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Mander Organs
Pierre Lauwers

Herbert Howells

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Just remind me why it was he took to drink....

 

Uh ... drink came first, then came the divorced, protestant, slightly his senior etc. etc. wife. I guess his catholic family found it hard to decide which was worse.

 

But then, both daughters were adopted.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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I never heard him play Bach on the organ, but if his piano perfromance was anything to go by, I would expect it to have been pretty heavily on the romantic side* (like Harold Darke - an almost exact contemporary)  One day he told me that it was part of his regimen to play one of 'The 48' on his clavichord at home every morning.  I cheekily asked for a demonstration one day and got one - from memory - on the little grand in his teaching room (in the basement of the RCM).

 

*Mind you, that was the way that he was brought up.

 

Hand registration? Emphatically yes, of course. If readers never saw 'one of the old school' accompanying psalms in the days of non-adjustable pistons they missed something.  I used to hang around in the loft at Wionchestedr Cathedral and marvel at Alwyn Surplice's psalm playing, many of you (older generation) will have simlar tales to tell of others from the same era.  The stops would fairly fly in and out, descants here, solemn supportive chords (not necessairly the ones on the printed page) elsewhere when required.

 

I would have loved to have heard HH play the organ, but I'm not convinced that he was obsessed with it (as an instrument) as we all are.  He enjoyed his 'stand-in' job at St.John's College Cambridge during the war, but I imagine that it was much more the choir work that he enjoyed - this may explain the torrent of new choral works starting around this period and continuing for years.

 

Paul, thank you for this - I enjoyed reading your post. I would have dearly like to have heard HH play one of the '48' from memory. An impressive feat. It would have been good to hear how he shaped the fugue - presumably the articulation was predominantly legato?

 

I am also always keen to observe others playing - particularly when accompanying Psalms - there is always something to be learned by watching others play; (even if, in the case of an American organist, who had better remain nameless, it is 'how not to give a recital on the organ of Guildford Cathedral').

 

Registration is something which fascinates me - I love colour (without, I hope, becoming aurally bizarre). This is probably why I am still not convinced by arguments concerning the playing of Bach's music on one registration and one clavier throughout. I realise that the design of the instrument and other factors must be taken into consideration, but I cannot help thinking that the creative genius of JSB would have transcended mere theoretical (or 'historically accurate') arguments when he was playing.

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But, Pcnd,

 

If we want to be strictly historically correct,

we must admit this: Bach's organ were

more about "colour" by far than neo-baroque

organs!

(Néo-baroque= would-be-copies without Swell, without Gambas, without

harmonic stops, no more than two 8' flues on a manual etc)

Pierre

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Oh, I love it myself! And, yes, I can't help being wowed by the sheer panache of Bach played by a performer like Curley or Fox or, for that matter, Guillou - though personally in those cases I find myself admiring the sheer technical prowess rather than their taste.

 

I had forgotten about Guillou. I started collecting his Bach series on Dorian but it never got past Volume 5, or if it did they concealed the fact well. I have not listened to it lately but my abiding impression is of extremes of tempo - either incredibly fast or so slow that the snails were zooming past in the fast lane - with a large gap in the middle. As you will have gathered I like my Bach done in a variety of fashions to suit my mood but I have never warmed to his particular style.

 

On the other hand I shall always be indebted to Virgil Fox for making me appreciate the Fantasy and Fugue (BWV 537) . The very first recording I ever owned of this was on an Oryx sampler album called the Historic Organs of Europe - well I was a student at the time and budget price was all I could afford. The performance on that was by Lionel Rogg at Arlesheim and I could not fathom it at all. Then someone loaned me a copy of Fox playing the same piece in his inimitable way. Once he had shown me where to look as it were I came to appreciate the structure and beauty of the piece and now it is one of my favourites amongst the larger works.

 

Soloing themes on reeds does have its uses, even if it is not terribly authentic.

 

Brian

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I had forgotten about Guillou. I started collecting his Bach series on Dorian but it never got past Volume 5, or if it did they concealed the fact well. I have not  listened to it lately but my abiding impression is of extremes of tempo - either incredibly fast or so slow that the snails were zooming past in the fast lane - with a large gap in the middle.
Least year I heard a private (and quite possibly surreptitious!) recording of him playing a couple of the "eighteen" during a service. The word "bizarre" flashed across my mind!

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I never heard him play Bach on the organ, but if his piano perfromance was anything to go by, I would expect it to have been pretty heavily on the romantic side* (like Harold Darke - an almost exact contemporary)  One day he told me that it was part of his regimen to play one of 'The 48' on his clavichord at home every morning.  I cheekily asked for a demonstration one day and got one - from memory - on the little grand in his teaching room (in the basement of the RCM).

 

*Mind you, that was the way that he was brought up.

 

 

I had the impression that he hadn't played the organ at all, seriously at least, for decades ... probably since his time at St John's in the war.

 

We played through some of Bach's fugues on the piano in some of my lessons - his favourite was the B minor (organ - BWV 544) - I was 'allowed' to play the pedal part! You couldn't really tell from his piano playing about things like his touch when playing Bach on the organ - I just remember it all being rather stately. But then he was 86! We were primarily concerned with musical structure and he even more so with beautiful lines - so there were lots of stops and starts.

 

I still think that people are getting too hung up on the "right" organ rather than how well does the music come over.

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Reviewing the comments made on this thread over the past 24 hour, it is a subject that clearly exercises people to some considerable extent. But even if I and it would seem most others disagree with him, sometimes vehemently, I have to take my hat off to Pierre for his sheer bouncebackability, never seeming to know when he's beaten.

 

The fact that people have got so worked up over Howells organ music is surprising, given that, as Paul said, it is his choral music that has had the most lasting impact.

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The fact that people have got so worked up over Howells organ music is surprising, given that, as Paul said, it is his choral music that has had the most lasting impact.
To date, yes. But, to my mind, even that - wonderful though much of it is - isn't Howells at his very best. I reckon his songs are even better. They certainly have more variety.

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To date, indeed. But like any human mind, this is subject to change.

Howells music is no commercial stuff one can appreciate immediately,

it needs some time.

Pierre

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I still think that people are getting too hung up on the "right" organ rather than how well does the music come over.

 

Absolutely - as I believe Roffensis said - Howells can even sound convincing at Coventry. I would go further and suggest that just about anything would sound fabulous at Coventry - except, perhaps, some Caleb Simper.

 

It is largely dependent upon the player and his belief in the effectiveness and validity of his performance. If, through one's playing, comes the conviction of the spirit of the music, and there is, insofar as is possible, due regard to the composer's intentions, then surely it matters not that the Swell mixture has no tierce, or that it is necessary to couple up the Positive (including a big Principal and French-style Crumhorn) in the loud sections, in order to add substance to the foundation-tone.

 

In the end, a good musician (hopefully inspired by the instrument at his disposal) should be able to produce a musical and convincing performance of the work in question.

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

 

56 patient years, and I'm still waiting. 

 

:lol:

 

MM

 

So you do not particularly like the music of Howells then, MM?

 

It is strange - some years ago I was very keep on his organ music - but increasingly, I found that I was playing less and less of it. I think that I became sated with his particular harmonic language. Allied to this, is the fact that the construction of several of his pieces is extremely similar - many of them are of parabolic arch-form, insofar as the overall shape and dynamic scheme is concerned.

 

I do still like his choral music. I have also accompanied singers who occasionally sang some of his pieces. Vox Humana is correct - there is some highly inventive and effective music, there.

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"I think that I became sated with his particular harmonic language. "

 

(Quote)

 

YES!

Here we do have something. Something that will be felt completely

differently according to the voices one have under his/her fingers...

Pierre

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

 

Did you say "Music?"

 

I call it Anglican waffle!

 

:lol:

 

MM

 

Insofar as his organ music is concerned, I find myself (with almost no consternation at such a state of affairs) agreeing with you.

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So weit, so gut.

 

You do not like, and it is your right.

May we come back to the topic?

Peter.

 

Fair enough, Pierre - except that during the course of this thread many suitable instruments have already been mentioned.

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Fair enough, Pierre - except that during the course of this thread many suitable instruments have already been mentioned.

 

Yes, that is true.

But we still do not know enough to reconstitute one...

The deal should be: Bach and Couperin organs for Britain,

Howells organs for these funny guys the other side of the Channel.

Mind you, I do not know of one continental organ that would

serve Howells correctly.

Not later than yesterday, I had two belgian organists here listening

to these old (scratchy...) LPs. Their opinions were the same as many

other's:

1)- This is quite interesting and different from what we do know;

 

2)- We do not have such reeds on our own organs.

 

I guess in England many people may have heard this music a bit too often,

moreover it is "too near", it is "daddy's music"...

But for us on the continent Herbert Howells is a completely new field!

Pierre

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Yes, that is true.

But we still do not know enough to reconstitute one...

The deal should be: Bach and Couperin organs for Britain,

Howells organs for these funny guys the other side of the Channel.

Mind you, I do not know of one continental organ that would

serve Howells correctly.

Pierre

 

Hello Pierre,

 

For the first part - yes we do! Simply build a replica of the old Gloucester organ - the stop-list and some other technical details survive. There are enough old H&H instruments here in order to analyse the composition of the metal and determine scales. Voicing might be a little tricky, but there are a few old recordings upon which this could be based, in addition to visiting contemporary instruments by H&H which still survive in or near their original tonal state, so it would not be necessary to work empirically. Then place it in an acoustic ambience roughly commensurate with that at Sint Bavo, Haarlem and voilà! one 'Howells' organ.

 

For the second part - I suggest either Saint Nicholas, Amsterdam or the fabulous Piere Schyven organ in Antwerp Cathedral. Having played this organ on at least three occasions, I am fairly certain that it has suitable timbres for the music of Howells. The reeds are definitely not as bright and powerful as those on a Cavaillé-Coll. In any case, much the organ music of Howells does not require the use of full Pedal or GO very often. I also assume that he never expected the use of a 32p reed, since Gloucester did not have one until 1999 - although Antwerp cathedral has a very good example.

 

It would be interesting to hear how the organ music of Howells sounds on a vintage C-C; S. Etienne, Caen springs to mind. Whilst climaxes would be different (more fiery and exciting) I doubt that this would do a serious dis-service to the music.

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I also assume that he never expected the use of a 32p reed, since Gloucester did not have one until 1999 - although Antwerp cathedral has a very good example.

 

Doesn't he ask for the 32ft pedal reed in Psalm Prelude Set 1 No. 3? Or does it just say 32 and not specify a reed? My copy is in the car and I am not going out into the snow at this time of night to get it.

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"It would be interesting to hear how the organ music of Howells sounds on a vintage C-C; S."

(Quote)

 

Try it, you'll soon be conviced it is about as good as Bach's trio Sonatas with

a romantic 16' Bombarde on the Pedal...

As for Antwerps, its reeds are between french and german ones. If the tone goes better, as you note, they are not powerfull enough for Howell's climaxes. Moreover, there is no Tuba -this is less important, tough-.

Pierre

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Doesn't he ask for the 32ft pedal reed in Psalm Prelude Set 1 No. 3?  Or does it just say 32 and not specify a reed?  My copy is in the car and I am not going out into the snow at this time of night to get it.

 

I do not think so - as far as I can remember, he never called for a 32p reed - just '32'. This agrees with Paul Derret's information, where he stated that Howells was always writing with the Gloucester organ in mind.

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Try it, you'll soon be conviced it is about as good as Bach's trio Sonatas with

a romantic 16' Bombarde on the Pedal...

 

Pierre

 

Hey, that sounds exciting - what a brilliant idea!

:blink:

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