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Balanced Swell Pedals


Paul Morley
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Hi all,

I have updating a few NPOR surveys recently, and on my travels have encountered a few late Victorian (i.e. pre - 1900) organs where the central balanced swell pedal and vertical shutters look as if they have always been in place, even though this seems unlikely. Do any board members have an informed opinion on when balanced pedals first came into use, and a possible date for their becoming more or less universal.

Thanks,

Paul.

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Guest Echo Gamba
Hi all,

I have updating a few NPOR surveys recently, and on my travels have encountered a few late Victorian (i.e. pre - 1900) organs where the central balanced swell pedal and vertical shutters look as if they have always been in place, even though this seems unlikely. Do any board members have an informed opinion on when balanced pedals first came into use, and a possible date for their becoming more or less universal.

Thanks,

Paul.

 

Rather vague I know, and not the "informed" opinion you are after, but I have a feeling they were introduced in the late 19th c. I'm sure JPM will be able to be more specific

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WH Barnes in 'The American Organ-its Evolution Design and Construction' attributes the introduction of the balanced swell to Walcker in 1863 (p.117). I play a Binns from 1892 which has almost certainly had balanced pedals to swell and choir since new (the manual to pedal couplers work mechanically although the action is pneumatic). Hope this helps.

 

R

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WH Barnes in 'The American Organ-its Evolution Design and Construction' attributes the introduction of the balanced swell to Walcker in 1863 (p.117). I play a Binns from 1892 which has almost certainly had balanced pedals to swell and choir since new (the manual to pedal couplers work mechanically although the action is pneumatic). Hope this helps.

 

R

 

According to Audsley, a balanced central pedal is a French idea, certainly Cavaille-Coll organs (later ones) sport these devices.

Ron is correct; Binns organ have them from fairly early on. Indeed, I have never seen a Binns organ of any age without them. I rather like the Binns cast-iron pivot plates, too. Father Willis was still making trigger-style devices right up until the end of his career, so Blenheim Palace has them in 1891, albeit clever ones that try to stay where you put them (described by Sumner as a 'lever locking device' co-invented with Vincent Willis). Mind you, this could be to special request.

 

There is no specific mention of their introduction in either Bicknell's history or Thistlethwaite's (The Making of the Victorian Organ) which is a bit odd, actually. I suppose the answer will be that insufficient research has been done. This would be an ideal topic for BIOS correspondence. The 'weave-my-own-yoghurt' school of organ 'expert' frequently has damaging notions about swell controls.

 

 

[.....Puts can of worms to one side and gets coat.]

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Thanks for this, guys. I infer from what has been posted that if I complete an NPOR survey on an 1898 Alexander Young, and say that the joinery, level of wear etc. leads me to believe that the central, balanced swell pedal is original, then I'm on reasonably secure ground.

I do think that it's quite interesting to note the way in which some of the big firms of the 19th and early 20th centuries demonstrated quite a measure of conservatism in this matter. The latest Wm Hill organ that I've come across with triggers was the 1912 instrument in the Houldsworth Hall, Manchester (now lost). I suppose that Hill may have resisted the trend towards balanced pedals because of the company's characteristic swell box design; triggers being more compatible with horizontal shutters.

I have a suggestion as to why Willis, the great innovator and engineer, persisted in fitting triggers to his organs right into the 1890s. Whilst a balanced pedal is undoubtedly the most effective device for realising the hairpins specified in romantic repertoire, a sforzando – frequently demanded in transcriptions and orchestral reductions - is easier to accomplish with a trigger.

As an aside, pictures of the St George's Hall console taken in the early 20th century show the triggers still in place, though I don't know if this organ retained them until 1931 (I'm sure that others will be able to make an authoritative statement on this).

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Thanks for this, guys. I infer from what has been posted that if I complete an NPOR survey on an 1898 Alexander Young, and say that the joinery, level of wear etc. leads me to believe that the central, balanced swell pedal is original, then I'm on reasonably secure ground.

I do think that it's quite interesting to note the way in which some of the big firms of the 19th and early 20th centuries demonstrated quite a measure of conservatism in this matter. The latest Wm Hill organ that I've come across with triggers was the 1912 instrument in the Houldsworth Hall, Manchester (now lost). I suppose that Hill may have resisted the trend towards balanced pedals because the company's characteristic swell box design; triggers being more compatible with horizontal shutters.

I have a suggestion as to why Willis, the great innovator and engineer persisted in fitting triggers to his organs right into the 1890s. Whilst a balanced pedal is undoubtedly the most effective device for realising the hairpins specified in romantic repertoire, a sforzando – frequently demanded in transcriptions and orchestral reductions - is easier to accomplish with a trigger.

As an aside, pictures of the St George's Hall console taken in the early 20th century show the triggers still in place, though I don't know if this organ retained them until 1931 (I'm sure that others will be able to make an authoritative statement on this).

 

Hi Paul

 

As one of the people that deals with NPOR entries - I would probably quote your comments to justify the recording of a balanced pedal as original in this sort of case - unless, of course, other reliable information indicates that it is a later addition!

 

Personally, I quite like trigger swell pedals - if the control lever is in the right place (as on a Norman & Beard job I used to play regularly) - unlike some that require contortions to operate (i.e. a Spurden-Rutt that I also used to play regularly). I find subtle emphases (and, as you say, the "hairpins") easier to manage on a good trigger swell.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Hi Paul

 

As one of the people that deals with NPOR entries - I would probably quote your comments to justify the recording of a balanced pedal as original in this sort of case - unless, of course, other reliable information indicates that it is a later addition!

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

Thanks for this, Tony. The survey in question will be with you in due course.

P.

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Thanks for this, guys. I infer from what has been posted that if I complete an NPOR survey on an 1898 Alexander Young, and say that the joinery, level of wear etc. leads me to believe that the central, balanced swell pedal is original, then I'm on reasonably secure ground.

I do think that it's quite interesting to note the way in which some of the big firms of the 19th and early 20th centuries demonstrated quite a measure of conservatism in this matter. The latest Wm Hill organ that I've come across with triggers was the 1912 instrument in the Houldsworth Hall, Manchester (now lost). I suppose that Hill may have resisted the trend towards balanced pedals because the company's characteristic swell box design; triggers being more compatible with horizontal shutters.

I have a suggestion as to why Willis, the great innovator and engineer, persisted in fitting triggers to his organs right into the 1890s. Whilst a balanced pedal is undoubtedly the most effective device for realising the hairpins specified in romantic repertoire, a sforzando – frequently demanded in transcriptions and orchestral reductions - is easier to accomplish with a trigger.

As an aside, pictures of the St George's Hall console taken in the early 20th century show the triggers still in place, though I don't know if this organ retained them until 1931 (I'm sure that others will be able to make an authoritative statement on this).

You haven't mentioned the dreaded infinite speed and gradation pedal, which I first encountered in the mid sixties. I think it is the only device that ever caused me to storm out in a fit of temper when a senior colleague said, at absolutely the wrong moment, "I can't see why you are finding it a problem - it's so simple!" Fortunately I got back to the console just in time for my next cue. I suppose, with the TV remote control being a major part of daily life it would seem logical now - but it was certainly unfamiliar then.

JC

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[ The latest Wm Hill organ that I've come across with triggers was the 1912 instrument in the Houldsworth Hall, Manchester (now lost). I suppose that Hill may have resisted the trend towards balanced pedals because of the company's characteristic swell box design; triggers being more compatible with horizontal shutters.]

 

That's interesting and it reminded me of the 1911 Hill in Shrewsbury Abbey where the swell and choir pedals are balanced but situated on the extreme right of the pedal board, roughly where trigger swell pedals would be. I suppose it's possible that they were altered to balanced pedals at some stage? I know this has been done in a number of organs, but adopting the central location can, I understand, cause some engineering problems particularly where the pedal action/couplers are mechanical. Alterations to the woodwork in the pedal well can sometimes give a clue to alterations; repositioning of composition pedals for example.

 

R

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...1911 Hill in Shrewsbury Abbey where the swell and choir pedals are balanced but situated on the extreme right of the pedal board, roughly where trigger swell pedals would be..

In my experience, a balanced pedal on the extreme right is the worst of both worlds. Of the organs that I've played which have/had this arrangement, I can think of only three that were by any means comfortable to use:

 

1. The instrument that you mention, Shrewsbury Abbey.

 

2. Another Wm. Hill organ, St John Chrysostom Manchester.

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=N02086

 

3. The Lewis organ at St. Mark, Battersea Rise.

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=R00946

 

In all cases, I imagine that the fact that the conversion is ergonomically successful is due to the fact that it was carried out by the original builders to their usual high standards.

 

In the case of (2), the pedal is not situated at the extreme right, but rather to the right of centre, approximately above pedal notes A & Bb.

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