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I fully expect an email about this, but to quote William Drake -

 

"...my old-fashioned, cave-man approach is that, if guided by the facilities at hand, i.e. given an organ that has a strong identity and is in good playing order, the true musician will be able make music if they are just able to overcome perceived limitations."

 

... which is, I think, a true statement. It may not be exactly your or my taste or suiting perfectly the composer's intentions, but it will still be music. Hang on before you disagree...

 

 

Later in the same passage -

 

"I know that there are players who would ideally like every console and every keyboard to be as similar as possible but as every other musician knows, each piano, clarinet, trumpet or whatever has its own characteristics which require some accommodation. It is only the advent of non-mechanical actions that has given the opportunity to make any organ very similar to any other."

 

... which you might take one stage further and add what I think is implied, which is 'thereby enabling builders to pursue non-musical goals increasingly connected with mechanical innovation and corporate identity'. That makes rather a different proposition. Let's face it, playing the Dorian on a Harrison is not that different from playing Beethoven opus 2 and the Bach 48 on a modern concert grand - the difference in sound, feel and technical possibilities is comparable.

 

On the contrary - I agree with this - in principle.

 

However, I like to play other works (in addition to the Brewer, which is good example of its genre) too; but I find that I do not like either playing (or listening to) Bach on a vintage 'Harrison'.

 

I am not one of those players who desires organs (or consoles) to be of a uniform design - you of all people here should know this, David. I can rejoice in the glorious sounds made by your previous instrument in Romsey, then travel back to my own church and revel in the sound of the coupled choruses whilst playing Bach - and, in fact, find that which is good in most of the instruments which I have played, be they here or in Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Norway or Spain. I feel lucky that I can appreciate many different types of organ - not simply varieties of English instruments, which is not necessarily the same thing. However, I think that there are limits to how flexible some types of instrument are - and how adept they are at giving a convincing performance of many types of music.

 

Of course a good musician should be able to make music on almost any instrument*, but there are still practical limitations imposed by certain instruments (and certain buildings). This inevitably has an impact on how the sound is perceived by the listener. Take, for example, the report of genuine music lovers regarding the effect of the old organ in Gloucester Cathedral - particularly when played loudly.

 

 

 

*I defy anyone here to make the orgue de choeur at Chartes Cathedral sound beautiful.

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On the contrary - I agree with this - in principle.

 

I like to play other works (in addition to the Brewer, which is good example of its genre) too; but I find that I do not like either playing (or listening to) Bach on a vintage 'Harrison'.

 

 

Ah, yes, but that's missing the point - because what you or I might like isn't what's under discussion. It's whether it has validity as music, which it must do. If nobody bats an eyelid when the 48 get recorded on a Yamaha, then they shouldn't when Bach gets recorded at Redcliffe.

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... Let's face it, playing the Dorian on a Harrison is not that different from playing Beethoven opus 2 and the Bach 48 on a modern concert grand - the difference in sound, feel and technical possibilities is comparable.

 

Except that, on a vintage 'Harrison', playing the 'Dorian' Toccata (for example) with Bach's prescribed clavier changes only makes aural sense if played quietly - which immediately robs this music of its dignity and energy.

 

On a purely musical level, I should far rather listen to the whole of Bach;s keyboard works on a Model D Steinway, than any prelude or fugue on a vintage 'Harrison'. However, I do not doubt that there are others here who would rejoice in such a sound. This is all part of a healthy variety of experience.

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Ah, yes, but that's missing the point - because what you or I might like isn't what's under discussion. It's whether it has validity as music, which it must do. If nobody bats an eyelid when the 48 get recorded on a Yamaha, then they shouldn't when Bach gets recorded at Redcliffe.

 

But that was also my point (as hinted by the remark concerning the old Gloucester organ). I am not convinced that your conclusion necessarily follows.

 

I found that the recording at Redcilffe actually got in the way of the music - which irritated me. I cannot speak for others, I can only report what I perceived to be the case.

 

Perhaps some did bat an eyelid at the Forty-Eight Preludes and Fugues as played on a Yamaha - but in any case, this is still a long way from being smothered with huge reeds and egregiously smooth diapasons. At least on the Yamaha, the listener would stand a chance of hearing pretty much all of the notes.

 

....And be able to finish listening to the recording without acquiring a headache.

 

For that matter, I never really enjoyed playing Bach at Saint Peter's - for the reasons which I outlined above; and because of the wind leaks, which were not quite so bad then.

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The Good Shepherd church in Brighton, where I presided over the music for a number of years and until about six months ago, has an untouched, small 2 manual Harrison organ which was begun in the late 1920s and completed in the 1930s. Some of the pipework is said to have been voiced by Arthur Harrison.

 

It says much for Harrison's work that the action has lasted as long as it has with nothing more than cleaning, regulation and a slight lowering of the pitch to A440 when it was often used with other instruments (see David's comments about Portsea). Now it is in urgent need of restoration. The console is incredibly comfortable and I could easily register pieces like Master Tallis's Testament effectively and entirely by hand registration.

 

Everything blends well with everything else and, like the old Harrison in the chapel at Addington Palace, there is a 16' Oboe with an extra octave of pipes on the Swell and a piston "Oboe 8" which operates the Oboe, Octave and Unison Off.

 

For certain types of music it is superb and it works well in the acoustically good building. It is difficult to play Trio Sonatas &c., effectively on it although the Brewer Marche Heroique works well.

 

What it sadly lacks is a soft stop on the Great to balance with the softer stops on the Swell. Over the years I (and others, including a former cathedral organist) have tried every possible stop combination, including putting things up or down an octave, but have never ever found a combination that balances for Stanford in G Magnificat.

 

That church has noticably declining congregations (and thereby also income) and, increasingly, an ethos which is not terribly interested in organs and traditional church music so one can only hope that they will be willing and able to do a sensitive restoration. The quote given by Harrisons about 4 or 5 years ago would certainly be beyond their means at the current time even though this is a very affluent, middle class area.

 

The console is certainly a pleasant change from some consoles I have played where you are afraid that the flimsy drawstops will come away in your hand (and wherre they sometimes have!).

 

Malcolm

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Sound waves do not turn corners, (even long-wave ones), and upperwork is no more directional than anything else.

Wrong. They do. It's called diffraction. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffraction or here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffraction_formalism if you want a mathematical workout. Apply this idea to an organ in chamber producing sound waves from 32 feet in length to less than an inch and you'll start to understand the physics of the point I'm making.

However, when listening to instruments, it is easy to believe that this is actually happening when it isn't, because that's what it sounds like. The phenomenon has more to do with positioning, acoustic reflection and acoustic absorbency.

It's not really belief... Reflection and scattering has a large effect too, which grows with higher frequencies. This also accounts for the echo and loss of attack.

The "shape" of an acoustic is probably more important than anything else, and it is often the case, that in spaces where there is a strict mathematical proportion, music is greatly enhanced.

I'm not sure Palladian architecture creates such superior acoustics to other buildings that it is more important than anything else. In times gone past there was an idea that a double box was the ideal shape for a music room but, on the other hand, the problem with regular boxes and standing waves is well known.

I find myself bemused by all this talk about extra "Mixtures" and "Upperwork" and "choruses....rebalanced." That is the prime thinking behind so many musically unsatisfying re-builds. A chorus is a chorus is a chorus.....it produces, or should produce, a certain harmonious sound.

And a flower is a flower is a flower by any other name... It can be a rose or a dandelion, or anything in between. But I agree, the grafting of dandelion petals onto a rose is not especially attractive...

Any Mixtures added to it should be in sympathy with the sound the chorus makes. Although using the extension principle, John Compton, (with wayward genius), knew all about this. Go and listen to one of the few remaining big Compton organs, which haven't been over-messed with, such as Hull City Hall (based on the original Forster & Andrews organ) and St.Bride's, Fleet Street; two organs that I happen to know quite well. In both those instances, the usual 16,8,4,2 Great choruses are topped by a substantial amount of upperwork, whether derived or not. Not only that, the stop nomenclature often hides the full truth on many Compton instruments, some of which have rather more higher pitches than was deemed fashionable in those days, and which are usually only labelled as "Cornet V rks," when the actual truth was more like VIII - X rks. (At Bournemouth, Compton even included strange aliquot pitches almost unique in the UK). So in effect, a big Compton organ, (and even smaller ones), often have choruses topped with as many as 10 or more "ranks" of mixtures. In fact, I know of one Compton organ, speaking into a diabolically dead acoustic, which has oodles of upperwork derived from Salicional and Dulciana ranks. It makes a lovely and thoroughly musical sound in the midst of an acoustic nightmare. I am quite sure that nothing would sound better; perhaps just different. Lest we forget, John Compton usually used high-pressure, leathered Diapasons, but his choruses had clarity and cohesion nevertheless.

Yes, agreed. I think the organs of John Compton frequently proves that high pressure, leathered lips, etc, does not invariably produce forced, unmusical speech as has been suggested by the proponents of the organ reform movement in the 1950s. It's a big misapprehension, that a lot of people sadly still labour under today. It's the design, treatment and regulation of the pipework that really seems to affect the quality of the sound and speech, which makes it heavy, hard and unmusical. A high pressure gives a lot more scope for the organ builder to play with. I'm looking forward to visiting John Compton's largest all-new installation next week, which is pretty much untouched. I have great respect for this wonderful organ, its choruses and much else besides. :-)

 

Actually, I believe this may be another example of a building designed around the organ... Which is a very interesting essay into the contemporary (and John Compton's) ideas on ideal acoustics. I find the organ makes best sense in the gallery. At the front, the sound is a bit confused.

Halifax PC is a lovely Harrison instrument, but the one stop which stands apart from the rest is the Great Mixture; put in to replace the old "Harmonics" so beloved of contemporary organists. Not actually a bad sound, it nevertheless sits on the musical borderline between "ah" and "oh," when it should be "ooooh!"

 

As Pierre often points out, the great continental organs usually have very subtle mixtures made from almost pure lead, even in buildings where "screech" might be tolerable.

My experiences of the great continental organs suggest the mixtures are generally much stronger and more determined than the mixtures of Victorian organs in our intimate little parish churches. However, they are a good deal better regulated and finished than lots of modern mixtures introduced since the organ reform movement. It's a generalisation, I know, as it varies from organ to organ and builder to builder.

They would not think of "re-balancing the choruses," simply because many are more or less perfect as they are. It is surprising, but if a listener wanders eastwards at the Bavokerk, Haarlem, the great west-end instrument, projecting sound eloquently straight down the nave, starts to sound quite distant quite quickly, At the crossing, it sounds smoother and richer, and at the extreme east-end, it sounds miles away. It suggests that in absolute sound output, it is not as powerful as it sounds at close quarters. (Nevertheless, it still has perfect clarity and sounds utterly beautiful throughout the building).

Actually, I think that's exactly what Marcussen did to this organ in the 1960s...

In parenthesis, as it were, upperwork should always complement what is already there, and if a chorus is "re-balanced" by quietening the fundamental tones, then the Mixtures and other upperwork needs to be quieter rather than louder, or else they will sound ugly and stand-apart. The York Minster re-build by Walker's was one of the more successful examples of this, because no-one made the mistake of thinking that upperwork alone would make the sound project further down the nave. (That's the job of the Tuba Mirabilus!)

Uuurgh, I'd hate to accompany an entire hymn on a tuba. Can you imagine? Can we have something else but a lone tuba for the congregation to listen to and sing along to?

Ending controversially, I would propose the argument that the last thing big acoustics need, are big wood basses and ophicleides, as well as big scale, leathered diapasons producing masses of fundamental. (Cinema organs did this, and did it well, because they were not obliged to have diapason choruses). What big acoustics really need are the slightly more incisive quality of tone associated with Lewis and Schulze, and which by default, happened to work quite well when Fr.Willis chose Geigens as the basis for his chorus-work. Unfortunately, the Fr Willis chorus-sound tends to evaporate quite quickly in a big space; leaving it to the reeds to act as front-line assault troops. The perfect examples of how this can work, are of course, the Schulze organs at St.Bart's, Armley and St.Geroge's, Doncaster, both of which speak into buildings of almost cathedral proportions; each with very different acoustics. Had Dixon and Arthur Harrison studied THOSE instruments a little more carefully, they may have changed the course of British organ-building history rather more favourably, but of course, the agenda of the Edwardian period was that of producing orchestral rather than symphonic tones, as well as massive "devotional" power to drive congregational hymn-singing along.

I think "body of sound" is important as the Father Willis sound does tend to evaporate in big spaces. Salisbury Cathedral in the quire is a wonderful organ, especially in quadraphonic sound between the cases, but halfway down the nave I find it is but a distant haze of sound unless there are lots of big reeds drawn. However, I agree that sound needs to have good definition to listen to the music and dull, flutey sounds don't really assist this. I'm not really a big fan of big, windy, flutey No.1 Diapasons that are half way towards being a claribel flute.

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"I found that the recording at Redcilffe actually got in the way of the music - which irritated me"

 

Kevin Bowyer's recording was at least 25 years ahead of its time. The playing of Bach's music according to other aesthetics than the 'perceived wisdom' (which in Britain has seldom got beyond a limited number of 'rules' from the first generation of the neo-classicists) is now very common in Europe where the matching of Straube's or Widor's Bach editions, and the related organs in commonplace. If you apply your Bach ideals to an organ like Redcliffe you will be endlessly disappointed. So don't. Get our your Novello editions and try to find the organ in question's message!

 

"Except that, on a vintage 'Harrison', playing the 'Dorian' Toccata (for example) with Bach's prescribed clavier changes only makes aural sense if played quietly - which immediately robs this music of its dignity and energy."

 

But the Dorian is exceptional in requiring these balanced choruses. The idea of balanced choruses is almost a neo-baroque cliché. And actually, if you play it on historic organs whether in Holland or Thuringia, you'll find that it works better with 8' and 4' principals on both manuals this especially because of the trio texture section on the second to last page.

 

"So in reality, was this controversial 'restoration' a disaster - did it, whist rejuvenating the mechanical parts of the instrument, rob it of its essential tonal characteristics? If so, can anyone here tell us what it should sound like now? Clutton's article (and an earlier appraisal by W.L. Sumner) in The Organ give a somewhat confused picture. "

 

The Marcussen restoration at Haarlem is very regrettable because it destroyed so much of the original sound. It's important to realise that changes made to to historic organs in the 20th century (often called restoration) often did more damage to the instruments than anything that had happened in the previous 2 centuries. Haarlem is the key collision in the 20th century between neo-baroque dogma and a significant historic organ. Technically, the modern action at Haarlem is brilliantly executed. If you want to know what Haarlem SHOULD sound like, listen to the recordings of the 1953 improvisation competition:

 

http://orgelconcerten.ncrv.nl/ncrv?nav=domguCsHtGAkBbCeBwJ

http://orgelconcerten.ncrv.nl/ncrv?nav=vlsiuCsHtGAkBbCeBA

http://orgelconcerten.ncrv.nl/ncrv?nav=looluCsHtGAkBbCeByH

 

as well as any recording of Leeuwaarden, Mueller's other large surviving organ - from 1727. Perhaps the most turbo-charged historic organ I've ever played. Try Koopman's Leipzig 18 on Teldec, or this offering from Sietze de Vries:

 

http://www.jsbrecords.nl/catalogue/index.a...detail&id=3 (there are some sound clips here).

 

 

Bazuin

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Actually, it's because the phase difference between the ears (the predominant directional hearing mechanism below about 700Hz) is so small at such wavelengths that the ear has insufficient information to do a sufficiently precise calculation. Also, in saying that low frequencies "don't go round corners", you are also ignoring the different behaviour around obstacles that are substantially smaller or larger than a particular wavelength - move behind a pillar and hear the tone quality change.

 

Paul

 

 

========================

 

 

Thank you Paul for this fascinating snippet of science!

 

I don't think I was actually ignoring anything, but subtle changes of tone quality were not what I had in mind. It's quite interesting, but a blue-whale, (any coloured whale and even black & white ones), would have sufficient cognitive ability to accurately locate very low frequency sound, as would elephants.

 

There was that fascinating fact about the dreadful tsunami which hit Thailand and various other regions a few years ago. Apparently, the elephants sensed the ultra-low frequencies of the initial geological tremor and moved inland onto high-ground, long before the tsunami reached shore.

 

Apparently, whales can communicate across entire oceans, using low-frequency sounds.

 

So I think I was right to suggest that it comes down to cognitive hearing, and I feel sure that your point is equally valid.

 

MM

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No position of any musical instrument (and I include the Choir in this), is well served by the modern approach to furnishing churches. It seems there is a fashion to lay carpets in all manner of places - even between choir stalls - and to have fabric chairs of un-penitential plushness. I have come across churches who are now quite displeased with the pipe organ and wanting to go digital because the actual 'presence' and carrying power of the organ has been diminished quite considerably because of Axminster. Architects and PCC's need to be forever mindful of acoustics I think. Any undue difficulties in audibility seem in their minds to be overcome by microphones and extra speakers. But the organ suddenly is left high and dry. Most start off with a difficult position and such unhelpful additions to buildings can be the death notice to choir and organ alike. I would seriously start a campaign to bring back acoustical awareness in our churches - certainly those of mediaeval provenance. All these extras make for a really difficult life for the organ which in some places is its death warrant. The Microphone has also produced a lazy society in reading properly, I think. The actual necessity of singing/intoning/chanting has almost entirely disappeared - singing, that was integral to the greatest liturgical moments. Those churches that proclaim "Sung Eucharist" think that it sometimes describes that the Choir will sing their 'numbers' when actually (as far as I have always remembered it, but please correct me), it is the Priest/Deacon that sings the Gospel, Preface etc. of the Eucharistic Liturgy that pronounces the service as Sung. I personally find it so incongruous that in Greater Places, choirs sing without reinforcements whilst the spoken word is. By all means have 'the loop' but for only huge occasions, use a microphone for the speakers. Projection! Clarity! Succinct notices!

The organ is on decidedly dodgy ground when the ambiance is changed and I suggest that it is one argument to add to the debate on behalf of the acoustic when such matters are being raised. What do others think?

 

Best wishes,

Nigel

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"I found that the recording at Redcilffe actually got in the way of the music - which irritated me"

 

Kevin Bowyer's recording was at least 25 years ahead of its time. The playing of Bach's music according to other aesthetics than the 'perceived wisdom' (which in Britain has seldom got beyond a limited number of 'rules' from the first generation of the neo-classicists) is now very common in Europe where the matching of Straube's or Widor's Bach editions, and the related organs in commonplace. If you apply your Bach ideals to an organ like Redcliffe you will be endlessly disappointed. So don't. Get our your Novello editions and try to find the organ in question's message!

 

Well, I shall be playing some Bach from my Novello edition tomorrow - on my beautiful so-called 'neo-classical' organ. In trying to prove that this music could be played effectively on such an instrument as Redcliffe, I am not sure that Kevin Bowyer succeeded in doing anything other than showing how alien the design of this organ was to any music which required clarity and transparency of texture.

 

But the Dorian is exceptional in requiring these balanced choruses. The idea of balanced choruses is almost a neo-baroque cliché. And actually, if you play it on historic organs whether in Holland or Thuringia, you'll find that it works better with 8' and 4' principals on both manuals this especially because of the trio texture section on the second to last page.

 

Bazuin

 

Even this is not really effective on a vintage 'Harrison'. The Swell chorus was voiced to be considerably quieter than the G.O. Although modified by R&D in 1976, the organ of Saint Peter's, Bournemouth still has this trait - as does Crediton Parish Church and Saint Mary's, Bryanston Square - this latter instrument unrestored or revoiced the last time I played it. Arthur Harrison rarely included an Open Diapason on the Choir Organ in his schemes - and never a Principal (not even in his largest [projected] scheme, which he drew up for Westminster Cathedral). The main 4ft. rank on the Choir Organ was either a Gemshorn or a Salicet - or very occasionally a Spitz Flöte (Newcastle Cathedral).

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Guest Patrick Coleman
No position of any musical instrument (and I include the Choir in this), is well served by the modern approach to furnishing churches. It seems there is a fashion to lay carpets in all manner of places - even between choir stalls - and to have fabric chairs of un-penitential plushness. I have come across churches who are now quite displeased with the pipe organ and wanting to go digital because the actual 'presence' and carrying power of the organ has been diminished quite considerably because of Axminster. Architects and PCC's need to be forever mindful of acoustics I think. Any undue difficulties in audibility seem in their minds to be overcome by microphones and extra speakers. But the organ suddenly is left high and dry. Most start off with a difficult position and such unhelpful additions to buildings can be the death notice to choir and organ alike. I would seriously start a campaign to bring back acoustical awareness in our churches - certainly those of mediaeval provenance. All these extras make for a really difficult life for the organ which in some places is its death warrant. The Microphone has also produced a lazy society in reading properly, I think. The actual necessity of singing/intoning/chanting has almost entirely disappeared - singing, that was integral to the greatest liturgical moments. Those churches that proclaim "Sung Eucharist" think that it sometimes describes that the Choir will sing their 'numbers' when actually (as far as I have always remembered it, but please correct me), it is the Priest/Deacon that sings the Gospel, Preface etc. of the Eucharistic Liturgy that pronounces the service as Sung. I personally find it so incongruous that in Greater Places, choirs sing without reinforcements whilst the spoken word is. By all means have 'the loop' but for only huge occasions, use a microphone for the speakers. Projection! Clarity! Succinct notices!

The organ is on decidedly dodgy ground when the ambiance is changed and I suggest that it is one argument to add to the debate on behalf of the acoustic when such matters are being raised. What do others think?

 

Best wishes,

Nigel

 

Agreed in every particular. Members of DACs all over the country, please take note!

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Agreed in every particular. Members of DACs all over the country, please take note!

 

If I may say so, I agree completely, too. As a former DMA one of my duties was in training Lay Readers in public speaking, etc., - the surprise on the faces of a few of them when introduced to what they could do if they breathed efficiently and engaged their diaphragm was quite something to behold. Suddenly they could fill a large building with their own voice without amplification - giving them so much more freedom of expression. As we all know is the case with singing.

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Just out of interest, how are you defining the difference between these two? I always treat these terms synonymously when discussing organs.

 

 

=====================

 

I had to think awhile about this.........

 

I believe there to be a very significant difference, and I am not alone in thinking this. Perhaps the best examples of the "Symphonic Organ" are those built by Cavaille-Coll, where there is still a sense of classical organ tonal-architecture. They wrote symphonies for them you know! :rolleyes:

 

The orchestral organ goes way beyond the pale, in trying to draw together specific orchestral imitations (not very good ones), and then present them as an organ. In point of fact, it marked the birth of the tonal synthesiser under the control of one performer; the first attempts being the old fair-organs and "Orchestrians". The main point is, that with this sort of thinking, classical chorus-work became dispensable, as the emphasis shifted towards the task blending disparate "orchestral voices" into some sort of cohesive musical instrument. I always think that I am very fortunate, and not too stuffy to enjoy, (sometimes play), the old theatre-organs, and from that comes an understanding of what Hope-Jones was trying to achieve. In the right hands they remain wonderfully expressive MUSICAL instruments, but all too often, they are anything but.

 

I think it is very important to understand the huge significance of Hope-Jones, who after all, started out by building church-organs rather than cinema organs. This eventually extended to a few cathedrals and town-halls; suggesting that at least some of the organ-playing elite found the work of Robert Hope-Jones musically significant, and desirable. Among the organ-building fraternity, the influence of Hope-Jones cannot be overestimated, for he was instrumental in developing the ultra powerful, ultra smooth tones typical of the period; hence the invention of diaphonic basses, heavily leathered high-pressure diapasons, large-scale flutes and, of course, the ubiquitous Tibia which found favour as the basic fundamental tone of the cinema-organ. Often beautifully voiced within themselves, the orchestral registers were far too individualistic ever to work in anything resembling a "chorus," quite unlike the magnificent work achieved by William and Thomas hill, "Father" Willis, T C Lewis, Cavaille-Coll and Walcker in Germany. Of course, Hope-Jones shared a workshop with Norman & Beard, and together they developed the Tibia register; the foundation tone of the forthcoming cinema organs from the stables of Rudolph Wurlitzer, who quickly saw the potential of the "Unit Orchestra" based on the extension principle. Although finished by Norman & Beard, the organ of Battersea Town Hall, (which I have heard), is to all intents and purposes, a Hope-Jones instrument. Now forgive me if I am wrong, but can anyone find me anything about this instrument which remotely relates to the classical-organ tradition?

 

Of course, the whole "orchestral" movement would have died a death, but for the support of many otherwise respectable gentlemen in the musical world. What does that tell us about the British organ-establishment of the day? (Answers on the back of a postage-stamp please). The whole ethos of organ-playing was concerned with orchestral expressiveness and organ-transcriptions, and I recall digging out a pile of old music at one church, which had been sitting inside an Arthur Harrison instrument ever since it was built. This pile of music consisted almost entirely of transcriptions; mostly Wagner, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Grieg, Handel warhorses and Elgar. The "real" organ music was restricted to the sort of sentimental rubbish written by minor English and Scottish composers of dubious ability; the music of which was appallingly popular at one time.

 

Of course, not all British organ-music was as bad as this, but with the best will in the world, did much of it compare to what was being written in France and Germany at the time? It's actually quite interesting to make the connection between the insularity of the musical, artistic and political establishments of the day, and the impending death of tradition, Empire and the near collapse of the monarchy. People wanted change; almost at any price.

 

"Bazuin" asked why so many on the discussion-board were anti-Arthur Harrison. I think that this is an unfair question, because I suspect that almost everyone on the discussion-board admires the work of Arthur Harrison, but would prefer not to have to live with it day in and day out. A child of his time, Arthur Harrison succeeded in making the best of conflicting musical interests; namely the orchestral and the symphonic-organ styles. It was a brilliant achievement, but one with a very limited shelf-life musically; on which, (like the British Empire), the sun would eventually set.

 

It's rather interesting to contemplate the fact, that of all British organ-builders, the one who most closely absorbed the wayward genius of Robert Hope-Jones, was John Compton. It's even more fascinating to contemplate the fact, that even though using the extension principle, John Compton achieved something more closely related to the classical organ-tradition than almost all of his contemporaries; including Arthur Harrison. He was the one outstanding and greatly misunderstood tonal-genius of his age; from whom grew much of the "reform movement" in British organ-building. He didn't need a quack organ-enthusiast to tell him what to do.

 

Of course, his theatre-organs were never as good as those from America, for it was they who embraced the orchestral concept more fully, and made it work brilliantly. The parody of musical-transcription found a suitable bed-partner in the exotic ambience of the picture palaces, and the celluloid-parody of life which illuminated and entertained those who survived humdrum lives in a world full of turmoil.

 

Anyway, I prefer Billy Mayerl to Herbert Howells, (and most of his contemporaries), any day, simply because he was a better composer.

 

Of course, people don't have to agree with me. I have such appalling taste, I would have preferred "Blower" Bentleys to establishment Daimlers any day.......as did the normally elegiac Sir George Thalben-Ball. (I wonder if he liked Howells, or whether like me, he just wiped the console clean afterwards?)

 

MM

 

PS: I just ran Diaphonic through the spell-check facility, and it came up with the possible alternative words:-

diapason, dialectic,diabolic, diatribe, dictatorial, diaphonous and diarrhea.

 

So that means that a diaphone is variously:- full voiced, argumentative, a tirade, dictatorial; behind us and best forgotten. As for diaphonous transparency, they're about as pellucid as mud, if you ask me, but they sound terrific on cinema organs; nothing else able to shake the floor, walls, ceilings, chandeliers and proscenium-arch curtains quite so effectively or damagingly.

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Try living with one for a while - preferably one which is tonally much as Arthur Harrison left it*. You may for a time, revel in the warmth and spread of the Pedal Open Wood, or delight in the variety of tone colour available at 8ft, pitch. You may further enjoy the contrasts between the G.O. and Swell reeds, or the fullness of the G.O. chorus.

 

However, after a time, it is possible that you will bemoan the fact that you are unable to find two balancing choruses for works such as Bach's 'Dorian' Toccata and that the G.O. and Pedal heavy pressure reeds seem to engulf everything else. You may also wish for some Pedal upperwork, to provide some clarity, in addition to great weight. Then you may begin to hanker after just one mixture which can be used effectively to top a diapason chorus (as opposed to attempting to bind powerful, opaque reeds to it). You may also wonder what, apart perhaps from accompanying massed singing, the G.O. leathered Open Diapason No. 1 is for - or, for that matter, what you could do with an immensely powerful Tuba, with practically no harmonic development at all.

 

At this time, elegant and sumptuous consoles, with their thick ivory and ebonised departmental stop jambs may simply not be enough to outweigh the fact that, whilst a vintage 'Harrison' organ possesses a good variety of unison and octave ranks with which to accompany a choir, it is rather less adept at doing just about anything else - unless you desire only to play such works as Brewer's Marche Heroïque.

 

Success is, in any case, relative. It depends on how you wish to measure it. If one is thinking in financial terms, then it is doubtful that Harrison was successful to any great degree - for he was, undoubtedly, a great artist, who was sincere in his beliefs. Lauence Elvin hinted that his quest for perfection prevented him becoming wealthy. If a particular stop did not turn out to be exactly as he desired, it was returned to the melting-pot and begun once more. I suppose that nowadays, this cost would simply be passed on to the client, in some cases. Not so with Arthur Harrison.

 

 

 

*Notwithstanding David's valid point above, there are a few instruments around which still retain enough of Arthur Harrison's touch to be able to gain a fair insight into his tonal ideals.

 

=============================

 

 

 

TRICKS OF THE TRADE 1

 

At my last recital at Halifax PC, this is how I got a good Bach "pleno" sound:-

Swell used as a Mixture division, with 4,2, and Mixture V (with octave coupler) coupled through to Great.

Great: Metal 16, 8,8,4,2.2/3, 2 and IVrk (Walker) Mixture + 16.8. Trombas transferred to Choir.

Choir: Just the 16.8. Trombas from Great

Pedal. NO STOPS DRAWN but coupled to Sw, Gt and Ch

Not at all a bad sound for Bach, but hardly what Arthur Harrison had in mind!!

 

TRICKS OF THE TRADE 2

 

Tell everyone that you are going to play the "Dorian" in the style of Edwin Lemare,

Play very fast, very accurately and with some detachment.

Use full Swell coupled to full Great, without Trombas.

The "balanced chorus" ARE the Great Trombas at 8 & 4, transferred to the Choir Organ!!!!

Pedal organ....all the flues coupled to Sw/Gt/Ch

Final cadence: Bring Trombas back to Great and add Pedal Ophicleide.

Never mind historical precedent, just feel those vibrations.

 

TRICKS OF THE TRADE 3

Tell everyone that the organ is not suitable for Bach.

 

TRICKS OF THE TRADE 4

Say to people, without bursting into laughter, "If only Bach had been able to enjoy an organ like this."

T

RICKS OF THE TRADE 5

Tell people that you left the music on the bus

 

TRICKS OF THE TRADE 6

Just improvise....people love the noise Harrison's make.

 

 

M (I love a challenge) M

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I am lucky enough to play a tonally unaltered Harrison from 1917 - albeit one of only 3 manuals and moderate size in a parish church. It was left unfinished, sadly, so the Pedal Reed and Great mixture are "prepared for" (the mixture would have been a harmonics, so wouldn't have been much use for Bach anyway).

 

The more I play the organ, the more I love it.

 

It's clearly not a baroque organ (!), but you can play Bach on it perfectly well. The Great Small open, and 4' and 2' principals gives a good, bright sound. The swell to mixture (and octave) can be coupled and the Great 12th added for a fuller pleno (Great 16' is too big and Choir 16' too small!). There is no chance of an independent pedal, of course, but it sounds a lot better than many of the shrieking-mixture neo-baroque things.

 

As for the Dorian - much as I like it, you can't build an organ just for this piece! (Anyway what's wrong with swell to mixture + octave for the secondary chorus?)

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=============================

 

 

 

TRICKS OF THE TRADE 1

 

At my last recital at Halifax PC, this is how I got a good Bach "pleno" sound:-

Swell used as a Mixture division, with 4,2, and Mixture V (with octave coupler) coupled through to Great.

Great: Metal 16, 8,8,4,2.2/3, 2 and IVrk (Walker) Mixture + 16.8. Trombas transferred to Choir.

Choir: Just the 16.8. Trombas from Great

Pedal. NO STOPS DRAWN but coupled to Sw, Gt and Ch

Not at all a bad sound for Bach, but hardly what Arthur Harrison had in mind!!

 

TRICKS OF THE TRADE 2

 

Tell everyone that you are going to play the "Dorian" in the style of Edwin Lemare,

Play very fast, very accurately and with some detachment.

Use full Swell coupled to full Great, without Trombas.

The "balanced chorus" ARE the Great Trombas at 8 & 4, transferred to the Choir Organ!!!!

Pedal organ....all the flues coupled to Sw/Gt/Ch

Final cadence: Bring Trombas back to Great and add Pedal Ophicleide.

Never mind historical precedent, just feel those vibrations.

 

TRICKS OF THE TRADE 3

Tell everyone that the organ is not suitable for Bach.

 

TRICKS OF THE TRADE 4

Say to people, without bursting into laughter, "If only Bach had been able to enjoy an organ like this."

T

RICKS OF THE TRADE 5

Tell people that you left the music on the bus

 

TRICKS OF THE TRADE 6

Just improvise....people love the noise Harrison's make.

 

 

M (I love a challenge) M

 

 

I like this. A friend of mine pretty much has Trick of the Trade 1 set up as a general on his Willis III - dubbed the "Bach Pleno Piston" (alongside "The Standard Hymn General", "The Small Congregation Hymn General", "The Strings General" (all strings and celestes with octave couplers...), "The Flutes Piston" and "'Full' Organ"). It works well. The Great Reeds on Choir Transfer is invaluable - it's on almost all the time. But I think we've all used the other tricks of the trade at some stage... I was using No.5 just last weekend...

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... As for the Dorian - much as I like it, you can't build an organ just for this piece! (Anyway what's wrong with swell to mixture + octave for the secondary chorus?)

 

As I stated, it is almost always voiced much too quietly. (Coupling it to a Choir Organ consisting of 8ft. and 4ft. flutes, an 8ft. Viola da Gamba and a Clarinet is of little help.)

 

Of course one would not wish to design an organ around one piece - that is why I included the words 'for example'. I have no wish to resurrect the earlier discussion regarding whether or not one should make clavier changes when playing Bach, but I do not personally regard this as the only piece of Bach (for example) which works well with clavier changes.

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"In trying to prove that this music could be played effectively on such an instrument as Redcliffe, I am not sure that Kevin Bowyer succeeded in doing anything other than showing how alien the design of this organ was to any music which required clarity and transparency of texture."

 

So, please tell us your assessment of the Straube Bach aesthetic and the related organs. Is the rediscovery of this aesthetic worthwhile, insightful musicology? Or a misunderstanding of the true nature of Bach? Presumably you come to the same conclusion as about the Bowyer recording? The idea of the Bach plenum having to be geared for clarity and transparence of texture is almost as much a 1960s cliche as the balanced choruses. If it were true then why do so many organs from the Bach period have 16' mixtures, tierce mixtures, multiple 8' stops etc?

 

The problem with your assessment and MM's long post is this - your ideals are noble (MM's post reminds me of the books Peter Williams was publishing 30+ years ago), but the generations of organ reform SUBSEQUENT to the one which told us that Bach had to be played on clear, transparent, balanced plena, taught us that there is no hierarchy of organ styles, only a hierarchy of quality. This is why organs such as the Norman and Beard at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh now receive fabulous restorations, whereas in the 1970s everyone wanted them thrown out.

 

"Of course, the whole "orchestral" movement would have died a death, but for the support of many otherwise respectable gentlemen in the musical world. What does that tell us about the British organ-establishment of the day? (Answers on the back of a postage-stamp please). The whole ethos of organ-playing was concerned with orchestral expressiveness and organ-transcriptions, and I recall digging out a pile of old music at one church, which had been sitting inside an Arthur Harrison instrument ever since it was built. This pile of music consisted almost entirely of transcriptions; mostly Wagner, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Grieg, Handel warhorses and Elgar. The "real" organ music was restricted to the sort of sentimental rubbish written by minor English and Scottish composers of dubious ability; the music of which was appallingly popular at one time."

 

While I agree with your assessment of the artistic merits of the dubious English and Scottish composers, I am less appalled about it than you are. At the end of the day, the entire English Town Hall genre of organ was developed to play orchestral reductions and transcriptions and there are (or at least were) many remarkable organs of that kind. It wasn't just the English organ establishment that 'danced with the devil', in the USA the playing of orchestral transcriptions was at least as popular. Even today, truly great organists like Tom Murray or Peter Conte have made their names playing in that style on the ultra-late romantic American organs associated with it. Does this diminish their achievements as organists? I hope not.

 

Back to BWV 538:

 

"Even this is not really effective on a vintage 'Harrison'."

 

Good. So play something which is.

 

Bazuin

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Is the rediscovery of this aesthetic worthwhile, insightful musicology? Or a misunderstanding of the true nature of Bach?

Why the "or"? Why not both? (leaving aside the semantics of where musicology begins and ends). Everyone will have his or her own take on this, just as they would if you asked the same question about playing Bach on a Grant, Degens and Bradbeer. I would merely observe that musicology being worthwhile and insightful doesn't necessarily prevent it being a depressingly lifeless experience.

 

The idea of the Bach plenum having to be geared for clarity and transparence of texture is almost as much a 1960s cliche as the balanced choruses. If it were true then why do so many organs from the Bach period have 16' mixtures, tierce mixtures, multiple 8' stops etc?

Let's put the horse before the cart and phrase this question properly. Since organs of the Bach period have multiple 16' mixtures, tierce mixtures, 8' stops, etc., why then did the neo-Baroque conclude that clarity and transparancy was required for a Bach plenum?

 

Back to BWV 538:

 

"Even this is not really effective on a vintage 'Harrison'."

 

Good. So play something which is.

Well, in Britain (I cannot speak for elsewhere) that's one reason why. For all its multiple 8' stops etc. and rich ensemble capabilities, the Bach-period organ retains a transparency and clarity of texture in no way comparable to the opaque texture of Victorian and Edwardian instruments. The fact is that, for many British organists, the neo-Baroque brought Bach's music to life in a way that they had never experienced before. They came to realise how leaden (or wan) and lifeless their previous experiences had been, or at the least, what jolly hard work it was to make Baroque music sound vital on our traditional organs. As far as I am concerned, that alone justifies the neo-Baroque. The fact that it was founded on misconceptions does not belittle the musical value people have found in it.

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Why the "or"? Why not both? (leaving aside the semantics of where musicology begins and ends). Everyone will have his or her own take on this, just as they would if you asked the same question about playing Bach on a Grant, Degens and Bradbeer. I would merely observe that musicology being worthwhile and insightful doesn't necessarily prevent it being a depressingly lifeless experience.

 

 

Let's put the horse before the cart and phrase this question properly. Since organs of the Bach period have multiple 16' mixtures, tierce mixtures, 8' stops, etc., why then did the neo-Baroque conclude that clarity and transparancy was required for a Bach plenum?

 

 

Well, in Britain (I cannot speak for elsewhere) that's one reason why. For all its multiple 8' stops etc. and rich ensemble capabilities, the Bach-period organ retains a transparancy and clarity of texture in no way comparable to the opaque texture of Victorian and Edwardian instruments. The fact is that, for many British organists, the neo-Baroque brought Bach's music to life in a way that they had never experienced before. They came to realise how leaden (or wan) and lifeless their previous experiences had been, or at the least, what jolly hard work it was to make Baroque music sound vital on our traditional organs. As far as I am concerned, that alone justifies the neo-Baroque. The fact that it was founded on misconceptions does not belittle the musical value people have found in it.

 

I would agree with your points, Vox.

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[quote name=bazuin' date='Nov 30 2009, 01:33 PM' post='49596'

... Back to BWV 538:

 

"Even this is not really effective on a vintage 'Harrison'."

 

Good. So play something which is.

 

Bazuin

 

Alternatively, I think I shall stick to playing Bach on my own church organ - where I do not have to try to sort out the notes from an all-enveloping windy thickness.

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No position of any musical instrument (and I include the Choir in this), is well served by the modern approach to furnishing churches. It seems there is a fashion to lay carpets in all manner of places - even between choir stalls - and to have fabric chairs of un-penitential plushness. I have come across churches who are now quite displeased with the pipe organ and wanting to go digital because the actual 'presence' and carrying power of the organ has been diminished quite considerably because of Axminster. Architects and PCC's need to be forever mindful of acoustics I think. Any undue difficulties in audibility seem in their minds to be overcome by microphones and extra speakers. But the organ suddenly is left high and dry. Most start off with a difficult position and such unhelpful additions to buildings can be the death notice to choir and organ alike. I would seriously start a campaign to bring back acoustical awareness in our churches - certainly those of mediaeval provenance. All these extras make for a really difficult life for the organ which in some places is its death warrant. The Microphone has also produced a lazy society in reading properly, I think. The actual necessity of singing/intoning/chanting has almost entirely disappeared - singing, that was integral to the greatest liturgical moments. Those churches that proclaim "Sung Eucharist" think that it sometimes describes that the Choir will sing their 'numbers' when actually (as far as I have always remembered it, but please correct me), it is the Priest/Deacon that sings the Gospel, Preface etc. of the Eucharistic Liturgy that pronounces the service as Sung. I personally find it so incongruous that in Greater Places, choirs sing without reinforcements whilst the spoken word is. By all means have 'the loop' but for only huge occasions, use a microphone for the speakers. Projection! Clarity! Succinct notices!

The organ is on decidedly dodgy ground when the ambiance is changed and I suggest that it is one argument to add to the debate on behalf of the acoustic when such matters are being raised. What do others think?

 

Best wishes,

Nigel

 

 

============================

 

 

 

I don't know whether this is especially relevant or not, but I read Nigel's post and allowed my mind to wander back to the time when I was eleven years of age. Two very significant things happened to me at that age; the first involving going down the famous pot-hole "Gaping Gill" in the Yorkshire Dales, on a bosun's chair. ( A 365ft descent in near-darkness). It was a scary experience, and I recall how the waterfall sounded utterly deafening, dropping through a chamber almost exactly the same size as the dome of St.Paul's Cathedral!

 

I vividly recall almost exactly the same feeling, when I parked my bike and wandered into a big church for the first time. (We were not a church-going family). It was like "Gaping Gill" meets "Harry Potter"....mysterious, overwhelming and spooky all at the same time. Unbeknown to me, the gentle hissing sound was not that of running water, but wind-noise from the organ. When the organ began to sound, I was utterly transfixed by the acoustic, the mystery of the space and the sounds I heard. That was the moment which revealed an unknown destiny, and which has stayed with me through thick and thin. It had absolutely nothing to do with religion at all. When the organ-playing curate invited me to have a look at the organ-console, I was hooked. It was really that quick!

 

Nowadays, most churches are largely empty, and they probably deserve to be; the era of the thinking man relegated to the ecclesiastical dustbin. Trying to convert churches into thinly veiled imitations of working-men's clubs is no substitute, and neither is cosy sentimentality and the life-sapping drone of conformity.

 

Music, architecture and theological eloquence should be at the heart of anything which seeks to uplift and inspire, and the task of all religion is to show that there is more to life than hydrogen and helium; except that there isn't. Therein lies the fundamental mystery of life and the challenge of believing in something more.

 

The churches are rapidly becoming unexceptional and depressingly predictable; no longer at the cutting-edge, and rarely taken seriously. Having met and listened carefully to the late Gladys Aylward, when I was 14, I don't recall that she relied on microphones and a dubious PA system. Neither did she proclaim that the pathway to eternal life was carpeted with Axminster, nor began with group-hugs and religious karaoke. She proclaimed her faith by her remarkable courage and example; quite happy to sing the great Wesleyan hymns with enthusiasm.

 

Having got rid of choirs and organists, (always the biggest church youth-group in days past), they wonder where the younger generations have gone; failing to understand that for many, the road to faith began with nothing of the sort. Most simply wanted to belong, and a few took up the challenge of something more important. At the very least, they would emerge musical and highly literate, unlike many of their counterparts to-day.

 

Anyway, even though the churches are now largely empty, the young still queue-up to ride the 365ft down into the bowels of "Gaping Gill" of a Summer Sunday, mercifully unobserved by those who would smother them, mother them and wrap them in cotton-wool. They, at least, will discover the delights of a big acoustic and marvel at it.

What a pity that they will probably be denied the opportunity of wandering into a big church with a big acoustic, and hearing the wonderful sound of an organ being played.

 

MM

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I don't know whether this is especially relevant or not, but I read Nigel's post and allowed my mind to wander back to the time when I was eleven years of age. Two very significant things happened to me at that age; the first involving going down the famous pot-hole "Gaping Gill" in the Yorkshire Dales, on a bosun's chair. ( A 365ft descent in near-darkness). It was a scary experience, and I recall how the waterfall sounded utterly deafening, dropping through a chamber almost exactly the same size as the dome of St.Paul's Cathedral!

 

I vividly recall almost exactly the same feeling, when I parked my bike and wandered into a big church for the first time. (We were not a church-going family). It was like "Gaping Gill" meets "Harry Potter"....mysterious, overwhelming and spooky all at the same time. Unbeknown to me, the gentle hissing sound was not that of running water, but wind-noise from the organ. When the organ began to sound, I was utterly transfixed by the acoustic, the mystery of the space and the sounds I heard. That was the moment which revealed an unknown destiny, and which has stayed with me through thick and thin. It had absolutely nothing to do with religion at all. When the organ-playing curate invited me to have a look at the organ-console, I was hooked. It was really that quick!

 

Nowadays, most churches are largely empty, and they probably deserve to be; the era of the thinking man relegated to the ecclesiastical dustbin. Trying to convert churches into thinly veiled imitations of working-men's clubs is no substitute, and neither is cosy sentimentality and the life-sapping drone of conformity.

 

Music, architecture and theological eloquence should be at the heart of anything which seeks to uplift and inspire, and the task of all religion is to show that there is more to life than hydrogen and helium; except that there isn't. Therein lies the fundamental mystery of life and the challenge of believing in something more.

 

The churches are rapidly becoming unexceptional and depressingly predictable; no longer at the cutting-edge, and rarely taken seriously. Having met and listened carefully to the late Gladys Aylward, when I was 14, I don't recall that she relied on microphones and a dubious PA system. Neither did she proclaim that the pathway to eternal life was carpeted with Axminster, nor began with group-hugs and religious karaoke. She proclaimed her faith by her remarkable courage and example; quite happy to sing the great Wesleyan hymns with enthusiasm.

 

Having got rid of choirs and organists, (always the biggest church youth-group in days past), they wonder where the younger generations have gone; failing to understand that for many, the road to faith began with nothing of the sort. Most simply wanted to belong, and a few took up the challenge of something more important. At the very least, they would emerge musical and highly literate, unlike many of their counterparts to-day.

 

Anyway, even though the churches are now largely empty, the young still queue-up to ride the 365ft down into the bowels of "Gaping Gill" of a Summer Sunday, mercifully unobserved by those who would smother them, mother them and wrap them in cotton-wool. They, at least, will discover the delights of a big acoustic and marvel at it.

What a pity that they will probably be denied the opportunity of wandering into a big church with a big acoustic, and hearing the wonderful sound of an organ being played.

 

MM

 

An eloquent and moving post. I agree entirely. At least many of our cathedrals are still able to give [not just] young people a glimpse of the Gill and offer much to which they can belong.

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As I stated, it is almost always voiced much too quietly. (Coupling it to a Choir Organ consisting of 8ft. and 4ft. flutes, an 8ft. Viola da Gamba and a Clarinet is of little help.)

 

Of course one would not wish to design an organ around one piece - that is why I included the words 'for example'. I have no wish to resurrect the earlier discussion regarding whether or not one should make clavier changes when playing Bach, but I do not personally regard this as the only piece of Bach (for example) which works well with clavier changes.

The Great chorus should, presumably, be a fairly light one, bearing in mind Bach specified Oberwerk and Ruckwerk rather than Hauptwerk. (Or was that to separate the sound spatially?)

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Guest Patrick Coleman
What a pity that they will probably be denied the opportunity of wandering into a big church with a big acoustic, and hearing the wonderful sound of an organ being played.

 

MM

 

It will be over my dead body if they are so denied.

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