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Shrewsbury Abbey

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Here is one:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPnVuoqArXo

 

It is played well-detached; the tempo is not rigid. Hence, the music lives, breathes,

despite an actually very heavy, rich organ (like all organs Bach played...). All te voices

are recognizable, you can hear all the notes.

If you play this Legato, it becomes an unintelligible mess, the kind of things people

say they like it "because it is Bach", politely, while actually they are bored with it and

wait for the Widor Toccata which is due afterwards!

 

Pierre

 

In the case of this particular piece, neither would I play it legato throughout. However, I have got to 1'20" and I am already irritated by the performer's bizarre phrasing in the Pedal part (with almost every note detached) - this is virtually the other extreme. There is no sense of 'line'. Also, I would have said that his rhythm was unsteady - not 'flexible'. The semiquavers are often uneven - again, I regard this as a fault. The 'permanent' 32ft. reed is beginning to sound annoying - why have it on throughout the fugue? Now that the performer has reached the recapitulation, any sense of climax is missing, because the wretched stop has been sounding all the way through the performance.

 

With regard to the particular Bach fugue I mentioned, I still maintain that this piece is better served by a good, generally legato touch. Look at the scoring - no semiquavers; mostly crotchets and quavers.

 

I actually found his tempo (or perhaps pulse is what we are talking about) to be slightly wayward. As I wrote earlier, the music needs to breathe - with this I agree. But what I hear in this recording, is unsteadiness to a degree.

 

Sorry, but I would not want a copy of this recording as a gift.

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Your original statement that "the principle of pneumatic action is not to be questioned" has jumped forward two spaces, six to the left and turned around three times to get to this; the action is OK because this is what the music should sound like, and the music sounds like that because the action responds like that. The only alternative you admit is a chiffy neo-classical box of squeaks, which has nothing to do with the argument at all as far as I can tell.

 

That's not the debate we're having. Nobody disputes that pneumatic action is an acceptable way of making pipes sound, and indeed some of them last quite a long time with the right combination of weather, attention and luck. You said the principle of pneumatic action is not to be questioned. Therefore, would you, in all seriousness, build one from scratch today in a country with long-ish dry summers, long-ish centrally heated winters and about four weeks of moderately warm and humid weather between each? I sincerely hope not.

 

I think that before condeming all the alternatives as 'neo classical' you might address my earlier point; that the widespread adoption of the electropneumatic action happened because of the widespread difficulty, expense and inconvenience of having an action which was characterised by being slow in response, unpredictable on cold/hot/dry/wet days, and exceedingly complicated to fix should (say) something go wrong with one note of one coupler. Something better came along which kept the best features of the old and combined them with speed, reliability, convenience, compactness and a very low price.

 

(That's not to say that I'd bin every pneumatic action. I wouldn't. But I'm curious about why your defence of them has to go so far into the realms of ideology that it begins to lose credibility.)

 

Some excellent points, here.

 

I have yet to read a satisfactory explanation of why it is considered that air under pressure, actuating small motors (in the pneumatic sense), is able to give a superior (or at least more direct) control over pipe speech, as compared to any kind of electric action. I can see no logical reason why this should be so. I have not experienced the type of pneumatic action which allows me (should I wish) to control the speech, or initial transient speech, of a pipe.

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"initial transient speech"

(Quote)

 

This is the problem: as the aim, in late-romantic playing, is to avoid those transient altogheter,

you are still seeking something else here.

 

Pierre

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"initial transient speech"

(Quote)

 

This is the problem: as the aim, in late-romantic playing, is to avoid those transient altogheter,

you are still seeking something else here.

 

Pierre

This still does not answer my question, though!

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Just a small contribution to the question, how much sense does it make to restore pneumatic organs (knowledge of German required):

 

 

As shown in the clip, this is a Walcker organ in the Christ Church (Christuskirche) in Heidelberg, Germany. The work is being conducted by the Lenter organ company. Electric action, added in the 1950s, has been given up for the original tubular pneumatic. As part of this, a new pneumatic console was built - reconstructed according to original plans still available. Cost of the restoration: 390.000 €

 

Some more info here:

http://www.ekihd.de/gemeinden-heidelberg/c...lcker-orgel.htm

and here:

http://walckerfreunde.de/wb/pages/intro.php

 

Not being that much of a friend of pneumatic action myself I'd nevertheless say that this project makes a lot of sense. Can't say though, whether this is also the case in Shrewsbury Abbey.

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Some excellent points, here.

 

I have yet to read a satisfactory explanation of why it is considered that air under pressure, actuating small motors (in the pneumatic sense), is able to give a superior (or at least more direct) control over pipe speech, as compared to any kind of electric action. I can see no logical reason why this should be so. I have not experienced the type of pneumatic action which allows me (should I wish) to control the speech, or initial transient speech, of a pipe.

 

I would even go further and question the ability of tracker action to transmit full control. This is already lost at large trackers, where torsion of action parts becomes quite an issue. Not to talk about wires involved, like in larger Klais organs of past decades.

I'm glad to see that tracker is not regarded as the one-and-only action type anymore - well, talking about continental Europe. Britain may never have been endangered to this, as the wipe-out of EP and TP instruments did not happen there in a wa y it did e. g. in Germany.

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I would even go further and question the ability of tracker action to transmit full control. This is already lost at large trackers, where torsion of action parts becomes quite an issue. Not to talk about wires involved, like in larger Klais organs of past decades.
I'm glad to see that tracker is not regarded as the one-and-only action type anymore - well, talking about continental Europe. Britain may never have been endangered to this, as the wipe-out of EP and TP instruments did not happen there in a wa y it did e. g. in Germany.


Some good points, here. I have also wondered this myself. In any case, the ability to control the initial transient speech of a pipe is likely to be of little use in any music faster than adagio.

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Some good points, here. I have also wondered this myself. In any casem the ability to control the initial transient speech of a pipe is likely to be of little use in any musc faster than adagio.

 

Hi

 

But it can be very useful in such slower moving music - especially where pipework has significant "chiff", which can be smoothed out (given, of course, the right sort of voicing and good action).

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Hi

 

But it can be very useful in such slower moving music - especially where pipework has significant "chiff", which can be smoothed out (given, of course, the right sort of voicing and good action).

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

Although, there is still the thought that the initial transient 'chiff' was originally regarded as a fault in voicing. Personally, I would not wish to do this - even in a slow piece. It could be argued that a possible vocal equivalent would be a regular glottal stop, or perhaps attempting to 'sit' on a consonant (which is extremely difficult in most cases).

 

I would rather have the correct pitch and timbre of the note straight away, as opposed to the organ resembling some kind of anonymous telephone call....

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Guest Patrick Coleman
I would rather have the correct pitch and timbre of the note straight away, as opposed to the organ resembling some kind of anonymous telephone call....[/font]

B) Too right.

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I would rather have the correct pitch and timbre of the note straight away, as opposed to the organ resembling some kind of anonymous telephone call....

 

Yes with caveats. As with most words, there is always an initial transient; even a Harrison leathered diapason has it. To create a sound wave without the beginning of that wave breaking on a solid surface somewhere is more or less impossible. What I call the "Peter Collins Cough" (expects to have to delete that later) will be the first thing to be eradicated when I come to power.

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Your original statement that "the principle of pneumatic action is not to be questioned" has jumped forward two spaces, six to the left and turned around three times to get to this; the action is OK because this is what the music should sound like, and the music sounds like that because the action responds like that. The only alternative you admit is a chiffy neo-classical box of squeaks, which has nothing to do with the argument at all as far as I can tell.

 

That's not the debate we're having. Nobody disputes that pneumatic action is an acceptable way of making pipes sound, and indeed some of them last quite a long time with the right combination of weather, attention and luck. You said the principle of pneumatic action is not to be questioned. Therefore, would you, in all seriousness, build one from scratch today in a country with long-ish dry summers, long-ish centrally heated winters and about four weeks of moderately warm and humid weather between each? I sincerely hope not.

 

I think that before condeming all the alternatives as 'neo classical' you might address my earlier point; that the widespread adoption of the electropneumatic action happened because of the widespread difficulty, expense and inconvenience of having an action which was characterised by being slow in response, unpredictable on cold/hot/dry/wet days, and exceedingly complicated to fix should (say) something go wrong with one note of one coupler. Something better came along which kept the best features of the old and combined them with speed, reliability, convenience, compactness and a very low price.

 

(That's not to say that I'd bin every pneumatic action. I wouldn't. But I'm curious about why your defence of them has to go so far into the realms of ideology that it begins to lose credibility.)

 

Thinking about this in terms of the Shrewsbury organ, I'd be uncomfortable about installing a t/pn action in a known damp environment. The changes in humidity could easily play havoc with the regulation of the action. It's much easier to keep electrics clear of water, but some thought into the type of components, position and maintenance of them ought to happen. I love tubular pneumatics but would never wish to follow a path that created inbuilt unreliability just to make a point, whatever that point was.

 

AJS

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The "response" you expect today (repetition in rapid traits, ornamentation etc) is not the kind

of which the organists of the late-romantic period wanted.

 

The time was one of slow, Legato playing

Pierre

 

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

 

What an interesting statement.

 

Now let's just consider a few alternatives.

 

Perhaps we should first define what we mean by "late-romantic." Are we talking about things as late as Reger or Vierne?

 

Surely, these two composers and their music would have to be included?

 

If that be the case, then we must include music up to about 1920 and beyond; the seed-change away from high romaticism probably around 1930 onwards; allowing of course for a few pioneers.

 

Are we to seriously believe that the music was always played slowly before 1930? (As a guide date)

 

Are we to assume that performers didn't care if an action was responsive?

 

Are we to believe that "presto" was really "Moderato", and "Largo" was like waiting for a bus between notes?

 

I know this not to be true, whatever they may have done in Germany with their big rheumatic actions, or in France with those worn, badly adjusted Barker machines.

 

Why should the Americans develop lightning-fast EP actions in the 1920's? (Wurlitzer springs to mind as one of the very best).

 

Never heard the repetition and action-speed of a Marenghi fair-organ, playing original rolls of the period? (Faster than a speeding train).

 

Never heard Fox play Pietro Yon or the Bossi 'Giga?'

 

Never heard Quention Maclean rattle his way through Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" or "The old man of the mountain?"

 

Never experienced the lightning-fast responses, trills and repititions of a J J Binns pneumatic-action in pristine condition?

 

The re-build at St.Bart's, Armley is a perfect example.

 

The American organ-builders got in there early with fast EP actions, but the British developed very good pneumatic-actions as early as the 1880's, and in their ultimate development, incredibly good, fast, exhaust-pneumatic actions. (Norman & Beard)

 

To turn the whole subject on its head, why should that supreme....and I mean SUPREME.... virtuoso, Edwin Lemare, say at a dinner held by the Bradford Organist's Association, when asked what type of action he preferred, reply with the following:-

 

"Of all action types, I prefer a good tracker-action."

 

As for controlling pipe-speech with a tracker-ation, I'm not saying it isn't possible, but I've yet to come across one where such actualy IS possible. The organ I play, with a modern suspended tracker-action, allows no control whatsoever, but it feels good, and more importantly, it is absolutely predictable and even of touch.

 

I defy ANYONE to make even a single note speak differently,even using the left-hand to control a single finger of the right hand, but I'm sure there are people who THINK they can make a difference.

 

I've never regarded this as some sort of limitation, because musical playing starts and finishes with the sileneces between the notes, rather than whether a note starts slowly or quickly. In fact, it's just the same as playing the harpsichord, and I don't hear harpsichordists complaining about it.

 

I'm afraid I'm with "pcnd" on this one, because electrifying a pneumatic action , (assuming a good key action with a regular degree of "top resistance"), cannot make things any wrose, and may make them better.

 

The important thing about electrical anything, is the cost saving involved when set against complex pneumatics and the machinery of tracker.

 

As an organist, I don't usually care what action I play upon, so long as it responds, repeats adequately and is even and regular throughout. A slight delay is not a problem, and God knows, there is no greater delay than a detached console, or pipework which spreads out horizontally over considerable distances.

 

MM

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

 

I defy ANYONE to make even a single note speak differently,even using the left-hand to control a single finger of the right hand, but I'm sure there are people who THINK they can make a difference.

I've never regarded this as some sort of limitation, because musical playing starts and finishes with the sileneces between the notes, rather than whether a note starts slowly or quickly.

As an organist, I don't usually care what action I play upon, so long as it responds, repeats adequately and is even and regular throughout. A slight delay is not a problem, and God knows, there is no greater delay than a detached console, or pipework which spreads out horizontally over considerable distances.

 

MM

 

Briefly: Full accordance with these statements!

 

I came across organs where speech control was possible (mostly small instruments, suspended single-arm action, renovated 17th c and reconstructions) and was educated on such gems, but on most (trackers) it was not possible.

What I like with trackers, too, is the contact with the mechanism which makes you feel on the key if the pallet did its job or not. But I already mentioned the large Klais/Steinmeyer/Marcussen organ array of St. Michaelis Hamburg: A beautiful keyboard feeling without any pressure point simulation - it was just long keys and well-adjusted feathers. Regarding feeling and responsibility: I DID NOT MISS ANYTHING! Sure, there was acoustical delay, but as MM pointed out, this may appear on large trackers, too, certainly if you are sitting in a "Spielschrank" in the organs basement, whre you can here an Oberwerk etc. just as a reflection from the walls and vaults, not directly. (MM, you may remember the Bavo/Haarlem Console Situation...!)

 

But this has led as away from Shrewsbury, sorry.

 

Another thing, maybe off-Shrewsbury too: You are aware that there are instruments (mostly medium sized) which where originally full TP, but the first stage was converted to tracker during renovation to ensure reliability. Only the last pneumatic stage (motors) where retained, so that "tubular response characteristics" and the cone chests (talking about continental organs) were kept to somewhat extent.

 

It was said that humidity is an issue in Shrewsbury (a growing one? see the news....). Then one should talk more liberally about technological changes.

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Indeed, MM,

 

Late romantic and post-romantic organ music can be very fast:

 

 

.....With smooth attacks. This said, it is true even a Diapason Phonon has transient attacks ! You simply

hear less of them than in others cases.

 

As for those "would-be-controlable" transient named "Chiff", I always considered them as a fad.

But when you hear the CD Mr Urbaniak and Rost recorded on the Casparini organ of Adakavas,

an organ with much transients, you note the difference with the "modern chiff" !

While this one resembles to something like this:

 

......(plopss).......tik........TSCHACK!!!!......tschukk...... etc, rather at random than "controlled", what you hear

with the Casparini organ is rather a matter of articulation, each pipe attacking with a conson, this conson

being never louder as the note itself, and strictly the same with each note:

 

tatatatatatatata....

 

It is quite different, and the very worf "chiff" becomes inaccurate.

 

See here about the CD recorded at the Casparini organ of Adakavas:

http://www.vargonai.lt/cd_urbaniak_rost_adakavas_en.htm

 

Pierre

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Indeed, MM,

 

 

As for those "would-be-controlable" transient named "Chiff", I always considered them as a fad.

But when you hear the CD Mr Urbaniak and Rost recorded on the Casparini organ of Adakavas,

an organ with much transients, you note the difference with the "modern chiff" !

 

Pierre

 

 

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

 

I absolutely agree Pierre, and the organ I play has a delightful Gedact 8ft, with just the tiniest hint of transient which articulates without being obtrusive. It's a very fine borderline musically. There is a flute register at the Bavokerk with something similar, but it's the only stop on the organ like that. Everything else is so smooth and silvery.

 

I recall a typical "fad" organ from the 1960's, with so much transient and such wide-open voicing, it would probably have been possible to accompany a full church with just the Great 8ft and 4ft flutes......simply awful.

 

Meanwhile, back at Shrewsbury, what is the possible objection to a modern, reliable eelcrification of the action?

 

My one reservation concerns the Norman & Beard origins, for although they made very good pneumatic actions, they can be a bit slow in repetition even when electrified. I remember tryng to play the Dupre "Noel variations" after Chriustmas Eve, Midnight Mass at St Margaret's, Ilkley, (4 - manual H,ill,Norman & Beard rebuilt byJohn Jackson),when I stood in for the injured organist for some months. I should have tried it on the organ beforehand, but as usual, everything was achieved in a rush. Even with newly electrified action, the remaining pneumatics simply couldn't repeat fast enough in the Toccata, and it sounded distinctly messy as a result.

 

In fact, I doubt that the new(ish) EP action is any quicker than the old pure pneumatic, but it was probably the most cost-effective route to take.

 

MM

 

MM

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... Meanwhile, back at Shrewsbury, what is the possible objection to a modern, reliable eelcrification of the action? ...

 

MM

Nothing whatsoever, as far as I am concerned.

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

 

My one reservation concerns the Norman & Beard origins, for although they made very good pneumatic actions, they can be a bit slow in repetition even when electrified.

 

I suggest this has nothing to do with Norman and Beard and everything to do with the firm who electrified it, what transmission system they chose, whether or not the final stage was releathered, and if so in what thickness material.

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I suggest this has nothing to do with Norman and Beard and everything to do with the firm who electrified it, what transmission system they chose, whether or not the final stage was releathered, and if so in what thickness material.

The few Hill (pneumatic) jobs known to me from this period have their entire underactions (one or two sets of diaphragms and main pull-down motor) set up externally to the soundboards (possibly Ilkley would have been this way in 1901, MM). If Shrewsbury is similarly designed, it would be interesting to know what proposals have been made regarding electric conversion (and the extent to which any existing pneumatics, appropriately restored, would be retained) in view of the reportedly extreme vulnerability to "climatic derangement" (and lack of accessibility) of this instruments mechanism at present.

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I suggest this has nothing to do with Norman and Beard and everything to do with the firm who electrified it, what transmission system they chose, whether or not the final stage was releathered, and if so in what thickness material.

 

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

 

You may well be right, because another organ re-built by the same builder, but this time by J J Binns, had a similar limitation of repetition speed. Knowing how good and fast Binns actions are, this came as a surprise to me.

 

The trouble is, I'm never at the coal-face, so to speak, and it's so easy to assume things at the console.

 

Oh well, I guess that puts paid to my idea of using water buffalo skin at Shrewsbury.

 

Maybe water-rat?

 

MM

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

 

You may well be right, because another organ re-built by the same builder, but this time by J J Binns, had a similar limitation of repetition speed. Knowing how good and fast Binns actions are, this came as a surprise to me.

 

The trouble is, I'm never at the coal-face, so to speak, and it's so easy to assume things at the console.

 

Oh well, I guess that puts paid to my idea of using water buffalo skin at Shrewsbury.

 

Maybe water-rat?

 

MM

 

I read somewhere that when J.J. Binns died, they found a rhinoceros hide in his store. I wonder what he was going to do with that.....

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Here is something fully "Post-romantic", with another kind of attacks, as worthwhile

as the( true!) baroque ones in the Casparini organ:

 

 

There are no "good" nor "bad" periods !

 

Pierre

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I suggest this has nothing to do with Norman and Beard and everything to do with the firm who electrified it, what transmission system they chose, whether or not the final stage was releathered, and if so in what thickness material.

Not enough bag I reckon. Or, the mistaken 70's/80's idea of egg wash as a preservative.

 

Anthony

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I read somewhere that when J.J. Binns died, they found a rhinoceros hide in his store. I wonder what he was going to do with that.....

 

 

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

 

Hey, don't knock it. I had a pair of shoes made from Buffalo hide, which took a bit of walking-in to say the least. After tramping the equivalent of a full North American plain, they finally fitted my feet. They slowly moved down market over a period of 25 years....best shoes to good shoes - good shoes to old shoes - old shoes to shabby shoes.....shabby shoes to garden shoes......they didn't actually die, I just got rid of them.

 

Those pneumatic motors might have been a bit slow, but any organ using hide from rhinocerousesses would NEVER require re-building....unfortunately, they would also have been largely unpalyable for the first 150 years.

 

More seriously, I recall reading somewhere, that the very good Norman & Beard pneumatic action was a development of an Italian player-piano mechanism, and who happened to operate out of a workshop in Old Bath Street, Clerkenwell, (then the big Italian quarter), but the Italian family- firm of Chiappa & Sons, who made splendid barrel-organs, player-pianos and fair-organs.

 

It was the fair-organ makers who totally perfected lightning fast pneumatic-actions, and the church-organ builders who probably seized upon their clever innovations.

 

MM

 

 

PS: I believe Chiappa are still in existence at the original premises in Eyre Street, making it the oldest firm in the area.

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The fine 1911 Hill organ at Shrewsbury Abbey is one hundred years old this year and definitely feeling its age. It just about survived the Christmas services, but the combination of a century of Abbey flooding, heating problems, lack of humidity (when the Abbey isn't flooded!), grime and virtually no maintenance over the past hundred years means that it's come to the end of its working life. And so a major project is planned to restore this wonderful instrument back into full health. In addition, since when it was originally installed a number of stops were "prepared for" but never actually installed, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to complete the instrument to its designer's dream, whilst making subtle improvements to later additions that on balance weren't very successful.

 

Here's the current specification, with suggested amendments in italics:

 

Couplers

Swell to Pedal

Swell to Great

Swell to Choir

Swell octave

Swell suboctave

Choir to Pedal

Great to Pedal

Choir to Great (never part of the original plan but useful especially if a Choir Tuba is to be added)

 

Pedal

Open Wood 32 (new, prepared for)

Open Diapason 16 (A)

Violone 16 (from Great)

Bourdon 16 (B )

Octave 8 (A)

Bass Flute 8 (B )

Principal 8 (new, not prepared for but suggested for brightening the tone)

Superoctave 4 (new, from Principal)

Trombone 16 (new, prepared-for)

Trumpet 8 (new, from Trombone)

 

Great

Double Open Diapason 16

Open Diapason I 8 (added in 1939, possibly from the famous HNB at Glybourne; intended to be OD2 but it turned out to be an oversized OD1- revoice to blend better with chorus or replace)

Open Diapason II 8

Hohl Flute 8

Principal 4

Harmonic Flute 4

Twelfth 2 2/3

Fifteenth 2

Mixture III 17.19.22

Posaune 8 (Added later and needs revoicing up as a Choir Tuba or down as a chorus reed, since at the moment it's neither one thing or t'other)

Clarion 4 (either independent or taken from the revoiced Posaune if that doesn't end up becoming the Choir Tuba)

 

Swell

Bourdon 16 (prepared for)

Open Diapason 8

Stopped Diapason 8

Salcional 8 (sic)

Voix Celestes 8 TC

Principal 4

Fifteenth 2

Mixture II 19.22 (add a third rank for extra brightness)

Contra Oboe 16 (originally Oboe 8 but unsuccessfully transposed in 1945 - either retain at 16 foot or transpose back to 8 foot pitch and add a new 16 reed)

Oboe 8 (prepared for, or use the existing 16 contra-oboe pipes as above)

Horn 8 (added 1945, second-hand using rather battered pipes, slightly vulgar)

Clarion 4 (prepared for)

Tremulant

 

Choir

Lieblich Gedeckt 8

Dulciana 8

Viol di Gamba 8

Suabe Flute 4

Nazard 2 2/3 (HNB pipes added in 1958 - not very useful so may consider replacing by a Gemshorn 4)

Piccolo 2 (HNB pipes added in 1958)

Clarinet 8

Orchestral Oboe 8

Tuba (new or revoiced Great Posaune, also to be playable from Great)

Tremulant

 

A few stops were added in the 1940s and 1960s but these have not been particularly successful and did not complete the original vision. Surprisingly for a moderately large romantic instrument, the organ never had any tremulants, something that would need to be addressed. The above specification essentially completes the original scheme, with the addition of a Choir Tuba plus 8 and 4 foot Pedal diapasons, 8 foot Pedal reed and 4 foot Great reed. Originally the Pedal was scheduled to have a Cello 8 which would probably have been extended from the Great Double Open Diapason 16 (actually the Pedal Violone) but the additional borrowing probably will not enhance the Pedal's current weediness so much as adding a 4 foot and a couple of reeds. In fact even though the organ is open to three sides of the Abbey, it does sound rather muffled and does not project well either into the nave or the choir, and the Choir box, buried under the Swell is almost inaudible. So it is a good opportunity to revisit the internal ordering of the instrument, and hopefully by rearranging its structure it will project far more confidently, just as Malvern Abbey and Armley have hugely benefited from internal reordering.

 

The current charge pneumatic action is sluggish and inaccessible, so on grounds of cost, ease of access, and not least to ensure that the innards are less susceptible to flooding, the most logical thing seems to be to convert the instrument to electropneumatic or direct electric action. That would also enable the "full complement of playing aids" including playback to be fitted - the vision is for to develop the Abbey as a centre of musical excellence, and it would be useful both for teaching and to allow playback of the organ whilst the many tourists who visit the Abbey are looking round. Hopefully once this scheme is realised the Abbey will once again be the proud custodians of a magnificent organ capable of leading the next few generations of musicians and worshippers in this glorious 900 year old building.

 

Contrabombarde

 

I'd like to return this to the original topic as I think discussing the action is going up a blind alley. Knowing the action's provenance will inform the best direction to take. It could well be that different components come from the various rebuilds and don't really work together. You need somebody far more knowledgeable than me (I'd suggest somebody like Gross Geigen) to investigate this action in detail before advising options. Until then, everything is based on supposition.

 

I don't know this organ at all but I have read about a lot of schemes that aim "to restore this wonderful instrument back into full health" and "complete the instrument to its designer's dream" and ended up doing nothing of the sort. Organists' Review is littered everywhere with articles/advertorials of such projects. The devil is in the detail in these sort of schemes and it is worth getting it right. You have to leave aside your prejudices and likes/dislikes to complete an organ to somebody else's vision. It is not an easy task. Such a project is a journey at every level - technical, musical, outlook - and the rewards are rich; but I have found there are few people (especially in the UK) that are really committed to take such a journey.

 

If you really are genuine in "completing the instrument to its designer's dream", it is really important to understand every aspect and the style of the organ you're aiming to recreate and know how everything in it fits together.

 

On the face of it, the proposed scheme seems pretty sensible but I'd say the first consideration is to investigate the structure of the organ to see whether the long-hoped-for completion is technically feasible. I've come across organs with entire "prepared for" divisions... but nowhere to put them!

 

The proposed scheme seems to suggest, with its 4 swell reeds, that some sort of separate swell reed chest is required. Is this chest already there? Is there space in the swell box for this? Was this part of the structure of the organ in the first case?

 

If it isn't, then you need to consider very carefully whether you really are completing the organ to the original planned specification.

 

The next issue is the wind system. What reservoirs are there in the organ? What is their history? What divisions do they supply? My suspicions are raised here because of the stated lack of tremulants on the organ - original Victorian builders rarely included tremulants if there was just one reservoir in the organ as it would affect the entire organ. Tremulants that are on Victorian organs with one reservoir have usually been fitted later (although I'm sure somebody will come back with some organ that proves I'm wrong on this point).

 

If there is to be a new separate reed chest for the Swell Organ, you'll probably need a second swell reservoir. Where will it go? If you throw out the existing reservoirs in the organ in preference to a system of several modern single-rise regulators, are you really "completing the instrument to its designer's dream"?

 

Similarly the Great Reeds/ Choir Tuba item. This will require a separate soundboard if you want them playable from the Great and Choir keys, which, ignoring important stylistic considerations for a minute, will lead to questions about a different wind pressure as well, which means you'll need to think carefully about the wind system again. Was this part of the original scheme? The (utterly magnificent IMO) Hill organ at Eton has a Great reeds to Choir transfer - and very useful it is too - but the reeds have their own soundboard.

 

Pedal Octaves and Super Octaves are not part of any Hill 1911 scheme and are entirely inappropriate. I doubt they would add value, except in an attempt to play the organ in a neo-classical manner which is foreign to this style of instrument. If you want more weight on the Pedal Organ, I would suggest you look at the solutions Hill used and do something similar - the Pedal Trombone and a 32ft Open Wood are more appropriate suggestions. A Pedal 4ft Principal will be a weak and disappointing stop if it is buried with the rest of the pedal organ at the back of the organ because its sound won't get out. At best it'll be carried on stops beneath it and will only add some harmonic interest to these rather than provide any drive or power.

 

If the Pedal Principal isn't situated with the rest of the Pedal Organ, then where is it going to go? It's going to need its own soundboard, action, the wind supply will need to be worked out... you get the picture?

 

These are all general aspects before we get into the detail. If you're aiming to reconstruct ranks you'll need to get all the aspects of these ranks right - the scaling to other ranks, construction details, finishing and how they fit into the tonal picture of the organ. This is still regarded as quite an unusual request in some quarters and requires a certain knack to get organ builders to respond appropriately to your wishes - but the results can be extremely fine if the builders share your vision - and a mongrel if they get it wrong. One very good option is to find ranks of suitable provenance and include them instead of creating from fresh.

 

Following on from pipework considerations, the action will need careful thought after that. Voicing characteristics changed with the introduction of pneumatic actions from the "quick and dull" speech of early English organs to the slower, hornier speech of late Victorian and Edwardian organs. Again, understanding the stylistic considerations of the organ will inform decisions here.

 

Finally, I would say that it is best to go for a good layout and good design at the expense of a few ranks here and there. Yes, there are nice-sounding organs that are badly laid out and designed but they are the exception rather than the rule. If you want a good organ, then good design and layout is the starting point.

 

However, this shouldn't be read that the organ shoudl be re-ordered, especially as the organ is reported to sound muffled and it doesn't project well. I think it's worth investigating why it isn't speaking clearly. There could be a number of reasons - such as wind leaks, poor conditions of soundboards and actions, or the placement of the organ in the building or the building's acoustics. It may not be a layout issue. If the layout of the organ has been compromised through numerous rebuilds, then maybe there is good reason to re-consider a re-ordering - or to remove additions. Again, it needs somebody knowledgeable to survey it before decisions can be made. Certainly the Armley project (a transplanted organ) was considered very carefully before any decisions were made.

 

This is where my unease about this scheme surfaces. On the one hand, it talks about "completing the instrument to its designer's dream" and yet within almost the same breath it seems to be sanctioning a complete internal redesign, with a new action, a new wind system and quite possibly new soundboards. It looks to me more like a (conservative) rebuild than a completion of an original scheme.

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