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Mander Organs

Period footwear?


Robert Bowles

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There have recently been several posts about organ shoes. They set me thinking. What did organists wear on their feet 100 years ago before organmaster shoes were available? Boots not shoes were the normal footwear. Did they play in their boots or change into something else?

We are encouraged to use historic fingering in early muisic and play on period instruments . Are we missing something by not not also wearing period footwear?

 

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Perhaps we should use differently styled organ shoes for music of different periods.

The heels shouldn’t matter for Baroque music. Discuss.

Most, however, would stop before donning knee-breeches, long white hose and a sword (H&S issue, nowadays), for the sake of more complete authenticity (!). A full bottomed wig would occasion comment, too.

Just as we don’t use the same manual techniques to play, say, Messiaen in the same way as Bach, we do need to use different pedal techniques for later music. (I think of Dupré’s G minor Prélude.)

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I think Stainer recommended button boots in his Primer.

To quote Stainer:

"Shoes or boots worn when playing should not be made too narrow or too round at the toe; they should have fairly deep heel-pieces........."

 

He goes on to say (I like this bit):

"Lady-pupils should avoid very small and also very circular heel-pieces, unless they are prepared to undergo a temporary imprisonment or purchase liberty by the sacrifice of a boot."

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I feel sure that this image is posed and portraitistic- not realistic in some of its details. Bach’s arms, wrists and hands are at ridiculous angles and (look where is his centre of gravity) his feet are preventing him from overbalancing on to the keys.

 

Moreover, the manuals are canted downwards, so that they are slightly reminiscent of the upper ones at, say, Atlantic City.

 

Having said that, the bench could not be moved much further forward.

 

Perhaps the true solution for 'authentic' performance is to use lots of braid, buttons and, particularly, garters ! Disappointingly, but in keeping with his Lutheran credo, he has eschewed a more fancy style.

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Also depends on the style of the pedals; those carillonlike big and clumsy pedalkeys we often have 'here', especially those with high rounded sharpkeyes were you can nicely break your toes under, can be uncomfortable with narrow shoes. On the other hand, 'my' pedalboards require some quite slim shoes and (on the Loret pedalkeyboard) small feet because the keys are so short.

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....The manuals are canted downwards, so that they are slightly reminiscent of the upper ones at, say, Atlantic City.

 

That would date from the rebuild by Henry Willis III:

 

"The old pipework responded well to rescaling and revoicing along 'Willis' lines, although my faithful staff spent many hours puzzling over the seemingly impenetrable logic of the multi-rank mixtures and the gross scaling of the old reeds. The Fagot is a new development of mine and, I think, a happy one. It adds gravity without thickness and Herr Bach, the young and talented organist, finds it of great use in the manufacture of new sonorities. As for the Glockenspiel: well, it was a gift, paid for by a rich member of the congregation, and since it takes up very little room I consented to its addition. Herr Bach tells me that it has occasional uses, for example in his treatment of the charming New Year hymn In dir ist Freude... ....I was able to use the new patent Macpherson-Willis inclined keyboards, which have been described as the 'last word' in easing the lot of the organist."

 

In Percy Scholes' Oxford Companion to Music there is a drawing of "The Organist Bach" by Batt. The lowest manual of the three-manual console behind him is clearly seen to have a compass of 77 notes, CC-e.

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Surely, that’d be ‘Henryk Villis’.

 

Bach apparently wished for a different builder, as he was, it seems, averse to having the Rückpositiv (behind him, of course, in the engraving) positivised; petitioning the church council for handy pistons (to allow “many new ideas”) and a Tuba- to add to the plenum, ‘at the end of my learned fugues’.

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In Percy Scholes' Oxford Companion to Music there is a drawing of "The Organist Bach" by Batt. The lowest manual of the three-manual console behind him is clearly seen to have a compass of 77 notes, CC-e.

 

Whereas in the picture above the manuals are arranged in an orderly alternation of naturals and sharps. How many notes per octave there are is anyone's guess, but no wonder Bach objected to Silbermann's tuning.

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Surely, that’d be ‘Henryk Villis’.

 

Bach apparently wished for a different builder, as he was, it seems, averse to having the Rückpositiv (behind him, of course, in the engraving) positivised; petitioning the church council for handy pistons (to allow “many new ideas”) and a Tuba- to add to the plenum, ‘at the end of my learned fugues’.

He apparently also specified a Diaphone, but the builder misread his writing and supplied a Dulzian. This proved to be a success, however, and similar registers were inserted, inter alia, at All Souls, Langham Place and Hereford Cathedral.

 

Another register requested by Bach was a Larigot ('ein und ein Bitschen'). The builder recycled some older pipes which he had acquired from a Herr Handel in Halle, under the name "Largo".

 

The departure, shortly after the work was completed, of the bellows blower, Johann Gotthilfunsalles Balgenblaser, may have had something to do with the innovative use of the patent Infinite Gradation Bellows Signal, applying a clout on the ear at any of 16 strengths (from "Tickler" to "Skinner").

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