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jackaubrey

York Minster organ pipes for sale

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Bumped into these on eBay:

 

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/ORGAN-PIPES-YORK-MINSTER-/141347004804?pt=UK_MusicalInstr_Keyboard_RL&hash=item20e8f02184

 

And wondered which incarnation of the York instrument (if any) they may be from and why they were discarded.

 

On a similar note, what other relics of previous instruments are still lurking in Cathedrals? For starters, I believe the celestial organ at Westminster Abbey and the ?echo organ at Leeds are still in situ - where they left for possible future use (!) or to save the expense of removal? Also, there is the old console in St Patrick's Dublin. Any others?

 

John

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I'd say that the reed, at least, was discarded because it is well beyond possible repair!

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Isn't the old Lincoln Willis console somewhere in the building still? I think one of the old St Paul's Cathedral Console still lurks too.

Finally, I have a recollection that a console from a previous instrument in Malmesbury Abbey (Wiltshire) was kept in the room above the South Porch.

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the former 2 manual mobile console in Liverpool Anglican cathedral is stored in the blower room - I've got a picture somewhere.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Not too long ago a former Chichester organist (no names because it would be impolite to broadcast a private conversation) told me that the old (1970s) Allen digital organ was still there in the triforium, playable and used for real. Apologies for mentioning the d-word here, but as GTB played and recorded it maybe I can be forgiven. I got the distinct impression it had somewhat endeared itself to them and they were hesitant to chuck it out when the nave pipe organ was finally brought back into use. But admittedly it's far removed from organ pipes and so rather off-topic.

 

CEP

 

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I remember the Allen shortly after it was installed. The Organ Club went there and attended Evensong. I shall never forget how many pairs of eyes turned aloft at the electronic Tuba came on in the Gloria to the Nunc of Murrill in E. It was one of those "alterable voices" produced by inserting a sort of rich tea biscuit in a slot. I thought it sounded rather good, and certainly a lot better than most toasters (although I was impressed by a neo-classical Ahlborn temporarily installed in St. Peter's, Eaton Square, around the same time).

 

In latter years, after the Mander rebuild, one of the music staff at Chichester told me that the Allen had the advantage that it could deliver a lot of varied organ tone in different parts of the building, so it was useful to have it when the need arose.

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Re. the old mobile Liverpool console Tony, it is going to be refurbished and used in the Lady Chapel at ground floor level for the 2M Willis...

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Just thought of another.............and much more recent..........the old Positiv organ entombed in the parabola of Llandaff remains, though unplayable on the new instrument. Apparently it would have cost loads to set up scaffolding to remove the pipes.

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Am I being a tad cynical, or is the Ebay lot possibly a case of someone trying to cash in on an urban myth? If they don't sell, might we see them repackaged as having come from an organ played by Handel?

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Am I being a tad cynical, or is the Ebay lot possibly a case of someone trying to cash in on an urban myth? If they don't sell, might we see them repackaged as having come from an organ played by Handel?

 

Or perhaps slept on by Queen Elizabeth I....

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The Chichester Allen was reinstalled at the west end of the cathedral for concert use when the chairs are turned to face west. The console is (or was) repositioned in the triforium on the south side of the west nave - I imagine that the speakers were repositioned as well - well, they must have been as some of them were in the present organ case - others were in the triforium above the south transept and others to the west of the Bishop Bell screen. I don't know if it still used or even if it works but that was certainly what happened after the pipe organ was reinstated.

 

The Tuba was, indeed, a pretty splendid sound achieved through entering the Orchestral Tuba computer card on all four alterable voices on the swell. These were then 'drawn' together with a tab called Reed Solo which increased their volume many fold. In John Birch's time, this was all set up on General 12 with fairly full choir and great accompaniment but you had to pop the Tuba card in four times after switching on, or you were stuck. I think, actually, that as some sort of failsafe, the swell Cornopean was set to come on on General 12 so that if you forgot to add put the Tuba cards in, at least you got something!

 

Of all the cards in the drawer, the Orchestral Tuba was pretty much the only one used. There was a Spanish Trumpet which was dabbled with and fun was also had with a Chrysoglot - I think that this was specified in a William Albright Missa Brevis - one of the famous Chichester commissions of the Dean Walter Hussey/John Birch years.

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There's the Father Smith organ case at Durham, too. I wonder if the front pipes are original. I read somewhere that they were washed down with beer once a year to give the impression of having been varnished. I've had beer that tasted like varnish, but it wasn't brewed near Durham....

 

And the 'Dean Bargrave' chamber organ at Canterbury (is it actually in the Cathedral itself?).

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I remember the Allen shortly after it was installed. The Organ Club went there and attended Evensong. I shall never forget how many pairs of eyes turned aloft at the electronic Tuba came on in the Gloria to the Nunc of Murrill in E. It was one of those "alterable voices" produced by inserting a sort of rich tea biscuit in a slot. I thought it sounded rather good, and certainly a lot better than most toasters (although I was impressed by a neo-classical Ahlborn temporarily installed in St. Peter's, Eaton Square, around the same time).

 

In latter years, after the Mander rebuild, one of the music staff at Chichester told me that the Allen had the advantage that it could deliver a lot of varied organ tone in different parts of the building, so it was useful to have it when the need arose.

During a period in 1970s when I was singing rather than playing the organ my choir used to spend a summer week at Chichester Cathedral and I spent quite a bit of time on the organ loft.

 

I well remember the drawer of cards for the digital organ - a bit like the old-fashioned Hollerith system for data input on early electro-mechanical computational systems.

 

Another feature was, if I remember correctly, a stepless transposer knob which proved useful one hot afternoon when the anthem (the name and composer of which I forget) had a long unaccompanied section before the organ returned at full belt towards the end. The organist, with the aid of an earphone which apparently cut off the speakers so he could accurately compare our pitch and his, retuned the organ to the slightly lower pitch to which the choir had sunk before the grand entrance.

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Finally, I have a recollection that a console from a previous instrument in Malmesbury Abbey (Wiltshire) was kept in the room above the South Porch.

 

It was, but a friend rescued it on learning it was all going on a bonfire. The Jordan 1714 console resided for some years in Reading University but when the Historiography course ceased I think it is now with the organbuilders Goetze & Gwynn.

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There is also all the pipework in the Transept case at Worcester, I am not sure if any of it will be used if, and when the organ is finally completed.

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There is also all the pipework in the Transept case at Worcester, I am not sure if any of it will be used if, and when the organ is finally completed.

 

Probably better not to start some of us on this one again....

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The Chichester Allen was reinstalled at the west end of the cathedral for concert use when the chairs are turned to face west. The console is (or was) repositioned in the triforium on the south side of the west nave - I imagine that the speakers were repositioned as well - well, they must have been as some of them were in the present organ case - others were in the triforium above the south transept and others to the west of the Bishop Bell screen. I don't know if it still used or even if it works but that was certainly what happened after the pipe organ was reinstated.

 

The Tuba was, indeed, a pretty splendid sound achieved through entering the Orchestral Tuba computer card on all four alterable voices on the swell. These were then 'drawn' together with a tab called Reed Solo which increased their volume many fold. In John Birch's time, this was all set up on General 12 with fairly full choir and great accompaniment but you had to pop the Tuba card in four times after switching on, or you were stuck. I think, actually, that as some sort of failsafe, the swell Cornopean was set to come on on General 12 so that if you forgot to add put the Tuba cards in, at least you got something!

 

Of all the cards in the drawer, the Orchestral Tuba was pretty much the only one used. There was a Spanish Trumpet which was dabbled with and fun was also had with a Chrysoglot - I think that this was specified in a William Albright Missa Brevis - one of the famous Chichester commissions of the Dean Walter Hussey/John Birch years.

 

I am always suspicious of these 'alterable voice' devices.

 

For several years, I played for a colleague's school carol service, for which an electronic substitute was hired. (For the record, it was often not an Allen.) One year, I had time to discover that, if I pulled the Choir 1ft. flute extra hard, drew a pentagram on the ground with chalk and recited the stop-list of any Harrison organ from the 1920s backwards, the 1ft. magically became a powerful and majestic Tuba.

 

Actually it did nothing of the kind.

 

The introduction to Hark the Herald (unintentionally played on the stupid 1ft. flute, which refused point-blank to transform into a Tuba), whilst inaudible to anyone over the age of eighteen, did cause my colleague to stop conducting, look over and mouth frantically 'What the hell are you doing?' Since I was as surprised as he was, I simply shrugged and moved up to the next clavier - and played the introduction again.

 

However, we did encounter several inquisitive dogs outside the Great Hall after the service was over.

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I remember playing the Chichester Allen when I accompanied a choir that gave a concert there. I can't recall what they sang, but I played Dieu parmi nous as a solo (the choir's conductor was keen on modern music and a bit of a composer). My abiding memory is being completely nonplussed as to how John Birch could possibly have tolerated such a disappointing apology for a musical instrument. It can only have been the acoustics.

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Well, obviously, it was quite an early electronic instrument. As you say, the acoustics made all the difference, and those who played it regularly were able to get the best from it - like all good organists. Even then, I assure you that many people hearing it at evensong, especially when sounds emanated from the old organ case, thought they were listening to the pipe organ and would gaze lovingly at it! If you had played Transports de joie instead of Dieu parmi nous, you would have heard the instrument fight back at the size of those opening chords - it could only manage so many notes at a time.

 

I think John Birch enjoyed it - he liked a good electronic! He was very proud of the Rogers substitute at the RAH which he was responsible for. I

 

think the important thing about the Chichester situation is that they were prepared to manage with an electronic all those years while they waited for the restoration to the pipe organ to become possible. I don't think that is a bad model - to think that it can't be done now - let's get a very good electronic for a while - and save up. I have had to do much the same thing with a cricket pavilion here at our school. We want a decent looking pavilion as a worthy and permanent structure. The old wooden was finally beyond repair - we're making do with a new wooden one while we have to prioritise other things but the permanent solution is on the cards. The old one can be rebuilt for a junior pitch - rather like the Chichester Allen being shuffled along to the West End.

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I think John Birch enjoyed it - he liked a good electronic!

 

 

That's interesting, if only because there weren't many 'good' electronics around then, even if one allows the possibility that any electronic can be 'good' even today. All others until c.1990 were analogue because of the tight and vigorously-defended patent situation, with the exception of the Bradford/Musicom computing organ which used a different system and thus could sidestep the patents, and that didn't appear until the early 80s or so. In my opinion virtually all of the analogue ones were utterly dreadful, with a very small number of exceptions. The larger analogue instruments by Copeman Hart were usually worth a trip to try though some were better than others - again, only my opinion though. I cannot speak for the Rodgers at the RAH as I was not able to hear it in the flesh.

 

CEP

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It is beyond doubt that John would have much rather had a good pipe organ but I can attest that he played the Allen at Chichester with considerable enthusiasm and I would venture, pride. He also demonstrated the RAH Rodgers to me and encouraged me to play it, again with considerable pleasure. I am sure that, at Chichester, some considerable pleasure would have been gained by the resident organists from having a large properly working instrument at their disposal. I didn't know the pipe organ in its previous incarnation but it must have been in a pretty forlorn state to have been taken out of use as it was, and I think that in addition to the acoustics, Allen made absolutely certain that the instrument was set up to the best possible advantage. I do accept that for some/many, my phrase "good electronic" is a contradiction in terms, but there are plenty of bad pipe organs - I'm not seeking to start an argument!

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I've played the organ part to several choral works with orchestra on the Chichester Allen when the chorus and orchestra were set up at the west end. It is indeed a 'good' example of an electronic of its vintage, but in the way that, for instance, blood-letting with leeches was a 'good' example of medieval surgery.

 

Thinking of relics lurking in churches and cathedrals, there are a number of fascinating bits and bobs of organs and consoles in other places too. Some that spring to mind include the pre-1910 console of the organ at St Alfege's, Greenwich, with its reversed colour manual keys, which is preserved behind glass; another old set of keys at Framlingham PC; and parts of the original Schulze console on display at St Bartholomew's, Armley.

 

When I was at Durham in the 1980s there was an old set of keyboards (I think they were the original Willis manuals rather than anything earlier?) in the monks' dormitory in the cloisters, but they were nowhere to be seen when I visited last year.

 

Another tantalising set of fragments is the missing tower caps of the Harris case at Milton Abbey, which were at one time said to be lying around somewhere in the school. It would good to find those and restore the case to its original glory.

 

And even more tantalising: have you seen Martin Renshaw's SoundsMedieval.org website in which he is researching surviving evidence of pre-Reformation organs? Absolutely fascinating stuff.

 

Clarabella

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...Another tantalising set of fragments is the missing tower caps of the Harris case at Milton Abbey, which were at one time said to be lying around somewhere in the school. It would good to find those and restore the case to its original glory. ...

 

Clarabella

 

Really?

 

I wonder where they are. I had assumed that the late Trevor Doar had acquired them with the rest of the case, but had never seen them. I am due to play for a wedding at the abbey in August. If the school is open, I might see if I can have a look around. The case would certainly benefit from having the caps installed (or is that re-instated, even if they had never been fitted since the case was placed in the abbey?).

 

I also hope that the 'secret' 32ft. reed will be available. The stop action is (or was) kept locked and, each time I played for the Milton Abbey Festival (as it was), I had to remember to contact Trevor Doar, inform him when I was playing and ask him to leave the stop unlocked.

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For what it's worth, in the late seventies an ex-Walker man who had at one time been responsible for tuning Chichester told me that there wasn't much wrong with the old organ although it was antiquated and only really effective east of the crossing, and the only reason he could think of for the Allen being there was that a good deal of restoration of the fabric was due to take place and it was thought better to mothball the organ pending a thorough rebuild after the building work was done.

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