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"how far do we take such an approach in trying to represent the 'authentic' thoughts of the composer? An impossible task?"

(Quote)

 

A task rendered easier, at least, if we managed to keep at least some instruments intact

in all styles....Combination system (or no combination system at all, of course) included!

 

Pierre

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I do agree with the points made by Nick and Mark. In addition to absolute tempi, another thing hand registration can teach you is the degree to which players must sometimes have made ritenuti in order to allow time to make substantial stop changes without the music seeming to fall apart. I do wonder sometimes whether we might not have lost some flexibility and expression in our interpretations due to the ease with which pistons allow us to change stops.

 

I'm grateful for the thoughts on how technology could detract from the composer's intentions. However, how far do we take such an approach in trying to represent the 'authentic' thoughts of the composer? An impossible task?

I don't think complete "authenticity" is ever achievable. This is precisely why it has become something of a dirty word in the early music movement, who now prefer the term HIP - historically informed performance. Even if one could create the composer's performance exactly I am not sure one would always want to do so - would performances by his pupils or contamporaries be any less valid? To restrict one's self to only one interpretation seems unnecessarily limiting. However, it has always been my contention that a composition consists of more than notes. The dots on the page are just an attempt to transmit a musical concept that is actually about the way certain tone colours and dynamics move and change in time (or not). The more you change these, the further you are fundamentally altering the composer's music because you are moving away from the sound world he intended. That doesn't mean that the result is necessarily going to be unmusical per se, but you may end up with what is effectively a different composition. I have mentioned before a very musical performance of a Mendelssohn sonata I heard a while ago, where the player took a very orchestral approach to registration (a Clarinet here, an Oboe there, big crescendi, etc). It was all very neatly handled, very colourful and actually quite riveting, but it sounded more like Wagner than Mendelssohn and to me missed the heart of the music by denying Mendelssohn's classical roots and made it an anachronism.

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Guest Barry Williams
"how far do we take such an approach in trying to represent the 'authentic' thoughts of the composer? An impossible task?"

(Quote)

 

A task rendered easier, at least, if we managed to keep at least some instruments intact

in all styles....Combination system (or no combination system at all, of course) included!

 

Pierre

 

This is fine for private instruments and possibly those in academic institutions.

 

Organs in ordinary churches have to be able to accompany worship before representing "the 'authentic' thoughts of the composer". Thus it is perfectly acceptable to provide adequate modern stop control and pistons and for these not to be used as a matter of choice when attempts are made at re-creating 'authentic' performances.

 

What is not appropriate is to deny the less skilled player the equipment to accompany divine worship with some 'historic' aim in mind. Those with greater skill need not use the pistons, etc, when playing 'historically'.

 

Barry Williams

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I do not think I would want to be too prescriptive about what is appropriate for accompanying worship. If one is lucky enough to have a decent choir, as many forum members obviously have, then clearly one needs an instrument capable of accompanying the music they sing sensitively and effectively - which means an instrument with Romantic capabilities and mod cons.

 

Whether we like it or not, however, such churches are in a minority today and, much as I regret it, I cannot see that changing. My home city has a population of nearly a quarter of a million, yet there is only ONE choir that is capable of singing decent sacred repertoire to a high standard and only four other churches that I can think of that still manage to maintain a four-part choir. Almost all of the churches here have gone happy-clappy to an appreciable degree. Most have abandoned Evensong as a dead loss and none - probably not even the one with the decent choir - have any interest in classical music.

 

I venture to think that the majority of these churches would be far better served by a decent classically voiced organ strategically placed, perhaps at the west end, than by the often holed-up, eight-foot-heavy squeezeboxes they currently possess. I cannot help thinking that if we had some really exciting instruments of this nature the music to be heard in these churches would have a lot more vitality than is currently the case. There might also be more interest in the organ as a musical instrument.

 

Horses for courses.

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"What is not appropriate is to deny the less skilled player the equipment to accompany divine worship..."

 

Barry, are you really saying that less skilled players want lots of gadgets? Like probably most of us, I've been asked from time to time to give help and advice to reluctant organists. The ones that I've worked with have ranged in ability/accomplishment from ABRSM II piano to performance diploma on another instrument. However, in all cases, the level of anxiety experienced by them when seated at the organ has been in direct proportion to the impressiveness of the console.

 

Also, when dealing with the village/small church situation, it is not uncommon to be faced with the organist who is nowhere near as good as (invariably) he thinks that he is. An all-singing-all dancing console can all to easily turn this type of player from a minor nuisance into a major impediment to worship.

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I venture to think that the majority of these churches would be far better served by a decent classically voiced organ strategically placed, perhaps at the west end, than by the often holed-up, eight-foot-heavy squeezeboxes they currently possess. I cannot help thinking that if we had some really exciting instruments of this nature the music to be heard in these churches would have a lot more vitality than is currently the case. There might also be more interest in the organ as a musical instrument.

 

Horses for courses.

Very true. I think that it's highly significant that many good musicians who care little for the organ or its repertoire do nevertheless find that they enjoy the sounds of the classical instrument.

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Guest Barry Williams

Surely it is wrong to exclude playing aids merely to follow a fashion of 'baroque', 'neo-classical' or, indeed, any other style - in respect of service playing, which is what the vast majority of church organs are there for. Why deprive the less able of their help? No-one has to use them.

 

Yes, simple and straightforward playing aids, such as pistons, even auto basses*, etc do help the less skilled in service accompaniment. As I have mentioned elsewhere on the Board, complex playing aids are self-defeating. I have a particular aversion to 'sequencers', but others think they are splendid and insist on their installation whenever possible. I am told that it is possible to play a complete service using a sequencer instead of drawing the stops.

 

Most ordinary parish churches do not have the funds to build (or rebuild) an organ as "a decent classically voiced organ strategically placed, perhaps at the west end". Indeed, many organs were removed from their original West end position to the Chancel when they were rebuilt to become "holed-up, eight-foot-heavy squeezeboxes", mainly for reasons of liturgical fashion, but also to accompany choirs.

 

I share Pierre's interest in this term 'classically voiced organ'. It clearly does not refer to genuine baroque instruments. The only meaning can surely be that new invention of the 1960s which is termed the 'modern classical organ' , bearing no relationship to anything from history, but often suffering from pipe speech defects, frequently because the 'consultant' has given the voicer specific instructions, such as "no nicking is permitted", or "you must use open toe regulation" - or, even worse, when the 'consultant' has presumed to direct the voicer as to the scaling to be used.

 

Barry Williams

 

* The earliest autobass I have heard of is on the Walker organ of 1895 at Barham in Suffolk. Does anyone know of any earlier example?

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Could anyone explain me what is a "classically voiced" organ ?

I'm sure you know perfectly well what I mean really. :)

 

I mean organs where the primary tonal consideration is for the vertical chorus structure, as opposed to organs where the emphasis is on horizontal 8' tone with uipperwork conceived as contributing to a progressive stop crescendo. Father Willis organs (to name but one) usually have Great diapason choruses in which the stops fit together superbly like the proverbial glove - but there is no way that they were intended to be heard as vertical choruses. Not that I would ever want to throw out a Father Willis, of course! There is also the not insignificant consideration that classical choruses usually have clarity whereas Romantic stops are opque. If you mix 8' stops on a Trost or a Hildebrandt I'll wager that the sound will still be transparent and not opaque.

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Barry Williams wrote

 

"This is fine for private instruments and possibly those in academic institutions.

 

Organs in ordinary churches have to be able to accompany worship before representing "the 'authentic' thoughts of the composer". Thus it is perfectly acceptable to provide adequate modern stop control and pistons and for these not to be used as a matter of choice when attempts are made at re-creating 'authentic' performances.

 

What is not appropriate is to deny the less skilled player the equipment to accompany divine worship with some 'historic' aim in mind. Those with greater skill need not use the pistons, etc, when playing 'historically'."

 

A uniquely British analysis if I may say so. Here is Sir John Sutton writing in 1848:

 

"Every lover of true Cathedral Music must have experienced how much the

modern alterations and additions to the organ, mar the effect of that

most devotional manner of performing the Church Service. In the

chanting of the Psalms the attention is continually drawn from the

voices by the perpetual changing of stops and clattering of composition

pedals, for the modern Cathedral organist scarcely ever accompanies six

verses on the same stops , or even on the same row of keys, and

keeps up a perpetual thundering with the pedals"

 

There is a deep irony in the idea that organs meant to accompany the liturgy (of whatever tradition) 'require' "modern stop control and pistons" and that anything else is only appropriate for "private instruments and... academic institutions". The point is that the way of accompanying Anglican liturgy today is the result of ever more complex console gadgetry. The gadgetry isn't conceived to serve the music, or even the liturgy. This is not to say I don't admire the remarkable feats of orchestration from certain organists in English Cathedrals, (Colin Walsh, Ian Tracey....) (The idea of "tradition" in the way of accompanying the liturgy in Liverpool is, incidentally, unique; 3 organists, all 'teacher-student' successions, the first of whom designed the organ!) I suspect I'm not wrong in suggesting that there are still advisors in the UK who would seek to "modernise" the console equipment of an organ dating unaltered from a century or more ago, destroying vital information the organ teaches us in the process. Remarkable, frankly.

 

In general (no matter where you look in Europe) the growth in registration aids occurs in indirect proportion to the attention given to the voicing of individual stops. OK, this is a generalisation, but if you've played some German organs from the first half of the 19th century and from the first 30 years of the 20th century you'll take my point. In Britain the situation is somewhat comparable. Liverpool Cathedral without the registration aids makes no sense aesthetically - it is an ultra-late romantic organ. In an artistically conceived organ the presence or absence of console equipment should tell the player something about the way the organ's creator intended it to be played. It is not about "authenticity", (meaningless word in this context in 2008!), or "playing historically", it is about strength of concept.

 

The balance between "organ as tool" (Barry Williams?) and "organ as art" is a difficult one. The over-emphasis on the former is perhaps (at least in my opinion) the single defining characteristic of most organ building projects in the UK today. (Perhaps this is still partly fueled by an understandable sense of rejection of the extreme examples of neo-baroque organ building which found their way into certain British choral establishments.) My point is illustrated perfectly by the nature of this discussion which began with a stoplist, and then, rather than discuss the concept it represented, wandered off immediately into number of memory levels, a rather unimportant matter in general, and irrelevant when removed from the concept of the specific organ under discussion. (Mark Wimpress's comments are spot-on I think).

 

Nick Bennett wrote "In my view, an organ needs 8Gb of RAM in the same sense that a fish needs a bicycle." Precisely.

 

In another post Mark Wimpress wrote: "At B St E, given the funds and the will, the ideal would be a small two-manual/pedal in the chancel area, then have a classically-voiced Grand Organ at the West end. Now that would be a revolution in thought and practice: alas, all unlikely to happen."

 

I've never been to B St E, but as a general point, I think this is really true! It is becoming more and more normal to have 2 organs in an English Cathedral, and yet they are almost always scaled-up or scaled-down versions of each other. Or, in Worcester....

Why can't the organs be conceptually differentiated? Surely the 'nave organ' should be more geared to accompanying congregational singing, while the chancel organ can focuss on accompanying the choir? Perhaps something like this: http://www.cccindy.org/subpage.asp?p=89

 

A very happy Easter to all!

 

Bazuin (going tomorrow to Zwolle to hear Sietze de Vries)

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Rudimentary stop control systems have been around for much longer of course, from shifting mechanisms through composition pedals and early settable pistons from the, ooh, 1930s? Possibly earlier?

 

 

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

 

 

Oooh, you haven't come across the Binns Patent adjustable, pneumatic combination actions then?

 

I can think of one which is still in use, and dates from the 1880's. It's a brilliant piece of engineering, and ever so simple, like all brilliant pieces of engineering. It involves pneumatic motors, toggles and squares.

 

The one I know, which I played for some years, had three adjustable combination pedals to each side of the swell pedal, and 3 setter stops on each jamb. The idea was, you pulled out the stops you wanted, drew out the setter draw-stop and then pressed the appropriate combination pedal. After a brief "clunk," the mechanism was set with the new combination.

 

I think that there is a description of it in Sumner, with drawings, if I recall correctly.

 

I smile when I approach many instruments less than 40 years old, where the combination action is at best unreliable, when these century-old (and more) systems continue to give perfect service with minimum maintenance.

 

MM

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Nick Bennett wrote "In my view, an organ needs 8Gb of RAM in the same sense that a fish needs a bicycle." Precisely.

 

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

 

 

I had a friend who tried to teach his fish the finer points of Latin Grammar, but without much success.

 

However, another friend has tropical fish in a tank, and if he alters the "furniture," the fish push the various bits and pieces around until it is the same as before. What's more, they do it with team-work, and three fish can push a piece of plastic coral through the gravel.

 

As for fish riding bicycles, that is just plain silly unless they are planning to escape.

 

MM

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Come again? :blink:

 

I fear just that, dear Vox.

 

The "classical" of the 20th century.....Which destroyed as much baroque

organs as romantic ones.

 

Now as for the " liturgical role" of the organ litany/ Mantra (etc)

 

Does anyone think ancient organs were built for pubs/ Cinema/theater/ Whatever uses ?

Or ?

 

What do we need for today's liturgy ? Electric guitars imitations ?

Who knows what a church service will be like in ten years ?

 

A little case study :

 

Knowing:

 

-That what we believe since 75 years is completely false;

 

-That today's "liturgical needs" will last at best 10 years more;

 

The death's question is as follows:

 

-How could we manage to design an organ today that would not be rebuild

after 20 years ?

 

Pierre

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The "classical" of the 20th century.....Which destroyed as much baroque

organs as romantic ones.

Well, Pierre, that may be how you understand it, but it wasn't what I meant (as I hope I explained).

 

Does anyone think ancient organs were built for pubs/ Cinema/theater/ Whatever uses ?

Or ?

To boost the thrill of watching Christians being eaten by lions?

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Guest Barry Williams
Come again? :blink:

 

 

Having seen your later post it is clear we are referring to different definitions! I had in mind the awful machines of the 1960s with their chiff and spit, rather than the vertical chorus conception. Of course I agree with you about that.

 

Barry Williams

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Perhaps because the instrument is being played in the way the composer intended (assuming the music was written before, say, 1970). Look at the constant stop changes in Bairstow's scores - he must have managed them purely with hand registration.

 

While I strongly agree with the underlying point being made here, I can't help wondering if Bairstow didn't just assume that there would always be a young Ernest Bullock or Francis Jackson with him at the console to help with the registration :blink:

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Having seen your later post it is clear we are referring to different definitions! I had in mind the awful machines of the 1960s with their chiff and spit, rather than the vertical chorus conception. Of course I agree with you about that.

 

Barry Williams

Ah, yes. I'm not anti chiff per se on a classical organ (all pipes have some sort of starting transient, after all), but I do agree that the excesses to which it was sometimes carried in the 60s could be very wearying. No organ, in my view, is worse for not having a noticeable chiff!

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I have to confess, that I have yet to play an organ with a sequencer, and I think the most memory I have ever used has been one with about 6 memory levels. This is because I do not go crawling around many organs.

 

“Bazuin” wrote:- The point is that the way of accompanying Anglican liturgy today is the result of ever more complex console gadgetry. The gadgetry isn't conceived to serve the music, or even the liturgy.

 

I’m not sure that this is entirely true; though I have to confess that I haven’t listened to much accompanied Anglican Liturgy recently.

 

Long before multi-level memories, there were certain “tricks of the trade” which had the effect of expanding the number of combination pistons. This is involved clever manipulation of “neutral” stop-settings, where these were available. The usual trick, for example, was to have two quite separate “Great” organs. I’ll stick to five thumb-pistons and ten stops to illustrate the point on a romantically conceived instrument.

 

Piston 1 would probably be set with 8 and 4ft flutes.

 

Piston 2 would be the same, but with the addition of Gt Open 2

 

Piston 3 would draw Open 1 and the 4ft Principal, with the same Flutes as previously, but the 16ft double would be set at neutral.

 

Piston 4 would draw a chorus based on Open 2 to Mixture, but with the Open 1 and 16ft double set at neutral.

 

Piston 5 draws more or less everything worth drawing, from 16ft to Mixture and possibly the 8ft reed, but with the Open 1 and double still set at neutral

 

Thus, by going from 1 to 2 to 4 to 5, one has a lighter, more “classical” chorus.

 

Go 1,2,3,4,5, and the build-up is darker and heavier in the romantic way, with the 16ft double and Open 1 being evident at the climax.

 

Thus, what the organist had available, was actually 5 normal pistons, and two phantom pistons; thus expanding the registrational capability of the thumb-pistons.

 

With larger instruments, this could get quite complex, until the point was reached that only the resident organists knew how to play the instrument properly, using the combinations as they had been set.

 

I personally always feel that the introduction of various memory levels was a real bit of progress, because the idea of being confronted with 120 stops and 40 or more pistons + generals, and then writing them all down before altering them, was a burden too far. I must have wasted days and months of my life doing exactly this, and then re-setting everything afterwards.

 

If there is proof of this, then a trip to America should be a part of one’s education, where 200 + stops is astonishingly routine. (The same is true of big theatre organs, where 300+ tabs is quite normal).

 

To be confronted with that sort of thing is to be confronted with an absolute nightmare; especially when the resident organist has done things “their way.”

 

I would suggest that the very idea of multi-level memory could be expanded to include specific settings for specific organ-works, and as such, is simply a way of managing a complex task and making life easier.

 

After all, when it comes to gigabytes of memory, it doesn’t come much bigger than a master organist and a couple or registrands hard at work in the Netherlands.

 

On the other hand, it is always a special pleasure to see even large instruments being hand-registered, and to watch someone like Simon Gledhill using minimum pistons, and manipulating 300 or more theatre-organ stop-tabs with perfect co-ordination, is an object-lesson in console-control and musical word-painting.

 

Of course, it takes a real musician to register anything, and with all the memory in the world, that is the bit that cannot be included in the organ-specification.

 

 

MM

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Guest Barry Williams

"Does anyone think ancient organs were built for pubs/ Cinema/theater/ Whatever uses ?"

 

The organ has a long history and its connection with churches is only quite recent. (See Professor Peter Williams' excellent book on this.) There was an organ in a public house - Great Munden, I think it was. The publican was an apprentice voicer of Mr John Degens at Comptons. I never heard it and do not know if it is still there, but it seems a good thing to have in a pub.

 

Oliver Cromwell had the organ removed from Magdalen College and installed it in Hampton Court so that his private organist, John Hingston, sometime lay Clerk at York Minster, could play it for his own entertainment. Domestic and tavern organs were common in Puritan times. Innkeepers bought redundant organs and engaged organists to play them for the entertainment of the customers. There is a wonderful quote in Evelyn referring to " chanting dithyrambics and bestial bacchanalias to the tune of those instruments which were wont to assist them in the celebration of God's praises."

 

Barry Williams

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While I strongly agree with the underlying point being made here, I can't help wondering if Bairstow didn't just assume that there would always be a young Ernest Bullock or Francis Jackson with him at the console to help with the registration :blink:

 

 

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

 

 

Bairstow would always have had quite a lot of registrational aids; being largely the master of Arthur Harrison consoles at Leeds and York.

 

I can well imagine that ALL music was played using the full gamut of each organ; including heavy pressure reeds and swell boxes for Bach.

 

MM

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"Does anyone think ancient organs were built for pubs/ Cinema/theater/ Whatever uses ?"

 

The organ has a long history and its connection with churches is only quite recent. (See Professor Peter Williams' excellent book on this.) There was an organ in a public house - Great Munden, I think it was. The publican was an apprentice voicer of Mr John Degens at Comptons. I never heard it and do not know if it is still there, but it seems a good thing to have in a pub.

 

Oliver Cromwell had the organ removed from Magdalen College and installed it in Hampton Court so that his private organist, John Hingston, sometime lay Clerk at York Minster, could play it for his own entertainment. Domestic and tavern organs were common in Puritan times. Innkeepers bought redundant organs and engaged organists to play them for the entertainment of the customers. There is a wonderful quote in Evelyn referring to " chanting dithyrambics and bestial bacchanalias to the tune of those instruments which were wont to assist them in the celebration of God's praises."

 

Barry Williams

 

 

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

 

 

The Compton at Great Munden was chucked out by the new owners/landlord, and the instrument was purchased by a small group of theatre organ enthusiasts; one of whom is Simon Gledhill. I gather that the organ is currently in storage, as many of them seem to be at present.

 

I played it once, and it sounded good.

 

As for the secular connection, that goes right across Europe into the cafe automatons of Austria, the musical clocks of the classical period, back to crude barrel organs in the ancient world and, ultimately, to the palaces of the Mulsim potentates such as the Emperor Sulliman.

 

I'm afraid that the entertainment organists were the first, and we followed at a much later date.

 

MM

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