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Mander Organs

Organs In Books


davidh

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So far, if I haven't missed a thread, we haven't discussed organs in fiction.

 

As a start I'll mention "The Silver Skates", a story of old Holland written by Mary Mapes Dodge who had never been there. It is to her that the world owes the (untrue) story of the boy who prevented flooding by sticking his finger into a hole in a dyke. The book also relates a visit to the Muller organ in Haarlem.

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The captain laughed. "I shall take you to hear better music than that," he said. "We are just in time to hear the organ of Saint Bavon. The church is open today."

 

"What, the great Haarlem organ?" asked Ben. "That will be a treat indeed. I have often read of it, with its tremendous pipes, and its vox humana {An organ stop which produces an effect resembling the human voice} that sounds like a giant singing."

 

"The same," answered Lambert van Mounen.

 

Peter was right. The church was open, though not for religious services. Someone was playing upon the organ. As the boys entered, a swell of sound rushed forth to meet them. It seemed to bear them, one by one, into the shadows of the building.

 

Louder and louder it grew until it became like the din and roar of some mighty tempest, or like the ocean surging upon the shore. In the midst of the tumult a tinkling bell was heard; another answered, then another, and the storm paused as if to listen. The bells grew bolder; they rang out loud and clear. Other deep-toned bells joined in; they were tolling in solemn concert--ding, dong! ding, dong! The storm broke forth with redoubled fury, gathering its distant thunder. The boys looked at each other but did not speak. It was growing serious. What was that? WHO screamed? WHAT screamed--that terrible, musical scream? Was it man or demon? Or was it some monster shut up behind that carved brass frame, behind those great silver columns--some despairing monster begging, screaming for freedom! it was the vox humana!

 

At last an answer came--soft, tender, loving, like a mother's song. The storm grew silent; hidden birds sprang forth filling the air with glad, ecstatic music, rising higher and higher until the last faint note was lost in the distance.

 

The vox humana was stilled, but in the glorious hymn of thanksgiving that now arose, one could almost hear the throbbing of a human heart. What did it mean? That man's imploring cry should in time be met with a deep content? That gratitude would give us freedom? To Peter and Ben it seemed that the angels were singing. Their eyes grew dim, and their souls dizzy with a strange joy.

---------------------------

 

I'll also quote J Meade Falker's book, "The Nebuly Coat." First published in 1903 it told the story of an architect restoring an old church and of the mysterious ancestry of a rich family.

 

"Mr Sharnall made the most of his defective organ. ... leaky bellows and rattling trackers". Eventually "there was only the intolerably monotonous booming of a single pedal note, with an occasional muffled thud when the water-engine turned spasmodically to replenish the empty bellows." Another organist has bitten the dust!

 

The book is unusual because it includes four pages of music, supposedly played by the chimes of the church clock.

----------------

 

I'm sure that other list members can think of others - for a start a reference on another thread to The Bostonians.

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Milton "L'Allegro ed Il Penseroso"

 

....To walk the studious Cloysters pale.

And love the high embowed Roof,

With antick Pillars massy proof,

And storied Windows richly dight,

Casting a dimm religious light.

There let the pealing Organ blow,

To the full-voic'd Quire below,

In Service high, and Anthems cleer,

As may with sweetness, through mine ear,

Dissolve me into exstasies,

And bring all Heav'n before mine eyes. .... :rolleyes:

 

...I would not have remembered this except for Handel's setting.....

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There was an organ mentioned (not a specific instrument - but Chester fits the description fairly well) in one of the James Herriot books.

 

He had, if my memory serves me correctly, just mended a cow - somewhat miraculously - and the narrative (again, from long memory) ran something like this: "As I stepped back, somewhere in the back of my mind, an organ began to play; not a small organ, but a mighty instrument, with gleaming pipes climbing high into the shadows of the cathedral roof ...

 

... As I left the byre, the organ was really playing, with all stops out, the music thundering around the vault... " (or words to that effect).

 

I also like to think that the piece which was played was the Fugue in D major, by Reger (Op. 59, No. 6).

 

If anyone can locate a copy and correct my inaccuracies, they are welcome to do so.

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Thomas Mann's 'Buddenbrooks' - one of the great novels of European literature, contains, in Chapter 8, contains an extended and sympathetic portrait of an organist, Edmund Pfühl, organist of the Marienkirche in Mann's native Lübeck. The characters of the novel are thinly disguised versions of Lübeck citizens and Pfühl's real-life counterpart is thought to have been Hermann Jimmerthal, who held the post from 1845 to 1886, as long, in fact, as his predecessor Dieterich Buxtehude. Pfühl presides at the large 4m Schulze organ destroyed in the bombing on Palm Sunday 1942. Ever the loyal, traditional, conservative church musician, Pfühl venerates the strict counterpoint of J S Bach and struggles to come to terms with the 'perfumed smoke-cloud' of Richard Wagner's music. Well worth reading, if only for this chapter.

 

On a lighter note, how about 'Holy Disorders' by Edmund Crispin, alias the composer, Bruce Montgomery? The story tells of villainous deeds in a West Country cathedral city during the war. Mysterious radio messages are beamed to German U-boats from high up in the cathedral. The author, an amateur sleuth (and organist) decides to investigate.

 

"The organ, a 4-manual Willis, (was) one of the finest in the country. He remembered it had a Horn stop which really sounded like a horn, a lovely Stopped Diapason on the Choir, a noble Tuba and a 32ft on the pedals, which, in its lowest register sent a rhythmic pulse of vibration through the whole building, unnerving the faithful...."

 

And the organ becomes the instrument of the supposedly perfect crime. One day, the Precentor is found dead in the north aisle, apparently crushed by a memorial slab apparently from the wall high above. Eventually, the sleuth finds out how it was done. The murderer does the old geezer in by fairly unremarkable means, then drags his body into the aisle immediately below the slab. He then manages to loosen the slab so that it is delicately poised high above. He then runs up to the organ loft, switches on, draws the Double Open Wood 32 and plants his boot on CCCC and CCCC#. Down comes the slab and the hapless cleric is reduced to strawberry jam.

 

Finally, a lovely quote from Gordon Reynolds - "Remember that you were once the boy downstairs whose right foot clenched in his shoe as Full Swell came shining through the diapasons".

 

JS

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There's a book which, just a the moment I can remember neither the title or author of (its a woman though) which is clearly set in Gloucester at the time of the 69 rebuild when the painted pipes were "rediscovered". Someone will know what it is....

 

There's also a wonderful children's book by Madeline l'Engle (anyone read "A Wrinkle in Time" ?) set in St John the Divine where the organ features strongly, my daughter's taken the box set to uni so I can't look up the title.

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Sorry to answer my own post, but it seemed more appropriate than an edit.

 

The book which I believe to be based upon Gloucester is, of course, The Choir by Joanna Trollope.

 

The Madeleine L'Engle book is The Young Unicorns

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Among many other accomplishments Dorothy Sayers' creation, Lord Peter Wimsey, could play the organ and Percy Whitlock dedicated one of his works to "DLS and Harriet [Vane]", who must be one of relatively few fictional characters to be the dedicatee of a piece of music.

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There was an organ mentioned (not a specific instrument - but Chester fits the description fairly well) in one of the James Herriot books.

 

He had, if my memory serves me correctly, just mended a cow - somewhat miraculously - and the narrative (again, from long memory) ran something like this: "As I stepped back, somewhere in the back of my mind, an organ began to play; not a small organ, but a mightly instrument, with gleaming pipes climbing high into the shadows of the cathedral roof ...

 

... As I left the byre, the organ was really playing, with all stops out, the music thundering around the vault... " (or words to that effect).

 

I also like to think that the piece which was played was the Fugue in D major, by Reger (Op. 59, No. 6).

 

If anyone can locate a copy and correct my inaccuracies, they are welcome to do so.

 

You can search google books: www.books.google.co.uk and type james herriot organ, and you will find the quote pcnd gave, although you cannot see where it is in the book.

When I typed this query in 'normal' google I came up with this article in the Northern Echo, dated 1st August 2005.

 

And I found this snippet of info on mr. Herriot (which wasn't his real name): 1916. James Alfred Wight, or "Alf," as he's known locally, was born in Sunderland, a small town in Yorkshire on October 3. Three weeks later, the family moved to Glasgow. As the son of a mother who sang professionally and a father who played piano and organ, music played a large part in the household, and Wight grew up with an especial love for Elgar, Beethoven, and Mozart. He lived in Hillhead near Glasgow, Scotland, and attended Hillhead High School.

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You can search google books: www.books.google.co.uk and type james herriot organ, and you will find the quote pcnd gave, although you cannot see where it is in the book.

When I typed this query in 'normal' google I came up with this article in the Northern Echo, dated 1st August 2005.

 

And I found this snippet of info on mr. Herriot (which wasn't his real name): 1916. James Alfred Wight, or "Alf," as he's known locally, was born in Sunderland, a small town in Yorkshire on October 3. Three weeks later, the family moved to Glasgow. As the son of a mother who sang professionally and a father who played piano and organ, music played a large part in the household, and Wight grew up with an especial love for Elgar, Beethoven, and Mozart. He lived in Hillhead near Glasgow, Scotland, and attended Hillhead High School.

 

Hi

 

And after qualifying as a vet, set up in thirsk, North Yorkshire, where there's a museum in his former house. Well worth a visit - but nothing organ-related though - just various vetinary instruments in one section, and a piano in the recreated lounge.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Two additions.

 

The rather good reading by McCall-Smith called 31 Scotland Street (I think, I can't find my copy at the moment) talks about the asst organist at St Giles in Edinburgh and his love of steam trains. He also knows the whereabouts of a secret tunnel under the New Town which the characters later take a trip down. I like the book, its an odd mix of fact and fiction. There are a number of 'real' characters in it.

 

The other one I can't remember the name of, but its one of those grusome murders in Edinburgh books. There's a short bit where one of the characters is hanging around the back of the Waverly Station near the Scotsman steps. He can hear the organ being played in Old St Pauls, but I can't remember if he makes mention of the names of either of the organists of the time (Shankland/Kitchen) in it.

 

Perhaps others may have read either if these books?

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On a lighter note, how about 'Holy Disorders' by Edmund Crispin, alias the composer, Bruce Montgomery? The story tells of villainous deeds in a West Country cathedral city during the war. Mysterious radio messages are beamed to German U-boats from high up in the cathedral. The author, an amateur sleuth (and organist) decides to investigate.

Is this the one where the sleuth tries to catch someone out by asking them what they think of Stanford in A flat, or something?

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In response to Innate:

 

On page 171 of my copy of Holy Disorders by Edmund Crispin aka Bruce Montgomery, Geoffrey (the organist who takes over temporarily at the Cathedral after the titulaire is murdered) tests his suspicion of the landlord of the local pub by asking him which is his favourite setting of the (evening) canticles. The landlord replies that, as a Presbyterian, he is not as familiar as some with Anglican settings but he professes a liking for the Stanford settings in B flat and G. Geoffry suggests the setting in E flat, but the landlord replies that he has not heard of it. Presumably we are expected to infer from what follows that Geoffry has made it up - "[he} cursed inwardly; the man had the better of him."

 

Presumably the laugh is on Mr Montgomery because I see from Choral Wiki that Stanford did indeed write a setting in E flat, though, like the landlord, I haven't come across it. I'm sorry if the foregoing comes out as if I have been partaking too liberally of the landlord's hospitality. Do read the book; it's a must for anyone who has an interest in church music.

 

Bruce Montgomery is well known for his scores for the early Carry On films; they are, however, light years away in style from his 'Oxford Requiem' and 'Christ's Birthday', both looking rather Howellsian. There is also a superb little miniature - 'My Joy, My Life, My Crown' - a setting of words by George Herbert. Well within the capabilities of the most modest village choir, it is certainly worth a look if you don't know it. It was published, I think, by OUP, but I don't know whether or not it is still in print.

 

David Harrison

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And I found this snippet of info on mr. Herriot (which wasn't his real name): 1916. James Alfred Wight, or "Alf," as he's known locally, was born in Sunderland, a small town in Yorkshire on October 3. Three weeks later, the family moved to Glasgow. As the son of a mother who sang professionally and a father who played piano and organ, music played a large part in the household, and Wight grew up with an especial love for Elgar, Beethoven, and Mozart. He lived in Hillhead near Glasgow, Scotland, and attended Hillhead High School.

 

Since when was Sunderland (Tyne and Wear) ever in Yorkshire? Durham, maybe, my god parents live there, and have never had the postal address of Yorkshire, North, or otherwise

Peter

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Guest Roffensis

And quite unexpectedly as she entered the Cathedral she heard the Organist let sound a chill treble note. Rushing towards the great screen she looked up at the huge pile, and a kindly face peeped over the curtain and said "would you like to hear some more?" .

 

"Oh yes", she said.

 

And she did.

 

Deep sounds bounced from pillar and arch as Melissa stood mesmerised, quite missing anything else happening around her, she was engulfed, suffocated almost, she could not speak, nor did she want to. She thought she was in heaven, but does heaven have organs she thought?, and if so, whose organs might they be?

 

Time stood still, as staidly the organ played a stately Sicilienne. Mr Smallharp came down after quite dwarfing the whole church with his golden hands, and simply asked "did you like that?"

 

"Oh yes", said Melissa, "I did".

 

And she did.

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The rather good reading by McCall-Smith called 31 Scotland Street (I think, I can't find my copy at the moment) talks about the asst organist at St Giles in Edinburgh and his love of steam trains. He also knows the whereabouts of a secret tunnel under the New Town which the characters later take a trip down. I like the book, its an odd mix of fact and fiction. There are a number of 'real' characters in it.

 

I got the title wrong, it is 44 Scotland Street.

 

"Where did you pick up this arcane knowledge?" [about the tunnel and trains]

 

"From the Organist at St Giles, my friend Peter Backhouse. He knows everything there is to be known about railways, and he knows all about the old lines of Edinburgh. He can tell you about Bach and Pachelbel and so on, but he also knows all about track gradients and signalling systems and the Edinburgh, Leith and Granton Railway. Remarkable isn't it? I'm always impressed by people who know a lot about trains."

 

"I've always thought that the Church of Scotland was a bit unsound on railways."

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  • 3 weeks later...

In "Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook", Montague Rhodes James wrote of the organ in the church in St-Bertrand-de-Comminges in 1883. The organ and church are certainly real enough. Those who don't know these wonderful stories have a treat in store. Pictures of the organ and more about this writer are here

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In "Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook", Montague Rhodes James wrote of the organ in the church in St-Bertrand-de-Comminges in 1883. The organ and church are certainly real enough. Those who don't know these wonderful stories have a treat in store. Pictures of the organ and more about this writer are here

 

Nothing to do with organs, I know, but I fully agree with you.

 

There is something about M R James' ghost stories that I find atmospheric and sometimes quite gripping.

 

The BBC has produced some of the more well known ones which, fortunately, I have recorded to DVD in case they are never shown again!

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A favourite read from my childhood was William Mayne's 'A Swarm in May'. The story was set in a fictional cathedral (but based on Gloucester). The character of the headmaster, Mr Ardent, was reputedly based on Clive Pare, one-time precentor of the Cathedral and headmaster of the King's School.

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Try, if you can find it, “The Hymn Tune Mystery” by George A. Birmingham. This was the pseudonym of the Revd. James Owen Hannay and one can find out all about him in Wikipedia. The story gives a pretty good impression of life in a sleepy backwater Cathedral of the 30s and makes for an entertaining read. The organ connection is the murder of the organist, (not another, I hear you cry) but I won’t add any spoilers at this stage.

 

Either Roffensis hasn’t read my request (Post No 18) or he/she is disgusted that I don’t know it; if I am the only member of the forum to be in ignorance of both Mr Smallharp and the obviously luscious Melissa surely someone can enlighten me. Mind you, the repetition of “And she did” makes me wonder about what preceded this excerpt, to say nothing of its continuation.

 

David Harrison

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  • 1 year later...
A favourite read from my childhood was William Mayne's 'A Swarm in May'. The story was set in a fictional cathedral (but based on Gloucester). The character of the headmaster, Mr Ardent, was reputedly based on Clive Pare, one-time precentor of the Cathedral and headmaster of the King's School.

Rather a late reply, but I came across this thread whilst "googling" for something else. As a Canterbury O/C (1959-64) I am quite sure that the story (and the other two) are based around Canterbury. As I open my 1957 edition, at the heading of Chapter 1 is an engraving of the Christchurch Gate (albeit showing the postern on the wrong side). On page 7 is an engraving showing the kitchen exactly as I remember it including the opening into the passage behind it into which I once climbed up into! The figure ("Mr Ardent") in clerical garb tossing an omlette is undoubtedly the Rev. Clive Pare, Headmaster of the Choir School (1937-1963). Not the King's School. I believe he was at sometime Sacrist rather than Precentor at Canterbury. (He was also the City's Sherrif and later Mayor during my time). The move to Gloucester was in 1963 where he became a Canon. He died in 1973 and is interred in the Canterbury Cloister garth.

 

CG.

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