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To merge this thread with another, I have a recording of E Power Biggs playing the six Trio Sonatas on a pedal harpsichord; it's a bit clunky, really, as harpsichords tended to be in those days.

 

Paul

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....but I can only stand the sound of this instrument for about three seconds, after which I am overtaken with an almost overwhelming urge to kill the performer. Sorry....

 

I can think of some fine orchestral musicians of my acquaintance who think similar things about most organists.... :o

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In fairly recent times, I understand that some RCO candidates were penalised for the use of the heel in Bach playing.

 

 

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

 

If we knew where they were, we could write to them and complain, couldn't we?

 

:o

 

MM

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To merge this thread with another, I have a recording of E Power Biggs playing the six Trio Sonatas on a pedal harpsichord; it's a bit clunky, really, as harpsichords tended to be in those days.

 

Paul

 

 

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

 

 

Not as bad as "River Dance" though.

 

MM

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I seem to have touched a raw nerve once again.

 

EPB and VF were characterised in their own day very commonly as these two opposing positions vis a vis organ performance. Whether you think this is fair is beside the point; if not deliberate on Biggs' part, it was certainly part of Virgil's sales pitch that his performances would never be either bound by scholarship or restricted by 'the correct way to do things'.

 

I'm talking in caricatures to make a point, maybe. In case you are sure we are not cursed by 'the purist' viewpoint, I have attended quite a few recitals which from a general audience's viewpoint most definitely do still suffer from players feeling that only one type of performance is 'correct' and the result being hard for everyone.

 

(snip)

 

Is it fair to say that some players have fallen victim to dictatorial teaching, founded (sometimes) on misconceptions? I still maintain, it is the musical result which matters. The most critical bit of kit is the individual player's own ear and the response to what they hear back from their instrument.

 

 

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

 

 

In a manner of speaking, the polarisation evident in the (still) ongoing debate concerning Virgil Fox and E.Power-Biggs, highlights something else, which no-one has yet touched upon.

 

Why do we look for historical evidence in the first place, and what is it about music which compels us to do so?

 

Why is Bach played on a Steinway piano quite acceptable, but the Reubke Sonata played on a pedal-harpsichord, totally unacceptable?

 

Are not both instruments completely inappropriate for the music, as we know it to have been written and performed?

 

I would argue, that the Steinway piano has the potential to add something to Bach’s music, which Bach may never have intended. The harpsichord, on the other hand, takes something away from the music of Reubke; such as dynamic expression and registrational colour. Each could be considered as sinful as the next, but in reality, only the latter would really raise howls of protest from everyone….scholars, purists and musicians.

 

The reason for the Reubke Sonata not only sounding wrong, but being absolutely wrong when played on a harpsichord, is to be found, I believe, in the dramatic changes which correspond to the development of a quite different musical culture, which began with the emergence of the virtuoso performer/composer during the 19th century. Reubke, of course, falls exactly into this category, as did his tutor Feranc Liszt. It was during this period that the composer was the absolute master of his creation, to the extent that every dynamic change and tone-colour would most often be specified very precisely. Furthermore, I would suggest that matters relating to overall speed, rubato, accelerando and rallentando (among other things) were also accurately specified by the composer in a majority of romantic works.

 

This was not the case in Bach’s time, when the performer was actually a living, constituent part in the creative process; rather than the person who fulfilled the specific intention of the composer to a fair degree of conformity and accuracy.

 

Hence, in a majority of organ-music of the baroque period (outside the specific tone-colourings of the French Baroque), matters of ornamentation, specific registration, relative speeds, details of staccato and legato and even manual changes, were not usually included in the written score; even though certain conventions existed. This is what, for me, makes the baroque period so fascinating. It is perfectly possible to claim, with some degree of validity, that what Ton Koopman does to Bach’s music, carries as much authority as the performances of Albert Schweizer, Karl Richter or anyone else. The chances are, that even if we find ourselves disliking something, or going into ecstasy about a particular performance; this has far more to do with our own instinctive reaction to it, than it has to do with anything being “musically correct,” because the scope for differences of interpretation is very wide indeed.

 

Another way to look at this, is to regard the baroque scores as only partially complete; rather like the shorthand figured-basses, which rely on the skill and musical sensitivity of the performer for their successful execution. This is where the improvisational skills of the performer come into play: making each performance unique and apparently (deceptively?) spontaneous. Taking the argument slightly further, I would suggest that changed ornamentation (such as double mordants to start BWV565), additional flourishes in those lengthy silences of the Bach P & F in C major (the 9/8 one) and changes of manuals/stops in the Passacaglia & Fugue, are entirely within the remit of the composer; simply because the composer did not specify anything to the contrary, and contemporary reports suggest that this was not unknown at the time the music was written.

 

By a process of logic, it is therefore possible to suggest that, when something feels right and sounds right to the performer and the listener, almost anything is justifiable, even if it moves outside the envelope of what was possible to the composer/performer of the day. Never is this truer than with the music of Bach; the scores of which tell us almost nothing which isn't obvious.

 

I’ve mentioned “expressionist style” performances of Bach before, and the origins of it, in the late 19th century German pianistic style and beyond. The great Sauers and Walckers opened up new possibilities for expression, just as the Steinway Grand does to-day. When that same level of expression is brought to the organ-music of Bach (or to transcription of Bach), the performer is able to add something of his own to the music, just as Bach’s contemporaries and successors would have done using different means.

 

Therefore, to my mind, (even though I would personally never do it), a Bach performance full of dynamic changes and registrational variety, is no less valid than an “historically informed” performance, which places stricter parameters upon the interpretation and limits the number of musical tricks available to wow the listener.

I would go further, and suggest that rubato is the equivalent of dynamic change, and to some extent, quite interchangeable. Think about this for a moment, and imagine the difference between the end of the B-minor Fugue played with exaggerated rubato and dramatic slowing of the pace, and the same piece performed in stricter rhythm, but with added reeds and perhaps even a Tuba at the end. Different though they may sound; emotionally the effect is not that different, because the underlying motivation is a sense of increased intensity, musical drama and finality.

 

In light of this, it is possible to appreciate the differences between a performer such as E.Power-Biggs and someone like Virgil Fox. The former restricted himself to at least an historically informed position, whereas Fox played as he felt on the day, using the very considerable means at his disposal. Each brought out different things in the music, and in the case of Virgil Fox, he brought out rhythmic vitality and a sense of driving excitement. (Think of Carlo Curley playing the Sinfonia from Cantata no.29……then his famous quote “It was Johann Sebastian Bach who first invented rock & roll.”)

 

E.Power-Biggs on the other hand, brought out a sense of elegant phrase and melody; above all, a sense of architecture. Neither he nor Fox ever played “authentically,” but like the great artists that they were, they succeeded in encapsulating their very different characters in their performances: E.Power Biggs the refined Englishman abroad, living in the up-market, academic sphere of Harvard/Boston, and Fox bullishly drawing attention to his red-blooded sensuality and dynamic personality; with more than a hint of narcissism. Both organists had an extensive and devoted following, and many admirers/imitators to this day, and I believe that this is how it should be.

 

I would feel that the world was incomplete without the remarkable recordings of each of them.

 

 

MM

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

I would argue, that the Steinway piano has the potential to add something to Bach’s music, which Bach may never have intended. The harpsichord, on the other hand, takes something away from the music of Reubke; such as dynamic expression and registrational colour. Each could be considered as sinful as the next, but in reality, only the latter would really raise howls of protest from everyone….scholars, purists and musicians."

 

Absolutely perfectly summed up in a nutshell MM.

 

Both organists had an extensive and devoted following, and many admirers/imitators to this day, and I believe that this is how it should be.

 

I would feel that the world was incomplete without the remarkable recordings of each of them.

 

Hear, hear!

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Why is Bach played on a Steinway piano quite acceptable,

Not everyone thinks it is!

 

but the Reubke Sonata played on a pedal-harpsichord, totally unacceptable?

 

Are not both instruments completely inappropriate for the music, as we know it to have been written and performed?

Yes. :o

 

I would argue, that the Steinway piano has the potential to add something to Bach’s music, which Bach may never have intended. The harpsichord, on the other hand, takes something away from the music of Reubke; such as dynamic expression and registrational colour. Each could be considered as sinful as the next, but in reality, only the latter would really raise howls of protest from everyone….scholars, purists and musicians.

No so. When I was a student I encountered very many people who objected, often quite strongly, to the sound of Bach played on a piano. None of them were pianists, of course! :D It still raises my hackles, even when done very musically (as it can be) as it just sounds so wrong.

 

Of course it all depends on how you have been conditioned to appreciate music. Today we are inevitably brought up to appreciate music from a Romantic viewpoint. We learn to respond first; we learn to recognise different musical styles later (perhaps). It must be next to impossible for anyone today to grow up without absorbing all the Romantic conventions. But those who are really "into" earlier styles of music can certainly learn to divest themselves of these accretions and this was not uncommonly done back in the 60s at least. How far it is still true today I am much less certain. A degree of Romanticism, or at least heightened expression, does seem to be more acceptable these days in HIP performances of Baroque music. It was almost bound to happen. At the time, stripping the Romanticism from Baroque music was rather like stripping the centuries of grime off old paintings. And of course the then still quite novel use of original-style instruments also helped to bring up the tone colours afresh. But tone colours in themselves could only go so far and the business of keeping the audience enthralled threw the emphasis very much onto rhythm and articulation. I suppose that approach was only ever going to last for so long as it seemed novel. The process of continual refreshment seems to have manifested itself first in a propensity to push speeds ever-onwards, but sooner or later people were bound to start looking for something more - which is of course what happened to Baroque music at the time; "looking for something more" could well be the motto for the whole of musical history. The expressive playing of today is still very far from overtly Romantic. One still senses the stripping back, the careful judgement of how far it is permissible to go. Could it be just a matter of time before the musical world at large comes full circle back to fully Romantic Bach?

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Could it be just a matter of time before the musical world at large comes full circle back to fully Romantic Bach?

 

Interesting thought which, of course, only time will tell. But in this era of widely-available commercial recordings, I think the world of Classical music is opening up to diverse tastes and there is, potentially, room for all-comers.

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Cynic wrote

 

"I can strongly recommend a book on all this:

All the stops - Craig R.Whitney (Public Affairs, New York) ISBN 1-58648-262-9

which is a most readable and comprehensive account. "

 

I can also recommend this book, its very well written and takes a rather objective view of both Fox and Biggs.

 

"Actually, E. Power Biggs was less of a purist and more of a musician, and (from time to time) Virgil Fox gave evidence of consummate musicianship, so the two of them (aside from their markedly different characters) had quite a bit in common. They both flew the flag for great music and the pipe organ."

 

What is a purist? I always find the word somewhat cynical (aha!). The point about Power Biggs is that he was instinctively fascinated about the relationship between specific literature and specific instruments (more than almost anyone in Europe at the time), even if he was too early to make the leap into old playing techniques. He was a pioneer of his generation!

 

MM wrote

"It was largely thanks to American based scholarship and research that the organ-reform movement gained a firm foothold in the UK,...."

 

I don't understand anything of this comment, when did American based scholarship and research have any influence in the UK? Craig Whitney's excellent book describes in detail the wonderful pioneering work (encouraged by Biggs incidentally) done by Charles Fisk. The UK has never had anyone whose starting-point, way of working, or organs, were as advanced (along the reform-route) or as developed as Fisk's. (The organs his company build now have departed somewhat from Fisk's aesthetics, this is not intended to imply criticism on my part).

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

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Guest Cynic
snip

 

What is a purist? I always find the word somewhat cynical (aha!). The point about Power Biggs is that he was instinctively fascinated about the relationship between specific literature and specific instruments (more than almost anyone in Europe at the time), even if he was too early to make the leap into old playing techniques. He was a pioneer of his generation!

 

snip

 

 

Bazuin

 

 

I am glad you asked this. I think your understanding and mine are somewhat at odds, perhaps my fault. I'm afraid I use 'purist' in a pejorative way, that is to say, it might cover players who while performing in a deadly dull manner will insist that their performance is per se better, because they have used historic fingering or some such academic advance - leaving the question of musical projection aside. The word 'Purist' denotes (maybe only to me!!) not just that there is an academic attitude, but that this overrides every other consideration. I have no problem whatever with scholarship if it is applied with care!

 

The sort of academics that I would call 'Purists' in the 60s were quite certain that the nicking to be found in the Muller pipework at The Bavo in Haarlem was added subsequent to the organ's construction. Because of their certainty, this nicking was then scrupulously removed from every single pipe by Marcussens. As you know, it transpired later that this nicking was original and therefore The Bavo, far from being one of the the greatest 18th century organs in the world is in fact a superb 20th century rebuild and revoicing of what was once one of the greatest 18th century organs left to us.

 

The stated advice given by BIOS to those contemplating an organ rebuild, for example, I would describe as 'purist' in the way that their document (recently linked to this forum) clearly and forcefully states that where a balanced swell-pedal has at any stage replaced a trigger swell, this change should always be reversed. Both in accompaniment and solo playing, the ability to set an accurate balance between divisions is possible with a balanced pedal in a way it is not with your average trigger swell. It does not pre-dispose the organ to being played in a debased style! A musician would appreciate this argument, any practical person would see that for use in accompaniment a balanced pedal is a significant improvement over the original, an odd point: as a recording artist I would plead to keep them because they make far less extraneous noise! We practical musicians are not 'experts' so what do we know?...the trigger swells are coming back!

 

'Purists' rule, unfortunately.

 

Incidentally, I agree with everything that has been said about E.Power Biggs. I don't know if you remember hearing a particular story which relates well to the foregoing paragraphs and relates to the Parker organ at Great Packington. After extensive research, EPB actually succeeded in finding an organ which Handel had actually played and naturally arranged for a professional orchestra to record concertos with him upon it. It was then discovered to be both cone tuned and well adrift with the desired orchestral pitch. In a quick problem-solving move, Noel Mander quickly trimmed the tops of the pipes and fitted tuning slides to the lot. EPB made his recording safely and then the hoo-hah really started.! There was a long flurry of public correspondence, mostly between Mander and Lady Susi Jeans, an Austrian recitalist and scholar. She was well ahead of her time in sensing that in trimming pipe tops and modifying pitch something precious must have been lost. Noel Mander and EPB, if they were in any sense wrong, suffered from the fact that they lived in the real (practical) world where problems have to be solved and difficulties overcome.

 

What would the Purist approach have been? I cannot give you a better example than the famous Hunstanton Hall organ, currently housed in a celebrated American Museum. It was made in England in the early 17th century for the LeStranges (a Norfolk Catholic family) who for all the best reasons needed to keep their allegiances quiet - private chapel, priests brought in specially etc. etc. Anyway, it is a very handsome, rare and well made little organ, however...

it does not play.

 

It cannot be played. Indeed, it has been decided that in order to preserve the instrument for posterity it must not ever either be played or got into playing order. The USA have this little gem of an organ in their collection and none of them can ever hear it!

 

I read that a representative of Goetze and Gwynn has inspected this instrument, and pronounced it as needing very little attention in order to make it playable. They should know, they have specialised in organs of this period and have restored a fair number of them along with making reproduction copies and publishing carefully drawn and researched notes for those who are interested. Surely musicians and organ-builders would learn something very valuable from this...no - it will not happen. The experts have had their say. In my book, this attitude would fully qualify for the word 'purist'.

 

I hope that this explanation brings your ideas and mine just a tiny bit closer, dear Bazuin!

P/C

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MM wrote

"It was largely thanks to American based scholarship and research that the organ-reform movement gained a firm foothold in the UK,...."

 

I don't understand anything of this comment, when did American based scholarship and research have any influence in the UK? Craig Whitney's excellent book describes in detail the wonderful pioneering work (encouraged by Biggs incidentally) done by Charles Fisk. The UK has never had anyone whose starting-point, way of working, or organs, were as advanced (along the reform-route) or as developed as Fisk's. (The organs his company build now have departed somewhat from Fisk's aesthetics, this is not intended to imply criticism on my part).

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

 

 

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

 

 

Do you recall the lengthy sleuthing I undertook for Herr Kropft re: Steinkerken?

 

In a moment of Mander Discussion Board triumph, we managed to track down the links between Steinkerken, the British Council, Geraint Jones and some English dude who worked for a German music publisher music; the name of whom I cannot recall, but who had arranged for Geraint Jones to play recitals in Germany after WW2.

 

I confess that I don't know a lot about Charles Fisk or his research, but in searching for the aforementioned gentleman, I came across all sorts of interesting links between America, England and Germany, of which I was previously unaware.

 

E Power Biggs was an Englishman of course, who formed an alliance with another Englishman, G Donald Harrison, who effectively wrestled control from Ernest Skinner to form Aeolian-Skinner and the "American Classic" style. Somewhere along the line, I stumbled across the story of William Holtkamp, and the organs he built. (I played MIT when I was over there, by the way). I also discovered the link between the Peabody Institute and Ralph Downes, who had gone over there to teach in America.

 

Somewhere along the line, if I recall correctly, those same links included G Donald Harrison, Ralph Downes, Senator Emerson Richards, Carl Weinrich (Berlin?), E Power Biggs and various other people fascinated by early organs; especially in Germany.

 

E. Power Biggs got G Donald Harrison to build a neo-classical (in the broadest sense) instrument for the Busch Reisinger Hall, at Harvard. This was a neo-classically voiced instrument with electro-pneumatic action, and it was this instrument on which E Power-Biggs made his weekly recitals broadcast across America, and which did so much to turn the musical tide of opinion.

 

Eventually dissatisfied with the way things were going in America, E.Power-Biggs distanced himself from what I can only describe as "the American Classic" movement, which was really a classically-inspired attempt at eclecticism. This was the style of instrument which found favour with many, many people, including (one may add), the personage of Virgil Fox; the arch-rival to Biggs for the title of "Greatest organist in America". It was a synthesis of things German, English and French, and when done well, very effective, but hardly "neo-classic" in the manner that we would understand it. In fact, it showed influences as varied as Silbermann, Schulze, Walcker, Cavaille-Coll and even Willis/Skinner.

 

Having turned his back on all this, E Power-Biggs invited Dirk Flentrop to tender for a new organ at the Busch Museum, Harvard, and paid for by himself. It was this lovely organ which took the more academic/Bostonian/Harvardian early-music

freaks by storm, and caused an immediate division among American organists.

 

So far so good, but in the midst of all this was Ralph Downes, who had done his own research and even involved himself in practical organ-building and pipe-voicing at the Peabody Institute. (Mander Organs got involved in the eventual restoration of this instrument, I believe). Anyway, whatever the details, Downes left the organ in a bit of a mess and fled back to the UK, where his influence gave rise to the organ of the Festival Hall, and of course, that at the Brompton Oratory.

 

That is the most important link, but of course, I would be negligent if I didn't re-include G Donald Harrison, because he and Downes wanted to build the ultimate eclectic instrument at Downside Abbey, if I recall correctly, but which never materialised.

 

At this point, my history lesson falls apart, because I am incredibly ignorant of precisely how the early-music interest flourished in the UK, or really whether it was only a sequence of experimental organs which appeared as weeds in the forest of eclectic mish-mash. Of course, the UK's equivalent to the Flentrop at Harvard, had to be the gorgeous Thomas Frobenius organ at Oxford, which still inspires organists to this day. My dates are probably all over the place, so I will refrain from guessing the sequence of events which followed, but it is not insignifcant that Oxford also gained the organ of New College, built by ex-Compton men with the financial backing of Hugh Forsyth-Grant of whisky fame.

 

The point is, that the lessons were indeed learned, but most organists and other experts never really embraced the neo-classical movement in its entirety. Nevertheless, there were notable exceptions; one of which I play every Sunday.

Denis Thurlow (an ex-Walker man), was the man responsible for it, and it totally embraces everything good about neo-classical reform, with a very Netherlands character to it. It's as good as any Flentrop I've ever heard, and it's a pity it's not twice the size it is, but at least they threw out the idea of the electronic and extension organ proposals first mooted.

 

Noel Mander achieved a few good things, and so too did Walker, Nigel Church, Harrison's (etc), but I suspect that the one company who really embraced all things "reform minded" had to be Goetze & Gwynne, who have worked to a very high standard indeed.

 

I suspect, that if one were to travel to New York, and St Ignatius Loyola in particular, you would find an organ which amply demonstrates that our hosts are more than capable of building in "the old ways," but at the same time, they succeeded in building something of an eclectic masterpiece at the same time, which has received the best reviews.

 

I would therefore suggest, that in the UK, organ-builders have embraced the organ-reform movement, but there are actually very few situations in which that can be realised, due to practical considerations of repertoire and accompaniment, which still dictate what is right or wrong in any given situation.

 

You should know that the UK is entirely (and increasingly) mix-and-match in all things. That doesn't mean that we're stupid or ignorant, even if we have many people who are.

 

MM

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I would like to thank Cynic and MM for their nice posts.

 

"Do you recall the lengthy sleuthing I undertook for Herr Kropft re: Steinkerken?"

 

Possibly before my time on this forum. Sounds very interesting.

 

"I confess that I don't know a lot about Charles Fisk or his research"

 

There is a wonderful publication in his honour from the Westfield Center including both essays by him and in honour of him. Unfortunately I have never been able to obtain a copy for myself, and I fear it is now out of print.

 

"So far so good, but in the midst of all this was Ralph Downes, who had done his own research and even involved himself in practical organ-building and pipe-voicing at the Peabody Institute. (Mander Organs got involved in the eventual restoration of this instrument, I believe). Anyway, whatever the details, Downes left the organ in a bit of a mess and fled back to the UK, where his influence gave rise to the organ of the Festival Hall, and of course, that at the Brompton Oratory.

 

That is the most important link, but of course,"

 

OK, your story is entirely correct as far as I have read different accounts of it (Ambronsino, Owen, Whitney, Downes) but was Downes really any more progressive than Donald Harrison? Can anyone comment for instance on whether the 1949 A-S organ for Boston Symphony Hall was any less ' progressive' than the RFH organ of 5 years later? Biggs, through his championing of historic organs, his ordering and championing of the Flentrop, and his promotion of Fisk's early work was surely far more progressive and more influential in the organ reform movement as a whole than Downes? Downes took much longer to embrace mechanical action for example.

 

Its worth noting Fisk's fascination with the 'eclectic' organ, as seen in the House of Hope organ in Minnesota, and the organ in Dallas (which he began designing before he died although it wasn't completed until 1992). To take this line of thought to its obvious conclusion (the large eclectic organs built by Fisk's disciples, Brombaugh and his disciples etc), surely the Brits in America were ultimately far more influential than the Brits in Britain?

 

'Of course, the UK's equivalent to the Flentrop at Harvard, had to be the gorgeous Thomas Frobenius organ at Oxford, which still inspires organists to this day. My dates are probably all over the place, so I will refrain from guessing the sequence of events which followed, but it is not insignifcant that Oxford also gained the organ of New College, built by ex-Compton men with the financial backing of Hugh Forsyth-Grant of whisky fame.'

 

But isn't it a little odd that neither organ (and especially the Frobenius) didn't spawn a 'normal' reform movement in the UK?

 

"but I suspect that the one company who really embraced all things "reform minded" had to be Goetze & Gwynne, who have worked to a very high standard indeed."

 

I guess William Drake should also be mentioned here. The only organ I've played by him was excellent (Grosvenor Chapel).

 

'I suspect, that if one were to travel to New York, and St Ignatius Loyola in particular, you would find an organ which amply demonstrates that our hosts are more than capable of building in "the old ways," but at the same time, they succeeded in building something of an eclectic masterpiece at the same time, which has received the best reviews.'

 

I have no doubt of the quality of that organ, which is obviously first-rate. I am a little at a loss to understand where it fits into the world-wide organ building trends of our time (my problem entirely), is it a modernist organ? (tonally it seems a little bit in that direction), is it a result of the re-awakened interest in 19th century organ building (the obvious C-C influences), is it indeed, excepting the suspended (!) action, really a product of the reform movement? Probably its all of these things to some extent, a unique one-off, even in the oeuvre of Mander I would politely suggest.

 

Cynic wrote:

' I'm afraid I use 'purist' in a pejorative way, that is to say, it might cover players who while performing in a deadly dull manner will insist that their performance is per se better, because they have used historic fingering or some such academic advance - leaving the question of musical projection aside.'

 

I think though that the kind of application of scholarship for its own end (mostly mis-understood) is, in Western Europe and good chunks of the US, now a thing of the past? Can cynic cite some examples of dogma abusing scholarship even now?

 

The question about trigger swell is an interesting one! I think the reversal of the change to a balanced swell (which apparently almost always has unfortunate technical implications) is perhaps too zealously promoted by BIOS, especially if the organ has had a balanced swell for the large majority of its life. On the other hand, if the original trigger swell survives, it would be unfortunate to replace it. Last weekend I visited St Sulpice and admired, at close quarters, Sophie-Veronique Cauchefer-Choplin's manipulation of Cavaille-Coll's....trigger swell. Noel Mander's and Power Biggs's actions at Great Packington were unfortunate, and wouldnt be allowed now anywhere in Europe I think.

 

I have to say I know nothing about Hunstanton Hall's organ or the circumstances there. Having a historic organ and refusing to make it playable is simply irresponsible, and I know of no other place in the world where such a course of action has been, or would be, applied.

 

Greetings and thanks again

 

Bazuin

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I'm afraid I use 'purist' in a pejorative way, that is to say, it might cover players who while performing in a deadly dull manner will insist that their performance is per se better, because they have used historic fingering or some such academic advance - leaving the question of musical projection aside.

But that's not being purist. That's just being plain unmusical!

 

The word 'Purist' denotes (maybe only to me!!) not just that there is an academic attitude, but that this overrides every other consideration. I have no problem whatever with scholarship if it is applied with care!

I understand what you are driving at, but I do really think it needs a different word. There really isn't anything wrong per se with being purist (which when used as an insult usually just means "academic"). I have met a lot of academic musicians in my time and the performers among them have almost universally been as highly regarded for their performances as for their scholarship. Only one of them was an organist though. :)

 

As I mentioned previously, I can well remember in my student days the idea that musicians are musicians and academics aren't being very much a prevalent prejudice in the conservatoires.* Perhaps it still is. I can well imagine that back in the 50s and 60s there was an element of truth in it, but I doubt very much whether it would stand up to close inspection these days. Think of all our leading early music choirs and period instrument ensembles. How many of them are not underpinned by sound scholarly knowledge? Rather few, I'll bet.

 

I am not qualified to comment on organ builders so I won't, except to say that I am no fan of being physically inconvenienced for history's sake.

 

And just in case anyone has forgotten, I would remind you that I am conservatoire-trained myself and my playing is not at all purist. Whether it's actually musical is an entirely unrelated matter and one for others to judge.

 

*A classic example is this super parody by Ruth Gipps. I think you'll appreciate it!

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On the other hand, if the original trigger swell survives, it would be unfortunate to replace it.

 

Why?

 

Apart from the possibility that it might enhance sforzando effects (arguable!), it just makes life more difficult for the performer, and the instrument less flexible. Retaining a trigger swell just seems like following dogma to me.

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The question about trigger swell is an interesting one! I think the reversal of the change to a balanced swell (which apparently almost always has unfortunate technical implications) is perhaps too zealously promoted by BIOS, especially if the organ has had a balanced swell for the large majority of its life. On the other hand, if the original trigger swell survives, it would be unfortunate to replace it.

Surely if Bill Drake can design a mechanical stop action to switch a tracker action manual from full compass to short octave it ought to be easy enough to design a mechanical swell box that can be operated either by a trigger or balanced pedal as the player chooses?

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Surely if Bill Drake can design a mechanical stop action to switch a tracker action manual from full compass to short octave it ought to be easy enough to design a mechanical swell box that can be operated either by a trigger or balanced pedal as the player chooses?

 

Oh no!

 

Next we'll have a choice of electric blower or hand blowing and electric lighting or candles on the console! :P:)

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Next we'll have a choice of electric blower or hand blowing

The EEOP organs already have this, I believe.

 

and electric lighting or candles on the console! :P:)

I would indeed recommend the use of candles most warmly (if not hotly) on a great many organs by a certain early 20th-cent builder around here...

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Guest Cynic
snip

 

 

 

I would indeed recommend the use of candles most warmly (if not hotly) on a great many organs by a certain early 20th-cent builder around here...

 

 

 

Many apologies! This has to be posted here because it answers two postings above. Unfortunately it does not belong in this topic at all.

 

Dear VH,

Am I correct in imagining that you wish the candle to be applied to the flammable portions of these H*le or R*shworth organs? Just a guess!

 

Dear MM,

I think your brain must have been a bit more lubricated than usual when you wrote your latest epistle (all of which I enjoyed as usual, of course!).

Being both a pedant and a pain, I hope you will understand that I feel obliged to correct you on a few details.

 

Maurice Forsythe Grant was the boss of GD&B, and very much the intellectual brains as well as the finance behind them. He deliberately modelled the work of the firm after contemporary German organs he and David Lumsden had visited. His money came not from Whisky but Racal Engineering, the early stages of solid state etc.

 

The Frobenius in Oxford was one of the first and you're right, no builder of the time was doing exactly that sort of thing because those that made the odd tracker organ (like Mander and HN&:) were keen to explore the possibilities of new materials in their tracker actions - Mander used perspex to make squares and HN&B, JWW etc used needle bearings, metal trackers and (worst of all) metal collars in place of leather buttons. As a side-line, it is worth pointing out that at a weight of at least four times that of a leather button, the use of collars largely undermined the results that they were aiming for.

 

Peter R.J.Walker (who set up his break-away company in his father's name in the mid 50s) was already building low-pressure, all mechanical action organs before the Frobenius arrived. His ideas were modelled after Zachariessen - that is to say Scandinavian models. I should know, I worked with the firm for more than ten years. This is where Vincent Woodstock also started out. Peter Collins's first organ was very near the same time - his instrument at Shellingford, built to the design of Andrew Williams.

 

R.H.Walker's use of chipboard was quite deliberate. It was not to save money, but to produce soundboards that would be stable in modern heating conditions. Other firms copied this later without doing some of the laborious tasks we did. For a start, ours was a particularly high grade, dense material and even then we painted around the sides of every hole cut in it. GD&B did the same. JWW (to name but one) didn't!

 

Regarding Ralph Downes, his ideas were originally formed by work done at Princeton with a German voicer. Always a bit of a meddler, RD was keen to experiment, and large amounts of pipework got fairly unofficially shuffled around there! He made friends with G.Donald Harrison (a former Willis man) while out in the USA, and heartily wished that GDH would build organs for him in the U.K. Being a wise man, GDH stayed out of it. Nobody who ever worked with RD got much peace while the project was in hand; his own writings on the subject are hilarious! Unable to get the real thing (as he saw it) Ralph Downes essentially trained his own workers from within J.W.Walker - knowing what sounds he wanted, laying down strict rules for his young voicers (esp. no nicking!) he and they struggled to reconcile all these elements. The organ you meant was Buckfast Abbey, not Downside!

Because of the pressures used, let alone the amount of extension, Downside would have been anathema to RD, I'm sure.

 

Later on, and before the final plans for the Festival Hall were decided upon (and this went through absolutely countless re-writes!!!) Downes made friends with Susi Jeans and Dirk Flentrop who brought their opinions and expertise to the table. It is clear that he was not pursuing a G. Donald Harrison model blindly all the way through.

 

The question that has still not been satisfactorily answered either in RD's wonderful book or elsewhere is not why he wanted a French reed voicer, but why he ever ended up with M.Rochesson! According to tales 'in the trade' the French response to that precise man being asked to collaborate on such a big project was

'Why on earth pick him? He's never built anything of any consequence in France.'

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Dear VH,

Am I correct in imagining that you wish the candle to be applied to the flammable portions of these H*le or R*shworth organs? Just a guess!

I have to admit that, I would not dream of burning the forghorn (much as I dislike it). Given that it was deliberately designed to be what it is, it has integrity and is the only instrument of its kind in the far southwest. And (whisper it quietly) I was actually quite impressed with the way it acquitted itself in the Vierne mass I did recently. Such sinful enjoyment: I felt so dirty afterwards I had to have a bath.

 

As for the others... well... yes, I would happily preserve two or three representative examples and burn the rest! :)

 

Anyway, back to topic!

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The EEOP organs already have this, I believe.

 

EEOP? Sorry, my brain's not working this morning! Could you remind me what EEOP stands for, please?

 

I would indeed recommend the use of candles most warmly (if not hotly) on a great many organs by a certain early 20th-cent builder around here...

 

Only if combined with petrol. Ah, good old John Hele!

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Of course it all depends on how you have been conditioned to appreciate music. Today we are inevitably brought up to appreciate music from a Romantic viewpoint. We learn to respond first; we learn to recognise different musical styles later (perhaps). It must be next to impossible for anyone today to grow up without absorbing all the Romantic conventions. But those who are really "into" earlier styles of music can certainly learn to divest themselves of these accretions and this was not uncommonly done back in the 60s at least. How far it is still true today I am much less certain. A degree of Romanticism, or at least heightened expression, does seem to be more acceptable these days in HIP performances of Baroque music. It was almost bound to happen. At the time, stripping the Romanticism from Baroque music was rather like stripping the centuries of grime off old paintings. And of course the then still quite novel use of original-style instruments also helped to bring up the tone colours afresh. But tone colours in themselves could only go so far and the business of keeping the audience enthralled threw the emphasis very much onto rhythm and articulation. I suppose that approach was only ever going to last for so long as it seemed novel. The process of continual refreshment seems to have manifested itself first in a propensity to push speeds ever-onwards, but sooner or later people were bound to start looking for something more - which is of course what happened to Baroque music at the time; "looking for something more" could well be the motto for the whole of musical history. The expressive playing of today is still very far from overtly Romantic. One still senses the stripping back, the careful judgement of how far it is permissible to go. Could it be just a matter of time before the musical world at large comes full circle back to fully Romantic Bach?

 

 

The stated advice given by BIOS to those contemplating an organ rebuild, for example, I would describe as 'purist' in the way that their document (recently linked to this forum) clearly and forcefully states that where a balanced swell-pedal has at any stage replaced a trigger swell, this change should always be reversed. Both in accompaniment and solo playing, the ability to set an accurate balance between divisions is possible with a balanced pedal in a way it is not with your average trigger swell. It does not pre-dispose the organ to being played in a debased style! A musician would appreciate this argument, any practical person would see that for use in accompaniment a balanced pedal is a significant improvement over the original, an odd point: as a recording artist I would plead to keep them because they make far less extraneous noise! We practical musicians are not 'experts' so what do we know?...the trigger swells are coming back!

 

From these responses I sense most people on this board are approaching using swell pedals from the late romantic point of view - a key expectation is that one should be able to balance accompanying registrations on a swell box, which, as we all know, is physically very demanding with a trigger swell pedal and is an acquired taste.

 

Speaking of ARCO, I've seen guidelines for registrations for Bach on the examination organ which involve half-closing the swell box to balance, coupling stops from different manuals to create a chorus, utilising swell to pedal for balancing pedal registrations (which seem to must be independent): This strikes me as rather a contempery approach to registration.

 

However, many organs which we believe should be played in this style, balancing registrations using swell boxes (including many Willis I and Widor's organ at St. Sulpice) were originally built with a trigger swell. So there's clearly a bit of a conflict here between our expectations and what was actually provided originally.

 

It could be argued that Willis's organ, with their smooth crescendos which encouraged this style of playing, have become victims of their own success and need modification if they are to deliver everything they encourage. Didn't Henry Willis proclaim that the development of his organs had reached perfection in about 1890 and nothing could be done to improve it?

 

Converting a trigger swell to a balenced swell is a much bigger job than most organists realise and quite frequently it is done very poorly, especially where funds are tight or a rather unenlightened approach is taken to the organ. I guess this is more common in smaller, remoter churches. The pedal coupler rollerboards need to be redesigned and remade with a hole for the balanced swell pedal - frequently the best solution is a new rollerboard; the swell shutters need to be re-hung so they are balanced through their movement (the cheap solution of a compensating weight against the weight of the shutters frequently introduces extra strain on the swell shutter action, which quite frequently it isn't up to handling, giving a spongy, squashy feel) and the swell shutter action frequently needs redesigning. If the organ has composition pedals, they will frequently need redesigning, with new rollers and frame so there's a sensible arrangement of compos. (But hey: why not throw out all that old-fashioned junk and install electric stop action with a proper combination action?!) All these alterations above the pedalboard could require a new kick-board rather than fill and piece the holes created in the old one by the conversion.

 

It's quite a big job and when I see a balanced swell pedal protruding from a hacksawed hole at the extreme right of the pedal board, hitting pedal top D# when the box is shut, I know it's been done badly. In these cases it would be cheaper, easier and more successful to return the swell pedal action to trigger.

 

Incidentally, why do so few continental organ builders get placement of the swell pedal right in this country? From the pictures I've seen, even the new Kuhn at Jesus, Cambridge has a swell pedal mounted somewhere above F#-G# and rather too high (along with stops placed quite a distance back from the keyboards, making hand-registration rather a stretch). Christchurch, Oxford is another offender. It's not difficult to get this right - why do so few foreign builders seem not even bothered to make this minimal effort?

 

My question is this - are we right to change organs so they conform to our expectations of playing in our own style (in some cases whether or not it is appropriate for the style of instrument) or should we leave them as they are to maintain their integrity and adapt our approach to play the organ at your disposal? I, too, am used to balanced swell pedals and have struggled at Reading Town Hall so I know what it's like but I feel that too often on this board we are too inclined to alter organs to suit our own tastes without really considering or understanding the issues.

 

Get ye down to St Sulpice and start to play Dupre on straight, flat pedalboards and trigger swells! After all, he was organist of a church with an organ sporting a trigger swell pedal for 37 years and never altered it, despite playing the latest organs all over the world...

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So, you have a trigger swell on your rebuilt Victorian J.W.Walker at Twyford, Colin?

I'd lay very strong odds that you don't!

 

The truth is, our traditional accompaniments require flexible use of the swellbox, probably more than the average RH solo in a Widor or Vierne Smphony.

 

Actually, there is a method for modifying a trigger swell without all that fuss and cabinet work. It was done at Blenheim Palace, I believe by Fr.Willis himself. The pedal looks exactly like a trigger swell, but has some sort of friction brake on it, with the result that the projecting pedal does not require a latch - it can be pushed down, or pulled up with the toe of the right boot.

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Yes, Bill Drake does something similar.

 

Ah yes - here's a photo of my church's organ console:

 

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/PSearch...P00129&no=2

 

And what is THAT I see above pedal middle E & F? Knashing of teeth all round!

 

But how many remote churches out there that sing traditional settings but have a relic of an organ still with a stick swell? Not many! Do we really want to lose those remaining ones? I feel conversion of the remaining ones is a bit of a waste of money, especially when done by Bodgit & Shoestring.

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