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John Erskine

St Paul's Swell

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File notes from Nov. 1945 include a typed out "Reservoir Key" shewing what is fed from which reservoir and at what pressure:

 

No 1 - (Under Solo) Chancel South side 10" & Solo Swell engine 10"

 

No 2.- (Under Solo) Solo back soundboard & Cor-di-Bassetto, Ped.

Bourdon & Violone 3 1/2"

 

No 3. - Chancel Pedal: Open Bass, Octave, Flute, Octave Flute 3 1/2"

 

No 4. - Solo front soundboard: Con. Fagotto, French Horn, Cor Anglais 7"

 

No 5. - Solo Front soundboard: Trumpet, Con. Posaune, Chancel Ped

Ophicleide 17"

 

I don't want to spin out this thread unnecessarily, but looking again at the 'reservoir key', is HW3 correct, or am I missing something? Surely No 1 reservoir should read:

 

"No 1 - (Under Solo) Chancel North side 10" & Solo Swell engine 10"

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I don't want to spin out this thread unnecessarily, but looking again at the 'reservoir key', is HW3 correct, or am I missing something? Surely No 1 reservoir should read:

 

"No 1 - (Under Solo) Chancel North side 10" & Solo Swell engine 10"

 

Well, That's what it says!!

 

I still have these files out on a desk in the office and so had another look through the file marked "HW3", which is mostly stuff he seems to have used either for reference or personal correspondence: it is quite specific in ALL mentions of the swell, even in 1959/60 as being on 3 1/2" and untouched from 1872.

 

This is really irritating isn't it?? I too would like to know how this discrepancy has come to be noted, especially as it isn't noted here! If someone on this forum has some spare time PLEASE come and spend a couple of days going through the two full filing cabinet drawers of files to try to find out!

 

DW

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Following Martin Cooke's observations earlier:

 

One might take into account whether the octave couplers were there to start with or if they were added later.

 

I am quite convinced that on some instruments, especially in North America, the tonal scheme was conceived with the octave couplers in mind. Mine is a prime example. The Swell has no clarion and the mixture is a Cornet 8.12.15.17 with no breaks. It is useful as it stands, but really comes to life with the octave coupler. There are Octave, Sub and Unison Off couplers on all four manuals and they are amazingly useful. It helps to have extra top notes (in this case 68 on Great, Choir and Solo and 73, for some reason, on Swell).

 

An article about the Hindley Schulze in 'The Organ' many years ago made the point that the Great only made sense (particularly the Mixture) if the octave coupler was taken into account.

 

At Belfast Cathedral, the original scheme had 'Sub Octave Reeds' on the Great (completing the tromba chorus) and Octave, Sub and Unison Off on the Solo. These were not provided at the four-manual rebuild in the seventies, thereby removing a number of important registrational possibilities. They reappeared in 2000 when the console was revamped, and were very useful.

 

It may be a different matter when octave couplers are added to a pre-existing division, as at St. Paul's. If the manual compass is less than 61 notes, they are a lot less useful. The octave, in particular, may well get used a lot where an organ has had an extra mixture added to the Great but not to the Swell - a not uncommon circumstance. When they added a sharp mixture to the Swell at Belfast, it went on a separate chest (Deo gratias - it might have replaced the Vox Humana!).

 

Father Willis commonly omitted a 4' flute in the Swell (as he did at St. Paul's). Peter King points out that he made up for it in the build-up by voicing the Oboe softly and smoothly. In such circumstances, however, organists tend to compensate by drawing the octave coupler with the 8' flute.

 

I'm a firm believer in a complete set of octaves and subs (including separate intermanual ones), controlled by rocking tablets above the top manual in the Skinner or Willis style.

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Wonderful organ, of course (and I think it still sounds like a Father Willis, despite what some folk say), but whenever I've played it, I've noticed that the in-house organists' piston settings use the Swell octave coupler rather a lot. Thus, the effect of the Swell, although marvellous, would seem not to be quite up to expected balance level with the Great (hence also Harry Gabb's practice of using the enclosed Solo reeds and mixtures as a super-Full Swell which extended the crescendo after the Swellbox proper was open. I do the same thing with the Solo reeds here).

 

 

 

Mistakes are all too easy to make at St Paul's because the player doesn't hear the full effect of the Swell from the quire console. Particular care is needed when accompanying choirs. Put simply, the Swell dominates the organ and can be quite lethal. Full Swell at least balances Full Great, possibly slightly exceeds it. And there are no octave couplers on any of the in-house settings; they are most often used when trying to conjure up Full Swell effects (not involving the bigger reeds) that aren't too loud for the choir. The practice of using the enclosed Solo reeds continues, not because the Swell isn't powerful enough - quite the reverse - but because you can achieve quieter Full Swell effects there.

 

Perhaps the brightness of the Swell 2 ft is fooling people into thinking that octave couplers are involved?

 

Anyhow, please no more visiting choir evensongs destroyed by our wonderful but incredibly powerful Swell - keep that box nailed shut!

 

Simon J

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Thanks, Simon - and thanks also for the wonderful videos on YouTube!

 

It must be about fifteen years since I last played at St. Paul's, but before that there was a period when I was in there quite a few times - including the 'Essex Man Organ Gala' in about 1993, when the eight Essex-born cathedral organists then in post (Roger Fisher, John Sanders, Barry Rose, Michael Smith, Alan Thurlow, Adrian Lucas, Marcus Huxley and David Drinkell) were involved in a fund-raiser for the Chelmsford Cathedral music foundation. I tend to go with the 'normal' piston settings - after all, the incumbent organist(s) usually know what works - and I always found the Swell Octave on the last few. I think registrational tastes have changed quite a lot. They were changing then, and I think have done so more, so that modern players go for a broader spread of tone.

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I tend to go with the 'normal' piston settings - after all, the incumbent organist(s) usually know what works - and I always found the Swell Octave on the last few. I think registrational tastes have changed quite a lot. They were changing then, and I think have done so more, so that modern players go for a broader spread of tone.

 

I agree. It is especially enlightening when the pistons are not adjustable, in which case one can often identify the date of the last rebuild (or the age of the incumbent organist), based only on the piston settings.

 

The settings at Halifax, for example, still (for now) betray the neuroticisms of the 60s and 70s. 'Full' on the Great and Swell pistons gives all the swell plus octave, but not the Great No.1 Open (never mind the trombas!). This registration sounds fine in itself; but as well as giving an unsolicited haircut to anyone stationed in the north aisle, it tends to undermine the smooth build-up of power which is so characteristic of the instrument as originally conceived. Unsurprisingly, all these attempts to achieve 'clarity' do not seduce us into believing we are listening to a Schnitger or Silbermann; but holding back all the 'filling' until the last moment has rather the effect of a late and injudicious application of flour to a sauce that has been made too thin. Most seasoned accompanists/recitalists here do a lot of hand registration!

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I agree. It is especially enlightening when the pistons are not adjustable, in which case one can often identify the date of the last rebuild (or the age of the incumbent organist), based only on the piston settings.

 

The settings at Halifax, for example, still (for now) betray the neuroticisms of the 60s and 70s. 'Full' on the Great and Swell pistons gives all the swell plus octave, but not the Great No.1 Open (never mind the trombas!). This registration sounds fine in itself; but as well as giving an unsolicited haircut to anyone stationed in the north aisle, it tends to undermine the smooth build-up of power which is so characteristic of the instrument as originally conceived. Unsurprisingly, all these attempts to achieve 'clarity' do not seduce us into believing we are listening to a Schnitger or Silbermann; but holding back all the 'filling' until the last moment has rather the effect of a late and injudicious application of flour to a sauce that has been made too thin. Most seasoned accompanists/recitalists here do a lot of hand registration!

 

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

 

 

I shall not be seduced into using the Open 1 this Saturday coming, but I will be using the Trombas for Bach. :o

 

MM

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

 

 

I shall not be seduced into using the Open 1 this Saturday coming, but I will be using the Trombas for Bach. :o

 

MM

 

Make sure you open the swell box in the preceding few bars, otherwise they come on with a bit of a wallop. :P

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Thanks, Simon - and thanks also for the wonderful videos on YouTube!

 

It must be about fifteen years since I last played at St. Paul's, but before that there was a period when I was in there quite a few times - including the 'Essex Man Organ Gala' in about 1993, when the eight Essex-born cathedral organists then in post (Roger Fisher, John Sanders, Barry Rose, Michael Smith, Alan Thurlow, Adrian Lucas, Marcus Huxley and David Drinkell) were involved in a fund-raiser for the Chelmsford Cathedral music foundation. I tend to go with the 'normal' piston settings - after all, the incumbent organist(s) usually know what works - and I always found the Swell Octave on the last few. I think registrational tastes have changed quite a lot. They were changing then, and I think have done so more, so that modern players go for a broader spread of tone.

 

Hello David, I remember this concert very well indeed, though I have to refute your assertion that the octave coupler was used as you said by the resident organists (round that time this was mostly me!).

 

The 'standard' setting of the pistons throughout the organ had been determined by Christopher Dearnley and all of us who used it regularly stuck with those settings. The octave couplers were sometimes used on both Swell and Solo for special effects with the strings and with the Oboe, or the quiet Solo reeds. This was for psalm accompaniments, for the most part. I can only think of less than a handful of times when I would have used the octave with Full Swell in order to achieve an extraordinary crescendo. The octave coupler was never set on the normal swell piston combinations in my time there (1980-1998). The effect down on the church floor can be horrible, largely because the 2' is very bright and the upper end very piercing (the Mixture ranks are much gentler).

 

Visiting organists frequently made an error of judgement with this though, and I suspect that when you played you had been allocated piston channels normally used by visiting organists, many of whom saw a relatively small Swell of 13 stops and, as Simon Johnson says above, playing from a console which is upwind of the swell box, felt that it needed a bit of boosting or brightening.

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I agree. It is especially enlightening when the pistons are not adjustable, in which case one can often identify the date of the last rebuild (or the age of the incumbent organist), based only on the piston settings.

 

... And sometimes their nationality, too.

 

I occasionally play for a visiting choir who, amongst other places, have sung at Christ Church Cathedral , Oxford. I could usually tell when the previous organist (if not the choir) had come from the U.S. The pistons settings appeared completely illogical and random. Apparently I was told by one organist that he just set up the divisionals (and presumably the generals) with whatever was convenient to press for the sound he wanted at a particular time.

 

I understand that perhaps there may be a different approach to the use of divisional (if not general) pistons in other countries - but it still strikes me as a little impractical. I should far rather set the divisional pistons in a reasonable crescendo - this seems to me to prove more generally useful than random 'effects'.

 

I once turned pages for a recital at a cathedral by a visiting organist, who attempted to play the entire recital without the use of pistons - he had not even bothered to see what was set on them. In the case of the Fantasie (in E-flat major), by Saint-Saëns, this produced a bizarre effect, since he had to interrupt the flow of the music on a number of occasions during the second section, in order to grab large quantities of stops (mostly towards the tops of the jambs). It also meant that, for about half a bar at a time, the Pedal and G.O. did not balance each other, since he was unable, by this un-orthodox method, to effect registration changes to these two divisions simultaneously.

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