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David Thornton

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'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.'

 

But there is a very significant question of chicken vs egg here, the idea of tradition is perhaps something of a red herring. I've quoted John Sutton here before complaining about organists who couldn't play 6 verses of the psalm without changing registration. The 'tradition' as I assume (perhaps wrongly) cynic refers to it probably has musical aesthetics rooted no earlier than, let's say, 1910, and even then I suspect organists in 1910 might have found the extent to which the gadgets are worked now somewhat surprising.

 

The question of conservation is more important than that of organist's wishes in my view (and history has taught us this literally thousands of times). Marcel Dupre's preservation of the original console equipment at Sulpice should be an example for us all. He was a great admirer of American consoles after all.

 

Historic organs always give us glances into performance practices of the past, and this even extends to surviving trigger swells on little Victorian organs in England.

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

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Yes, Bill Drake does something similar.

 

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 use one quite often - one can get used to it!!

 

AJJ

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I can't really see any musical argument for keeping a trigger swell pedal whatsoever. Arguing for them seems to me just to be the worst sort of purism. Balanced swell pedals win hands down!

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I can't really see any musical argument for keeping a trigger swell pedal whatsoever. Arguing for them seems to me just to be the worst sort of purism. Balanced swell pedals win hands down!

Speed? I'll wager the hairpins on the second page of "the" Dupré fugue in G minor are easier with a trigger pedal. I think you'll find that swell shutters closing under their own weight will do so faster than you can manage with a balanced pedal. (They tend to do it a hell of a lot more noisily too if the organist isn't careful.)

 

Just playing devil's advocate, you understand. :)

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Speed? I'll wager the hairpins on the second page of "the" Dupré fugue in G minor are easier with a trigger pedal. I think you'll find that swell shutters closing under their own weight will do so faster than you can manage with a balanced pedal. (They tend to do it a hell of a lot more noisily too if the organist isn't careful.)

 

Just playing devil's advocate, you understand. :)

 

But that's only if you can get your foot in to move that blessed ratchet in time! And, as you observe, prevent that loud BANG which shakes the whole organ if your foot slips..... :D

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I've often wondered why so many organists, including the international globe trotting variety, fail to use a swell pedal with any degree of subtlety. The analogy for me would be concert pianists thinking that every crescendo ended in a ff and every decrescendo ended in a pp.

 

I sat through a concert at the Melbourne Town Hall recently where hours must have been spent selecting, programming and rehearsing the registration changes, but it was all let down, as I thought, by wildly excessive use of the swell shutters.

 

Now I understand why - historically informed performance practice. All these organists have researched trigger-pedal mechanisms and have implemented the results of their painstaking research.

 

I feel such an idiot.

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Oh I dunno. I've encountered a few mechanical balanced swell pedals that are so heavy that they are difficult to use sensitively. And as for electric ones, they hardly ever seem to have enough stages to allow for proper subtlety. (I don't suppose that's true of our best builders, but to be honest I've never really noticed.)

 

Still playing devil's advocate. :)

 

On the other hand, being serious for a moment, it is worth remembering that for many years the British organist had nothing better to do with his feet than operate the swell pedal and, given that the purpose of the swell was to impart expression to solo melodies (the early Swell being primarily a solo division), a trigger pedal probably is best for this. To feel the weight of the shutters counterbalancing your foot does actually give you a sense of intimate connection and control that you don't get with a balanced pedal. It is only the fact that on the modern organ the feet are usually preocuppied with doing other things that makes it desirable to have a mechanism you can operate in stages.

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Now I understand why - historically informed performance practice. All these organists have researched trigger-pedal mechanisms and have implemented the results of their painstaking research.

 

I feel such an idiot.

 

:):D:lol:

 

On the other hand, being serious for a moment, it is worth remembering that for many years the British organist had nothing better to do with his feet than operate the swell pedal and, given that the purpose of the swell was to impart expression to solo melodies (the early Swell being primarily a solo division), a trigger pedal probably is best for this. To feel the weight of the shutters counterbalancing your foot does actually give you a sense of intimate connection and control that you don't get with a balanced pedal. It is only the fact that on the modern organ the feet are usually preocuppied with doing other things that makes it desirable to have a mechanism you can operate in stages.

 

Yes, but a balanced Swell pedal lets you leave the shutters exactly where you want them, not just where any ratchets might be placed by the organ builder. :)

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Yes, but a balanced Swell pedal lets you leave the shutters exactly where you want them, not just where any ratchets might be placed by the organ builder. :)

I think that's what I said!

 

MY point was that that is not really relevant to the use for which trigger sawells were originally intended.

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I think that's what I said!

 

MY point was that that is not really relevant to the use for which trigger sawells were originally intended.

 

Sorry, Vox, didn't mean to repeat what you had said! :)

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The trigger swells of my experience don't have ratchets, so they can only be set open or shut.

 

Paul

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The trigger swells of my experience don't have ratchets, so they can only be set open or shut.

 

Paul

As a kid many village churches had them....only one local organist seemed to use it well; a lady who kept the box shut and used it well for expression occasionally...she had a notch put into it in 1980 and loved the flexibility it gave her...though she rarely had it fully open unless it was for hymn playing. She had been organist since 1938, so had had lots of practice - she also wasn't so happy with the balanced pedals..can't remember why, I'll have to ask her as she is still around at nearly 100!

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The trigger swells of my experience don't have ratchets, so they can only be set open or shut.

There are merits and demerits either way, methinks. A ratchet allows you to lock the pedal in a position different to open or shut but on those organs I've played with ratchets in the trigger swell, they're even more easy to accidentally release without locking in properly, with the resultant bang as the shutters fly shut.

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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.'

 

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

 

 

I knew that I should have checked my notes, but I was too exhausted to be bothered: the main reason why I didn’t go along to Halifax PC to hear ‘Cynics’ recital…..sorry about that Paul….we will meet one day!

 

I’ll give this another go, and try to get all my facts right this time.

 

I should have been able to get this right, because not only have I studied it, I spent quite a while in Harvard with my then American partner, who was not only a superb historian and linguist (three masters degrees before the age of 24 and 14 languages fluently) but also someone who adored early-music and sang in various early-music choirs while at Harvard, while majoring in English Literature, before continuing with Classics and Fine Art at Columbia and Paris. (At this point, we must imagine Bette Midler in the film “Hocus Pocus,” who as a witch, says with great venom, “It makes yer sick!”) Thus, I was in the company of someone who had personally known E.Power-Biggs, Ralph Kirkpatrick, Willi Apel and a veritable galaxy of the “who’s who” of early-music in and around Boston/Harvard, Mass. (He also knew Leroy Anderson; possibly the only classically trained organist who ever made a fortune out of light music).

 

Now our friend “Bazuin” wanted to know what the American/English connections were, and I answered far too generally. However, at least “Cynic” has filled in certain details about English organ-building of which I was unaware, and I am grateful for that.

 

Taking into consideration the period in which the white-heat of early-music interest was first fanned, America was in a fairly advantageous position; largely due to hostilities in Europe, which didn’t affect academia in and around Massachussets to any great degree. Indeed, Boston/Harvard had attracted many German or German trained scholars, and even Chicago had attracted that arch contrapuntist, Middelschulte, who himself was part of the “expressionist” school represented by Busoni.

 

The whole early music thing probably got under way with the work of Dolmetsch in London, and very quickly, that forged strong links with America. So whilst it is very easy to think of the organ in isolation, it was really only a part of a wider movement, which sought to investigate the nature of music, music-notation, instrumentation and performance practice in the baroque (and pre-baroque) eras. In England, the equivalent was probably Thurston Dart, but as I know little about him…….

 

It’s when we consider some of the people involved in American scholarship, that the significance dawns. It wasn’t restricted to musicians, but also included incredibly good scholars such as Willi Apel; a self-taught musicologist who eventually ended up with a PhD from Berlin as a result. He was no fool, and his writings on the subject of early-performance (etc) are still landmarks some 40-50 years on.

 

As only happens very rarely in world history, fate brought a number of people into close proximity in a triangle of academic might centred around Boston/Harvard, but which extended down to Maryland and New Jersey and westwards, to include the major academic establishments of what we could loosely describe as NE America. From the point of view of the organ, perhaps the two most significant organists/scholars were Carl Weinrich (Princeton University) and Arthur Howes (Peabody Institute), who both made extensive study of old European organs. Under the Fulbright Scholarship scheme, many young students were encouraged to travel with Carl Weinrich to Germany, where they came into contact with the organs of Silbermann especially. Carl Weinrich also took with him G Donald Harrison, who later embraced many of the chorus features of those great instruments in those of his own, and which we now recognise as belonging to the “American Classic” style, yet even in that, there lingered a certain adherence to the style of T C Lewis, (and by default, Edmund Schulze), and more particularly, the Walcker organ at Methuen and the Steinmeyer at Altoona. Nevertheless, the underlying influences were essentially German.

 

In view of this, it is possible to understand where Ralph Downes was coming from when he approached the question of the organ for the Royal Festival Hall, and it probably explains why he wanted to collaborate with G Donald Harrison for the proposed new organ at Buckfast Abbey, which eventually got built by J W Walker & Son, after GDH distanced himself from the scheme, I believe.

 

However, working alongside Carl Weinrich makes perfect sense of Ralph Downes’ ongoing interest in the genuine baroque instruments, and of course, he travelled to Germany, France and the Netherlands to hear the organs for himself. It is also understandable, that in the absence of anything much beyond “English cathedral romantic,” he felt it necessary to “train” his own people at Walker’s and elsewhere.

 

Obviously, Ralph Downes left America too early to benefit from the work of people like Charles Fisk, and the research he did; encouraged as he was by Arthur Howes at the Peabody Institute, Baltimore. However, Downes would certainly be aware of many, many things, because Arthur Howes ,Carl Weinrich, and the organ-builder G Donald Harrison were certainly known to each other, and later collaborated in the re-build of the Walcker organ at Methuen. They were all part of that academic/historical triangle, which included E Power-Biggs, who eventually called upon Dirk Flentrop to show American organ-builders/academics the way, when he felt that they didn’t understand the meaning of “organ reform” properly.

 

The result was the gorgeous Flentrop at Busch Reisinger, which had more influence than any other organ in America at the time, and which inspired a whole new set of camp followers, including (of all people), Senator Emerson Richards of Atlantic City fame.

 

Incidentally, I have discovered further alliances and collaborations which Ralph Downes enjoyed, which included Lady Susi Jeans, Sir Anthony Lewis, George Miles, Herbert Murrill, Sir George Thalben-Ball, Prof C H Trevor, Sir Jack Westrup, Walter Holtkamp (USA), Robert Noehren (USA), Dr A M Vente (Netherlands), Fritz Abend (Germany) and Andre Marchal (France).

 

As the late Stephen Bicknell once wrote to me, Ralph Downes was a man who made people think, and that seems to have been his most important contribution to English organ-building. Nothing was ever quite the same again, but I think we can say with some certainty, that his interest was first sparked in America, rather than in Europe.

 

Finally, “Bazuin” may be interested to know that I played a Charles Fisk organ when I was stateside, at the Memorial Church, Harvard University….a fine instrument indeed.

 

MM

 

 

PS: Paul, I am 99% teetotal, but many of my friends are or have been alcoholics.

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Thanks to MM for his excellent posting. The kind of broader context in which you put the story is fascinating and essential to fully understanding it I think.

 

I like the idea of Ralph Downes leaving the US ' too early' (to quote you slightly out of context) and its interesting to think that had he stayed in the US he would have encountered not only organ building which went further down the line of the reform movement on the one hand, but which was also of a technically superior standard to that in the UK at the time, (primarily because the hostilities had lasting effect in the US than in Europe I guess). Perhaps here lies the key to the whole story: Downes missed (just) the most important part of the American story. And however much he made people think, he spawned no obvious successor in the UK, (the work of a Maurice Forsythe Grant, for example, can in no way be equated to that of a Charles Fisk). Does this lack of successor perhaps prevent the UK in general from seeing Ralph Downes in an accurate and 'healthy' context? (as the Americans now see Walter Holtkamp for example?)

 

Perhaps it is also important to differentiate between Carl Weinrich, E. Power Biggs, and even Ralph Downes going to Europe and visiting historic organs, and Charles Fisk repeatedly doing the same. Weinrich, Biggs and Downes were primarily musicians, Fisk was a scientist whose approach to documenting these organs was, I suspect, far more methodical, (his organs would suggest so and, if I remember correctly, so do his writings).

 

Here is the genius of Biggs - the reason for the popularity of the Flentrop at Harvard came primarily through his extraordinarily enterprising use of the recorded (and broadcast) genre and especially the thousands of radio programmes for CBS (for which he sourced his own funding). On the other hand, despite spreading the iconic sound of the first wave of the reform movement throughout the US and beyond, his encouragement of the work of Fisk even links him to the second wave of reformism as well.

 

Isn't is odd incidentally that despite GDH's "certain adherence to the style of T C Lewis.....and more particularly, the Walcker organ at Methuen" that he rebuilt the organ out of all recognition?

 

Greetings from "your friend"

 

Bazuin

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I like the idea of Ralph Downes leaving the US ' too early' (to quote you slightly out of context) and its interesting to think that had he stayed in the US he would have encountered not only organ building which went further down the line of the reform movement on the one hand, but which was also of a technically superior standard to that in the UK at the time, (primarily because the hostilities had lasting effect in the US than in Europe I guess). Perhaps here lies the key to the whole story: Downes missed (just) the most important part of the American story. And however much he made people think, he spawned no obvious successor in the UK

 

Perhaps it is also important to differentiate between Carl Weinrich, E. Power Biggs, and even Ralph Downes going to Europe and visiting historic organs, and Charles Fisk repeatedly doing the same.

 

Here is the genius of Biggs - the reason for the popularity of the Flentrop at Harvard came primarily through his extraordinarily enterprising use of the recorded (and broadcast) genre and especially the thousands of radio programmes for CBS (for which he sourced his own funding). On the other hand, despite spreading the iconic sound of the first wave of the reform movement throughout the US and beyond, his encouragement of the work of Fisk even links him to the second wave of reformism as well.

 

 

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

 

 

We have strayed like sheep from the original topic, so just to redress the balance, I would suggest that some of the most inspirational recordings available anywhere, are those made by Geraint Jones for the BBC, (I think they were called "Historic organs of Europe") and which are available on CD from the Organ Historical Society in the US. I met Geraint Jones once in Wales, where he gave a spectacularly good Bach recital on the war-horse Rushworth & Dreaper at Llandudno PC. I still have some of the original BBC broadcasts on mono reel-to-reel, but even now, I can recall the thrill of hearing sounds such as I had never heard before, at a time when I was probably about 15 years of age. I forget exactly where he travelled for the recordings, but certainly the Silver Cappel at Innsbruck, Amorbach, Rot-en-der-Rot, and Steinkirchen were among them. Of course there are better quality recordings available of such instruments to-day, but it was the way that Geraint Jones introduced the organs, spoke about them and demonstrated them, which made this BBC series so special. There were also wonderful insights into the problems he faced....."The music desk was so close, I had to play wearing two superimposed pairs of spectacles."

 

I think that to further understand exactly what happened in organ-reform, it is important to include certain things. Downes may have left "too early," but did he really?

 

The onset of WW2 stopped everything in its tracks for quite some time, and I very much doubt that people were queing-up to travel to the Netherlands, Italy, Austria and Germany during the period 1939 - 45 and immediately afterwards. In fact, I would suggest that any practical ideas for "organ reform" had to be shelved until the 1950's, when things had settled down enough for this to continue. In practice, this "black hole" was the period of Holtkamp, where "reform" instruments were much less well defined, and where electric-action and Roosevelt chests were still used. That was also true of the original G Donald Harrison instrument at Busch Reisinger, which was the organ on which Biggs did most of his CBS recordings and broadcasts. The Festival Hall organ of 1955 falls into the category of "Reform eclecticism, but let's not frighten the horses."

 

To suggest that "Ralph Downes spawned no natural successor" is not entirely true; though I know exactly what is meant by that. I know that certain people would have wanted to go down that route, but other things maybe prevented it. I feel sure that Germany had many of the same problems as the UK after the war: two shattered economies, a great loss of skilled people, difficulties of supply and so on. The UK was even more badly affected, for while Germany had the "Marshall Plan" and diplomats running around re-building the peace, and the US had enjoyed the boom years (industrially) of war-time arms procurement and supply, the poor old UK was seriously in debt to the US and no-one was there to bail it out.

 

Indeed, the fact that Geraint Jones went to Germany at all, had a great deal to do with the British Council, and a chap called Bartlett, who worked for one of the big German music-publishing houses in Berlin (?) and was a member of the arts division of the British Council. He and his wife worked tirelessly to rebuild relationships, and Geraint Jones was invited to give organ-recitals at Steinkirchen and elsewhere.

 

I suspect therefore, that UK organ-building was in such a dire condition, that even the best organised firms had major problems. The slow death of the John Compton company is a good example of this, and I would suggest that it was far less related to a change in musical fashion, than it was to more practical, everyday problems.

 

In those conditions (which really extended well into the 1950's and beyond), I suspect that the use of new materials (not always a bad thing) was an expedient, and if it made production slightly cheaper, that would have been to the benefit of the organ-builder. It's just too easy to look back and say, "What on earth were they doing to make things that way?"

 

So in terms of organ-reform, the standard bearers had to be the US and the Netherlands, and within a few years, the regrouped companies in Germany. Others became the newly formed craft "state industries" of the communist-bloc.

 

It doesn't bear thinking about, when a company such as Angster in Hungary, was taken over by the authorities, the owner thrown in jail because he was a capitalist and all the tools of the trade hi-jacked for use "in the best interests of the state."

 

Could it be, that in the era of "post organ-reform movement," most of it passed us by, and British organ-builders have had to to be remarkably flexible in their approach. Our hosts are wonderfully typical of this......a great concert hall organ one year, a cathedral organ the next and perhaps one or two smaller, more specialised neo-classical instruments in between. How many firms in Europe could do the same with such a wide portfolio, and make it work?

 

Of course, there is another reason.....our churches are horrible when it comes to organ placement. We just don't have the luxury of great hall churches and west galleries, and our concert halls tend to be geared up for pop concerts rather than classical ones.

 

That's the big problem for organ-builders in the UK: trying to embrace so many styles and musical traditions at the same time.

 

MM

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

... The Festival Hall organ of 1955 falls into the category of "Reform eclecticism, but let's not frighten the horses." ...

 

MM

 

MM, your post is both interesting and full of useful thoughts. However, if I may, I should like to take issue with one small part of it. From what I have read of contemporary accounts of the opening of the instrument (by Ralph Downes, Susi Jeans, Arnold Richardson and George Thalben-Ball), it seems clear to me that the 'horses' of the establishment (aside from figures such as Sir Jack Westrup* and Sir Malcolm Sargent) were well-nigh terrified - slavering at the bit and eyes bulging in horror, at the sounds [to be] unleashed from this unfamilar beast.

 

For a start, there were a number of letters in the correspondence column of The Times (including an exchange between Sir Ralph Vaughan-Williams and Sir Jack Westrup). Then there were descriptions by eminent critics (Felix Aprahamian and Laurence Elvin amongst their number). Finally, there was the reaction of the audience. One lady, when the tutti was employed, apparently turned to her husband and remarked "Darling, it's boiling!"

 

I would agree with your description of 'Reform eclecticism' - to an extent. Whilst Downes did alter the scheme at various times, changing its partly Dutch flavour (such as the nomenclature of certain ranks and the 'excess of Quintadenas'), nevertheless the scheme retained a flavour of eclecticism. However, the re-casting of the design of the Solo Organ (in response to strong criticism from certain quarters of the 'establishment'), went a considerable distance towards creating a more unified scheme. As is well known, after this late alteration, the quasi-Romantic Solo division became yet another mixture ensemble, with more chorus-type reeds, as opposed to the 'tentative' tuba ranks originally specified.

 

In retrospect, I think that the RFH organ would have been a rather more interesting instrument, had one of the earlier desings for the Solo Organ actually been built. Downes' original stoplist specified such useful ranks as a Flûte Conique 16ft., a Flûte Majeure, a pair of violes (one undulating), a Grosse Tierce 3 1/5 ft. and a Septième 2 2/7. In addition, there were three 'orchestral' reeds and the two aforementioned quasi-tuba ranks, at unison and octave pitch. A later revision removed the separate mutations and replaced them with a Tertian (19-24), but, despite several changes of nomenclature, kept the basically Romantic nature of the scheme - on paper, at least.

 

Perhaps the aspect which still puzzles me the most, is why Downes was apparently unable to observe that all the chorus reeds which he proposed were modelled on instruments which spoke in vast, resonant edifices (which would have had the effect of broadening the sound and attenuating the brightness of the upper partials, to an extent). He even alluded to the superb acoustics of some of these buildings, in the course of his writings. Therefore it seems all the more strange that it never occurred to him that, in the 'dead' acoutsics of the RFH (something which was foretold by Hope Bagenal), these new stops were likely to sound somewhat different.

 

 

 

* Heather Professer of Music, Oxford University.

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to quote Peter Williams:

 

"It seems to be true that the Organ Revival in England 'really took root only with the opening of the organ in the Royal Festival Hall in 1954' (Clutton 1963), but even then the roots were thin, weedy and unprogenitive....

At the Festival Hall in 1954, despite the thought put into it by the consultant (Ralph Downes) and the builder (Harrison and Harrison), the quasi-comprehensive nature of the organ results in little more than an out-moded compromise organ of a period, still with us [1980], in which eclecticism seems a possible and worthwhile aim. The Festival Hall's 103 stops provide German Flutes, Anglo-German choruses, French reeds, and other elements carefully calculated to allow many types of organ music. But the size of the organ, the sprawling, largely un-encased construction and electro-pneumatic action make it impossible for either player or listener to achieve true sympathy with any musical style other than the town-hall transcription,of which it presumably hoped to sound the death knell."

 

Even if we accept that PW's writings are always conceived from his version of organ reform, which stops short of embracing late 19th/early 20th century developments, and even if we also accept that his writing in 1980 meant that he hadn't yet been able to experience the re-defining of the eclectic ideal by Fisk, Brombaugh and disciples, can we really argue with his assessment? (The question isn't meant to be rhetorical!)

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

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to quote Peter Williams:

 

"It seems to be true that the Organ Revival in England 'really took root only with the opening of the organ in the Royal Festival Hall in 1954' (Clutton 1963), but even then the roots were thin, weedy and unprogenitive....

At the Festival Hall in 1954, despite the thought put into it by the consultant (Ralph Downes) and the builder (Harrison and Harrison), the quasi-comprehensive nature of the organ results in little more than an out-moded compromise organ of a period, still with us [1980], in which eclecticism seems a possible and worthwhile aim. The Festival Hall's 103 stops provide German Flutes, Anglo-German choruses, French reeds, and other elements carefully calculated to allow many types of organ music. But the size of the organ, the sprawling, largely un-encased construction and electro-pneumatic action make it impossible for either player or listener to achieve true sympathy with any musical style other than the town-hall transcription,of which it presumably hoped to sound the death knell."

 

Even if we accept that PW's writings are always conceived from his version of organ reform, which stops short of embracing late 19th/early 20th century developments, and even if we also accept that his writing in 1980 meant that he hadn't yet been able to experience the re-defining of the eclectic ideal by Fisk, Brombaugh and disciples, can we really argue with his assessment? (The question isn't meant to be rhetorical!)

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

 

 

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

 

 

I suspect that is VERY possible to argue with the points made by Peter Williams, but only in a multi-layered way rather than as a general statement. As a general statement, it appears to make good sense!

 

The last sentence is interesting; claiming that it is "impossible for either player or listener to achieve true sympathy with any musical style."

 

The best reply to this would to ask why, (if that is indeed the case), the BBC has in its archives a magnificent recording of Simon Preston performing Reger at a live recital, with an audience reaction which was simply ecstatic?

 

It seems to me, that many of the scholars of my own generation and the one before, were so hooked on the idea of Schnitger/Silbermann organs, they possibly failed to see the wider truth of a far more varied and rich tradition than they gave credit for. As Pierre often tells us, the organs know by Bach were nothing like either of those two styles of instrument. A dash around the Netherlands soon confirms that the sound of the Schnitger/Hinsz school is very definable and actually quite rare. Other instrument are much broader and throatier in tone; lacking the incisiveness of the North German style, and sometimes quite slow and deliberate in intonation. I'm sure that there are similar differences across Germany, from region to region.

 

What I can never understand is the idea that "eclecticism" is somehow a dirty word. Few people would expect an organist to NOT play Bach or Buxtehude on even the most romantic instruments, yet many scholars tell us that the reverse is somehow inexcusable, and that any classically conceived instrument should be restricted to "authentic" or at least "informed" performance practice.

 

If we expand our imaginations a little, it is not beyond the realms of the possible that the Bavo Orgel, Haarlem, COULD have sounded the way it does when it was first built. We know that it doesn't, but it would have been possible and certainly within the style of the period for the organ to sound much the same as it does to-day, with the exception of rock-steady wind. So on that basis, it is also possible that a genuine baroque organ may just have been sufficiently tonally flexible to enable it to be remarkably "eclectic."

 

Taking a further leap of imagination, I believe that even Bach would have admired the sound of the Thos.Hill organ at Sydney Town Hall, and would have enjoyed making music on it. That particular instrument is sufficiently classical and tonally architectural to do justice to music from a very wide variety of musical traditions.

 

I wonder what Peter Williams would make of the organ at Olomouc in the Czech Republic?

 

Strictly baroque and tonally unchanged (if the reports are to be believed), various additions to the organ have merely brought improved musical felxibility to an already superb instrument, but they remain as quite separate additions which sit alongside a genuine 18th century instrument by Michael Engler.

 

What do we thus find other than classical choruswork, French style reeds, solo voices, swell boxes, electric action (as well as the original mechanical action in good working condition) and even chamades?

 

In the UK, perhaps three organs have a similar degree of flexibility: Coventry, Blackburn and Windsor. I would defy anyone to suggest that any of these instruments are compromised musically by the implied slur of "eclecticism," but of course, the EP actions, (two instruments have quite remote consoles) do change things to a considerable extent.

 

I'm afraid that I have considerable sympathy for the eclectic philosophy of Larry Phelps, and having played the Fisk at Harvard Memorial Church, Cambridge, Mass., I have played an organ which brings a similar philosophy to a successful conclusion.

 

However, to return the the Festival Hall organ, is it not the case that no-one could actually anticipate the final outcome of the building?

 

The claim that the end acoustic was somehow predictable, simply isn't true. The acoustic did not even fall within the parameters of the design; largely due to the contractors substituting different materials to those specified in the contract. Maybe the end result would never have been perfect, or even very good, but it should never have turned out the way it did. Lest we forget, the organ was being built and voiced before the hall was finished, and all credit to the team responsible for the organ, the end result wasn't utterly terrible. Subsequent changes to the specification after the opening, (and some revoicing), improved the organ considerably, but with the best will in the world, everyone had their backs to the wall when the final acoustic was revealed to all concerned. It was not story with a happy ending.

 

MM

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As usual this has nothing to do with the original topic, but I like this sort of dicussion a lot because it gets to the root of a lot of contemporary organ philosophies and problems. Thanks again to MM for his post.

 

"It seems to me, that many of the scholars of my own generation and the one before, were so hooked on the idea of Schnitger/Silbermann organs, they possibly failed to see the wider truth of a far more varied and rich tradition than they gave credit for."

 

I think that we can pretty much accept that today this is a widely accepted fact.

 

"What I can never understand is the idea that "eclecticism" is somehow a dirty word."

 

I can understand this. The idea of eclecticism in modern(ist) organ building is seen primarily in the large organs of the German speaking world built since the war. Whether from Bonn or Vorarlberg is actually irrelevant, the style peaked in the 1970s with a certain way of playing and thinking about the repertoire (cf Peter Hurford for example). The players of that generation didn't in any way accept the musical qualities of any late 19th or early 20th century school of organ building but were quite happy to play the literature of that time in a heavily ' neo'- influenced, sanitised way, (cf Peter Hurford, but also even a genius of the calibre of Anton Heiller!). Now that we have moved that step beyond Peter Williams, anyone with a broad interest in the literature can understand why even a Sauer organ from the 1920s is more beautiful and fascinating than any modernist Germanic post-war organ, (with perhaps one or two exceptions). Most of the really wonderful organ builders of the last generation (they don't come from Bonn or Vorarlberg incidentally) built organs within a single aesthetic, mostly one or other 16th/17th school. Think of Ahrend, Brombaugh etc.

 

The re-defining of eclecticism took place primarily in the US, but not exclusively. To be clear, I define the 're-definition' as an eclecticism based on the genuine research and understanding of historic models (of all kinds), as opposed to the eclecticism which grew from the neo-baroque/modernist/Germanic post-war model (of which plenty is still being produced in Bonn and Vorarlberg and many other places). In terms of European examples consider the Flentrop organs in Chicago and Enschede (and the one in Scotland), or the Gronlund organs in Sweden (like the one Gillian Weir played on the television - I've heard it live and its more wonderful than anything I've heard elsewhere in mold from 1975. Their later organs are even better.) Jurgen Ahrend's son is now going down that route too apparently. In the US the examples are more obvous, the big Brombaughs in Christiana Hundred, Collegedale, Toyota City, Springfield etc, as well as the big Fritts and Pasi organs I've mentioned. What is perhaps still lacking is an eclectic style based on the German building from the Bucholz and Ladegast time (some influences in modernist organs by Muhleisen for instance notwithstanding).

 

" yet many scholars tell us that the reverse is somehow inexcusable, and that any classically conceived instrument should be restricted to "authentic" or at least "informed" performance practice."

 

To be fair, I don't think many people write things like that any more, this is the philosophy of Peter Williams.

 

"If we expand our imaginations a little, it is not beyond the realms of the possible that the Bavo Orgel, Haarlem, COULD have sounded the way it does when it was first built. We know that it doesn't, but it would have been possible and certainly within the style of the period for the organ to sound much the same as it does to-day, with the exception of rock-steady wind."

 

I have never heard a historic organ which speaks the language the Bavo organ does now. You cannot put Bavo in context until you've been to Leeuwarden (which you may well have done being a fellow traveller!)

 

"So on that basis, it is also possible that a genuine baroque organ may just have been sufficiently tonally flexible to enable it to be remarkably "eclectic."

 

Which is why, for instance, Verschueren build their 'house-style' organs borrowing significantly from Konig and the Middle-Rhine school of building. Those organs are very flexible (Bach-Couperin-Liszt-Mendelssohn-Brahms all work very convincingly!). But the basis has to be in genuine historical knowledge (and a lot of experimentation - if you don't make your own pipes for instance, such experimentation is impossible!).

 

 

"What do we thus find other than classical choruswork, French style reeds, solo voices, swell boxes, electric action (as well as the original mechanical action in good working condition) and even chamades?"

 

Enjoy it while you can, I am quite sure the modern additions will be removed when the money is available, (this isn't the Liepaja organ in Latvia we're talking about after all).

 

"I'm afraid that I have considerable sympathy for the eclectic philosophy of Larry Phelps, and having played the Fisk at Harvard Memorial Church, Cambridge, Mass., I have played an organ which brings a similar philosophy to a successful conclusion."

 

But done in a totally different way to anything Larry Phelps envisaged. The philosophy of Phelps is nice (even if it only recognises C-C as worthwhile from the 19th century) but it took a Fisk to take it to a much higher level.

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

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I have never heard a historic organ which speaks the language the Bavo organ does now. You cannot put Bavo in context until you've been to Leeuwarden (which you may well have done being a fellow traveller!)

 

 

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

 

I absolutely agree, BUT..........

 

Forget about the new suspended action, and forget about the rock-steady wind with schwimmers. Tonally, this organ as it sounds now, COULD have been created in the 18th century.

 

Nothing has changed so much that the instrument doesn't fall within the creed of 18th century German organ-building, and were it to be built to-day, with perhaps modern registrational aids, it would be rgearded as a modern masterpiece with a distinctly eclectic ability.

 

My thinking may seem a little perverse, but it's the reverse way of considering eclecticism....ancient embracing modern, rather than modern embracing ancient.

 

As for Olomouc, I sincerely hope that the Rieger-Kloss additions will remain if work is done to the organ. There's no reason why not, because the original Engler functions quite separately with its own console and mechanical action.

I can't help thinking, that if people wish to improve things, they went about it the right way at Olomouc, by not wrecking the original instrument in the process.

 

Unfortunately, I never heard Leeuwarden, but I have played the Waalsekerk, with the modern upperwork which tends to make things a bit too lively in that building.

 

MM

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"Unfortunately, I never heard Leeuwarden, but I have played the Waalsekerk, with the modern upperwork which tends to make things a bit too lively in that building."

 

I disagree, if you visit Beverwijk (Muller 1756) or the Kapelkerk in Alkmaar (Muller 1760-something), the effect of the upperwork is at least as intense.

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

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"Unfortunately, I never heard Leeuwarden, but I have played the Waalsekerk, with the modern upperwork which tends to make things a bit too lively in that building."

 

I disagree, if you visit Beverwijk (Muller 1756) or the Kapelkerk in Alkmaar (Muller 1760-something), the effect of the upperwork is at least as intense.

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

 

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

 

 

Golly gosh!

 

:rolleyes:

 

MM

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