Jump to content
Mander Organs
petergunstone

The superior status of cathedral organs?

Recommended Posts

"A man from Cardiff, Wales, has completed his personal challenge to play music on the UK's 94 cathedral organs." http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-36917448

 

Well, I do admire his achievement, and am - of course - envious of his experience. Undoubtedly, some of the UK's cathedrals do possess very fine instruments, many of which I haven't had the privilege of presiding over.

 

But not all do. His aim of playing all cathedral organs got me thinking. Indeed, there are many finer instruments in other buildings, but in buildings of lesser status. Of course, the 'Great European Organs' series visited Armley, Norwood, and Cullercoats, but buildings of significant ecclesiastical and municipal status dominated that series. Perhaps this was because it was a series of recordings of organs 'great' rather than 'small'. I daresay this was pragmatic - a 'Small European Organs' series might command an even lesser niche of the organ music market.

 

Some questions for discussion:

 

1. Are we happily addicted to the 'sturm und drang' of 'grand' organs in equally 'grand' acoustics? Should we be happily addicted to this? If the organ as an artistic genre is truly an instrument on which we can 'make music', should we not seek to elevate the status of smaller examples? Or is it simply that the larger, grander instruments are indeed the finest examples of their creators work?

 

2. As has been commented elsewhere on this forum, rebuilds of large-ish organs tend to ensure that the usual complement of curtain shakers, etc., is attained. But is this a tragic mistake? Are we emphasising one musical manifestation of the organ over another, and setting a grander par of organ music than does justice to our tradition? And what lies behind all of this?

 

3. And what about a series of 'Obscure European Organs'? Which organs would be on your list, and why? What would you programme there that the grand organs don't do justice to in the same way?

 

With interest,

Pete

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

1. Are we happily addicted to the 'sturm und drang' of 'grand' organs in equally 'grand' acoustics? Should we be happily addicted to this? If the organ as an artistic genre is truly an instrument on which we can 'make music', should we not seek to elevate the status of smaller examples? Or is it simply that the larger, grander instruments are indeed the finest examples of their creators work?

 

2. As has been commented elsewhere on this forum, rebuilds of large-ish organs tend to ensure that the usual complement of curtain shakers, etc., is attained. But is this a tragic mistake? Are we emphasising one musical manifestation of the organ over another, and setting a grander par of organ music than does justice to our tradition? And what lies behind all of this?

 

3. And what about a series of 'Obscure European Organs'? Which organs would be on your list, and why? What would you programme there that the grand organs don't do justice to in the same way?

 

 

Question 1: Yes, we are. One reason might be that this those instruments are so far apart – too far for many of us to visit and hear in the flesh. Plus, not two large organs are alike, because in most venues individual solutions are required, which makes them even more interesting. And, not least: Large organs often seem more versatile musically than smaller ones – seem, as many Willis beasts or the St Mary Redcliffe dragon are highly specialized in their own ways, and not as open to a larger repertoire than one might think judging by the stoplist only. Second part of the question: No, we shouldn’t. Third part of the question: Yes, definitely. What you never get from a large organ in a large building are real subtleties in speech, voicing and balance. Those can rather be enjoyed in smaller organs and more direct acoustics. It’s those that convey the really fine builder. Mediocre ones can get away with much shoddy stuff if the acoustics are mercifully large. Which answers the last bit of the question: I highly doubt that – if only because you very well can hide mediocricy in a large organ, whereas in a small one you can’t.

 

Question 2: This one gets to a real problem. Large organs are for large spaces, period. 32-foot stops are not for your average parish church, much less for school or home installations. A large organ is another kind of instrument than a middle-range or small one, it poses different problems as well as opportunities and calls for different handling and repertoire. “Organ” really is a collective term for a class of instruments, rather than a single instrument. For example, I lately spent an entirely delightful hour with this CD – all repertoire played on a 4-foot based Italian chamber organ with this spec: 4-4 (flute)-1 1/3-1, the last two breaking; meantone. No 2-foot, no 8-foot. But all on relatively high pressure (64 mm), with energetic voicing. That’s nothing any cathedral organ could give me!

The problem with large organs is, they are large machines too, and make themselves felt as such, which in itself is a fascination, just as a large steam engine or historical power station would be. Musically, they clearly have their limitations – more indeed than middle-range ones.

 

On question 3, I will have to ponder a little. But it sounds like a great idea. Only, you could exclusively defend it with results – you will have to listen to those obscure instruments to understand why they were included. Among recent CD issues, this one came to my mind immediately. Pleasure from beginning to end!

 

All best,

Friedrich

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

×
×
  • Create New...