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Badly Positioned Organs

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Why the quotation marks around "Lewis"? It's one of T.C.Lewis's original masterpieces!

As I've explained elsewhere, the location and design of this organ are ingenious, and intrinsically linked. The only downside is the choir organ was re-sited, not really to organ's advantage.

 

It is (or was) quite common to use inverted commas. If one looks through back-issues of certain periodicals, one will also encounter 'Willis' organ, for example. It is used as a convention, rather than to seek to doubt the veracity of Lewis' claim to have built the instrument.

 

Reading articles in these periodicals it also becomes apparent that I am not the only person who thinks that the site chosen was unfortunate.

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The Wood of Huddersfield rebuild of the St Asaph Cathedral organ has left the instrument boxed in and grossly under-powered for what is still one of the smallest cathedrals in the UK. To my ears service accompaniment is generally based on two combinations: 1/ Full organ 2/ Full organ with Tuba + Octave.

 

Tell it not in Gath dear brethren, but many of us think that the earlier HNB job was vastly more successful.... B)

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"Surely the most obvious example is the magnificent 'Lewis' instrument at Southwark Cathedral. A worse position could hardly have been found..."

 

B)

 

Stephen Bicknell on Southwark:

 

"There is good egress north, but not high. There is higher egress west into the

transept, but the arch is only nine feet wide.

 

Since Lewis, the Choir Organ has been moved across the building to its

detriment. I am explaining how it worked in 1897.

 

The Great chorus was on a slider soundboard within the thickness of the

arch into the transept. The Great basses were all out in front, in an

architectural case much wider and taller than the opening behind it.

The slider soundboard for the chorus is laid out with the 4' principal

at the front.

 

In this position the Great chorus is able to address the building and

lead a congregation, but it is utterly remote from the choir (singers).

 

So, for accompanimental purposes Lewis placed the Choir and Swell

organs facing north across the chancel, unenclosed choir in front and

swell behind. Now you see why the Choir Organ has a mixture - it

functions as the accompanimental 'great organ' and gives a chorus lead

in the chancel.

 

Back in the transept, you remember, we have this lonely Great chorus.

How do we get the 'full swell' effect so loved of Anglican organists

(whether the psalms mention 16' reeds or not!)? The actual swell organ

can theoretically do the job, but in practice it is facing the other

way and sounds rather muted and a little bit late. Hey presto, Lewis

places the Solo organ immediately behind the Great Organ in the

transept arch and gives it two enclosed chorus reeds, a full length 16'

(early sources sometimes call it Bombarde, sometimes Trombone) and a

high pressure Trompette-Harmonique 8. 'Full swell' in two stops, job

done."

 

So, what pncd is saying is that Southwark is a prime example of an organbuilding genius overcoming a difficult position so that the listener would never notice?...

 

Bazuin

An interesting quote from the late Stephen Bicknell.

 

Bazuin, you once accused me (incorrectly) of judging an instrument from the comfort of my armchair. I have to say that I wonder if you have done exactly this, in the case of the organ of Southwark Cathedral.

 

I have played this organ, I have heard it accompany a large number of singers and I have sung in a choir whist it was being used in an accompanimental rôle. Firstly, let me state that in fact the organ does not carry well down the Nave. It is true that the G.O. chorus is enormous in the South Transept but, even halfway down the Nave, it loses much of its impact and sounds rather distant. For that matter, I am not convinced that the egress north could be described as 'good'. There are two arches into the South Choir Aisle, which are partly filled with 8ft. basses. The arcades of the Choir are largely filled by the stall canopies; this clearly has a detrimental impact on the sound as heard in the Choir. The eastern aisles are not particularly lofty, and it could reasonably be said that there is therefore something of a 'tone lock'. Whilst the 'Willis' rebuild of 1952 was certainly controversial, it is interesting to note that it was deemed to be worth going to the trouble of re-siting the Choir Organ - and bringing it rather closer to the singers. I wonder therefore if it was really that successful in acting as a small G.O. from its original position? This seems a considerable expense just to indulge in a whim.

 

Secondly, since it is now not possible to judge the effectiveness of the original layout, I intend to rely on commentaries and opinions from those who heard and knew the instrument prior to 1952. For the purpose of this reply, I shall quote three commentators, each widely respected in their time and all knowledgeable with regard to the musical effect of an organ: Gilbert Benham, Rev. Andrew Freeman and Ralph Downes.

 

Each writer condemned the positioning of the organ - in two cases also specifically calling attention to aspects of the interior layout. Remember that these were writers who had heard (and probably in each case had played)* this organ. Gilbert Benham stated: "Events have since shown that this was about the worst position that could have been selected." † Rev. Andrew Freeman wrote: "The organ is unfortunately placed, for practically the Great only has an adequate chance. The Swell is buried, and so is much of the Pedal fluework." § Downes simply stated: "... even though through bad placement in a chamber, much was lost in the Nave." ‡

 

Bicknell's theory of the Solo Organ acting as the Swell Organ for the purpose of providing full Swell effects may not have worked in practice. Certainly no-one else has ever mentioned this as a viable proposition. In any case, there is (and was) no chorus structure to the Solo Organ; even with Lewis' predominant G.O. chorus, the Swell (or, if you wish, the Solo ) Organ would have required some chorus element to fill-out the reeds - they are, after all, on comparatively low pressure. Furthermore, the Solo Trompette Harmonique, which speaks on a pressure of 300mm, is a fairly powerful stop. In any case, its tone changes somewhat from bass to treble, so I am not convinced that it would ever have made a good substitute (together with the rather thin-toned Trombone, on around 88mm pressure) for the full Swell.

 

With regard to the Choir Organ, the reason for the inclusion of a compound stop on this department may not necessarily be as stated by Stephen Bicknell - particularly in the light of its subsequent removal to the North Choir Aisle+. Lewis provided an almost similar (but larger) scheme for his instrument at Saint Peter's, Eaton Square; this too included a Mixture. However, given the layout of this organ and its entirely different effect in the [former] building, in this case it was certainly not so that the Choir Organ could act as a small G.O. It may simply have been that Lewis regarded each building as large and important enough to complete the small Choir Organ chorus with a compound stop.

 

 

 

* Ralph Downes was Assistant Organist at Southwark Cathedral from 1923 - 1925.

 

The Organ, No. 28: Vol. VII (April, 1928), page 197. Musical Opinion, London; 1928.

 

§ The Organ, No. 46: Vol. XII (October, 1932), page 91. Musical Opinion, London; 1932.

 

Baroque Tricks - Ralph Downes, page 22. Positif Press, Oxford: 1983.

 

+ Whilst with hindsight, many of the changes wrought by Willis in 1952 were regrettable; most could simply be attributed to the taste of the time. However, in the case of the removal of the Choir Organ to its present position, I am not so sure. Departments were not generally moved from one side of a building to another - unless there was a pressing musical reason for recourse to such action.

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I grew up with the St Albans organ - 'local cathedral - visiting choir, Organ Festival etc. and always found it really exciting to listen to and play as well as working nicely with choirs. Position wise it works well too. I am looking forward to hearing it later this month in its newly augmented and spruced up form.

 

A

 

You won't be disappointed. The write-up in OR doesn't fully do justice to what a remarkable transformation this is.

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Oh pncd...

 

"Bazuin, you once accused me (incorrectly) of judging an instrument from the comfort of my armchair. I have to say that I wonder if you have done exactly this, in the case of the organ of Southwark Cathedral."

 

You're right - I haven't made it there yet. Which is why I was careful to simply quote Bicknell and not to offer any opinion of my own.

 

"It is true that the G.O. chorus is enormous in the South Transept but, even halfway down the Nave, it loses much of its impact and sounds rather distant."

 

So, I will quote Stephen Bicknell once again this time referring to a specific visit to Southwark:

 

"I was fortunate to arrive at the end of a memorial service for Bishop

Hugh Montefiore and caught the final hymn and, to close, Stephen Disley

playing the grave and cadenza from the Fantasia in G.

 

A typical Southwark experience. The hymn was kept together by the Great

Organ alone and without any obvious change in registration - there may

have been a little Swell on but it makes no odds - Stephen launched

into the Bach on the Great chorus. Only 13 stops to play with, and I

doubt he used them all.....The organ commanded the space

despite the usual conversation but at the same time those talking

clearly felt no need to shout to drown it out."

 

So, who do I believe?

 

Can I suggest that you read between the lines a little more with regards to people's agendas when changing organs, especially in the post-war period. We discussed Francis Jackson's removal of the Harrison trombas at York before - I still believe you missed the point entirely. Organists have agendas. Agendas are often nothing do with what is best for the organ and everything to do with transient fashion. Perhaps what you call 'pressing musical reasons' should not be so naively interpreted. Especially when those reasons formed the justification for the loss of such an enormous proportion of Britain's organ heritage. And that without a Norbert Duforque to orchestrate things...

 

The above is intended only to further the discussion and not in any way to undermine the validity of your interesting post.

 

Bazuin

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... So, I will quote Stephen Bicknell once again this time referring to a specific visit to Southwark:

 

"I was fortunate to arrive at the end of a memorial service for Bishop

Hugh Montefiore and caught the final hymn and, to close, Stephen Disley

playing the grave and cadenza from the Fantasia in G.

 

A typical Southwark experience. The hymn was kept together by the Great

Organ alone and without any obvious change in registration - there may

have been a little Swell on but it makes no odds - Stephen launched

into the Bach on the Great chorus. Only 13 stops to play with, and I

doubt he used them all.....The organ commanded the space

despite the usual conversation but at the same time those talking

clearly felt no need to shout to drown it out."

 

So, who do I believe?

 

Well, it depends on where in the building he was standing - I notice your quote does not include this useful piece of information. Incidentally, the (full) Swell can be clearly heard over the G.O. chorus - it is not that huge.

 

Can I suggest that you read between the lines a little more with regards to people's agendas when changing organs, especially in the post-war period. We discussed Francis Jackson's removal of the Harrison trombas at York before - I still believe you missed the point entirely. ...

 

Bazuin

 

So what was your point, then?

 

It still remains that the incumbent organist (who had lived with this particular instrument since, I think, 1948) chose to have remodelled stops for which he could no longer find any musical use. Sometimes there may not be an agenda - rather a superb musician with a keen ear for beautiful sounds.

 

I assume that you have heard some extant H&H trombe ranks somewhere? Personally, I can think of few less musical sounds.

 

But then, this may not have been your point either - please explain....

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... So, who do I believe?

 

... The above is intended only to further the discussion and not in any way to undermine the validity of your interesting post.

 

Bazuin

 

Well, speaking personally, I would be inclined to believe just about everyone else I have heard speak of this instrument. So far, Stephen Bicknell's comments are at odds with everything else I have heard or read about this instrument. In the case of Ralph Downes, he was after all Assistant Organist there, and therefore I would have thought it entirely reasonable that his opinion should carry some weight.

 

Furthermore, my own experience has been as previously stated. Perhaps Mr. Bicknell was standing at the front of the South Transept - and you simply ommitted to impart this piece of information. Incidentally, was Mr. Bicknell also standing in a position where he was able to see which stops Stephen Disley had drawn - or was this perhaps conjecture on his part?

 

Your last sentence: do I detect - ever so slightly - a hint of sarcasm, Bazuin? I was quoting the opinions of those who (certainly in the case of Andrew Freeman and Ralph Downes) were at least as qualified as the late Stephen Bicknell to form a valid aural judgement on the organ of Southwark Cathedral. I could equally ask - "who do I believe?"

 

However, having actually heard and played this instrument (including whilst walking around the cathedral), I think I know where my opinion rests.

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"Your last sentence: do I detect - ever so slightly - a hint of sarcasm, Bazuin?"

 

Not in any way.

 

"I could equally ask - "who do I believe?"

 

Indeed.

 

"However, having actually heard and played this instrument (including whilst walking around the cathedral), I think I know where my opinion rests."

 

Good, I'm sure your opinion is perfectly valid. But it's always good to consider the opinions of others, especially of the calibre of the person I quoted.

 

Bazuin

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"It still remains that the incumbent organist (who had lived with this particular instrument since, I think, 1948) chose to have remodelled stops for which he could no longer find any musical use."

 

Indeed. But the operative word here is 'he'. And while his legacy is incredible, his period as custodian of the organ was temporary and he was and is (as are we all) a child of his time.

 

"with a keen ear for beautiful sounds."

 

But the whole concept of beauty is subjective. You don't like any mixtures which have tierces in them, lots of people do. Does that make either of us wrong?

 

"I assume that you have heard some extant H&H trombe ranks somewhere? Personally, I can think of few less musical sounds."

 

Yes I have. It's not my cup of tea either but those things must be preserved because Arthur Harrison was a great organ builder, truly representative of his era and as such far more important than either you or I. It's up to us as musicians to find the way of playing those organs which makes them come alive, not to screw up our noses when they don't behave as we would like them to.

 

I often think the most important figures in organ history are those who can truly respect the ethos of a totally different generation's work. Cavaille-Coll once advocated the re-introduction of meantone temperament to the Compenius organ in Denmark...

 

Bazuin

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... Good, I'm sure your opinion is perfectly valid. But it's always good to consider the opinions of others, especially of the calibre of the person I quoted.

 

Bazuin

 

By this, do you intend to infer that Andrew Freeman and Ralph Downes should be considered inferior (or of a less high calibre) than Stephen Bicknell?

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"It still remains that the incumbent organist (who had lived with this particular instrument since, I think, 1948) chose to have remodelled stops for which he could no longer find any musical use."

 

Indeed. But the operative word here is 'he'. And while his legacy is incredible, his period as custodian of the organ was temporary and he was and is (as are we all) a child of his time.

 

"with a keen ear for beautiful sounds."

 

But the whole concept of beauty is subjective. You don't like any mixtures which have tierces in them, lots of people do. Does that make either of us wrong?

 

"I assume that you have heard some extant H&H trombe ranks somewhere? Personally, I can think of few less musical sounds."

 

Yes I have. It's not my cup of tea either but those things must be preserved because Arthur Harrison was a great organ builder, truly representative of his era and as such far more important than either you or I. It's up to us as musicians to find the way of playing those organs which makes them come alive, not to screw up our noses when they don't behave as we would like them to.

 

I often think the most important figures in organ history are those who can truly respect the ethos of a totally different generation's work. Cavaille-Coll once advocated the re-introduction of meantone temperament to the Compenius organ in Denmark...

 

Bazuin

 

Yes, but we have been here before, and it appears that you are advocating that no organ should be changed from its present state. If one were to take this argument to its logical conclusion, English cathedral organists (for example) would be stuck with small two-clavier organs, with no pedals. For the purposes of accompanying Divine worship the usefulness of such an arrangement is roughly commensurate with a medieval knight employing a chocolate chastity belt in order to safeguard his wife's virtue during campaigns.

 

 

Whilst we are here (again), why stop here and now? If only for the want of a time machine, should we not equally decry the restoration and rebuilding of organs carried out by our Victorian forbears, for example? I cannot understand this preoccupation with preserving (apparently all) instruments in the exact state in which they are found now. This can only please the organ historian. (Pierre, no slur intended.) Organs are not musical museum pieces - they have jobs to do, in addition to being snapshots of whatever last historical period/musical fashion last altered them.

 

This is hurried, since I have to go and teach again. I shall try to give a more carefully reasoned argument later.

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Lincoln Cathedral organ going flat out is inaudible in a full nave.

It's ugly too.

Peter Godden

 

But fantastic in the choir - and nice to play too.

 

A

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But fantastic in the choir - and nice to play too.

 

A

 

It certainly is - and I can think of instruments which I would have said were far uglier.

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"It still remains that the incumbent organist (who had lived with this particular instrument since, I think, 1948) chose to have remodelled stops for which he could no longer find any musical use."

 

Indeed. But the operative word here is 'he'. And while his legacy is incredible, his period as custodian of the organ was temporary and he was and is (as are we all) a child of his time.

 

'...his period as custodian of the organ was temporary' - this could hardly be otherwise.

 

 

 

"with a keen ear for beautiful sounds."

 

But the whole concept of beauty is subjective. You don't like any mixtures which have tierces in them, lots of people do. Does that make either of us wrong?

 

Not necessarily. However, you seem to be avoiding the point that each organ has a specific job to do - aside from simply being a museum exhibit. Living daily with an instrument for at least twelve years prior to embarking upon a course of action (which was in all probability very carefully considered) is hardly indulging a mere whim. It seems a little inconsistent to me that you can trust the judgement of Stephen Bicknell regarding the effect of one organ, yet you are unable apparently to trust the judgement of a consummate musician (with many years' experience) with regard to the rebuilding of another instrument.

 

 

"I assume that you have heard some extant H&H trombe ranks somewhere? Personally, I can think of few less musical sounds."

 

Yes I have. It's not my cup of tea either but those things must be preserved because Arthur Harrison was a great organ builder, truly representative of his era and as such far more important than either you or I. It's up to us as musicians to find the way of playing those organs which makes them come alive, not to screw up our noses when they don't behave as we would like them to.

 

Bazuin

 

You appear to be overlooking the fact that, with regard to Harrison's Trombe, he was heavily influenced by Lt.-Col. George Dixon - who was neither an organ builder nor a great artist. Arthur Harrison was pressured by Dixon to develop his chorus reeds in this direction.

 

I have to confess that I am at a loss to think of a musical use for such stops. Perhaps sometimes one simply has to admit that a particular feature simply took a wrong turn.

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"It seems a little inconsistent to me that you can trust the judgement of Stephen Bicknell regarding the effect of one organ, yet you are unable apparently to trust the judgement of a consummate musician (with many years' experience) with regard to the rebuilding of another instrument."

 

Not really. SB was an organ historian/designer and commentator of the first order. Francis Jackson was a Cathedral musician of the first order. Organists' opinions about the instruments under their fingers are important but organs should be (and are in almost every country outside the UK and the USA) protected by higher authorities for this simple reason: organists have a bad track record of destroying valuable organs. As Hans Steketee used to say "an organ's greatest danger isn't fire or flood, it's man".

 

"I have to confess that I am at a loss to think of a musical use for such stops. Perhaps sometimes one simply has to admit that a particular feature simply took a wrong turn."

 

You may feel that this is the case but I suspect you might even be in a minority. Redcliffe is a universally admired organ, although you don't happen to like it (or at least its trombas). If you're wondering about the musical validity of the style, listen once to Tim Byram-Wigfield's absolutely sensational recording of Hollins (Delphian) on the organ of the Caird Hall in Dundee. I'm not sure that York today has nearly as many admirers as either of the organs I've mentioned.

 

As an idle thought, I wonder if Bairstow disliked the trombas at York as much as his pupil? If not, was Bairstow wrong? Equally, it is silly to condemn Francis Jackson - his era was a highly reactional one of which his work at York was simply symptomatic. It doesn't stop us finding it regrettable with hindsight.

 

"Organs are not musical museum pieces - they have jobs to do, in addition to being snapshots of whatever last historical period/musical fashion last altered them."

 

Please don't forget that usefulness, eclecticism etc was used as the justification for the organisation in France led by Marchal and Duforque which destroyed more historic organ material than two world wars. The UK has a deplorable legacy on organ conservation - as a random example read Maurice Forsyth-Grant's cheerful descriptions of the destruction he brought to various Victorian organs which didn't conform to his ideals (interesting though they were). Surely the inherited legacy we leave to future generations is more important than the passing fashions of our own?

 

At the risk of going round in endless circles probably it's good and healthy to agree to disagree for the moment?

 

Bazuin

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As an idle thought, I wonder if Bairstow disliked the trombas at York as much as his pupil? If not, was Bairstow wrong? Equally, it is silly to condemn Francis Jackson - his era was a highly reactional one of which his work at York was simply symptomatic. It doesn't stop us finding it regrettable with hindsight.

 

The trombas date from Bairstow's time, and according to FJ 'this was the type of organ Bairstow and most other organists of the period liked' but since they were revoiced from the previous Walker trumpets, so all that happened in 1960 was a reversal. In practice they were rendered 'somewhat impotent' (Geoffrey Coffin) and were again revoiced on higher wind pressure (but still as trumpets) in 1993. To me they are most successful now, and there is less of a case against the revoicing of the trombas than the other organs mentioned e.g. Redcliffe (though - whisper it - even those trombas have been revoiced twice).

 

Paul

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Lincoln Cathedral organ going flat out is inaudible in a full nave.

It's ugly too.

Peter Godden

 

I certainly wouldn't describe the Lincoln sound in the nave as 'ugly' although it makes little impression down there, but agree with AJJ that it sounds fantastic in the choir.

However, the acoustics in the choir are little dry, which makes the Swell up in the triforium sound rather cold and separate from the rest of the organ.

The best sound by far is heard under the tower.

 

The legend goes that Dr George Bennett (organist 1895 to 1930) requested of the new organ that he should be able to use full organ when accompanying the choir. Well, that's what he got but who know whether that was Willis's intention?

 

As subsequent posts have discussed Francis Jackson and the York great reeds, I have it on good authority that FJ considers the 3 great reeds at Lincoln to be the finest in any British Cathedral organ, and I agree with him.

 

At York the Contra Tromba and Tromba were high pressure ranks, whilst the Trumpet and Clarion were low pressure ranks on one of the great flue chests. In 1960 Walkers revoiced the 2 Trombas as Posaunes (still on high relatively pressure) and put them on pallet magnet chests to make them also available on the choir manual. The Trumpet and Clarion were left untouched. As part of Geoffrey Coffin's rebuild a new 4 slider chest was created to house all 4 great reeds on high pressure as the Trumpet and Clarion were considered to be ineffectual.

 

DT

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... Francis Jackson was a Cathedral musician of the first order...

 

Bazuin

 

He's not dead yet, you know!

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I certainly wouldn't describe the Lincoln sound in the nave as 'ugly' although it makes little impression down there, but agree with AJJ that it sounds fantastic in the choir.

However, the acoustics in the choir are little dry, which makes the Swell up in the triforium sound rather cold and separate from the rest of the organ.

The best sound by far is heard under the tower.

 

The legend goes that Dr George Bennett (organist 1895 to 1930) requested of the new organ that he should be able to use full organ when accompanying the choir. Well, that's what he got but who know whether that was Willis's intention?

 

As subsequent posts have discussed Francis Jackson and the York great reeds, I have it on good authority that FJ considers the 3 great reeds at Lincoln to be the finest in any British Cathedral organ, and I agree with him.

 

At York the Contra Tromba and Tromba were high pressure ranks, whilst the Trumpet and Clarion were low pressure ranks on one of the great flue chests. In 1960 Walkers revoiced the 2 Trombas as Posaunes (still on high relatively pressure) and put them on pallet magnet chests to make them also available on the choir manual. The Trumpet and Clarion were left untouched. As part of Geoffrey Coffin's rebuild a new 4 slider chest was created to house all 4 great reeds on high pressure as the Trumpet and Clarion were considered to be ineffectual.

 

DT

I don't imagine it's too surprising that Lincoln (and York - apart from one obvious rank) don't "make it" too effectively down their respective naves, in view of the "parasitic" drawing off of tone by their vast lantern towers.

 

The "ugly" observation is, I believe, a reference to the casework. I don't believe the case is without a certain elegance, and the Willis alterations in 1898 appear to me to have been beneficial to the overall proportions of the casework - just my opinion, of course.

 

As for the Great reeds at York, my understanding is that the 1903/4 Walker 16 & 8 Posaunes survive, at least materially, on 7-inch wind ( there used to be a warning on the "do's and dont's" list for visiting organists as to how much more powerful they were away from the console). The 1903/4 Trumpet and Clarion were converted to 12-inch Trombas in 1916, and subsequently pumped up to 15 inches in 1931.

 

I'm aware of the 1960 work, but recall (with alarm, it has to be said) reading Geoffrey Coffin's account of his 1993 work in which he stated that all the manual reeds had been re-tounged.

 

Is it just me, but does the famous Tuba (described by Mr. Bicknell as "grotesque") sound very unevenly regulated in the recent York dvd?

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Picking up the strands of the discussion, I must say that we have some fine examples, both past and present of the reasons why many instuments are as they are. Action based on personal opinion, much of it distinctly pneumatic. Full organ in a cathedral designed to accompany the choir, well I'm sorry but words fail me. This is not to say it's not a fine instrument, but it is an inadequate one because of someone's desire.

 

One day, probably in the dim, distant, postscript to the world, we will agree that there are two broad courses of thinking. One's opinion, which one is entitled to have, whether informed, intelligible and interesting, or not, and what is the right thing to do. It is very hard not to let the former cloud the latter, but unless we want to avoid people in the future talking about our decisions in the same we talk about our forebears, then we are going to have to change our focus.

 

We have an issue with historic organs, and what if anything can be done to them, and what indeed constitutes such a thing. I fear that, as time passes, more instruments will be categorised this way incorrectly, and the chance to respond to the need to change will be lost in many circumstances. The positive side is that we should minimise repeats of past vandalism. The thread on Rostock is particularly interesting here. To prevent me from going on about it, I shall limit myself to say that my argument is that we should remain enlightened.

 

What must matter to those instruments outside this category is something which I think is still not heard and understood. What is right for the building and its foreseeable use should be our driving force, not our opinion of a particular sound, style, builder, etc. If new, we must make our instruments fit their surroundings and if existing, and not in the historic category, adapt them so they do, and have the confidence to say when they fail, and the drive to make them better. This is not PC in the organ world at the moment, but times change and I am a patient man. We know enough now not to make the same mistakes as in the past and we must ensure that we do not, but what seems to have happened is that we have been wrongfooted by the historical debate, and are still learning about where the path is through the trees.

 

There are so many ways of respecting and improving that we can do it now, but until we utter the words 'It doesn't really work and we need to do something about it' we will not have the drive to find the path that reaches a good conclusion. We are happy to say the first half of the statement, but often lack the confidence to 'risk' saying the second half.

 

I have many personal opinions, but more often than not choose to keep them to myself as argument based on opinion is ultimately fruitless.

 

Postscript: do we want to be known as the neutered generation ?

 

AJS

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Lincoln Cathedral organ going flat out is inaudible in a full nave.

It's ugly too.

Peter Godden

 

I hadn't realised that there were two Lincoln Cathedral's - the other one must be terrible! ;)

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"He's not dead yet, you know!"

 

Of course! But he's no longer a Cathedral musician (or, to say it another way, he's a retired Cathedral musician).

 

Bazuin

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At York the Contra Tromba and Tromba were high pressure ranks, whilst the Trumpet and Clarion were low pressure ranks on one of the great flue chests. In 1960 Walkers revoiced the 2 Trombas as Posaunes (still on high relatively pressure) and put them on pallet magnet chests to make them also available on the choir manual. The Trumpet and Clarion were left untouched. As part of Geoffrey Coffin's rebuild a new 4 slider chest was created to house all 4 great reeds on high pressure as the Trumpet and Clarion were considered to be ineffectual.

 

DT

I wasn't going to respond to this discussion, but as there is now rather a lot of incorrect information being posted as fact, perhaps I may be permitted to present the facts and also an opinion of the current situation at York Minster?

 

The present organ layout and structure date from the 1903 Walker work which was effectively a new organ. Several Hill ranks were re-used, including some of the smaller Great chorus ranks, and the foundations on the Choir. Also the bigger pedal flue ranks including the 1834 Elliot & Hill 32' stops. The 32' metal, incidentally, is the first to be made in the UK. The Great and Swell soundboards run from west to east, meaning that the sound in both Quire and Nave is to some extent reflected rather than direct. The Choir soundboard runs from north to south and the sound of this division is much more focussed in the Quire than the Swell and Great. In 1903, there were four Great reeds as now, 16 and 8 Walker Posaunes with "pepperpot" resonators, and 8 and 4 Trumpets (Hill stops, revoiced by Walker). All four stood on 7" wind together with the two largest open diapasons, the octave, twelfth, fifteenth and one mixture. The other fluework stood on 4 1/4" on a second soundboard.

 

Rather like Lincoln (completed five years earlier in 1898, and the organ I knew well as a student), Dr Noble used to boast that he could use full organ to accompany the choir. The layout in Lincoln is not unlike York and the Lincoln organ was finished one year after Dr Noble came to York in 1897.

 

Dr Bairstow was dismayed by the lack of power for big congregations, not just in the Nave but also in the Quire. Shortly after his arrival in 1913, Harrisons were called in. They provided new pipes for the larger Great chorus ranks (still on the 7" wind), removed the Trumpet and Clarion and increased their pressure to 12", placing them on a new 2-slider electro-pneumatic soundboard above the rest of the Great and revoicing them as Trombas. The sliders they vacated on the 7" soundboard were used for Harrisons bigger Mixture scheme and the drawings show that the larger Mixture V occupied two sliders. The famous Tuba Mirabilis on 25" wind and also electro-pneumatic action was also added at this time.

 

All the paperwork for this work (and later) plus the drawings is still in the house where I now live, where ECB and Arthur Harrison met to discuss the work. The rest of the organ remained on the Walker tubular-pneumatic action with the Walker console (on the south side). The Trombas were a splendid climax to the tutti in the Nave - a bit like the Solo Tubas in this regard at St Paul's. They were very loud in the Quire but invaluable there played from the Choir for Tuba effects via the "Trombas on Choir" transfer. There are several recordings which show he splendid quality of these stops, not unlike those at Ripon. The big Tuba of course faces West and the enclosed Tubas are not huge solo stops.

 

In 1928, the organ had suffered badly from the effects of the new heating system and the action had become very unreliable. The money was raised largely by individual gifts, to provide a new electro-pneumatic action throughout and a new Harrison console (still on the south). The Trombas were revoiced a second time (actually third as they were Hill stops) on 15" wind (perhaps for greater smoothness or maybe for even more sonority in the vast nave?). The choir clarinet was transferred to the solo and replaced by a little mixture, the solo box was enlarged to enclose the small (Walker) 16 and 8 tubas and the viole d'orchestre also put in. The Ophicleide (the personal gift of the Dean, Lionel Ford) was added on the north side of the case in the screen on 25" wind, and at 16, 8 and 4 pitches. In the booklet, this is described as "a suitable bass for the tuba mirabilis" but undoubtedly what was sought was a huge pedal reed to underpin the big great in the Nave, rather like the Ophicleides at Durham which were made only a few years after York.

 

There is no doubt this was a magnificent super-Romantic organ, well able to dominate the building and also able to accompany the choir. It was possible to make "uncouth" noises in the quire when using the largest sounds (designed for the Nave). During the 1950s, organists began to take much more interest in performance practice and stylistic registration. Dr Jackson also began international travel, in particular to Denmark where he experienced the neo-baroque revival and mechanical action, well-sited, low pressure instruments. It is not difficult to imagine how the sounds of the York organ (particularly as heard then from the console immediately below the south front pipes from which the Great division speaks) may compare unfavourably with the lighter, brighter sonorities of 1950s Denmark.

 

In 1960, the 7" Great soundboard (large fluework and Posaunes) was lowered to 4 1/4" and the fluework remodelled for this pressure (and note it had ever been designed or made for anything other than the 7" wind). The Tromba and Octave Tromba were brought down from the two-slider soundboard to this soundboard and revoiced (a fourth time) on 4 1/4" (they had never been this low, even when Hill stops pre-1903). The Posaunes were put up on the two-slider soundboard (never on direct electric action, note) and remained on the 7" wind. They therefore became the larger of the Great reeds both because of the high position and because the Trumpets were so much reduced in power. Although the Contra Posaune and Posaune knobs were duplicated on the choir, in practice this was not as seemed because they remained on the two-slider chest. Therefore if one was drawn on the choir, a relay prevented them sounding on the Great.

 

The mixtures were remodelled, utilising the fact that the 5 rank one had been on two sliders. On the pedal, the Ophicleide was reduced to 6 1/2" and the Walker voicer boasted that he had managed to get it down this low from 25". It had been made and scaled as a 25" stop of course so was now, like the Trumpets and larger fluework, doing a job it was never made or voiced to do. Some small changes were also made on the Choir, and the Great Open Diapason I (of four opens) moved to the Pedals (revoiced on the lower wind) where it replaced the original Hill Open Wood with its Harrison 8' extension. The remaining Open Wood is a 16' extension by Harrisons of the Elliot and Hill 32' stop and is very light. The Hill stop was made into a 32' bourdon by Walkers and found its way to Ampleforth College!

 

It was at this point that the organ for the first time contained stops made and scaled to do other jobs from those which they were transformed into doing. The organ became famous because of Dr Jackson's magnificent recordings on it, most made with the microphones at the head of the south transept (where it sounds superb still) or even in the tower! In practice, it was much much lighter in the building and less effective in leading a congregation than before (though more sparkling) because of the modifications which altered ranks made and voiced to overcome the disadvantages of the layout. The intention was to make a separate instrument in the Nave, but this has never happened.

 

The 1993 work recognized the issues with the Great reeds and a new four-slider chest was made for all four of them, on the same 7" wind. The Posaunes were softened a little, being thought too "dense" and the Trumpets gained in stability from being returned to a pressure nearer to that for which they were scaled and made. They are still by no means powerful, however. The sliders vacated by the Trumpets made room for the Cymbal and Cornet introduced in 1993. A pedal chorus was also added then, sited on a slider soundboard in the screen to the south of the case. Three lighter pedal reeds are also on this soundboard. The original Harrison two-slider Tromba chest (later Posaunes) was re-used for the new Solo "Bombarde" which is NOT en-chamade but simply a hooded trumpet, and is placed facing into the Quire on the north side of the case immediately behind the curtain. The second slider is vacant. The intention was still to make a Nave organ, even though later some reflecting screens were placed above the Great reeds and the Pedal chorus, presumably with the intention of helping nave projection.

 

So this is the correct historical information for those of you who are interested. There are many beautiful (and famous) sounds, but the instrument suffers from its weak internal layout. Projection across the lantern/tower space into the Nave is I think hampered more by the fact that the pipes speak to the South than by the size of the space itself. The Swell, almost all Walker, is the most integrated division. The Great, an impressive sized section, suffers to a certain extent from the history outlined above, with many stops doing a job they were never quite made to do. The quieter sounds as heard in the Nave can sound very lovely by virtue of the slightly reflected sound rather than direct, much as at Lincoln.

 

However, we are fortunate to have an instrument of great colour which is heard daily by the very large congregations who come here for services. Perhaps I may meet some readers at one!

 

Best wishes to all.

 

Robert Sharpe

York Minster

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Thank you for the considerable time and effort to write all that up, much appreciated.

 

As someone who has enjoyed your playing on recordings from Truro (particularly the PS disc), and also the sounds of the York organ (as recently seen on the JSW/French disc), is there a Sharpe/York recording in the pipeline? Or is it classified information!

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