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Mander Organs

Fr Willis At St Augustine's, Kilburn


Guest Nigel ALLCOAT

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT

I have had an Email from member John Foss who played on this organ asking for some history and clarification. Notice of the Trombas on the organ came under a not too flattering Topic heading and so a new one I thought was more appropriate - as not one sound on the instrument is unmusical!

 

I can offer a few observations about this heroic instrument which, by the Grace of God was not totally destroyed in the WW2. The buildings immediately to the South of the Church were and so this monumental church by J.L. Pearson - sometimes referred to as being the greatest church built in the 19th century anywhere in Europe - exists to this day and is cared for by a good-sized congregation and staff of clergy. This description of course embraces the furnishings and fittings - one of which is the early 1880's organ of Father Willis. On paper it does not look excessively big. But the frame and chamber is enormous. Other fittings in the church include incomparable sets of vestments (still in use of course - the Black Set being used for Dr Bennett's Requiem at New College, Oxford after the Crockford's debacle) and frontals. Glass, statues (even Lady Diana Duff-Cooper, the famed beauty modelled for Scott's statue of the BVM). The nearby Rothemeres lavished untold wealth - in money and jewels (woven into vestments and to adorn Chalices) to make it the most complete ensemble of any church in the Land.

The architecture is just before Truro cathedral and is fully vaulted throughout.

 

The organ still has the original Willis 4 manuals/keys with rounded sharps, but with a Harrison & Harrison console from a modernisation in the early part of the 1st WW. The 4th manual was never created but all stops and keyboard are there. There are a few other stops still prepared for after 125 years! A few changes were made by H & H. The action became pneumatic as I imagine that that of Willis was not so wonderful. A few pistons are to each manual. I think I am right in saying that H & H put on a 16' Double Trumpet - beautifully matched to the 8' & 4' Trumpet and Clairon. I always thought this division even more magnificent than St Paul's Cathedral. The Great reeds (2 reeds named Trombas 8' & 4') with a 16' prepared (just like so many H & H's) were obviously re-named at the time of the rebuild/moderisation and brought into the 'in house' sound and naming by the Durham company.

 

The Swell Open 8' I believe still has the 2nd Open markings from the Gt and thus transposed within the organ. The Trombas sic had a lot of muck in them (around 1983) and so were brought back to the fantastic brilliance which they now display. The 4ft is in the bass, sensational! Lead and felt were somehow curtailing the musical enthusiasm of the pipes.

 

Somebody has commented upon the Tierce Mixtures. These of course are indigenous things. To Quintify them would be a horror. They are totally in keeping with the original and to change them because of fad and fashion would be to completely change the DNA of such an instrument. Hands off!

 

The Ophicleide on the Ped was sent up to Durham in my time for a full restoration. A number of pipes were suffering badly from fatigue and were therefore in need of immediate repair. Water from a badly draining roof has all but silenced all the Pedal. Only the Open Wood and Sub-bass are alone in providing gravitas now.

 

One Corpus Christi Mass when Naji Hakim and his wife were attending I played something on the Claribel on the Gt - perhaps simulating in music the fluttering of rose petals. He made his way up to the loft immediately to ask what this incredible sound was. It still (with all the dirt and grime) is one of the most adorable sounds anywhere of this kind of stop. I still think it the best sound around for playing the slow movement of the GPS of Franck with the Clarinet coupled. (Just writing about it now makes me shiver). I hope that I live long enough to see this great instrument restored with pneumatics and no electric additional things, of course. The acoustic is fine and not excessive - perfect for Chant. The building is the most sympathetic to Db/C# major.

One day all will be in a pristine state.

 

The church was commissioned in 1871. John Norman's British Organs states the instrument was 1872. I think that this was an order date for the church was quite a time in being built. By the way - his spec there is correct except there is no 4' flute on the swell. Still prepared for.

 

There has been a vast restoration project involving much of the church. The heating is next. The organ after that. Thankfully the authorities know the priorities and alas the great burden all too well. It is the largest 19th Cent church in London but is a national treasure.

 

With all best wishes,

NJA

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I live just down the road from this magnificent church, although rarely venture inside (my loss). I suppose that because I pass it almost daily on the No. 6 bus it doesn't make such an impression on me - indeed, I only ever glance its way going past to check the clock on the church front to see if I'm going to be late for work! What Nigel doesn't say is that the church is virtually surrounded by the worst type of uncompromising 1960s architecture in the form of a school, old people's residence and multi-storey council tower block and is an area you really don't want to be in after sun-down.

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
I live just down the road from this magnificent church, although rarely venture inside (my loss). I suppose that because I pass it almost daily on the No. 6 bus it doesn't make such an impression on me - indeed, I only ever glance its way going past to check the clock on the church front to see if I'm going to be late for work! What Nigel doesn't say is that the church is virtually surrounded by the worst type of uncompromising 1960s architecture in the form of a school, old people's residence and multi-storey council tower block and is an area you really don't want to be in after sun-down.

 

Not such a brilliant sight from outside because of its surroundings - although it is the highest spire in town. The 1960's architecture is there (such as also found in Coventry at roughly the same time) because of the bombing. There was an orphanage and convent to the south of the church I think that had direct hits. There is a full peal of (light) bells (from Belgium I think) which is so uncommon for a London church. The louvres to the bells needed attention after the sound was going straight into some dreadful high-rise establishments! The church doesn't always give the impression of being so high (in height!). This is because you go down a flight of steps in the porch and thus is lower than street level. When get there you are in one the most wonderful places around. Call and see for yourself.

N

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
St Augustines used (I think) to be a popular recording venue.

 

If memory serves, the instrument can be heard in the EMI Holst Choral Fantasia (with Ralph Downes at the console) with Janet Baker, and in the Vernon Handley VW Job on CfP...

 

Memory is spot on. The RPO used it very regularly and there used to be a number of late night Proms from there too. The heating was by a huge rocket-like contraption (now recently blown up. Therefore, prayer does work!) which created a Bahamas-like temperature in the organ in the winter. Hopeless for everything. It just goes to show how solid the constructrion of the instrument is.

 

N

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It was good to hear details of this instrument. The only time I heard it (on a recording) was years ago. Michael Austin was playing the Dupré B major - quite quickly and very accurately! I would like to hear the instrument live, some day.

 

I am one of those who commented on the tierce mixtures. I am sorry, Nigel, but I still disagree. I am firmly of the opinion that FHW mis-understood mixtures. His reeds do not need the help of tierce mixtures and I find them intensely irritating with the flue-work (within about three seconds of drawing them). I would greatly prefer both Salisbury and Truro if they had in addition decent quint mixtures. I can see no harm in this - one does not need to use them. After all, when FHW built these instruments, neither was equipped with capture systems or general pistons. Oh, and neither had a divided pedal facility....

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
I am one of those who commented on the tierce mixtures. I am sorry, Nigel, but I still disagree. I am firmly of the opinion that FHW mis-understood mixtures.

 

You are perfectly entitled to such a view, of course. I don't like tea whilst others do. These mixtures are a personal preference of the builder and perhaps the musicians of those times. However, I think that one must be somewhat less outspoken that he (Willis No 1) mis-understood mixtures. It infers that you know more than he did! Organs are such emotive beasts (hence this site) yet inanimate until they are turned into a musical instrument. They seem to summon camps and supporters worthy of football teams in the Premiership. We must appreciate what has been built for us and paid for by dedicated faithful people. I daily look in the mirror and wish for a difference. But like many an organ I am stuck with my tierces!

 

I think in the circumstances one must ponder why we have this sort of composition of mixtures. Certainly I used to find hymns for large congregations (Redhead - the first organist - was having to play for congregations of many, many hundreds every sunday) extremely exciting with these sounds. I think that repertoire was not the main diet of an organist as much as it is today. I think that you are more evaluating these tonal conceptions in the light of the repertoire that you play. But certainly the impact and brilliance created by the St Augustine Mixtures on huge occasions was very exciting. And yes , I used them in different ways when playing literature so I do humbly suggest that again, it is a question of appropriate hearing and perhaps experimenting from the body of the church whilst a friend plays. How many organists sit with their congregations and sing to hear how things sound? It is almost impossible for most, I am sure. But if you can - do do so.

 

NJA

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St Augustines used (I think) to be a popular recording venue.

 

If memory serves, the instrument can be heard in the EMI Holst Choral Fantasia (with Ralph Downes at the console) with Janet Baker, and in the Vernon Handley VW Job on CfP...

I think the organ was also used for Haitink's VW Sinfonia Antartica. I know Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra made most of their many recordings of Elgar and VW there and it was also a favourite for the EMI Classics for Pleasure team. One of their last recordings made there was I think Sir Charles Mackerras and the London Philharmonic in Dvorak's 7th and 9th symphonies. I always used to see the LPO or BBCSO lorry parked outside the church, but not now.

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I heard it some years ago on a group visit of some sort - 'was surprised (can't think why) how 'Willis' it actually sounded. We went to the Gaumont State up the road in the same visit - 'not really my thing though!

 

AJJ

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You are perfectly entitled to such a view, of course. I don't like tea whilst others do. These mixtures are a personal preference of the builder and perhaps the musicians of those times. However, I think that one must be somewhat less outspoken that he (Willis No 1) mis-understood mixtures. It infers that you know more than he did!

 

(snip)

 

I think in the circumstances one must ponder why we have this sort of composition of mixtures.

 

(snip)

 

I think that repertoire was not the main diet of an organist as much as it is today. I think that you are more evaluating these tonal conceptions in the light of the repertoire that you play. But certainly the impact and brilliance created by the St Augustine Mixtures on huge occasions was very exciting.

 

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

 

 

Fr Willis merely followed the 18th-19th century tradition of Tierce Mixtures and understood them perfectly well, I would suggest. Where he departed from tradition was in the scaling of his choruses and the fact that he used relatively high wind-pressure; courtesy of the hydraulic-engines of the day, no doubt.

 

Bach was certainly familiar with Tierce Mixtures, and the tradition runs right through into the German Romantic Organs of Walcker, Schulze, Sauer and others like them. Go to Holland and listen to Alkmaar, which although not strictly a Bach organ, is certainly a product of the general period and the area of Northern Europe.

 

There is a tremendous difference between the Mixtures of Fr.Willis' and those of his contemporary, William Hill, yet in some organs, the tierce mixture was used by Hill; or at least seperately drawn tierce ranks which formed part of the chorus.

Hill stuck to the tradition of generous scaling, and the mixtures remain unforced, with minimum nicking. The effect is entirely musical, but not necessarily all that powerful.

 

Fr.Willis set out to create power, and triumphed in the process with his superlative

reeds and weighty basses. Using narrow scaling (Geigens?) for the Diapasons, using heavier nicking, higher cut-ups and blowing the pipes hard, he produced a sound which is actually quite forced. The small-scale Mixtures were similarly hard-blown, and the effect would not be entirely agreeable were it not for the fact that the Diapasons are quite "thin" in tone as compared to William Hill.

 

By the time HW3 did his thing, the Mixtures were little more than turbo-charged Dulcianas!!

 

Was Fr.Willis therefore a good or a bad organ-builder?

 

I would suggest he was outstanding, but may not necessarily have understood the value of unforced, generously scaled choruses. His instincts and intelligence drew him towards the tonal-path he took, but it was far removed from the older traditions of the UK and the continent of Europe.

 

In parenthisis, I would suggest that Tierce Mixtures are entirely acceptable as chorus-mixtures and spot-on for Bach, but don't judge them by the sound of Fr.Willis 17,19,22 versions, which are really much less musical than those of many other organ-builders.

 

Of course, once the reeds are drawn on a Fr.Willis organ, it doesn't matter!!

 

MM

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There are tierce Mixtures in Altenburg and Waltershausen,

two instruments Bach played and approved.

They were to be found in Belgium and Spain as well.

Actually only France and Italy did without!

See the "Tierce mixtures" topic.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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You are perfectly entitled to such a view, of course. I don't like tea whilst others do. These mixtures are a personal preference of the builder and perhaps the musicians of those times. However, I think that one must be somewhat less outspoken that he (Willis No 1) mis-understood mixtures. It infers that you know more than he did! 

 

Well, no - that was not the intention! I was writing the post quickly, during a short break between teaching and the thought appeared in print rather more forcefully than I had realised.

 

Perhaps it is true to say that in England, within a few years of the death of FHW, most British organ builders falied to appreciate the true value of mixtures.

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

Bach was certainly familiar with Tierce Mixtures, and the tradition runs right through into the German Romantic Organs of Walcker, Schulze, Sauer and others like them. Go to Holland and listen to Alkmaar, which although not strictly a Bach organ, is certainly a product of the general period and the area of Northern Europe.

 

Well, certainly in the form of a Sesquialtera - but surely not as chorus mixtures? This was much later with the type of Romantic builders you mention.

 

There is a tremendous difference between the Mixtures of Fr.Willis' and those of his contemporary, William Hill, yet in some organs, the tierce mixture was used by Hill; or at least seperately drawn tierce ranks which formed part of the chorus.

Hill stuck to the tradition of generous scaling, and the mixtures remain unforced, with minimum nicking. The effect is entirely musical, but not necessarily all that powerful.

 

Hmmm.... I cannot think of many William Hill organs with a separate tierce rank; however, I have found a good number of his instruments which do contain a tierce rank in a mixture - but the tierce almost always drops out above the first twelve notes.

 

In parenthisis, I would suggest that Tierce Mixtures are entirely acceptable as chorus-mixtures and spot-on for Bach, but don't judge them by the sound of Fr.Willis 17,19,22 versions, which are really much less musical than those of many other organ-builders.

 

Of course, once the reeds are drawn on a Fr.Willis organ, it doesn't matter!

 

MM

 

As Nigel Allcoat said, each of us has a right to our own opinion. If that is yours, then I accept that. However, for myself, I could not disagree more!

 

There are a number of commentators who have stated that, ideally for Bach, one really needs the purity of quint mixtures. For example, the C minor P&F (BWV 546) would have all sorts of weird secondary harmonics (largely in the form of un-wished-for major thirds) obscuring the harmonies. I recall a writer bemoaning a performance of this on an organ (I cannot remember where) which had a tierce rank in the Pedal mixture. The very first chord sounded like the jazz chord usually labelled as a flattened tenth, i.e.: a minor third at the top of the chord but a major third below.

 

Notwithstanding, you are correct, MM - on a FHW organ, once the reeds are drawn, everything else is very much an 'also ran'.

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Well, certainly in the form of a Sesquialtera - but surely not as chorus mixtures?

 

Actually, you might be rather surprised to find that on many old 'baroque' organs the Sequialteras are placed with the chorus stops rather than with the solo stops (flutes, mutations and reeds) e.g. at Haarlem they are on the same side of the console as the Principals and Mixtures. The implication is that they were considered as an element that could be drawn in the chorus, rather than exclusively as a solo stop.

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Thank you for that!

 

This was something else which I did not know; I had understood that they were not included in chorus-work!

 

I am suposed to be visiting Holland in a few weeks - perhaps this time I will be fortunate and Sint Bavo will actually be open....

 

:)

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"Well, certainly in the form of a Sesquialtera - but surely not as chorus mixtures? This was much later with the type of Romantic builders you mention."

 

(Quote)

 

In flemish organs, yes. In the Trost organs I mentioned, the Tierce is present

in both Sesquialteras and Mixtures.

And yes, the Sesquialtera is made of Principal pipes, it belongs to the

Diapason chorus, not the Flutes -save in some neo-classic organs-.

 

Pierre

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Actually, you might be rather surprised to find that on many old 'baroque' organs the Sequialteras are placed with the chorus stops rather than with the solo stops (flutes, mutations and reeds) e.g. at Haarlem they are on the same side of the console as the Principals and Mixtures. The implication is that they were considered as an element that could be drawn in the chorus, rather than exclusively as a solo stop.

 

Even more so, if you look at old books with registrations (suggestions) you'll find that the sesquialtera is drawn in the 'organo pleno'.

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I think the organ was also used for Haitink's VW Sinfonia Antartica. I know Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra made most of their many recordings of Elgar and VW there and it was also a favourite for the EMI Classics for Pleasure team. One of their last recordings made there was I think Sir Charles Mackerras and the London Philharmonic in Dvorak's 7th and 9th symphonies. I always used to see the LPO or BBCSO lorry parked outside the church, but not now.

 

Just on a point of info - the organ used for Haitink/LPO RVW Antartica wasn't St Augustine Kilburn but Methodist Central Hall Westminster {in another life I worked for EMI]. But Yes St Augs was a favourite EMI recording venue for many recordings up until the last eight years or so. Its used less now because of unpredictable outside noise partic from the surrounding flats.

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
Just on a point of info - the organ used for Haitink/LPO RVW Antartica wasn't St Augustine Kilburn but Methodist Central Hall Westminster {in another life I worked for EMI]. But Yes St Augs was a favourite EMI recording venue for many recordings up until the last eight years or so. Its used less now because of unpredictable outside noise partic from the surrounding flats.

 

And also films - some quite famous, such as The Young Sherlock Holmes; and Mrs Brown, when the richness of the Choir and Sanctuary stood in for St George's Chapel Windsor with Dame Judi as Queen Victoria. Also one of the Agatha Christie Miss Marple series with Joan Hickson starts off in the Church. I seem to remember Thomas Trotter and Murray Stewart accompanying choral recordings. How I wish I collected autographs!

 

So nice to read that we have at last returned (thanks, Barpfeife) to Kilburn Park Road NW6 via an over-night stop-over (!) in my beloved Haarlem. It seems most topics posted here finish up for a time there. Trust a good Dutch stop to bring us home.

 

NJA

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Guest Roffensis

Hi Pcnd,

The Austin Dupre was done at Birmingham T.H . before the rebuild, but there were a few tracks of Kilburn even so on that same cd, all wedding pieces largely, he originally did a wedding LP of Kilburn which however did include Boelmann and 565, and it was reissued on Chandos with BTH.

R

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Hi Pcnd,

The Austin Dupre was done at Birmingham T.H . before the rebuild, but there were a few tracks of Kilburn even so on that same cd, all wedding pieces largely, he originally did a wedding LP of Kilburn which however did include Boelmann and 565, and it was reissued on Chandos with BTH.

R

 

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

 

Full track list of Michael Austin at Kilburn:-

 

BWV565; Jesu, Joy; Boellmann Toccata; Clarke-Trumpet Voluntary; Mendelssohn - Wedding March; Wagner - Bridal March Lohengrin; Purcell - Trumpet tune & Air, Walford Davies - Solemn Melody AND (just in case you don't know the work) The Widor Toccata.

 

Just listening to it now.....fine organ, but the action sounds like a paddle-steamer coming into port.

 

To put it another way, a young Norwegian organist said of one organ-action, "Everything you play sounds like "River Dance". :)

 

MM

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
==================

 

Full track list of Michael Austin at Kilburn:-

 

BWV565;  Jesu, Joy; Boellmann Toccata; Clarke-Trumpet Voluntary; Mendelssohn - Wedding March; Wagner - Bridal March Lohengrin; Purcell - Trumpet tune & Air, Walford Davies - Solemn Melody AND (just in case you don't know the work) The Widor Toccata.

 

Just listening to it now.....fine organ, but the action sounds like a paddle-steamer coming into port.

 

To put it another way, a young Norwegian organist said of one organ-action, "Everything you play sounds like "River Dance".  :)

 

MM

 

Nice to be remembering the recordings - although I am certain I had heard Mr Austin play on a recording the Toccata in D minor there.

 

As for the action noises - I find this odd as it is all pneumatic and really soft and responsive/quick. That is why it would be criminal to change this excellent system for any other. My feeling about recordings is that microphones are often set too close to the instrument. This could have been the case, and which might explain the paddle steamer sounds.

However, when I was there (and many other times besides) I am often musically up the river without a paddle.

 

best wishes,

NJA

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
Oh - I am wrong again!

 

Mind you, I was only 14 when I last heard the LP - and that was not exactly yesterday....

 

:)

 

Was that the recording with his pager tuner in white that was photgraphed on the cover? I think many people at college bought the recording just for that - I am sure, and then heard a rather huge instrument lacking a little wind.

 

Did Mr Austin have any connections with St Augustine's, by the way, to make these recordings?

 

N

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