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peter ellis

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When was it decreed that a good organ must have balanced choruses?

 

Probably at some point between 1947 and 1970 or so.

 

Yes, I agree that they are not necessary (in the same way thai it is not necessary to have G.O. reeds speaking on a pressure of 450mm w.g. *, or a Tuba which is capable of being heard, in single notes, over a substantial amount of the rest of the instrument. However, in the same way that an Arthur Harrison Choir Organ can enhance the accompaniment of a choir, it can be desirable at certain times.

 

... The plans for a staged implementation in 1929 are of interest - can we infer something about intended registration? All of the diapasons go in first - even the big one - and also the swell trumpet, but nothing above 2'. Presumably the kind of full organ produced by this was seen as an acceptable registration, but I don't hear many use it in the present day.

 

So the question is, what makes us think we know better now than our predecessors did then?

 

I do not believe that I made this claim. Again, it is a question of different tastes. This aside, it is not easy to dismiss the charge that many Arthur Harrison Trombe and Pedal Ophicleides are easily capable of making some of the most unmusical sounds ever heard. Yes, before you all rush to reply - of course I am aware that there are some exceedingly nasty chamades around. That on my own instrument certainly does not work for things such as trumpet or tuba tunes; but for use in chords and in many combinations, I would not swap it with any Tuba as a gift - even if it came supplied with a working mobile telephone number for Maria Sharapova+

 

I don't hear brass players complaining that their French Horn would be so much more versatile if it only sounded a little more like a trumpet; and my own dream instrument might well be that at St Ouen - but it doesn't follow that any instrument would be improved by being made to sound more like a Cavaille-Coll....

 

Please do not misunderstand me; I am able to appreciate far more than a plethora of mixture-work or a battery of chamades. One of my favourite cathedral organs to play (for either repertoire or service work) is that at Bristol. However, I have also enjoyed playing services on the cathedral organs of Coventry, Chichester, Exeter, Gloucester, Ripon, Salisbury and Wells (actually only slightly). In addition, I used to practise on the H&H at All Saints', Margaret Street (prior to its recent alterations), and, yes, I did like the Choir Organ. In particular I found the strings etherially beautiful. I also liked the G.O. reeds (which at the time were a family of fairly conventional Trumpets) and the G.O. and Swell chorus mixtures. As far as I was concerned, these mixtures topped the choruses quite satisfactorily, with no 'scream' or undue prominence.

 

However, if I may say so, it is clear that both you and I are each in the correct post, according to our preferences and expectations of an organ.

 

 

 

* King's College Chapel, Cambridge; G.O. reeds. At least they are enclosed in the Solo expression box.

 

+ A drop-dead gorgeous Russian tennis player - in my opinion. (I refer to the gorgeous part. That she is a Russian tennis player is beyond dispute....)

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PS: Has it ever occured to anyone, that many of the congregations in the industrial cities and towns, might well have been partially deaf?

 

PPS: Wasn't Lt. Col. George Dixon involved in guns and artillery?

 

I am not sure about your first statement, but I advanced the second myself on this board - in an attempt to explain Lieut.-Col. George Dixon's fondness for what I regard as generally the most unmusical chorus reeds I have ever played or heard.

 

Please note that I used the word 'generally'....

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I am not sure about your first statement, but I advanced the second myself on this board - in an attempt to explain Lt.-Col. George Dixon's fondness for what I regard as generally the most unmusical chorus reeds I have ever played or heard.

 

Please note that I used the word 'generally'....

 

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

 

 

Britain was very much the workshop of the world, as we know, but how many people on this board have ever ventured into a textile mill, a forge, a rolling mill. a boiler makers or a large sheet-metal fabrication factory?

 

I have, and most people worked in that sort of environment from a young age up to about 1965 or so. Textile mills, which were the main source of employment in the industrial north, were so noisy, the weaving sheds required that machine operators communicated by lip-reading. The noise level was probably 110dB or above, and the same applied to rolling mills and other metal bashing factories, as well as coal mines, tunneling operations and especially tank works and boiler-making factories.

 

Partial deafness was very common before workers were 30 years of age, (usually loss of high frequency hearing), and total deafness was particularly common among retired folk.

 

Add to this the noise of wartime battle, which many people experienced first hand, and it all adds up to a rather grim scenario.

 

It would therefore be fair to suggest that a high proprtion of congregants wouldn't have been able to hear bright upperwork, but they would hear (and feel) the lower pitches.

 

MM

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Like 'pcnd,' I can see enormous shortcomings in what Arthur Harrison did, but that also applies to the instruments of many other builders. Personally, I do not like terraced dynamics: the very root of the problem when it comes to balanced choruses. That was as much a legacy of the "olde-English" tradition, as it was the influence of Schulze, and in fact, the Schulze influence is very much at the heart of the Dixon/Harrison concept, save for the chorus and solo reeds, which hydraulic and then electric blowing made possible. (Hence those big Quint mixtures 'pcnd' mentions, which break back early to become a second-chorus in effect).

 

I suspect that an organ like Blackburn Cathedral would have totally confused Arthur Harrison, and Dixon, and Bonavia-Hunt, and Whitworth and all the others who thought they knew best what was musical.

 

... As I've bemoaned preciously, it's a pity we took the neo-classical concept into churches and especially concert-halls ill-equipped for it. The end result was often not very pretty or musical, and in many instances, it brought the classical ethos into disrepute. I also bemoan the fact that no-one has ever developed the solid tonal foundations of Lewis, and stitched old English Flutes to it. The only organs I know which hint at this, were either happy mistakes like St Paul's Hall, University of Hudderfield, or the dangerously few original Issac Abbott organs still left to us. (I suppose we also have to include Beverley Minster and the best organs of J J Binns).

 

MM

 

Much of what you say rings true to me, MM.

 

I certainly recognise the musical usefulness of many of the quiet registers on a typical Arthur Harrison organ. Notwithstanding, as you hint yourself, it is when one investigates the choruses and louder registrations that my enthusiasm begins to wane. I really do not want to be limited to a G.O. chorus up to Fifteenth only, having to resort to reeds as the only real sense of climax.

 

In some ways, it is easier to get closer to what I regard as a satisfactorily balanced diapason chorus on an instrument by FHW. This said, I am no more enamoured of his obsession with 17-19-22 compound stops than I am with Arthur Harrison's 'Harmonics'.

 

As an accompanimental instrument, I do not doubt that the Halifax organ is capable of producing many pleasant, even beautiful sounds. However, I remain convinced that the 'stand-alone' nature of the G.O. chorus, and the reeds of the Pedal and G.O., result in too many compromises to regard it as an effective solo instrument for much of the repertoire.

 

I have seen (and heard) the YouTube clips which Christopher Brown has posted and, whilst I enjoyed the playing, I did not particularly like the sound of the instrument. I know from experience that it is not always possible to make accurate judgements from a recording: however, I think that certain conclusions can be drawn; as already mentioned, the lack of a decent quint Mixture (and a balancing chorus - throughout the compass), the over-reliance on reeds and a lack of clarity in the Pedal Organ.

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I even wonder whether it was really in as bad a state as was suggested, or whether there was an underlying determination to have something more fashionable? There is a lesson in this, I feel!

 

It seems to me that relations with Abbott and Smith had broken down as much as the organ had. They were telling the church that the instrument was beyond repair but Pearson, the organist, certainly thought it was not in as bad a state as the organbuilders were making out.

 

Could Abbott and Smith have been letting the instrument fall into disrepair as a strategy for landing a juicy order for a rebuild? That might well have had the intended effect of nourishing a desire for something new and better - particularly in Bishop Frodsham's mind.

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

 

 

Britain was very much the workshop of the world, as we know, but how many people on this board have ever ventured into a textile mill, a forge, a rolling mill. a boiler makers or a large sheet-metal fabrication factory?

 

I have, and most people worked in that sort of environment from a young age up to about 1965 or so. Textile mills, which were the main source of employment in the industrial north, were so noisy, the weaving sheds required that machine operators communicated by lip-reading. The noise level was probably 110dB or above, and the same applied to rolling mills and other metal bashing factories, as well as coal mines, tunneling operations and especially tank works and boiler-making factories.

 

Partial deafness was very common before workers were 30 years of age, (usually loss of high frequency hearing), and total deafness was particularly common among retired folk.

 

Add to this the noise of wartime battle, which many people experienced first hand, and it all adds up to a rather grim scenario.

 

It would therefore be fair to suggest that a high proprtion of congregants wouldn't have been able to hear bright upperwork, but they would hear (and feel) the lower pitches.

 

MM

A good point, MM.

 

However, this does not explain the fondness of many gentlemen from this era for cultivating luxurious facial hair - nor even the predilection exhibited by many ladies for fabricating undergarments from crinoline.

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It seems to me that relations with Abbott and Smith had broken down as much as the organ had. They were telling the church that the instrument was beyond repair but Pearson, the organist, certainly thought it was not in as bad a state as the organbuilders were making out.

 

Could Abbott and Smith have been letting the instrument fall into disrepair as a strategy for landing a juicy order for a rebuild? That might well have had the intended effect of nourishing a desire for something new and better - particularly in Bishop Frodsham's mind.

 

It is also interesting to note Arthur Harrison's description of the state of the old instrument:

 

'... The tone has naturally suffered from these serious structural and mechanical defects, and much of it, particularly the reeds, has become thin and poor and is lacking in quality. The tone of the diapason or foundation work, and of the Pedal also, is specially weak and inadequate. ...' (My emphasis.)

 

Whilst this could represent the true state of the instrument tonally, it is interesting to note that he picks upon those items which are so distinctive about a vintage Harrison organ - the Pedal and Diapason foundation work and the reed quality (in the sense of timbre).

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I believe Dixon was a crack shot, but I'm not sure that he ever had much to do with big guns. He was certainly never in a battle.

 

Lord Dunleath cheerfully admitted to deafness caused by heavy artillery on Salisbury Plain. It's recorded that when our hosts installed the Fanfare Trumpet in the Ulster Hall, Belfast, they sat him in the middle of the gallery and fired it off, whereupon he jumped about six inches in his seat, said something like, 'Gad! I think we have something here!', and wrote the cheque there and then.

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I believe Dixon was a crack shot, but I'm not sure that he ever had much to do with big guns. He was certainly never in a battle.

 

It would be interesting to learn more of his military history - are you able to supply any further information please, David? (Other than the fact that Dixon served in what was formerly the Border Regiment.)

 

Lord Dunleath cheerfully admitted to deafness caused by heavy artillery on Salisbury Plain. It's recorded that when our hosts installed the Fanfare Trumpet in the Ulster Hall, Belfast, they sat him in the middle of the gallery and fired it off, whereupon he jumped about six inches in his seat, said something like, 'Gad! I think we have something here!', and wrote the cheque there and then.

However, as MM states, this may have resulted in a loss of perception of upper frequencies - not necessarily an inability to hear at any pitch (or at least an attenuation in auditory facility over a wide frequency spread).

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It would be interesting to learn more of his military history - are you able to supply any further information please, David? (Other than the fact that Dixon served in what was formerly the Border Regiment.)

 

 

However, as MM states, this may have resulted in a loss of perception of upper frequencies - not simply an inability to hear at any pitch (or at least an attenuation in auditory facility over a wide frequency spread).

This is a tremendously interesting and informative discussion, esp. for an American with very limited experience of AH organs. Perhaps it would be useful to set aside Redcliffe, Kings and the Abbey, as well as the rebuilds of FHW cathedral organs. For my taste, the typical AH production really does come off sounding like H-J with needles (various lovely effects that never add up) but absolutely never as musical and useful (notwithstanding the tierce mixtures) as FHW productions. Even HWII's job at Port Sunlight, which has "evolved" slightly beyond the old man's concepts, and with an also-ran Choir Organ, is so much more muscianly and useful than ANY typcial AH organ that I can think of.

 

It's hard for this particular American to grasp the envariable prejudice against Willis productions when my personal experience of them, FHW & HWIII, has been so rewarding.

 

Nothing here meant to offend, just my opinion.

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This is a tremendously interesting and informative discussion, esp. for an American with very limited experience of AH organs. Perhaps it would be useful to set aside Redcliffe, Kings and the Abbey, as well as the rebuilds of FHW cathedral organs. For my taste, the typical AH production really does come off sounding like H-J with needles (various lovely effects that never add up) but absolutely never as musical and useful (notwithstanding the tierce mixtures) as FHW productions. Even HWII's job at Port Sunlight, which has "evolved" slightly beyond the old man's concepts, and with an also-ran Choir Organ, is so much more muscianly and useful than ANY typcial AH organ that I can think of.

 

It's hard for this particular American to grasp the envariable prejudice against Willis productions when my personal experience of them, FHW & HWIII, has been so rewarding.

 

Nothing here meant to offend, just my opinion.

Not at all - it is interesting to hear of another perspective.

 

On balance, I would agree that I prefer the work of FHW (or Willis III) to that of Arthur Harrison, for many reasons. Not least that surviving examples of the work of the Willis firm seem to me to hang together as musical entities - with the occasional exception of the Pedal Ophicleide in smaller instruments*, and the fact that I do not like tierce mixtures.

 

 

 

* Truro Cathedral is a prime example of this.

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Not least that surviving examples of the work of the Willis firm seem to me to hang together as musical entities

I can't recall ever seeing any reference to Arthur Harrison playing the organ, whereas Father Willis gave recitals (e.g. one of the first recitals at Reading Town Hall).

 

Paul

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This is a tremendously interesting and informative discussion, esp. for an American with very limited experience of AH organs. Perhaps it would be useful to set aside Redcliffe, Kings and the Abbey, as well as the rebuilds of FHW cathedral organs. For my taste, the typical AH production really does come off sounding like H-J with needles (various lovely effects that never add up) but absolutely never as musical and useful (notwithstanding the tierce mixtures) as FHW productions. Even HWII's job at Port Sunlight, which has "evolved" slightly beyond the old man's concepts, and with an also-ran Choir Organ, is so much more muscianly and useful than ANY typcial AH organ that I can think of.

 

It's hard for this particular American to grasp the envariable prejudice against Willis productions when my personal experience of them, FHW & HWIII, has been so rewarding.

 

Nothing here meant to offend, just my opinion.

 

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

 

 

An equally interesting comparison could be made between the organs of Ernest Skinner, and those of G Donald Harrison, but that can wait as a discussion.

 

I have actually had very little exposure to the organs of HWIII, but I have certainly had quite a lot of exposure to the organs of Fr Henry Willis.

 

What I think we can say, is that the voicing from both camps; Harrison and Willis, was quite superb, but the concepts were radically different, even though they share certain characteristics at a superficial level. The trouble is, for me, that neither builder really understood the classical tradition; by which I do not mean the 'baroque' tradition.

 

Cavaille-Coll DID understand the classical tradition of France, because he worked with it and re-built a number of instruments from that tradition, built by such as Cliquot.

 

Fr Willis had absorbed the Gray & Davison approach, where the flues were relatively gentle and tierce mixtures quite normal. I don't think he ever felt that chorus-work should be very loud at all; no matter how extensive. Compare the full flues at St George's Hall, Liverpool with the sound of just the Great 16, 8, 4, 2.2/3, 2 and V rank Mixture at St Bart's Armley, (both heard in very resonant buildings), and there is just no comparison; the latter like canned lightning and totally dominant, even when the reeds are drawn.

 

Willis went the other way, as we know, with totally dominant reeds which blend particularly well. If there is a typical Willis shortcoming, it is to be found in a certain lack of tonal variety, because Swell and Great divisions are often very, very similar.

 

The joker in the pack was Robert Hope-Jones, with his "one man orchestra" approach. Whatever one says about him, he was right on the money in the pursuit of orchestral tone; all attempts at chorus-work being abandoned in favour of orchestral imitation. (He employed, among others, an ex-Willis reed voicer). It found favour with at least some of the organ establishment of the day, as we know, and co-incided with popular musical taste and the appetite for all things heavy, German and romantic. It was the age of Wagner, Brahms and Beethoven; not to mention Elgar and Parry among others.

 

It's very easy to be critical of Lt Col George Dixon and Arthur Harrison, but actually, they not only had to adapt to the fashions of the day, they were probably very much a part of it.

 

What we therefore see with Arthur Harrison/Dixon is an attempt to marry the chorus-power of Schulze, to the potent reeds of Willis, with a smattering of Hope-Jones style orchestral voices......as impossible as it is now seen to be undesirable.

 

The fact that it works to a large degree, and produced instruments of great accompanimental value, is really a tribute to the artistry of all those involved, but that isn't the same as liking what they did.

 

Having spent time in America, I can't help but think that Ernest Skinner did things rather better than Arthur Harrison, but that's a personal view perhaps. I find the Redcliffe organ to be a fine instrument by Harrison, but I would regard the Skinner organ at Yale as one of the great instruments of the world......that's the difference IMHO.

 

MM

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I'm glad you said what you did about Arthur Harrison vs. E M Skinner. I have thought the same for a long time, but have not felt it appropriate to say so on this forum. With respect, there are other jobs for comparison better suited for this discussion that the big Yale organ, which contained a lot of GDH/HWIII influence as well as GDH's tonal finishing. Did you ever notice that the Great Organ mixture scheme was copied from AH's RAH rebuild ? A peculiar bit of irony there. EMS organs are gorgeously finished and are, on the whole, less extreme (less H-J) than the AH/Col.D approach. You all know about the typically dead American church acoustics. On the whole, those buildings really couldn't take much more.

 

I don't think it's fair to compare FHW chorus work with Armley. What COULD compare to it ? There is only one Niagara Falls. The simple fact is that the old man never cared to erect a chorus structure the likes of which we WISH he might of done. The oft-mentioned criticism of Gt./Sw. sameness is one of the things I like best about his organs. It's for that same reason that build up is so natural on a C-C. I admit that FHW seemed to work with a rather limited colour palette. His sons and grandsons expanded that, each in their way. It's the manner in which a Willis organ plays MUSIC, even when it is on its own terms, that fascinates me. The fact that he was such a fine player is the key here; a fine player and a genius.

 

In my opinion, speaking strictly about English Romantic organ building, there was William Hill and there was Henry Willis. Everything else was a variation on the work of these two great artists.

 

The English organ building/organ playing establishment seems to have a problem with the name Willis. My second teacher, Alexander McCurdy, spent some time assisting Dr. Alcock just after the HWIII rebuild. Although unimpressed by the orchestral reeds (he was used to EMS colour reeds) he never stopped talking about Salisbury and later, meeting up in Liverpool with HIS teacher, Lynnwood Farnam (soooooooooo often mis-spelled) at the new organ in the cathedral there. He always felt that this particular HWIII organ was, quite simply, incomparable. My first organ teacher (a student of McCurdy) was present at the First International Congress of Organists and could never stop raving about Westminster Cathedral.

 

To put EMS back in this picture, I was a student in Paris during 1970 and spent a lot of time at St. Sulpice with the organ and its titulaire. When I returned to the states, I never thought to hear ANYTHING even remotely comparable to that famous instrument. And yet . . .

On a "dark and stormy night" I was taken by classmates to hear and play the EMS at the Girard College. Although one could point to influences in its design that were definitely Willis by way of GDH, the stop list and tonal finishing were by EMS. The organist, Harry Banks, insisted on it. The instrument is now greatly changed and the original voicing forever lost, but I heard and played it in its untouched, original state. I was so swept off my feet by the beauty of that organ that I had absolutely no doubt that it compared very favorably (although COMPLETELY differently) to St. Sulpice as a total art work. On another level, it was reminiscent of AH in its silky, silky smoothness and impecable finish.

 

I'm sure the board will be delighted if I stop now as my foot is falling asleep.

 

Karl Watson,

Staten Island, NY

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I can't recall ever seeing any reference to Arthur Harrison playing the organ, whereas Father Willis gave recitals (e.g. one of the first recitals at Reading Town Hall).

 

Paul

In his younger days, at least, it seem that Arthur Harrison was a quite passable player.

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However, if I may say so, it is clear that both you and I are each in the correct post, according to our preferences and expectations of an organ.

 

Possibly, but for the sake of perspective, my previous work horse was a Peter Collins, which I got on quite well with.

 

I also particularly admire the Cullercoates Lewis. All these instruments have their individual qualities. I would hope to approach each instrument on the basis of what can we get from it? Not, what can we not get from it. (I'm not suggesting anyone here would fall into that trap).

 

As an interesting spin-off: what makes a really bad organ......? I know a few, but the characteristics they share have little to do with style.

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I doubt you'll find much of that on this side of the water. If anything FW is idolised over here (not entirely without reason).

 

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

 

 

I don't idolise him. :blink:

 

Thin choruses and massive basses are not my favourite recipe, but I do like the reeds so long as they are not labelled Ophicleide.

 

MM

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Possibly, but for the sake of perspective, my previous work horse was a Peter Collins, which I got on quite well with.

 

I also particularly admire the Cullercoates Lewis. All these instruments have their individual qualities. I would hope to approach each instrument on the basis of what can we get from it? Not, what can we not get from it. (I'm not suggesting anyone here would fall into that trap).

 

As an interesting spin-off: what makes a really bad organ......? I know a few, but the characteristics they share have little to do with style.

 

Peter Collins - interesting. My own experience of the quality of his work has been somewhat uneven.

 

I like the Southwark Lewis immensely - although exactly how close it is to its original state (leaving aside the matter of the re-disposition of the Choir and Swell organs), I would not like to say. The Cullercoats Lewis I have only heard from a recording, so I cannot offer an opinion.

 

I too always try to approach each instrument with a view to discovering its merits. So far, there have been few times when I have found myself at a loss. One example is the Orgue de Choeur at Chartres Cathedral. This is, without doubt, the worst organ I have ever had to play.

 

Certainly, the several vintage Harrison organs (or at least those which retain a fair amount of their original character) which I have played, lead me to conclude that there are often many quiet effects of great beauty. However I cannot, in all honesty, say that I have found a musical use for the more extreme tonalities - the Pedal and G.O. reeds, the Choir (or Solo) Tubas, the large Pedal Open Woods or the large (leathered) G.O. Open Diapasons.

 

This aside, I do not believe that there has ever been a more ergonomically designed or more elegant console. I always thought that Willis III consoles, with their heavy ebonised woodwork, generally with their couplers as a long row of rocking tablets, switchplates for interchangable swell pedals and occasionally two or three dials for voltage or whatever else were both slightly ugly and less easy to work around.

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I don't think it's fair to compare FHW chorus work with Armley. What COULD compare to it ?

 

Well, quite. Succinctly stated.

 

In my opinion, speaking strictly about English Romantic organ building, there was William Hill and there was Henry Willis. Everything else was a variation on the work of these two great artists.

 

Indeed - I still feel that William Hill was (and possibly still is) under-rated. I have to say that I think Dixon was wrong - and fundamentally so. To my ears, the best work of William Hill is far more musical and versatile than that of Arthur Harrison. Please do not mis-understand me. I would not for a moment decry Harrison's voicing and finishing skills - I doubt that there are many examples of orchestral reeds by Hill which are on a par with those of Harrison or, for that matter, Willis II. But Hill's instruments as ensembles (and particularly his chorus reeds) are often so alive, so vital; quite different from booming Open Woods and opaque, harmonically dead Trombe. I even like the Tubas at Sydney Town Hall - although admittedly this is only judging from a good quality recording.

 

To put EMS back in this picture, I was a student in Paris during 1970 and spent a lot of time at St. Sulpice with the organ and its titulaire.

 

Would that be Jean-Jacques Grünenwald ? I have a CD of the organ at S. Sulpice, with him as soloist - partly repertoire and partly improvisations. In my opinion, the improvisations are superb. To be honest, I greatly prefer them to those of Dupré, which could occasionally sound somewhat academic. Technically brilliant, yes - but a little dull nevertheless.

 

 

Karl Watson,

Staten Island, NY

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

 

 

I don't idolise him. :blink:

 

Thin choruses and massive basses are not my favourite recipe, but I do like the reeds so long as they are not labelled Ophicleide.

 

MM

 

I do wonder what FHW was thinking when he voiced the Pedal Ophicleide for Truro Cathedral. I have played this organ on several occasions, for both recital and service work, and it is somewhat frustrating to have to reserve the only Pedal reed (on a seven-stop department) for use with the full organ; anything less and it is overwhelmed by this leviathan. The 32ft. Double Open Diapason (wood) is also disappointing. Some notes (low A, for example) are very lound and foundational, whilst others are virtually inaudible - and not just at the console.

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Well, quite. Succinctly stated.

 

 

 

Indeed - I still feel that William Hill was (and possibly still is) under-rated. I have to say that I think Dixon was wrong - and fundamentally so. To my ears, the best work of William Hill is far more musical and versatile than that of Arthur Harrison. Please do not mis-understand me. I would not for a moment decry Harrison's voicing and finishing skills - I doubt that there are many examples of orchestral reeds by Hill which are on a par with those of Harrison or, for that matter, Willis II. But Hill's instruments as ensembles (and particularly his chorus reeds) are often so alive, so vital; quite different from booming Open Woods and opaque, harmonically dead Trombe. I even like the Tubas at Sydney Town Hall - although admittedly this is only judging from a good quality recording.

 

 

 

Would that be Jean-Jacques Grünenwald ? I have a CD of the organ at S. Sulpice, with him as soloist - partly repertoire and partly improvisations. In my opinion, the improvisations are superb. To be honest, I greatly prefer them to those of Dupré, which could occasionally sound somewhat academic. Technically brilliant, yes - but a little dull nevertheless.

My teacher was Marcel Dupre.

 

Have to agree with you about the comfort of those consoles. One ought to have one "scaned" electronicly or some such for the exact dimensions.

 

It gave me quite a pain to hear that the present directors of H&H have abandoned those measurements.

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... As an interesting spin-off: what makes a really bad organ......? I know a few, but the characteristics they share have little to do with style.

 

This is an interesting question. Clearly it depends on what one looks for in an instrument.

 

It is not easy to give things in order of preference - so much is inter-dependent on other factors. However, amongst those features which I regard as contributing to a negative view of an instrument are:

 

Bad overall blend - a lack of cohesion in the ensemble.

 

Unsteady winding.

 

An uncomfortable or badly laid-out console. (Or even an inelegant console.)

 

Badly thought-out couplers. (Or a lack of useful couplers.)

 

A dearth of pleasing and useful unison-pitch stops, both for solo and ensemble use.

 

Tierce mixtures. (Well, this is after all a personal viewpoint.)

 

Quint mixtures which resemble the sounds made by depositing wine bottles in an empty recycling skip.

 

Orchestral reeds which disappear into oblivion on reaching C13 (from higher up the compass, naturally).

 

Strings which sound as if they were constructed from left-over micro-plumbing equipment.

 

Untidy consoles. (If one is a guest, it is not always appropriate to spend five minutes with a black bin-bag and some vigorous hand-action.)

 

Bristling * elderly female clergy, who wish to preside at a previously un-advertised Mass the moment one switches the organ on.

 

Pedal pipes whose scale would make a Harrison Open Wood look positively svelte.

 

Bad or uneven actions - of any type.

 

Pistons which think for themselves - and have a low boredom threshold.

 

G.O. 8ft. flutes which are either fat or wooly. (One example of my acquaintance went on to perform the somewhat more useful task of keeping our organ builder and his family warm over the Christmas break.)

 

So-called 'floating' reeds - or, worse still, entire divisions. There is nothing worse than either accidentally transferring everything off the lowest clavier, or leaving a loud solo reed drawn on one jamb - but apparently playable from the clavier on which one is about to give the chord for an a cappella choir motet....

 

An acoustic ambience which would make the RFH sound warm and fluffy.

 

 

 

* In both senses.

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My teacher was Marcel Dupre.

 

My apologies - upon reading your post again, I note that you wrote specifically '1970.'

 

 

Have to agree with you about the comfort of those consoles. One ought to have one "scaned" electronicly or some such for the exact dimensions.

 

It gave me quite a pain to hear that the present directors of H&H have abandoned those measurements.

 

I have a feeling that their draughtsman may recently have been sent, with calipers in-hand, to a few old H&H cathedral organs - with instructions not to return until he has the correct measurements written on the back of an envelope.

 

Whilst apparently the console at Saint David's Cathedral looks right but feels wrong, I have a suspicion that the consoles at Cirencester Parish Church and Saint Edmundsbury Cathedral are more akin to the 'old' consoles - say from around 1940 - 1980 or so.

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I'm glad you said what you did about Arthur Harrison vs. E M Skinner. I have thought the same for a long time, but have not felt it appropriate to say so on this forum. With respect, there are other jobs for comparison better suited for this discussion that the big Yale organ, which contained a lot of GDH/HWIII influence as well as GDH's tonal finishing. Did you ever notice that the Great Organ mixture scheme was copied from AH's RAH rebuild ? A peculiar bit of irony there. EMS organs are gorgeously finished and are, on the whole, less extreme (less H-J) than the AH/Col.D approach. You all know about the typically dead American church acoustics. On the whole, those buildings really couldn't take much more.

 

I don't think it's fair to compare FHW chorus work with Armley. What COULD compare to it ? There is only one Niagara Falls. The simple fact is that the old man never cared to erect a chorus structure the likes of which we WISH he might of done. The oft-mentioned criticism of Gt./Sw. sameness is one of the things I like best about his organs. It's for that same reason that build up is so natural on a C-C. I admit that FHW seemed to work with a rather limited colour palette. His sons and grandsons expanded that, each in their way. It's the manner in which a Willis organ plays MUSIC, even when it is on its own terms, that fascinates me. The fact that he was such a fine player is the key here; a fine player and a genius.

 

In my opinion, speaking strictly about English Romantic organ building, there was William Hill and there was Henry Willis. Everything else was a variation on the work of these two great artists.

The English organ building/organ playing establishment seems to have a problem with the name Willis. My second teacher, Alexander McCurdy, spent some time assisting Dr. Alcock just after the HWIII rebuild. Although unimpressed by the orchestral reeds (he was used to EMS colour reeds) he never stopped talking about Salisbury and later, meeting up in Liverpool with HIS teacher, Lynnwood Farnam (soooooooooo often mis-spelled) at the new organ in the cathedral there. He always felt that this particular HWIII organ was, quite simply, incomparable. My first organ teacher (a student of McCurdy) was present at the First International Congress of Organists and could never stop raving about Westminster Cathedral.

 

To put EMS back in this picture, I was a student in Paris during 1970 and spent a lot of time at St. Sulpice with the organ and its titulaire. When I returned to the states, I never thought to hear ANYTHING even remotely comparable to that famous instrument. And yet . . .

On a "dark and stormy night" I was taken by classmates to hear and play the EMS at the Girard College. Although one could point to influences in its design that were definitely Willis by way of GDH, the stop list and tonal finishing were by EMS. The organist, Harry Banks, insisted on it. The instrument is now greatly changed and the original voicing forever lost, but I heard and played it in its untouched, original state. I was so swept off my feet by the beauty of that organ that I had absolutely no doubt that it compared very favorably (although COMPLETELY differently) to St. Sulpice as a total art work. On another level, it was reminiscent of AH in its silky, silky smoothness and impecable finish.

 

I'm sure the board will be delighted if I stop now as my foot is falling asleep.

 

Karl Watson,

Staten Island, NY

 

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

 

 

Karl, don't ever worry about giving an honest opinon on the board. I don't think we are so territorial as to be offended by an alternative, international viewpoint.

 

Now I've highlighted a few of your comments in red for further clarification.

 

There ARE diapasons which compare to Schulze, and if you dig back among my posts, you will find reference to the organs of Charles Brindley; some of which were voiced by Karl Schulze, who stayed on in England after arriving in the UK as an employee (and relative) of Edmund Schulze.

 

T C Lewis also copied the Schulze style very successfully, while other builders made various attempts at creating a copy-Schulze instrument. (Eg:- Forster & Andrews at All Soul's, Haley Hill. Halifax)

 

Why is the Willis II instrument.....yes....Willis II instrument......at Liverpool Cathedral, so successful in so enormous a space and acoustic? (It all pre-dated Willis III in design, concept and most of the execution).

 

Answer:- The organ has large-scale diapasons with Schulze-style 2/7th mouths.....a very different approach to narrow-scaled Geigens blown hard, as favoured by Fr Willis.

 

The Arthur Harrison/Dixon approach was different. They wanted Schulze power and achieved it, but only by using increased pressures and leathering the No.1 Diapasons. That produces a hard, unsinging type of tone, which for me, is the achilees heel of all the big Harrison jobs of the period.

 

Whatever the precise details, the organ at Westminster Cathedral owes as much to T C Lewis as it does to Willis, and I don't know if Kerl knows this, but T C Lewis was virtually owned by John Courage (the mega-wealthy brewer), who donated the organ to the cathedral. So again, there are probably elements of Schulze, as at Liverpool. (I've never actually heard this organ, in spite of 20 years living in London).

 

G Donald-Harrison, although an ex-Willis employee, actually turned about face when he arrived in America, and actually introduced the T C Lewis type of chorus-work to create the very worthy American Classic.

 

The Schulze influence was also in the mind of Senator Emerson Richards at Atlantic City, for he stipulated a bold, Schulze-style chorus. Whether that was ever properly achieved, I am not sure, but clearly, the Schulze phenomenon hit America one way or another.

 

The following make for an interesting set of contrasts; all from You Tube, and from which, I think, it is possible to discern a certain common approach and/or source in the bold voicing of the flue-work

 

 

Schulze, St Bart's, Armley.

 

T C Lewis organ, tonally original, Ashton-under-Lyne

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8DPg39_g2E...feature=related Liverpool Cathedral - Willis II/III - very untypical flue choruses

 

Westminster Cathedral - Not your typical Willis chorus-work - Lewis influence?

 

I wish there was a decent You Tube recording of an original Charles Brindley organ from the 1870's to demonstrate the same thing, but unfortunately, there's only an old lady playing a quiet piece rather beautifully. Still, it's a quality sound.

 

 

The only thing close is a Brindley & Foster organ from the 1890's, which wouldn't have been voiced by Karl Schulze, but which is still bold enough to make the general point about the character of these instruments, before things took a decidedly orchestral turn after the turn of the century.

 

 

The point is, all these instruments owe nothing much at all to Hill, and are quite different to the instruments of Fr Willis.

 

 

MM

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