Jump to content
Mander Organ Builders Forum

Merton College


Barry Oakley
 Share

Recommended Posts

Thanks for the link, Barry. Interesting stoplist: two undulants, a Great with 2 Open Diapasons and mutations (that must be quite rare in the UK), no Dulciana (doesn't worry me). Bigger than the Christ Church Rieger and a much better acoustic.

 

Anybody know what's happening to the old Merton organ? I quite liked it when I gave a recital there in 1980.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes - interesting organ - be interested to see how it comes out.

 

Also interesting to see the 2 8ft flutes make an appearance on the Great organ again - this tended to be a speciality of Arthur Harrison. This alongside a Jeux de Tierce...

 

An interesting, rather impressive looking, case design too - it will be interesting to see how it comes out.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for the link, Barry. Interesting stoplist: two undulants, a Great with 2 Open Diapasons and mutations (that must be quite rare in the UK), no Dulciana (doesn't worry me). Bigger than the Christ Church Rieger and a much better acoustic.

 

Anybody know what's happening to the old Merton organ? I quite liked it when I gave a recital there in 1980.

 

 

I'm not sure, but if you take a look at the construction pictures they could reveal a clue. One picture in particular would seem to show trays of pipework suggesting that some of the pipework may have been salvaged from the earlier organ. It does not look to be of new manufacture.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm not sure, but if you take a look at the construction pictures they could reveal a clue. One picture in particular would seem to show trays of pipework suggesting that some of the pipework may have been salvaged from the earlier organ. It does not look to be of new manufacture.

I don't agree. From the photos, it certainly looks like all the pipework (so far) is new. Trays for storing pipework are nothing new in workshops. I'm impressed by the size and scale of some of the soundboards - this is an organ of some scale.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes - interesting organ - be interested to see how it comes out.

 

Also interesting to see the 2 8ft flutes make an appearance on the Great organ again - this tended to be a speciality of Arthur Harrison.

 

Or even part of the 19th Century French fonds - Principal/Harmonic Flute/Stopped Flute/Gamba - dependng on how they are treated of course.

 

A

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

... Also interesting to see the 2 8ft flutes make an appearance on the Great organ again - this tended to be a speciality of Arthur Harrison. This alongside a Jeux de Tierce...

 

A jeu de Tierce (singular) *. [Pedant mode off.]

 

Two G.O. flutes - an Arthur Harrison speciality? Not really, Hill † and Walker both did this too; even FHW, on some of his larger instruments.

 

However, it is refreshing to see a good number of unison tone-colours. I am also not bothered by the absence of a Dulciana - a somewhat over-rated stop, as far as I am concerned.

 

 

 

* Remember also that a Larigot is a desirable (but admittedly not indespensable) ingredient in a petit jeu de Tierce. The grand jeu de Tierce comprises Fonds at 16, 8, 4, 2ft., [Gros Nasard 5 13 ft], Grosse Tierce 3 15 ft, Nasard 2 23 ft and Tierce 1 35 ft.

 

† Although occasionally, Hill's second flue was a Cone (or Pierced) Gamba, as opposed to a flute.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Or even part of the 19th Century French fonds - Principal/Harmonic Flute/Stopped Flute/Gamba - dependng on how they are treated of course.

 

A

 

Indeed - it will be interesting to see how well they function in ths way, once the instrument is completed. It certainly looks to be a well thought-out design.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't agree. From the photos, it certainly looks like all the pipework (so far) is new. Trays for storing pipework are nothing new in workshops. I'm impressed by the size and scale of some of the soundboards - this is an organ of some scale.

 

To be fair, there are only one or two photographs which show the pipe trays, so it is not easy to form an opinion regarding the provenance of the pipework.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 year later...

I caught the second half of the BBCR3 Choral Evensong from Merton yesterday. This probably isn't the appropriate place to discuss the choir. The organ in the hymn and Britten voluntary sounded full and rich. Anyone else hear it?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I caught the second half of the BBCR3 Choral Evensong from Merton yesterday. This probably isn't the appropriate place to discuss the choir. The organ in the hymn and Britten voluntary sounded full and rich. Anyone else hear it?

 

Ah - so that is where it was from.

 

I listened until part-way through the Nunc Dimittis, so I did not hear much of the organ. The acoustic sounded more dry than I would have expected from this chapel.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I did hear most of the broadcast while I was fiddling about with MM's photos for another thread and getting the links to work.

 

The organ sounded good but the Britten isn't a piece I like at all. To my probably ignorant ears it does nothing, goes nowhere and there are plenty of organists who could improvise a theme, variations and fugue to much better effect. Most of the organ's colours weren't needed for the piece and I should like hear some better repertoire played on it. [i do know why the piece was chosen...].

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Britten has usually received unsympathetic comments. It is so odd: he wrote marvellously, idiomatically, and with originality, when using the organ to accompany a choir. The cameo appearances of a chamber organ in the War Requiem are no less striking.

 

However, this piece may have suffered from being composed too quickly and with no time for adequate reflection. Perhaps, he just did not care deeply enough about it. He didn’t compose any other solo organ music which he allowed to be published in his lifetime; this could be telling.

 

I feel that the programme for the service this week could not have been chosen with the demonstration of the potential colours of this instrument to the fore. This is a shame. There were possibilities in the psalm (and hymn) accompaniment and I have heard the Jackson Canticles registered with much more magic and the Prelude with more drama. Perhaps the recording had a part to play, as pcnd5584 has implied; it sounded to me as if the mikes were rather distant from the organ. The sound seemed to change, once the Fugue had begun; was the dreaded compression once more in evidence, or had the balance been tweaked ?

 

We will obviously need to wait awhile for considered judgement.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Britten has usually received unsympathetic comments. It is so odd: he wrote marvellously, idiomatically, and with originality, when using the organ to accompany a choir. ...

 

 

I am not sure about this. I find the organ accompaniments to the hymn God moves in a mysterious way in Saint Nicolas to be aurally awkward, perhaps even indicating that he was unaware of the ability of the organ to supply gravitas through sub-unison clavier tone. Furthermore, I also dislike the accompaniment to his Jubilate Deo, in C major. Aside from the fact that the middle crescendo is difficult to pull off either smoothly or convincingly*, I find some of the figuration sounds unconvincing.

 

Neither am I particularly happy with the organ part of Rejoice in the Lamb (which I find to be a strange piece). Parts of it seem unnecessarily fiddly for the end result. I would question that it is entirely idiomatic - original, yes.

 

 

* I have heard it said that he simply wished to push the technique of the player to the limit. However, I remain unconvinced that this is the case here. Compare this accompaniment to Mulet's Tu es petra, to see how carefully someone who actually played the organ wrote. It falls brilliantly under the fingers. Note how, consistently, each time a hand has to change position, either a lower or upper note (depending on the direction in which the hand has to travel) is omitted, to enable a fluent, accurate transition to be made, without blurring the sound, or clipping notes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Each to his own - we've been here before - but I've always admired Britten's organ accompaniments, especially the Jubilate and Rejoice in the Lamb. There are some tricky patches in the Jubilate, but I find it more organ-friendly than, say Kelly in C Magnificat and no more hairy than the introduction to Stanford in A. The crescendo is difficult - what usually works for me is to start it as bright as one can get away with, let the choir do most of the crescendo (a lot of which is inherent in the music) and do what I can with the odd tap on the swell pedal and possibly a couple of pistons en route. It helps to have more than one enclosed department. I love Rejoice in the Lamb and particularly how well the organ illustrates the various movements. It's not hard to play (or sing), especially compared with something like the Chichester Psalms. Noyes Fludde is another example of the imaginative and effective use of the organ.

 

I like playing Britten's accompaniments because I find them fun and a refreshing change from a good deal of the rest of the repertoire, much as I love it. We had a modest celebration of the Britten centenary last Sunday and did the Missa Brevis (first performance in Newfoundland, probably the first liturgical performance in Atlantic Canada). A wonderfully effective piece, in my opinion. It went down well, too. The Dean thought it was wonderful (Chorus: Yes! Yes! With all our faults we love our Dean) and there were a lot of nice comments from the congregation. We're doing the Jubilate this Sunday.

 

I don't think it can be disputed that Britten's church music broke new ground and that no subsequent composer in the genre could ignore him.

 

I have to say that I played the P&F on a Theme of Vittoria, but I still can't make much of it!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Each to his own - we've been here before - but I've always admired Britten's organ accompaniments, especially the Jubilate and Rejoice in the Lamb. There are some tricky patches in the Jubilate, but I find it more organ-friendly than, say Kelly in C Magnificat and no more hairy than the introduction to Stanford in A. The crescendo is difficult - what usually works for me is to start it as bright as one can get away with, let the choir do most of the crescendo (a lot of which is inherent in the music) and do what I can with the odd tap on the swell pedal and possibly a couple of pistons en route. It helps to have more than one enclosed department. I love Rejoice in the Lamb and particularly how well the organ illustrates the various movements. It's not hard to play (or sing), especially compared with something like the Chichester Psalms. Noyes Fludde is another example of the imaginative and effective use of the organ.

 

 

As you say - each to his own. (Although I am afraid that I regard Britten as greatly over-rated. Give me Howells, or Elgar any day. I am not sure how one could state that Britten was 'Britain's greatest composer' * when compared with The Dream of Gerontius, or even certain works by Bax, or Walton. For me, Belshazzar's Feast towers over anything Britten wrote - including the War Requiem - which frankly leaves me cold.)

 

I should rather play Stanford, in A any day. I have never found the first page to be particularly troublesome. The clavier change to the Choir Organ at the end of the top line of the second page I regard as more awkward to pull off cleanly - particularly since it happens from one swiftly moving quaver to another - and one also has to remember either to play the pedals up an octave for a few bars, or to find time to cancel the Pedal 16ft. stop(s).

 

I would agree with you regarding Kelly, in C - although I view this setting with distaste, in any case. I once had to play it at Christ Church, Oxford - having learned it that morning. I thought that the effort involved greatly outweighed the end result.

 

The Britten Jubilate central crescendo: I am not sure this works. it really needs to be kept quiet (and more foundational) at first. In any case, since our third division here is a superb (but unenclosed) Positive Organ, one has to rely on pistons and, as you say, a few quick pokes at the Swell pedal. The problem with that here is that (thankfully) the connection is mechanical - but, as a result, heavy; so if the foot movement is too quick, or not quite forceful enough, nothing happens at all - or the shutters open fully, bounce back on the 'stop', then partly close again.

 

Again, it is, as you imply, a matter of taste, but I found playing the accompaniment to Bernstein's Chichester Psalms considerably more satisfying than accompanying Saint Nicolas, for example.

 

 

 

* I believe this was the BBC Music magazine - but it might have been an announcer on Radio Three or Four.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Like the Durufle Requiem, I found playing the Chichester Psalms to be very satisfying, but I wouldn't consider that the latter were well laid out for the organ. I find Britten's organ writing to be much more idiomatic.

 

I had an unnerving experience the first time I played the Bernstein. It was in St. Magnus Cathedral. The choir was in the crossing and the organ is between the third and fourth bays of the quire, speaking west from behind a carved screen which might be mistaken for a reredos. In order to see the conductor, I had a closed circuit television, and in order to keep in time I had a set of headphones. There was no opportunity for a rehearsal with the percussionist - Greg Knowles of the Fires of London. Since Greg is a stunningly brilliant player, this was no problem, but on the first chord he whacked everything in sight, creating a sound like a bomb going off. The microphone took unkindly to this, went on the blink and I had to take off the headphones and play a little ahead of what I was hearing from the choir all the way through.

 

Actually, I heard a few bombs go off after I moved to Belfast and Greg's opening cannonade was a good deal more impressive, although less structurally damaging....

 

It's more difficult to do the crescendo with a Positive Organ, but with a brightly voiced enclosed choir, one can get a good, long crescendo. It's maybe a matter of adding fullness rather than brightness to an extent, the brightness being there to start with but kept down by the swell boxes. I suppose a programmable crescendo pedal might be a help, but I don't trust ours. Did Britten write the Jubilate for the Rothwell or the Harrison at Windsor (if, indeed, he gave any consideration to what the organ was like)? Walford Davies used to enthuse about the wonderful crescendo obtainable with the Rothwell system of stop-keys, although I bet he wouldn't have liked the Britten Jubilate!

 

There are places in Howells where a marked crescendo is impossible for anyone not possessing the limbs of a Hindu god. I presume he knew that the crescendo was inherent in the music (as it is in the vocal parts of the Britten).

 

Gerontius, yes; Belshazzar's Feast, yes; but did either composer quite manage something like that again? Leaving aside the War Requiem (which I think is marvellous, although I know it's not universally admired), let's not forget Peter Grimes, which re-established English opera at a stroke and remains a major player in the repertoire. OK, I'm an East Anglian so I'm prejudiced. I can shut my eyes, listen to the Sea Interludes and imagine myself on Aldeburgh beach watching the sun glint on the grey expanse of the North Sea, listening to the wind in the rigging and the waves on the shingle, all under those broad East Anglian skies. (The opening of Vaughan Williams' Norfolk Rhapsody has a similar effect). I don't think either Elgar or Walton ever scored a bulls-eye quite like that, or that they set precedents which no one following could ignore. And Britten made music much more accessible to a wide swathe of folk. Youth music would not be what it is today without Noyes Fludde. I was involved in quite a few first performances of Peter Maxwell Davies works involving young people (the part of Widow Grumble in Cinderella was written for my wife, who was then a pupil at Kirkwall Grammar School), and I don't believe that such a repertoire would exit without the example which Britten set.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Fascinating, David - thank you.

 

I can understand and appreciate your comments regarding Peter Grimes - I have tried with this, as I did with Billy Budd a few nights ago. Unfortunately, I just do not like Britten's harmonic language - nor, often, his construction. For me, the achievements of Gerontius and Belshazzar are such that it does not really matter if either composer never reached such sublime heights again - if indeed this is true.

 

However, I can happily respect your enjoyment of Britten. After all, I am well aware that many found Cochereau to be unconventional and even bizarre - particularly when playing repertoire (where his record is, it must be admitted, uneven). This said, I simply do not regard Britten as a great composer.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm playing Britten's Jubilate on Wednesday coming on an organ with no pistons (I'm sure pcnd knows the one as I've spoken of it before!). Fortunately it's been pre-registered for me (as are most things). I've not been looking forward to it since I saw it on the music list - it might help if I liked the piece but frankly I think its three minutes of absolute twaddle. Tomorrow evening I'm also on duty when the Hymn to St C is on the list - not a piece I know so I'll be interested to see what I make of it. Fortunately I have Blair and Howells to enjoy as the canticle settings, so all is not lost! I'm afraid I share pcnd's general lack of appreciation for Britten's music from what I've heard, although I couldn't say how he compares in terms of his output as a whole, not knowing it well enough.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm playing Britten's Jubilate on Wednesday coming on an organ with no pistons (I'm sure pcnd knows the one as I've spoken of it before!). Fortunately it's been pre-registered for me (as are most things). I've not been looking forward to it since I saw it on the music list - it might help if I liked the piece but frankly I think its three minutes of absolute twaddle. Tomorrow evening I'm also on duty when the Hymn to St C is on the list - not a piece I know so I'll be interested to see what I make of it. Fortunately I have Blair and Howells to enjoy as the canticle settings, so all is not lost! I'm afraid I share pcnd's general lack of appreciation for Britten's music from what I've heard, although I couldn't say how he compares in terms of his output as a whole, not knowing it well enough.

 

I hope that it goes well for you. Thank you for your comments.

 

Blair - would that be Hugh Blair's setting of the Evening Canticles, in B minor? If so, this is indeed a good setting. I have to agree regarding the Britten Jubilate. I have often wished that HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh had been doing something else on that day.... I also once had to play it without pistons - on the old four-clavier toaster at Christchurch Priory. There were pistons - lots of them. However, the previous night, some workmen from Makin Organs had been doing something to it and had accidentally dropped a screw or something metal down inside the console and somehow, this managed to fuse the entire combination system.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

I hope that it goes well for you. Thank you for your comments.

 

Blair - would that be Hugh Blair's setting of the Evening Canticles, in B minor? If so, this is indeed a good setting.

 

That's the one. Of course, I shan't have a Tuba so can't play them exactly as written! And its Howells Coll Reg on Wednesday which goes without saying!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

That's the one. Of course, I shan't have a Tuba so can't play them exactly as written! And its Howells Coll Reg on Wednesday which goes without saying!

 

To quote 'Jazz Man' (The Fast Show): "Nice." What is the acoustic like? (I am thinking of the Howells, in particular.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Twaddle (noun): “trivial or foolish . . . nonsense.” ? ? ?

 

I’m sure Britten achieved quite high marks in his harmony exercises (notwithstanding his diatribe against the Gresham’s music teacher) and that his harmonisations of the various hymns in St Nicholas & Noye’s Fludde were, as his arrangement of the National Anthem, designed to be different.

 

His ear, as James Blades attests, was most acute. Colin Matthews, who worked as his assistant/amanuensis, describes his ear as “impeccable”.

 

As for the Jubilate in C, a miniature masterpiece of Mozartian perfection, hands would have been available for registration on both sides of the player at St George’s, Windsor. (I have never understood why many organists here shun the use of registrants. Perhaps it’s that we have more pistons, etc, than most continentals.) Britten’s writing for keyboard and his virtuoso ‘manual’ technique surely cannot be questioned.

 

However, when I first played through its accompaniment, I did think a third leg (not necessarily as many as the 10-armed and 10-legged Mahakali. Where would you rest most of them, anyway?) would have been useful !

 

A Hymn of St Columba is, for some reason, far less frequently performed; possibly because of its liturgical ‘rarity value’. A Dies irae paraphrase, it is a powerful and totally unified work- in the manner of a Rolls Royce purring along at 60mph. There is an amount of heavy pressure on the accelerator (swell pedal/s); it is another miniature masterpiece (!), with a meltingly tender centre, yet with more than a hint of foreboding. A 1986 recording from Westminster Cathedral (Hill, O’Donnell) is, in my opinion, a menacing benchmark. I feel that there should be dark reed colour captured in the Swell (and Choir, if enclosed) and used throughout.

 

It would be interesting to find out Philip’s opinion, post performance, of the Hymn to St C.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think there can be no doubt as to the man's musicianship. He worked with the best musicians at the highest level and commanded huge respect from them eg the members of the English Chamber Orchestra. His pianism was of the highest calibre. I don't always agree with his interpretations eg his recordings of the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata and Debussy's Cello Sonata with Rostropovich I find extremely mannered and annoying. But his organ writing has always worried me (we have, indeed, been here before on this board).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To quote 'Jazz Man' (The Fast Show): "Nice." What is the acoustic like? (I am thinking of the Howells, in particular.)

 

The acoustics are good. The church has recently had the nave re-ordered - previously there were raised wooden areas on which the chairs stood - these have gone to be replaced with an all new floor with underfloor heating, and this has enhanced the acoustic. The mixtures on the organ certainly take flight!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...