Jump to content
Mander Organs
Sign in to follow this  
Denis O'Connor

BBC organ(s)

Recommended Posts

Many thanks for the link to these fascinating photographs.

Compton built several organs for the BBC I believe ..one at Maida Vale ..one at St Georges Hall in Langham Place or is this the same as the photographs. I recall comments that the instrument there is housed in a tall chimney style ventilation shaft that only such an ingenious organ builder as JC could be be successful.

May one speculate what condition it is in presently?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi

 

Compton built 3 organs for the BBC. 2 survive - Maida Vale, which I understand is still sometimes used; Broadcasting House - in what used to be the Concert Room - \IIRC, this space is now called the Radio Theatre or something similar. Organ is still in situ but unusable; and a theatre organ in St. George's Hall which was destroyed by bombing during WW2.

 

These 3 are among the earliest organs designed specifically for broadcasting, and maybe the 2 survivors deserve preservation & historic restoration on those grounds.

 

The Theatre organ was replaced with Quentin MacClean's touring 5 manual Moller, which after the war was installed in the former Jubilee Chaoel, Hoxton, and was later sold to the Dutch National Broadcasters, and subsequently it went to the USA, where I understand it still exists.

 

An NPOR search for "BBC" brings up details of the 3 Comptons (and a Tickell Box Organ). NPOR R00818 has details of the Moller. In more recent years there was another Theatre Organ owned by the BBC in the Manchester area - but further info escapes me at present.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Delving a bit deeper it seems very difficult to find anything out at all. Any links on the BBC site tend to be 'broken' , maybe as a result of their hopeless 'digital archive' project which fizzled out into incompetence. I had a good hour or so exploring last night and met plenty of dead ends. The one in the photos is in the Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House but the Beeb's own website is pretty unhelpful at best, round and round in circles sort of thing. There's a fair bit about the Electrone from Maida Vale but that's not what we are after.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Somewhere I have a brochure about the instrument in Broadcasting House, I’m guessing c.1960 (inherited from my father). I seem to recall a photo showing the (?) moveable console on one side of the stage and a grand piano on the other which could be played from the organ console. Was that the only time Comptons did such a thing or was it a regular feature? I imagine there was no control of dynamics on the piano when operated from the organ console.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It was Reginald Foort who had the Moller, not Quentin MacClean. The latter moved to Canada - the organ he played in his church job there is now in St. Michael's RC School in central Toronto.

 

I understand that the Maida Vale organ was, and is, used quite a lot. It was reckoned to be a very successful instrument, despite using more extension than was Compton's normal preference.

 

The Broadcasting House organ was never used as much because of sound leakage to other parts of the building, especialy (and unfortunately) the news studios, which were in more-or-less constant use. It was well thought-of, although not as good as Downside, according to the old boys in my youth. I hadn't heard that it was unusable, just generally out of use.

 

I have an idea the Shepherd Brothers looked after both instruments.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi

 

Thanks David for the correction - I really don;t know why I wrote Quentin MacClean - I do know the Moller was Reg. Foort's. Must be old age!

 

Thinking a little more, there have been articles in "The Organ" at least on the 2 concert organs - there may have been one on the theatre organ as well. Piano attachments are usually found on theatre organs. As David surmises, dynamic control is either very limited (maybe soft & loud) or, more commonly, non-existent. There is often a button on one of the swell pedals to control the piano's sustain pedal mechanism though.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think the Broadcasting House organ ever controlled a piano, although the Langham Place theatre organ probably did. There was certainly an article on the latter in "The Organ" - I think it was by Leslie Barnard.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Broadcasting House organ was never used as much because of sound leakage to other parts of the building, especialy (and unfortunately) the news studios, which were in more-or-less constant use.

 

My understanding (from what I was told when working there) is that the previously satisfactory isolation of the Concert Hall organ was compromised by rubble that fell into the space between the inner studio block and the outer office block of Broadcasting house when a bomb fell on its roof; and that limited access made removal of the rubble impractical.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That's most interesting and new to me. It makes sense, because there's certainly mention of the organ being used, e.g. during Walford Davies's radio talks (Thalben Ball extemporised his "Elegy" during one).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That's most interesting and new to me. It makes sense, because there's certainly mention of the organ being used, e.g. during Walford Davies's radio talks (Thalben Ball extemporised his "Elegy" during one).

 

I don't like nitpicking, particularly in this case because I enjoy and learn much from what David writes, so forgive me. But according to Jonathan Rennert's biography of GTB, 'Elegy' was played at the end of one of Sir Walford's weekly choral evensong broadcasts from the BBC concert hall, rather than during a talk. Apparently, before this particular service Davies said "at the end play a beautiful melody". Afterwards he pronounced it "exactly right, absolutely perfect". But nitpicking it is nevertheless - everything else is right: Ball, Davies, the concert hall and Elegy.

 

Pace.

 

CEP

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You're right. I just looked it up, too! According to Jonathan's book, the organ was used weekly for choral evensong services and once a month for the series "Melodies of Christendom" with the BBC Singers.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have now found the booklet:

 

The BBC Theatre Organ

A Description By

Reginald Foort

 

price one shilling

 

The frontispiece is a black and white photograph [i will try to post an image in due course] captioned:

 

A GENERAL VIEW OF S. GEORGE’S HALL

 

The console has been wheeled into position ready for a solo broadcast. Note the organ swell-boxes—those on the left-hand side are open and those on the right are close. Near the roof can be seen the loudspeakers through which all the sounds of the Electrone are produced. At the right-hand side is the grand piano which is playable from the keyboards of the console.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The St. Georges hall organ was a large Compton cinema organ and was sadly destroyed in WWII. The two surviving organs are also Comptons but not cinema organs. They both have Compton's luminous touch tab system for stop selection.

 

The Broadcasting House organ is really a concert organ and has 33 ranks. It is indeed installed in a very tight space at the front of the Radio Theatre, formerly called the Concert Hall. The chamber is less than 2 metres deep which makes things very difficult even though it is quite wide and high. The organ has many windchests as only a small number are used for more than one rank and some ranks require an extra chest to complete the compass at the bass end. Broadcasting House was vastly altered internally a few years ago as part of the West End project and the cable connecting the console would have had to have been disconnected and reconnected. It was therefore decided that it would be a good time to fit a new control system requiring only a simple data connection. For reasons of cost the new system did not replace the note relays in the organ. Now that the console was easily detachable the BBC decided to keep it in a store room downstairs and get it to the studio using the piano lift when required. This idea sadly hasn't worked well. The organ has also suffered some ruptures of the leatherwork on a couple of the many wind regulators which are inside the windchests on this organ (the incoming air being distributed to all chests at 19 inches water gauge). These are due to be repaired in the coming months.

 

The Maida Vale Studio 1 organ has 11 ranks and is used regularly. This studio is the home of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the organ is used when rehearsing a work that includes an organ part. An electrical short and resulting burn in the original console cable in the late 1990s caused the BBC to take the decision to have just enough electronic control gear installed (on the grounds of cost and time) to replace this cable with a data link. More recently, this new equipment has been expanded to form a complete system to replace the original relay type equipment which had become very problematic. This organ is generally in very good condition and sounds excellent. Although this organ has only 11 ranks one of these is a four rank Pedal Cornet (counted as 1 of the 11) There is no Celeste or Oboe rank mainly because the organ was designed mainly to play along with an Orchestra so it was felt that the absence of these sorts of tone wouldn't matter.

 

John R

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

re BBC Organs.    What a sad nation we are. Radio France gets a new Auditorium Concert Arena in Paris in 2014. Gonzales installs a 4 manual, 5320 pipe instrument with 2 consoles about 2016!! But not just that Paris gets a new Philharmonic Concert Hall (several chambers), complete with large 6055 pipe organ by Reiger. Both locations and organs built about the same time. See Youtube.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10 hours ago, Cantoris said:

re BBC Organs.    What a sad nation we are. Radio France gets a new Auditorium Concert Arena in Paris in 2014. Gonzales installs a 4 manual, 5320 pipe instrument with 2 consoles about 2016!! But not just that Paris gets a new Philharmonic Concert Hall (several chambers), complete with large 6055 pipe organ by Reiger. Both locations and organs built about the same time. See Youtube.

I find it sad that organs don't seem to deserve much public following in this country.  Certainly not to compare with Germany and the Netherlands, or even France.

Who can we blame?  Well, the public, I suppose?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, John Robinson said:

I find it sad that organs don't seem to deserve much public following in this country.  Certainly not to compare with Germany and the Netherlands, or even France.

Who can we blame?  Well, the public, I suppose?

'Even France'!!!!  Organ Concerts in France are, in my experience, usually extremely well attended! Having said that, there may very well be organs in all the big Paris churches but out in the countryside it is a different story. Within 20 miles of my home there are only three or four instruments - all in good playing condition and all used every Sunday ! 

Who can we blame? - we could start by looking at ourselves!!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, S_L said:

'Even France'!!!!  Organ Concerts in France are, in my experience, usually extremely well attended! Having said that, there may very well be organs in all the big Paris churches but out in the countryside it is a different story. Within 20 miles of my home there are only three or four instruments - all in good playing condition and all used every Sunday ! 

Who can we blame? - we could start by looking at ourselves!!!

"Ourselves" has hit the nail on the head. We must examine ourselves not just as individuals, but as a musician group. With the dreadful dull, slow, soul-less  playing of hymn tunes, we play into the hands of other music "groups" providing really just "entertainment." BUT some are good and have their place alongside a resurgence of good rythmical vibrant playing again. Blaming the organ unacceptable because even within some of our prestigious venues playing the basics of a service is a disgrace also. More later. Sorry gone off the topic. "I repent."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, Cantoris said:

With the dreadful dull, slow, soul-less  playing of hymn tunes, we 

 

It's not only that - although, at a basic level, that does have something to do with it! It's a whole host of things - the programming of recitals, often the superior and 'stuffy' attitude of the small-town, or not so small-town provincial organist, the dreary playing that puts people off, the 'reputation' that some organists have lumbered us with!. And all of this, together with tedious music written for the instrument by 3rd rate composers or even 3rd rate music written by 1st rate composers!!! I could go on!!!

I'm about to commit heresy but Bach organ music can be incredibly boring!! And then, every so often, you hear a performance that makes you sit up and listen and think - Wow!!!

I have mentioned this performance  before!! 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I wholeheartedly agree with you, Bach can be incredibly beautiful, but it can also become overly repetitious, and frenetic. It can be a big turn-off. I have heard several outstanding recitalists echo these thoughts.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Way off topic warning:

Wonderful performance of the b minor. The organist plays the acoustic as much as the music. Very proper.  

SL writes "Bach organ music can be incredibly boring". Indeed it can, and the b minor often is. The sectional nature of Buxtehude, Bruhns etc appeals to me more, and on the right instrument at the appropriate tempo, can be hair-raisingly exciting. Listen Plet Kee's Bruhns G major at Roskilde. How anyone can survive that without being turned to jelly I don't know(OK slight exaggeration but not much). 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My goodness, such heresy on an organists’ website!  I will concede that the former organist of the famous public school near my home made an error of judgement some years ago when we had an ‘open day’, not just for the arts but for all local activities of every kind.  People were encouraged to circulate round the city and sample everything on offer.  For some of them this particular performance may well have been their first (maybe only) encounter with the organ.  The programme was ‘The Art of Fugue’ complete (or as complete as it gets).  My heart sank as this was an obvious opportunity to evangelise on behalf of the organ.

I heard the late Anthony Caesar, former Precentor of Winchester Cathedral, assert that J S Bach was “God’s Messenger”.  It was not a matter of any doubt for him.  But, of course, the interpretation and playing had to be totally committed.  (Incidentally, he proudly claimed that as a boy in the 1930s he had crawled through the bottom C pipe of the Winchester Father Willis 32’ open wood!)

As for “dreadful dull, slow, soul-less playing of hymn tunes”, this is down to the organist.  Some of us here have to grapple with small, ancient and basic, sometimes intractable, instruments.  It’s the organist’s job to overcome the negatives, and to provide at the very least reliable rhythmic playing, enhanced as best he or she can by the resources of the instrument - and with commitment to this very important element of parish liturgy.  At parish level, this is arguably the organist’s number one job.  Apologies for the apparent sermon.

Piet Kee’s CD performances of Bach and Buxtehude at Haarlem and Alkmaar are to be treasured. I haven’t heard the Roskilde recording.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...