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Harmonicon


Guest Patrick Coleman
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Guest Patrick Coleman

The mention of Charles Brindley in the Abbott & Smith thread prompts me to ask for enlightenment.

 

We have acquired a 16 pedal stop from this Charles Brindley organ in Menai Bridge. It is a very large scale stopped metal rank which served as its only pedal stop and will serve us to fill out shaky parts of our own Pedal Organ until it can be removed and repaired/replaced. It makes a lovely rounded sound and is effectively a large metal Bourdon, smooth inside and quite conventional except for its wide girth.

 

The puzzle is its name - Harmonicon - which seems everywhere else to refer to vaguely reedy stops with some internal architecture, or possibly to free reeds - all of which this stop is definitely not!

 

Any helpful thoughts?

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The mention of Charles Brindley in the Abbott & Smith thread prompts me to ask for enlightenment.

 

We have acquired a 16 pedal stop from this Charles Brindley organ in Menai Bridge. It is a very large scale stopped metal rank which served as its only pedal stop and will serve us to fill out shaky parts of our own Pedal Organ until it can be removed and repaired/replaced. It makes a lovely rounded sound and is effectively a large metal Bourdon, smooth inside and quite conventional except for its wide girth.

 

The puzzle is its name - Harmonicon - which seems everywhere else to refer to vaguely reedy stops with some internal architecture, or possibly to free reeds - all of which this stop is definitely not!

 

Any helpful thoughts?

 

 

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

 

 

The history of the Harmonicon is deeply enmeshed in the pseudo-scholarship of the theatre-organ, when scholars who shall remain nameless (and who wished to be so at the time), felt that any self-respecting orchestral-organ should include not only the common names of the orchestra, but a number of obscure ones too. It may well be that the Harmonicon was Brindley & Foster’s answer to John Compton’s “Solo Cello,” for which a useful role has yet to be defined, but additional research seems to show that far from being just another obscure name for an equally obscure rank, the Harmonicon had a real purpose.

 

Careful study of the corrosion marks/bird dropping meniscus of these pipes, suggests that they were tuned to “mean tone” as a suitable bass to the “well bad tempered clavier,” and once the stoppers were glued, nailed and finally riveted into place; no further tuning was necessary; the resulting out-of- tune effect; the labial equivalent to the much more expensive and frankly unnecessary diaphones of Robert Hope-Jones.

 

In others organs from Brindley & Foster around the same period, various exotic names were given to a number of stops, including it would seem, a labial Tuba Mirabilus and something called the Flute Magico.

 

As for the name “Harmonicon,” herein is the clue, because like many organs of the period, it was the sheer absence of harmonics which is the hallmark feature of the period. A few historically inclined and therefore unfashionable rebel organists still clung to the idea of chorus-work and harmonic development in the 1930’s, and the “Harmonicon” was designed to fool them into thinking that such things were to be taken seriously.

 

Slightly more seriously, I’ll try and find some of the more ridiculous stop-names dreamed up by people in the 1930’s. They are quite amusing.

 

 

:P

 

MM

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The mention of Charles Brindley in the Abbott & Smith thread prompts me to ask for enlightenment.

 

We have acquired a 16 pedal stop from this Charles Brindley organ in Menai Bridge. It is a very large scale stopped metal rank which served as its only pedal stop and will serve us to fill out shaky parts of our own Pedal Organ until it can be removed and repaired/replaced. It makes a lovely rounded sound and is effectively a large metal Bourdon, smooth inside and quite conventional except for its wide girth.

 

The puzzle is its name - Harmonicon - which seems everywhere else to refer to vaguely reedy stops with some internal architecture, or possibly to free reeds - all of which this stop is definitely not!

 

Any helpful thoughts?

 

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

 

 

As a further thought on the use of the name Harmonicon for what appears to be a simple metal stopped-bass, there was at least one other, at Methodist Church at Sutton-on-Sea in Lincolnshire (1921 Brindley & Foster).

 

In addition, as mentioned previously, the same instrument had a Flauto Amabile on the Great, whilst on the Swell, there were to FLUE stops called Stentorphone and Tuba Mirabilis, and a REAL REED called Corno Muto.

 

This use of strange names reached the ultimate statement with William Hill organ, in which all the stop names were in Latin!

 

I suspect that 1921 was a strange time in organ-building, as organ-builders sought to re-brand and re-market their in-house products in such a way that they appeared more up to date than they actually were.

 

It was Arthur Harrison, who somehow managed to blend the orchestral sounds of Hope-Jones with the almost Schulzian power of his chorus-work and the scorching brilliance of Willis-style Swell reeds. The Trombas and Harmonics were, of course, the mutual symbiosis which marked something of an artistic low-point, buyt at least the sound worked, and it was probably better than most other organ-builders were doing at the time.

 

The orchestral movement (and the associated sojourn into theatre organs as an offshoot), was a powerful enough phenomenon which probably did more harm than good, and probably de-railed the British organ from developing more fully than it did.

 

As for the name "Harmonicon," the origin of the name as an organ-stop must remain something of an organ mystery.

 

MM

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This use of strange names reached the ultimate statement with William Hill organ, in which all the stop names were in Latin!

I'm aware that a few organs built by Hill in Torquay had Latin stop names (and one of them retained them until the 1950s), but I had always believed that this was due to the eccentricity of a local organist who was appointed consultant to each of these projects. However, I'd be interested to know if Hill used Latin stop names elsewhere.

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Guest Patrick Coleman
=============================

 

 

As a further thought on the use of the name Harmonicon for what appears to be a simple metal stopped-bass, there was at least one other, at Methodist Church at Sutton-on-Sea in Lincolnshire (1921 Brindley & Foster).

 

In addition, as mentioned previously, the same instrument had a Flauto Amabile on the Great, whilst on the Swell, there were to FLUE stops called Stentorphone and Tuba Mirabilis, and a REAL REED called Corno Muto.

SNIP

 

As for the name "Harmonicon," the origin of the name as an organ-stop must remain something of an organ mystery.

 

MM

 

Thank you for these interesting and very informative musings!

 

It looks like the name is a matter of whimsy, eccentricity, or possibly pretentiousness. All of which (according to your view) could make this rank of pipes eminently suitable to be part of our growing revival here :)

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