Jump to content
Mander Organs

Sheldonian Theatre


petergunstone

Recommended Posts

The time of seeing an instrument fitting to its surroundings may be coming into view :)

(I mention this here in the hope that someone with influence might be able to take up this cause.)

 

The Bradford beast is not in tip-top condition, with a good handful of the stop buttons on the console broken, notes off on the Great, and G major producing distressed speaker buzzes. I discovered this today, in preparation for some upcoming carol gigs. I made this visit as the last time I played it, the LCD displays above each stop button were not working, so I had the testing experience of first of all playing 'blind' and then using every post it note within reach to manually label the stops to avoid serious disasters!

 

In conversation with the staff, who were very helpful and receptive to my reports of defects, it emerged that there has been some conversation amongst/with them about the provision of a new pipe organ. In the meantime, they didn't know where to begin in terms of getting the toaster repaired.

 

Does anyone know anything about this, and about the location/condition of the pipes of the former pipe organ? I understand that the mechanism at least was baked to death by the central heating.

Link to post
Share on other sites

That would make it about 15 years old, about the average for electronics. It clearly suffers from other problems typical of the breed - nobody around to service it when required, hopelessly obsolete technically, console not up to the wear and tear expected of it.

 

Apologies to the forum owner - I know we are not discussing pipe organs here, but maybe I can be forgiven. I will delete this post if asked. Pace.

 

CEP

Link to post
Share on other sites

That would make it about 15 years old, about the average for electronics. It clearly suffers from other problems typical of the breed - nobody around to service it when required, hopelessly obsolete technically, console not up to the wear and tear expected of it.

well the C-C at Warrington may fit????

Link to post
Share on other sites

Is the old case still there? If so, then that's at least a start.

I must say that I think settling for a toaster is rather short-sighted, especially for Oxford University. Anyway, now that it has just about given up the ghost, hopefully the authorities will see sense and install a real organ again.

Link to post
Share on other sites

If ever there was a venue in England appropriate to a truly historically informed grand organ with no need for concessions to service accompaniment or, dare I say it, playing with modern orchestras then the Sheldonian is it. Something that will play Purcell, Blow, Handel, Arne, Boyce, Stanley, Walond with integrity and panache. Add a pedal division. Lots of cornets and reed stops. Maybe a Schrider-style swelling box. Something Oxford University and its Music Faculty can be internationally famous for.

Link to post
Share on other sites

If ever there was a venue in England appropriate to a truly historically informed grand organ with no need for concessions to service accompaniment or, dare I say it, playing with modern orchestras then the Sheldonian is it. Something that will play Purcell, Blow, Handel, Arne, Boyce, Stanley, Walond with integrity and panache. Add a pedal division. Lots of cornets and reed stops. Maybe a Schrider-style swelling box. Something Oxford University and its Music Faculty can be internationally famous for.

Agreed. Although the various groups who hire and use the venue as a concert hall might have other ideas!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Given their choice at the moment is an electric instrument in an apparently parlous state, they would be much better off with hiring a new digital instrument! 35 years ago I remember playing concerts as a member of the OUSO in the Sheldonian when the previous pipe instrument was still very much playable but when we played Elgar’s Cockayne with its impressive organ part we decamped to the Town Hall. There are many more prestigious symphony orchestra venues in the UK that deserve a proper modern concert hall pipe organ. The orchestras that play in the Sheldonian are either smaller or less noted. And with my proposal the Sheldonian could become a major centre for the performance of baroque music with a proper and properly-sized baroque organ.

Link to post
Share on other sites

"Something Oxford University and its Music Faculty can be internationally famous for."

I can’t help feeling that innate has hit the nail on the head in #5. Do we really need another eclectic instrument, or one that’s ‘happy’ within its sublime baroque setting ? If, as has happened, the Berlin Phil visits, they don’t need to programme Cockaigne, Mahler 8, Saint-Saëns 3, et al.

 

Jackson’s beautiful case certainly looks commodious enough for at least a big 2-manual and pedal, in the style of a ‘developed’ Father Smith or Renatus Harris. There is enough evidence and expertise in these isles to provide for the recreation of an appropriate (whatever that means) ‘English’ instrument . . . and, most importantly, sound, in those special acoustics.

 

As innate says, it needs to be able to play Purcell and Handel (Wren was, of course, contemporaneous with both) with complete conviction, yet be able convincingly to render later repertoire of the 18th century.

 

Is a larger instrument required ? (There were 3 manuals in previous incarnations.) If so, imaginative design could involve the addition of a Chair on the balcony, stylistically identical with the main case.

 

Encaenia (fanfare) Trumpets, anyone ? Who would do the considerable funding ? Sponsors are the rage at unis, these days (The I. Plentee Rank III Organ ?). The Theatre seems to be ‘well into’ marketing itself, judging by its booking site.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you. A very interesting document.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The time of seeing an instrument fitting to its surroundings may be coming into view :)

 

[.....]

 

In conversation with the staff, who were very helpful and receptive to my reports of defects, it emerged that there has been some conversation amongst/with them about the provision of a new pipe organ. In the meantime, they didn't know where to begin in terms of getting the toaster repaired.

About time too! I well remember the controversy in the newspapers when the pipe organ that was replaced by the electronic was removed.

 

Dave

Link to post
Share on other sites

Given their choice at the moment is an electric instrument in an apparently parlous state, they would be much better off with hiring a new digital instrument! 35 years ago I remember playing concerts as a member of the OUSO in the Sheldonian when the previous pipe instrument was still very much playable but when we played Elgar’s Cockayne with its impressive organ part we decamped to the Town Hall. There are many more prestigious symphony orchestra venues in the UK that deserve a proper modern concert hall pipe organ. The orchestras that play in the Sheldonian are either smaller or less noted. And with my proposal the Sheldonian could become a major centre for the performance of baroque music with a proper and properly-sized baroque organ.

 

The other problem is that of tuning. The former pipe organ was also used at graduation ceremonies (which generally took place during the summer). The pipe organ at this time was unpleasantly out of tune - and not just the reeds. The situation was exacerbated by the position of the instrument - fairly high up in the building.

 

Incidentally, with regard to the case, the side wings (formerly in the window recesses) were removed years ago.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think Degree Ceremonies have always occurred throughout the year at Oxford. Others more knowledgable than I can speak to how temperature affects the pitch of pipe organs, and we all know that hot air rises, but there is nothing particularly exceptional about the position of the organ in the Sheldonian that would make the pitch of a pipe organ there more unstable than many organs in buildings without climate control.

 

If my suggestion of an English baroque instrument was adopted the pitch question might be less of an issue, as it would be pitched nominally at A415 for playing with period baroque orchestras who are, I think, slightly less insistent on an exact pitch standard.

Link to post
Share on other sites

...Others more knowledgable than I can speak to how temperature affects the pitch of pipe organs, and we all know that hot air rises, but there is nothing particularly exceptional about the position of the organ in the Sheldonian that would make the pitch of a pipe organ there more unstable than many organs in buildings without climate control. ...

 

 

Apparently, the building is not well-ventilated; perhaps when it is full during degree ceremonies, there is an abnormally large increase in the temperature near the ceiling and at gallery level Presumably the building is heated for winter ceremonies. I was informed by a colleague who had played for a number of events on the old pipe organ that the tuning at such times became extremely bad.

 

Your comment regarding the position of the instrument is not entirely correct - this instrument is virtually jammed up against a flat wood-panelled roof, with little room for air circulation. The pipes would have been very much boxed-in. The scales and tight layout of the case pipes would also have impeded air circulation. Neither is the case particularly large for the contents, so the interior layout was probably quite cramped.

 

Whilst there are perhaps many instruments with cramped conditions, or little room for air circulation, perhaps it was this particular combination of a number of adverse factors which resulted in particularly unstable tuning.

Link to post
Share on other sites

That all sounds quite possible, pcnd, and apologies if my previous post sounded a bit churlish. The Sheldonian was the first building designed by Wren—I wonder if it’s always had poor ventilation or whether the original design worked (for its time) and subsequent changes (installing heating, closing vents?) have caused the problems. I remember Paul Hale demonstrating the old organ to me in the mid 70s and, in a relatively empty building it sounded pretty in tune.

Link to post
Share on other sites

That all sounds quite possible, pcnd, and apologies if my previous post sounded a bit churlish. The Sheldonian was the first building designed by Wren—I wonder if it’s always had poor ventilation or whether the original design worked (for its time) and subsequent changes (installing heating, closing vents?) have caused the problems. I remember Paul Hale demonstrating the old organ to me in the mid 70s and, in a relatively empty building it sounded pretty in tune.

 

Not at all.

 

You may well be correct regarding heating and the closing (sealing?) of vents or windows.

 

As far as the pipe organ is concerned, has all of the pipework been removed? The NPOR states 'Organ destroyed or broken up.' I know that the console has not been there for many years, but I wonder, is the Jackson case totally empty - except perhaps the building frame, in order to brace it?

Link to post
Share on other sites

 

As far as the pipe organ is concerned, has all of the pipework been removed? The NPOR states 'Organ destroyed or broken up.' I know that the console has not been there for many years, but I wonder, is the Jackson case totally empty - except perhaps the building frame, in order to brace it?

I'm sure you'd find some loudspeakers in there (for what they're worth)!

Link to post
Share on other sites

The original Father Willis was rather neat and so was the Harrison rebuild - both delivered quite a lot within a small specification. The Willis III rebuild was odd, but some people, including Ralph Downes, spoke well of it. I should imagine that several of our present-day builders could deliver something equally imaginative and effective. I'm not sure that a scheme based largely on pre-Victorian English ideas would feel right in that case....

Link to post
Share on other sites

T’wouldn’t bother me in the slightest, David, were I to hear sounds similar to those even later in the 18th century (like, say, St Mary’s, Rotherhithe) emanating from that case. How many true Bassoon stops are there in the UK, now, anyway ?

 

There have been enough rebuilds and new instruments in the last one hundred years, when the auditor is bamboozled by the totally incongruous noises fizzing, popping or mightily chiffing out of pipes and surrounds completely inappropriate to either setting or case- or the lack of one.

 

I would close my eyes and think of (George) England.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

I've played the Sheldonian Bradford a couple of times in the last week. The problems have continued: tonight there was even a 'cypher' of sorts playing a chord, but not on a specific stop, which even continued once all stops were off until I flicked the power switch.

 

However, more interestingly, a fault with the lights last week produced a couple of maintenance men who went on a 'needle in a haystack' style hunt for the fusebox/consumer unit inside the Jackson organ case. This gave me the opportunity to have a quick look.

 

Far from being empty, there seems to be a whole lot of pipe organ stuffed inside - winding system, soundboards, swell box, and pipework (I didn't see exactly how much was there). Some larger metal pipes and swell box shutters (both of which I presume had been moved to accommodate speakers) were carefully placed on top of one of the wind reservoirs. Furthermore, the blower remains in situ in a box alongside the case (and alongside a neighbouring box with the toaster's gubbins within).

 

The hall staff seem to be grateful that I'm keeping them informed about the condition of the Bradford organ, and it there seems to be a willingness to get something done in the short term to rectify matters, as well as to explore a better long-term outcome, in the form of a pipe organ. May I encourage anyone else who has the misfortune of trying to make music on the current beast to likewise keep the staff informed of the shortcomings. They seem to have been uninformed over the years, and the recent (?) demise has taken them by surprise.

Link to post
Share on other sites

A Byfield or England-based scheme might have the punch which would be needed for the use to which the hall is put, but surely a Tuba would be more in keeping with the case than a Bassoon?

 

On the other hand, comparing Oxford with Cambridge, I should imagine that the latter has more Olde Englishe inspired schemes, while Oxford has a more distinguished collection of Victoriana, like the Father Willises at the Town Hall and at Wadham. Neither has a Wurlitzer though....

Link to post
Share on other sites

No sign of the H&H console in the gallery on the east side of the case (where the Bradford console is), or anywhere.

 

The Bradford console has nice claviers, but the stops are controlled by large wooden discs that light and LED to show that they are on, the stops being identified by an LCD display. The first time I played it, these LCDS were not working - slightly scary - so I played the whole gig 'blind' on Pistons, a few generals, and the crescendo pedal.

 

There are 5 instruments available on the Bradford:

Salisbury Cathedral Willis

A Cavaillé-Coll

Pembroke Cambridge

A Reipp organ

Something else - a Schnitger?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

×
×
  • Create New...