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Bad Organs


Mark Fownes
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2) How far are you from Calne, Wiltshire? (This instrument formerly possessed five claviers, so it can fit both categories.)

 

 

Calne is an interesting case for it is an organ made bad by the Client from its very inception, the Client being effectively Henry George Harris the Bacon King. Left to themselves, neither Conachers nor the organist of the church would ever have considered such a scheme if only for reasons of space and money, but with Harris stuffing their protests with money the outcome was assured. I think it was rivalry between Harris and Lord Lansdowne of Bowood (actually a one-sided rivalry, because I doubt that Lansdowne knew Harris existed). Lansdowne had a two-manual in his chapel, Harris put a 5-manual in his music room at Castle House. A previous Marquis had a given a 2-manual organ to the Parish Church; Harris forced a 5-manual into the place.

 

There other examples of excess, but perhaps none so blatant. We, of course, fine guardians of taste that we are, have no difficulty in pursuing solely the pure and good, but is very difficult for organ builders to resist money.

 

MF

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Calne is an interesting case for it is an organ made bad by the Client from its very inception, the Client being effectively Henry George Harris the Bacon King. Left to themselves, neither Conachers nor the organist of the church would ever have considered such a scheme if only for reasons of space and money, but with Harris stuffing their protests with money the outcome was assured. I think it was rivalry between Harris and Lord Lansdowne of Bowood (actually a one-sided rivalry, because I doubt that Lansdowne knew Harris existed). Lansdowne had a two-manual in his chapel, Harris put a 5-manual in his music room at Castle House. A previous Marquis had a given a 2-manual organ to the Parish Church; Harris forced a 5-manual into the place.

 

There other examples of excess, but perhaps none so blatant. We, of course, fine guardians of taste that we are, have no difficulty in pursuing solely the pure and good, but is very difficult for organ builders to resist money.

 

MF

 

The Lansdowne House organ, at least in its latter years, had three manuals. It's now in Tolleshunt D'Arcy Church in Essex, where it must be one of the biggest organs ever installed in such a small building.

 

At the risk of incurring pcnd's wrath, I will repeat that I thought the Calne Conacher was a fine instrument, but was sorry that financial constraints had caused the removal of the fifth manual at a restoration before I played it in 1977. I don't think my impression was solely that of a student impressed by a large instrument. Maybe five was an extravagance, but the church isn't too small for a four manual. It's cruciform and bigger than, for example, All Soul's, Langham Place; All Saints, Margaret Street; Derby Cathedral; Birmingham Cathedral; lots of American churches. Maybe less organ for the same price from Willis or Harrison would have been a better deal, but Conacher had made Harris's residence organ so maybe he had an interest in them (Conachers aren't too common in that part of the country, although there is the odd one here anre there). In 1977, the organist when the Conacher was put in, W.R. Pullein, was still spoken of with some awe, and the impression given that he was mightily proud of his five-manual organ. Pullein was also organist to the Marquis of Lansdowne and Henry Harris. There were four Pullein brothers, all past choristers of Lincoln and all organists.

 

I hadn't heard before that Kingsgate Davidsons' work was open to criticism, but I always thought their tonal schemes were interesting and forward-looking. The HT, Brompton job was certainly more modern in concept than the ex-Audley Street Rushworth that replaced it. I never heard either, but I remember someone referring to the 'very much finer' organ that the Rushworth replaced.

 

I read somewhere a remark by Ralph Downes that he used the H-J Phonon in preference to the other Great diapasons at Worcester and that he got the tuner to tweak a few things so that certain pedal stops worked again after having been shut off for some time previously.

 

In some cases, I think that lack of attention to detail results in a bad organ. This can be particularly so in the case of small extension organs. You may find the diapason rank is unenclosed and too loud to be used with any of the other ranks, even with the box open. You can't do Stopped Diapason and Principal, for example, or 8 and 4 Flutes with Fifteenth. Similarly, the sole 16' tone may be a bourdon taken from the flute rank and this might be too soft to support anything on the manuals. If such things were dealt with adequately, the instruments might be pleasant and useful, even if they weren't great art. I think it was Ian Bell who said that electric action made it so easy to throw together a poor instrument. Coleraine Parish Church in Northern Ireland is/was a classic (though not an extension organ). The scheme was quite interesting, but the whole thing was scuppered by poor workmanship and the fact that the soundboards were well below impost level (the Choir Organ soundboard sat lopsidedly on the floor of the chamber with no framework at all and a rat's nest of wires coming out of it) so the sound had no chance of getting out in any quantity. Also, the Choir Organ had both Spitzflute and Gemshorn at 4' pitch (plus Nazard and Tierce) but no 2' stop and the builders forgot the tab for the Swell to Choir coupler. The basis of the instrument was by Forster and Andrews, so it may have been a bit under-powered from that start, but a little bit more thought would have made it so much better.

 

For a fine Brindley, go to Kilmore Cathedral, Co. Cavan and be awed. The Conacher at Kildare, not too far away, is pretty damn fine too.

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... At the risk of incurring pcnd's wrath, I will repeat that I thought the Calne Conacher was a fine instrument, but was sorry that financial constraints had caused the removal of the fifth manual at a restoration before I played it in 1977. I don't think my impression was solely that of a student impressed by a large instrument. Maybe five was an extravagance, but the church isn't too small for a four manual. It's cruciform and bigger than, for example, All Soul's, Langham Place; All Saints, Margaret Street; Derby Cathedral; Birmingham Cathedral; lots of American churches.

 

No wrath, David - but I wonder if time, like distance, has lent enchantment? I was at Calne again, a couple of weeks before Christmas (playing for a public school carol service). The church did not strike me as being that large. I have been in (and played the organs of) All Saints', Margaret Street and All Souls', Langham Place; I have also visited Birmingham Cathedral. Calne is certainly a different shape - but I am not sure that the cubic capacity would be much greater than any of these buildings.

 

Again, with the Calne organ, if you have not played it since 1977, your impressions may well be different if you played it now - particularly for a big service, with several accompanied choral items. I had to disregard the four pistons each to the G.O. and Swell organs - the settings could not be altered and they were rather sluggish. In addition, whilst I doubt that the voicing has changed greatly, I find it difficult to praise almost any tonal aspect of the instrument. Perhaps the least offensive are the quiet flutes and strings. However, there really is no decent chorus anywhere. - and I was not unwise enough to expect glittering Cymbales or 1ft. Octavins; just something which imparted at least some brilliance and a little clarity. As it was, the vintage Walker at Romsey Abbey possessed more life and brightness in the Swell Mixture alone (15-19-22) than did this entire organ. The sound was stodgy, dull and downright unpleasant. (For the record, I am quite able to appreciate a variety of organ tone aside from a plethora if mixture-work; I regard the organ of Bristol Cathedral as an absolutely superb instrument and would not wish to change anything tonally.)

 

 

 

I read somewhere a remark by Ralph Downes that he used the H-J Phonon in preference to the other Great diapasons at Worcester and that he got the tuner to tweak a few things so that certain pedal stops worked again after having been shut off for some time previously.

 

Interesting - I am even surprised that he played it. The old Worcester organ seems to have spent a good proportion of its life with various stops out of action - usually those in Scott's huge transept case. When I played it, I am glad to report that the only stop which was silent was the Swell Gedeckt. Everything else worked - and did so perfectly. Personally, I thought that this organ sounded fabulous; it appeared to suit the building and the acoustic ambiance brilliantly.

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