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Pierre Lauwers

Herbert Howells

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Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

I am a belgian organ lover, having done some research in this field up to twenty years ago -then the businesses took over for a time-.

 

I try to introduce the organ works of Herbert Howells to belgian and french organists, who ignore him. This music is of course closely tied to the british cathedral organ, no doubt, and moreover the late-romantic one. So I'd be delighted to know:

 

-Has anybody tried Howell's music on a continental organ (Cavaillé-Coll, Gonzalez, Klais, other, romantic or neo-classical)

 

-What are the basic requirements to which an organ must respond to do justice to this music?

 

Thanks and best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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I would have thought that the music of Herbert Howells would transfer well to a Cavaillé-Coll of modest proportions or greater, although I've no experience. The only thing is, that the string sound maybe too big for the softest passages.

 

I have heard Herbert Howells to great effect at St Ignatius Loyola in New York - arguably Mander's finest work. The style of this instrument owes much to the French romantic period of the mid Cavaillé-Coll period, but is certainly not a clone or a copy. It has some stops that would not belong in such a scheme from that period, but are voiced in line with the rest of the organ. It really works and has a lot of character, even chutzpah! See the description, or better still, come to New York and hear and see the organ.

 

As you observed, instruments with a general romantic leaning are what Howells conceived his music for. I've never heard Howells work on a neo-classical instrument. The legato lines that the music often requires are just not possible on flutes that 'chiff 'and strings that 'quack', although somebody in this forum will doubtless disagree and term my remarks as derogatory and ignorant. And sometimes the depth of sound in the pedals is lacking the foundation tone of a romantic instrument that is not typically found on a neo-classical organ.

 

I would be interested to hear Herbert Howells on some Caviallé-Coll organs. It may not be authentic, but I am sure it would have a lot of character.

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I thought I would add some comments by way of background. Herbert Howells received his musical education at Gloucester Cathedral in the early years of the twentieth century as a pupil of Dr Herbert Brewer. His sound world was heavily influenced by the ambience of that most beautiful of English Cathedrals and its organ (Father Willis 1889 / 99, with some alterations by Harrison & Harrison in 1920). For this music, therefore, you have to think large, resonant (at that time, the echo from full organ was ten seconds) Gothic places with magnificent stained glass.

 

It is difficult to make Howells work in other environments. I heard Thomas Trotter play one of the Psalm Preludes at Birmingham Town Hall a few years ago. Right period and style of organ; sympathetic reading; wrong ambience.

 

Interestingly enough, for the reasons given by Anthony Poole, I doubt that you could now play Howells successfully at Gloucester; the current organ, a magnificent instrument, is very different, for all that it incorporates much earlier pipework; it is now almost entirely neo-baroque in the RFH manner. There are recordings of the old organ around, though. There is a wonderful recording made by Dr Sumsion in the 1960s which includes some pieces by Howells (Great Cathedral Organs series, published by EMI).

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Yes,

 

Here we are at the core of the problem! I have 3 old LP's, plus some pices on CDs. Priory records offers three CDs, and they seem not very easy to join by E-Mail. Not that easy to find...

 

And of course, Howells's music requires a splendidly resonant building, plus an organ that fits. Resonant Cathedrals are to be find aplenty in France, but I doubt the french romantic organ would be fully adequate. At least, trials should be done, but I am afraid the Cavaillé-Coll reeds could be too "free" and pervasive.

 

French organists to whom I sent the "De Profundis" Psalm-Prelude were quite impressed indeed. Does anybody know where the written music can be ordered?

 

Last but not least: this matter shows -once more- how important it is to keep at least some organs from every aestethic, even the ones that are "out of fashion". Many english Cathedral organs have been modified since Howells's time, and now that "it's time for him to come back", we are at risk never finding the original conditions needed to get reference recordings. (This is of course true everywhere, not only in England! Franck's organ, too, is gone.)

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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I think the link given my Mr. Mander is the current specification and of course is different to the 1920. The 1920 specification is available at www.bios.org.uk. Go to the NPOR-Address link and then you would have to type in your e-mail address (for some reason) to access the data base. When you do, then ONLY type in Gloucester in the TOWN box (as the search engines are not that great), you should then be able to find the Cathedral and any specific specifications from there, including the 1920 spec.

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Thanks !

 

This is the kind of data I searched for since some time -*some* may actually be a little understated-.

 

Here is it:

 

CHOIR

 

Contra Dulciana 16'

Claribel Flute 8'

Dulciana 8'

Viola di Gamba 8'

Lieblich Flute 4'

Harmonic Piccolo 2'

 

GREAT

 

Double Open Diapason 16'

Open Diapason I 8'

Open Diapason II 8'

Open Diapason III 8'

Claribel Flute 8'

Octave 4'

Harmonic Flute 4'

Octave Quint 2 2/3'

Super Octave 2'

Sesquialtra 3 ranks, 17,19,22 ( Sesquialtera?)

Trombone 16'

Trumpet 8'

Clarion 4'

 

SWELL

 

Lieblich Bourdon 16'

Open Diapason 8'

Lieblich Gedackt 8'

Salicional 8'

Vox angelica 8' T.C.

Principal 4'

Fifteenth 2'

Mixture 3 ranks 17,19,22

Contra Posaune 16'

Cornopean 8'

Oboe 8'

Vox Humana 8'

Clarion 4'

Tremulant

 

SOLO (expressive)

 

Quintaton 16'

Harmonic Flute 8'

Viole d'orchestre 8'

Viole celeste 8' (no mention of compass)

Concert Flute 4'

Orchestral Bassoon 16'

Clarinet 8'

Tremulant

Tuba 8' (unenclosed)

 

PEDAL

 

Double Open Wood 32'

Open Wood 16' (extended from Double)

Open Diapason 16' (borrowed from great Double O.D.)

Sub Bass 16'

Dulciana 16' (borrowed from Choir Contra Dulciana)

Octave wood 8' (extended from Double Open Wood)

Flute 8' ( extended from Sub Bass)

Ophicleide 16'

Bassoon 16' (borrowed from Solo Orchestral Bassoon)

Posaune 8' (extended from Ophicleide)

 

So we have a "classic" english-romantic-cathedral organ, as one could expect. Notheworthy are the rather little Choir -maybe an addition- but I think the most important originality in this design -at least from a non-english point of view- are the Mixtures. There are only two in the whole organ ( Great's Sesquialtera and Swell's Mixture), have only three ranks, and both the same disposition. Moreover, they contain a Tierce rank (see another Thread). So one may suppose these Mixtures to be more suited to the "Full-Swell" than to the "Plein-jeu". Of course Herbert Howells did play others organs later. It's possible we know very little of the organs he had in mind while composing. The few recordings I have are somewhat spoiled by neo-classical mixtures -at least to my taste-. It is quite certain such Mixture designs, paired with the peculiar English chorus reeds, won't be easy to find in continental Europe if one aims at playing this music in a reasonably "correct" way.

Any comments?

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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The disposition of the new and old Gloucester instruments is quite interesting. The organ is placed centrally on a screen (in a fine Renaissance case from 1665), and has to accompany services both in the quire and in the nave. The current organ solves this problem by having West and East Great organs, with the reeds in between. The Swell has shutters west and east. The choir organ is in a chaire case dating from 1579 and facing east. The West Positive, as its name implies, faces west.

 

When Willis rebuilt the organ in 1888, his first instinct was to split the organ on either side as he had done at St Paul's in 1872. Fortunately, he was not allowed to do that. Instead, he rotated the instrument inside the case, so that the Great faced south, with the Swell behind it. The Choir organ was in the little chaire case on the east, and the Solo (1899) in a swell box inside the north side of the screen behind the main case. As the organ was relatively small for the building, he voiced the Great and Swell on 4 1/2 inches of wind.

 

Harrison & Harrison's work in 1920 was limited in scope. He added a leathered Open Diapason I on the Great, a 32' octave to the open wood in the North Choir Triforium, and expanded the Solo from four stops to the specification shown above. Otherwise, I don't think the instrument was much changed. Harrison did not, for example, recast the Great mixture as a Harmonics, or revoice the great reeds as trombas.

 

Pierre Lauwers' description of the old organ as "classic english-romantic" is pretty accurate. When the organ was rebuilt, it was said that it was not distinctively Willis or Harrison & Harrison, and so was not worth preseving in its then form.

 

The principles underlying the reconstruction of the organ in 1971 were to make the instrument relate more to its case by re-aligning the soundboards to the pipe fronts, containing the instrument as far as possible within the case, and restoring the tone of the instrument to something more in keeping with the surviving Thomas Harris pipework of 1665. Much of the old pipework was re-used, restored and revoiced as necessary. The tuba went to All Saints, Margaret Street, London, where it can still be heard. The 32' octave was disposed of. As the Cathedral Organist, John Sanders, said at the time, if you had a piano, you would scarcely put the bottom octave in an adjoining room! At the same time, the case was magnificently restored.

 

The resulting instrument is very successful and exciting, being a combination of baroque diapason choruses and splashy French-style reeds. It is not exactly typical of an English Cathedral organ, nor indeed of organs of the Restoration period!

 

To return to the point about Herbert Howells, the loss of the old Gloucester instrument is not all that damaging, as there are a number of surviving instruments which are "out of the same box". So far as the Willis pedigree is relevant, the Salisbury Cathedral organ, among others, would give a good idea of how the Gloucester organ used to sound. Also, Howells would have known the instruments in Worcester & Hereford cathedrals, (Willis & Hope-Jones / Harrison respectively) and these are not much changed since the 1920s.

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Yes,

 

I have known the Worcester's Organ in 1976, and was told Hope-Jones's reeds were still there, tough the Diaphones were "disabled"(?) It already had neo-classical Mixtures by H&H -but that's still better than the original H-J scheme, which had none- and was an exceptionally beautiful instrument. I came back with two LPs I still have (Saint-Saëns's Messe à 4 voix and a S-S Wesley's choral works compilation) by the Worcester Choir leaded by Donald Hunt. If this organ still exists in about the same state, I mean tonally, it could be, as you mention it, well suited to Howells. That's a bit remote now but I believe there were two mitures on the Great, one of which containeda Tierce rank -A mixture, not a Cornet nor a Sesquialtera-.

 

I believe we can assume the reeds and the two mixtures on the 1920 Gloucester's scheme to be conform to Willis's practice. So we could start with the following "guidelines" ( I don't mean "Laws"!!!): any Willis 1 cathedral Organ within a good acoustic might be a good opportunity to discover H.Howell's work.

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Didn't Herbert Howells say that Liverpool Anglican Cathedral was one of the finest organs for his music? There is a good series of recordings available on www.priory.org.uk of the organ music of Howells, featured at Kings Cambridge, Winchester and Hereford Cathedrals.

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Returning to Worcester Cathedral a moment, Harrison added two mixtures to the Great in 1925, one a Harmonics, and the other a five-rank quint mixture along the lines of the 1908 example at Ely. The 21st in the Harmonics was suppressed in 1967, but I think the rest of the Harmonics survived the 1972 re-build, as a cornet. The Swell acquired a mild-mannered three-rank mixture in 1967 and a Scharf in 1972, which complements the marvellously fiery 16-8-4 trumpets. These are on something like a 15 inch wind. The Choir gained a high-pitched mixture in 1972, but was not much changed.

 

As regards the surviving Hope-Jones voices, the violes d'orchestre and violes celestes (scale something like 1 1/16" at CC) are very beautiful. I believe they were voiced by Franklin Lloyd, who also worked for Michel & Thynne (Grove Organ, Tewkesbury Abbey). The orchestral trumpet is also a very fine stop.

 

I never met anyone who said the diaphones were in the least bit musical, or indeed ever heard them. I they had ceased to work long before the 1972 rebuild. The tuba was definitely mirabilis - two tongues per pipe, and on something like 20 inches - astonishing effect. It was extended to 16' in the pedal, and could easily dominate full organ. It was rumoured that, if you held a chord for more than a few seconds, it would drift out of tune.

 

Not much to do with Howells, but I thought you might be interested...

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Of course I am!

 

I understand why I could never forget these Viole d'orchestre and celeste at Worcester. This is something you shall never find on the continent. If I'm not too Alzheimerized (!) The Violes celestes had two ranks, one above, the other below tune.

 

I Have the H &H 1908 Ely scheme. This is quite interesting too.

 

Does something remains of Thynne's work? Tewkesbury *may* be something special, but maybe Thynne's pipes could be intact elsewhere? I understand so small-scaled stop could be rather fragile.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Well, Alzheimer !

 

The Violes celestes two ranks I may have seen elsewhere; maybe that was a Vox angelica that paired the Viole d'orchestre at Worcester (a bit uncommon. Normaly this goes with a Salicional). Of course, there is not a difference as big as the channel between a Viole celeste and a Vox angelica, but it's worth caring, tough.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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I would agree, sadly, that the Gloucester organ is not well suited to the music of Howells.

 

As a former pupil of Paul Trepte at Worcester I know the cathedral organ well and would agree that it could play the romantic repertoire superbly. As discussed above full swell is very thrilling - although it was better before being reined in in the Woods Wordsworth rebuild c1976. Mander's old discussion board contains a thread bemoaning the "Worcester Appeal for Music and Light" which basically plans to scrap this fine instrument.

 

For the combination of superb organ sound and resonant accoustic the Milton organ, in its latest guise rebuild by Kenneth Jones, in Tewkesbury Abbey is now hard to better, and I've heard Carlteton Etherington play Howells to great effect on this instrument. Hereford remains, to my ears, one of the finest organs in the country and would also suit this music superbly well.

 

Also in this part of the country the Walker organ in Bristol Cathedral, last rebuilt by Mander some years ago now and in need of further attention, is something of a treasure and can certainly do justice to this music.

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Thanks, Nfortin,

 

And I'm happy to learn Tewkesbury might be better today than 28 years ago!

 

Are there *really* plans to scrap Worcester's organ? Well. Let's say this would be maybe a bit misconceived. I often says if ones wants to play something else than what an existing organ is intended for, why not build a second organ? Of course this would often means an impossibility to play both together (differing temperaments). But this was precisely Tewkesbury's problem, all these disparate divisions "glued together" -halas with revoicing-... So this could be the least harmfull of two hells.

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Re. Worcester, yes definitely. They claim that the existing pipe organ is beyond ecconomic repair, and the aim is to install two completely new and separate pipe organs, one in the quire and one in the nave. See http://www.worcestermusicandlight.com/

 

Re. Tewkesbury, the Milton (incorporating the old apse echo organ) sounds quite different compared to pre. Kenneth Jones rebuild. Previously this organ was rather underpowered in a building of this size, but it really does sound quite magnificent now.

 

The scheme to link the Milton and Grove organs was, as is generally known, never realised and was always problematic as the two organs are not at the same pitch. Both organs are now in playable condition, although the Grove whilst being an important historical curiousity is of absolutely no use in the context of worship in this fine building.

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The "Grove" organ is the instrument built by Michel and Thynne for the 1885 Inventions Exhibition, now named after the Reverend C.W. Grove who bought it and presented it to the abbey.

 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying its a poor instrument - its magnificent, but in the context of worship in the abbey it serves no purpose. It does get played in occasional recitals. I've not played it myself but would guess it is not the easiest organ to play without plenty of time for familiarisation as the console has not been modernised at all and does not have much in the way of registration aids.

 

I grew up in this part of England and during my childhood this instrument was silent. I well remember the excitement when Bishops were commisioned to restore the organ to working order and attended the opening recital by Francis Jackson. It would be a great tragedy if this organ were to return to silence, but it must represent an enormous burden to the abbey authorities to maintain an instrument which has no liturgical purpose, in addition to the now magnificent 4-manual Milton which is itself an organ of great historical significance.

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Well, I just put this one forward again, as it seems Paul know of some

Herbert Howell's opinions and ideas.

 

They would be welcomed here!

 

Let's add some hints at what has already been said, a discussion which lent us

as far as a tour of english cathedrals.

 

Some tests made here in Belgium with the instruments we have could make us think

the soft stops of a Walcker organ (or of course many another romantic german organ) could well fill the bill.

But when the volume rises, the tutti does not fit, it's a kind of big, reedy Plenum, but it's still something like a Diapason chorus and it lacks the bite and the clash of more powerfull reed choruses, while a Tuba would be sometimes helpful!

 

Belgian romantic organs are completely out of place in this music, let alone maybe the Anneessens in Ieper, where an english influence is obvious. But this organ lacks refinment, tough.

The problem lies with the reeds, two times too fat and "free-toned", the music turns to a confuse mass of tone. There lacks variety with the soft stops too. The Voix céleste is often too big, too loud, ditto the stopped pipes.

 

This had conveyed me to believe a good plan could be a kind of german romantic organ with some english reeds. Plus that Diapason chorus of course....But on which kind of windchest? (English organ= slider chests. German organ=Registerkanzelle, where the grooves feed stops, not notes...)

Now as far as acoustics are concerned, we have 5-6 seconds in many places, even

simple Parish churches.

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers

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The organ music of Howells would probably sound good in Bristol Cathedral - it has a similar acoustic to Gloucester and the most wonderful romantic organ. There again, it would also sound effective at Ripon Cathedral - which still retains its family of trombi on the GO.

 

In fact, there are quite a few organs in the UK which would be perfectly suitable vehicles for the performance of the music of Herbert Howells. Not all of them cathedrals, either. For example, the chapel at Charterhouse School, on which I believe there was a commercial recording of the organ music of Howells issued. The performer may have been Philip Scriven - but I am not sure.However, I would offer the conjecture that the chapel has a somewhat leaner acoustic environment than Gloucester Cathedral, though!

 

 

However, I venture to state that the Rieger organ of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, is entirely unsuitable for the performance of the music of Howells! That is, if one wishes to re-create the ambience and timbres which Howells almost certainly had in mind when writing.

 

No doubt people will think of many others.

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Guest Roffensis
The organ music of Howells would probably sound good in Bristol Cathedral - it has a similar acoustic to Gloucester and the most wonderful romantic organ. There again, it would also sound effective at Ripon Cathedral - which still retains its family of trombi on the GO.

 

In fact, there are quite a few organs in the UK which would be perfectly suitable vehicles for the performance of the music of Herbert Howells. Not all of them cathedrals, either. For example, the chapel at Charterhouse School, on which I believe there was a commercial recording of the organ music of Howells issued. The performer may have been Philip Scriven - but I am not sure.However, I would offer the conjecture that the chapel has a somewhat leaner acoustic environment than Gloucester Cathedral, though!

However, I venture to state that the Rieger organ of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, is entirely unsuitable for the performance of the music of Howells! That is, if one wishes to re-create the ambience and timbres which Howellsalmost certainly had in mind when writing.

 

No doubt people will think of many others.

 

 

I agree about Oxford, not at allideal, and feel Gloucester is not really suitable either even with it's long reverberation time. How about Rochester? I have heard it played on that job and it comes over spendidly, and let's not forget Liverpool Cathedral. Another obvious choice has to be York perhaps?

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In fact, there are quite a few organs in the UK which would be perfectly suitable vehicles for the performance of the music of Herbert Howells. Not all of them cathedrals, either. For example, the chapel at Charterhouse School, on which I believe there was a commercial recording of the organ music of Howells issued. The performer may have been Philip Scriven - but I am not sure.

You are right about a CD that was made of Howells organ music on the Harrison organ at Charterhouse Chapel. It is on the Herald label and the performer was Philip Kenyon who was organist at the school at the time. I briefly worked in the same offices as Philip at Boosey & Hawkes in 1990 but I am not sure what he is doing now.

 

Jeremy Jones

London

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You are right about a CD that was made of Howells organ music on the Harrison organ at Charterhouse Chapel. It is on the Herald label and the performer was Philip Kenyon who was organist at the school at the time. I briefly worked in the same offices as Philip at Boosey & Hawkes in 1990 but I am not sure what he is doing now.

 

Jeremy Jones

 

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

 

 

I've always regarded the music of Howells as the polite Anglican answer to the atheistic harmonic ramblings of Frederick Delius.

 

Still, I've heard Howells played very successfully on the organ of St.Lauren's, Rotterdam, which has some rather gorgeous mild strings and a Celeste, some nice Flutes and enough 8ft stops to provide body if they are all coupled together at the same time! Big acoustic.....

 

However, it will delight Pierre to know that Howell's music sounds perfectly acceptable on the big Anneessens/Compton/Laycock&Bannister/Nicholson (what a pedigree!) organ of Bridlington Priory.

 

For my choice, it just has to be Liverpool Anglican, which is near perfect. With all that acoustic, it's impossible to tell whether it's Delius or Howells, but the sound it makes is gorgeous.

 

If it is truly time for Howell's music to make a return, how often are the flights to Amsterdam by "Easy Jet?"

 

MM

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