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Organ Of Buckinham Palace Ballroom


sprondel
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Dear forum members,

 

having been exposed to some truly sour chords when listening to Mendelssohn's A-Major sonata, played by Joseph Nolan on the organ of the Buckingham Palace Ballroom (new Signum CD), I wonder if the organ is tuned to something else than equal temperament.

 

The liner notes say that it was built by Lincoln in 1818, rebuilt by Gray & Davidson in 1855, and restored in 2002 by William Drake. I wouldn't be surprised if the organ was tuned unequal, because it has some other antique features as well -- GG-compass on the Great and on the Choir, and a divided Great Sesquialtra mixture that would no doubt benefit from some pure thirds.

 

The III/27 organ sounds very good, and Joseph Nolan's clean and fluent playing copes admirably with the dead acoustics. BTW, he starts with an all-chorus Bach Passacaglia. (Not that he had much of a choice, considering the stoplist.)

 

In the know, anyone?

 

Thanks,

Friedrich

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Dear forum members,

 

having been exposed to some truly sour chords when listening to Mendelssohn's A-Major sonata, played by Joseph Nolan on the organ of the Buckingham Palace Ballroom (new Signum CD), I wonder if the organ is tuned to something else than equal temperament.

 

You've probably looked at this already but if not there are a couple of temperaments that Bill Drake uses which are explained. Best to email him or David Coram might know.

 

AJJ

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truly sour chords when listening to Mendelssohn's A-Major sonata I wonder if the organ is tuned to something else than equal temperament.

But who would want to hear Mendelssohn's organ music performed on an instrument tuned to equal temperament? Would Mendelssohn have encountered any organs that were so tuned?

 

I once heard someone describe equal temperament, on no less august a radio network as the Australian Broadcast Corporation, as the aural equivalent of plastic cheese.

 

Now, excuse me while I duck for cover.

 

Probably underneath my harpsichord, currently tuned to Werckmeister IV after an all Handel concert today. (Now, who will dare to suggest that Werckmeister IV is anachronistic for Handel's music?)

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(Now, who will dare to suggest that Werckmeister IV is anachronistic for Handel's music?)

Not anachronistic perhaps, but my understanding is that Werckmeister was in this area a theoretician, and that there is no evidence of actual usage of his temperaments; but I may be wrong.

 

I don't greatly like temperaments based on a number of pure fifths, as I think they are more to do with ease of tuning than the end result; good thirds are more important for avoiding harshness, so modified mean-tone temperaments are what I believe were more widely used.

 

Paul

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But who would want to hear Mendelssohn's organ music performed on an instrument tuned to equal temperament?

 

Quite so. Richard Hobson's rendition of the F minor one at Grosvenor Chapel is exciting. You get to hear what those chords are for.

 

No, Buckingham Palace isn't equal temperament. I forget exactly what it was but I believe there was some evidence from pipework which was used as a basis.

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But who would want to hear Mendelssohn's organ music performed on an instrument tuned to equal temperament?

 

I would.

 

Of course it is partly a matter of what one is used to, but I have not yet encountered an example of unequal temperament tuning which does not simply sound irritatingly out of tune; never mind those 'sharpened sevenths' or 'brightened thirds'.

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I would.

 

Of course it is partly a matter of what one is used to, but I have not yet encountered an example of unequal temperament tuning which does not simply sound irritatingly out of tune; never mind those 'sharpened sevenths' or 'brightened thirds'.

 

I think you have said precisely what many of us think, no matter how unfashionable it may be to say so.

 

I guess now might be the time to dig out the hard hats! :unsure:

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But who would want to hear Mendelssohn's organ music performed on an instrument tuned to equal temperament? Would Mendelssohn have encountered any organs that were so tuned?

Yes - possibly.

 

After being invited to play the organ for the 1846 festival, Mendelssohn (in a letter to Joseph Moore dated 24th July 1845) complains about the 'heavy touch' of the 'Hill' organ in Birmingham Town Hall.

 

Documentary evidence exists to suggest that this organ had been tuned to a form of equal temperament tuning by 1843. The organist to the hall from 1842 was James Stimpson, who stated in A Short Description of the Grand Organ in the Town Hall, Birmingham (1846) that the tuning of this instrument was altered from unequal to equal temperament during the rebuilding work carried out by Hill in 1842 - 43. Whilst this would have been unusual at this time (most English organs at this time were tuned to a form of unequal temperament until at least the mid-1850s), nevertheless it is reasonable to assume that this is something which would have been recalled accurately by the titular organist, writing barely three years after the event. *

 

 

 

* In the interests of accuracy, the source is not entirely clear as to whether Stimpson writes regarding the tuning in the account of 1846, or a later account, dating from 1880. However, given the veracity of other statements he made about the instrument (which have been cited by various authorites), it seems likely that he was correct in this matter.

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After being invited to play the organ for the 1846 festival, Mendelssohn (in a letter to Joseph Moore dated 24th July 1845) complains about the 'heavy touch' of the 'Hill' organ in Birmingham Town Hall.

Documentary evidence exists to suggest that this organ had been tuned to a form of equal temperament tuning by 1843. ...

When preparing his sonatas for print, Mendelssohn tried them out on the Stumm organ of the Katharinenkirche, Frankfurt am Main. The organ was built by a member of the Stumm familiy in 1780, and had most probably some kind of a non-equal temperament. The construction date, however, allows to say almost certainly that the original tuning wasn't meantone. I have no information regarding any change to the organ between 1780 and Mendelssohn's visit there.

 

At least we can say Mendelssohn might have known what his sonatas sounded in non-equal temperament, and he knew that there were many organs around that were tuned non-equal.

 

Does anyone here have informations as to what Abbé Voger liked his "simplified" organs tuned to?

 

Because when young Felix had lessons with August Wilhelm Bach (no relation to the Thurigian Bachs), his teacher was organist on the simplified Wagner of the Marienkirche, Berlin. Having been built in 1724, and Wagner having been a Silbermann apprentice, the organ originally was most probably tuned to some modified meantone system. Is it too bold a suggestion that a modernist such as Vogler would have felt a desire to change that? Unfortunately, the sources I have at hand now don't lose a single word regarding the tuning system.

 

And then, Mendelssohn was mainly a pianist. I expect piano tuning had arrived at (approximately) equal as a standard by the 1840ies, but would be happy to learn more and otherwise.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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I expect piano tuning had arrived at (approximately) equal as a standard by the 1840ies, but would be happy to learn more and otherwise.

Broadwood's were still tuning a substantially unequal "well" temperament in 1885. Lots of examples of temperaments at different dates can be seen here.

 

Paul

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Not anachronistic perhaps, but my understanding is that Werckmeister was in this area a theoretician, and that there is no evidence of actual usage of his temperaments; but I may be wrong.

 

Paul, you might enjoy reading the relevant section in Snyder's book “Dieterich Buxtehude: Organist in Lübeck”. The second edition has more up-to-date information than the first. Werckmeister and Buxtehude were friends, and the picture painted by Snyder indicates that Werckmeister was no theoretician out of touch with reality. Unfortunately, I've loaned my copy to a colleague, or I'd post some pertinent quotes. If I remember correctly, the organ in the Marienkirche was retuned to a Werckmeister temperament, but the date of the retuning is one of the changes between editions, so I might stand to be corrected here.

 

I don't greatly like temperaments based on a number of pure fifths, as I think they are more to do with ease of tuning than the end result; good thirds are more important for avoiding harshness, so modified mean-tone temperaments are what I believe were more widely used.

 

That's an interesting comment. I was first taught to tune quarter comma meantone because of the ease of tuning pure thirds. For me, and the harpsichordist who first taught me to tune, major thirds are easier to tune pure as the pitch where the harmonics of the two notes first coincide is higher than that for fifths. Hence, small deviations from pure result in faster beating, and hence are more noticeable than for fifths.

 

I suspect that the preoccupation with tuning systems based on fifths had something to do with the ear's intolerance of out-of-tune octaves and fifths compared to major thirds. (Note, ease of tuning does not equate to intolerance if out-of-tune.)

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...this organ had been tuned to a form of equal temperament tuning by 1843.

I like your wording.

 

Perhaps you have read the same source as I have, possibly Jorgensen, that after analysing tuning instructions around the middle of the 19th century argues that even though they thought they were tuning equal temperament, their methods were faulty and the results were slightly non-equal tempered.

 

Sorry, I am not able to check Jorgensen, which is long out of print. (I feel an ebay search coming on...)

 

So, the detective work is not only for records of tuning using equal temperament, but also what method was used, and hence how truly equal the result would have been.

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I like your wording.

 

Perhaps you have read the same source as I have, possibly Jorgensen, that after analysing tuning instructions around the middle of the 19th century argues that even though they thought they were tuning equal temperament, their methods were faulty and the results were slightly tempered tuning system.

 

Sorry, I am not able to check Jorgensen, which is long out of print. (I feel an ebay search coming on...)

 

So, the detective work is not only for records of tuning using equal temperament, but also what method was used, and hence how truly equal the result would have been.

 

If the Jorgensen book you mean is 'Tuning the Historical Temperaments By Ear' then I have a (well used) copy here.

 

In relation to the remarks about pure thirds/pure fifths - Jorgensen seems to provide two sets of tuning instructions for each temperament, a theoretically correct one and an 'equal beating' version which is easier to hear - e.g. tune A pure to E, then lower it so it beats at the same speed as A to D.

 

There is a web page which I sadly no longer have bookmarked containing various Broadwood piano tuners' bearing octave instructions. I'll try and hunt it down tomorrow.

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...never mind those 'sharpened sevenths' ...

I so agree, pcnd5584. Whether one is sympathetic or not to the use of non-anachronistic temperaments, the simplistic and wildly incorrect 'sharpened sevenths' type statements should be challenged.

 

My approach is to refer to quarter comma meantone (and it helps to have an instrument so tuned when demonstrating, but it is not necessary) and have the person who made the statement think about the leading note in, say G major.

 

The f-sharp is tuned pure from the d, hence is already flatter than in equal temperament. But, the d is tuned from the g*, and the interval is narrow by a quarter of the Syntonic comma, hence the fifth is narrower than in equal temperament and the d lower, resulting in a leading note significantly lower than in equal temperament.

 

My next step is to lead them to understand that the beauty of historic temperaments is that such sweeping statements are guaranteed to be incorrect; not all leading notes will be lower than equal, not all thirds will be pure or even narrower than equal; that we have entered into a world where the lack of 'everything being identical' is the very point and the reason why some of us are so enthusiastic. On an instrument as inherently unmusical as the organ, or harpsichord etc, any little help is welcome.

 

*Or the g is tuned from the d, depending on your own preference, but the result is identical, of course.

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If the Jorgensen book you mean is 'Tuning the Historical Temperaments By Ear' then I have a (well used) copy here.

 

Sorry, David, I forgot about that book, so I didn't bother giving the title. I was referring to his encyclopedic tome "Tuning: Containing the Perfection of Eighteenth-Century Temperament; The Lost Art of Nineteenth-Century Temperament; and The Science of Equal Temperament."

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I so agree, pcnd5584. Whether one is sympathetic or not to the use of non-anachronistic temperaments, the simplistic and wildly incorrect 'sharpened sevenths' type statements should be challenged.

 

 

Well, quite.

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  • 5 years later...

I was at a meeting of the local branch of the RCCO a while ago and a postgraduate student member played us some recordings he'd made of German organs, commenting enthusiastically on the unequal tuning. Thing was, I knew some of the instruments personally and it was clear to me that the beasts were just out of tune, whatever temperament was alleged to be in place. (he also mentioned what he called controlled attack but which I knew was action noise). I shouldn't like to pontificate on the subject, but I'm inclined to think that equal temperament is often the best method and that some unequal versions on some organs are more of a liability than a blessing.

 

I played a Schumacher a while ago which had been retuned to equal shortly after its installation by Bishop & Son because the original chosen temperament was just not proving satisfactory (they also slid the pipework because the pipes hadn't been thinned at the top and even a small amount of coning was causing them to collapse).

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I was talking to a trumpeter the other day who specialises in playing "original" natural trumpets in Baroque music. There are some players and some ensembles that use small "vent" holes (invented by Michael Laird) to assist in playing securely and, more importantly (I gather), in tuning the notes that require tuning. For example, the 11th harmonic (partial, pick your own terminology) is naturally (on a D trumpet) somewhere between G and G#. Bach requires his solo or first trumpeters to play both notes in eg the opening movement of the Magnificat and Großer Herr in Part 1 of the Christmas Oratorio. On the natural trumpet without the "cheat" finger holes apparently this isn't possible without making a noise that modern ears find uncomfortable. I suspect that non-Equal Temperaments fall into a similar position. Modern ears are so used to ET some listeners just can't accept anything else. I, on the other hand, whilst not always able to hear the alleged beautiful effects of non-ETs rarely find them objectionable.

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I was talking to a trumpeter the other day who specialises in playing "original" natural trumpets in Baroque music. There are some players and some ensembles that use small "vent" holes (invented by Michael Laird) to assist in playing securely and, more importantly (I gather), in tuning the notes that require tuning.

 

There was an article in "Early Music" about this a while back. I confess I didn't absorb in detail, but it rather gave the impression that these modified natural trumpets were the norm today and seemed to be making a bit of a thing about some players returning to "genuine" natural trumpets. Interesting point about the G/G#. We're talking trombe in D here, aren't we, so written F/F#. I suppose the players had to lip the notes up or down as best they could, though I have no idea how practical that might be. I remember being told once that the life expectancy of baroque trumpet players tended to be on the short side. I can believe it.

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I seem to remember a story about the performance of a work by Bach in his lifetime. The work was being performed outside, and the band had trumpets in. I gather that one trumpeter died in the middle of said performance. Am I recalling this correctly, or did I imagine it?

You are recalling it correctly – almost. The man wasn’t just any trumpeter but head of the City Council’s Trumpeters, Gottfried Reiche. It was he, apparently, who inspired Bach to write such intricate and high-pitched trumpet parts. He died walking home at night one day after a performance of Bach’s cantata BWV 215 in which he took part.

 

The contemporary theory that exposure to excessive smoke (from torches) caused Reiche’s fatal stroke meets with recent research – so it wasn’t necessarily Bach’s writing that smote him.

 

Just for the record.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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