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The Royal Festival Hall Organ - what if ?

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Dear friends:

I know that we are all beyond busy at this moment, but, just a thought to distract us.

Although it is almost seventy years since the building of this organ, I often wonder, what if ?

What if it were placed in a "cathedral" acoustic.

What if it had normal, English-type, low-pressure chorus reeds.

What if the flue voicer had been allowed to nick the pipes.

What if it had been scaled using H&H's usual scale sticks.

What if HWIII had built it.

What if Compton's had built a real rock-crusher, in the original ceiling position planned by the architects.

Am I crazy, or have any of you ever contemplated these possibilities ?

I have tried to like this organ, tried to appreciate Ralph Downes ideas. I've read and re-read Baroque Tricks. I'm fully aware that there are many authorities who have high regard for Ralph Downes and this organ. His point about balances between divisions is well taken. The usual British/American organ of the period is rarely balanced in this manner. And I quite agree that his revised Solo Organ is the making of it. However, there is one of his basic ideas that I simply can't abide: the elimination of treble ascendant foundations. Organs voiced without treble ascendant foundations strike me as feeble in the French repertoire, just for starters. I could name a couple of much-admired instruments whose foundations have zero lyric impact, but I'm afraid that there would be a chorus of protests.

I'm not trying to start trouble here. After all, "Love came down at Christmas." But, I would like to know if anyone else thinks about these things as I do.

Kindest regards to all and MERRY CHRISTMAS.

Karl Watson,

Staten Island, NY USA

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Hi

 

Coincidentally, I've just finished re-reading "Baroque Tricks". The fact is the RFH organ is what it is. Any other builder would have faced the same problems as Downes & H&H in building something in the acoustic of the building. It was intended really as an experiment I suspect. It is what it is. Put it in a resonant acoustic and I suspect it would sound foul - Downes remarks on the difference in sounds of the pipes in the moderately reverberant area where H&H had set up a voicing machine and in the organ itself, so pipes voiced for the hall won't work effectively elsewhere.

 

Maybe Compton would have done something that worked fairly well, given their reputation for dealing with difficult situations - but then, they installed a temporary electronic in the RFH before the pipe organ was ready, and - even allowing for the limitations of the technology of the era - no one says it was a success.

 

It's perhaps nice to speculate, but in reality the player has to make the best of thee organ that (s)he is playing.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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The organ of Manchester Cathedral was built by Harrison's at about the same time and fulfills some of your criteria, e.g. reverberant cathedral. Yet it was world's apart, seemingly unloved and had recently been removed to allow a more classically inspired Tickell to take its place. Based on experience of his other works I am in no doubt the new organ will be a phenomenal success. But I wonder what was so "wrong" with the Manchester Harrison that it hasn't survived the passage of time, and wonderr, had Downes designed it, if it would have still been present.

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I think part of the problem at Manchester was that older material, such as soundboards, had come to the end of its working life. Also, after the War, the organ was crammed into the quire aisles, etc, and the screen (which would seem the best place for most of a large organ) was left empty.

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Dear friends:

I know that we are all beyond busy at this moment, but, just a thought to distract us.

Although it is almost seventy years since the building of this organ, I often wonder, what if ?

What if it were placed in a "cathedral" acoustic.

 

...

 

Kindest regards to all and MERRY CHRISTMAS.

Karl Watson,

Staten Island, NY USA

 

Most of the questions posed cannot be answered in anything like an unequivocal fashion. However the one abstracted in the snippet above, concerning the type of acoustic, lends itself to some interesting armchair experiments which might be undertaken if you have a spare hour or two over the Christmas period perhaps. You will need two items. One is a recording of the RFH organ, preferably as 'dry' as possible. But do not use one which suggests that it has been edited or processed to sound artificially 'wetter'. The other is a means of adding artificial reverberation to it, either a stand-alone processor box or software which can be downloaded readily from the internet and run in a PC. In both cases you would have to route the signals from your player via the reverberation system before they reach your amplifiers and speakers. It is fascinating to do this and observe how the subjective effect of a recording changes when you twiddle the reverb settings to simulate rooms of different sizes and characteristics.

 

CEP

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I remember MANY years ago having a record that was an experiment along these lines. It was the organ of All Souls Langham Place. Microphones were placed inside the organ in each division. It was recorded, then the recording was played back in auch more reverberant acoustic and recorded again. I can't remember the title of the record, but it showed off the resources of the All Souls organ and to be honest didn't really succeed as an experiment. I'd love to find it again as it was very interesting as concept!

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I remember MANY years ago having a record that was an experiment along these lines. It was the organ of All Souls Langham Place. Microphones were placed inside the organ in each division. It was recorded, then the recording was played back in auch more reverberant acoustic and recorded again. I can't remember the title of the record, but it showed off the resources of the All Souls organ and to be honest didn't really succeed as an experiment. I'd love to find it again as it was very interesting as concept!

 

Yes, this was often done in the pre-digital days when artificial reverberation options were limited and universally pathetic - consisting of steel plates or springs, etc. OK for pop 'echo chambers' but anathema for classical usage. I recall one recording which I probably still have somewhere was re-recorded in Walthamstow Town Hall which I think was one of the favourite venues in those days.

 

CEP

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I remember MANY years ago having a record that was an experiment along these lines. It was the organ of All Souls Langham Place. Microphones were placed inside the organ in each division. It was recorded, then the recording was played back in auch more reverberant acoustic and recorded again. I can't remember the title of the record, but it showed off the resources of the All Souls organ and to be honest didn't really succeed as an experiment. I'd love to find it again as it was very interesting as concept!

 

The disc was called "Organ In Close-Up" Was the performer David Bell...? [see PS] I never quite understood the reason for it, although it was explained on the sleeve.

 

PS - See later post. It was Leslie Pearson, not David Bell

Edited by Andrew Butler

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Leslie Pearson made an LP with the microphones very close to the pipework in order to cut out any natural resonance (not much at the best of times!) at All Souls...but I don't recall its title.

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.....Organs voiced without treble ascendant foundations strike me as feeble in the French repertoire, just for starters. I could name a couple of much-admired instruments whose foundations have zero lyric impact, but I'm afraid that there would be a chorus of protests.

......

Karl Watson,

Staten Island, NY USA

This is a very important comment. Without this (i.e. volume increasing with increased pitch) much of Widor sounds completely boring and lifeless. But I'm not so sure that it is helpful with Bach.

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An article that could have been included in the BIOS Journal on the RFH organ was a look at the tender proposals. Reading between the lines in 'Baroque Tricks', they were from Harrison, Willis and Walker. Another interesting one would be a compare and contrast (musical and technical) between the RFH and Colston Hall instruments, from someone who knows both.

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bam:

 

Oh yes. These are the best thoughts yet. Who amongst us knows both jobs well enough to compare and contrast, quite beyond the obvious ?

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My memories of the Colston Hall organ from when I was a student in the late seventies is that it was an immaculately voiced Harrison organ in traditional style. However, the Positive section was far too quiet to counter major choruses elsewhere. This matter of balance between departments is probably the principal "winner" at the RFH, regardless of what sort of tone it produces.

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Leslie Pearson made an LP with the microphones very close to the pipework in order to cut out any natural resonance (not much at the best of times!) at All Souls...but I don't recall its title.

 

This was "Organ In Close Up" I was wrong in my previous comment about the performer being David Bell It was Leslie Pearson

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The organ of Manchester Cathedral was built by Harrison's at about the same time and fulfills some of your criteria, e.g. reverberant cathedral. Yet it was world's apart, seemingly unloved and had recently been removed to allow a more classically inspired Tickell to take its place. Based on experience of his other works I am in no doubt the new organ will be a phenomenal success. But I wonder what was so "wrong" with the Manchester Harrison that it hasn't survived the passage of time, and wonderr, had Downes designed it, if it would have still been present.

 

Just a thought - as far as I know, Manchester Cathedral is not particularly reverberant. It is basically a large parish church, turned cathedral. Salisbury or Winchester would provide a rather better acoustic ambiance. Or, if you really want something very reverberant, but without the annoying, confused sound which is often the case under the dome in Saint Paul's Cathedral, Gloucester Cathedral is even better, at a round eight seconds in an empty building.

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