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David Coram

The Worst Organ In The World

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Think I've just played it. And you have to be so NICE about it when the vicar (invariably) comes up to you and sings its praises. Then, you leaf through the tuners' book and become genuinely astonished to find that it has recently been rebuilt by someone you previously respected as a craftsman. This one couldn't summon enough action wind to get more than four notes at a time down (you couldn't play a scale at Grade 4 speed so appalling was the response), and has been added to so much that there are 4 different soundboards for 6 stops on the Great total. The Sw has had an extra octave of Oboe pipes put in for use with the Suboctave coupler in quite the most ingenious way I have ever seen. Full organ is basically 3 stops - they shout their heads off while the rest do absolutely nothing at all. No reservoirs - it all runs straight off the blower, and wind is fed by several lengths of tumble drier hose.

 

This could be the only time in my life a 20 year old Allen sounds like a more attractive proposition. What broke my heart was it was in such a glorious building with a 3 second echo.

 

So, could this be the worst organ ever - anyone know any even worse - any amusing anecdotes please?

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The worst belgian organ builder passed last year.

He tuned a 20 stops organ in two hours, "fixed" problems

with a hammer. SHTONK SHTONK, that's it my dear friend.

He built neo-baroque screaming machines whose action was

made with bicycle brakes cables. Any organ that happened to fall

between his hands is today Totalschade.

 

Another catastrophe was when Franz-Xaver Wetzel, former director

and main builder for Gebrüder Link in their Namur's workshop, was

expulsed from Belgium after WWI. This outstanding firm fell in the

hands of Lemercinier, who systematically destroyed baroque organs

to replace them with bad pneumatic ones -if I say bad myself...-, leaving

not a simple old pipe behind him. These massacres lasted from about 1920

up to the 60's...

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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You are both wrong. The worst organ ever made exists in the church of St. Andrews, Owslebury, Hants. David - I'm sure I'll be able to push a weekday service your way for you to play it. At least you'll get paid. I could go on about it's many failings but suffice to say that every capable organist who has played it has unhesitatingly said it is the worst organ they have ever come across.

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
Think I've just played it.

 

 

So, David, where is this organ?

 

I took down once that might have been a contender. It was in St.NMary's Radstock, Soemrset. It had been installed by Rushworth and Dreaper in the 1970's with tubular-pneumatic action!!

 

According to the tuners book, some bit o0r o0ther was always cyphering.

 

The case had to be see to be believed. There were a large number fo zinc fronts, no0n eof them anything to do with the organ - neither ogirinal or speakers. In order to stay up, they had their feet cut off and they sat over 4" nails into (rough)softwood frames.

 

The chests and about half the piework were from a small Norman and Beard organ c.1890 - quite nicely made.

 

The Great boasted a Blockflute which turned out to be a harmonic flute, un reconstructed ui.e. the name was for 'designer' appeal.

 

The Swell had a pleasant Oboe, re-named (for the same reason as above) krummhorn. Thnaks goodness i9t wasn't a Krummhorn proper, the organm would have sounded even worse. It took up a vast amount of space, considering there were only 11-13 stops altopgther (I write without notes to hand). It sprawled along virtually then whole of an otherwise attractive North Aisle. Needless to say, the paper specification was thoroughly baroque - the Great had a III Mixture and the Swell had a Sesquialtera to go with its #krummhorn'. The 4' flute on the pedal (rather predictably) was called 'Nachthorn'. I'm

 

The (factory) workmanshsip was respectabvle, nothing fancy. the installation workmanship was barely credible, bnearing in mind that money must have changed hands at some point. Some of the pipeworks was rather nice.

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I took down once that might have been a contender.  It was in St.NMary's Radstock, Soemrset.  It had been installed by Rushworth and Dreaper in the 1970's with tubular-pneumatic action!!

 

Ah, the magic words... Rushworth & Dreaper. I don't think I've ever played an organ by them that I didn't despise. Not really really bad organs, just soulless, pointless things.

 

Is anyone able to contradict me and point me at a good example of their work?

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
Think I've just played it.

 

 

So, David, where is this organ? Don't tease us with three-quarters of the story!

 

You ask for other nominations:

I took down one about eight years ago that might have been a contender. It was in St.Mary's Radstock, Somerset. It had been installed by Rushworth and Dreaper in the 1970's with tubular-pneumatic action!!

 

According to the tuner's book, some bit or other was always cyphering.

 

The case had to be seen to be believed. There were a large number of zinc fronts, none of them anything to do with the organ - neither original or functional in any way. They were huge (many of them much longer than the pipes inside the organ) they had been brushpainted battleship grey with (I seem to remember) thick brush-painted post-box-red mouths. In order to stay up, the tops were held up by twists of wire into the back of each pipe and at the bottom the tips of their feet had been roughly cut off, they sat loosely over 4" nails into rough (in all senses of the word) softwood frames. It was all so unbelievably badly done that I felt obliged to stop dismantling early on in order to take photographs!

 

The chests and about half the pipework were from a small Norman and Beard organ c.1890 - quite nicely made.

 

The Great boasted a Blockflute which turned out to be harmonic flute pipes, un -reconstructed i.e. the name was for 'designer' appeal only and bore no relation to either tone or construction. The Swell had a pleasant Oboe, re-named (for the same reason as above) 'Krummhorn'. Thank goodness it wasn't a genuine Krummhorn, the organ would have sounded even worse.

 

The job itself took up a vast amount of space, considering there were only 11-13 stops altogther (I write without notes to hand). It sprawled along virtually the whole of an otherwise attractive North Aisle. Needless to say, the paper specification was thoroughly Baroque - the Great had a III Mixture (to go with its Blockflute) and the Swell had a Sesquialtera to go with its 'krummhorn'. The 4' flute on the pedal (rather predictably) was called 'Nachthorn'. I'm sure that nobody involved with the organ had ever heard let alone seen genuine Nachthorn pipes.

 

The (factory) workmanshsip was respectable, nothing fancy. However, the 'installation' workmanship was barely credible, bearing in mind that money must have changed hands at some point. Some of the older pipework was rather nice and I have since reused much of it.

 

I was curious to know where the basis for the organ had come from. I wrote a polite letter to Alastair Rushworth to obtain this information but never received a reply. If he'd seen the organ for himself, it might well be that he suspected my motives in asking!

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I also have a contender - a 'temporary' organ installed in a local church due to the dismantling of the large three-clavier instrument, which was suffering from dry rot.

 

It was provided by a gentleman whose training was not in organ building, but in the field of civil engineering, I believe. Nevertheless, he has had an organ building business for many years.

 

The organ was clothed in some old vestry panelling and situated in the south nave aisle. There was a stop-key console - I think that it had two claviers. There were, as far as I can remember, no thumb pistons, but there may have been a few pedal pistons. There was no swell-box. Most of it was extension. The tuning was largely suspect and the sound was execrable.

 

I was booked for a 'St. Cecilia Service' a few years ago and had given the final voluntary as the Final from Vierne's Sixth Symphony - before anyone had told me on what I would be playing. As far as I knew, the old pipe organ was still in situ and playable. By the time that I got to the church and discovered the truth, it was too late to do anything, since the porgrammes had been printed. I just had to make the best of it.

 

It sounded dreadful - and as if it had been tuned to some previously-unknown temperament. Needless to say, I declined to repeat the experiment the following year.

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You ask for other nominations:

I took down one about eight years ago that might have been a contender.  It was in St.Mary's Radstock, Somerset. 

 

This has now gone - replaced by an electronic.

 

AJJ

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
This has now gone - replaced by an electronic.

 

AJJ

 

 

 

You might have read the whole of my posting! I know it has gone - I took it away!.

P.

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Hi,

 

I'm sure that all of us can think of a paricularly disgusting organ that we would like to nominate as 'worst ever'. However, I'd hazard a guess that what all of these nominees have in common is that they have either been radically rebuilt, or else were constructed from the remains of an older insrument. I would be very surprised if any organ in its original condition, no matter how weedy, boring, sluggish of action, badly balanced etc, could ever make a worse sound than a truly incompetently executed rebuild.

 

For what it's worth, my nomination in this category is Christ Church, Wharton, Cheshire (NPOR D08196).

 

Christmas greetings to all,

 

Paul.

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Paul Morley said:
....For what it's worth, my nomination in this category is Christ Church, Wharton, Cheshire (NPOR D08196).

 

Oh my God.

 

I looked this one up - the specification is fairly un-remarkable but the four-line description below the stop-list is horrifying - blu-tac? - hacksaws?

 

I will not ask you to reveal the identity of the organ builder.... I note that this information is not provided on the NPOR entry.

 

:P

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Regarding Christ Church, Wharton,

 

The builder in question is thankfully no longer practising.

 

I supplied the NPOR update, only the edited highlights made it onto the website.

 

I belive that the instrument is now all but abandoned, a clavinova being used for Sunday services - a considerable improvement, no doubt!

 

Cheers,

 

Paul.

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Mmmmmm!!

 

I can think of any number of truly awful organs, but perhaps the one which most un-impressed me was that in the Methodist Church, Otley, Nr.Leeds; originally built, and not changed (so far as I am aware) by Laycock & Bannister (now defunct).

 

Sadly, the organ has quite a large specification....flues, reeds, a bit of upperwork....the usual sort of thing.

 

It has ONE nice rank, but I forget what it is. The rest is just a scratchy mess of a sound, with coarse reeds, indistinct diapasons, pointless flutes and upperwork which appears to not make the slightest difference when added.

 

It is an object-lesson in where romanticism eventually took us, but sadly, even transcriptions would be wasted on this utterly awful instrument.

 

MM

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Ah, the magic words... Rushworth & Dreaper. I don't think I've ever played an organ by them that I didn't despise. Not really really bad organs, just soulless, pointless things.

 

Is anyone able to contradict me and point me at a good example of their work?

 

Hmm.... their revoicing at St Peter's Bournemouth wasn't bad...

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So, David, where is this organ? Don't tease us with three-quarters of the story!

 

 

I'd better not!!! It was made by a company called Smith & Foskett, and parts of it were voiced by one Mr Bonavia-Hunt who produced a quite magnificent Open Diapason No 1. The later additions were clearly, um, done to a budget.

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
I'd better not!!!  It was made by a company called Smith & Foskett, and parts of it were voiced by one Mr Bonavia-Hunt who produced a quite magnificent Open Diapason No 1.  The later additions were clearly, um, done to a budget.

 

 

Your organ (if it is not one and the same) shares all the above attributes with St.George's Kidderminster. The awful stuff there was not by any of the above-named, but by Mr.Laurence Snell of Tenbury Wells who added the excruciating 'Choir' 'organ' (sic!).

 

Actually, St.George's Kidderminster organ underwent a thorough rebuilding by Trevor Tipple a couple of years ago and is now amazingly transformed. It is a very successful and respectable organ now.

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Hmm.... their revoicing at St Peter's Bournemouth wasn't bad...

 

Hmmmm.... I disagree (as usual....) - in my view, this instrument has lost its soul. The GO reeds are neither one thing nor the other (the attack is also bad on these two stops), the Pedal reeds are not particularly good - the 32p reed is a waste of space - in the nave it sounds like an edgy flue. The Cor Anglais is virtually inaudible (I doubt that Arthur H left it like that). Then there is the GO OD I - which I never used, even with a full church. It forms no real part of the chorus.

 

The console (I know, it does not count as voicing) is execrable - it looks cheap, plastic and very nasty. After the elegance of the H&H attached console, it just looks dreadful.

 

Yes, I know the budget was not large at the time and that a detached console was specified to alleviate problems of balance but I still think (as does a colleague who had many lessons on the old H&H) that this organ has been largely spoiled.

 

It does have some nice sounds for accompanying the choral services (most of which, I suspect R&D did not touch), but I found it distinctly limited for recital and voluntary work - particularly when heard from the nave.

 

I was also slightly amazed to read in the current issue of C&O, the R&D rebuild of the Whiteley/Wm. Hill at Chester Cathedral described as 'sympathetic'. Whilst I realise that they were probably doing what they were asked to do by the then incumbent organist, I am not convinced that this organ has not also been spoiled. The Solo Organ is rather untypical, as (now) are the GO and Swell choruses. The console is, I think, spoiled by the absurd number of pistons (unless they have been rationalised recently).This poor organ also had to do without a decent GO flue double for decades after the rebuild - this is absurd, since it probably had a perfectly good specimen before (I did not hear it in its previous incarnation).

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Ah, the magic words... Rushworth & Dreaper. I don't think I've ever played an organ by them that I didn't despise. Not really really bad organs, just soulless, pointless things.

 

Is anyone able to contradict me and point me at a good example of their work?

I walked into Guildford Cathedral a while back while someone was playing the organ. My immediate impression was "that Full Swell sounds quite nice". I was quite looking forward to hearing the Full Organ until I realised that what I was hearing was Full Organ. (BTW, I'm not implying it's anything like the worst organ in the world.)

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Are you sure it was the full organ?

 

I have played this organ (and heard it from the nave) a few times and thought that it was rather loud - certainly quite loud enough for the building.

 

Geoffrey Morgan did once say to me that he could hold a full nave together in a hymn on the Swell Cornopean and both octave couplers.

 

Although I do not particularly like the work of R&D, I did find this quite a pleasant organ - and comfortable to play.

 

St. Andrew's, Plymouth is also a good instrument - and also more than adequate in this large church.

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
.

 

I was also slightly amazed to read in the current issue of C&O, the R&D rebuild of the Whiteley/Wm. Hill at Chester Cathedral described as 'sympathetic'. Whilst I realise that they were probably doing what they were asked to do by the then incumbent organist, I am not convinced that this organ has not also been spoiled. The Solo Organ is rather untypical, as (now) are the GO and Swell choruses. The console is, I think, spoiled by the absurd number of pistons (unless they have been rationalised recently).This poor organ also had to do without a decent GO flue double for decades after the rebuild - this is absurd, since it probably had a perfectly good specimen before (I did not hear it in its previous incarnation).

 

Thje pistons were pretty awful last time I played at Chester. White engraving in black square buttons - worst of both worlds. The square buttons bite the fingers and white engraving soon fills up with crud and becomes brown engraving on nearly black buttons - a colour scheme worthy of Douglas Adams. In order to make a little extra console space, the Tremulants have been put on 'dashboard style' square (coloured and illuminated) switches. Apart from the look being a little out-of-place, these do not bother me much, but the removal of the Solo to Swell coupler, for the same reason, did when I came to record some Lemare!

 

pcnd is right about the Great 16' flues. Roger Fisher had the Double Diapason removed in the R&D rebuild. There were previously two 16' flues. Eventually a Double Open was put back, but I don't think it is either the original one or on the same chest. I think the original chest position (for the trebles) was used by an extra mixture. Since R&D times, the Solo Krummhorn has reverted to a pretty normal Clarinet - useful, since it is with the main organ and the Choir one isn't. Mind you, these were characteristic things to do at the time.

 

For all that, IMHO it is still a very fine organ indeed. It's bad points: The player has one or two balance problems - the Choir being a little distance away and the heavy pedal stops are not just distant but a little slow to sound. I don't think R&D ruined it though. Maybe unofficially, Roger Fisher revoiced a number of stops himself over the years. David Wells has a good grip on it now.

 

For all that I've said above, I like it and rate it highly. Those of our readership that don't rate cathedral organs on principle can shake their heads and hold their opinions unchanged. This organ gives me most if not all of what I hope for in a big instrument. Good choruses, real colour and power, exciting (and unique) case and good tone-carrying throughout the building.

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk

Re:Guildford

 

R&D were so keen to continue their connection with this instrument that in the most recent rebuild they (by all accounts) severely undercut all other firms in order to keep it. As it happened, the rebuilding and tonal improvement work turned out particularly well, not least because Geoffrey Morgan kept a very keen eye on them. There is a hillarious story which I'd better not repeat which explains why the tuning contract was then (almost immediately) changed to B.C.Shepherd & Sons. Since their take-over, the Guildford organ has sounded very well.

 

Anyone unfamiliar with this instrument should either go and hear it in the flesh or (dare I say, better?) buy Geoffrey's superb recording of it done just before he moved to Christchurch Priory. The disc is called 'English Contrasts' (VIF records) and it includes some classic performances. All-in-all, an object lesson on how to use a cathedral organ!

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Insofar as balance is concerned, I believe that Roger Fisher used to insist on his assistants wearing headphones whilst playing. These were connected to the cathedral's p.a. system. (The headphones - not the assistants.)

 

Whilst I would agree with Paul that in some respects it is a nice organ, I think that its essential character has been lost.

 

Roger Fisher made several changes to the scheme as left by R&D in 1969. Four of the mixtures were reduced in ranks and their composition re-cast, the GO Twelfth became a Tierce (1 3/5). The 2p Spitzflöte became an Open Flute, The Open Diapason III was given Spitzflöte resonators from C25, the Stopped Diapason a 19th Century ex-Walker treble (of wood). As Paul mentions, the Solo reeds were also changed - the ex-Hill Orchestral Oboe rank originally used for the Schalmei was felt to be unsatisfactory, so a rank of clarinet pipes (provenance not given) was substituted.

 

Then there was the Pedal Organ - the independant Principal (in the North Transept) was replaced by a stop derived partly from the Fifteenth (presumably in the main case) and partly from the GO Open Diapason II.

 

The Choir Organ lost a Hohlflöte 2 and the second Larigot (1 1/3) and re-instated a Hohl Flute 4 (presumably part of the original rank) and a Fifteenth (that must be really useful when accompanying the choir....)

 

Some of these changes were effected shortly after the completion of the original work, whilst some were carried-out in 1992.

 

Personally, I just think that this organ has been messed around with too much!

 

Why, incidentally, would one desire fourteen (square) pistons for each division? (particularly when this exceeds the number of stops on at least two of the departments).

 

Perhaps David Wells has managed to return it to a more sensible state!

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Re:Guildford

 

R&D were so keen to continue their connection with this instrument that in the most recent rebuild they (by all accounts) severely undercut all other firms in order to keep it.  As it happened, the rebuilding and tonal improvement work turned out particularly well, not least because Geoffrey Morgan kept a very keen eye on them.  There is a hillarious story which I'd better not repeat which explains why the tuning contract was then (almost immediately) changed to B.C.Shepherd & Sons.  Since their take-over, the Guildford organ has sounded very well.

 

Indeed - but I believe that the tonal alterations were, in any case, limited to the re-balancing of the GO and Swell four-rank mixtures, the replacing of the Positive Nason Flute with a Principal and the substitution of the Solo Piccolo by a second-hand Vox Humana.

 

I have also heard the story and, yes - it is best not repeated....

 

:P

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Indeed - but I believe that the tonal alterations were, in any case, limited to the re-balancing of the GO Mixture IV and the substitution of the Solo Piccolo by a second-hand Vox Humana.

 

I have also heard the story and, yes - it is best not repeated....

 

:P

 

Hi

 

I don't know how significant it is, but the Guildford organ was NOT built by R&D - it was a substantial rebuild of a Nicholson of Bradford, rebuilt by Harrisons as a 4 manual, that was originally in the Rosse Street Baptist Church, Shipley, Yorkshire. R&D rebuilt and extended it in the cathedral. (See NPOR and/or the current booklet from the Cathedral bookshop).

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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This is certainly true - the nucleus of a four-clavier instrument of forty-one stops was used in the present organ.

 

However, comparing it with my memory of the R&D at St. Andrew's, Plymouth (and allowing for the point that Guildford Cathedral is almost certainly considerably larger than its previous home) I suspect that most ranks were re-voiced and possibly in some cases, re-scaled.

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