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Ireland in A and St. Luke's, Chelsea


David Drinkell

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My old friend and sometime colleague Robert Coates has sent me a copy of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in A by John Ireland, which he has edited for Cantando Musikkforlag. It's a pleasant setting and I shall order a set for St. John's Cathedral. I was struck, though, by the low tessitura. It was composed in 1905, a year after Ireland became Organist of St. Luke's, Chelsea. In those days, the organ was a three manual, large for its date, built by Nicholls in 1825 for somewhere else and bought in and installed by William Gray. It was subsequently rebuilt and altered on several occasions by Henry Jones, but retained much of its character until it was replaced in 1932 by the famous Compton instrument. It was said that the the tracker action made a glorious bonfire and the organist at the time (was it Guy Eldridge?) had the unique experience of transferring from an antiquated 19th century console and action to a Compton luminous job.

 

Shortly afterwards, in 1907, Ireland persuaded the church to get a clever little two-manual Harrison to accompany the choir, the big organ being in the west gallery.

 

I wonder - was the old organ tuned to a high pitch? A lot of Victorian organs were. I shall probably transpose Ireland in A up into B flat when I take it into use.

 

Just an idle musing about music and pitch....

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Apparently Ireland was invited back to play the Compton organ some years later but declined saying "No thank you, I don't play Cinema organs"

 

Which is odd, since, aside from some carefully thought-out extension, this clever instrument has nothing whatsoever in common with any cinema organ.

 

In any case, according to J. Stuart Archer, the previous instrument was a wretched affair, incomplete and in a fairly parlous state by the time that John Compton was called in.

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Which is odd, since, aside from some carefully thought-out extension, this clever instrument has nothing whatsoever in common with any cinema organ.

 

In any case, according to J. Stuart Archer, the previous instrument was a wretched affair, incomplete and in a fairly parlous state by the time that John Compton was called in.

Well, electric action, totally enclosed, 97 stops from 28 ranks, and sustainers would have made it more similar to a Cinema Organ than to most church or cathedral organs at the time.

 

It would be hard to find an example of a rebuild or new installation where the incumbent organist described the previous state of the organ as beautifully designed, well-built and in perfect condition.

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Well, electric action, totally enclosed, 97 stops from 28 ranks, and sustainers would have made it more similar to a Cinema Organ than to most church or cathedral organs at the time.

 

It would be hard to find an example of a rebuild or new installation where the incumbent organist described the previous state of the organ as beautifully designed, well-built and in perfect condition.

 

Electric action? Not really; by 1932, HWIII had been using electric action as standard for several years. In any case, FHW used it at Canterbury Cathedral in 1886 - and of course, Hope-Jones built his new organ for Worcester cathedral in 1896, using his own form of electric action*. At Chelsea, the total enclosure may have struck warning bells with a few organists - but in practice, with the boxes open, it was (as was often the case with John Compton's cleverly designed instruments) virtually impossible to tell that the G.O. was enclosed. The extension principle was becoming more common at this time - with the ascendancy of Compton's firm. The sustainers were probably a red herring - a number of conventional organs had a few unusual accessories, around this time. To take one almost exactly contemporary example: Hereford Cathedral (as rebuilt and enlarged by HWIII, in 1933). At the completion of the rebuild, this instrument boasted a G.O. Sub Octave coupler (probably unique in an English cathedral organ at this time ϯ) and - even more of a rarity - a 'Pedal in Sub Octaves' coupler - about as common as a Norwegian-speaking dog. It could also be said that HWIII's employment of rocking-tablets for couplers as standard on larger consoles (and HN&B's stop-tab consoles) had more in common with cinema organs, than did the luminous light-touch console at Saint Luke's, Chelsea.

 

I still wonder if in fact Ireland was thinking of something more akin to a Wurlitzer. In any case, he missed a great opportunity. Whilst I should always choose a good straight instrument over one built on the extension principle - however well-constructed and voiced, I have played the Chelsea organ (for service work), and found it to be versatile, thrilling - and entirely musical. Although, in fairness, it should be said that I did not like the light-touches. Whilst I am aware of claims that several stops may be manipulated at ease, in one movement, I have never really needed to do this by hand - this is what pistons are for. In any case, it is perfectly possible to hand-register on quite large instruments which possess drawstops only. Some years ago, I was called in to play for Sunday services at Christchurch Priory at short notice, since the organist for that day's visiting choir was indisposed. When I arrived, I discovered that the organ had a fault. Apparently, the day before, the entire piston action had been knocked out inadvertently whilst the organ was undergoing maintenance. So, I had no choice but to hand-register everything. Of course it helped that I knew the organ (this was, incidentally, in the days of the old 105-stop toaster). However, with fare such as Britten's setting of the Jubliate and other such items, my task was not an easy one. I doubt that I would have found it any less arduous had the stops been controlled by Compton's light-touches.

 

Your second statement - granted. However, the impression which I gain from his writings in The Organ (and elsewhere), J. Stuart Archer certainly knew his stuff and was apparently quite honest in his descriptions - even if he did look seriously creepy.

 

 

 

* However, I am sure that you are well aware of this, David.

 

ϯ Saint Anne's Cathedral, Belfast had a Sub Octave coupler on the G.O. as early as 1907 - but, as you know, it acted only on the reed chest.

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about as common as a Norwegian-speaking dog.

 

Don't all the dogs in Norway speak Norwegian? I know it's a small country. I believe they can also understand Swedish and Danish, though they don't spell things the same way.

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At the completion of the rebuild, this instrument boasted a G.O. Sub Octave coupler (probably unique in an English cathedral organ at this time ϯ) and - even more of a rarity - a 'Pedal in Sub Octaves' coupler - about as common as a Norwegian-speaking dog.

 

 

When Hele & Co refurbished the organ of St Andrew's, Plymouth in 1884 they introduced a "sub-pedal coupler". Goodness knows why. The "Sub Coupler Pedal" was retained when the organ was rebuilt in 1895, but seems to have been discarded at the 1909 rebuild, if the NPOR survey is correct. (The NPOR surveys for this instrument need significant correction and supplementation: the fourth manual was added long before 1909 and, needless to say, there was no rebuild in 1885 by Cavaillé-Coll!)

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The old St. Luke's organ had originally been a large (for the time - 1825) three manual in the 'insular' style with much duplication (three Opens on the Great, two Stopped Diapasons, two Principals, two Fifteenths; two Opens, two Dulcianas and two Principals in the Swell), which Gray bought from the estate of Nicholls, the original builder and sold on to the church.

 

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?Fn=Rsearch&rec_index=R01420

 

It was subsequently rebuilt more than once by Henry Jones, ending up as a substantial affair with 39 speaking stops, tracker action, flat stop jambs and one or two unusual touches such as a 1' Piccolo on the Great.

 

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?Fn=Rsearch&rec_index=N18008

 

Henry Jones & Sons were respectable builders, and their tracker actions were very well made. Many small to medium jobs are still to be found in village churches, giving no trouble and making good music. I would guess that today we would treasure such an instrument and have it carefully restored. Jones's action would have come up very nicely.

 

One would not expect, however, that John Ireland would have been particularly enamoured of the instrument. It was outdated even at the time of its last rebuild in 1894, ten years before he was appointed. More important, perhaps, would be the fact that it was (and is) in the west gallery, with the choir in the chancel. Co-ordination would have been very difficult. Harrisons' built a small organ to Ireland's design at the east end of the south gallery in 1907, probably in the expectation of getting a major rebuild of the big organ.

 

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?Fn=Rsearch&rec_index=N18009

 

Although the pipes of the Compton are still at the west end in the old case, the console is near where the little Harrison stood (the latter went to a church in Nottingham, where it still is), so at least the organist and the choir were close to each other. It is always over-optimistic to hope that such a set-up will be satisfactory (and another small organ stood near the choir for a few years from 1989), but it would have been seen as an improvement in 1932.

 

The Compton is justly famed. It is a fine job and an important example of the firm's work, although as Ian Bell pointed out, it is not as well-balanced as Downside. At the time, it must have felt like rocket science, with its luminous stop touches and lavish tonal scheme. I agree with pcnd that the luminous stops are not as easy to use as draw-stops. I play a Rogers toaster several times a week at the local Anglican seminary which is so equipped and I can testify that they are not as easy to register as either draw-stops or stop-keys.

 

Charles Cleall, onetime organist at St. Luke's, described the organ to me as 'almost a monster' - this was nearly thirty years ago when he was music inspector for schools in the North of Scotland and I was teaching in order to afford to be organist of St. Magnus Cathedral. I can see what he was getting at, but organs of that period were not as well thought-of then as they are now.

 

pcnd mentions the Sub Octave Reeds couplers at Belfast Cathedral. This was indeed present in the original instrument and completed the reed chorus on the Great, but disappeared when the organ was rebuilt in 1969. I had it (and the Solo Octave, Sub and Unison Off) reinstated in 2000, which not only improved the versatility of the instrument considerably but restored the original concept of the scheme. Colchester Town Hall (Norman & Beard) also has Sub Octave Reed couplers on both Great and Swell, to its great advantage.

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When Hele & Co refurbished the organ of St Andrew's, Plymouth in 1884 they introduced a "sub-pedal coupler". Goodness knows why. The "Sub Coupler Pedal" was retained when the organ was rebuilt in 1895, but seems to have been discarded at the 1909 rebuild, if the NPOR survey is correct. (The NPOR surveys for this instrument need significant correction and supplementation: the fourth manual was added long before 1909 and, needless to say, there was no rebuild in 1885 by Cavaillé-Coll!)

One occasionally found a Pedal sub coupler where an organ had been converted from the old long-compass down to G, thus giving 32' tone as far as the old pipes went.

 

The Great Sub at Hereford was unique on English cathedral organs, but such a coupler is found on large Cavaille-Coll organs - a point which is worth remembering when playing the French Romantic School. Norman Cocker prescribed a recipe for French toccatas which eschewed 8' stops on the manuals and 16' stops on the pedals but included sub couplers and doubles. It often works! I register the Widor Toccata and similar works here with Great from Second Diapason up to Mixture with 8 and 4 reeds and Sub and I think it sounds a good deal more French than most organs which do not have this coupler.

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One occasionally found a Pedal sub coupler where an organ had been converted from the old long-compass down to G, thus giving 32' tone as far as the old pipes went.

 

 

Thank you for that, David. I would, however, be sceptical that this was the case at St Andrew's, although perhaps one shouldn't rule out the possibility altogether. It appears from NPOR that it was Gray and Davison who altered the compass to CC when they rebuilt the Parsons/Lincoln organ in 1859. There is no mention of a Pedal Sub in that survey, not in the spec of it as rebuilt by Rider/Ryder* in 1875. Its first appearance is in 1884.

 

* I have no idea who this man was, so don't know which spelling is correct. It was reported that he was formerly of Plymouth and had premises at Ball Street, Kensington Square.

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The old St. Luke's organ had originally been a large (for the time - 1825) three manual in the 'insular' style with much duplication (three Opens on the Great, two Stopped Diapasons, two Principals, two Fifteenths; two Opens, two Dulcianas and two Principals in the Swell), which Gray bought from the estate of Nicholls, the original builder and sold on to the church.

 

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?Fn=Rsearch&rec_index=R01420

 

It was subsequently rebuilt more than once by Henry Jones, ending up as a substantial affair with 39 speaking stops, tracker action, flat stop jambs and one or two unusual touches such as a 1' Piccolo on the Great.

 

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?Fn=Rsearch&rec_index=N18008

 

Henry Jones & Sons were respectable builders, and their tracker actions were very well made. Many small to medium jobs are still to be found in village churches, giving no trouble and making good music. I would guess that today we would treasure such an instrument and have it carefully restored. Jones's action would have come up very nicely.

 

One would not expect, however, that John Ireland would have been particularly enamoured of the instrument. It was outdated even at the time of its last rebuild in 1894, ten years before he was appointed. More important, perhaps, would be the fact that it was (and is) in the west gallery, with the choir in the chancel. Co-ordination would have been very difficult. Harrisons' built a small organ to Ireland's design at the east end of the south gallery in 1907, probably in the expectation of getting a major rebuild of the big organ.

 

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?Fn=Rsearch&rec_index=N18009

 

Although the pipes of the Compton are still at the west end in the old case, the console is near where the little Harrison stood (the latter went to a church in Nottingham, where it still is), so at least the organist and the choir were close to each other. It is always over-optimistic to hope that such a set-up will be satisfactory (and another small organ stood near the choir for a few years from 1989), but it would have been seen as an improvement in 1932.

 

The Compton is justly famed. It is a fine job and an important example of the firm's work, although as Ian Bell pointed out, it is not as well-balanced as Downside. At the time, it must have felt like rocket science, with its luminous stop touches and lavish tonal scheme. I agree with pcnd that the luminous stops are not as easy to use as draw-stops. I play a Rogers toaster several times a week at the local Anglican seminary which is so equipped and I can testify that they are not as easy to register as either draw-stops or stop-keys.

 

Charles Cleall, onetime organist at St. Luke's, described the organ to me as 'almost a monster' - this was nearly thirty years ago when he was music inspector for schools in the North of Scotland and I was teaching in order to afford to be organist of St. Magnus Cathedral. I can see what he was getting at, but organs of that period were not as well thought-of then as they are now.

 

pcnd mentions the Sub Octave Reeds couplers at Belfast Cathedral. This was indeed present in the original instrument and completed the reed chorus on the Great, but disappeared when the organ was rebuilt in 1969. I had it (and the Solo Octave, Sub and Unison Off) reinstated in 2000, which not only improved the versatility of the instrument considerably but restored the original concept of the scheme. Colchester Town Hall (Norman & Beard) also has Sub Octave Reed couplers on both Great and Swell, to its great advantage.

 

David, thank you for this - some really interesting things, here.

 

With the new layout, I have no idea how to split posts when quoting - the old

tags have vanished.... so, how do I do this, please?

 

With regard to the console at Saint Luke's, Chelsea. In fact, there are two consoles. There is a small two-clavier console, situated at floor level, amongst the north choir stalls, and the main (luminous light-touch) console - which I note has been moved. Formerly, it was situated in the south gallery, roughly level with the choir stalls and with the player facing west. However, when I visited the church in December 2011, I saw that it had been moved to the west end of the north gallery - as far as I can recall, with the player facing north - somewhat nearer the organ - and rather distant from the choir stalls. Even with CCTV and monitor speakers, I am not sure what advantage this position has over the former site.

 

I recall David's comment regarding the re-introduction of the Great Reeds Sub Octave coupler at Belfast. Presumably, the fact that it was removed (for a few years) in 1969, was symptomatic of how organ design was viewed in those days. Largely gone were Pedal quints and acoustic basses - and often, octave couplers (c.f. Coventry cathedral: as built, this possessed only a Swell Octave, the Swell Sub Octave, Unison Off, Solo Solo Octave, Sub Octave and Unison Off, together with the Choir Larigot, were added in 1997).*

 

 

 

* In fact, the NPOR gives that date of the addition of the Choir Larigot as both 1987 (in the body of the stop-list) and 2000 (at the top, in the précis of the work carried out) - which is incorrect. I recall the review of a CD (or perhaps an LP), which was recorded at Coventry around 1987. During this review Paul Hale (?) said something to the effect of '...the Coventry organ has been augmented with the addition of a much-desired Larigot on the Choir Organ and (whisper it), some Octave couplers on the Solo Organ.'

 

IN fact, there was originally to have been a Larigot on the Choir (at any rate, after the tedious first specification had been put out of the picture - this would have been an entirely conventional Romantic H&H scheme). However, this was substituted for a Fifteenth - or possibly the Block Flute. In this, the NPOR has again been provided with inaccurate information. The Block Flute was not 'added' (n.d.); it was present at the completion of the instrument, in 1963.

 

However, there is one change I wish had never taken place - the revoicing of the Solo Orchestral Trumpet and Orchestral Clarion, by David Wells, in 2000. Whist the revoicing has been well done, the stops have lost their fire and éclat - and now sound as if they are trying to be thin Tuba ranks. This is totally out of character with the rest of the instrument and I would like to see this reversed.

 

In fairness, the 8ft. Orchestral Trumpet had been revoiced previously - around the time of the death of David Lepine. It was desired to make a memorial to him, as the cathedral's first director of music. A Tuba was suggested, but wise counsel suggested that this would be at odds with the tonal 'picture' of the rest of the organ. So, as a compromise, the Orchestral Trumpet was made slightly 'fatter', by Harrisons. However, it still retained its fire and thrilling brightness.

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Expanding slightly on the Henry Jones diversion - John Budgen (Bishop & Son) remarked on the flimsiness of some modern tracker actions, especially in some of the small RC jobs which swarmed in after Vat2, and also in the work of a fashionable British builder, now retired. He said that none of them were as reliable or pleasant to the touch as a good Henry Jones, and the reed voicing was far inferior!

 

I didn't know about the second console at Chelsea. I guess it is a relatively modern addition. The main console was in the south gallery in the position pcnd mentions when I played the organ in about 1980. (It's worrying to realise how old I'm getting!).

 

Regarding the Belfast couplers, Harry Grindle said, 'Well, we had to draw the line financially somewhere', but I'm more inclined to think that it was a sign of the times. There is a picture in Harry's autobiography Reprise of Kenneth James, Harry and Kenneth's father, Henry, at the new console in 1975. Henry had been part of the team that installed the original organ in 1907, had stayed in lodgings up the road in Carlisle Circus, had fallen in love with the landlady's daughter, Ellen, and married her in the Cathedral in 1911. In 1975, he was 87, looking just like Vaughan Williams, and not thinking of retiring - 'Why should I retire when I can still do my work?'.

 

A friend at Bristol University had been a Coventry chorister and he maintained that the Larigot had always been there, but I'm not sure that his memory wasn't playing tricks, even at that short distance of time.

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A friend at Bristol University had been a Coventry chorister and he maintained that the Larigot had always been there, but I'm not sure that his memory wasn't playing tricks, even at that short distance of time.

 

No - this is incorrect. This rank was definitely not present prior to 1987.

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..........

 

With the new layout, I have no idea how to split posts when quoting - the old

quote tags have vanished.... so, how do I do this, please?

.........

It is still possible:

 

............

 

With regard to the console at Saint Luke's, Chelsea. In fact, there are two consoles.

 

...........

But it doesn't seem so easy.

 

.........

However, there is one change I wish had never taken place -

 

..............

If you click the "Quote" button, in the top left hand corner below "Reply to this topic" is a small square icon which, if you hover over it, says "BBCode Mode." If you click on that the various tags appear. It's then a matter of copying and editing, and typing in your own comments in between.

 

It doesn't seem quite so straightforward as before though. I used the "More Reply Options" to open the enhanced editor to practise with. Perhaps someone else knows a better way?

 

Best,

 

J.

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It is still possible:

 

 

But it doesn't seem so easy.

 

 

If you click the "Quote" button, in the top left hand corner below "Reply to this topic" is a small square icon which, if you hover over it, says "BBCode Mode." If you click on that the various tags appear. It's then a matter of copying and editing, and typing in your own comments in between.

Thank you

 

It doesn't seem quite so straightforward as before though. I used the "More Reply Options" to open the enhanced editor to practise with. Perhaps someone else knows a better way?

 

Best,

 

J.

This does seem to work - although it also renders the full edit options unusable.

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.............

This does seem to work - although it also renders the full edit options unusable.

Yes, thank you. I had not taken that in because I don't post very often so seldom use the other options.

 

It seems you have to use BBCode Mode to enter the text, then click the icon again to get the other options back.

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Yes, thank you. I had not taken that in because I don't post very often so seldom use the other options.

 

It seems you have to use BBCode Mode to enter the text, then click the icon again to get the other options back.

 

Ah - of course. Now why did I not think of that....?

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This is all very interesting. I enjoy deviations from topic and am a master deviant myself(!)

 

However, does anyone have an opinion about low tessitura of e.g. Ireland in A and the sharp pitch of some Victorian organs. George Guest recalled that Chester was almost a semitone sharp, so everything had to be transposed down. He said that this stood him in good stead when he was interviewed from the Organ Studentship at St. john's College, as the tests included transposition - down a semitone!

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This is all very interesting. I enjoy deviations from topic and am a master deviant myself(!)

 

 

This sounds like Bournemouth Town Council.

 

There used to be the 'Upper Pleasure Gardens' and the 'Lower Pleasure Gardens' (complete with signage to match) - until some concerned council member decided that the inclusion of the word 'pleasure' might encourage undesirable activity, and so the signs were re-made.

 

With regard to pitch - I am not sure. However, I do have to play for a visiting choir at Chester this August. I wonder if I shall be expected to transpose psalms, canticles, etc, down a semitone, too?

 

Perhaps I had better contact the music staff and check....

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Don't panic! Rushworth's corrected the pitch to A440 in 1969. Interesting that George Guest said it was nerly a semitone sharp, but John Belcher ('The Organs of Chester Cathedral' 1970) uses the term 'slghtly sharp'.

 

It's a little convoluted, but I'm drawn to the conclusion that lower keys were favoured a couple of generations ago, but the pitch tended to be higher. People like David Willcocks favoured higher pitches, which now are taken down a bit (compare the Matin Responsory 'after Palestrina', which is in C in Carols for Choirs 2 (Willcocks) but in B flat in Advent for Choirs (Cleobury). [incidentally, it's based on a Nunc, not a Mag, as the editors claim.] We know that pieces like 'Gibbons in F' (the Short Service) should sound somewhat higher than written (I do it in A), but evidence from the Wetheringsett and Wingfield organ reconstructions seem to prove that maybe we've been raising things too much. And that opens a new can of worms when it comes to texture because we expect a certain counter-tenor tone. I've always done 'This is the record of John' in A, which is a semitone above published pitch (but the old edition in F is still on sale). Maybe a whole different sound world is more authentic. At any rate, it can't be any more weird than a bevy of Belfast Cathedral layclerks singing it while rolling down the middle of the main street in Trondhjem after a night on the town....

 

As a student I remember a seminar conducted by Allan Wicks. Some non-organist student asked, 'What's the finest organ in England?', and Allan came straight back with 'Chester Cathedral'. I'm not sure he wasn't right (and I speak as, generally, a non-Hill fan).

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We know that pieces like 'Gibbons in F' (the Short Service) should sound somewhat higher than written (I do it in A), but evidence from the Wetheringsett and Wingfield organ reconstructions seem to prove that maybe we've been raising things too much. And that opens a new can of worms when it comes to texture because we expect a certain counter-tenor tone. I've always done 'This is the record of John' in A, which is a semitone above published pitch (but the old edition in F is still on sale). Maybe a whole different sound world is more authentic.

 

 

 

 

The pitch issue was dealt with 10 years ago by Andrew Johnstone in an article in "Early Music" entitled "'As it was in the beginning': organ and choir pitch in early Anglican church music". Using pitch measurements by Padgham, Goetze and Gwynn of the couple of remaining pipes at Stanford-upon-Avon and of some historical measurements by Alexander Ellis on Smith's pipes at Durham, he locates the Tudor a' in the range 472.9 - 476.8 hz. - about one and a third semitones above a = 440. The vocal ranges of Tudor church music suggest that this pitch must have been constant (no doubt with a bit of give an take) from 1460 to the Commonwealth. He also argues that Weelkes's service for trebles was nevertheless transposed down from this standard at Durham and believes that this transposition down was normal for that small body of Jacobean music "for trebles". I never did quite get my head around this latter argument; it's been on my to do list for ten years and I really must get down to pondering the article properly! One corollary of all this is that it follows that the Tudor countertenor, tenor and bass voices were nothing more than our tenor, baritone and bass, albeit with a slightly higher tessitura than today (which is why certain scholars still argue that A=440 is, entirely fortuitously, a more credible pitch). It explains why Charles Butler called the tenor "an ordinary voice" and why is it all but ignored in pre-Commonwealth verse anthems. It is obvious from a glance at the Eton Choirbook repertory that the countertenor and tenor voices were originally identical (and Roger Bowers has produced etymological evidence to support this); one can trace their gradual divergence as the sixteenth century progresses; the tenors (baritones) losing a minor third from the top or their range by the mid-century and the countertenors (tenors) gaining a tone by the same time and a further tone later on. Andrew Parrott and his Taverner Choir once made two CDs of music by Tallis, performed up a semitone with high tenors singing the countertenor parts. The sound is absolutely wonderful. They are among my desert island discs.

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Don't panic! Rushworth's corrected the pitch to A440 in 1969. Interesting that George Guest said it was nerly a semitone sharp, but John Belcher ('The Organs of Chester Cathedral' 1970) uses the term 'slghtly sharp'.

 

 

Ah, thank you, David - that will save some practice-time, then.

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As a student I remember a seminar conducted by Allan Wicks. Some non-organist student asked, 'What's the finest organ in England?', and Allan came straight back with 'Chester Cathedral'. I'm not sure he wasn't right (and I speak as, generally, a non-Hill fan).

 

Except that technically the organ of Chester Cathedral is not a 'Hill' organ. It was built by the local firm, Whiteley. if you compare the stop-lists, Hill did not change much in 1910. (Although I am not sure how extensive the alterations of 1895, by Gray & Davison were.) Hill provided a new console and removed some of the upper-work - which was probably more a reflection on organists' tastes at that time, than the builders' tonal policy.

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Except that technically the organ of Chester Cathedral is not a 'Hill' organ. It was built by the local firm, Whiteley. if you compare the stop-lists, Hill did not change much in 1910. (Although I am not sure how extensive the alterations of 1895, by Gray & Davison were.) Hill provided a new console and removed some of the upper-work - which was probably more a reflection on organists' tastes at that time, than the builders' tonal policy.

 

John Belcher's 'The Organs of Chester Cathedral' gives the following information:

 

Whiteley incorporated parts of 22 stops in the new organ "but most were eventually replaced".

 

Gray & Davison's 1895 work (costing 600 pounds) included the substitution or transposition of the Great Gamba, Solo Orchestral Oboe and Pedal Mixture.

 

Hills' kept most of the flue-work and revoiced it - it's always easier to revoice in a Romantic direction because you cut off pipelengths, cut up mouths and deepen nicks - and added a new Large Open and Octave to the Great and Open Diapason (metal) 16 and Double Open (wood) 32 to the Pedal. All the reeds were new. The Choir Organ was moved from the case on the screen (which now houses a Rood and attendant figures) to its present position in the south quire arcade.

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My old friend and sometime colleague Robert Coates has sent me a copy of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in A by John Ireland, which he has edited for Cantando Musikkforlag. It's a pleasant setting and I shall order a set for St. John's Cathedral. I was struck, though, by the low tessitura. It was composed in 1905, a year after Ireland became Organist of St. Luke's, Chelsea. In those days, the organ was a three manual, large for its date, built by Nicholls in 1825 for somewhere else and bought in and installed by William Gray. It was subsequently rebuilt and altered on several occasions by Henry Jones, but retained much of its character until it was replaced in 1932 by the famous Compton instrument. It was said that the the tracker action made a glorious bonfire and the organist at the time (was it Guy Eldridge?) had the unique experience of transferring from an antiquated 19th century console and action to a Compton luminous job.

 

Shortly afterwards, in 1907, Ireland persuaded the church to get a clever little two-manual Harrison to accompany the choir, the big organ being in the west gallery.

 

I wonder - was the old organ tuned to a high pitch? A lot of Victorian organs were. I shall probably transpose Ireland in A up into B flat when I take it into use.

 

Just an idle musing about music and pitch....

I am not familiar with Ireland in A but I am with Ireland's evening service in F. (copyright 1915, when he was still at St Luke's). I remember thinking, as a treble, how, it was a bit like Dyson in D (which has lots of top A s) but much less of a screech! Its highest treble note is only top G.

I also noted that it was the only work in the repertoire which required the trebles to sing A below middle C (...in the imagination of their HEARTS). Getting down there was a far greater challenge for us than getting up to top Bb s !

But.... If Ireland in F were transposed up a tone.... it would be on a screech level with Dyson in D and the trebles would have a chance to sing "hearts". So I'd support the idea that St Luke's organs (both of them, because surely nobody would have instruments tuned to different pitches in the same building) ) were tuned high.

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