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Sidney Sussex College

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Idly browsing, I found this on the website of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge:

 

The College has recently commissioned a new chamber organ from Taylor & Boody (for arrival in 2011), which will be of an elaborate Renaissance/early Baroque design with 7 stops tuned to an historical temperament at A=415, while the main organ will soon be replaced by a 30-stop, three manual instrument by the Dutch firm Flentrop (c.2015).

 

I don't know whether others had already heard about this commission - if so, apologies. I'm afraid I'm dismayed at the impending arrival of yet another Euro-organ, when so many characterful native instruments lie neglected in redundant buildings...

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I've heard good reports of the latest Flentrop at Chelsea. I doubt we're talking about another large, anodyne, or merely eccentric euro-organ but something of real musical and artistic value and subltety. I've heard the Chelsea Flentrop is refined and "English" but still inbued with a good deal of character and musical interest - and I'm not talking about chiff and stratospherically high mixtures, which is sometimes mistakenly described as such by the neo-classicists.

 

Rather to the contrary, I understand the latest Flentrops are voiced with nearly zero starting transient - more like a Victorian organ, and with relatively low-pitched mixtures - I think Dunblane and Eton School Hall Great mixtures both reach into the 16 foot series in the treble, which no English builder has dared to do in living memory - I don't believe even St. Ignatius has 16' mixtures on the manual divisions. I rather suspect it's a case of the Dutch speaking English better than the English...

 

The Taylor and Boody sounds interesting too - there are not enough of these types of organ on these shores. I just hope we're talking about a proper organ here, not another box organ with a schwimmer wind supply. What sort of style are we talking here? I was very impressed with an 18th century Italian Positivo style instrument I heard and played last summer, which was about 6 stops in 1/4 comma meantone temperament. I'm dieing to see somebody build a Renaissance style instrument with an F-compass and meantone temperament on these shores. Something in the Italian mould, or taking its cues from the Choir Organ at the Laurenskerk in Alkmaar would be very exciting.

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This on the Taylor & Boody website:

 

http://www.taylorandboody.com/opus_pages/o...cification.html

 

Looks interesting (and it's certainly not a box organ with a schwimmer), but I'm not sure quite what it is... There are some fanciful names but it's not clear what school of organ this really belongs to. It's not an early English chamber organ (think Smith, his descedants or earlier) and it's not really of any other school - Italian, Flemish, or otherwise. The closest it looks to me is of the later Dutch "cabinet" organs of the 18th and 19th century, normally made for domestic use but the stop names and style of the case are not typical and these organs are hardly Renaissance in their nature. However, T&B are wonderful builders, the spec is rather clever and I'm sure the results will be magical.

 

The chapel looks rather small from the photos on the college website. How big is it? If it's as small as it looks, is it really the place for a 30 stop, 3 manual organ?

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This on the Taylor & Boody website:

 

http://www.taylorandboody.com/opus_pages/o...cification.html

 

Looks interesting (and it's certainly not a box organ with a schwimmer), but I'm not sure quite what it is... There are some fanciful names but it's not clear what school of organ this really belongs to. It's not an early English chamber organ (think Smith, his descedants or earlier) and it's not really of any other school - Italian, Flemish, or otherwise. The closest it looks to me is of the later Dutch "cabinet" organs of the 18th and 19th century, normally made for domestic use but the stop names and style of the case are not typical and these organs are hardly Renaissance in their nature. However, T&B are wonderful builders, the spec is rather clever and I'm sure the results will be magical.

 

The chapel looks rather small from the photos on the college website. How big is it? If it's as small as it looks, is it really the place for a 30 stop, 3 manual organ?

 

Your post made me dig out some Flentrop records yesterday evening! And listening to Holy Name Chicago, Dunblane & Eton I find you're quite right. A really beautiful sound - definitely post-neo-Classical, and far removed from the screeching heard from other continental builders' machines in intimate English churches. I suppose the Flentrop flue sound is actually more-or-less what Ralph Downes was aiming for - but I'd say that's the only sense in which it's English, mixture compositions notwithstanding!

 

The T&B will indeed be wonderful, but I quite agree that the Chapel (which I don't know either) seems too intimate for a 30-stop Flentrop.

To be honest, what annoys most about this contract, is the underlying assumption (?) that a teaching instrument needs to be of a particular type, aesthetic and quality. Is it thought that English builders can't/didn't produce instruments of a high tonal & mechanical calibre? Do all recent installations prove that continental builders can/do?

 

But perhaps it's down to funding - a new organ needs to be sufficiently different from the old one to justify the expense...?

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"I don't know whether others had already heard about this commission - if so, apologies. I'm afraid I'm dismayed at the impending arrival of yet another Euro-organ, when so many characterful native instruments lie neglected in redundant buildings..."

 

I think it's a shame to mix these two issues up. I wholeheartedly agree with your point about rehousing - this is one of the biggest issues facing Britain's (still) disappearing organ heritage. Seemingly the IBO are having considerable success in re-housing instruments from their online list incidentally. On the other hand, if a new organ is to be built then commissioning it from Flentrop is certainly not to be regretted - this is a world-class organ builder with the most important restoration portfolio in the world. If you need convincing go to Chelsea - probably the best new organ built in London since the war (although Grosvenor is also very fine).

 

"To be honest, what annoys most about this contract, is the underlying assumption (?) that a teaching instrument needs to be of a particular type, aesthetic and quality."

 

Organs of particular types and aesthetics are undoubtedly better for teaching particular types and aesthetics of organ literature because they encourage the successful application of the techniques associated with said types and aesthetics. I hope it's fair to say that even in this country, where a student's contact with historic organs is necessarily limited, there is a general assumption that the one-size-fits-all organ technique is a thing of the past. Intruments with specific characteristics, specific playing techniques (whether the application of what Vogel calls the 'structured legato', or paired fingerings or even a student understanding how Sauer 'programmed' a Walze in order that he/she successfully register Reger) and the literature itself are all highly interdependent.

 

"Is it thought that English builders can't/didn't produce instruments of a high tonal & mechanical calibre? Do all recent installations prove that continental builders can/do?"

 

No, of course not. But Chelsea proves that Flentrop CAN produce an organ of the highest tonal and mechanical calibre. (Their work in Holland and elsewhere suggests that they do so consistently).

 

"I suppose the Flentrop flue sound is actually more-or-less what Ralph Downes was aiming for"

 

Perhaps - Ralph Downes had extensive contact with Dirk Flentrop. But DF's organ building ideals were firmly neo-baroque - Flentrop haven't built organs like that for more than 30 years now. Downes was quite happy to embrace open toes and nick-free languids. This doesn't really have anything to do with the present Flentrop style which is firmly based on their almost-daily contact with well-preserved pre-1800 organs of the first order. The winding systems they use (almost always wedge bellows) play an important role in the sound character.

 

Bazuin

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Seemingly the IBO are having considerable success in re-housing instruments from their online list incidentally.

 

I sincerely hope so. Whilst I'm sure that in any financial climate an organbuilder would prefer to be awarded a contract for a brand new organ rather than one for rehousing a redundant instrument of similar size, the fact remains that there are plenty of fine but silent organs. Only yesterday I see that a Grade 2* 3-manual Taylor failed to meet its asking price on Ebay. Someone remarked a while back that the average Oxbridge college seems to replace their organ every twenty years or so. Would that a few might consider installing a second historic instrument, whether or not in their chapel, if they have so much money going spare (sigh)....

 

Contrabombarde

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"I don't know whether others had already heard about this commission - if so, apologies. I'm afraid I'm dismayed at the impending arrival of yet another Euro-organ, when so many characterful native instruments lie neglected in redundant buildings..."

 

I think it's a shame to mix these two issues up. I wholeheartedly agree with your point about rehousing - this is one of the biggest issues facing Britain's (still) disappearing organ heritage. Seemingly the IBO are having considerable success in re-housing instruments from their online list incidentally. On the other hand, if a new organ is to be built then commissioning it from Flentrop is certainly not to be regretted - this is a world-class organ builder with the most important restoration portfolio in the world. If you need convincing go to Chelsea - probably the best new organ built in London since the war (although Grosvenor is also very fine).

 

But aren't these issues necessarily related - unless you're going to do as suggested below, and re-house an old instrument together with every new commission?

 

"To be honest, what annoys most about this contract, is the underlying assumption (?) that a teaching instrument needs to be of a particular type, aesthetic and quality."

 

Organs of particular types and aesthetics are undoubtedly better for teaching particular types and aesthetics of organ literature because they encourage the successful application of the techniques associated with said types and aesthetics. I hope it's fair to say that even in this country, where a student's contact with historic organs is necessarily limited, there is a general assumption that the one-size-fits-all organ technique is a thing of the past. Intruments with specific characteristics, specific playing techniques (whether the application of what Vogel calls the 'structured legato', or paired fingerings or even a student understanding how Sauer 'programmed' a Walze in order that he/she successfully register Reger) and the literature itself are all highly interdependent.

 

Of course I don't doubt some of this - but when did you last see a Sauer-style instrument, to use your example, installed in an Oxbridge chapel? My point is that a single style of instrument (which by its very nature is a modern hybrid) is being touted as particularly desirable for teaching. Since students will end-up playing a variety of instruments, most (?) of which will not be classical in style, and will not have mechanical action, what's wrong with learning to play idiomatically on, say, an EP-action instrument? After all, it's not as if the experience of foreign organs is limited to gentlemen like Cecil Clutton in these days of Easyjet...

 

"Is it thought that English builders can't/didn't produce instruments of a high tonal & mechanical calibre? Do all recent installations prove that continental builders can/do?"

 

No, of course not. But Chelsea proves that Flentrop CAN produce an organ of the highest tonal and mechanical calibre. (Their work in Holland and elsewhere suggests that they do so consistently).

 

I'm sure the Chelsea organ is wonderful, but it looks as though the SS contract was signed quite some time before there was any evidence of what the SW3 organ might sound like...

 

"I suppose the Flentrop flue sound is actually more-or-less what Ralph Downes was aiming for"

 

Perhaps - Ralph Downes had extensive contact with Dirk Flentrop. But DF's organ building ideals were firmly neo-baroque - Flentrop haven't built organs like that for more than 30 years now. Downes was quite happy to embrace open toes and nick-free languids. This doesn't really have anything to do with the present Flentrop style which is firmly based on their almost-daily contact with well-preserved pre-1800 organs of the first order. The winding systems they use (almost always wedge bellows) play an important role in the sound character.

 

I think a broader issue, which underlies much of what's written here, is that organists are in danger of being educated exclusively as period specialists. Do organs like these encourage contemporary/experimental composers, I wonder?

 

Bazuin

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"what's wrong with learning to play idiomatically on, say, an EP-action instrument?"

 

Nothing, but how many idiomatic (as opposed to eklektik) EP organs are built today? In the UK the dogmas of the reform movt mean that consciences of the organists won't let it happen (even the new EP organs have to have the Positive with the mutations and the high mixture...) In any case it is easier to learn on mechanical and later be able to play well on EP than vice versa.

 

"but it looks as though the SS contract was signed quite some time before there was any evidence of what the SW3 organ might sound like..."

 

yes but an hour on EasyJet would put you in close proximity with many many other fine examples. I assume the SS people travelled a little before they signed the contract?!

 

"I think a broader issue, which underlies much of what's written here, is that organists are in danger of being educated exclusively as period specialists."

 

There is no evidence that this is the case. There is little idiomatic playing of 'period' music on the organ in the UK anyway, so organs like these have to be seen as a positive move. It may also reflect the music sung at SS - I don't know where their repertoire preferences lie - perhaps someone can fill us in?

 

"Do organs like these encourage contemporary/experimental composers, I wonder?"

 

yes of course! Here's a good recent example: http://www.echo-organs.org/Nuovi-Fiori-Musicali.7.0.html

 

 

 

Bazuin

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"Organs of particular types and aesthetics are undoubtedly better for teaching particular types and aesthetics of organ literature because they encourage the successful application of the techniques associated with said types and aesthetics"

 

Yes, agreed. Unfortunately, despite much recent investment, there are very few new organs in Cambridge that are convincing examples of organs of particular types and aesthetics.

 

There's Kings, which is one of the ultimate late Symphonic English Romantic organs by H&H. I like Pembroke too, which I think still has something to say as an honest and principled reconstruction of an organ in the early English style, from which much was learnt and it's an engaging musical experience to play and listen to.

 

Then what? So many of the recent organs - Emmanuel, Selwyn, Kats, Caius, Jesus, Robinson - are all modern eclectic instruments. Some of them may pay lip service to some historic style of building but none of them are really convincing examples of any recognised school of organbuilding, with faithful attention paid to construction methods, design, voicing, consoles and finishing.

 

This isn't to say they're bad organs - they're not. But if a centre of education and research excellence like Cambridge, with a world-class reputation, can't provide the opportunities for historical research into varied organ building practices in their many chapels and halls, uncovering historical, musical and social insights in the process, then where in the UK can? The opportunities for principled historical research have been overlooked - or simply not recognised - alongside the opportunities to provide world-class facilities for their education programmes. There are some fine brains in the organ world that have much to offer and gain by being involved with such projects and collaborating with such organisations. When we look at what what places like Gothenburg and the American institutions have achieved (and the consequent benefits to the North American and Continental organ building and organ playing world), then it seems there is an opportunity that the UK institutions have just not grasped yet.

 

"Is it thought that English builders can't/didn't produce instruments of a high tonal & mechanical calibre? Do all recent installations prove that continental builders can/do?"

 

I think if they had the opportunities as described above, then this concern would evaporate - I think these opportunities would give the opportunity for British builders to raise their game and fully realise the potential some individuals and firms clearly have. But while they remain fully commercial concerns making largely eclectic instruments for clients that simply want to play as many different styles of music as is possible - but rarely providing the necessary opportunities for collaboration and research to make these organs as convincing as possible - then what chance do they have?

 

While I know many places in the UK are now making more and more study trips abroad and this is great, I think many of our students and organ scholars would benefit from having access to historical reconstructions of organs on their doorsteps, for teaching, practice and performance.

 

Just to illustrate my point: Why isn't there, say, a Silbermann copy of the Georgenkirke, Rötha or a Treutmann organ in one of the Oxbridge chapels - Georgenkircke is a small, intimate building with much wood pannelling, not unlike some of the chapels. How about a reconstruction Sauer somewhere? Wouldn't it be exciting and of great benefit to British Organ building and the organ worlds if, say, Manders and H&H had collaborated to build such an organ, partnered with academic research at, say, Cambridge and the RAM, with detailed survey trips abroad and careful research into construction processes. This instrument could have also supported academic and musicological research into performance practices, the music written for such instruments, their use, with musicians from both the UK and abroad for Symposia to discuss the results. Bazuin's example of modern music written for historic instruments is just one example of the products that can flower from such projects and the results trickle down into the real world, as seen in some of the supremely fine players who play with real musical insight and organs that are built by people like Fritts, Richards Fowkes, Van Eeken and Flentrop.

 

We can argue that these things have already been done. But we always need to train new builders and new organists and continuing such projects into the future gives each generation the opportunity to fully engage with the heritage of their professional sphere and to learn from it, building on the insights of previous generations.

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Why isn't there, say, a Silbermann copy of the Georgenkirke, Rötha... in one of the Oxbridge chapels - Georgenkircke is a small, intimate building with much wood pannelling, not unlike some of the chapels. How about a reconstruction Sauer somewhere?

Both of these are easily possible today, and at very little cost.

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Both of these are easily possible today, and at very little cost.

 

Really? I thought new organs were rather expensive. If that's not the case, I'll happily take a few for my house!

 

Contrabombarde

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