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JWAnderson

Loudest Tubas

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Listening to it now, it has none of the brilliance, tone or regulation which is apparent in the recordings I have of it before the 1950s rebuild.

 

 

Which is remarkable, given the (by today's standards) still somewhat primitive analogue recording technology, often of limited bandwidth and high noise level. Tape recording was only a few years old at that time, though it could have been used to produce a master tape around 1950. Some of Helmut Walcha's early post-war recordings were made that way. Were you listening on 78 rpm discs or very early 33 1/3 microgroove records (which were only introduced in the late 1940s)?

 

I'm not 'having a go', merely curious as to how you formed your judgement, which I don't question for a moment. I would be the first to acknowledge the remarkable properties of our ears in being able to somehow 'listen through' material which is far from hi-fi by today's definition.

 

CEP

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The last time I played at York was in the early nineties (although I've heard it a few times since, including a memorable recital which Francis gave for the Cathedral Organists' Association),and before the PPO work, but my memory of the Tuba Mirabilis was that it was very big (of course) but also bright. It didn't have that sort of fist-in-a-boxing-glove effect of the Tuba Magna at Liverpool. My most enduring memory of it was how enormous it sounded in the nave, having only experienced the instrument from the screen console before then.

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One of the reasons the Tuba Mirabilis sounds so huge in the nave is because the rest of the organ has been so nullified by the drastically reduced wind pressures. The H&H primary great flues were originally voiced on a pressure of around 7-8 inches, at the time of your visit they would have been barely half that. The silly mixtures don't really get out of the case. From what I understand the high pressure flues weren't revoiced when the pressures were reduced, merely tuned! The enclosed solo tubas were down from 20 inches to about 6. I agree, the Tuba Mirabilis was so ridiculously out of proportion to the rest of the organ in the nave the effect bordered on the comical.

 

Maybe "brightness" is not quite the word to use. What is clear from my old recordings is the refinement and polish with which the harmonics are handled. The harmonics are there and beautifully handled from note to note. It was clearly a beautifully voiced stop. Playing the organ a few years ago it was apparent that refinement and polish was now wholly absent. Harry Bramma and I had a long conversation about the H&H Tuba Mirabilis at York (which he remembers) and we felt the way it sounds was not a patch on how it originally sounded - he speaks of a "golden tone" and there's a part of me which gets what he's talking about. Now it sounds like it's just trying to be loud rather than beautiful - a bit like a singer that shouts rather than produces a beautiful tone. I think I would rather have Fischer-Dieskau than someone who brays!

 

Harrisons have been experimenting with restoring parts of the organ back to their original design pressures and the organ is sounding much better. Some of the later stops weren't working when I last visited and there are possibly still problems of projection in the organ (the Great Organ is hemmed in to both the east and the west with thick walls of basses inside the case) but the whole organ sounds much more cohesive with a far better ensemble. The Primary Great chorus has much more focus and Tuba Mirabilis is now sounding more in proportion with the rest of the organ but there is still some way to go: parts are missing and the Great Reeds cannot yet be returned to their original disposition. These experiments are certainly validating the potential direction for future work on the organ, which will be to return the organ to something closer to the 1930s H&H vision.

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I agree with what you are saying, Colin, except for one small point: I was under the impression that the pressure of the enclosed tubas was actually reduced to 15".

 

As you know, there were a number of 'experiments' with the York Minster organ in an attempt to 'get it right' both in the chancel and in the nave. I wonder whether restoring the H&H Great flues to a higher wind pressure might help with volume in the nave, whilst the rest of the flue work (remaining as it is) could do service for the chancel.

 

As I understand it, the 16' Great diapason pipes, or at least the bass ones, form the 'thick wall of basses' on the west side of the case. I wonder whether the situation could be improved by removing these and restoring to speech the display pipes (or some of them) in the west facade.

 

I believe that the only real solution to providing a good sound to both east and west (without compromise) would be to introduce a new Nave Organ which, I believe, has been proposed before. Money is the problem, I'm sure.

 

Anyway, I'm pleased to hear that steps are being taken to improve matters acoustically. Just for the record, I thought that the Tuba Mirabilis on the well-known 1960s recording by Francis Jackson was just right. Yes, it tends to shout down the rest of the organ (at least on this recording) but not to an extent that it can't be heard. Perhaps if the H&H flues were increased in power as you suggest, the balance might be better without the need to reduce (what I consider to be) the wonderful sound of the Tuba Mirabilis.

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People insist on creating "solutions" to the York Minster "problem".

The problem is simply that the organ is on the screen, and it has to cross a gulf almost exactly the size of St Lauren's, Alkmaar, but with the added delight of a tower space acting as a black-hole.

Put the organ and choir at the west end!

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That’s a very interesting proposal, MusingMuso! I can think of Christ Church, Oxford and Westminster Cathedral with West End gallery organs. At Christ Church the choir stalls are close to the organ and in that small, non-standard cathedral space it works. The choir are nowhere near the West End at Westminster Cathedral which reflect a continental Roman Catholic praxis. Are there any other West End organs and, more interestingly, choirs in the UK?

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Derby Cathedral springs to mind, as does Carlisle (OK I know it's technically in the crossing under the central tower, but the nave is shorter than most apses and is more of an antechapel from what I remember when I played there some years back). I can't think of any others in the UK other than those listed above though.

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People insist on creating "solutions" to the York Minster "problem".

 

The problem is simply that the organ is on the screen, and it has to cross a gulf almost exactly the size of St Lauren's, Alkmaar, but with the added delight of a tower space acting as a black-hole.

 

Put the organ and choir at the west end!

Yes, that would work perfectly...

 

except for services in the chancel!

 

Certainly, a large organ in the nave and a small one (perhaps something like the pre-1830 organ which, incidentally, had a much more elegant case) on the screen for chancel services.

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Derby Cathedral springs to mind, as does Carlisle (OK I know it's technically in the crossing under the central tower, but the nave is shorter than most apses and is more of an antechapel from what I remember when I played there some years back). I can't think of any others in the UK other than those listed above though.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of Derby; I know it well. I don’t know Carlisle at all.

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The Compton Tuba at Holy Trinity, Hull, is, to my ears, a mighty stop. And before the rebuild (not heard it since) another Compton Tuba at Bridlington Priory.

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Leicester Cathedral organ has not had the best reports over the years - "a less than distinguished example of a famous marque", etc - but when I gave a recital on it a few years before the latest restoration, I rather liked it. It had play-back in those days, so I was even able to walk around the church and listen to it, and I thought it sounded pretty damn good.

 

The Cathedral is an odd-shaped building of no great length, so it's just about possible to do traditional Anglican cathedral services with the choir in the gallery with organ. Therer's a two-ranks extension chamber organ by Pels which normally lives behind the choir stalls further east. I think the original idea at Chelmsford was to have the choir at the back with the organ, but the plan was changed - hence the east end organ, which is substantial enough to accompany choral evensong, etc, without difficulty. One thinks also of All Saints, Northhampton, where the nice little modern Walker east end organ was replaced by a second-hand and larger instrument with more variety to do the job for which it was required.

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I wonder if they meant as in E-Type Jag or on a scale of A-E!

 

With regard to acoustics, Harrisons' could be wizards at getting a fine sound in dead acoustics. Leeds Parish Church is pretty dead, and All Saints, Margaret Street isn't exactly Notre Dame. I remember, when I took Belfast Cathedral Choir to York, finding the acoustics in the Quire depressingly difficult - and our building was the same width and height as York with an equally wide gap between Can and Dec.

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The musicality of the Leeds PC organ never fails to impress.

I remember it well when it was pure H & H, and it sounded much like any other H & H of the period, but in the deadest of acoustics. Then changes started to occur as fashion moved away from the Edwardian ideal. It is remarkable, that over the years, this organ has changed quite a lot, but it has never lost the remarkable musicality of the original.

There is no doubt about it, but that the Leeds organ is a triumph of the voicer's art over acoustics.

The following extract is from the Leeds PC website:-

" Much of the voicing was in the skilled hands of long-serving Parish Church Lay Clerk and Principal Tenor Brian Wilson (1928-2010), whose skill in integrating the new pipework with the old has been universally admired."

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............................. I remember, when I took Belfast Cathedral Choir to York, finding the acoustics in the Quire depressingly difficult - and our building was the same width and height as York with an equally wide gap between Can and Dec.

 

Yes, I know what you mean! I took a very experienced choir to York and had similar experiences. We found the distance between Dec and Can really difficult to cope with. On top of that I had, foolishly, scheduled Bryan Kelly's Mag and Nunc for Magdalen College Oxford, not the setting in C, together with some Palestrina. The rehearsal was the stuff that nightmares are made of - but they pulled it off in the end!! I learned a lot from that experience!

 

Someone, somewhere else on here, mentioned the acoustic of the Metropolitan Cathedral in Liverpool. I conducted in there a lot and, actually, found it remarkably easy - once you got used to it!

 

Sorry to hijack the Tuba thread!

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This clip is worth a listen. I presume that the loud reeds heard at 4:45 into the clip are Tubas and they seem to be good for trying to quieten noisy tourists (!) from their location which is, I believe, above the west door seen in that part of the clip. Anyone know what the wind pressure is on them?

 

Dave

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Yes, I've watched that video before and, yes, they do shut them up, don't they? :lol:

And then they applaud!

 

In answer to your question, I have read that they are on either 40" (1000mm actually) or 28" WG. Who knows which?

 

Incidentally, I have been informed that one of the two is like a 'dark' Willis and the other like a 'bright' Skinner. I have been unsuccessful, though, in determining which one is which! I don't suppose anyone knows?

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I have not heard them all by any means of course, but quite a few around the globe. However my vote would still go the Bath Abbey Tuba Mirabilis 8' (20 inch.)  It replaced the original HNB Tuba circa 1914 shortly after WW2. A few quieter characteristic stops were added at the same time.  On his return from war service (RAF) Ernest Maynard had these installed. A booster blower was added at the same time for the Tuba.

In the wonderful acoustic of the Abbey (including the stunning fan vaulting of course) the new Tuba sure rocketed around the building. HNB placed it so well too with the pipes just showing themselves poking above the main swell box, and voiced brilliantly. With the addition of the Solo Octave coupler it was just wow! But sparingly ??!! (Ha ha maybe!)

I had the privilege in the 60s of taking the brilliant blind organist Andre Marcel, to the loft. He drew each stop in turn on the instrument checking all prior to his next day recital. On drawing the Tuba Mirabilis (yep after I first indicated the booster blower switch, he played a short passage! "Magnifique" was his very audible response!!

I believe this magnificent stop was "tamed" rather (along with much more) by Klais in the 90s. Sure we gained some reasonable balanced courses, but still a lot was lost. Oh yes, I know I will be shot at dawn!

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Had the pleasure of tuning the Tuba Mirabilis at Bath Abbey several times 1979-81, as an apprentice at HN&B.  I believe the stop was voiced by Arthur Rundle, a Hill voicer. The shallots had an infill of red sealing wax, which I was told helped to add that brightness and penetrating tone that it had.  Hearing the pitch reference (usually the Gt Octave 4ft) against it was a challenge.  The long ladder that led up to the Tuba chest was screwed to the Double Open Wood 32'. At the top, one could almost reach out and touch the fan vaulting.  To the rear there was a chilling drop, down to the 1/2 length Double Trumpet 32'.  Ironically, the Tuba wasn't the stop I feared to tune...it was the upper end of the Pedal Trombone/Tromba 16/8 rank.  Impossible to stand away from it and in a confined space it really was quite unpleasant!  Still, all meat and drink to a wide-eyed 16 yr old lad.

 

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Reading Headcase's account of Bath brought back some fun memories.  Years ago I had the dubious pleasure of having to occasionally trim the odd note of Bridlington's very fine Compton tuba into tune. It's located in the triforium and getting to it (pre-rebuild) was not the easiest.  The first ladder to the pedal reed chest level was fixed; then a moveable ladder took you to the next floor. Once you'd got there - main windchest level - you had to pull up the ladder you'd just climbed, trying not to forget about the gap you'd pulled it through, and prop it as best you could against the mounted chests above the main Great/Positive windchest. A dodgy climb up there and you were face-to-face with the Compton Great Open 1.  A bit of a side-wards shuffle then a scary open ladder took you up to the tuba platform.  Once you were up there, the view certainly focussed the mind; nothing but an open void choirwards one way,  or several thousand spiky bits of expensive metal the other.  I was a lot braver back then than I am now!

The Tuba was always well balanced in the church but ear-splittingly loud up there, even though it wasn't at the time getting anything like its proper 15" wind which dulled it somewhat.  I never saw any of the "real" tuners wearing ear protection but bits of screwed-up tissue did help me.  No way could we tune it against any of the usual references but the Open 1 was rock solid and not that far away, so that's what it got.

After the Nicholson's rebuild, it's back to its full complement of wind and very fine it sounds too.  

The Brid organ was quite a maze back in the day. One of these days (if I can work out how to do 3D cad as opposed to 2D) I'll draw it up for posterity - certainly quite an example of how a much-rebuilt organ can grow out of all recognition.

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On 14/07/2020 at 02:50, headcase said:

Had the pleasure of tuning the Tuba Mirabilis at Bath Abbey several times 1979-81, as an apprentice at HN&B.  I believe the stop was voiced by Arthur Rundle, a Hill voicer. The shallots had an infill of red sealing wax, which I was told helped to add that brightness and penetrating tone that it had.  Hearing the pitch reference (usually the Gt Octave 4ft) against it was a challenge.  The long ladder that led up to the Tuba chest was screwed to the Double Open Wood 32'. At the top, one could almost reach out and touch the fan vaulting.  To the rear there was a chilling drop, down to the 1/2 length Double Trumpet 32'.  Ironically, the Tuba wasn't the stop I feared to tune...it was the upper end of the Pedal Trombone/Tromba 16/8 rank.  Impossible to stand away from it and in a confined space it really was quite unpleasant!  Still, all meat and drink to a wide-eyed 16 yr old lad.

 

Hello Headcase. Thanks for the extras on Bath Abbey Tuba etc.

You would have been an apprentice during and after the disastrous enlargement of the instrument during Dudley Holroyds tenure (1970s) I would guess. But to give some credit here the beautiful positive case was added at that time. (Alan Rome was architect.) It sounded very good also.

Wonderful your explanation of the voicing of the Tuba by Arthur Rundle.

Yes I do remember the power of the wood Trombone Tromba on the pedal. Much earlier years Ernest Maynard was asked about extending down for a full length 32ft reed. His reply was quite right really, that with those pedal reeds thundering around the abbey nothing else was needed. The half length 32 trumpet added also in the 70s was next to useless really. Much of the guts of the organ were also removed at this time, hence Klais being awarded the contract for a new organ (basically) not long after, during Peter Kings time at Bath. That is what we have there today.

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