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Mander Organs
Geoff McMahon

Hoxne Organs and Benjamin Britten

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Many years ago, my father produced a number of small direct electric, unit extension organs which he called Hoxne Organs. Not the sort of thing one would do today. Most of them were two manual instruments with no pedals and some had two small piano pedals which swapped the selected stops for a predetermined combination, one pedal for each manual.

 

One of these instruments was used for Benjamin Britten's Church Parables and it would appear that the organ score was written with these instruments in mind. Or perhaps, the inclusion of the pedals was for the music as written. In addition, these instruments formed part of the stage set. In any event, I am told that the score is such that it is not really possible to play the organ part with a normal chamber organ.

 

With the Britten centenary on the horizon, there is going to be something of a revival of his music and we have had a couple of enquiries for these organs and I wondered if anybody knew the whereabouts of any of these instruments, if indeed, any still exist.

 

There are a couple of musicians out there who would be very pleased if we were able to locate one.

 

John

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I find this fascinating. I went to a performance in Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral of Britten's Burning Fiery Furnace in 1967 in the presence of the composer and I believe one was used then.

I notice from the internet that there is one in St Lawrence's Church, Caterham, Surrey.

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I was involved in a production of The Burning Fiery Furnace at Oxford in the early 80s and Mark Blatchly gave a convincing rendition of the organ part on a "standard" Peter Collins 1-manual box organ of 8'4'2'. I don't know how much "fudging" he had to do to make the part playable on one manual, for some reason I suspect not very much. Funny to think of authenticity hitting music from the latter half of the C20. Given the rather odd indications of registration in Britten's liturgical organ parts (eg Missa Brevis) I would tend to treat his organ writing quite flexibly.

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Guest Hector5

I owned a Hoxne organ which resided in a church on the Isle of Dogs (while owned by Mander Organs) until it moved to our house n Brasted. I eventually sold it to a tiny Baptist Church in Rochester. I gather that this organ was one of the few that had Noel Mander's Suffolk telephone number on it (I still does), and that it had been to Iceland or similar parts. A lovely organ which gave us many hours of fun. I'll find out where it us now and put you in touch with them

 

Paul

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I would appreciate that. I am not sure any of the Hoxne Organs went to Iceland, but they certainly travelled the Continent and I was with one in Berlin and Hamburg in 1968.

 

John

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I would appreciate that. I am not sure any of the Hoxne Organs went to Iceland, but they certainly travelled the Continent and I was with one in Berlin and Hamburg in 1968.

 

John

If this is the one I think it is, referred to by Hector 5 above, I know the organist, who sings in my choir.

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The only Hoxne I knew was the one that used to be in the Crypt at Canterbury. I was introduced to it in c.1969 by a pupil at the King's School who had been deputed by Allan Wicks to show me the cathedral organs (I was 13 at the time - it was typical of AW that he took the trouble). The organ, he said, had been built by a man called Mander, whom he reckoned was the best organ builder in the country. I hadn't heard of him at the time (!) and wondered if he was German with a name like that....

 

I think my first major Mander experiences were Ashford Parish Church, Kent, which impressed me very much, and St. Vedast, Foster Lane - which blew me away!

 

I have played the organ at Hoxne - it's a nice little Walker.

 

Shortly after the Canterbury experience, I was let loose by Simon Lindley on the larger (2m+p) but similar type of instrument then residing in St. Anne and St. Agnes, Gresham Street, City of London, and was mightily impressed with it. Since then, I have often thought on the fact that it wasn't exactly the type of insturment which Simon would have favoured in later years (It's not a proper organ if it hasn't got an Open Wood on the Pedal). I thought it was nicer than the instrument which replaced it at SS A&A, although the latter has been much improved by the excellent Shepherd Brothers since it was first put in.

 

There's a very nice Denham organ (Hoxne with case) at Buxhall, Suffolk, which NPOR says was built in 1958 and is still going strong - putting it up there with Compton for durability of the electric action (unless the latter has been replaced).

 

On the old LP of Noyes Fludde, I think one can see a small organ lurking in the background which fits the description. The sound certainly isn't that of the small 2m Bishop (EH Suggate) organ in Orford Church where the recording was made.

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The BIOS Journal No.36 arrived today, containing an article by Adrian Mumford; "Benjamin Britten and the Organ". In it, he refers specifically to the organ in Orford Church, mentioning that it is tonally limited, but with a pervading bottom end to the Bourdon which would be handy in the opening passages and the 'storm' passacaglia. I still have the impression, however, that some of the effects on the LP, particularly the flourish during the hymn 'The spacious firmament', could not be achieved on the Orford organ but could easily be managed on a 'Hoxne' instrument. The impression in the latter is of a bright and spikey sound, although a little distant on the recording. I wonder if they used both instruments. I would be interested to hear opinions from others who have listened to this disc.

 

Adrian also mentions the use of a 'chamber organ' in the Church Parables and writes that, 'The continuo or box organ is commonplace today, but was a relative rarity in the 1960s.' This is true, but I wonder if he realised that a 'Hoxne' organ was used, and that such an instrument was rather a different proposition from a box organ or chamber organ.

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The BIOS Journal No.36 arrived today, containing an article by Adrian Mumford; "Benjamin Britten and the Organ". In it, he refers specifically to the organ in Orford Church, mentioning that it is tonally limited, but with a pervading bottom end to the Bourdon which would be handy in the opening passages and the 'storm' passacaglia. I still have the impression, however, that some of the effects on the LP, particularly the flourish during the hymn 'The spacious firmament', could not be achieved on the Orford organ but could easily be managed on a 'Hoxne' instrument. The impression in the latter is of a bright and spikey sound, although a little distant on the recording. I wonder if they used both instruments. I would be interested to hear opinions from others who have listened to this disc.

 

 

I know Noyes Fludde well, having conducted six performances of the work in the last 30 years. I also sang the part of Sem in a performance in the 1960's.

 

I think the recording that David refers to is the 1961 recording made in Orford church with Norman del Mar conducting. I've always thought that the C minor organ chord that precedes the Passacaglia sounded slightly 'artificial', i.e. produced not on a pipe organ but I'm afraid I don't know what a Hoxne organ sounded like so can't comment there (Britten writes next to the chord ppp - 16ft.). The 'flourish' that leads to the verse of the hymn that precedes the ostinato and the hymn in an 8 part round, he writes on three staves marked ff, and is certainly not produced on the instrument in Orford church and, again, sounds like the same type of instrument. The double pedalling, marked always pp and sustained, in the passacaglia isn't always very distinct and could well be played on the Orford instrument. It never occurred to me that they might have used two instruments for the recording and I suppose that the only way you will really find out is to ask someone who was there. Sadly, of course, they are a bit 'thin on the ground'. The organ for the recording was played by Ralph Downes and other performers included such distinguished players as James Blades, Emmanuel Hurwitz, Cecil Aronowitz and Stuart Knussen (father of Oliver) and Owen Brannigan.

 

Somewhere else on this board is a discussion abut Britten's writing for the organ. I've always thought that the passacaglia pedalling was totally inspired but there is so much about 'Noyes Fludde' that shows Britten's absolute genius as a composer.

 

I've often wondered about the original 1958 performance of 'Noyes Fludde' in Orford church. I've studied the 'map' provided with the 'performance notes' and, a few years ago went to Orford church and thought that there can't have been much room for the 'congregation'!!

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John - I am curious to know what the tonal properties of a Hoxne might have been. Much like a Walker extension organ of the fifties? (eg my old college chapel organ, Univ!). Have you got a spec of the 2-manual variety?

 

William

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The original Hoxne organs were one manual. I don't know much about them. The next generation were two manuals, but without pedals. These had a narrow scaled Principal rank and a Flute rank, together with a Tierce rank. The latter may seem a curious choice, but the thinking was that when used in an extension organ, the Tierce was the most compromised for tuning, so it was given its own rank for much of the compass. The other ranks were common in the bass and used at just about every imaginable pitch, over the two manuals. The whole thing worked much better than it should have done. Finally, a Hoxne 5 was produced. This had two manuals and pedals and although only one was used, it came in two guises. This one didn't have a Tierce rank, but (if I remember correctly) a Principal rank and two differing Flute ranks. I don't remember properly. It also had 16' Bourdon pipes, one octave and again was extended from heaven to hell and back. The Hoxne 5 specification was:

 

LOWER MANUAL

Open Diapason 8

Stopped Diapason 8

Principal 4

Flute 4

Fifteenth 2

Nineteenth 1 1/3

Octavine 1

 

UPPER MANUAL

Gedackt 8

Stopped Diapason 8

Principal 4

Flute 4

Nazard 2 2/3

Fifteenth 2

Piccolo 2

Larigot 1 1/3

Octavine 1

 

PEDAL

Subbass 16

Gedackt 8

Fifteenth 4

Flute 4

 

John

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On behalf of the friend to whom I referred in my post of 3 January, I have been asked to post the following:

 

 

“The 2 manual Hoxne organ referred to in Hector5’s post of January 2 is still giving good service in Enon Baptist Church, Chatham, where it is in regular use mainly for hymn accompaniment. It does indeed still bear Mander’s Suffolk tel. no of East Soham plus their London numbers. The specification is as under. Should anyone wish to view and/or play it, then please contact Chris Clemence (email: c.clemence@blueyonder.co.uk) or ring 01634 401049.”

 

As John mentioned above, it consists of three ranks: Principal, Flute and Tierce. The specification of this one is:

 

UPPER MANUAL: Open Diapason 8, Stopt Diapason 8, Principal 4, Flute 4, Twelfth 2 2/3, Fifteenth 2.

LOWER MANUAL: Open Diapason 8, Stopt Diapason 8, Principal 4, Flute 4, Nazard 2 2/3, Piccolo 2, Fifteenth 2, Tierce 1 3/5, Larigot 1 1/3.

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