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Mander Organs
James Goldrick

The Greatest British Organ Work

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Of course, apart from the assumption that 'mud' is the opposite of perfect clarity. Organs by Sauer, Skinner, JW Walker and Harrison are still sometimes decried as sounding 'muddy' by a certain generation of organists. To my ears, the best of these instruments have perfect clarity, but also overwhelm and move the listener. They may sound dark, but you can still hear what's going on. However, I certainly believe that some composers deliberately use counterpoint to create layers of colour and effect. It is simply impossible to achieve perfect clarity of all the parts in a work like Spem in Alium, Hymnus Paradisi or Turangalîla-Symphonie, nor is it necessarily desirable. In the busiest baroque music, the combined effect of the counterpoint is greater than the sum of the parts - a trite, obvious point I know, but often overlooked.

 

Thankfully, the pendulum has swung well and truly back to a sensible middle, and we are hearing 'muddy' Bach, with melanges of middle-German 8 foot foundations; reeds in fugues (for the sake of clarity :lol: ); and Reger played on instruments with more than one 8' prinzipal supporting the chorus!

 

I tried a "Bach organs" topic, which had to be dropped.....

"Clarity" meant, in the 20th century, screaming machines as upperwork.

This was already the case by Bonavia-Hunt's time, when he wrote the basis

of "baroque" organs was 4', not 8'. (I linked to the complete book...)

But when you see organs from Bach's time, they are based on sometimes

five flue 8' !

They are actually quite heavy and ponderous, but the clarity, the precision,

the attack, is in the flues themselves.

And when you add the Mixtures, you soon realize they weren't intended

to be used all the time....

 

But I fear it's still too early to continue...

 

Pierre

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I tried a "Bach organs" topic, which had to be dropped.....

"Clarity" meant, in the 20th century, screaming machines as upperwork.

This was already the case by Bonavia-Hunt's time, when he wrote the basis

of "baroque" organs was 4', not 8'. (I linked to the complete book...)

But when you see organs from Bach's time, they are based on sometimes

five flue 8' !

They are actually quite heavy and ponderous, but the clarity, the precision,

the attack, is in the flues themselves.

And when you add the Mixtures, you soon realize they weren't intended

to be used all the time....

 

But I fear it's still too early to continue...

 

Pierre

 

Have you read Gillian Weir's article entitled, I think, "Marshmallows and Lemon Juice"? (available on her website) She is wonderfully eloquent about just this topic (Foundations and/versus mixtures).

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I tried a "Bach organs" topic, which had to be dropped.....

"Clarity" meant, in the 20th century, screaming machines as upperwork.

This was already the case by Bonavia-Hunt's time, when he wrote the basis

of "baroque" organs was 4', not 8'. (I linked to the complete book...)

But when you see organs from Bach's time, they are based on sometimes

five flue 8' !

They are actually quite heavy and ponderous, but the clarity, the precision,

the attack, is in the flues themselves.

And when you add the Mixtures, you soon realize they weren't intended

to be used all the time....

 

But I fear it's still too early to continue...

 

Pierre

 

 

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

 

 

It is indeed far too early.....I am a creature of the night.

 

I shall respond later, when I don't have to protect myself from the daylight.

 

MM

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Have you read Gillian Weir's article entitled, I think, "Marshmallows and Lemon Juice"? (available on her website) She is wonderfully eloquent about just this topic (Foundations and/versus mixtures).

 

I did. Here is the passage you probably think about:

 

"This idea that basic dullness can be relieved by often acid-toned ‘upperwork’ has unfortunately resulted in many ineffective and ugly instruments, it highlights, in particular, some confusion about the nature of a mixture. A common belief, of which both players and builders are sometimes guilty, is that a mixture is a colour, meant to provide ‘clarity’, glitter or excitement. For example, a student will draw the mixture during a fugue, often in the middle of a phrase, to accompany what he sees as a growing excitement; the unhappy result is often merely to break the line, make the pitch jump an octave, and obscure rather than clarify the texture. This occurs, in part because the mixture has been scaled and voiced as a colour aid rather than to fulfill its functional intent to reinforce the fundamental pitch. Music is basically intended to be heard at unison pitch, after all, and the harmonic series which is mimicked by the mixture strengthens that unison."

 

From that page:

 

http://gillianweir.com/articles/rondo2

 

This said, from what I know about Bach's organs Mixtures, they are indeed more of a color device, intended

for climaxes rather than "TA-TI-TUUU-TAAA" of 20 minutes at a time the 20th century fed us of.

They gave the organ practically its maximum power, the reeds -I mean the manual reeds- just adding

a bit more color.

With such organs polyphony ist best rendered with Octave ranks only (8-4-2, or, more probably by Bach's time,

things like 8-8-8-4-4-2)

French mixtures were more "silvery", because they had -and still have- no tierce ranks, but were still not intended for polyphony.

Here, the Fugues are played with the reeds!

 

So we are left with the northern baroque organ (Schnitger...) with polyphonic mixtures, high-pitched but very

gently voiced, topping a Diapason chorus whoses lower ranks were extremely dark...The whole being made

in nearly pure....Lead!

It was that conception the Neo-baroques followed, but with tin pipes voiced full blast, and any clarity gone, pretending

it was THE Bach sound. These were climax-mixtures seen as chorus Mixtures...

For a modern organ with good, varied chorus reeds (I mean Tromba, Tuba, and french Trompettes) we can have

both climax-Mixtures (strong Cornets going with the Trompettes, Harmonics with the Trombas) and lightly-blown,

silvery chorus Mixtures, from which we do not need to get power; in the full organ you should not hear them.

 

Pierre

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In your opinion, what is the greatest piece of organ music written by a British composer? This extends from the Robertsbridge Codex to the contrapuntal masterwork that might have been composed last week in a pub in Staffordshire.

 

James Goldrick

 

Back on to the topic?

 

One of my favourite (actually I don't know if 'favourite' is exactly the right word, but certainly one of the Works which really makes my neck tingle- EVERY time I hear it) is Sir Walter Alcock's 'Introduction and Passacaglia'.

 

The Bairstow Sonata is very fine indeed and I've always valued the piece and will always remember the recording sessions with FJ when I made the recording at York, but the Alcock piece really does hang together just that teeny bit more securely (in my view!).

 

FJ's 'Diversion for Mixtures' is also high on my list.

 

DW

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Pass the Movicol. I agree with MM. I've listened to the Sonata many times and I'm blowed if I can find the music in it. It's the nearest he got to sounding like Reger. :rolleyes: Then again, I can't make anything of the Concerto for Strings either and everyone raves about that. Guess I just have a blind spot for music that sounds like a swarm of busy ants.

 

Sorry Ian, but I am with Vox on this one. I find the Howells' Sonata to be incredibly dreary and dull.

 

For the record, I am passionate about his choral works; the Requiem, for example, is superb, Take him, earth for cherishing I find deeply moving and as for his settings of various Anglican services - well, I love playing and hearing them - and could do so time after time. But the organ works .... *Yawn*.

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After some earlier posts about the Howells, I got my copy out today for a play through to remind my self why I never learnt the whole thing. And then I remembered; the 1st movement. I just can't make any sense of it at all. The second movement is fine, just sounds a bit like one of the Psalm Preludes, in fact I'm sure if you dug out a suitable verse from the psalms and programmed it as such, you'd probably get away with it. Even the fugue in the last movement is half decent, but that first movement.....

 

I also took the trouble to remind myself why I never bothered with the Stanford SOnatas, and the only reason I have them is because they were cheap in a second hand shop. Too long!!

 

However, the Bairstow remains up there with the best of them.

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Then again, I can't make anything of the Concerto for Strings either and everyone raves about that. Guess I just have a blind spot for music that sounds like a swarm of busy ants.

Go riding in the Cotswolds: all will become clear :lol: And that slow movement :lol: ...have you no soul?

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I see that Howells is the Composer of the Week on Radio 3 next week, 11th to 15th. Even some, not much, organ music amongst it. Should make some interesting listening anyway.

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I see that Howells is the Composer of the Week on Radio 3 next week, 11th to 15th. Even some, not much, organ music amongst it. Should make some interesting listening anyway.

 

 

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

 

 

Fortunately, this is long before my boiled-egg and soldiers, but in the event of insomnia, I shall have the ear-plugs close to hand.

 

:lol:

 

MM

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I am even more concerned by the idea of riding through the Cotswolds. Presumably this would involve physical contact with some kind of pony.....

:blink:

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I see that Howells is the Composer of the Week on Radio 3 next week, 11th to 15th. Even some, not much, organ music amongst it. Should make some interesting listening anyway.

Having now seen the listings, I have to admit to being not a little disappointed. It's a bit "chocolate box", isn't it? A movement from the Requiem, the final movement of the Concerto for Strings, a movement from a Clarinet sonata, bits only of the usual choral warhorses - (St Paul's, Coll Reg & Gloucester), plus the three inevitable carol-anthems (all on different days). I suppose the Dallas Mag is a bit out of the ordinary, but it's hardly among his better pieces. And what do we get in the way of songs? "Green Ways" - yet another warhorse. Why not some of the many other splendid, but still little-known songs he wrote?

 

Still, it's not all bad news. The third programme looks fairly interesting with a couple of part songs I've never heard before and "Merry Eye" which is pleasant fun. And, in the first programme, the superb Elegy for viola, string quartet and string orchestra is most definitely worth getting your hanky out for.

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Having now seen the listings, I have to admit to being not a little disappointed. It's a bit "chocolate box", isn't it? A movement from the Requiem, the final movement of the Concerto for Strings, a movement from a Clarinet sonata, bits only of the usual choral warhorses - (St Paul's, Coll Reg & Gloucester), plus the three inevitable carol-anthems (all on different days). I suppose the Dallas Mag is a bit out of the ordinary, but it's hardly among his better pieces. And what do we get in the way of songs? "Green Ways" - yet another warhorse. Why not some of the many other splendid, but still little-known songs he wrote?

 

Still, it's not all bad news. The third programme looks fairly interesting with a couple of part songs I've never heard before and "Merry Eye" which is pleasant fun. And, in the first programme, the superb Elegy for viola, string quartet and string orchestra is most definitely worth getting your hanky out for.

 

The one about how he tailored pieces to specific acoustics will be interesting too.

 

AJJ

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the three inevitable carol-anthems (all on different days).

 

Inevitable they might well be: this does not preclude them from being outstanding pices of music, which will particularly strike those hearing them for the first time!

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Having now seen the listings, I have to admit to being not a little disappointed. It's a bit "chocolate box", isn't it? A movement from the Requiem, the final movement of the Concerto for Strings, a movement from a Clarinet sonata, bits only of the usual choral warhorses - (St Paul's, Coll Reg & Gloucester), plus the three inevitable carol-anthems (all on different days). I suppose the Dallas Mag is a bit out of the ordinary, but it's hardly among his better pieces. And what do we get in the way of songs? "Green Ways" - yet another warhorse. Why not some of the many other splendid, but still little-known songs he wrote?

 

Still, it's not all bad news. The third programme looks fairly interesting with a couple of part songs I've never heard before and "Merry Eye" which is pleasant fun. And, in the first programme, the superb Elegy for viola, string quartet and string orchestra is most definitely worth getting your hanky out for.

 

 

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

 

Of all people, you wouldn't expect me to respond to the subject of Herbert Howells, but actually, I heard a work on radio (buried in the wee small hours on Classic FM) which quite interested me.

 

I recall wondering who the composer was after switching on after the work had started, (always a good game when you don't really know a piece), but beyond the fact that it was probably English, I struggled.

 

It was, it turned out, a Piano Concerto by Howells, which had more than a hint of Ravel, but in the style of Percy Grainger!

 

It was all a bit odd, but not unpleasant, I thought.

 

I had to smile when the presenter said at the end, "That was the Piano Concerto by Herbert Howells. Make of it what you will."

 

I didn't feel inclined to rush out and buy a CD, but at least I wasn't chaffing at the reins.

 

:)

 

MM

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Inevitable they might well be: this does not preclude them from being outstanding pices of music, which will particularly strike those hearing them for the first time!

I agree they are outstanding (though I know those who think Here is the little door rather twee). And I suppose I have to concede that there is no reason why they should not be performed on separate days since, although they were composed quite close together (in 1918, 1919 and 1920), I don't think they were conceived as a set.

 

There is, incidentally, a fourth carol-anthem that is just as superb as the well-known three - Long, long ago, composed much later, in 1951. Sadly I have yet to hear a performance that gives it the yearning quality I think it needs. The three recordings of it I have heard are all rather too fast for me - more part-song than anthem. I can envisage it sounding really, really magical. If you like middle-period Howells, I do commend this piece. Any choir that can sing the St Paul's or Westminster services ought to be able to cope with it. You can hear the opening at track 16 here.

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Given the number of people who have expressed their opinion on the Elgar Sonata, and the questions that have been raised about its history and performance demands, the following should be required watching!

 

I’m writing this whilst enjoying a DVD that arrived today all about the Elgar Organ Sonata. It features a fine performance of the Sonata by James Lancelot at Durham Cathedral (though I wasn’t particularly convinced by the recorded sound quality on the DVD), but what makes it very special are the extras, including a study documentary of the sonata featuring Lancelot, Relf Clark and Jeremy Dibble, a feature on the organbuilding process with Mark Venning, James Lancelot’s tour of the console (enjoy those Solo strings and the French Horn- pure velvet!) and masterclass discussing performance and registration issues, this latter perhaps the highlight- worth following with the score. There are also three features about Elgar, his birthplace, the man and his music, equally fascinating.

 

There is also a CD of the Sonata performance (which I have yet to listen to).

Highly recommended- available for £19.99 from the Elgar Foundation Website- www.elgarfoundation.org

 

Has anyone else seen it?

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Following rogbi200's recommendation I sent off for the Elgar DVD and received it yesterday, and I agree it is an excellent DVD even allowing for the sound, some excellent "extras" as you said, even nice to see Mark Venning and the Harrison works. One warning however, don't touch the discs with damp hands as they've used water soluble ink for the printing and they smudge badly. I reported this to the Elgar Museum and after a test they agreed with me although they weren't aware of it previously. The matter is being taken up with the manufacturer. Don't let that put you off though - well worth purchasing.

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Thought I would resurrect this topic to see if we had any further ideas, or perhaps even changes in ideas? And it sort of ties in with my request for FJ sonatas. I saw the Toccata Chorale and Fugue mentioned in fairly reverential tones, so I may explore that.

 

However, I did go out and buy the Alcock and Statham, and they are both very fine pieces, helped by that complete Alcock recording from Salisbury on Priory. The Statham goes just that bit further in terms of harmony. The Bairstow continues to go up in my estimation, not enough to knock off the Elgar (great performance of the last movement after evensong in Winchester a few Saturdays ago, a real treat), and in particular that broodiness of the middle movement.

 

Anyone else with movements up or down the list?

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Thought I would resurrect this topic to see if we had any further ideas, or perhaps even changes in ideas? And it sort of ties in with my request for FJ sonatas. I saw the Toccata Chorale and Fugue mentioned in fairly reverential tones, so I may explore that.

 

However, I did go out and buy the Alcock and Statham, and they are both very fine pieces, helped by that complete Alcock recording from Salisbury on Priory. The Statham goes just that bit further in terms of harmony. The Bairstow continues to go up in my estimation, not enough to knock off the Elgar (great performance of the last movement after evensong in Winchester a few Saturdays ago, a real treat), and in particular that broodiness of the middle movement.

 

Anyone else with movements up or down the list?

There is a lovely - and postively ancient - recording of the Jackson Fugue played as a postlude at Kings by ... by... um, forgotten, but it's an old mono record. Can't lay my hands on it at the moment. Is the expat Healey Willan allowed? His Intro Passacaglia and Fugue in Eb minor is monumental and in 'British' style, although far more demanding than the sleek and evocative Alcock with its passacaglia theme reputedly by Dupre, so I am led to believe. W Lloyd Webber also wrote a fine and demanding Suite but perhaps in terms of appeal and depth not quite 'right up there ' with the greats.

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"In a Monastery Garden" - Albert Ketelby. Peerless.

 

P

 

 

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

 

 

I think that Quentin Maclean playing "Marigold" by Billy Mayerl just pips it!

 

Seriously, I feel sure that I would have contributed to this thread earlier, but in case I haven't, and because I am too lazy to re-read everything, the most outstanding work has to be the "Introduction, Passacaglia & Fugue" by Healey Willan.

 

I could do with the Elgar, but it's all too orchestral for it to be effective on the organ in my view, with some of the writing more akin to string writing.

 

I've mentioned the Jackson "Toccata, Chorale & Fugue," so I think I would have to mention the works of Nares, which although written only for manuals, are very well written.

 

The trouble is, there is such a paucity of great works by British composers, almost anything could qualify, but on a world basis, only as second or third rate.

 

Oddly enough, from a country not famed for its composers, there are probably a number of finer organ works from America.

 

MM

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