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What Is The Typical English Sound?


Guest Roffensis
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Guest Roffensis

Pierre Lauwers has on the Worcester page (!) asked what the typical English organ sound is. We all know of Walond, Blow, Tallis, Byrd, but no, I think a clearer definition is required. Organs by Hill, Willis, Harrison et al, all have individual characteristics, but generally the "sound" is recognisable, usually as much as French organ sound. So what is English? if we look at our State church which is of course Anglican, at cathedral level one assumes the emphasis to be placed on English cathedral music. Even on that front the picture is different though, we rarely hear typical boy SOLOISTS, or perish the word (not) ...."sopranos", yet still, Services, choral evensong, remain at the head of importance. Smaller works by Byrd can be unaccompanied of just use small flutes that hopefully any organ will have. On the wider canvas our 19th and 20th century composers have really enriched choral music and with it a type of organ emerged. Elgar, Stanford, Stainer, Walton, Dyson and so on, all wrote fine choral music, and had a particular style of organ in mind. Certainly not the likes of a Reiger, as interesting as they might be. The foundational tones of Diapasons, the swell with its fiery reeds, tierce and quint mixtures, that Tuba, are all basically out of the same bag, treated tonally different by different builders, but basically English. One can successfully do Dyson in D at Lichfield, Liverpool or Kings, as indeed most cathedrals. Worcester is of course a typical "English" sound, whereas Gloucester clearly is not. Blackburn likewise is not a English sound. The tone of Diapasons has basically changed little from the 18th century onwards. Notwithstansding bigger scales, and a more demanding repertoire requiring bigger stop lists, the Diapason remains at the core of England. Few organs dispense with them, and do so at their peril. So, what is English, what is not?

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Well, MM did ask, not me.

 

English: the unique blend of Diapason and reed choruses, as I said.

 

-The heavy wind pressures on reeds.

 

-The keeping of the "Chorprinzip" (accent on the choruses) and

the slider chests even during the romantic period

 

-The Swell as second manual, not third, and as powerfull as the Great

 

-The Diapasons with their peculiar tone, more "pure" than the continental

ones that may sometimes tend towards the Flute or the String tone

 

-The "choeur des fonds" consisting of several open Diapasons, not

Principals, Flutes and Strings (they don't blend in the british organ)

 

-Heavy basses on the Pedal

 

-The absence of free reed stops (save Schulze, but he built german organs...)

 

-The Solo manual with Tuba, orchestral reeds and flues

 

-The Tierce in the Diapason chorus (within Mixtures, or Sesquialter)

 

-The Dulciana

 

-The Viole d'orchestre, Flute d'orchestre, Cornet de Viols...

 

-Etc!

 

Un-English:

 

-Regals!

 

-Coarsly voiced low pressure reeds in big organs

 

-French Cornets of huge scales

 

-Spanish chamades

 

-German neo-baroque voicing.

-Etc!

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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One can successfully do Dyson in D at Lichfield, Liverpool or Kings, as indeed most cathedrals. Worcester is of course a typical "English" sound, whereas Gloucester clearly is not. Blackburn likewise is not a English sound. The tone of Diapasons has basically changed little from the 18th century onwards. Notwithstansding bigger scales, and a more demanding repertoire requiring bigger stop lists, the Diapason remains at the core of England. Few organs dispense with them, and do so at their peril. So, what is English, what is not?

 

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

 

 

In other words, we are turning "English Cathedral Music" into a theme park and a tourist attraction.

 

Who says that Blackburn isn't an English sound?

 

The Great chorus is very English in character, whilst the reeds are generally quite splashy, but certainly not flat-out mad Frenchman in style. The Positiv is basically German in style, but blends as well as asserts itself.

 

If it isn't English, what is it? Let's do a questionnaire!

 

The tone of Diapasons has changed radically from the 18th century, but they are now probably being made nearer to what they were then, rather than what they became after 1890 or so.....that is a GOOD THING.

 

Nothing is English at all which hasn't been done before by others; save for fat Trombas, ghastly pedal Ophicleides and braying party-horns.

 

MM

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In other words, we are turning "English Cathedral Music" into a theme park and a tourist attraction.

Well that's a bit harsh. My own, admitedly old fashioned, view is that the requirements of a typical anglican cathedral organ are quite different from those of a concert hall - a distinction that seems to be lost on some of our cathedral organists and their advisors. Its a question of establishing what the primary purpose of the instrument is and then making sure that its fit for that purpose.

 

In most cases its primary purpose is not the accurate realisation of the works of J.S.Bach, Liszt, Vierne, Reger etc., but it is to be able sympathetically to accompany the music of Elgar, Howells, Stanford, Bairstow, Sumsion etc.. A few nice unagressive flutes are handy for the odd bit of accompanied Purcell, although some cathedrals are lucky enough to posses separate chamber instruments for this repertoire.

 

One test for a typical English cathedral organ would be whether the Elgar sonata can be successfully played on it.

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One can successfully do Dyson in D at Lichfield, Liverpool or Kings, as indeed most cathedrals. Worcester is of course a typical "English" sound, whereas Gloucester clearly is not. Blackburn likewise is not a English sound. The tone of Diapasons has basically changed little from the 18th century onwards. Notwithstansding bigger scales, and a more demanding repertoire requiring bigger stop lists, the Diapason remains at the core of England. Few organs dispense with them, and do so at their peril. So, what is English, what is not?

 

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

In other words, we are turning "English Cathedral Music" into a theme park and a tourist attraction.

 

Who says that Blackburn isn't an English sound?

 

The Great chorus is very English in character, whilst the reeds are generally quite splashy, but certainly not flat-out mad Frenchman in style. The Positiv is basically German in style, but blends as well as asserts itself.

 

If it isn't English, what is it? Let's do a questionnaire!

 

The tone of Diapasons has changed radically from the 18th century, but they are now probably being made nearer to what they were then, rather than what they became after 1890 or so.....that is a GOOD THING.

 

Nothing is English at all which hasn't been done before by others; save for fat Trombas, ghastly pedal Ophicleides and braying party-horns.

 

MM

 

As far as I am aware the term "braying party horns" has largely been used on this site recently with reference to the Liverpool Trompette Militaire and like stops. But surely the pipes for the Willis prototype in St Paul's were made by Moller and imported from the USA so perhaps we should give the credit for them to our American cousins ? Which particular builder's ophicleides have aroused your displeasure ? I have experienced a number of stops that went under that name and they sounded far from identical !

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Guest Roffensis
==================

In other words, we are turning "English Cathedral Music" into a theme park and a tourist attraction.

 

Who says that Blackburn isn't an English sound?

 

The Great chorus is very English in character, whilst the reeds are generally quite splashy, but certainly not flat-out mad Frenchman in style. The Positiv is basically German in style, but blends as well as asserts itself.

 

If it isn't English, what is it?  Let's do a questionnaire!

 

The tone of Diapasons has changed radically from the 18th century, but they are now probably being made nearer to what they were then, rather than what they became after 1890 or so.....that is a GOOD THING.

 

Nothing is English at all which hasn't been done before by others; save for fat Trombas, ghastly pedal Ophicleides and braying party-horns.

 

MM

 

As far as I am aware the term "braying party horns" has largely been used on this site recently with reference to the Liverpool Trompette Militaire and like stops. But surely the pipes for the Willis prototype in St Paul's were made by Moller and imported from the USA so perhaps we should give the credit  for them to our American cousins ? Which particular builder's ophicleides have aroused your displeasure ? I have experienced a number of stops that went under that name and they sounded far from identical !

 

As far as Liverpool's "party horns" go, as a matter of interest their effect under the tower is most shattering, but heard from there, the main organ does actually balance them at full. And they do have a use , even if the main organ is more than adequate. To mention Blackburn, I don't think it's English, it ius too classical to be, or should I just clarify it and say it's "English classical"? how's that? English classical? is that as in Boyce? hmm!! any takers?! :D

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As far as I am aware the term "braying party horns" has largely been used on this site recently with reference to the Liverpool Trompette Militaire and like stops. But surely the pipes for the Willis prototype in St Paul's were made by Moller and imported from the USA so perhaps we should give the credit for them to our American cousins ? Which particular builder's ophicleides have aroused your displeasure ? I have experienced a number of stops that went under that name and they sounded far from identical !

 

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

 

If we are referring to the Trompette Militaire at St.Paul's, my understanding is that the thing is a standard Wurlitzer "English Horn" made with exponential brass resonators.....good isn't it?

 

I dislike most Ophicleides that I've ever come across; but especially dislike those great rumbling Willis monuments and the over-loud, over-blown Arthur Harrison ones which are usually extended from a Tuba.

 

Near to me is a big Hill, Norman & Beard with a barn-burning Trombone on 7" wind. It may be loud, but at least it's musical.

 

Why should anyone want higher than 7" pressure for a pedal reed?

 

If it isn't loud enough, then point them at people!

 

MM

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To mention Blackburn, I don't think it's English, it is too classical to be, or should I just clarify it and say it's "English classical"? how's that? English classical? is that as in Boyce? hmm!! any takers?! :D

 

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

 

I like to think of Blackburn as English Renaissance art, where clever men looked to the past and yet created something entirely new of lasting value.

 

MM

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Well that's a bit harsh. My own, admitedly old fashioned, view is that the requirements of a typical anglican cathedral organ are quite different from those of a concert hall - a distinction that seems to be lost on some of our cathedral organists and their advisors. Its a question of establishing what the primary purpose of the instrument is and then making sure that its fit for that purpose.

 

In most cases its primary purpose is not the accurate realisation of the works of J.S.Bach, Liszt, Vierne, Reger etc., but it is to be able sympathetically to accompany the music of Elgar, Howells, Stanford, Bairstow, Sumsion etc..

 

One test for a typical English cathedral organ would be whether the Elgar sonata can be successfully played on it.

 

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

 

 

Like I said.......themepark!

 

MM

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

Like I said.......themepark!

 

MM

 

And what would be the alternative?

 

To try to make of your splendid, unique organs "would-be-all-purpose"

organs that have failed everywhere else?

 

Better to have a beautiful theme park than a cemetary.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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One test for a typical English cathedral organ would be whether the Elgar sonata can be successfully played on it.

 

I'm not sure that there's any fundamental difference between playing Elgar on the Rieger at Christ Church and playing Bach or Rutter on a typical Edwardian 2manual parish church organ. As a player you must use your imagination; the audience will be using their's. All the conservatives that railed against adding mixtures to "Romantic" organs in the 1970's were right to the extent that the organ as it stood had its own integrity. The Rieger too has its own integrity which shines through so long as it is being played without apology.

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]

I'm not sure that there's any fundamental difference between playing Elgar on the Rieger at Christ Church and playing Bach or Rutter on a typical Edwardian 2manual parish church organ. As a player you must use your imagination; the audience will be using their's. All the conservatives that railed against adding mixtures to "Romantic" organs in the 1970's were right to the extent that the organ as it stood had its own integrity. The Rieger too has its own integrity which shines through so long as it is being played without apology.

[]

 

 

I would agree with the general thrust of this observation though I cannot vouch for the last sentence, never having heard the Christchurch organ live. But there is a real "fitness for purpose" issue to be considered. Any organ ought to be appropriate for the principal task it is required to undertake, and ought to be skewed towards suitability for that function. Anything else it can do is a bonus. An ecclesiastical instrument has to be suitable for liturgical use : a town hall organ has to be capable of entertaining ; an instrument in an educational institution has to be suitable for the purposes of education. Unfortunately, "Jack of all trades, master of none" tends to be as true in the case of the organ as elsewhere, but the very expense of the pipe organ means that except for the richest of American Universities (which can afford to populate their campuses with exact replicas of a particular historical style) almost every organ is going to have to be something of a compromise. However, there are some issues on which compromise is either undesirable or not possible. It is these issues that seem to provoke the greatest degree of dissension and recrimination so it would seem a good idea to try to reduce the size of this category as much as possible. Unfortunately, knowing the goal does not necessarily mean one knows how to get there !

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And what would be the alternative?

 

To try to make of your splendid, unique organs "would-be-all-purpose"

organs that have failed everywhere else?

 

Better to have a beautiful theme park than a cemetary.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

 

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

 

We have some wonderful cemeteries in the UK....especially in Glasgow.

 

Out theme parks tend to be rubbish.

 

I'm sorry to keep quoting Blackburn Cathedral, but is there really anything it can't do justice to which doesn't belong to England circa 1920-1945?

 

I can live without most of that.

 

MM

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