Jump to content
Mander Organs

Westminster Abbey Organ


Recommended Posts

Since in many cathedrals, the congregation for Evensong tends to sit in or near the choir-stalls, the organist has to balance the volume of the organ for this part of the building - listeners in the nave or even the transepts would almost certainly be given the impression that the organ was overwhelming the singers!

He is spot on! One of the reasons why I love sitting in the Abbey choir for Evensong is that the Abbey organists are not afraid to pull the stops out when accompanying the Choir. The organ becomes an active participant, rather than trying to do an impression of a retiring wallflower, as so often happens.

 

Jeremy Jones

London

Link to post
Share on other sites
He is spot on! One of the reasons why I love sitting in the Abbey choir for Evensong is that the Abbey organists are not afraid to pull the stops out when accompanying the Choir. The organ becomes an active participant, rather than trying to do an impression of a retiring wallflower, as so often happens.

 

Jeremy Jones

London

 

Thank you!

 

I do try to be a sensitive accompanist but I also get irritated with people (especially singers) who seem to think that the organ should always be subservient to the voices - this is neither correct or reasonable! Occasionally, the interest or excitement in a work really does transfer to the organ part - for example, many of the settings of the evening canticles by Howells. It is at such times that the pleasure of the listener can be heightened (not in the Meg Ryan sense) by the imaginative and even bold use of an instrument's resources.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Leathered-Lips
Umm....no - they do not allow visiting organists to play!

 

I've played the Abbey organ several times in the past, although I've not heard it recently. It is without doubt one of my favourite instruments. Very rich, slightly dark in full tone, and wonderfully grand and powerful, although I recall Martin Baker at the time saying the Swell octave coupler was often needed, and that the organ was generally not too large for the building.

 

I think it has a pretty unique sound which i think is ideal for that setting and quite majestic.

 

Hadn't heard it'd gone off more recently, I think the tuner may possibly be doing other things at the moment.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I've played the Abbey organ several times in the past, although I've not heard it recently.

 

So have I - but not for services! I should have stated that the Abbey authorities do not allow visiting organists to play for services.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Oh, I wouldn't do it for services, I'd be too scared of buggering it up.

 

 

You do not need to worry - as I have said, no visiting organist is permitted to play for services at Westminster Abbey!

 

There, that should be clear enough. :o

 

(With apologies to nfortin, just in case he is also upset by bold type....)

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Leathered-Lips
You do not need to worry - as I have said, no visiting organist is permitted to play for services at Westminster Abbey!

 

There, that should be clear enough. :o

 

(With apologies to nfortin, just in case he is also upset by bold type....)

 

I see you are playing a little "danggerrous".

Link to post
Share on other sites
You do not need to worry - as I have said, no visiting organist is permitted to play for services at Westminster Abbey!

 

There, that should be clear enough. :o

 

 

Many years ago I was a treble on an RSCM Cathedral Course at Westminster Abbey directed by John Bertalot. I'm sure the Abbey organists played for none of the 15 or so services we sang there. I can quite believe the rules have changed since then!

Link to post
Share on other sites
I recall Martin Baker at the time saying the Swell octave coupler was often needed, and that the organ was generally not too large for the building.

I was fortunate enough to learn to play the organ on a 1911 4-manual Harrison where the Swell octave coupler was frequently used for full swell. I had thought this was just a one off, and so was suprised to read that there was the need for it at the Abbey. Maybe there are other Harrison organs out there where it is necessary/desirable to use the Swell octave coupler?

 

Jeremy Jones

London

Link to post
Share on other sites

I was fortunate enough to learn to play the organ on a 1911 4-manual Harrison where the Swell octave coupler was frequently used for full swell. I had thought this was just a one off, and so was suprised to read that there was the need for it at the Abbey. Maybe there are other Harrison organs out there where it is necessary/desirable to use the Swell octave coupler?

 

Jeremy Jones

London

 

I suppose whether or not it is necessary ultimately depends on what effect one is aiming to produce. My understanding has always been (though why I should think this I do not know - I certainly have not been fortunate enough to hear that many examples "in the flesh") that in a classic Arthur Harrison Organ not only do the Great and Swell contrast on what might be called a thick/thin basis, particularly with regard to the chorus reeds, but also that the Swell does not match the Great in power on a stop for stop basis. If this is so, then presumably anyone wanting to produce a more equitable balance of power would need to resort to the SO coupler as a fairly routine procedure if the obvious alternative (reducing the power of the Great) was for some reason deemed either impracticable or undesirable.But surely someone out there must know the answer ?

 

Brian Childs

Link to post
Share on other sites

I was fortunate enough to learn to play the organ on a 1911 4-manual Harrison where the Swell octave coupler was frequently used for full swell. I had thought this was just a one off, and so was suprised to read that there was the need for it at the Abbey. Maybe there are other Harrison organs out there where it is necessary/desirable to use the Swell octave coupler?

 

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

 

Almost all the bigger Arthur Harrison organs have a splendid quint mixture on the Swell and usually a Harmonics with the Septieme silenced on the Great. As the Harmonics tend towards the useless end of musical life, and the Great organs are so very loud, the octave coupler on the Swell adds a degree of balance to the Great chorus. However, it isn't just the Mixture. The usual thing is to have the octave of the 4ft, 2ft, Mixture AND reeds coupled through, which sounds magnificent. The fact that notes drop out left, right and centre, is not really a handicap, due to the huge power of the Great chorus, and the fact that the 2ft is quite bold in its' own rights.

 

Even for Bach, many organists favour the use of the Swell flues with octave coupler, plus the 4ft Clarion, which seems to do the trick when coupled to the Great organ.

 

Perhaps the great sadness is that there has never been a worthier organ-builder than Arthur Harrison, but he was quite badly advised IMHO, and ended up being led down a bit of a blind-alley.

 

That stated, you cannot fail to admire what Arthur Harrison did.

 

MM

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think what Brian says is probably right. From what I can recall, and it is 18 years since I last played this instrument, the Great was very much the primary division and included a huge Open Diapason No. 1. Using the Swell Octave coupler just added the extra bit of power necessary to balance. However, once you based the Great Chorus on the Open Diapason No. 2 the Swell octave coupler wasn't required.

 

But since the main function of the organ was to lead some 600 schoolboys (who took great pleasure in belting out their daily hymn) the latter option was never realistic.

 

Jeremy Jones

London

Link to post
Share on other sites

You do not need to worry - as I have said, no visiting organist is permitted to play for services at Westminster Abbey!

 

 

 

I am afraid this information is not correct. Some visiting organists are allowed to play for weekday Evensongs. There was once a rule that said no more visiting organists. This came about some years ago. The precentor at the time was an FRCO.

 

Well, one Sunday, the precentor was celebrating the Sung Eucharist. A visiting organist was playing. Accompanying his choir. The organist played the procession in in fine style. Getting to full organ. Unfortunately, he used the full organ piston to achieve full organ. What he didn't know was that the piston was a reverser. It had to be pressed again to cancel full organ.

 

So, the first hymn was accompanied on full organ. He did mange to close the swell boxes though. When the kyries were played over on full organ, the precentor had to leave the altar and wend his way up to the organ console. The rule was then introduced.

 

However, since then, if the visitor is considered competent, they might be permitted to play. This is supposed to happen with an abbey organist present. This doesn't always happen and there was a problem, not a great problem, this summer after an abbey organist had departed.

 

Alan

London

Link to post
Share on other sites
I think the problem with the Abbey Organ is getting the balance right.  A simple test for anyone is to sit in the nave and you will see exactly what the problem is.  On the date in question which was 2 Saturday's ago.  a visiting Choir attempted to sing Harwood in Ab in addition to o how glorious ! If only the Organist used his ears ! The balance was not right and drown out the hand full of singers who's voices were not really prepared to matched the acoustics of the Abbey.  From where I was at the back it was inaudibile and instead a full and ponderous heavy organ which was not the ideal thing.  especially when leading the closing Hymn.  If people don't sing the hymns remember it's something your doing !

 

 

 

To try and alleviate the problem in the nave and indeed transepts, a playback system was introduced in Simon Prestons time.

 

The microphones can be seen hanging over the choir stalls. There are loudspeakers on the screen and in the transepts. This enables those sitting in the nave or transepts to hear the choir.

 

Unfortunately this is not always turned on (The controls are in the hands of whoever is playing) If not turned on, the sound of the choir is swamped, in the nave and transepts, by the organ. In the quire the sound is well balanced.

 

Alan

London

(

Link to post
Share on other sites

I hear the organ of Westminster shAbbey most weekdays. And whilst I would agree that it is a wonderful choir accompanying organ, it is not much cop as a solo instrument.

 

To put things very crudely, some rather nice quite solo stops and strings. Quite an exciting full organ. But, so much in the middle is dull, dull and dull.

 

The Preston Bombard section sounds well if sitting in the quire. If in the nave it obliterates all else. Even the pedal organ.

 

In all my years at the abbey, the organists who got the best out of it were Martin Baker and John Hosking. You will all know who Martin Baker is. John Hosking was organ scholar for 3 years. Under Martin Neary and then Martin Baker. To all intents and purposes, during Martin Nearys suspension, he was sub organist. In as much as he did most of the playing. He is now assistant at St Asaph's in Wales. If you see one of his CD's buy it.

 

For those of your who are interested I can tell you that the dean has resigned. He will leave on sabbatical very soon and will leave the post next February. Maybe there is a God after all.

 

Alan

London

Link to post
Share on other sites

The Abbey organ is certainly versatile and manages to play music from many periods extremely convincingly. Of course, as with any large instrument, care needs to be taken to listen to balances downstairs because nothing sounds as it does at the console. It's also fair to say that when registering the organ for Nave events, it almost has to be treated as a completely different instrument than for the Quire.

 

As already mentioned, the Abbey organ's strong point is as a tool for choral accompaniments. But, yes, the Nave and Transept speaker system does need to be operating so as members of the congregation sitting in these areas may hear the choir. On the whole, this is only really needed for weekend services.

 

It's impossible to get the best out of this organ without having sufficient preparation time - with the Abbey's busy schedule it makes more sense for a resident Organist to accompany services for the majority of the time.

 

As far as playing repertoire is concerned... a very well known exponent of early music looked with horror when I pressed a general piston and my Bach combination appeared. "You can't use that"..... after some pursuasion this organist agreed to sit in the Nave to listen. "That works incredibly well" came the reply. You can't come to this instrument and play as you would at home - to create the desired effects it's almost a case of going back to the drawing board. I'm not giving away all of my secrets of registration, but suffice to say I've never played an organ in this way since.

 

The Bombarde division contains the three rather deafening reeds (surprisingly muted in the Quire, appearing with a vengence again at the High Altar) as well as a Cornet and Mixture chorus. The fluework, perhaps sounding slightly overblown at the console, provides greater clarity for Nave services when used in combination with the rest of the instrument.

 

Of all the places I've had the priviledge of holding organ positions I have to say that the Abbey organ has been the most fun to play, as well as the most rewarding. Some weak points, but things that can be lived with.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you for your interesting and informative post John. Perhaps John could share with us the changes he would make to the abbey organ if he was given the chance?

 

John's time at the abbey was an exciting time. The combination of Neary conducting the choir and Martin Baker or John accompanying on the organ was thrilling. The excitement of the choir singing against the organ. The organ building up further. The choir then matching the organ was breathtaking. Martin Neary was always full of praise for his sub organist. And, if I remember correctly, John was given the second of his three years, during his first months in post. So impressed was Martin Neary, and indeed Martin Baker, by the new arrival.

 

Since the Neary/Baker/Hosking era, the accompanying of the choir and indeed hymns has declined. Also, the care that Baker and Hosking (and indeed Neary) showed as to registration as also fallen off rather sharply. The skill of Baker as an accompanist can be heard on the many recordings made in the Neary era.

 

John Hosking has made two solo recordings on the organ of Thuro cathedral. Also, one accompanying the choir. These recodings are to be recommended.

 

Alan

Link to post
Share on other sites

Alan makes some very kind comments about my accompaniment of the Abbey Choir, but much of the credit must go to Martin Baker's constant inspirational playing. Being able to listen to such a master play the organ on a daily basis for the first year or so in the post heavily influenced my style of playing - from improvisation to registration.

 

It is true that the choir and organ worked together as one with Neary and Baker at the helm; Baker particularly believed in allowing the organ to have an equal voice with the singers and saw this as integral to the overall effect of the music. The choir - boys and men equally - always rose to climaxes in accordance with the organ - generally extremely exciting singing.

 

Improvements or changes to the Abbey organ...... well very little really. There's a slight bump when the 4' Octave is drawn on the Great although this can be masked by the Choir Principal 4'. It would be useful to have the Solo Orchestral Trumpet available on the Great, and the Pedal reeds are slightly masked by being so far down the Quire when listening in the Nave. At the console the Great reeds don't sound particularly thrilling, but in the building they blend well with the fluework and add weight to the tutti.

 

In a previous posting it was mentioned that tierces were heard in all the mixtures. Probably a case of an organist having drawn the Harmonics in addition.... by accident?

 

John

Link to post
Share on other sites
Alan makes some very kind comments about my accompaniment of the Abbey Choir, but much of the credit must go to Martin Baker's constant inspirational playing. Being able to listen to such a master play the organ on a daily basis for the first year or so in the post heavily influenced my style of playing - from improvisation to registration.

 

It is true that the choir and organ worked together as one with Neary and Baker at the helm; Baker particularly believed in allowing the organ to have an equal voice with the singers and saw this as integral to the overall effect of the music. The choir - boys and men equally - always rose to climaxes in accordance with the organ - generally extremely exciting singing.

 

Improvements or changes to the Abbey organ...... well very little really. There's a slight bump when the 4' Octave is drawn on the Great although this can be masked by the Choir Principal 4'. It would be useful to have the Solo Orchestral Trumpet available on the Great, and the Pedal reeds are slightly masked by being so far down the Quire when listening in the Nave. At the console the Great reeds don't sound particularly thrilling, but in the building they blend well with the fluework and add weight to the tutti.

 

In a previous posting it was mentioned that tierces were heard in all the mixtures. Probably a case of an organist having drawn the Harmonics in addition.... by accident?

 

John

 

 

Ah. So perhaps, we are getting to the crux of this debate on the Abbey Organ. So in other words it's the style of the Organist's playing that is dull when leading the Choir or Congregation. This is exactly what I was hearing when i attended evensong recently gritty tierces throughout. Whatever happen to a pleno effect and a glorious full swell with the octave coupler ? The glories of any Cathedral. I must admit I did admire Martin Neary for his skill with the choir and of course the wo Organist's of that time. I have several recording s of evensong from the Abbey of his time there and the one has Baker accompany the big Stanford Gloria his style was spot on. Rich full swell with octave coupler and judicous use of the swell pedal. I like to hear a clean organo pleno in Hymn playing with sufficient weight in the pedal. Some Organist's just don't use their ears and to my mind are copying a werkmeister or a french Sound which is not ideal when accompanying a Choir or Congregation.

Link to post
Share on other sites

.Improvements or changes to the Abbey organ...... well very little really. There's a slight bump when the 4' Octave is drawn on the Great although this can be masked by the Choir Principal 4'. It would be useful to have the Solo Orchestral Trumpet available on the Great, and the Pedal reeds are slightly masked by being so far down the Quire when listening in the Nave. At the console the Great reeds don't sound particularly thrilling, but in the building they blend well with the fluework and add weight to the tutti.

 

John

 

I suppose the jump when adding the great octave 4' is due to the removal, by Simon Preston, of the number 1 diapason. What a pity that he didn't have the removed stop re-erected in the triforeum.

 

John mentions the great reeds. These were once trombas. Simon Preston had them revoiced. I would either have them replaced by trumpets, or have them revoiced back into trombas.

 

As to the bombard section. Rather than move the pedal reeds from thier curent position, where they work well with the chior, I would add 2 pedal reeds to the bombard section (32 and 16')

 

I can’t agree with the comments that say the organ is badly placed. To my mind it works well where it is.

 

As I said in an earlier posting. A very good instrument for accompaniment. Not so hot as a solo instrument. Unless, that is, you have organists, such as Baker and Hosking, who use their ears and spend a great deal of time on registration.

 

Alan

London

Link to post
Share on other sites

.

 

Unless, that is, you have organists, such as Baker and Hosking, who use their ears and spend a great deal of time on registration.

 

Alan

London

 

One would like to think that use of ears and the expenditure of time on devising appropriate registration schemes to render effectively the music on the instrument being played were the rule, and not the exception. Whilst the time available to visiting recitalists for familiarisation with the peculiarities ofa particular instrument is obviously limited, the incumbent cannot avail of this excuse. One would have thought, for example, that everyone devising a scheme of piston settings for repeated use would at least take the precaution of hearing what the settings sounded like in the building before locking them into the system, if only to spare themselves embarassment. Are there really many examples of persons in charge of important instruments in famous buildings who consider that they have so many more urgent matters on which to spend their time that they can find none for this activity ?

 

Brian Childs

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 month later...
Umm....no - they do not allow visiting organists to play!

They do! Mark Quarmby was in London in the summer with the choir of St Andrew's Cathedral in Sydney - and I am sure it would not have been Mark you heard as he is an extremely accomplished accompanist - but he certainly accompanied the Sydney cathedral choir - he sent me some photographs and a letter telling me about his visit. He did say that there are "guidelines" on what should be played - and appropriate volume levels!

The main problem with the organ is lack of focus, but this can be overcome in recordings by careful placing of the microphones.

John Foss

www.organsandorganistsonline.com

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Roffensis

I think it was a mistake to remove the tierces, as they were very much a part of it's character. I also think sensitive accompaniment of choirs is the right thing, and the Abbey Choir have a wonderful fullness with proper diction and head tone (a sound fast being undervalued and destroyed elsewhere with continental tone, whatever htat red herring might be). The choir can, and does, match the output of this wonderful organ. Probably a lot of probelms stem from not fully appreciating how the organ sounds in the building. I heard it on one occaision sound very thick and muddy, and think whoever it was playing must have drawn subs and 16s out galore, which isn't necessary generally.

Richard

Link to post
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

×
×
  • Create New...