. Gloucester may be awful for accompanying Anglican choral music, but that does not make it an awful instrument per se, which it patently is not. The second largest organ south-west of Bristol is also a Downes instrument. There are things wrong with it, to be sure, not least the (apparent lack of) great reeds, but it retains a high reputation amongst the organs in the county - and its wealth of soft colour is the envy of all Anglican Romantics without exception.

 

I guess you're referring to Buckfast Abbey. But how much of that is due to that place's glorious acoustic? A tin whistle would sound wonderful in there! I understand that a lot of the pipework is very run-of-the-mill second-hand stuff, which should never sound as good as it does, and wouldn't in a less reverbrant building.

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Yes. At its core it's an old 1922 Hele, isnt it? so "run-of-the-mill" is probably a compliment! And essentially, though it looks terribly eclectic on paper, it's no more than a thoroughly Romantic instrument with an unexpected amount of upperwork. Yet I would dispute that the effect it makes is merely down to the acoustic. Even in a dry building I am sure the instrument would still come across as pleasant enough - though I daresay its pedigree would be more obvious. Even though the console is detached, it is not so far away from the pipework that the building has time to massage the quality that much.

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My teacher always said something like this: "If an organ seems to be bad, if it is not

for obvious workmanships problems, then it is urgent to leave it alone up to the

next generation".

 

Pierre

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I tend to think 'process' and 'product' regarding RD - ultimately he was after the music to be realised in its most effective form. As a teacher and performer the results were obvious however when applying the process/product idea to the instruments he designed there seems a less clear sense of process. Instruments such as that at the London Oratory are indeed effective - one only has to listen to music played on them by sympathetic players to hear this (and the huge acoustic helps a great deal). However the manner by which they were 'arrived at' on occasions seemed to be decidedly experimental with the well known differences with organ builders etc. and on a recent visit to Buckfast Abbey the organ left me with a distinct feeling of having something missing tonally.

I once (as a teenager) sat for a couple of hours listening to him rehearsing for a recital after which he actually returned the fee because he felt that his playing was not up to standard. In my opinion the playing was first rate! I had dealings personally with him only once but when I did he gave me time and help that he did not have to give and he certainly came over as a man of great sincerity and consideration - a bit of a dogged perfectionist perhaps too but certainly no fool!

 

AJJ

 

 

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

 

 

You may recall that when we were digging about for information relating to Schnitger and Steinkerchen, and the English connections following WW2, certain names popped up; notably those of Carl Weinrich and Geraint Jones among others.

This led to my own discovery (later comfirmed by things written by the late Stephen Bicknell), that the key to the whole organ-reform movement has but one common-link, in the person of G.Donald Harrison of Aeolian-Skinner, Boston, USA.

 

You may also recall, that the same name cropped up in connection with E.Power Biggs (Jimmy Biggs), and his work as the virtual founder of American organ-reform, because both he and G Donald-Harrison were the first to create a new American organ which sounded diferent to all others. This was the first instrument (with electric action) which went into the Busch Reisinger Hall at Harvard, and from which Jimmy Biggs made extensive broadcasts on American radio; thus opening the ears and minds to the exciting discovery of the "baroque" organ; which in this case, was a slightly liberal claim.

 

In truth, Jimmy Bigs eventually distanced himself from the work of G Donald Harrison and the "American Classic," (some would suggest that they fell out), and his attentions turned towards the best work of Dirk Flentrop in the Netherlands, with the result that the lovely Flentrop which still resides at the Busch museum (the Germanic Hall), Harvard, remains as a remarkable testament to two remarkable people; Jimmy Bggs and Dirk Flentrop themselves.

 

I wonder if this suggests a sense of academic rivalry, because at Princeton University, where Ralph Downes was on the staff, the musical alignment seems to have been forged by a conclave of people, which included G Donald Harrison, Ralph Downes, Carl Weinrich and anyone else who may have been involved.

 

Straight away, there is an immediate connection between Harrison and Downes; for both understood and greatly admired the work of T C Lewis, and the organ of Southwark Cathedral especially. This was not an organ which would have been known or properly understood in America, but in some ways, they had their own version of Southwark, with the wonderful Walcker organ now at Methuen, but rather heavily re-built and altered by G Donald Harrison in present form.

 

To further colour our understanding, it should also be noted that Senator Emerson Richards (he of Atlantic City organ fame), was the sort of amiable lunatic who carefully studied every aspect of organ-building, across many eras and musical styles, and threw them all together in the one instrument. Quite what the end-result was intended to be, I have no idea, but it certainly isn't "classical" in any shape or form, even though there were classical elements sitting alongside heavily romantic ones.

 

What has not been written, is the nature of the relationships between all these people. It is one thing to consider the practical outcome of their endeavours, but quite a different thing to actually know how they thought and interacted. By re-reading the foregoing, it is abundantly obvious that there were different strings pulling in different directions, and at Princeton they were busily trying to understand Silbermann, and got thrown off track by the influence of Carl Weinrich and the organs of Arp Schnitger and Steinkerken in particular. My suspicions is, that Ralph Downes was initially a bit of a junior partner in all this, but his enthusiasm surmounted the obstacles, and as in all academic circles, there would have been forged political and artistic alliances, with the result that some sort of "understanding" possibly emerged.

 

It really doesn't matter whether that "understanding" was actually a new synthesis of older ideas; rather haphazardly thrown together, and perhaps without sufficient understanding of what it is, for example, which makes a Silbermann and Silbermann, and what makes a Schnitger a Schnitger. Dare I suggest, that the fact that they were European and old, made them better in the mind's eye of serious American-based academia?

 

Consider if you will, the various strands which gave rise to the remarkable organ-scene in the America of to-day; largely made possible by generous funding and the active collaboration of all those involved in church and organ music.

 

On the one hand, there were the ex-patriot Germans, such as Middelschulte, who had established the expressive style of late romanticism, and which had as its champions, the likes of Virgil Fox. These were the people who brought great individuality of style and outstanding technique, but in matters of scholarship rather than performance, they brought almost nothing which wasn't based on big, bigger and ginormous: at its roots, the vast romantic instruments of Germany, and the vast musical canvas of Wagner.

 

Cheese and chalk, or pot and kettle; the fact is, American academia distanced itself from this late-romantic, expressive style, and instead, turned to all things authentic, as part of an early-music movement which had taken root first at Harvard, and which rapidly spread elsewhere. (In quite a small area actually, within a 300 mile radius of Boston). It was all part of the white-heat of the early-music movement; possibly inspired by the work and scholarship of Carl Dolmetsch in London.

 

Now if you bring all these people together, lock them in a room, provide black capes, chairs, a table and a crystal-ball; what you get is a coven of academics doing what they do best; gazing through a glass darkly. Like so many medieval alchemists, they possibly found themselves attracted, like up-market moths, to the idea of converting Tin into Silber (Silver)mann. On the basis that all that glisters is not necessarily Goldman Sachs, they possibly lost sight of the real treasure, and instead, created a new spell of their own. So perhaps the handsome Princeton was turned into the ugly croakings of the pseudo-baroque, and this is borne out by the fact that the then realtively young Ralph Downes, set about destroying the Ernest Skinner organ at Princeton University, which our hosts would know all about; having put to rights the mess they made of it.

 

Well, on the basis that if you're a rocket scientist, you would prefer to land on the moon rather than blow people up with a V2, this sort of experiment is vital, so perhaps there was some excuse for the vandalism.

 

Whatever one cares to believe about Ralph Downes, the fact is, he was a thinker, in addition to being a remarkable musical scholar, theorist, teacher and performer. Hearing deficiences apart, he was the ONLY person who had the personal strength to forge alliances and actually influence people back here in the UK, but without G Donald Harrison and people like Cuthbert Harrison, he could not have done it. Another disciple is Dennis Thurlow, and I doubt that anyone could doubt the effectiveness of the organ at Blackburn Cathedral, or indeed, the small organ I play in Keighley. They are both outstanding examples of organ-art, but it doesn't follow that everyone must therefore like them. Without Ralph Downes, neither instrument would exist.

 

Of course many of the satellite instruments to the Festival Hall are over-bright, too thin in overall tone and much less musical than many of the original masterpieces on which they are alleged to have been based, but that is the nature of experiment, and the nature of those who learned how to create them.

 

So in my view, Ralph Downes was neither dopey nor a berk.......he was far worse!

 

He was an ACADEMIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

:lol:

 

MM

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This is a subject quite close to my heart at the moment, given that I'm responsible for one of RD's instruments and it's current restoration and enhancement.

 

I don't think that Downes was dopey for one moment, and won't bother with the other remark. The difficulty seems to be how we get his work in perspective.

 

The organ at St Albans has been discussed quite a bit on these pages, sometimes very supportively and at other times rather derogatory remarks have been made, usually about its perceived unsuitability for playing for the cathedral services.

 

Having come here from working with a very different instrument, but also with quite a wide experience of many other instruments in all sorts of styles, including other organs designed by Downes, I was generally surprised by the instrument here. I didn't quite take to it at first, it took me time to find its charms. Also there were problems with it which had to be ironed out, chiefly to do with maintenance and as we later discovered with soundboard problems (due to excessive heating of the building in the winter months). But gradually it won me over. It makes music.

 

Like all organs it seems to have moods, and like some organs has rather violent mood swings at times. I presume this is all to do with the effects of temperature and humidity on the organ and on the acoustic - it very definitely sounds so much better when it has just been tuned and always sounds at its very best in the Organ Festival when it is tuned very thoroughly and spot tuned each morning. I also assume that because all voicing of the organ is not as strongly 'controlled' as when using more mainstream voicing techniques the brightness and overtones of the pipes clash as the instrument moves out of tune.

 

It is true to say that, in an instrument pared down in size, and which was designed to be very versatile for organ repertoire as well as services, it does have limitations. Some are quite frustrating to live with at times. There are one or two sounds that I don't particularly care for. But I quickly grew to love what it CAN do, and so has every other organist I know who has lived with it.

 

But for the casual organist it isn't always obvious how to play it for evensong, and it can be frighteningly unforgiving, especially at close quarters in the organ loft. It IS very easy to make it sound harsh or unpleasant if you don't know how, but equally it doesn't have to sound like that. What organists have to do is choose registrations carefully, using your ears and experience as much as convention. Hoofing up and down the pistons might work, but sometimes won't.

 

Perhaps this is the real problem with organs like this. The vast majority of organists are not going to be very experienced in playing on a great variety of organ styles outside the mainstream English style and therefore an instrument like this can be rather bewildering to play, especially when your head is virtually inside the instrument.

 

What IS interesting is that we get large numbers coming to hear music played on the organ here in concerts and in the organ festival. The same used to apply to the RFH when they had their Wednesdays at 5.55 series of concerts (about 20 per year). Most who attend these concerts aren't organists and many aren't real organ 'fans' (wind pressure/specification organ buffs), but they are interested in hearing organ music, especially Bach.

 

And that is what I pick up from the audiences - they hear the music, the clarity of lines and counterpoint and structure and they like it. We are blessed with a resonant building, but one that is not overly reverberant so sounds are clear but warmed by the acoustic. The impressive rolling rich tones of nineteenth and twentieth century cathedral organs which we organists love to hear (I do as much as anyone else) and which sound quite lovely in the psalms at evensong don't endear themselves to the average listener of music.

 

I am most definitely not advocating Downes organs as the be-all-and-end-all. Far from it. He was fallible and many of the instruments he designed have significant flaws, though some are also very successful. The blend of these organs seems to me to be their chief fault, not quite so obvious when it is all dead in tune, but as the stops begin to wander out of you can hear the constituent parts begin to pull apart. Sometimes it would be nice to hear more variety of colour in the softer stops, though at St Albans we have no shortage of variety of 8' flue stops. I would dearly love NOT to have to hear so often 2' flutes coming in on top of the 8' and 4' Principals because there are no independent 2' Principal stops. That is being rectified at this very moment.

 

There is also that odd 'hollowness' in the tenor region that I suspect comes from Downes' adherence to peculiar scale plans and the strong twelfth overtone that many of the stops possess, but which can become very irritating when present all the time.

 

We also have to face the fact that, in this country, we are not generally blessed with the great open church buildings with their very high vaults that one finds in almost any town of significance almost all over mainland Europe. English cathedrals are often not as lofty as European counterparts, and this, combined with the organ being placed near the singers in the choir, means that European models for organs don't really work as well in English churches. This is another flaw in Downes' well intentioned schemes - that he based his designs on a fantasy European model. And most of us base our opinions of him on one organ, the RFH, which was in the worst acoustic for a concert hall imaginable, and would be disastrous for any organ.

 

The instrument I have in my care is a very good Musical instrument, that works excellently for all the tasks that it has to perform, of which choral evensong is one significant part, but by no means its only primary activity. But I accept it isn't perfect.

 

It is my view that if we were to change it by revoicing it wholesale, or alter the design of the organ in significant ways, or even if we were replacing it with a new organ, (and assuming a perfect world where we have the money and support to do such things) then we would be assessed in the future as acting recklessly. We would be harming a significant instrument, built at an interesting period in our cultural heritage.

 

I don't know if Downes had hearing problems. I certainly don't think that the all organs he designed, or which were influenced by him, all make horrible sounds (that assertion seems to me to be unworthy of those who make them). Undoubtedly Downes was awkward, he didn't want to be advised by the organ establishment in England because he didn't like the organs they had built and so he didn't listen to other opinions. And he heard what he wanted to hear. Don't we all - that's one reason why no two English cathedral choirs sound the same?

 

Where would we be without Downes? Isn't he a counterpart to the general interest in early music in the mid twentieth century and part of the beginning of the Early Music movement (just like David Munrow or Neville Marriner in this country) which gave us a leading light in the organ world in Peter Hurford in England? None of these were 'authentic' period musicians and we may not like what they did. But they led the way. Surely that is also Downes' legacy.

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What IS interesting is that we get large numbers coming to hear music played on the organ here in concerts and in the organ festival. The same used to apply to the RFH when they had their Wednesdays at 5.55 series of concerts (about 20 per year). Most who attend these concerts aren't organists and many aren't real organ 'fans' (wind pressure/specification organ buffs), but they are interested in hearing organ music, especially Bach.

 

And that is what I pick up from the audiences - they hear the music, the clarity of lines and counterpoint and structure and they like it. We are blessed with a resonant building, but one that is not overly reverberant so sounds are clear but warmed by the acoustic. The impressive rolling rich tones of nineteenth and twentieth century cathedral organs which we organists love to hear (I do as much as anyone else) and which sound quite lovely in the psalms at evensong don't endear themselves to the average listener of music.

And this was exactly the rationale that was being advanced in the 1960s for building such organs. Interesting that it still proves valid today. It makes you wonder whether this is a lesson we have failed to learn. I sometimes think that the very worst people to listen to when discussing organs are other organists: there's no pleasing any of us!

 

Where would we be without Downes? Isn't he a counterpart to the general interest in early music in the mid twentieth century and part of the beginning of the Early Music movement (just like David Munrow or Neville Marriner in this country) which gave us a leading light in the organ world in Peter Hurford in England? None of these were 'authentic' period musicians and we may not like what they did. But they led the way. Surely that is also Downes' legacy.

I wholly agree with this. I don't think anyone who did not live through the birth - explosion might almost be a better word - of the Early Music movement in the 60s can really understand what an exciting time it was. At that time I was fortunate enough to be in London where it was all happening and I went to all the concerts by the Early Music Consort and Musica Reservata; they were invariably sold out. The sense of discovery and relevation pervaded everything - not only new music, but unfamiliar instruments and new performing styles too. It was an era of experiment and, sometimes, of groping in the dark. I think most of the early musicians at this time thought of themselves as striving towards authenticity, but with a liberal amount of imagination used to fill in the copious holes in our knowledge. Scholars know more now - much more - and frown on much that went on in these early days, but that is in the nature of advancing knowledge and it does not lessen the value of those performances. Will music ever see such an vibrant and exciting era of discovery again? I doubt it. And, yes, Downes was part of this scene. An academic? Nah!

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Thanks Mr lucas - St Albans is the 'local' cathedral of my home parish and I grew up knowing it well (it is only slightly younger than I am) from the visiting choir perspective and later playing the odd voluntary on these visits when allowed to. Latterly experience has been from a purely congregational point of view with some good friends in the really rather good choir but the instrument has always been one of my favourites. It 'plays' well - even my pre service repertoire (with little time to work out registration) seemed to sound good (French Classical mostly) and it felt good to play. I must admit that I quite like being up there amongst it all - the immediacy of it all can be a bit unnerving though. From the point of view of the liturgy we sang 'it all' when we visited - everything from the Tudors to recent and the organ always coped admirably. Many years ago - with Simon Lindley at the console - I heard it hold together a complete building full of youths all singing (Battle Hymn of the Republic - up a semitone every verse!) very lustily and at more organ festivals than I care to remember the general repertoire is covered with many different player's interpretations. The interesting thing though is that because of the size and acoustic of the building it always sounds a little less 'Downes' than some of the more close up examples of his work - maybe the fact that Peter Hurford was also involved added an extra perspective. I am looking forward to hearing it again after it returns from Durham somewhat tweaked!

 

AJJ

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I would dearly love NOT to have to hear so often 2' flutes coming in on top of the 8' and 4' Principals because there are no independent 2' Principal stops. That is being rectified at this very moment.

 

There is also that odd 'hollowness' in the tenor region that I suspect comes from Downes' adherence to peculiar scale plans and the strong twelfth overtone that many of the stops possess, but which can become very irritating when present all the time.

 

We also have to face the fact that, in this country, we are not generally blessed with the great open church buildings with their very high vaults that one finds in almost any town of significance almost all over mainland Europe. English cathedrals are often not as lofty as European counterparts, and this, combined with the organ being placed near the singers in the choir, means that European models for organs don't really work as well in English churches. This is another flaw in Downes' well intentioned schemes - that he based his designs on a fantasy European model. And most of us base our opinions of him on one organ, the RFH, which was in the worst acoustic for a concert hall imaginable, and would be disastrous for any organ.

 

 

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

 

 

How refreshing to find someone who agrees with me about 2ft flutes being regarded as part of a chorus, which they never can be.

 

I think it was our friend "pcnd" who questioned my use of two 2ft registers on the same manual, when we indulged in a phantom rebuild of an organ in New Zealand. I think I said that I couldn't live without a 2ft Flute, but that meant, to my mind, having the 2ft Principal as well!

 

To more serious matters......

 

One of the great problems which Downes seemed to inherit, was a misuderstanding of what a true baroque organ comprised, and I think the late Stephen Bicknell picked up on this very accurately, when he noted the shift of scholarship in the American scholars associated with the "orgelbewung," and to which, both Ralph Downes and G Donald Harrison belonged. The story goes, that they started with Silbermann (high tin pipes etc), and diverted to Schnitger. Now whether this meant that they ended up with a mythical model of an organ with Schnitger scaling, and Silbermann pipe materials and voicing, is hard for me to say without crawling around a few organs. Suffice ot to say, that what they ended up with was anything but baroque, even though they understood "werkprinzip" style.

 

I suspect that this is exactly why Jimmy Biggs distanced himself from what was going on, and instead, called in Dirk Flentrop to produce a really successful organ at Harvard. (I have played it, I want it and it is gorgeous) What G Donald Harrison did was adapt the work of T C Lewis to his idea of an ecclectic instrument which we now recognise as "the American Classic."

 

Ralph Downes, rightly or wrongly, decided that there should be such a thing as the "English Classic," which might have been realised if the original Buckfast scheme had gone ahead, with Downes and G Donald Harrison at the helm. Sadly (and I believe it is sad), the outlet for this germ of an idea, fell to the Festival Hall project, and we all know the difficulties of that particular building. I often remind people, that the really progenic instruments are those at Coventry, Blackburn, St Albans, Windsor and Gloucester; with Blackburn possibly the best example of what Downes had in mind.

 

I would also absolutely agree with Andrew's observation of English cathedrals and churches, and this is why I mention Groningen in an earlier post. To hear an organ very much in the style of Schnitger (it is at least as much 21st century as it is original Schnitger), right at the East wall as far away as possible, and to be able to hear every individual line in contrapuntal music, is entirely due to the building; no matter how superlative the organ may be. (That doesn't happen at the Bavokerk, which degenerates in clarity in direct proportion to distance). Perhaps part of the success of Coventry, is the actual building, which is not a traditional shape by any means, and more closely resembles the hall churches of Europe.

 

Of course, as I pointed out many moons ago, the acoustic of many concert halls, and the RFH in particular, is a wholly new phenomenon to music. The materials soak up, quite deliberately, the middle frequencies, and this seems to have the effect of destroying the diffusion and confusion of sound-waves which are at the heart of a good organ acoustic. Poor RD stood absolutely no chance, but listening carefully, it was possible to hear real quality in the flue-work, and a great instrument crying out to be heard under better circumstances.

 

I'll tell people something for free..........no-one could have done a better job in that building than Cuthbert Harrison's team and Ralph Downes, because I personally find it a far better organ than the one in the Rotterdam concert-hall "De Doelan," which I believe is almost from the identical same period. After the genius shown at Harvard, "De Doelan" is a marked comment upon the struggles organ-builders suddenly had to face with a new style of concert hall designed as much for speech and canned music, as they are for live music.

 

MM

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And this was exactly the rationale that was being advanced in the 1960s for building such organs. Interesting that it still proves valid today. It makes you wonder whether this is a lesson we have failed to learn. I sometimes think that the very worst people to listen to when discussing organs are other organists: there's no pleasing any of us!

 

 

I wholly agree with this. I don't think anyone who did not live through the birth - explosion might almost be a better word - of the Early Music movement in the 60s can really understand what an exciting time it was. At that time I was fortunate enough to be in London where it was all happening and I went to all the concerts by the Early Music Consort and Musica Reservata; they were invariably sold out. The sense of discovery and relevation pervaded everything - not only new music, but unfamiliar instruments and new performing styles too. It was an era of experiment and, sometimes, of groping in the dark. I think most of the early musicians at this time thought of themselves as striving towards authenticity, but with a liberal amount of imagination used to fill in the copious holes in our knowledge. Scholars know more now - much more - and frown on much that went on in these early days, but that is in the nature of advancing knowledge and it does not lessen the value of those performances. Will music ever see such an vibrant and exciting era of discovery again? I doubt it. And, yes, Downes was part of this scene. An academic? Nah!

 

 

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

 

 

Yes indeed Vox.....one of the reasons why I prefer to attend recitals in Holland when I can find the time!

 

As for the early music thingy, I think it very firmly pre-dates the 1960's, but I would agree that as a popular movement, that is when it burst upon us. In fact, in relation to Raplh Downes, the scholarship had been going on apace even whilst Max Reger was still alive and kicking, and Carl Straube was one of the chief influences once he got bitten by the bug. Steinmeyer organs were at the forefront of this revolution. Carl Dolmetsch, the father of early music in the UK, had been scribbling about early music since at least the 1930's, and Linda Landowska (Sp?) had already made a name for herself with that huge concert harpsichord. Let's not forget also the work of such people as Schweitzer, Kirkpatrick, Weinrich, Geraint Jones and even someone like William Leslie Sumner; the latter opening our eyes to the existence of a European tradition quite different to our own.

 

WW2 was, unfortunately, the thing which prevented the flow of information, destroyed much of the heritage and prevented free and open dialogue. So it was already in place, already the subject of academic scrutiny, and all that was needed was the resumption of normal life and international academic co-operation.

 

This latter point is, I feel, Ralph Downes' greatest contribution to organ-art; irrespective of any mistakes he may have made, or the possible misconceptions which he took as truth.

 

Downes was someone who made people think and made people go and find out for themselves.

 

One could argue, that John Mander would never have gone to Germany without the influence of people like Ralph Downes, for he would have ended up at somewhere like Compton's instead, or perhaps just nailed to his father's shop-floor.

 

The British are nothing if not a self-satisfied lot by nature, and as "pcnd" points out, the orginal scheme for Coventry, built right in the middle of the white-heat think-tank of early-music, was nothing more than a traditional Arthur Harrison instrument!

 

Thank heavens that the proposed scheme was rejected.

 

MM

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As for the early music thingy, I think it very firmly pre-dates the 1960's, but I would agree that as a popular movement, that is when it burst upon us.

Well indeed. Already by the 1920s there was a host of scholars, of whom Fellowes was chief, digging up old music, while on the practical side there were people like Arnold Dolmetsch and Alfred Deller. But it was indeed the 1960s when "it all happened". It may even have been directly due to David Munrow. His ebullience and sheer enthusiasm were incredibly infectious. Watching him go purple in the face while playing a shawm it was difficult not to go purple with him. As a truly great performer he was up there with the very best of them.

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Wanda Landowska

 

B

 

 

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

 

 

Yes please, with an extra shot of vodka!

 

:)

 

Linda sounds a lot better, but I think I was confusing her name with Linda Lusace (Sp?)....I'm not good with names.

 

:rolleyes:

 

MM

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Well indeed. Already by the 1920s there was a host of scholars, of whom Fellowes was chief, digging up old music, while on the practical side there were people like Arnold Dolmetsch and Alfred Deller. But it was indeed the 1960s when "it all happened". It may even have been directly due to David Munrow. His ebullience and sheer enthusiasm were incredibly infectious. Watching him go purple in the face while playing a shawm it was difficult not to go purple with him. As a truly great performer he was up there with the very best of them.

 

 

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

 

 

Then there was Guilmant of course, but as he was French, it probably doesn't count!

 

:rolleyes:

 

MM

 

PS: I still have the Munrow LP's.....wonderful!

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Guest Barry Williams
Wanda Landowska

 

B

 

Wanda Landowska pointed out, around about 1911, that what everyone else thought was an appogiatura in one of Bach's works was in fact an ink blot. It seems a bit like certain organ advising!

 

Barry Williams

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Wanda Landowska pointed out, around about 1911, that what everyone else thought was an appogiatura in one of Bach's works was in fact an ink blot. It seems a bit like certain organ advising!

 

Barry Williams

 

:rolleyes:

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Guest Psalm 78 v.67
====================

Yes please, with an extra shot of vodka!

 

B)

 

Linda sounds a lot better, but I think I was confusing her name with Linda Lusace (Sp?)....I'm not good with names.

 

:)

 

MM

 

I presume you mean Linda Lusardi .... :rolleyes:

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I presume you mean Linda Lusardi .... :rolleyes:

 

 

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

 

 

Yes, that's the lady.....quite a lady actually.....titled family I believe.

 

I met her once in the middle of a traffic jam on the A1.

 

She's as potty as a row of Chrysanths, but absolutely delightful nevertheless. Her series about undiscovered Britain has to be a landmark in eccentricty and style. I used to squeal with delight watching them!

 

In fact, her name is quite "on topic," because I recall one or more moments when she played the organ during those programmes......and this gives me an idea for another delightful topic.......organs in the strangest places!

 

MM

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

Yes, that's the lady.....quite a lady actually.....titled family I believe.

 

I met her once in the middle of a traffic jam on the A1.

 

She's as potty as a row of Chrysanths, but absolutely delightful nevertheless. Her series about undiscovered Britain has to be a landmark in eccentricty and style. I used to squeal with delight watching them!

 

In fact, her name is quite "on topic," because I recall one or more moments when she played the organ during those programmes......and this gives me an idea for another delightful topic.......organs in the strangest places!

 

MM

Linda Lusardi was a Page 3 topless model in the 1980s. You mean Lucinda Lambton, I think.

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I've lost the plot - what's all this got to do with Ralph Downes?

 

AJJ ;)

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