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Bradford Cathedral Organ


Jonathan Eyre

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Thanks, MM, for your observations regarding chancel dimensions etc. Yes, the building styles are not really comparable.

 

Speaking about acoustics, many do say, that not the west end is the best place for an organ in a large church (of traditional lengthy layout), but the "Schwalbennest" (translated with "blister"?), so a high position in the middle (or so) of the nave.

Brussels Cathedral come to mind, Chartres, Strasbourg, Cologne, Regensburg (though beeing hung into the short northern transept), Worms, Trier.... (and some English installations make use of those effects, even if mostly buried within the archs, I'd think of Westminster Abbey.... Yes, and then all "corner" installations, personally I've heard St. Edmundsbury's, and so on.

The more recently built Schwalbennest organs are often suspended by strong steel wires or rods, mostly for the reason, that for future changes of mind they can be cut off fully reversibly, to give the impression that there has never been any organ there. (German Authorities for Heritage Preservation would never allow to take more than a few stones out of a medieaeval wall....!)

Not only in Cologne, all people favouring architecture more than church music, they regard the installation of those suspended instruments a hopefully passing annoyance.

 

Speaking from the "West End Organ Region", one can often hear complaints about organs beeing to weak to "fill" the church, or to lead the congregation (at Christmas Eve, at least....). One hast to remember that those buildings NEVER were intended to have one single source of sound at one point in it and to have many hundred or more people hearing it with a certain power, or understanding the words of vocal music and so on. This is a typically modern use of those churches. We should be happy that there are still situations where a large congregation wants to sing and to be leaded by an organ - let's hope they are still there in decades - , so we should try use very individual solutions fitting the local situation of that church.

 

In the current issue of the German Catholic Church Music Journal ("Musica sacra"), Benjamin Bagby, a known performer of (Very) Early Music who has written on "gothic acoustics" and the differences between our image of it and the original situations for that journal, tells about his recent visit to Notre Dame de Paris, where a concert with early polyphonic music took place:

 

Instead of hearing the usual muddy sound, produced when placing the ensemble in the crossing, he could understand the words well, could follow the voices.... When experiencing this even while he went around in the church, he discovered that the microphones, which he thought were installed for recording purposes, were part of a highly developed sound reinforcement system (probably using delay lines etc...), and the sound was given an artificial clarity.

 

Interesting, that he found the application of such a device, as obviously done on a high level of sound desing, an absolutely legitimate solution to transport the message of the music, as the "true sound" of the composers periods was a quite exclusive donation to few clerics beeing quite close to the sources of the music (as one still is when sitting in the quire during evensong).

 

So, back to Bradford: The desired purpose of organ sound and the possibilities of getting what is wanted have to be balanced - and, well, this is of course the drive of the discussion here.

 

A postscript: As former teacher for serviec playing, I am still impressed, how many prominent organists at important (and so often acoustically problematic) places ruin the organ's abilty of leading large congregations by playing much to tight, as if they never understood the role of the space as part of the instrument, and reverb as a given component of any key release.... and claiming, that the instrument is to weak to do it.

Then, if funds permit, they get those very beasty organs, then played legato again and killing themselves in a crossfire of reverberating clouds of sound. (Currently the mostly roman cathedral of Mainz is discussing all those issues - how to get an organ or an "organ network" to lead congregation, fulfill needs of independet organ music, choir accompaniment and to be as invisible as possible at the same time...?)

 

Did you ever play an early grand piano? With the weak damping of those instruments, having sort of reverberation on everything, one can understand, why pedal could be used much less for many situations. But that leads off-topic now....

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Thanks, MM, for your observations regarding chancel dimensions etc. Yes, the building styles are not really comparable.

 

Speaking about acoustics, many do say, that not the west end is the best place for an organ in a large church (of traditional lengthy layout), but the "Schwalbennest" (translated with "blister"?), so a high position in the middle (or so) of the nave.

Brussels Cathedral come to mind, Chartres, Strasbourg, Cologne, Regensburg (though beeing hung into the short northern transept), Worms, Trier.... (and some English installations make use of those effects, even if mostly buried within the archs, I'd think of Westminster Abbey.... Yes, and then all "corner" installations, personally I've heard St. Edmundsbury's, and so on.

The more recently built Schwalbennest organs are often suspended by strong steel wires or rods, mostly for the reason, that for future changes of mind they can be cut off fully reversibly, to give the impression that there has never been any organ there. (German Authorities for Heritage Preservation would never allow to take more than a few stones out of a medieaeval wall....!)

Not only in Cologne, all people favouring architecture more than church music, they regard the installation of those suspended instruments a hopefully passing annoyance.

 

Speaking from the "West End Organ Region", one can often hear complaints about organs beeing to weak to "fill" the church, or to lead the congregation (at Christmas Eve, at least....). One hast to remember that those buildings NEVER were intended to have one single source of sound at one point in it and to have many hundred or more people hearing it with a certain power, or understanding the words of vocal music and so on. This is a typically modern use of those churches. We should be happy that there are still situations where a large congregation wants to sing and to be leaded by an organ - let's hope they are still there in decades - , so we should try use very individual solutions fitting the local situation of that church.

 

In the current issue of the German Catholic Church Music Journal ("Musica sacra"), Benjamin Bagby, a known performer of (Very) Early Music who has written on "gothic acoustics" and the differences between our image of it and the original situations for that journal, tells about his recent visit to Notre Dame de Paris, where a concert with early polyphonic music took place:

 

Instead of hearing the usual muddy sound, produced when placing the ensemble in the crossing, he could understand the words well, could follow the voices.... When experiencing this even while he went around in the church, he discovered that the microphones, which he thought were installed for recording purposes, were part of a highly developed sound reinforcement system (probably using delay lines etc...), and the sound was given an artificial clarity.

 

Interesting, that he found the application of such a device, as obviously done on a high level of sound desing, an absolutely legitimate solution to transport the message of the music, as the "true sound" of the composers periods was a quite exclusive donation to few clerics beeing quite close to the sources of the music (as one still is when sitting in the quire during evensong).

 

So, back to Bradford: The desired purpose of organ sound and the possibilities of getting what is wanted have to be balanced - and, well, this is of course the drive of the discussion here.

 

A postscript: As former teacher for serviec playing, I am still impressed, how many prominent organists at important (and so often acoustically problematic) places ruin the organ's abilty of leading large congregations by playing much to tight, as if they never understood the role of the space as part of the instrument, and reverb as a given component of any key release.... and claiming, that the instrument is to weak to do it.

Then, if funds permit, they get those very beasty organs, then played legato again and killing themselves in a crossfire of reverberating clouds of sound. (Currently the mostly roman cathedral of Mainz is discussing all those issues - how to get an organ or an "organ network" to lead congregation, fulfill needs of independet organ music, choir accompaniment and to be as invisible as possible at the same time...?)

 

Did you ever play an early grand piano? With the weak damping of those instruments, having sort of reverberation on everything, one can understand, why pedal could be used much less for many situations. But that leads off-topic now....

 

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

 

 

A fascinating reply from Karl, for which I am grateful. He reminds us, quite rightly, that the use to which medieval cathedrals were put was originally very different to what it is now, and I'd forgotten my history lessons. Even the idea of mass worship is a relatively modern one, and I think I'm right in thinking that seating was not provided in those far off days. I believe the usual thing was for visitors, pilgrims and local people to come and go freely; perhaps offering prayers, perhaps meditating on the beauty and images of a cathedral, perhaps joining in the saying of mass at a side-chapel or performing the various rituals associated with the stations of the cross, where people would wander from one stage to the next. High Mass, (often said behind a stone screen or 'rood'), was celebrated on behalf of the people in some isloation.

 

So yes, a very different use of large enclosed spaces to that which we know to-day.

 

Acoustically, it isn't just the style of architecture and changing roof structures, (with the usually obstructive nave/chancel arch), but the fact that many cathedrals built on a cruciform plan, (east/west/with transpets) include a large, often little used, central space. Place a tower above that space, (as at York Minster), with an internal height of considerable size, and the acoustic void is just too large to overcome; almost by any means. In such buildings, there will always be a divide between east and west; like a permanent cold-war. Wherever a choir is located, one or the other side will suffer remoteness by virtue of distance; esecially in long, narrow buildings with high vaulting.

 

The "bubble" idea is, I think, largely unknown in the UK; though I couldn't swear to that. (Someone will come up with an exception, I feel sure). However, organs placed in transepts are certainly known here, as at Chester Cathedral, which I feel would work very well, but for the fact that the choir sit in the chancel some distance away. It makes choral accompaniment very difficult indeed, because the organist cannot really hear what is going on, and there is the constant problem of balance. However, if the choir sat either with or opposite the organ, in the transept area, that problem would be much less acute.

 

Perhaps there is no single solution to the problem of organ sighting, which could possibly satisfy all needs, and I think that were I to place a body of singers in a cathedral chancel, I think I would want a chancel organ to go with it. Interestingly, just about the entire Anglican repertoire could be accompanied very satisfactorily on a good extension organ with perhaps 8-10 ranks of pipes, but I think that might upset German organists.

 

Nevertheless, I still feel that the west-end gallery position is the most favourable all round, where a choir and organ can be united as a single musical entity.

 

Best,

 

MM

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St. Magnus Cathedral (Willis 1925/71) is pretty good. It's a long cruciform Romanesque church (next job after Durham) with eight bays to the nave and six to the quire. The organ is between the third and fourth quire bays (where there just happens to be a bit of wall between the pillars) and speaks east through a carved screen, thus sounding down the main axis of the building and not coming between the choir and the congregation.

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In the current issue of the German Catholic Church Music Journal ("Musica sacra"), Benjamin Bagby, a known performer of (Very) Early Music [who] has written on "gothic acoustics"

 

Thanks to Karl for alerting us to this. I furnish a link to the Sequentia website, where what seems to be the complete article is given.

 

It makes for fascinating reading and, as ‘MM’ says, might send us back to our Grouts/Taruskins/Hoppins/Everists/ . . . :

 

http://www.sequentia...c_acoustic.html

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Thanks to Karl for alerting us to this. I furnish a link to the Sequentia website, where what seems to be the complete article is given.

 

It makes for fascinating reading and, as ‘MM’ says, might send us back to our Grouts/Taruskins/Hoppins/Everists/ . . . :

 

http://www.sequentia...c_acoustic.html

 

Thank you for finding this! Indeed, I wanted to link this article, but the link can be found on the German journal's website only within the members area.

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

 

 

A fascinating reply from Karl, for which I am grateful. He reminds us, quite rightly, that the use to which medieval cathedrals were put was originally very different to what it is now, and I'd forgotten my history lessons. Even the idea of mass worship is a relatively modern one, and I think I'm right in thinking that seating was not provided in those far off days. I believe the usual thing was for visitors, pilgrims and local people to come and go freely; perhaps offering prayers, perhaps meditating on the beauty and images of a cathedral, perhaps joining in the saying of mass at a side-chapel or performing the various rituals associated with the stations of the cross, where people would wander from one stage to the next. High Mass, (often said behind a stone screen or 'rood'), was celebrated on behalf of the people in some isloation.

Oh, for German churches, like the hanseatic "cathedrals" of St. Mary's Lübeck and our own in Rostock, it is known that the traders met before the burse opened, and much business was done in the church, sensitive material (like wool) was stocked there ans so on. Buxtehude's "Abendmusiken" generated the use of civic police and complaints about couples using the relative dark of the church for things not beeing intended by the arranger....

In Lübeck there is still a room today, a small one above the Bürgermeister-Kapelle (mayor's chapel), where the parish does not have a key to it, but the city has!

Acoustically, it isn't just the style of architecture and changing roof structures, (with the usually obstructive nave/chancel arch), but the fact that many cathedrals built on a cruciform plan, (east/west/with transpets) include a large, often little used, central space. Place a tower above that space, (as at York Minster), with an internal height of considerable size, and the acoustic void is just too large to overcome; almost by any means. In such buildings, there will always be a divide between east and west; like a permanent cold-war. Wherever a choir is located, one or the other side will suffer remoteness by virtue of distance; esecially in long, narrow buildings with high vaulting.

True. We use the crossing now as place for small ensembles, as we have best projection from there via the octogonal transept pillars. Our pulpit is located there since mid 16th century, too.

Perhaps there is no single solution to the problem of organ sighting, which could possibly satisfy all needs, and I think that were I to place a body of singers in a cathedral chancel, I think I would want a chancel organ to go with it. Interestingly, just about the entire Anglican repertoire could be accompanied very satisfactorily on a good extension organ with perhaps 8-10 ranks of pipes, but I think that might upset German organists.

Tell you, since I played Derby cathedral organs, i. e. the Compton, I changed my mind on extensions. We have been told at university that it comes right from the devil, but we were simply lacking good examples. And check recent additions or "re-organizations", as they like to call it here now (a word for a coming major rebuild which is intended not to set up those of the donors still living, who contributed to the existing organ...), you will find not only floating divisions, but often electric single valves or pallets, allowing various uses of single pipes resp. ranks.

Edit: And many small organs in C-C style (general swell, little upperwork) have been ordered or bought second hand for use in chancels.

 

Nevertheless, I still feel that the west-end gallery position is the most favourable all round, where a choir and organ can be united as a single musical entity.

 

Here, we would have to look carefully for really fine solutions, too. So, we too have many places which are not free of complaints. Nearly everywhere there are good and odd places, where you can't follow the music, may it come form East or West.

 

Maybe it is not the perfect spiritual location, but as a musical place, both regarding choir solo, choir + orchestra, choir+organ+orchestra and so on, and satisfying upt to 2000 listeners at once, one can regard St. Michaelis of Hamburg. Not only a dream of an instrument by joining two fine organs and a floating "celestial" division, but because of its centered layout an ideal place for performing and listening.

On the other hand, for me it is a place with "limited holiness" - more a hanseatic living room than a cathedral....

 

An Image of concert filled church and balconies - the movable general console is normally placed on the very right end of the balcony.

More about the fascinating organs here.

Edit: The specification is to be found on the collaborating firm's website.

As an improviser, it's the finest place I have ever played.... Sorry for spoling the Bradford thread.

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