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Sheffield Cathedral And The Cavaille-coll Orgue


D Quentin Bellamy

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My junk mail filter just filtered a message from 10 Downing Street (remarkably discerning computer!), which, when I explored it further was a notification to say that the petition to keep the Cavaille-Coll organ in situ at the Parr Hall, Warrington has now expired. It turns out that 716 people had "signed" the petition online.

 

I think that it was generally agreed however that the Warrington Council were aware of the organ's historical value and that it was certainly not going to be put out into a skip! A little later I learned that Sheffield Cathedral had "expressed an interest".

 

Just out of curiosity, does anyone know if that is still an ongoing possibility?

 

Anyway for information, here is the Governmental response to the petition:

 

The decision whether to move the Cavaille-Coll Organ is one for Warrington Council, owners of Parr Hall. However, English Heritage – the Government’s adviser on the historic environment – has advised the Council that the organ should not be moved without listed building consent, and that they should take the community’s views into account, including those expressed in this petition, in deciding the best course of action.

 

English Heritage has further advised that the advantages and disadvantages of moving the organ are finely balanced. On the one hand it was moved twice previously, before being added to Parr Hall some time after its original construction, and there are questions over whether the organ itself might be better used in an alternative location, whilst also allowing more flexibility in the use of Parr Hall. On the other hand, the value which existing users of the hall attach to the organ and its significance in relation to performances, including a longstanding tradition of choral music, is well demonstrated by this petition and many other representations. It will be for the Council to determine the best way forward, taking all these views into account.

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1. Sheffield Cathedral seems to have no money: have they not been hoping for a new organ for at least ten years ?

 

2. The Parr Hall organ is pretty well preserved, apart from the action which was thrown out in the 1970s. Any transfer to a new place would surely have to re-instate the original action. Very expensive.

 

3. If the organ were to be restored properly in an English cathedral I can't imagine any current cathedral organist would put up with such a primitive device. No pistons, no sequencer, no surround-sound nave section.

 

 

Can't see it, somehow.

 

 

Or do we not mind being the laughing stock of the European organ-world?

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Guest Patrick Coleman
Would a little drawing be necessary ?

 

Pierre.

 

No - I have played the Parr Hall instrument and know how different the console is from one bedecked with modern technology. I also know what Barker lever action is all about. I wanted to know what the laughing stock comment means.

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"Never thought I'd say it, but a similarly primitive console doesn't seem to bother the organist of Saint Sulpice . . . "

 

:lol:

 

"Could it be that nowadays playing the organ has become more of a matter of playing the pistons/sequencer etc. ??"

 

In Britain it has been for generations now. It's called console-itis. Registrants in Britain are 'verboten'........ or? Ewald Kooiman used to find it hilarious that British organists must be able to push pistons efficiently but still use page turners...

 

Regarding the idea of the Parr Hall organ being moved to Sheffield, I would be more worried about how that organ would sound in the dry-as-toast acoustic of that church. Whatever, that organ is the largest tonally unaltered C-C in the UK, and for that reason alone it must receive a world-class restoration and an arena where it will be championed.

 

Bazuin

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1. Sheffield Cathedral seems to have no money: have they not been hoping for a new organ for at least ten years ?

 

2. The Parr Hall organ is pretty well preserved, apart from the action which was thrown out in the 1970s. Any transfer to a new place would surely have to re-instate the original action. Very expensive.

 

3. If the organ were to be restored properly in an English cathedral I can't imagine any current cathedral organist would put up with such a primitive device. No pistons, no sequencer, no surround-sound nave section.

 

 

Can't see it, somehow.

 

 

Or do we not mind being the laughing stock of the European organ-world?

 

Well, how would you like to accompany Anglican chant psalms on it? Never heard any in French churches. And yes I have played the Parr Hall organ.

 

R.

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1. Sheffield Cathedral seems to have no money: have they not been hoping for a new organ for at least ten years ?

 

2. The Parr Hall organ is pretty well preserved, apart from the action which was thrown out in the 1970s. Any transfer to a new place would surely have to re-instate the original action. Very expensive.

 

3. If the organ were to be restored properly in an English cathedral I can't imagine any current cathedral organist would put up with such a primitive device. No pistons, no sequencer, no surround-sound nave section.

 

 

Can't see it, somehow.

 

 

Or do we not mind being the laughing stock of the European organ-world?

 

Well, how would you like to accompany Anglican chant psalms on it? Never heard any in French churches. And yes I have played the Parr Hall organ.

 

R.

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I don't know the organ intimately, so I hope members will freely correct any factual inaccuracies but the situation appears thus to me.

 

The organ was not originally built for the Parr Hall, so there is no argument for saying it is an artistic union of instrument and environment. Therefore it can be moved.

 

Sheffield Cath have 'no money'. Therefore it's not going to be put there, at least until such large scale funds become available. This takes time, and town councils are not known for their patience in artistic matters when other priorities arise, although some are more enlightened than others. Is it the right place ? I think the issue about the dry acoustic is a justified one.

 

Should it be restored. All things are possible, but if you took a straw poll of cathedral assistants, how many of them would choose to accompany evensong on a Cavaille console, compared to a typical English one. If it's a matter of, the only way it's saved is to restore it, then I don't really think an English Cathedral is the right place for it.

 

To say that some churches with choirs in France have original Cavaille consoles, so this should follow suit, is not really an argument. There are countless others which perform the same function and have been altered. If it is a matter of saving it because a new custodian will accept it only in its modified form, then I would argue for it to be left modified. At least it will then be protected and used, which for an organ of this importance I would regard as more relevant than a dogma over action type. The barker lever could be restored with electric stop action. This is a compromise that often works well. To be able to restore the action and retain protection and use is the ideal to achieve. Better to do something, save it and use it, than argue, do nothing and lose the lot. It should be remembered that the clock is always ticking.

 

AJS

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A number of years ago there was a plan afoot to restore the huge Schulze organ in Doncaster Parish Church to its 1850s state with money from the Heritage Lottery Fund. At the time the very notion of it raised some eyebrows and there was some vociferous debate on the matter. I guess that for me the whole issue served to focus the mind on precisely what restoration of an historic organ means. In Doncaster the scheme was to reduce the manuals and pedals to their original compass, to restore the action to its 1850s state and to return the whole job to hand blowing (though I think that an electric blower was also to be provided). Whilst the restored organ would have certainly presented a challenge for the typical anglican liturgy, there were I suppose certain musical arguments in its favour insofar as it would have enabled a somewhat more authentic performance of the German Romantic repertoire - which I was told by Stephen Bicknell is not really possible in the UK. In the event it never happened and instead a brand new console was installed complete with all the whistles and bells that we would expect on a modern console. Consolitus it seems, won the day.

 

On the music desk of the mighty Wyvern is a copy of the Reubke Sonata - I wonder if I shall ever be able to play it!! It is interesting to consider that whilst many of today's performers use sequencers and multi-channel piston systems, I guess that to play the piece when it was originally written would have presented quite a challenge!

 

I wonder, how did the average Anglican church organist get by before the advent of pistons? (Perish the thought!!!) :lol:

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Never thought I'd say it, but a similarly primitive console doesn't seem to bother the organist of Saint Sulpice . . .

And how often does he accompany Stanford, Howells, Leighton...

 

Ewald Kooiman used to find it hilarious that British organists must be able to push pistons efficiently but still use page turners...

That seems to me rather arrogant. But then, I'm sure there are many British organists who find it equally hilarious that a continental player should delegate aspects of his performance to third parties. I daresay the practice was born of necessity, but even so...

 

I wonder, how did the average Anglican church organist get by before the advent of pistons? (Perish the thought!!!) :lol:

He played music that didn't require orchestral-scale changes of colour. At least, that's what I have been led to understand - I'm no expert on Victorian organ music. But isn't it the case that in all of S. S. Wesley's organ music the tone colour changes called for are fairly modest and manageable by hand? Henry Smart and John Stainer ditto?? Perhaps someone more knowledgeable can confirm or correct.

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"And how often does he accompany Stanford, Howells, Leighton..."

 

Not very often.

 

Didn't Stanford die in 1924, well advanced in years?

 

I remember Malcolm Archer, as a young man, bemoaning the fact that the former little nave organ at Worcester Cathedral had no Voix Celeste. However, he found a way to cope.

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Guest Roffensis
"Never thought I'd say it, but a similarly primitive console doesn't seem to bother the organist of Saint Sulpice . . . "

 

:lol:

 

"Could it be that nowadays playing the organ has become more of a matter of playing the pistons/sequencer etc. ??"

 

In Britain it has been for generations now. It's called console-itis. Registrants in Britain are 'verboten'........ or? Ewald Kooiman used to find it hilarious that British organists must be able to push pistons efficiently but still use page turners...

 

Regarding the idea of the Parr Hall organ being moved to Sheffield, I would be more worried about how that organ would sound in the dry-as-toast acoustic of that church. Whatever, that organ is the largest tonally unaltered C-C in the UK, and for that reason alone it must receive a world-class restoration and an arena where it will be championed.

 

Bazuin

 

 

Having played several recitals on Parr Hall myself, I can vouch that the console is a glorious death trap :lol: . Many have come unstuck on it, from the awful music stand, nasty springy and light pedals, horrible action, and useless bench if you are over 5 foot tall, which is also too deep. All these can be addressed of course..... reinstatement of the Barker Lever, an adjustable bench (a necessity on a concert instrument), decent key touch, a revised music stand that is sensibly designed, not to mention space for a page turner to move behind you, all of which will all help the cause. Then I suggest that more bother to turn up for recitals than they have in the past :lol: . This organ to my mind would not suit an Anglican church, it's too French, strange as it may seem. One cannot really play English on it, anything over a 2 foot sounds grotesque. But, as a suggestion, it would go splendidly on the West wall of Brompton Oratory.

 

I personally see no case to keep this gem in what is, to all appearances, nothing more than a grotty working mens club with hideous decor, and in a place where few actually even bother with it. Even St. George's Hall in Liverpool fares better these days, and that is saying something!

 

I hope the Parr Hall Organ goes, the sooner the better, as much as I will miss it. I believe that any future it has there would be a waste of a world class instrument.

 

 

 

R

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He played music that didn't require orchestral-scale changes of colour. At least, that's what I have been led to understand - I'm no expert on Victorian organ music. But isn't it the case that in all of S. S. Wesley's organ music the tone colour changes called for are fairly modest and manageable by hand? Henry Smart and John Stainer ditto?? Perhaps someone more knowledgeable can confirm or correct.

 

I think I once posted a link to the 1858 opening recital programme at Romsey Abbey, where the organist (Brewer?) played almost nothing but orchestral transcriptions (with the exception of a piece called Fuge, by Bach). You'd have to suppose that this was nothing really out of the ordinary, particularly as the instrument didn't do anything much to boast orchestral colours, apart from a Gamba, an Oboe and a couple of Trumpets.

 

My current post is the first time I have had an instrument with what anyone might call conventional pistons, though the last 4 or 5 have all been sizeable 3 manual instruments. To be honest I think I played better without, since I would take the necessary time to draw the fewest number of stops to create the sound desired, rather than stabbing a button to make the noise louder or quieter. I certainly played far more colourfully.

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I think I once posted a link to the 1858 opening recital programme at Romsey Abbey, where the organist (Brewer?) played almost nothing but orchestral transcriptions (with the exception of a piece called Fuge, by Bach).

 

It wouldn't have been Brewer - born: 21 June 1865. died: 1 March 1928

 

Possibly someone like EJ Hopkins who was a bit partial to transcriptions and a chap called Bach too! He'd have been 40 in 1858 (Hopkins, not Bach :lol:)

 

The Parr Hall situation has become something of a local cause celebre with those trying to get it out fighting those who want it to stay - neither side, it seems to me, has been very successful in fighting their corner. I do know that the Sheffield suggestion has been stated as being "that's what's happening" but I'm also told that there is another, local, venue which is also extremely keen , AND may already have access to the required amount of money.

 

DW

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And how often does he accompany Stanford

 

How many pistons/playing aids did Stanford have? I have seen at least one Cathedral Organist play a Stanford setting (I forget which) without recourse to pistons - to prove the point.

 

but if you took a straw poll of cathedral assistants, how many of them would choose to accompany evensong on a Cavaille console, compared to a typical English one. If it's a matter of, the only way it's saved is to restore it, then I don't really think an English Cathedral is the right place for it.

 

I also rather suspect that whilst there are plenty who would prefer to have a lovely H&H or Mander console, there are also plenty who would accept the Parr Hall instrument (and others) without. Perhaps a proper study into Cathedral organists' (and assistants') attitude to conservation versus modernisation would be interesting - they are the ones at the sharp end after all.

 

And one cannot help but notice that a lot of what seems to be played after Anglican services is music originally destined for the German Lutheran or French Catholic churches IME... I don't have a problem with that (I do it myself), but I would suggest that if we are prepared to do that, then perhaps we should be prepared to do the reverse.

 

I have accompanied Howells Hymn to St Cecilia on the Orgue de Choeur in la Trinité, Paris. It seemed to work OK.

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The issue of relevance to repertoire (especially liturgical, given where the instrument might end up) is certainly important. With all due respect to whoever first thought up the idea of moving Parr Hall to Sheffield, the questions remain, what is the most suitable instrument for an Anglican cathedral, and what is the most suitable venue for a largely original, sizeable Cavaille-Coll.

 

Taking the decision to install an organ in any building is not to be undertaken lightly as the chances, even the hope are it will long outlive those who install it. Especially for something as precious as a cavaille-Coll, one hopes that in a hundred years' time it will still be in as original condition as it is now (OK I accept it isn't totally unchanged, but you get the point). But those responsible for relocating it will not be - and I can think of several examples where an organist has persuaded his church to undertake a substantial rebuild or even an entirely new organ that reflects their personal tastes in repertoire and tradition. That many others would disagree about its suitaility in the venue is disregarded, and then those responsible leave with a short time afterwards, leaving a beautiful but ill-suited instrument behind for others to have to figure out what to do with. Whilst a few people might be very excited about moving the Parr Hall CC to Sheffield, one has to wonder whether the cathedral would fairly soon after realise that magnificent as it is, it isn't apprpriate for an Anglican cathedral. (Of course the alternative would be that it is used to drive a change in repertoire, and that the cathedral becomes known for its success in promoting French music and liturgy)...

 

On a totally different track, the comment about restoring the Doncaster Schulze to its original condition made me smile....a couple of years ago the organbuilding community was in dismay about the European Union directive banning lead from electrically operated instruments. I couldn't help mischieviously wondering at the time whether the solution to the dilemma this posed for Harrisons at the Royal Festival Hall amongst others, would be to not bother to fight the EU directive but to see it as a fantastic opportunity to return to an earlier and glorious tradition of building mighty organs with tubular pneumatic action and hand, water or even steam blowers. (Glorious new console at Doncaster, by the way - I'm half glad the proposed restoration didn't happen.)

 

Of course, converting the RFH to tubular pneumatic would do wonders to revigorate the lead tube industry, which at the same time would have been a spectacular two-fingers up to the EU...

 

Contrabombarde

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Of course, converting the RFH to tubular pneumatic would do wonders to revigorate the lead tube industry, which at the same time would have been a spectacular two-fingers up to the EU...

 

Contrabombarde

 

Personally, I would settle for having the rest of the pipework re-instated, regulated, fine-tuned and the entire instrument re-commissioned as a fully-functional concert organ; particularly in view of the large sum of money that was spent in order to refurbish the rest of the RFH.

 

Or is that too much to ask...?

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Guest Patrick Coleman
Do we know why the original action was scrapped on the Warringtonian Orgue?

 

And who manufactures Barker Lever actions these day?

 

H&H do - and David Wyld has described Willis's patent version of a similar principle. David may also be able to tell us what the rationale was for replacing the original action (economy, efficiency?)

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"Did I hear that Van den Heuvel also make this kind of action too?"

 

I would very surprised if VDH have ever done this themselves - I rather suspect they simply buy them in. Would be glad to be contradicted. Of companies making their own machines, I know certainly of Harrison doing it for the Willis re-construction project in Glasgow and Verschueren doing it in Gothenburg (but not in Amsterdam where the new Orgelpark organ has a bought-in machine because of the extremely tight deadline for the completion of the organ). And Fisk of course, but that's another system (similar I think to the Willis one).

 

Could David Wyld perhaps confirm whether they made the Willis lever on the organ in Italy 'in-house' or whether it was made elsewhere? And, if the former, what the specific challenges are in making a successful assisted mechanical action?

 

The question of whether French romantic organs can accompany Anglican liturgy is an interesting one - the perceived wisdom has always been that they can't. And yet Exeter College Oxford, for example, purchased an organ in that style to do exactly that. There aren't many other examples I can think of - the organ at Paisley Abbey accompanies a lot of that music, the Swell there, with its C-C reeds is something to behold and unlike anything else in the UK.

 

As an aside, has anyone heard Yves Castagnet accompanying the choir at ND de Paris on the orgue de choeur there? I am always impressed.

 

The thing that strikes me about Doncaster was that the reconstruction plan represented, in the broadest context, an already very dated restoration philosophy which recognised only the original material as being of historic importance. In the Netherlands, such an approach has long been abandoned and a better compromise could surely have been found at Doncaster which served both the organ's evolved state and its Thuringian roots. The result was indeed a victory for Consolitis.

 

It is worth re-stating that historic organs must always take precedence over the transient nature both of liturgical and performance practices.

 

Bazuin

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