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Magdalen College, Oxford


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Reprieve for the organ? But it was last rebuilt 30 years ago! I thought an Oxbridge chapel organ was considered geriatric if its age in years exceeded its pedal compass in notes.

 

Sadly I've never had the chance to savour the current Mander which I can only imagine from playing others like it is a very fine instrument indeed. But it's only two manuals, which I suppose might to some people seem a bit of a let down considering it replaces a three manual organ which itself replaced a four manual instrument. I hope the college authorities recognise a fine organ when they see one.

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The current instrument is much more flexible than its ‘two-manual’ format would presuppose. The stone Chaire case is a complicating factor, architecturally speaking, and I believe the coupling manual was an attempt to solve some of these ‘problems’. The ‘reversal’ of the position of the divisions, with the Great speaking from the case closest to the choir and congregation, was ingenious. What must be said, however, is that, since the 1980s, organ design and technology has ‘moved on’.

 

Daniel Hyde obviously had his views on the situation; it is for his successor to decide, now. There will be an open, competitive tendering process and our hosts could well win this, were a rebuild/new organ to be proposed.

 

Oxbridge colleges have, in the recent past, replaced fine instruments after only a few years and for whatever reason. It may well be that, now we are well into the 2000s, a larger case is ‘approved’. In that instance, all bets are off and a new four-manual could be the result.

 

The old Harrison/HNB was, in any case (!), hardly the most exciting of instruments.

 

We shall see.

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I don't think I have been inside Magdalen since the late 70s and never took much interest in the organ. Why was it reduced to two manuals? It always seemed a strange decision for a chapel engaged in a full repertoire of choral services. I can only think it must have been a space issue.

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I had always understood that the current Mander instrument was one part of the solution to provide for organs in the chapel. What has not happened is the provision of a much larger instrument in the south transept. Perhaps they were waiting for a rich old boy who had an interest in music/ organs to die.

 

I was told the old H&H/HNB was very cramped on the screen making maintenance and tuning difficult. It was, however, regarded by some as the best organ in Oxford for choir accompaniment. Do I recall seeing that the church which bought it is now redundant?

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I don't think I have been inside Magdalen since the late 70s and never took much interest in the organ. Why was it reduced to two manuals? It always seemed a strange decision for a chapel engaged in a full repertoire of choral services. I can only think it must have been a space issue.

 

From http://www.mander-organs.com/portfolio/magdalenc.html

 

The design of a new organ for the chapel of Magdalen College, Oxford, posed several interesting problems - not least, because the musical traditions of the College demanded an organ that could do justice to the accompaniment of a wide-ranging choral repertoire, in addition to the other needs of a teaching establishment. However, the chapel is not large and the old organ effectively filled the arch between chapel and ante-chapel, destroying the sense of connection between the two, and masking the light from the magnificent clear west window, which was subsequently replaced with an impressive monochrome decorated window to match the other windows of the Ante-Chapel.

 

The need to reestablish the architectural unity of the building dictated that the new organ should be of more modest proportions, both physically and in number of stops. Further, the remarkable stone Chaire case, designed by Cottingham in about 1830, was to form part of the new scheme. Its awkward size - too large for a Choir organ, but barely big enough for a major department - was a further complicating factor both in the design of the new organ, and in establishing the proportions of the new main case.

 

These problems were overcome, and the result is an intriguing and versatile new instrument. The Great Organ is housed behind the player's back in the stone Chaire case, and the Swell and Pedal Organs are housed in a new oak main case, designed by the architect Julian Bicknell. The key and pedal actions are mechanical, with wooden trackers, rollers and squares, and there is a third coupler manual. The mechanical drawstop action incorporates four 'general' composition pedals, instantly adjustable at the console.

 

The traditional winding system incorporates hand blowing as well as the more usual electric fan, and the entire organ is fed from one very large double-rise reservoir. The tremulants are of Dom Bedos design.

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I had always understood that the current Mander instrument was one part of the solution to provide for organs in the chapel. What has not happened is the provision of a much larger instrument in the south transept. Perhaps they were waiting for a rich old boy who had an interest in music/ organs to die.

 

I was told the old H&H/HNB was very cramped on the screen making maintenance and tuning difficult. It was, however, regarded by some as the best organ in Oxford for choir accompaniment. Do I recall seeing that the church which bought it is now redundant?

 

It was installed in St Edward's School, Oxford.

http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=D04484

 

I note that Phoenix Organs installed an instrument in St Edward's School in 2008

http://www.phoenixorgans.co.uk/installations-2008/st-edwards-school-oxford.html

 

There is a view of the rear of the former organ case in Magdalene College Chapel on NPOR

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/XMLFunctions.cgi?Fn=GetPicture&Rec_index=N11119&Number=1

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