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Choir - Great - Swell &c


Peter Clark
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Is there any logical or musical reason why in many countries the ascending order of the manuals is generally choir/great/swell/solo? The organ I play most frequently is continental and is arranged great/swell/positif. So who decided that the choir manual should be below the great and why?

 

Just curious.....

 

Thanks

 

Peter

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I think that it came about because it was much more straightforward to run the trackers of the Chair Organ (in a case behind the player) if that manual was the lowest manual, rather than getting caught up with the action of the Great, and it's just remained like that since.

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Yes, Holz,

 

And if it changed, it was because of the new tonal structure

which appeared 1833 with the Walcker organ of the Paulskirche

in Frankfurt: the lowest manual had to be the strongest one, the

highest one, the weakest.

And so the "Great" equivalent went down, as "Manual eins".

But of course by this time the Rückpositiv had long dissepeared,

so the mechanical reasons for having the Chair manual as first

did not exist any more.

 

Pierre

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I suspect that the order of manuals, like an "Order of Worship," is open to some degree of interpretation and artistic licence.

 

I would agree that the "Choir Organ" is a derivative the "Chaire Organ," which our continental friends would recognise as the "Ruckpositiv." That said, I seem to recall that the original "Chaire Organ" involved turning around on the bench (the Chaire) and playing the second keyboard, without any use of subterranean action mechanisms beneath the console.

 

Even though the "Choir Organ" came to be the lowest of three manuals in a Swell/Great/Choir specification, it was not always absolute by any means.

 

As luck would have it, my own organ-playing career involved a notable exception of considerable historic interest, at a church in Keighley, West Yorks. Furthermore, only 9 miles away, was another exception, but of even greater significance in some ways, at Christ Church, Skipton..

 

In 1888, Harrison built a two manual and pedal instrument for Holy Trinity, Keighley, which was my first real appointment in 1965, at the tender age of 15, but not before an errant rocket almost ended the life of the vicar on plot-night, 1964. Fortunately, the vicar wasn't aware that I was the culprit who set the rocket off sideways from a small ramp, and so this near tragic event did not come to light at the interview. (I never knew that vicars could run so fast, and he didn't know that young organists could be into explosives and missile-launching).

 

One of the my illustrious predecessors was Dr Philip Marshall, who could naturally play the organ better than I, but who was, by then, the Organist & Master of the Choristers at Ripon Cathedral prior to his time at Lincoln Cathedral.

 

If anyone cares to read Laurence Elvin's "The Harrison Story," they would discover that Arthur Harrison first made contact with Lt. Col. George-Dixon in Cambridge, almost exactly at the turn of the century. Following that meeting, Dixon was taken to Bradford and Keighley to inspect the work of the Harrison company: one being Thornton PC, Bradford, and the other being Holy Trinity, Keighley. Both these instruments were magnificently made, but of course, they belonged to the old style, with low-pressure reeds, a fairly subdued Swell division and quite modestly scaled and voiced chorus-work. At the time, the rather undistinguished but musically competent reeds were bought in by the Harrison firm, and were probably no better than those of most other builders, save for Willis, Hope-Jones and Norman & Beard; the latter two with a distinct connection in a number of ways.

 

One of the important links between Hope-Jones, Norman & Beard and Harrison, was the reed-voicer W. C.Jones, who joined Harrison & Harrison (Arthur and Harry) in 1904, but not before H & H had incorporated heavier wind-pressure for the reeds at Tiviotdale. However, I would almost stake my lack of reputation on the possibility that these reeds were obtained from W C Jones, who was then working as a self-employed reed-voicer following his apprenticeship with Robert Hope-Jones and after spending time at Norman & Beard Ltd.

 

Harry Harrison, with characteristic thoroughness, had developed an electro-pneumatic system for use in the re-build at Durham Cathedral, but the first fully electro-pneumatic instrument (so far as I am aware), was at Christ Church, Skipton on the southern edge of the Yorkshire Dales. This would be, I suspect, the first instrument built while both T C Lewis and "Billy" Jones were working with Arthur Harrison; though the exact nature of the tie-up between T C Lewis and Arthur Harrison remains, I think, slightly obscure.

 

However, back to the manual arrangement and the traditional Swell/Great/Choir from top to bottom.

 

As early as 1891, (in spite of the omission of the date in "The Harrison Story" by Elvin), the organ at Holy Trinity, Keighley, was enlarged from two manuals to three. Being almost a new organ (1888), there was no need to rebuild the instrument at all, so as a matter of expediency, the console was only partly changed, with the third (Choir) manual going ABOVE the Swell manual, and the tracker action or it running in front of the existing Great windchest, to the Choir organ windchest situated above the Great, and starting perhaps half way up the level of the swell-box shutters of the Swell organ, some distance away. A very lofty chamber in which a big Open Bass (wood) was swallowed with ease, ensured that there wasn't a problem with height or tonal egress of sound.

 

 

Pedal

1 Open Diapason 16 (Wood)

2 Bourdon 16

3 Quint 10 2/3 1888

4 Violoncello 8 (Wood)

5 Flute Bass 8 1888

 

Great

6 Contra Gamba 16

7 Large Open Diapason 8

8 Small Open Diapason 8

9 Gedacht 8

10 Dulciana 8

11 Principal 4

12 Harmonic Flute 4

13 Fifteenth 2

14 Mixture III 15.19.22

15 Trumpet 8

 

Swell

16 Bourdon 16

17 Viola 8

18 Lieblich Gedacht 8

19 Salicional 8

20 Voix Celeste 8

21 Principal 4

22 Piccolo Harmonique 2

23 Mixture III 15.19.22

24 Horn 8

25 Oboe 8

 

Choir

26 Clarabella 8

27 Viol di Gamba 8

28 Gemshorn 4

29 Lieblich Flute 4

30 Lieblich Piccolo 2

31 Clarinet 8 Enclosed

32 Orchestral Oboe 8 Enclosed

33 Vox Humana 8 Enclosed

34 Tremulant

 

 

 

Balanced Swell and Choir

 

There was no Choir to Great coupler, but the Swell could be coupled to the Choir.

 

(Taken from the NPOR, there are actually errors in this entry. For a start, the pedal was pneumatic and the manuals tracker throughout. The Swell had a hitch-down pedal, and the "Choir" organ had a balanced pedal in the centre of the kneeboard.Also, the additional pedal stops were added in 1891, rather than 1888 when the organ was originally built).

 

However, that may seem to be the end of the story, except that the Choir Organ was not your typical collection of Victorian drawing-room stops. In effect, what was installed was a proto-Solo Organ called "Choir". The stop-list is interesting, for it not only included a big, fat 8ft Flute (Clarabella), but also a reasonably stringy Viol da Gamba, a horrible 4ft Lieblich Flute, a very opaque 2ft Lieblich Picollo and then three reeds enclosed in their own little expression box. Firstly, there was an Orchestral Oboe with little character, a rather undistinguished Clarionet and a quite vile Vox Humana. Nothing blended with anything else, and it really was the most awful collection of pipes, which I don't think could ever be said about almost any other Harrison built before or after. With a very heavy tremulant, it was nearer to the cinema-organ than it was to a church-organ.

 

This was well before the influence of George Dixon, which only started circa.1900.

 

So what, or whom, were the influences upon such a strange Choir stop-list, tonal intentions and manual positioning?

 

Did I detect a hint of Whiteley, or perhaps Harrison's trying to imitate Hope-Jones

 

Interestingly, a similar thing was planned for Christ Church, Skipton in 1906; presumably commenced in the year after the reed-voicer W C Jones became an employee of the company.

 

Unfortunately, the third manual was only ever "prepared for" at the console, and has never been installed. However, the top manual was to have been a "Solo Organ", with the Swell and Great beneath in the usual order. Interestingly, this instrument survives more or less unaltered; save for restoration and action-work in recent years. Using electro-pneumatic action throughout, it says something about the quality of Harry Harrison's work, that it was functioning very well the last time I played it, in around 1974, when the organ was then 68 years old.

 

Pedal

 

Great Bass 16

Sub Bass 16

Octave 8

Ophicleide 16 (Ext.Tromba 9" wind)

 

 

Great

 

 

 

Bourdon 16

Open Diapason 8

Dulciana 8

Hohl Flöte 8

Principal 4

Fifteenth 2

Mixture 12.19.22 III

Tromba 8 (9" wind)

 

Swell

 

Open Diapason 8

Lieblich Gedeckt 8

Salicional 8

Voix Celestes 8

Geigen Principal 4

Flautina 2

Contra Fagotto 16 (7" wind)

Horn 8 (7" wind)

Oboe 8 (7" wind)

 

Tremulant

 

Solo (Enclosed) PREPARED FOR ONLY

 

Contra Viola 16

Viole d'Orchestre 8

Harmonic Flute 8

Concert Flute 4

Corno di Bassetto 8

 

My only quibble with this specification, would be the actual wind pressure of the Ophicleide and Tromba unit, which I had previously always understood to be 11" wg.

 

However, this organ is a fully feldged Arthur Harrison instrument, save for the lack of a Swell Mixture and the Great Harmonics, and still sounds unusually fine in what is a very big acoustic, from an organ very well positioned in a West, under-tower position.

 

What is interesting, is not only the concept of a third manual being a Solo/Orchestral division, but the speed at which the old style gave way to the new, and the ability of Harrison & Harrison to completely absorb the new fashion of the day so successfully.

 

Amusingly, Christ Church, Skipton, was the church where something of a musical scandal ensued in the 1960's.

 

Upon the appointment of a moderate clergyman, the Rev. T Slaughter, by way of direct intervention from the Rt.Rev.Donald Parker (then Bishop of the Bradford Diocese), the church was dragged kicking and screaming down an ecclesiastical peg or two. From "stratospheric high Anglican," it was reduced to merely "Prayer-book Catholic" overnight, and the organist at the time, the late Donald Sellers, was not at all amused.

 

Faced with an ecumenical "communion," and the choir being banished, unrobed, to the pews without an incense procession, poor old Donald went berserk. He saw redder than red when he noted that the first hymn was "Onward Christian Soldiers," and plotted suitable revenge. Using special hymn-sheets, Donald (bless his memory), had them changed. The unsuspecting Rev.Slaughter, began the service and announced the first hymn.

 

The words went:-

 

"Onward Christian soldiers, going on before;

with the Cross of Jesus, nailed behind the door"

 

At the conclusion of the hymn, Donald removed himself from the organ wearing his cotter; genuflected gravely as he crossed the church, went into the choir vestry, removed his robes and stormed out. The bang from the slammed oak door reverberated around the building for a good three seconds afterwards.

 

MM

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Is there any logical or musical reason why in many countries the ascending order of the manuals is generally choir/great/swell/solo?

Apart from the obvious historical matter of the ruckpositive placement of early choirs, in the immediately following period it would also seem strange to put a full-compass choir above a short-compass swell.

 

But I've always thought of it ergonomically - placing the main manual in the middle means that if this is well-placed for playing, the ones above and below are each only a little out. But why this should be thought of differently on the continent I cannot say.

 

Paul

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As for the rockets I used herbicide (a weeding product) and sugar mixed

as fuel.

Mines had generally three stages, falling -in flames- in whatever garden that

might come first, and.....The bomb, of course, above the third.

An exceptionnal five-stages "Mark two" experimental model got the full

results, not without a certain panache: two cars threatened to burn, three gardens also,

while "the bomb" landed and exploded just on the roof of the police station.

Given the period -the late 1960's- I cannot but regret not having choosen

"better" targets; the history of the organ could have been "bettered" somewhat.

 

Pierre

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Guest spottedmetal
As for the rockets I used herbicide (a weeding product) and sugar mixed

as fuel.

Mines had generally three stages, falling -in flames- in whatever garden that

might come first, and.....The bomb, of course, above the third.

An exceptionnal five-stages "Mark two" experimental model got the full

results, not without a certain panache: two cars threatened to burn, three gardens also,

while "the bomb" landed and exploded just on the roof of the police station.

Given the period -the late 1960's- I cannot but regret not having choosen

"better" targets; the history of the organ could have been "bettered" somewhat.

Dear Pierre

 

The recounting of such experiments needs caution here! I got my "continental colour vs English greyness" post deleted for having mentioned my middle son's similar experiments: I'm glad that life still carries on in technicolor in Belgium! Perhaps my son's experiments explain a fox found dead nearby, probably of a heart attack. Needless to say, it's difficult to find sugar in our household. Luckily unlike you, he has not advanced to flaming projectiles . . . although he did try an onion in a pipe. Unfortunately the propellant went fizz instead of bang and the onion managed a "plop" from the end of the 4ft tube, albeit slightly blackened.

 

Was your post suggesting that this is an appropriate use for 4ft Lieblichs?

 

Cooked onions might be an interesting ingredient for the smoke effects of the 1812? :lol: This might actually be a way of introducing teenagers to organs: as a result of this son's enthusiasms he's got at least half a dozen guests booked in.

 

More seriously on topic though, on YouTube, Latry's videos are a pleasure to watch with the continental manual order:

and does anyone know where this one is:

?

 

In Venice the 1850s Bazzano instrument is interesting, having just two manuals, of which the upper is closer to what one might consider to be the Great.

 

Best wishes

 

Spot

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As for the rockets...

My school was enlightened enough that rather than forbid my experiments with rocketry, they arranged for me to go to a local army firing range to let them off. They generally had three stages, and went straight up (in principle...); one had two stages, but the second was a glass capsule that came back down by parachute :-)

 

Paul

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and does anyone know where this one is:
?

 

Spot

 

I think it's in the Bela Bartok Concert Hall of Hungary's Academy of Music, otherwise known as the Palace of Arts, in Budapest. The place is often referred to as MUPA, which I think comes from Muveszetek Palotaja, which in my reckoning should mean Palace of Music, but then again...

 

The organ spec is here, scroll down to the last of the three organs listed:

MUPA organ,

It doesn't say who built it, someone out there will know, but note the 'Septnon' a septième and ninth, giving a difference tone of a fifth (I think? :lol: ).

 

David

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It doesn't say who built it, someone out there will know,

A number of sites don't say - even when they go to the trouble of saying that it was built by "some 60 experts over thirteen months". Elsewhere I find that the building was "supervised" by the organist László Fassang. These suggest to me that it was not built as a simple contract by a single builder. (I note also that the facade pipes were installed in advance of the organ, during the building of the hall.)

 

Paul

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I think it's in the Bela Bartok Concert Hall of Hungary's Academy of Music, otherwise known as the Palace of Arts, in Budapest. The place is often referred to as MUPA, which I think comes from Muveszetek Palotaja, which in my reckoning should mean Palace of Music, but then again...

 

The organ spec is here, scroll down to the last of the three organs listed:

MUPA organ,

It doesn't say who built it, someone out there will know, but note the 'Septnon' a septième and ninth, giving a difference tone of a fifth (I think? :lol: ).

 

David

 

 

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

 

 

Mûvészetek Palotája ....also known as the Milleniumdom or Philharmonie.

 

The instrument has over 150 ranks of pipes, and is one of the larger organs of Europe.

 

The instrument was built by Pécsi Orgonaépítõ in 2006; the Pécsi (pronounced Peshi) company grew, so far as I remember, out of the old Josef Angster firm in Pécs (pronounced Pesh), and possibly the largest organ-factory ever built in Europe.

 

Josef Angster himself had worked in Paris with Cavaille-Coll, and whilst I would have to check the details, I seem to remember that he had a hand in the organ of Ste.Clotilde. He took a lot of French ideas back to Hungary, and blended this with the typical chorus-work of Hungarian organs. Thus, in the heart of Budapest, it is possible to hear very French-sounding instruments complete with chamades, as a modern development of that Hungarian/French fusion of musical interests. Some of the Hungarian organs are absolutely immense; such as those at Eger Basilika, St.James' Budapest and at Pecs Cathedral for example.

 

Some are on a scale only really found elsewhere in Europe, in Germany, with five manuals and 150+ stops not being at all unusual in some of the more important places.

 

So far as I know, Pécsi Orgonaépítõ is now a private company, after being nationalised during the old communist days.

 

 

 

MM

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