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A british style of organ deisgn/building/eveloution


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Oh, MM - you get so tangled up. I think you possibly misread my first post and are now determined to make me concede a point which doesn't exist. Organ details do not irritate me. This is probably irritating everyone else though, and others seem to understand what my original point was.

 

For Schulze being irrelevant - I didn't say he was. He is however largely irrelevant to a discussion about what defines a British style of organ building because he was not an British organ builder. He may have influenced others, but so have Schnitger and Cavialle-Coll, and we're not talking about them either.

 

You list some Swell stoplists. These are as nothing unless compared with the Great. I did this through the NPOR and discovered that in both cases, indeed, the Great chorus (as Vox says, vertical from 16-Mixtures) is bigger, as I have been suggesting; both Greats start with a metal 16 and the Swells with a wooden one. Both Greats have more than one Open Diapason. Both Greats have more mutations, and the function of some of those mutations is different. Yes, pressures may be higher to overcome enclosure - my own Harrison has a Swell Open with leathered lips on 9" wind - but it's still quieter than the Great.

 

This whole topic began with a broad question about what, broadly speaking, characteristics could be said to be quintessentially English - broadly speaking. I responded that, amongst other things, a typical Swell chorus is typically slightly smaller than a typical Great chorus, in part due to its enclosure. Typically, that is true of the majority of instruments, as you will discover if you make it a point of pride to always draw the largest 842 on the Swell and the largest 842 on the Great and attempt to play a trio sonata. That's a characteristic of interrelation between divisions which you'd be unlikely to find on an organ from elsewhere. You've done nothing except misunderstand basic points and then furnish me with examples which I believe prove my original supposition right.

 

It's sad that you and I are just destined to clash. I don't have the particular personality traits to just sit back and ignore when I believe someone is challenging me incorrectly, on even the most trivial of things. I'm sorry that a very interesting and provoking subject has once again been hi-jacked by my failings in this regard and I hope order can be restored by my, yet again, beating the retreat.

 

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

 

Well, is there such a thing as a quintessentially British Organ?

 

Hill did one thing, and then did it more boldly after 1860 or so. (Think Ulster Hall/Sydney TH) Big, fluffy choruses and lots of upperwork voiced on the dull side of things. Very much chorus dominated.

 

Forster & Andrews supposedly influenced by Schulze, but if I recall correctly, using Topfer scaling.

 

Harrison increasing the power of the Great Organ by means of heavier wind-pressures, thicker pipe-metal, quite big scales and leathered lips. Smooth reeds to Great, but virtually a copy of Willis Swell reeds. Influence of Whiteley and Hope-Jones.

 

Willis Geigens rather than Diapason, but blown very hard. Very powerful chorus reeds of distinction. Influence of Cavaille-Coll. Superlative orchestral reeds.....the best of all.

 

Lewis more or less copying Schulze, but creating a vibrant English style all his own, which travelled to America with G.Donald Harrison. Quite thin reed tone, but later French reed influence. Organs totally dominated by spectacular chorus-work. German influence going back to Silbermann.

 

I don't know too many old Walker organs such as Bristol (etc), so I have no experience of them and cannot comment.

 

Norman & Beard....the cradle of early Hope-Jones experiments. Use of heavy pressures. Very powerful reeds.

 

Charles Brindley...pre-dated Schulze in England. German training. Terraced dynamics.

 

Now all this demonstrates a number of things; not least an international melting pot of ideas, from Germany, France and Belgium. Later influence came from Skinner in America.

 

Schulze organs have much quieter Swell Organs than Great, as did many other German builders of the period. It is NOT a unique English quality by any means.

 

What of later developments? The organ at Blackburn Cathedral is British, as are those at Gloucester and Liverpool Met. They represent a NEW English style, combining French, English and German elements.

 

So other than a two or more Great Open Diapasons, where are the uniquely English characteristics?

 

Even that isn't unique, but it is an English characteristic. At the Bavokerk, they simply called it Principal, with two 8ft ranks operating on the same slider.

 

 

MM

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"Forster & Andrews supposedly influenced by Schulze, but if I recall correctly, using Topfer scaling."

(Quote)

 

Why "but" ? Schulze was a friend of Töpfer, and, indeed, he was the first of the (few then!)

german builders to use Töpfer's scaling method...

 

Pierre

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"Forster & Andrews supposedly influenced by Schulze, but if I recall correctly, using Topfer scaling."

(Quote)

 

Why "but" ? Schulze was a friend of Töpfer, and, indeed, he was the first of the (few then!)

german builders to use Töpfer's scaling method...

 

Pierre

 

 

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

 

You're right of course, I missed the words "English perspective" out.

 

Topfer scaling was only a means of offering some sort of standardisation, and most organ builder siezed upon "halving around the 17th note."(Topfer A)

 

However, this is almost irrelevant with Schulze, because his scales were so generous, there was never the danger that the top notes of the highest registers and mixtures would become too small. (2" at middle C being quite normal for Schulze).

 

That said, the big V rank Mixture at Armley is actually two notes or so smaller than the 8ft Principal, which dents the myth of "straight-line" Schulze scales.

 

I've never had the chance to investigate the matter fully, but the lack of brilliance in many 19th century English organs may be due to excessively small treble pipes, because "Topfer A" is reckoned to be a too fast a progression. In fact, there is a Topfer B scale, (halving on the 18th note), but I'm not sure if anyone adopted it.

 

The point about Topfer scaling, is the fact that it is a "ready reckoner" to pipe-makers, and in an age when organs were churned out on a factory basis, anything which increased productivity in supplying a hungry market, was a great advantage.

 

I don't think Walker or Hill ever adopted Topfer scaling, and I have to admit that I don't know enough about the subject to speak with any great authority. Prior to Topfer, there was an older English way of doing things I seem to recall, and if there is such a thing as "Englishness," then I'm sure that scaling lies at the heart of it, rather than stop-lists.

 

I think it must be over to the organ-builders on the subject of scaling.

 

MM

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

 

 

I've never had the chance to investigate the matter fully, but the lack of brilliance in many 19th century English organs may be due to excessively small treble pipes, because "Topfer A" is reckoned to be a too fast a progression. In fact, there is a Topfer B scale, (halving on the 18th note), but I'm not sure if anyone adopted it.

 

The point about Topfer scaling, is the fact that it is a "ready reckoner" to pipe-makers, and in an age when organs were churned out on a factory basis, anything which increased productivity in supplying a hungry market, was a great advantage.

 

I don't think Walker or Hill ever adopted Topfer scaling, and I have to admit that I don't know enough about the subject to speak with any great authority. Prior to Topfer, there was an older English way of doing things I seem to recall, and if there is such a thing as "Englishness," then I'm sure that scaling lies at the heart of it, rather than stop-lists.

 

I think it must be over to the organ-builders on the subject of scaling.

 

MM

 

The latest IBO Newsletter contains an interesting article by David Wickens on Schulze's scalings and their influence on organ builders in the North - Abbott, Binns, Conacher, Forster & Andrews, Brindley as well as Lewis. It gives examples of their scalings compared with both Töpfer A & B.

 

JS

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The latest IBO Newsletter contains an interesting article by David Wickens on Schulze's scalings and their influence on organ builders in the North - Abbott, Binns, Conacher, Forster & Andrews, Brindley as well as Lewis. It gives examples of their scalings compared with both Töpfer A & B.

 

JS

 

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

 

That sounds very interesting, espoecially since two of my "other" favourite builders after Lewis, have to be Charles Brindley, (who had Karl Schulze in the workshop as a voicer before he moved on to Albert Keats) and Isaac Abbott. Almost all traces of Brindley, (not the later style of Brindley & Foster) and Abbott have disappeared, but the few remaining, recognisable instruments are quite an inspiration.

 

I wonder who most influenced Jardine (prior to that Kirtland & Jardine), who did so much work in the "German" system, but then incorporated a lot of Cavaille-Coll as well? They included chamades on a few select instruments; mostly in America, where they had a branch and introduced such registers there.

 

Jardine is a relatively untold story, but a fascinating one at a time of enormous change.

 

MM

MM

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Innate - the Swell probably will be louder with all the reeds drawn. My remarks were aimed only at flue choruses.

I'm sure you're right. I suppose the relevance is that Lemare's stipulation implies that generally in England at that time the Swell (including reeds) was softer than the Great, which must count as some sort of testimony.

 

M

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I'm sure you're right. I suppose the relevance is that Lemare's stipulation implies that generally in England at that time the Swell (including reeds) was softer than the Great, which must count as some sort of testimony.

 

M

 

What more could I ask for!

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Maybe this could be interesting, as something we from abroad feel to be "quite british":

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5J3vUIZAvLU...feature=related

 

The organ has already a Swell, the only Mixture is a Sesquialtera, the Diapasons,

the reeds are very "special" to our ears...

 

Pierre

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And the original question -

 

 

 

Come on, pay attention back there!

 

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

 

Well, they're two different questions; "quintessential" being that which could represent the whole or act as a standard.

 

I have consistently argued that there are many styles derived from a variety of largely foreign influences, and more to the point, fashions have come and gone.

 

In something like a couple of centuries, we have seen Italian, German, French and even American ideas effect changes upon the national organ sensibility.

 

Indeed, has any other country quite so many imported organs?

 

In my own lifetime I've seen new organs imported from Holland, Denmark, Austria, Germany, Ireland and most recently, from Slovenia. I'm sure there are others too, but I'm not sure I could remember all of them.

 

Perhaps the "discernable" style we seek really doesn't exist, and instead, we see almost anything being acceptable; possibly because we have little indigenous repertoire requiring a specific sound, as might be associated with French Music, German Baroque/Romantic and Italian music.

 

Of course, in "quires and places where they sing," there are certain constraints.

 

MM

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Dear MM,

 

It might seem you would not be disturbed so much if it could be stated there is nothing

like a british style at all.

There is nothing save The Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republik.

 

Pierre

 

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

 

 

You're being wicked Pierre. There certainly once WAS a discernable British style, albeit with differences and mixed influences. That we could broadly recognise as Lewis, Fr Willis, William Hill and the like.

 

That particular family of styles is itself a mix of earlier English style and the prevailing contemporary, continental influences, as we have discussed. The later symphonic style further developed into an orchestral style, as we know, with lots of crazy ideas about the organ being some sort of substitute orchestra, which only a theatre organ ever came close to being.

 

Now lets get down to brass tacks, as they say in Yorkshire.

 

Did anyone ever have a clue what they were doing or what they were hoping to achieve?

 

The "English style," so far as I can make out, was one eternal experiment, but with brilliant moments of discovery.

 

Even the organ at the Festival Hall was a shot in the dark, but an inspired one nontheless.

 

If there was (and still is) a certain inconsistency of style, then it is entirely appropriate. I don't think you'll find so many pseudo-academic instruments as in Oxford or Cambridge.....God alone knows what they hoped to hear in some of the buildings, but doubtless they were fashionable at the time. That stated, there are gems, such as Queen's, Oxford by Thomas Frobenius and the ever interesting instrument at New College. Unfortunately, I've never heard John's, Cambridge since our kind hosts built it, but I'm sure it will sound excellent.

 

Are there any "English" instruments to emerge from all the searching and the angst?

 

Well.......yes.....sort of.

 

St Mary-the-Great, Cambridge is a wonderfully musical instrument; very much in a fascinating blend of English and continental ideas. I think it's the only Kenneth Jones instrument I've ever played, but it was a joy.

 

Similarly Huddersfield University, where an English builder and voicer set out to create a neo-classical instrument, and possibly due to limited experience, instead produced a superb eclectic instrument with a character quite unlike anything else I know. It not only works; it works well, but it does have a superb acoustic to match.

 

But two organs, (I'm sure there are others), do not make a recognisable national style, and I rather lament the dead certainty of knowing, (without ever hearing an instrument previously), that a Compton would sound like a Compton, a Harrison would sound like a Harrison and a Lewis would sound like a Lewis; no matter what the acoustic.

 

MM

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Unfortunately, I've never heard John's, Cambridge since our kind hosts built it, but I'm sure it will sound excellent.

Oh, it's very "English cathedral organ" - apart from the vuvuzela. Lovely tone and altogether very satisfying, though the console mechanics are now getting a bit rickety. Just a tad under-powered for accompaniment for my taste (and it shows on the choir's recent Howells CD). The quieter Swell stuff tends to get lost, for example, but the upside is you can use a good deal of the Great.

 

Surely, isn't the archetypal "English cathedral organ" sound the quintessence of the British style? It's quite distinct from a Cavaillé-Coll, a Walcker or a Sauer, or a modern Rieger or Klais. You might be taken in by an American organ, but even they tend to have voicing characteristics that give the game away eventually. There's something about the blend and smoothness of a British organ that isn't quite matched elsewhere. I suspect that, despite all the foreign tangents and influences, it evolved from those old Baroque organs.

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"There's something about the blend and smoothness of a British organ that isn't quite matched elsewhere. "

(Quote)

 

Well, here we begin to agree....Might a consensus emerge eventually ?

 

To my continental ears, a british organ, be it baroque, romantic or post-romantic, is to be recognizable

by hearing it for five minutes, with the possible exception, among those which I heard in Situ, of

Armley -a german organ-.

 

I begin with some hints:

 

-The Diapasons. Compared with continental Principals, they are more foundational, bolder.

The Diapason chorus relies less on the harmonic of the pipes to stick togheter; rather,

each rank takes its place one above the other. This is true for every period, even the Byfield

I linked to above show this trait.

There is no such a Principal chorus to be found on the continent -save with imported-rescued

british organs-.

 

-The reeds. Again, already in the Byfield, there is absolutely no rattle to be heard, save maybe

in the first half of the lowest octave. Continental reeds always rattle, more (the french) or less

(leathered shallots german ones), but on the entire compass; this adds harmonics which are absent

with the british models.

 

-Warmth in the tone of the ensemble. Maybe like a cosy lounge, there is always a richness,

a boldness, a warmth of tone that distinguishes the british organ from the next one.

 

The british organ may be the fruit of multiple influencies from abroad -like the belgian organ

or the thuringian one- but all those borrowings were immediately modified to suit a style

that is very well recognizable from abroad.

 

Take this modest one, from remote Cornwall:

 

 

100% british.....And even more significant is this one:

 

 

Believe it or not, this is a kind of sound we much like on the continent, and do not have . They are even more better displayed in that simple manner. This organ would find many amateurs here, and, indeed, candidate churches.

 

Pierre

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Even another little Forster & Andrews (1864) organ in Cornwall:

 

 

 

Those "little out-of-tune things" are a big asset to any Orgellandschaft. How do you think one

could hear the thuringian village organs 30 years ago ?

A style is more evident by far in little organs, with witch a strict sense of priorities must obtain;

moreover, they are less "updated" than the bigger ones.

Shame on me I did not visit Cornwall !

 

Pierre

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Oh, it's very "English cathedral organ" - apart from the vuvuzela. Lovely tone and altogether very satisfying, though the console mechanics are now getting a bit rickety. Just a tad under-powered for accompaniment for my taste (and it shows on the choir's recent Howells CD). The quieter Swell stuff tends to get lost, for example, but the upside is you can use a good deal of the Great.

 

Surely, isn't the archetypal "English cathedral organ" sound the quintessence of the British style? It's quite distinct from a Cavaillé-Coll, a Walcker or a Sauer, or a modern Rieger or Klais. You might be taken in by an American organ, but even they tend to have voicing characteristics that give the game away eventually. There's something about the blend and smoothness of a British organ that isn't quite matched elsewhere. I suspect that, despite all the foreign tangents and influences, it evolved from those old Baroque organs.

 

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

 

Both "Vox" and "Pierre" make interesting a valid points, but have we forgotten the original question, as to whether there is NOW a recognisable British style?

 

"Vox" suggests that the "British Cathedral Organ" is the quintessential British Organ, but actually it isn't, even if MOST cathedrals qualify and some of the larger churches also.

 

Even a relatively small Arthur Harrison organ will have certain similarities between it and a cathedral organ, but they don't make them like that anymore unless they are electronic.

 

Pierre mentions roughness or rattle being unknown in British Organs, but a quick trip to hear the 16ft Tuba on the Pedals, at Hull City Hall, is a truly hair-raising experience to match anything by Cavaille-Coll. We also have organs with powerful Bombardes and rather splashy, but more refined Trumpets than Paris. (Bradford Cathedral & Ampleforth Abbey are two good examples).

 

As for chorus work being tiered one pitch above the other, that is certainly not true of Lewis, who was second only to Schulze in the sheer nobility of his choruses. (By some strange, uncharacteristic miracle, the same is also true of Liverpool Cathedral).

 

No, I would suggest that apart from the era covering the period perhaps 1900-1945, there is no specific style which could be considered British, but there is a broad style which has evolved out of necessity.

 

Earlier in the discussion, "Cynic" mentioned the most important thing of all......acoustics.

 

He said something to the effect that the great continental organ usually benefitted from special acoustic qualities, and he is right of course.

 

Take any big space with generous reverberation, and what happens to the sound?

 

Metal basses which sound thin at close quarters, suddenly sound beautiful and sonorous in the nave. A ten rank Mixture which sounds fairly fearsome at the console, sound just perfect in the body of the church. In fact, the ferociously high-pitched Mixtures at St James', Prague, sound gloriously rich in that huge acoustic, and add much needed brilliance of tone.

 

The exact opposite is true, I would suggest, in the majority of British places of worship, which kill the basses, do not allow chorus sonority to build up naturally and make anything above the level of a gentle, treble tinkling sound utterly offensive.

 

The reason why so many Compton organs sound so good, is the very fact that he used generous (often leathered)Diapason tone, big basses and upperwork derived from Salicionals and Dulcianas. It's what Harrison's did, (without the manual extensions) and which almost every other organ builder copied.

 

The cathedrals meanwhile, with their instruments spreading along triforiums, on choir screens, behind aisle arches and running behind choir-stalls, are hardly the epitomy of good design, but as they ooze from the various pores of the building, they sound convincing enough, if a little vague and distant very often.

 

All this is accepted wisdom, amd it has been said many times before, but it brings us no nearer answering the question of whether there is a recognisable, current style which is uniquely British?

 

I doubt that there is.

 

MM

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"There's something about the blend and smoothness of a British organ that isn't quite matched elsewhere. "

(Quote)

 

Well, here we begin to agree....Might a consensus emerge eventually ?

 

To my continental ears, a british organ, be it baroque, romantic or post-romantic, is to be recognizable

by hearing it for five minutes, with the possible exception, among those which I heard in Situ, of

Armley -a german organ-. ...

 

Pierre

 

And, presumably, Gloucester. The only other instrument which sounds like this is the organ of Chartres Cathedral, after the Gonzales rebuild.

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And, presumably, Gloucester. The only other instrument which sounds like this is the organ of Chartres Cathedral, after the Gonzales rebuild.

 

Yes,

 

As I said, genuine, typical styles might be better preserved in remote villages than in towns.

And of course, the acoustics play a vital role in the very definition of any style.

The spanish organ evolved in huge stone churches. Its horizontal, low-pressure reed stops

could not have been imagined for british or thuringian churches.

A fact remains.

If I take a sample series from my CDs collection, with, say, three german organs, three french

ones, three dutch ones, and two british ones,from whatever period, those will stand out immediately

as quite different.

 

Another "little village thing":

 

 

Pierre

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I'm getting the distinct impression reading between the lines that searching for a distinctly British style of organbuilding is like the Emperor's new clothes. Perhaps the only distinctive feature of modern British organ building is that there is no distinctive feature - every builder has something to offer, some build very good pastiches of 17th or 18th or even 19th century builders, some produce vanilla organs that sound good playing anything but their coherence comes from the brief to design something comfortable with playing anything as opposed to to design something in a British style. But if that's so, if "Britishness" as a characteristic style means the absence of a characteristic style, is that such a bad thing?

 

For discussion...

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I'm getting the distinct impression reading between the lines that searching for a distinctly British style of organbuilding is like the Emperor's new clothes. Perhaps the only distinctive feature of modern British organ building is that there is no distinctive feature - every builder has something to offer, some build very good pastiches of 17th or 18th or even 19th century builders, some produce vanilla organs that sound good playing anything but their coherence comes from the brief to design something comfortable with playing anything as opposed to to design something in a British style. But if that's so, if "Britishness" as a characteristic style means the absence of a characteristic style, is that such a bad thing?

 

For discussion...

 

 

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

 

I think this is largely right, but the interesting thing is, Pierre knows a British organ when he hears it, and he's not wrong.

 

So would I, but for the life of me, I can't properly explain it.

 

MM

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

 

I think this is largely right, but the interesting thing is, Pierre knows a British organ when he hears it, and he's not wrong.

 

So would I, but for the life of me, I can't properly explain it.

 

MM

 

Now here we have something quite interesting; it is true that it is not easy to explain

the tone of the british organ,with words, compared with the others.

But it indisputably stands out.

As for the style as a modern one, we should maybe bear in mind no style whatsoever

comes from the heaven; you cannot "design a new style" from scratch. You always

build upon the past, even if the aim is to innovate for the future. This means any modern

british style will be of necessity deeply influenced by the previous ones, from Father Smith (at least!)

up to Compton an the "Reform" that followed, with Hill, Willis I, Lewis, Hope Jones & al in between.

 

Pierre

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I'm getting the distinct impression reading between the lines that searching for a distinctly British style of organbuilding is like the Emperor's new clothes. Perhaps the only distinctive feature of modern British organ building is that there is no distinctive feature - every builder has something to offer, some build very good pastiches of 17th or 18th or even 19th century builders, some produce vanilla organs that sound good playing anything but their coherence comes from the brief to design something comfortable with playing anything as opposed to to design something in a British style. But if that's so, if "Britishness" as a characteristic style means the absence of a characteristic style, is that such a bad thing?

 

For discussion...

I'm not sure that it's not only MM who thinks there is no distinctive feature - and even he recognises that Pierre is right in being able to detect a "British" sound when he hears it. Perhaps these so-called vanilla organs (are they really so bland?) are the current British trend. Where else do you find them? Modern organs in Germany are similarly built with an eye to playing anything (except British music, which they do not handle terribly well), but they are not vanilla organs. So, if this vanilla characteristic is British, what causes it? I would humbly repeat my earlier suggestion that it is the degree of smoothness and blend that has always been a feature of British organs ever since the days of Harris and Byfield. Where else were organists taught always to draw the Open and Stopped Diapasons (or equivalent stops) together? Even today you will still come across pistons yielding an Open Diapason and Claribel/Hohl Flute, even sometimes where the sound is thick and stodgy, or where the diapason completely drowns out the flute. I can only assume that this is because organists have always been taught that this is what you do - and I feel fairly certain that this practice stems from the Baroque era rather than from any French Romantic influence.

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