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Malcolm Farr

Diapasons and Flutes

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Hi All,

 

I have been wondering about something I read recently about drawing diapasons and flutes together, and hope that someone may be able to provide an explanation. Going through some ancient things in The Musical Times, I came across a letter to the editor in vol. 77 no. 1120 (June 1936), written by Henry Willis III in which he stated as follows at p. 543:

 

"It can be laid down in the most definite manner that Harmonic Flutes do not blend with Diapasons, that any open flutes are undesirable, but that correctly voiced Stopped Flutes are capable of successful combination. Why? The reason is simple. Open flutes have various upper partials present in varied order of prominence: many, when developed in a flute, are inimical to those of a Diapason, With a Stopped Flute the odd numbered partials only are present, and the blending power is correct." (Emphasis original.)

 

Now, the only Willis instrument of any size that I've ever had any opportunity to play had both a Claribel Flute 8' and Harmonic Flute 4' on the Great Organ, and I recall that the lack of blend was particularly noticeable if the Harmonic Flute were drawn. So HWIII certainly seems to have been spot-on in relation to his own firm's instruments.

 

On the other hand, not too long ago I had the opportunity to have a go on an acquaintance's H******** installation - surely I dare not even name the digital beast on a forum devoted to the pipe organ! - but it did at least provide something of a context to HWIII's comments insofar that it included a virtual reproduction of a French romantic instrument which has, on the Grand-Orgue, jeux de fond comprising a Bourdon 16', Montre 8', Flûte Harmonique 8', Bourdon 8', Gambe 8' and Prestant 4'; the Récit Expressif included a Diapason 8 as well as a family of Flûtes Harmoniques at 8', 4' and 2'. To my ears, virtually any combination of these seemed to blend well. Now, I realize that a French Montre is not an English Diapason, but it does cause me to wonder if the blend, or lack thereof, is strictly a matter of upper partials, or if there is in fact more to the question. Any comments?

 

By the way, in the same letter HWIII went on to state:

 

"Myself, I regard the presence of flutes on the Great Organ of a three-manual instrument with any pretence to an adequate scheme as out of place: on the Swell, Choir, and Solo, yes; on the Great, no. The Great Chorus should be a pure Diapason structure, capped, if the size of the instrument permits, by the Chorus Reed or reeds."

 

As I say, I have only limited direct experience of Willis instruments, but I have never come across one in all my recordings or in reading about them which had a Great Organ consisting solely of diapasons and reeds. Hmmm...

 

Kind regards,

mjfarr3006

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innate    0

I was led to believe that “Diapasons” in 18th Century English organ music meant Open and Stopped Diapasons together.

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Thanks, AJJ - that's a really interesting article by Stephen Bicknell, and explains a fair bit. I'll just have to digest it in terms of what I was hearing on my acquaintance's H******** set-up.

 

And Innate - yes, that makes a lot of sense in hindsight, doesn't it? I mean, why else would they both have been called Diapasons?...

 

Cheers

mjfarr3006

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There is one interesting issue relating to 'blend' (whatever that may mean - I note that it hasn't been defined so far, even by HW III). A stopped flute (such as an 8 foot Stopped Diapason) does indeed have weak even-numbered harmonics. This means that, if combined with a 4 foot Principal-toned stop (all of whose harmonics are strong, both odds and evens), its harmonics coincide in frequency with the weaker even ones of the 8 foot rank. They slot in neatly, rather like fingers going into a glove. To my mind this explains, partly at least, why a Principal chorus can often 'stand on' a Stopped Diapason just as well as on an 8 foot Principal, yet the two choruses are usefully distinct for musical purposes. This trick works best on mildly-voiced choruses of course and it is particularly useful in chamber organs, some of which don't even have the 8 foot Principal at all. It also underpins the tonal philosophy of the Baroque era in which the Principal chorus of a subsidiary division was often built on a 4 foot stop, with only a stopped flute at 8 foot.

 

Weren't they clever?

 

CEP

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Innate is absolutely correct. It is clearly stated in the 18th Century treatises of John Marsh and Jonas Blewitty that Open and Stopped Diapasons should always be drawn together.

 

DKP

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In old English organs, the Stopped Diapason often helped the rather leisurely speech of the Open, especially in the bass, as well as complementing its harmonic picture. I often feel that, quite apart from scaling and voicing, the simple presence of the Stopped Diapason acts as a binder and regulator to everything else in such instruments, possibly due to the "pull" that occurs between pipes planted close together.

 

As Bicknell noted, in the British "Imperial" organ (as he classed it), individual registers were so voiced that they did not need help, either tonally or in quickness of speech. Thus, it is pointless, or even damaging to the sound, to draw the flute with the diapason. This applies particularly to the Large Open, which overshadows any other flue stop at that pitch, unless there's a really big flute like a tibia. Sometimes, the colour can be varied by drawing other stops with the small diapason - a Harrison Geigen can give a noticeable fizz and also blends nicely with the flute.

 

Is it just me, or do others agree that, quite often, while the Large Open is big (of course!), the Small Open can be just a touch too small to support what goes on top and therefore needs a little bit of help? I've noticed this often, in instruments by all sorts and conditions of builders.

 

At Henbury Church, Bristol, the No.1 was of much smaller scale than the No.2, the latter being old (possibly George England) and the difference was in the voicing. Either of the two would support the chorus, but they didn't blend with each other at all, and when you added the No.1 it was essential to put in the No.2 - at least, I thought so - not every one noticed....

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GrossGeigen    0

The recently restored 1876 Willis in Glasgow's Cottier Theatre has a chorus of Harmonic Flutes on the Great, at 8, 4, & 2ft pitches - there are no problems of blend, even in less orthodox combinations. The wooden Claribel appears on the Choir, with matching open wood ranks at 4 & 2ft. Not a single unenclosed stopped flute.

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Gooderstone in Norfolk had a Bryceson with two stops - Large Open Diapason and Flute 4. The diapason scaled 7" at bottom C. The Flute made little difference to it and was not much use on its own. Boggis moved it to Chedgrave and replaced the flute with a Dulciana, but in recent years it's been replaced by a toaster.

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And just as there are organs where the Harmonic Flutes do blend, I've also come across a couple where draw stops labelled "Stopped Diapason" sounded much more what I would expect from Lieblich Gedackts. Nice enough stops in their own right, but not a solid basis for any chorus. I don't know if this is just mis-labelling, or if they were totally a different conception of what a Stopped Diapason should be.

Cheers

mjfarr3006

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Vox Humana    0

Innate is absolutely correct. It is clearly stated in the 18th Century treatises of John Marsh and Jonas Blewitty that Open and Stopped Diapasons should always be drawn together.

 

DKP

 

Francis Linley too.

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And just as there are organs where the Harmonic Flutes do blend, I've also come across a couple where draw stops labelled "Stopped Diapason" sounded much more what I would expect from Lieblich Gedackts. Nice enough stops in their own right, but not a solid basis for any chorus. I don't know if this is just mis-labelling, or if they were totally a different conception of what a Stopped Diapason should be.

Cheers

mjfarr3006

Hi

 

The small organ I acquired to rebuild at home (sadly, an aborted project) had a rank labelled "Stopped Diapason" - aside from the lowest octave, it was nothing of the sort, consiting of open wooden pipes - Clarabellla would be a more accurate description. Stops labelled "Stop Diapason & Clarabella" are also found - a stopped bass with open pipes in the treble. I guess it was part of the transition away from the early English organ to the Victorian/Edwardian style of instrument.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Irritatingly, on the instrument in my own church (sadly not in use at the moment), there is only the "Large Open Diapason". It would be so much more useful if there were a Small Open Diapason that fitted better with the Principal and Fifteenth.

 

From my knowledge of Conachers, this must be a splendid instrument. I do hope that it will be restored to use!

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From my knowledge of Conachers, this must be a splendid instrument. I do hope that it will be restored to use!

 

Paul Hale has been consulted on a rebuild, and we are currently raising funds.

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pcnd5584    0

It is also worth remembering that Cavaillé-Coll voiced his Flûtes Harmoniques somewhat differently to those of FHW. The examples extant of 'Father' Willis were slightly harder in tone, and so did tend to quarrel with the Diapasons. However, such stops as voiced by Cavaillé-Coll were of a rather more blending tone. In any case, his Diapason stops ('Montre', or, often in the Récit-Expressif, 'Diapason') were again voiced differently to many English types (although this depends on the builder. There were clearly almost as many types of Open Diapason as there were English builders). Thus it is that, on a 'standard' Cavaillé-Coll instrument, one can draw, on the G.O. the Montre, Bourdon, Flûte Harmonique and Gambe (all at 8ft.), and have a beautiful, transparent sound - which nevertheless has plenty of 'body' - and with a beautifully singing tone.

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Cavaillé-Coll's Montre pipes were slotted at the top, not to assist tuning but to produce a deliberately different type of Principal tone. In some respects it was midway between those of Gottfried Silbermann a century earlier and contemporary British nineteenth century Diapasons. The latter frequently had a dominant fundamental (first harmonic) stronger than all the others, whereas the second harmonic in those of Silbermann was often the strongest. This made them brighter and more zingy in effect than the British ones. Cavaillé-Coll's slotted Montres usually had the strong fundamental but the effect of the slot was to maintain the levels of subsequent harmonics somewhat higher than those of British builders. Sometimes this effect went as far as the seventh harmonic or so. The result was (is) that there was still enough energy in these higher harmonics to stand out when a flute was added (the flute's acoustic power is concentrated in its fundamental). This prevented the ear from being bombarded with too much fundamental tone, while at the same time allowing sufficient of the Montre timbre to stand beyond it and remain identifiable as a separate acoustic entity. Hence the fabled blending properties among his unison stops alluded to in earlier posts.

 

All this was quite deliberate. Cavaillé-Coll was probably the most 'scientific' builder of his day anywhere in the world - he presented papers on organ pipe acoustics at the Parisian Academy of Sciences for example. Also his methods and thinking are still available to us in his working papers which have been preserved. It is clear that he knew as much as anyone in his day about what he was doing at the level of physics, not to mention his artistry.

 

Apparently T C Lewis loathed Cavaillé-Coll's Montre tones, and he wasn't too keen on Willis's Diapasons either, which some (including W T Best) thought were little different to Gambas. Lewis was a disciple of Schulze, but that's another story. Among other things, he wrote a scathing monograph on the subject (of which I was fortunate to find a copy in a second hand bookshop while toiling up the steep hill towards Lincoln cathedral some years back).

 

CEP

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pcnd5584    0

Cavaillé-Coll's Montre pipes were slotted at the top, not to assist tuning but to produce a deliberately different type of Principal tone. In some respects it was midway between those of Gottfried Silbermann a century earlier and contemporary British nineteenth century Diapasons. The latter frequently had a dominant fundamental (first harmonic) stronger than all the others, whereas the second harmonic in those of Silbermann was often the strongest. This made them brighter and more zingy in effect than the British ones. Cavaillé-Coll's slotted Montres usually had the strong fundamental but the effect of the slot was to maintain the levels of subsequent harmonics somewhat higher than those of British builders. Sometimes this effect went as far as the seventh harmonic or so. The result was (is) that there was still enough energy in these higher harmonics to stand out when a flute was added (the flute's acoustic power is concentrated in its fundamental). This prevented the ear from being bombarded with too much fundamental tone, while at the same time allowing sufficient of the Montre timbre to stand beyond it and remain identifiable as a separate acoustic entity. Hence the fabled blending properties among his unison stops alluded to in earlier posts.

 

All this was quite deliberate. Cavaillé-Coll was probably the most 'scientific' builder of his day anywhere in the world - he presented papers on organ pipe acoustics at the Parisian Academy of Sciences for example. Also his methods and thinking are still available to us in his working papers which have been preserved. It is clear that he knew as much as anyone in his day about what he was doing at the level of physics, not to mention his artistry.

 

Apparently T C Lewis loathed Cavaillé-Coll's Montre tones, and he wasn't too keen on Willis's Diapasons either, which some (including W T Best) thought were little different to Gambas. Lewis was a disciple of Schulze, but that's another story. Among other things, he wrote a scathing monograph on the subject (of which I was fortunate to find a copy in a second hand bookshop while toiling up the steep hill towards Lincoln cathedral some years back).

 

CEP

 

Some good points. Colin.

 

Slotting the pipes would also have the effect of making the tone a little more 'string-like' (in the organ sense). FHW also occasionally did this to his Gemshorn ranks (which were often cylindrical, instead of inverted conical) - presumably because it was either easier or cheaper. (Although this latter would be odd - he was not known to cut corners or take cheap options elsewhere. He regarded zinc, for example, as "a cheap and spurious metal".)

 

Your comment with reference to T.C. Lewis and Willis was interesting. At the time of the (start of) the H&H rebuild of the organ in the RAH, the insufficiency of the foundation tone was one of the chief arguments advanced by those who wished to change this instrument. Certainly, after the rebuild was completed, it could not be said that either the clavier or the Pedal foundation work was inadequate as to 'body'. I believe that T.C. Lewis was also not particularly enamoured of FHW's chorus reeds. Quite what he would have thought of Harrison Trombe, I can only imagine.

 

I still regard the rebuilding and the revoicing of several of the chorus reeds on the organ in Southwark Cathedral as a great error of judgement on the part of HWIII. I wonder if, following the restorative work by Harrisons, it is really possible to state that they sound now as when they were first installed? It was not simply a matter of lowering the wind pressures; in order to raise them in the first place, Willis must surely have had to provide new (and thicker) tongues - and with a slightly different curvature. If this was indeed the case, I doubt that the original tongues were stored carefully, in case it was wished to re-instate them in the future.

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I think it was T.H. Harrison who described zinc as "a cheap and spurious metal", as is at least inferred by a quote in Elvin's "The Harrison Story" p.67 - but Harrison could have borrowed his words from FHW (so could Elvin, for that matter).

 

It is known that Willis III was constrained by funding at Southwark and didn't do as much to the organ as he would have liked. A lot of the work was aimed at overcoming what Willis perceived as the muffling effect of a very bad organ chamber - it is an awkwardly placed instrument - and I suppose raising the pressures and applying compensator-amplifiers were logical steps in that direction. The late Harry Coles, whose enthusiasm for Southwark and its organ was all-consuming, said that Willis wanted to put his new console on the south side, near the organ, but was not allowed, but he took the Choir Organ out of the chamber and put it on the north side of the Quire with the console next to it. One doesn't hear the main organ well from there and the time lag is horrendous. As to Harrisons' putting things back to their original sound, I would guess that they had enough experience of restoring Lewis's work to know what was needed, and enough knowledge of original Lewis reed-work to get it right. I wonder what Arthur Harrison would have made of it if he had restored the organ. Maybe Ripon Cathedral supplies some clues, but I've never heard it.

 

There's a nice article in "Organists' Review" about the little-known big Willis III in Sheffield City Hall. I heard it once, at a university graduation, and the acoustics are - as Willis said - truly appalling. Here was a large organ, voiced in Willis's forthright style, sounding as if it was in the next room. The author refers to the Sylvestrina Celeste as being unique, but this is not so. There's another one at All Saints, Hockerill, Essex and another at Chirk Methodist (ex-Lon Pobty Chapel, Bangor) - therefore probably a few more about the place. It may have been unique when first installed. Willis got the idea for the Sylvestrina from Skinner's Erzahler, but I don't know how much was a copy and how much a development. They are nice stops and worth reviving. Canterbury had one on the (unenclosed) Choir Organ before the last rebuild.

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Yes, of course! I had forgotten about St. John, Beckenham. Willis was very pleased with this one and Sam Clutton (I think) waxed lyrical about it in "The Organ". If I remember rightly, he was particularly enthusiastic about the Cornet, which he said would do practically everything except make the tea.

 

Stowmarket URC (1953), another small Willis III in a very good acoustic, has a Sylvestrina, but the undulating stop is called Voix Celeste and is (or was) prepared for only. this instrument had a good write-up from Andrew Hayden in "Choir and Organ" fairly recently.

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headcase    0

Yes, David, you are quite right. There was a substantial article in The Organ and I think the instrument was probably used as a 'demonstrator' for potential clients.

It also had a Willis Infinite Gradation Swell engine, long since disconnected ! Let's not get started on that...!

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Hi All,

 

I have been wondering about something I read recently about drawing diapasons and flutes together, and hope that someone may be able to provide an explanation. Going through some ancient things in The Musical Times, I came across a letter to the editor in vol. 77 no. 1120 (June 1936), written by Henry Willis III in which he stated as follows at p. 543:

 

"It can be laid down in the most definite manner that Harmonic Flutes do not blend with Diapasons, that any open flutes are undesirable, but that correctly voiced Stopped Flutes are capable of successful combination. Why? The reason is simple. Open flutes have various upper partials present in varied order of prominence: many, when developed in a flute, are inimical to those of a Diapason, With a Stopped Flute the odd numbered partials only are present, and the blending power is correct." (Emphasis original.)

 

Now, the only Willis instrument of any size that I've ever had any opportunity to play had both a Claribel Flute 8' and Harmonic Flute 4' on the Great Organ, and I recall that the lack of blend was particularly noticeable if the Harmonic Flute were drawn. So HWIII certainly seems to have been spot-on in relation to his own firm's instruments.

 

On the other hand, not too long ago I had the opportunity to have a go on an acquaintance's H******** installation - surely I dare not even name the digital beast on a forum devoted to the pipe organ! - but it did at least provide something of a context to HWIII's comments insofar that it included a virtual reproduction of a French romantic instrument which has, on the Grand-Orgue, jeux de fond comprising a Bourdon 16', Montre 8', Flûte Harmonique 8', Bourdon 8', Gambe 8' and Prestant 4'; the Récit Expressif included a Diapason 8 as well as a family of Flûtes Harmoniques at 8', 4' and 2'. To my ears, virtually any combination of these seemed to blend well. Now, I realize that a French Montre is not an English Diapason, but it does cause me to wonder if the blend, or lack thereof, is strictly a matter of upper partials, or if there is in fact more to the question. Any comments?

 

By the way, in the same letter HWIII went on to state:

 

"Myself, I regard the presence of flutes on the Great Organ of a three-manual instrument with any pretence to an adequate scheme as out of place: on the Swell, Choir, and Solo, yes; on the Great, no. The Great Chorus should be a pure Diapason structure, capped, if the size of the instrument permits, by the Chorus Reed or reeds."

 

As I say, I have only limited direct experience of Willis instruments, but I have never come across one in all my recordings or in reading about them which had a Great Organ consisting solely of diapasons and reeds. Hmmm...

 

Kind regards,

mjfarr3006

 

Dear MJFarr - I think you make the point very well. A lot of the success of whether Open Flutes and Open Diapasons go together depends on the voicing and treatment of the pipes. I would suggest it is perhaps unhelpful to try to define hard and fast rules as it imposes entirely arbitrary self-imposed strictures, the value of which I don't really see; although I can see HWIII's attempts are probably borne out of his own experience. Perhaps this has something to say and influence how we should approach and register on his organs?

 

The closest to a 3 manual HWIII instrument with solely Open Diapasons and reeds on the Great organ I can think of is St Marys in Southampton City Centre (see http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N11630). It only really has a Gedeckt on the Great, which had quickly supplanted a Claribel. The 4ft Gemshorn is really a small Principal, somewhere between the ODII and ODIII if I recall correctly. As such the division only really provides a variety of Diapason tonalities at various levels of power and pitch (none of which quite go together) and a battery of chorus reeds. If one wants to engage with flutes, strings and orchestral reeds, one has to use the Choir and Swell divisions, except for the lone Gedeckt on the Great Organ, which is a curious outlier with mere solo possibilities in combination with the other Great stops. The Gedeckt could just as easily be on the Choir Organ.

 

I do question the value of such a sharp delineation of tonalities across the divisions. I would have thought a more varied distribution could make for a more usable instrument (for example if you want to play an imitative reed off a flute and a string on different divisions as some kind of 3 way dialogue) and perhaps make a more intriguing and flexible instrument to discover. A nice example is the Richards Fowkes at St Geroge's Hannover Square, which has imitative solo possibilities on all three manuals - the classical distribution of its fabulous imitative reeds; Great Fagott, Choir Dulciaan and Swell Oboe being one example of many on this organ. Another example would be Harrison & Harrison's incomparable early masterpiece at All Saints' Tooting. Although it is 2/3 the size of St Marys Southampton and a similar style of organ, it has far more variety of nuanced colours and possibilities through careful planning and design.

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Thank you, Colin - I don't know the St Mary's, Southampton instrument at all, so was quite unaware of the disposition of its Great Organ.

 

In a rather loose way, I suppose that one could say that Willis III's diapasons and reeds only Great Organ "tonal ideal" is fulfilled in the Great 1st Division at Westminster Cathedral. But of course the full resources of the Great include the Flutes at 16'. 8' and 4' on the 2nd Division; and in any case, wasn't it the Harrison firm rather than Willis which divided the Great there?

 

Rgds,

MJF

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