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Guest Barry Williams

On the issue of sequencers, someone told me the story of a recitalist who gave one push to many about half way through a piece. At the end of a long work he hit the sequencer and came back to the beginning with no stops! Thereafter he always put an extra sequence in with full organ on, just in case!

 

Perhaps someone can give the details please.

 

Barry Williams

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On the issue of sequencers, someone told me the story of a recitalist who gave one push to many about half way through a piece. At the end of a long work he hit the sequencer and came back to the beginning with no stops! Thereafter he always put an extra sequence in with full organ on, just in case!

 

Perhaps someone can give the details please.

 

Barry Williams

 

I heard that happen to Gillian Weir at York Minster.

 

There was also the occasion (at which I was present) of the RCO Performer of the Year finals at the Bridgewater Hall (was it 1999?) when the organ's electronics crashed in the middle of the Barber Toccata Festiva. Jonathan Scott was playing at the time. There was a lot of innefectual fiddling at the console before eventually they rebooted the thing.

 

On neither occasion would I describe the result as entirely musical.

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I remember the sequencer at St Andrew's, Plymouth, failing on Jane Watts at the start of Guilmant's first. I wasn't actually aware that anything had gone wrong, but she stopped and after a lot of pressing of pistons, got off the stool, explained what had happened, started again, using the divisionals and hand registration - and perfectly satisfactorily too.

 

Sequencers? Bah! More trouble than they are worth. I just know I'm the type who would forget a press at some point - and then what?

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Guest Cynic
I remember the sequencer at St Andrew's, Plymouth, failing on Jane Watts at the start of Guilmant's first. I wasn't actually aware that anything had gone wrong, but she stopped and after a lot of pressing of pistons, got off the stool, explained what had happened, started again, using the divisionals and hand registration - and perfectly satisfactorily too.

 

Sequencers? Bah! More trouble than they are worth. I just know I'm the type who would forget a press at some point - and then what?

 

 

IMHO far preferable and more user-friendly than the poshest major memory Stepper is the stepper-like system which merely scrolls through the generals set by set. I've only troubled to set up a full sequencer once, at Southwell Minster for a recording, and then I barely understood the process but it worked well in practice. It's like programming anything when you're over 50, you need to be doing it almost every day for something like this to become second nature.

 

The main problem is that once you decide to use something like this you have to spend ages setting it up and then you're obliged to stick with it in performance. If, for instance, I absent-mindedly draw a stop by hand instead of pressing NEXT, the next time I do use the piston it will be one out. I once got one ahead of where I should have been on a scrolling-general system (at St.Paul's of all places) and ended up with one section briefly much softer than intended - mind you the echo would probably have covered most of my confusion and - the vital thing - I could see and reach a BACK piston!

 

Drawing by hand does not have so many repercussions. The worst two I can remember were

1. Downside Abbey during a recording where I had to improvise a bar of Delius so that I could come round again and re-try when an Orchestral Oboe refused to come on.

2. A recital at some little church where a grab for Great to pedal resulted in a detached stop-knob still in my hand as it returned to the keyboard.

Being free of the gadget, one can react to how the piece is progressing and modify original plans. I sometimes wonder if aspiring young organists have all seen how an organ can be steered. Standing by good players in my youth I saw wonderful demonstrations both of this sort of thing and of thumbed-down descants in psalms and such. In the days of single memory, difficult to adjust pistons, organists were forced to choose between such tricks and tonal boredom.

 

People have their own systems, of course. Some these days seem very dependent on technology indeed; no names, no pack drill!

My favourite page-turner, my wife, dislikes being responsible for stop-changes but will help out in an utter emergency. This is quite a useful position, actually. because of this, my custom has evolved such that if I cannot control stops safely myself at a particular place in the score in rehearsal I usually think around it - maybe draw earlier, maybe later. The music never appears to suffer! Other than changes of solo colour that cannot be avoided, the Elgar Sonata being the worst, if something is difficult to play on an organ of the right period, then the fault is definitely mine.

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Getting back to B St E the proposed rebuild....

 

Do we have to? I was enjoying the subthread about professional recitalists' accidents with sequencers far more interesting :(

 

Anyhow, continuing that theme...in an age of multi-level memory, can anyone explain why so few large organs have even just ONE channel with a remotely intuitive sequence of combinations? I mean, the number of times I've gone on an organ crawl, and with no time to adapt to the new instrument, launched into something requiring registration changes only to find an absoltely random pattern to the generals and/or divisional pistons, like 1 gives flutes, 2 gives you a tuba, 3 we're back to principal chorus, 4 is full organ, 5 is celestes plus a trompet someone forgot to push in etc. I mean, whilst I don't expect people to register their memory levels just for Organ Club visits, for any visiting organist it is a bit disconcerting to find a total lack of coherence amidst the pistons, and it's bad form to attempt to change the settings without the written permission of the Master of Music. I don't recall such ambiguities in organs I've played with fixed pistons, there's usually a reasonably coherent, even if not universally useful, logic to which stops come on and off, going from p to ff.

 

Now, anyone care to answer, or shall we go back to discussing Bury St E?

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Getting back to B St E the proposed rebuild will include (at a later stage) two organ cases in the elevated space of the Chancel Cantoris: the smaller case for the choir organ speaking across the chancel, and the main case facing West. Despite the elevated position I do have concerns with regard to the effectiveness of the latter. It will certainly be interesting to see the effects on overall projection of sound down the nave with the existence of the quite large space in the new central tower.

 

Please forgive me if I've got it wrong but isn't the great pipework going to be in about the same position as it is now (behind the west case)? If so, I'd have thought the sound projection into the nave will be about the same as now. On a separate point, is the console going down to ground level or staying at organ level from where communicaiton is difficult and the organ can't be heard at anything like it's best?

 

John R

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Do we have to? I was enjoying the subthread about professional recitalists' accidents with sequencers far more interesting ;)

 

Anyhow, continuing that theme...in an age of multi-level memory, can anyone explain why so few large organs have even just ONE channel with a remotely intuitive sequence of combinations? I mean, the number of times I've gone on an organ crawl, and with no time to adapt to the new instrument, launched into something requiring registration changes only to find an absoltely random pattern to the generals and/or divisional pistons, like 1 gives flutes, 2 gives you a tuba, 3 we're back to principal chorus, 4 is full organ, 5 is celestes plus a trompet someone forgot to push in etc. I mean, whilst I don't expect people to register their memory levels just for Organ Club visits, for any visiting organist it is a bit disconcerting to find a total lack of coherence amidst the pistons, and it's bad form to attempt to change the settings without the written permission of the Master of Music. I don't recall such ambiguities in organs I've played with fixed pistons, there's usually a reasonably coherent, even if not universally useful, logic to which stops come on and off, going from p to ff.

 

Now, anyone care to answer, or shall we go back to discussing Bury St E?

 

Well, seemingly incoherent general piston settings may well have been set up for particular pices of music. However, I feel memory level 1 on both generals and divisionals should be set up in a way that wouldn't take anyone by surprise, and ideally with an even graduation of volume from one piston to the next. Thankfully, many instruments are set up this way.

 

John R

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Anyhow, continuing that theme...in an age of multi-level memory, can anyone explain why so few large organs have even just ONE channel with a remotely intuitive sequence of combinations? I mean, the number of times I've gone on an organ crawl, and with no time to adapt to the new instrument, launched into something requiring registration changes only to find an absoltely random pattern to the generals and/or divisional pistons, like 1 gives flutes, 2 gives you a tuba, 3 we're back to principal chorus, 4 is full organ, 5 is celestes plus a trompet someone forgot to push in etc. I mean, whilst I don't expect people to register their memory levels just for Organ Club visits, for any visiting organist it is a bit disconcerting to find a total lack of coherence amidst the pistons, and it's bad form to attempt to change the settings without the written permission of the Master of Music. I don't recall such ambiguities in organs I've played with fixed pistons, there's usually a reasonably coherent, even if not universally useful, logic to which stops come on and off, going from p to ff.

Over the last few years I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to have played most of the large cathedral and abbey organs in the south west and west midlands, including those in Bristol (Cathedral and SMR), Birmingham, Gloucester, Bath, Tewkesbury, Lichfield, Salisbury, Exeter, Wells, Hereford and Worcester. I would say that in each case my experience is the opposite of yours, certainly in terms of divisional pistons, where you can rely on sensible and largely predictable combinations being set on the channels reserved for the home team of organists. With respect to generals, I never make any assumptions as to how these will be set, its in their nature surely to be random. On my own organ the generals on channel 1 are settings that I find useful in hymn playing, but I would never make any assumption as to how the generals would be set on an unfamiliar organ.

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Overall there's not much to get excited about this proposed rebuild at Bury. The organ will remain sandwiched into the chancel recess, it's purpose compromised by providing accompanyment to the choir and support to a congregation down the nave. What effect the new central tower will have on the overall sound will be of interest. It is disappointing though that yet another 'typical' H&H specification makes an appearance: no doubt the only element of surprise to a distant congregation will be the inevitable blasting from a sonorous tuba stop.

 

Interestingly, the scheme has been truncated from that which was originally published in a leaflet a few years ago. Presumably the proposed specification proved too expensive to carry out. I shall have a look to see if I can find the leaflet later today.

 

On this (new) stoplist, the Pedal Organ looks a litle odd - particularly the reeds. Whilst I like to have a choice of 16ft. reeds available, personally I would also wish to have reeds at 8ft. and 4ft. pitches.

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On this (new) stoplist, the Pedal Organ looks a litle odd - particularly the reeds. Whilst I like to have a choice of 16ft. reeds available, personally I would also wish to have reeds at 8ft. and 4ft. pitches.

 

I wondered about this too - there is a 'Great Reeds on Pedal' transfer but the 16' is there already. Maybe this is the means of getting the 8' and 4' also - if so why not just make them all available there in the first place? Fewer movements needed to achieve this.

 

AJJ

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I wondered about this too - there is a 'Great Reeds on Pedal' transfer but the 16' is there already. Maybe this is the means of getting the 8' and 4' also - if so why not just make them all available there in the first place? Fewer movements needed to achieve this.

 

AJJ

 

In which case, I wonder if the present G.O. soundboard(s) is (are) to be re-used. The present G.O. has reeds at 8ft. and 4ft. pitch only. Perhaps it is intended to install the new 16ft. reed on its own chest and make it playable on the Pedal Organ - but the existing reeds will stay on the old soundboard (with perhaps a little revoicing). This might explain this odd feature.

 

I recall that he scheme on the leaflet, in addition to being larger, was also more interesting; this seems (as Mark Wimpress has already observed) like yet another virtually standard H&H specification. Having written that, at least they are now a little less predicatble than they were betwen about 1910 - 1940. In those days, if one ordered a new instrument (or even a rebuild), the resulting instrument could have almost 'come off the shelf', as it were.

 

What was provided would almost certainly have looked like this:

 

PEDAL ORGAN

 

Open Wood 16

Geigen (G.O.) 16

Sub Bass 16

Dulciana (Choir) 16

Quint (Sub Bass) 10 2/3

Octave Wood (Ext.) 8

Flute (Ext.) 8

Ophicleide 16

Choir to Pedal

Great to Pedal

Swell to Pedal

 

CHOIR ORGAN

(Enclosed)

 

Contra Dulciana 16

Viola da Gamba 8

Harmonic Flute 8

Rohr Flöte 8

Dulciana (Separate) 8

Spitz Flöte 4

Harmonic Piccolo 2

Cor Anglais 16 (73 pipes)

Corno di Bassetto 8

Tremulant

Octave

Unison Off

Swell to Choir

 

GREAT ORGAN

 

Gross Geigen 16

Large Open Diapason 8

Small Open Diapason 8

Stopped Diapason 8

Hohl Flöte 8

Octave 4

Wald Flöte 4

Octave Quint 2 2/3

Super Octave 2

Harmonics (15-17-19-flat 21) IV

Tromba 8

Octave Tromba 4

Reeds on Choir

Choir to Great

Swell to Great

 

SWELL ORGAN

 

Lieblich Bourdon 16

Violin Diapason 8

Lieblich Gedeckt 8

Salicional 8

Vox Angelica (C13) 8

Gemshorn 4

Lieblich Flöte 4

Fifteenth 2

Mixture (12-19-22) III

Oboe 8

Tremulant

Double Trumpet

Trumpet 8

Clarion 4

Octave

 

COMBINATIONS

 

Great and Pedal Combinations Coupled

Pedal to Swell Pistons

 

In addition, the voicing (allowing for the size of the building and the placing of the instrument) was standardised. I realise that this instrument was what most organists wanted at the time and that it worked as an acompanimental organ at the time (and in many cases still does today). However, as I once read somewhere something to the effect of 'what was ground-breaking and innovative in 1908 was rather tired and well-trodden by 1950'. Unfortunately I cannot remember who actually said this. It may have been in connection with the proposed scheme for the new organ of Coventry Cathedral.

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"realise that this instrument was what most organists wanted at the time and that it worked as an acompanimental organ at the time (and in many cases still does today). "

 

Sorry, but what is missing from this specification which today could be deemed essential for accompanying Anglican liturgy?

 

"However, as I once read somewhere something to the effect of 'what was ground-breakong and innovative in 1908 was rather tired and well-trodden by 1950'. Unfortunately I cannot remember who actually said this. It may have been in connection with the proposed scheme for the new organ of Coventry Cathedral."

 

If so, would we not say the same about the Coventry organ today? In fact, dare I suggest that the diluted ideals of the organ reform movement (as executed in Coventry) and the accompanimental ideals of the Anglican music world have been confused here? Is this dichotomy not THE cantus firmus of serious organ building in the UK since the war, and even today?

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

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"realise that this instrument was what most organists wanted at the time and that it worked as an acompanimental organ at the time (and in many cases still does today). "

 

Sorry, but what is missing from this specification which today could be deemed essential for accompanying Anglican liturgy?

 

It is not simply a matter of the paper specification, but also that of the voicing. There are serious questions of balance - and the fact that generally, on such instruments which have survived unaltered, most of the G.O. is too loud for normal accompanimental use, for example.

 

"However, as I once read somewhere something to the effect of 'what was ground-breakong and innovative in 1908 was rather tired and well-trodden by 1950'. Unfortunately I cannot remember who actually said this. It may have been in connection with the proposed scheme for the new organ of Coventry Cathedral."

 

If so, would we not say the same about the Coventry organ today? In fact, dare I suggest that the diluted ideals of the organ reform movement (as executed in Coventry) and the accompanimental ideals of the Anglican music world have been confused here? Is this dichotomy not THE cantus firmus of serious organ building in the UK since the war, and even today?

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

 

No - having given recitals on the organ of Coventry Cathedral - and accompanied the music of the Anglican liturgy, I can state that this organ is both superb and, in effect, timeless. It has not become 'tired' or 'well-trodden'. It is still tremendously versatile, incredibly exciting and utterly musical. The use of superlatives is deliberate. I have not yet met anyone who has played this instrument in these contexts - and who did not find it to be superb in virtually every aspect.

 

I would suggest that the Coventry organ is no mere progeny from a diluted or mis-understood ideal of the organ reform movement. Rather it is an unique statement *, which stands primarily as a thoroughly musical instrument with a tonal integrity superior to that of some of the instruments produced during this time.

 

 

 

* This, notwithstanding the fact that the hand of Sidney Campbell may clearly be seen in the design of both the organ of Coventry Cathedral and that of The Queen's Free Chapel of Saint George, Windsor Castle. Having played both instruments for services, the Windsor organ is quite different to Coventry in effect. This is due as much to the acoustics of the buildings and the physical layout of the instruments as it is to any differences in the paper specifications.

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I suggest that the diluted ideals of the organ reform movement (as executed in Coventry) ...

I think this rather misses the point of the Coventry organ. The design did not set out to represent the ideals of the organ reform movement in any shape or form. They were an influence and a consideration, yes, but no more so than pother schools of design. The aim was to produce an eclectic instrument capable of representing all schools musically. Whether it succeeds in this is a matter of opinion and a different question altogether. I happen to think it does. That's just my view, but I think most people would probably agree that it is more successful in this respect than anything Ralph Downes designed.

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"Oh dear, this sounds too depressing: time to resort to YouTube to listen to St Sulpice or Notre Dame al la Pierre Cochereau or St Ouen, anything but the inevitability of listening to yet another perfectly competent, very well constructed, and thoroughly dull English organ."

 

I agree, one should never judge an organ by its specification. However, I have the feeling that too many new and rebuilt organs in the UK are conceived entirely as stoplists, seldom as coherent concepts. Without questioning the quality of St Ouen, (one of the 7 organ wonders of the world?!) or Sulpice, we must consider quality independently of style. The best English victorian organ building was as good as anything (perhaps bar Cavaillé-Coll) built in Europe. Since the war, and certainly not at Coventry, whatever its merits, that artistic level has never been reached. (With the possible exception of the larger New York instrument built by our hosts).

 

"No - having given recitals on the organ of Coventry Cathedral - and accompanied the music of the Anglican liturgy, I can state that this organ is both superb and, in effect, timeless."

 

I haven't been to Coventry, I only know it from recordings. The idea of its being timeless is in a sense true, it should be preserved as a child of its time. To count it among the best organ building in Europe from that period is naive, whatever its qualities (which I don't doubt). This is the same period as the Metzler at Geneva Cathedral for instance, an organ in a different league if we're being objective.

 

" I would suggest that the Coventry organ is no mere progeny from a diluted or mis-understood ideal of the organ reform movement."

 

To an extent of course it is precisely that. This is unavoidable, virtually every large eclectic organ built in the UK at that time was. On the one hand the high mixtures, fractional length reeds, mutations, on the other the lack of functioning organ cases, mechanical action etc. Which is not so say that those organs aren't interesting, or even musical. They simply shouldn't provide any kind of example for new organ building today.

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

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"Oh dear, this sounds too depressing: time to resort to YouTube to listen to St Sulpice or Notre Dame al la Pierre Cochereau or St Ouen, anything but the inevitability of listening to yet another perfectly competent, very well constructed, and thoroughly dull English organ."

 

I agree, one should never judge an organ by its specification. However, I have the feeling that too many new and rebuilt organs in the UK are conceived entirely as stoplists, seldom as coherent concepts. Without questioning the quality of St Ouen, (one of the 7 organ wonders of the world?!) or Sulpice, we must consider quality independently of style. The best English victorian organ building was as good as anything (perhaps bar Cavaillé-Coll) built in Europe. Since the war, and certainly not at Coventry, whatever its merits, that artistic level has never been reached. (With the possible exception of the larger New York instrument built by our hosts).

 

In fact the organ of Coventry Cathedral does hang together convincingly as a musical instrument - and superbly so. Stylistically, it is an entity in itself - although it did influence a number of other instruments.

 

"No - having given recitals on the organ of Coventry Cathedral - and accompanied the music of the Anglican liturgy, I can state that this organ is both superb and, in effect, timeless."

 

I haven't been to Coventry, I only know it from recordings.

 

And from which it is not possible accurately to judge the effect and the tonal integrity of the instrument. Go to Coventry and hear this wonderful instrument for yourself.

 

... To count it among the best organ building in Europe from that period is naive, whatever its qualities (which I don't doubt).

This is no doubt a personal view to which you are entitled. However, I do not regard my opinion as regarding this instrument to be naïve. For the record, I do not believe that I stated that this organ was 'among the best organ building in Europe from that period' - even though I may hold that view. However, I think you might find that, given the reputation of the firm who built it, the quality of the workmanship is far from inferior to much of what was built in continental Europe at this time. Ralph Downes, when giving his reasons for choosing the same firm to build the organ of the Royal Festival Hall stated '... not that I liked their recently built organs - I did not ... But I had managed to get inside one of their larger organs, and observed their execution of trivial details (which nobody but the tuner would ever see) in a manner which plainly spelt Perfectionism, no less: that was all the evidence I needed, and later events proved me right; everything in the new organ was an exemplary model of proud craftsmanship - soundboard construction, cabinet-work, electro-pneumatics, pipe-making; no detail was skimped anywhere.' 1

 

This is the same period as the Metzler at Geneva Cathedral for instance, an organ in a different league if we're being objective.

 

I know nothing of this instrument, so I shall refrain from offering an opinion. However, I do know that, given the choice between having to accompany a the music of the Anglican Church on either the Metzler organ in Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge or the 'Harrison' organ of Coventry Cathedral, I would choose the latter without a moment's thought. This is not a decision reached in terms of size alone - simply that I know it would give an excellent account of itself in virtually any music which may be performed upon it.

 

" I would suggest that the Coventry organ is no mere progeny from a diluted or mis-understood ideal of the organ reform movement."

 

To an extent of course it is precisely that. This is unavoidable, virtually every large eclectic organ built in the UK at that time was. On the one hand the high mixtures, fractional length reeds, mutations, on the other the lack of functioning organ cases, mechanical action etc. Which is not so say that those organs aren't interesting, or even musical. They simply shouldn't provide any kind of example for new organ building today.

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

 

In fact, the mixtures complete the choruses effectively - anything lower-pitched would be dull and somewhat lost in this resonant acoustic. For the record, there are only two or three examples of fractional-length reeds on the instrument. Tha perceived lack of functioning organ cases perhaps betrays a mis-understanding of the nature of this organ and the building in which it stands.

 

Arguably, too much has been made of organ cases in some respects. In Coventry Cathedral, the honesty of the open display complements the building admirably - both I find to be visually exciting. In fact the organ of Gloucester Cathedral sounds better now that some of the roof panels have been removed. The organ at Christchurch Priory might also sound better if the pipes were not struggling to speak through forests of polished woodwork. As it is, the effect in the nave is remote - and not simply due to its location in the south transept.

 

Mechanical action - I am unsure whether you mean to imply that the organ of Coventry Cathedral should have mechanical action or not. However, I cannot see any advantage whatsoever of rebuilding completely this instrument with such a means of control. I am somewhat unimpressed by the new mechanical action of the organ at Bath Abbey. The mechanical action console at Christchurch Priory sits folornly upstairs gathering dust - and I distinctly recall that the clarity and articulation of the playing of the performer was improved when he moved from the upstairs console to the mobile nave console for the second half of the opening recital.

 

Whilst mechanical action may be advantageous in a moderate two- or three-clavier instrument, I remain unconvinced of its supposed merits for anything larger - pace Bridgewater Hall.

 

 

 

1 p. 98. DOWNES, R. (1983) Baroque Tricks. Positif Press, Oxford.

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"This is no doubt a personal view to which you are entitled. However, I do not regard my opinion as regarding this instrument to be naïve. For the record, I do not believe that I stated that this organ was 'among the best organ building in Europe from that period'"

 

nor did I suggest that you did. My point was simply that you can't judge the organ without placing it in a wider context than the organ culture of the UK.

 

"Ralph Downes, when giving his reasons for choosing the same firm to build the organ of the Royal Festival Hall stated '... not that I liked their recently built organs - I did not ... But I had managed to get inside one of their larger organs, and observed their execution of trivial details (which nobody but the tuner would ever see) in a manner which plainly spelt Perfectionism, no less: that was all the evidence I needed, and later events proved me right; everything in the new organ was an exemplary model of proud craftsmanship - soundboard construction, cabinet-work, electro-pneumatics, pipe-making; no detail was skimped anywhere.'"

 

The reputation of the firm was still based on their pre-war work, and especially the voicing of Arthur Harrison. I think even in 1962 (when Coventy was built) the organ at RFH was considered a curiosity. Which, if one considers the broader development of the reform movement even in 1954 it was, although of course no-one in Britain saw it in those terms. I haven't read Baroque Tricks for a while, but if one considers the technical standard of organ building in the UK at the time, quite apart from the artistic vision, (which was well behind the rest of Europe even by then), Downes's comment is understandable.

 

"I know nothing of this instrument, so I shall refrain from offering an opinion. However, I do know that, given the choice between having to accompany a the music of the Anglican Church on either the Metzler organ in Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge or the 'Harrison' organ of Coventry Cathedral, I would choose the latter without a moment's thought."

 

Please don't equate the modernist Geneva Metzler with the more austere, Edskes-voiced (I think?) instrument at Cambridge. They had come a long way in the interim, (the first serious influence of historical organs began to play a role). The Cambridge organ accompanies wonderfully incidentally, the accent is simply more on the quality of individual sounds than on kalaidoscopic affects.

 

"In fact, the mixtures complete the choruses effectively - anything lower-pitched would be dull and somewhat lost in this resonant acoustic. "

 

So in resonant acoustics, only high mixtures will do? The issue is more complicated than that, come to the Netherlands and you'll hear things which would surprise you. The presence of the high mixtures in Coventry is related to the idealism of the time, more than the acoustics of the church, although I'm sure you're right, they undoubtedly work well in the room.

 

"Tha perceived lack of functioning organ cases perhaps betrays a mis-understanding of the nature of this organ and the building in which it stands."

 

The organ façade is architect designed, I think the nature and form of the organ was probably dictated more by this fact than anything else.

 

"Arguably, too much has been made of organ cases in some respects."

 

Now that's controversial.

 

"In fact the organ of Gloucester Cathedral sounds better now that some of the roof panels have been removed."

 

But, unless I'm mistaken, the roof panels were only added in 1971!

 

"Mechanical action - I am unsure whether you mean to imply that the organ of Coventry Cathedral should have mechanical action or not."

 

Let's say it like this. The fact is that the organ reform movement in 1962 had reached a point where virtually any modern organ of note was built with mechanical action EXCEPT in England, and to some extent in the USA. Every organ which we consider the definitive examples of the first generation of the reform movement had mechanical action, except those in England. Not for nothing are the organs of Coventry, Liverpool RC, Blackburn, etc etc all but unknown in mainland Europe, while the Marcussen in Utrecht, the Metzlers in Geneva and Zurich, the Flentrop at Harvard, even the Beckerath in Montreal etc enjoy international reputations to this day.

 

 

"However, I cannot see any advantage whatsoever of rebuilding completely this instrument with such a means of control."

 

That would be bizarre! The fact of its having electro-pneumatic action is a part of its concept. As I said before the organ is a child of its time which should be preserved jealously.

 

"I am somewhat unimpressed by the new mechanical action of the organ at Bath Abbey."

 

Its builders are not noted for their wonderful actions! Don't they even still use electric couplers?

 

The mechanical action console at Christchurch Priory sits folornly upstairs gathering dust

 

This has a lot to do with the attitudes of the organist I think! The only mechanical actions I have played on by a contemporary British builder which match the quality (in terms of real control over the pipe speech) of the real premier league builders in Europe (of whom we have several in the Netherlands) are those of William Drake. I should add that I haven't played on a modern organ by the hosts of this forum.

 

"Whilst mechanical action may be advantageous in a moderate two- or three-clavier instrument, I remain unconvinced of its supposed merits for anything larger - pace Bridgewater Hall."

 

I am struck by the fact that you can only relate experiences of playing organs in the UK! Please remember that the majority of imported organs in the UK were sent there by builders who had built reputations during the first wave of the organ reform and were already struggling artistically to develop by the time the UK took interest.

 

Back to Coventry. I've no doubt its a good organ, even Stephen Bicknell described it as "Cuthbert Harrison's masterpiece". But to wax lyrical without placing it in the MUCH wider context of the organ building of the time, and everything that's happened since is, in my opinion, misleading.

 

greetings

 

Bazuin

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Well....

 

Tomorrow I shall visit a 115 years old pneumatic organ, still original,

built by Gebrüdern Link, Giengen A/D/ Brenz (D).

A fire in 1994 did not hit the organ, but the dust and the water did,

hence some damage.

But the organ still works.

I wonder how all those "Reform tracker" organs will be after 115 years,

knowing that some are already slightly tired -to say the least-.

 

In the 1970's I enjoyed travelling in Britain to see and hear the organs,

precisely for the reason the neo-baroque fashion was less pregnant there

then.

I do not like the Coventry organ -a matter of taste, no more-, but I personnally

agree it is a summit for its time; and this is an european-minded, not british,

opinion, also shared by french organists on the french forum.

 

Pierre

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"This is no doubt a personal view to which you are entitled. However, I do not regard my opinion as regarding this instrument to be naïve. For the record, I do not believe that I stated that this organ was 'among the best organ building in Europe from that period'"

nor did I suggest that you did. My point was simply that you can't judge the organ without placing it in a wider context than the organ culture of the UK.

 

And my point was that one cannot make valid judgements about any instrument solely from a recording.

 

"Ralph Downes, when giving his reasons for choosing the same firm to build the organ of the Royal Festival Hall stated '... not that I liked their recently built organs - I did not ... But I had managed to get inside one of their larger organs, and observed their execution of trivial details (which nobody but the tuner would ever see) in a manner which plainly spelt Perfectionism, no less: that was all the evidence I needed, and later events proved me right; everything in the new organ was an exemplary model of proud craftsmanship - soundboard construction, cabinet-work, electro-pneumatics, pipe-making; no detail was skimped anywhere.'"

 

The reputation of the firm was still based on their pre-war work, and especially the voicing of Arthur Harrison. I think even in 1962 (when Coventy was built) the organ at RFH was considered a curiosity. Which, if one considers the broader development of the reform movement even in 1954 it was, although of course no-one in Britain saw it in those terms. I haven't read Baroque Tricks for a while, but if one considers the technical standard of organ building in the UK at the time, quite apart from the artistic vision, (which was well behind the rest of Europe even by then), Downes's comment is understandable.

 

I know of little evidence that the quality of their workmanship had deteriorated in the time which elapsed between the building of the organ in the RFH and that of Coventry Cathedral.

 

Whilst I do not like the new Twyford organ tonally, there is no question that the workmanship is still of an extremely high order.

 

"I know nothing of this instrument, so I shall refrain from offering an opinion. However, I do know that, given the choice between having to accompany a the music of the Anglican Church on either the Metzler organ in Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge or the 'Harrison' organ of Coventry Cathedral, I would choose the latter without a moment's thought."

Please don't equate the modernist Geneva Metzler with the more austere, Edskes-voiced (I think?) instrument at Cambridge. They had come a long way in the interim, (the first serious influence of historical organs began to play a role). The Cambridge organ accompanies wonderfully incidentally, the accent is simply more on the quality of individual sounds than on kalaidoscopic affects.

 

I am pleased to learn this.

 

"In fact, the mixtures complete the choruses effectively - anything lower-pitched would be dull and somewhat lost in this resonant acoustic. "

 

So in resonant acoustics, only high mixtures will do? The issue is more complicated than that, come to the Netherlands and you'll hear things which would surprise you. The presence of the high mixtures in Coventry is related to the idealism of the time, more than the acoustics of the church, although I'm sure you're right, they undoubtedly work well in the room.

 

Of course it is more complicated than that.

 

You have made one or two assumptions in your posts which are not borne out by facts. I have been to Holland at any rate on several occasions. Whilst there I played several organs (in both concerts and services). I was also fortunate in being able to play one or two other instruments - and to hear them played by local organists. I also have a number of good-quality recordings of instruments in severl different countries - since in some cases you seem happy to make judgements from this alone!

 

"The perceived lack of functioning organ cases perhaps betrays a mis-understanding of the nature of this organ and the building in which it stands."

 

The organ façade is architect designed, I think the nature and form of the organ was probably dictated more by this fact than anything else.

 

I doubt this. Whilst it is true that Basil Spence made a few pencil sketches of the way he wanted the organ to appear, it is at least as likely that H&H were responsible for much of the detail and the placing of individual ranks and bass pipes.

"Arguably, too much has been made of organ cases in some respects."

 

Now that's controversial.

 

It is indeed.

 

"In fact the organ of Gloucester Cathedral sounds better now that some of the roof panels have been removed."

 

But, unless I'm mistaken, the roof panels were only added in 1971!

 

Yes - this is correct.

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(Post split in half due to number of quoted blocks.)

 

"Mechanical action - I am unsure whether you mean to imply that the organ of Coventry Cathedral should have mechanical action or not."

 

Let's say it like this. The fact is that the organ reform movement in 1962 had reached a point where virtually any modern organ of note was built with mechanical action EXCEPT in England, and to some extent in the USA. Every organ which we consider the definitive examples of the first generation of the reform movement had mechanical action, except those in England. Not for nothing are the organs of Coventry, Liverpool RC, Blackburn, etc etc all but unknown in mainland Europe, while the Marcussen in Utrecht, the Metzlers in Geneva and Zurich, the Flentrop at Harvard, even the Beckerath in Montreal etc enjoy international reputations to this day.

 

This ignores the entirely different (and in some aspects unique) way in which the organ was (and is) used during Anglican services (for example). It is also (or at least was at the time) closely linked to the need to be able to accompany choirs in often complex repertoire.

 

"However, I cannot see any advantage whatsoever of rebuilding completely this instrument with such a means of control."

 

That would be bizarre! The fact of its having electro-pneumatic action is a part of its concept. As I said before the organ is a child of its time which should be preserved jealously.

 

Well, we certainly agree on this point.

 

"I am somewhat unimpressed by the new mechanical action of the organ at Bath Abbey."

 

Its builders are not noted for their wonderful actions! Don't they even still use electric couplers?

 

Unfortunately, yes. Obviously precise synchronisation between the various divisions is thus compromised to a degree.

 

"The mechanical action console at Christchurch Priory sits folornly upstairs gathering dust."

 

This has a lot to do with the attitudes of the organist I think! The only mechanical actions I have played on by a contemporary British builder which match the quality (in terms of real control over the pipe speech) of the real premier league builders in Europe (of whom we have several in the Netherlands) are those of William Drake. I should add that I haven't played on a modern organ by the hosts of this forum.

 

In fact it has little to do with the organist. It has much to do with:

  • The fact that the action is quite heavy and unpleasant to play.

  • There is a problem with contact between the choir, conductor and organist - which would not be solved entirely by means of a CCTV or a monitor speaker.

  • A number of alterations have been made to this instument since the rebuild in 1999, some of which would be both difficult and costly to duplicate on the attached console.

  • The organ is used for weekly recitals. The authorities are well aware of the fact that many people attend because they can watch the organist play. Therefore an electro-pneumatic action console situated at floor level (and mobile) was an inflexible requirement of the contract.

 

"Whilst mechanical action may be advantageous in a moderate two- or three-clavier instrument, I remain unconvinced of its supposed merits for anything larger - pace Bridgewater Hall."

 

I am struck by the fact that you can only relate experiences of playing organs in the UK! Please remember that the majority of imported organs in the UK were sent there by builders who had built reputations during the first wave of the organ reform and were already struggling artistically to develop by the time the UK took interest.

 

Which is another incorrect assumption. I have in fact played (as accompanist and soloist - or occasionally simply as organist) in a number of venues in continental Europe, including Saint Nicolas, Amsterdam, one or two other churches in Amsterdam, Oude Kerk, Amsterdam, Antwerp Cathedral, churches in Bruges, Bamberg Cathedral, Bonn Cathedral, S. Etienne, Caen, Chartres Cathedral, a number of churches in France and Germany, La Madeleine (Paris), Nôtre-Dame de Paris, the Basilica of Santiago di Compostela (Spain), a number of churches in Spain, Stavanger Cathedral (Norway). There are other places which I cannot presently recall - neither am I able at this moment in time to list all places listed as 'a number of churches in...', since I have yet another rehearsal and service to play for shortly. I hope that it serves to illustrate that I do in fact have some experience of playing instruments outside of the UK.

 

However, I had originally responded to a particular statement which you made regarding the organ of Coventry Cathedral.

 

Back to Coventry. I've no doubt its a good organ, even Stephen Bicknell described it as "Cuthbert Harrison's masterpiece". But to wax lyrical without placing it in the MUCH wider context of the organ building of the time, and everything that's happened since is, in my opinion, misleading.

 

greetings

 

Bazuin

 

Granted - but no more so than judging an instrument from an armchair, or apparently failing to take into account the totally different way in which an English cathedral organ (for example) is required to perform within the context of the Anglican choral tradition - to take but one facet of Christian worship in this country.

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"And my point was that one cannot make valid judgements about any instrument solely from a recording."

 

Absolutely. My point was simply about placing the instrument in a broader historical context.

 

"I know of little evidence that the quality of their workmanship had deteriorated in the time which elapsed between the building of the organ in the RFH and that of Coventry Cathedral."

 

I don't believe it had either. My point was simply that the technical standard of organ organ building in the UK was so low at the time that Downes is bound to have been impressed by anyone who could technically construct an organ to a high standard.

 

"I doubt this. Whilst it is true that Basil Spence made a few pencil sketches of the way he wanted the organ to appear, it is at least as likely that H&H were responsible for much of the detail and the placing of individual ranks and bass pipes."

 

This may indeed be true.

 

"This ignores the entirely different (and in some aspects unique) way in which the organ was (and is) used during Anglican services (for example). It is also (or at least was at the time) closely linked to the need to be able to accompany choirs in often complex repertoire."

 

The dichotomy of this and the ideals of the organ reform was the starting point of this discussion! Of course you're right, finding the balance between the organ as a work of art in itself and the uses to which it has to be put is difficult.

 

I am well aware of everything you write about regarding Christchurch Priory as I have a colleague who lives close by who plays recitals there sometimes.

 

"Which is another incorrect assumption. I have in fact played....etc"

 

I'm sorry for my assumption, I hope your busy Sunday went well and wasn't frustrated by my outrageous opinions.

 

greetings

 

Bazuin

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