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Martin Cooke

York Minster

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In announcing this summer's recital series at the Minster, Robert Sharpe has said that the organ is to be rebuilt. Do we know who will undertake the work (PPO?) and if there are to be any tonal changes?

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York Minster organ has been in the care of Harrison & Harrison for several years now.

 

I understand the Minster are awaiting all the necessary permissions to be in place before they make an announcement, hopefully later this year. A lot of work and careful thought has gone into the best course of action for the organ; as many people will be aware there are many strands and considerations for this organ; musical, historical and how the instrument works in the building. There have been a number of experiments on the organ recently, mainly around returning the pressures back to their 1930s levels, which is likely to be the musical and artistic inspiration for any future work. Those of us who can recall the organ (or have recordings of the organ) from before the 1960s Walker work (including Francis Jackson's early recordings) will understand the desirability of this.

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And yet the changes under the supervision of Francis Jackson have been claimed to make the organ 'more musical'.

 

I suppose, though, that tastes change over time!

 

I do look forward to hearing more about these proposed changes.

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I know this is slightly off topic, but it is to do with York Minster.

I went to James Lancelot's recital there, last night (sat), and it was fantastic. He got sounds out of that organ, as if he was DOM there. Apparently, he only came down twice during the week to practice. It was note perfect throughout, and a very rare,standing ovation at the end, was very fitting . His appreciative smile brought a ray of light into that space, so much so, it brought a lump to a few peoples throats. Perfection.....

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York Minster organ has been in the care of Harrison & Harrison for several years now.

 

I understand the Minster are awaiting all the necessary permissions to be in place before they make an announcement, hopefully later this year. A lot of work and careful thought has gone into the best course of action for the organ; as many people will be aware there are many strands and considerations for this organ; musical, historical and how the instrument works in the building. There have been a number of experiments on the organ recently, mainly around returning the pressures back to their 1930s levels, which is likely to be the musical and artistic inspiration for any future work. Those of us who can recall the organ (or have recordings of the organ) from before the 1960s Walker work (including Francis Jackson's early recordings) will understand the desirability of this.

 

That's the second large job I know of in the diocese that PPO have lost. I always considered Walker's rebuild sounded excellent and I am sure H&H will do likewise. It will be interesting to learn of any revisions to the specification.

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I can well imagine that there will be a variety of opinions about a possible return to the levels of decibels in former days! There seems to be so much history to this greatly admired instrument set in a building that (?) Dallam described as being "greedy for sound"

I really hope that the consultants and chapter will have given proper consideration as to whether a dynamic/proper long term solution addressing the need for adequate and generous support for congregational singing, after the manner of more than a few Cathedrals in the UK and  places abroad, might not involve siting of a larger or smaller division elsewhere in the building (...in other places deemed a success.. eg St Paul's, Liverpool, Cologne, ..  bearing in mind that previous small scale experiments with pipework in the nave at York have also shown that this would be effective. Though the previous Nave organ was not the prettiest its voicing remains quite remarkable as can be heard at St Thomas, Radcliffe nr Manchester

I'm sorry to hear about PPO losing contracts. Their extensive restoration at Selby amongst other work seems rightly to have merited high praise. 

All good wishes

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I remember a few years ago, when talking to Robert Sharpe, that I had a good friend, who had quite a few private recordings of the Minster organ , from the 50's and early 60's. He asked if he could hear them, maybe this was a precursor to any alterations, then again, probably not

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There was apparently a presentation to Organists’ Assocations recently by Robert Sharpe on what is likely to be done to the organ. Can anyone report back please?

A

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From the Diocese of York website.

 

York Minster’s Grand Organ will undergo a major, £2m refurbishment this autumn for the first time in 100 years.

The instrument, parts of which date back to 1834, will be removed – including almost all of its 5263 pipes – and taken to Durham for repair/rebuilding by organ specialists Harrison and Harrison.

The project will take around two years to complete, with the restored instrument due to be ready for use in autumn 2020.

Due to their regular use and environment, cathedral organs ideally require small-scale cleaning and adjustment every 15 to 20 years, with more extensive repairs carried out every 30 to 35 years and a major refurbishment every 100 years. The last major refurbishment of the Minster’s organ was carried out in 1903.

The project will include replacing the organ’s mechanism, extensive work to dismantle, clean and overhaul the instrument and minor changes to the organ case to both improve how it looks and the sound it allows out. The plans also include creating a new music library underneath the organ, inside the screen which separates the Quire from the Nave, subject to the relevant permissions being obtained.

The aim is to ensure the unique sound of the Minster’s organ is preserved, while restoring the grander, imposing qualities of the instrument which were altered during work in the 1960s.

During the two years of refurbishment work, the Minster’s full music programme will continue. A grand piano will be used alongside an existing chamber organ in the Quire and a digital organ will serve both the Nave and Quire.

The organ plays a key part in the Minster’s services, providing the heartbeat at the centre of daily worship within the church. This once-in-a-century refurbishment will ensure the instrument’s reliability for the next 100 years.”

Robert Sharpe, Director of Music at York Minster

A final series of organ concerts and recitals will take place at the Minster during 2018 before the instrument is removed. Dates include an informal organ promenade on Monday 7 May at 1.10pm, a performance of Olivier Messiaen’s L’Ascension on Sunday 13 May at 5.15pm and a gala concert on Saturday 25 August at 7pm to close the series.

If you would like to support the project please contact the York Minster Fund by emailing ymf@yorkminster.org or calling 01904 557245.

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"The aim is to ensure the unique sound of the Minster’s organ is preserved, while restoring the grander, imposing qualities of the instrument which were altered during work in the 1960s."

I wonder whether this implies the removal, in part or in whole, of the additions made by Dr Jackson at that time.  These were to "make the instrument more musical" and included the insertion of several mutations absent beforehand.  Even today, I believe that mutations are generally regarded as essential.

On the other hand, I do hope that the (in)famous Tuba Mirabilis is not disposed of!  A unique sound, and loved by many.

I look forward with interest to the publication of the intended changes to the stop list.

As for "changes to the organ case to both improve how it looks and the sound it allows out", I believe that reflective roofs were added above the case several years ago for that reason.  Perhaps it has been decided that this hasn't proved entirely successful.  Another thing I'd be interested to hear when the time comes.

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Whenever I read topics such as this I think of the magnificent organ where I was a boy chorister nearly 70 years ago, now Hull Minster. It's presently unplayable although it's had a few running repairs in recent times. The Forster & Andrews/John Compton, 4-manual, 104-stop organ was rebuilt and enlarged in 1939 and his never undergone a major refurbishment since. It's now urgently needed and so is a sum of money in the region of £1 million. Hull is one of the country's major cities and last year was the so-called UK City of Culture. I cannot understand why the Minster's hierarchy has not launched a major appeal. The need to put the organ at the top of their priorities.

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8 hours ago, Barry Oakley said:

Hull is my home city.Whenever I read topics such as this I think of the magnificent organ where I was a boy chorister nearly 70 years ago, now Hull Minster. It's presently unplayable although it's had a few running repairs in recent times. The Forster & Andrews/John Compton, 4-manual, 104-stop organ was rebuilt and enlarged in 1939 and his never undergone a major refurbishment since. It's now urgently needed and so is a sum of money in the region of £1 million. Hull is one of the country's major cities and last year was the so-called UK City of Culture. I cannot understand why the Minster's hierarchy has not launched a major appeal. The need to put the organ at the top of their priorities.

Hull is my home city.

I agree with nearly all of that and I didn't know that the instrument was, presently, unplayable. The problem with Hull Minster is that it is enormous and it is a Parish church bigger than some Cathedrals and, yet, not a Cathedral, with little or no parish! Hardly anyone lives in the old town! St. Mary's Lowgate, just two hundred yards up the road, is in a similar state - and the organ there has been unplayable for a long time! I suspect that the only thing that keeps St. Mary's open is that it is the 'High Church' of Hull!

I perceive that there is a desire, amongst the Minster authorities, to, one day, restore the magnificent organ. It seems, though, that the priority, at the moment, is to 'modernise' the church, making it more open and more of a 'space' to be used day in day out rather than locked and opened on a Sunday for a few souls to worship. Once that is achieved, and they have made enormous strides in that direction, it may be that the organ gets a look-in! I hope so! 

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The Heritage Lottery Fund has helped in restoring many major and historic organs in the UK, including the possibly the oldest organ in the UK at ST Botolphs without Aldgate. I think the Heritage Lottery Fund is the only way to get these beautiful organs restored to their former glory.

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On ‎27‎/‎04‎/‎2018 at 09:05, OrganistOnTheHill said:

The Heritage Lottery Fund has helped in restoring many major and historic organs in the UK, including the possibly the oldest organ in the UK at ST Botolphs without Aldgate. I think the Heritage Lottery Fund is the only way to get these beautiful organs restored to their former glory.

Ah yes, but then you might end up with a nice big National Lottery plexiglas plaque attached to the organ (as is the case at St Mary Leatherhead and their 18th century Parker Organ)...

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9 hours ago, mrbouffant said:

Ah yes, but then you might end up with a nice big National Lottery plexiglas plaque attached to the organ (as is the case at St Mary Leatherhead and their 18th century Parker Organ)...

Goodness me. That is not nice......

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18 hours ago, Zimbelstern said:

This is what Bach’s Nicolai-Kirche in Leipzig got when they accepted over €2 million from Porsche to restore their Ladegast organ:

http://www.die-orgelseite.de/bilder/sample_1.jpg

 

 

 

And, like a Porsche, being built by Germans using German technology, German skills and the usual high quality materials that the Germans employ to build their cars it will do the job it is designed to do absolutely superbly!

I'm not sure whether I like it but if it meant getting a huge grant, from some organisation, to get an instrument completely rebuilt then I think I could, just about, live with their name or emblem on the bottom right hand side of the console! 

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S_L said:

"And, like a Porsche, being built by Germans using German technology, German skills and the usual high quality materials that the Germans employ to build their cars it will do the job it is designed to do absolutely superbly! "

Not sure that I fully concur with these effusions concerning all things German, given the scandals that VW has recently been involved in.  And they and Porsche are not exactly disconnected.  But never mind.   I think it's difficult to judge any organ unless I've at least heard it in the flesh (i.e. not on a recording), and preferably played it.

I wonder what all the dials and gauges do?  It puts me in mind of those Willis III consoles which used car dashboard fuel gauges to indicate the position of the swell shutters in some of the instruments which used the infinite speed and gradation system (though I believe Liverpool Anglican now uses LED displays).  I wonder if those organs also used the corresponding fuel tank sender units as well - minus the float of course?  Plus ca change and all that ...

CEP

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"German eingineering ... skils ... quality.." and cost a fortune when they do go wrong. I followed the story of a German organ in a Germn church which the church wanted to get rid of because it was so unreliable it was costing them several thousand euros a year just to maintain. They sold it to a church in another country speaking another language which is not English, the new owners apparently being delighted at their high quality German instrument. Having only read of this in newspaper articles and church notices it might not be the whole story so I won't give any names, but I'm astonished that nobody involved can speak the other side's language and discover these things. As an engineer I admire German technology as much as anyone, but caveat emptor.

Having said that, yesterday I listened to evensong at (a large church) with a fairly new toaster, which sounded surprisingly poor, so full marks to any congregation who makes the commitment to transplanting a decent instrument and sorting out its problems in the process. They'll be better off in the not-so-long run.

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Generally speaking I would say that most problems in organ building are caused by rapid changes in fashion and unrealistic demands by people who know little or nothing about the complexity of these amazing machines and the huge range of skills and levels of craftsmanship involved in building an instrument which is suited and adapted to the physical and acoustic environment of the building in which they are placed. Huge amounts of money are often wasted going round in circles as the following case study demonstrates:

The organ in St. Martin’s Church, Dudelange, Luxembourg  was built in 1912 by the organbuilder Georg Stahlhuth (1830-1913) and his son Eduard Stahlhuth (1862-1916). As Germans, installed at Aachen, Georg and Eduard Stahlhuth had all the basic knowledge of German romantic organbuilding. As disciples and close friends of Joseph Merklin at Brussels and Lyon, they had a share in the development of French symphonic organbuilding. Their contracts in England and Ireland provided them with good knowledge of English romantic organbuilding. Thus, they were among the rare organbuilders able to incorporate both French and English characteristics into German romantic organbuilding, defending in this way Albert Schweitzer’s «European» ideas in matter of organbuilding, ideas on which the project was founded in 1912.

The three-manual organ of 1912 had 45 stops (and 3 transmissions under expression in the pedal) on cone-valve chests with pneumatic note and stop action. Wind was supplied by three English water engines. A further borrowing from English organbuilding was the high-pressure Tuba mirabilis 8‘ in the Positiv-Swell division, voiced on 300 mm. Typical French features were the overblowing stops (typical of Stahlhuth’s organs) and the reeds of French-style construction (with tin-plated shallots), of which at least three were supplied by the Paris firm Veuve Jules Sézerie: Vox humana 8', Tuba 8' and Posaune 16' «octave grave de bombarde 16', grosse taille». Basically, however, the organ was attuned to German romantic style, with plentiful foundation 8‘-stops, differentiation in the manuals according to the various scalings (wide, normal, narrow) and their dynamic gradation (f, mf, p). Besides the high-pressure Tuba mirabilis, the organ had two further „Starkton-Register“ (strong and expressive in tonal design): Seraphon Gedackt 8‘ and Seraphon Flöte 8‘, each with two mouths. With these three loud toned stops, the numerous foundation stops and the two expressive divisions with their sub and superoctave couplers, the organ had an exceptionally broad dynamic spectrum.

In 1962, in accordance with the then predominant neobaroque tonal aesthetic, the organ suffered far reaching modifications in total negligence of its stylistic specificity: reduction of the wind pressure, replacement of the pneumatic action by electric action, removal of the original console, changes to the pipework, transfer of stops on to other windchests, addition of high-pitched mixtures and mutations, as well as a fourth manual of neobaroque conception and removal of characteristic Stahlhuth stops.

After the organ had become nearly unplayable in the middle of the 1990s, a renovation of the organ had become inescapable. From 2001 to 2002, the following items were carried out by organbuilder Thomas Jann, Laberweinting (Germany) and his craftsmen:

  • restoration and reconstruction of the Stahlhuth pipes and windchests from 1912
    - renewal of the swell boxes and the wind supply system
    - removal of the additional stops from 1962 and reverse of the transfers carried out in 1962
    - addition of a Bombarde division in place of the neobaroque Positiv
    - harmonious extension of the organ up to 78 speaking stops with both German romantic and French symphonic tone colors, notably by :
    - further development of the string chorus (full-fledged chorus from 16’ through Terzgamba 1 3/5’)
    - numerous orchestral solo stops, constructed and voiced in both German and French style
    - extension and differentiation of the numerous reed chorus (23 stops in all) of both German romantic and French symphonic style on all manuals
    - a strong fundamental tone based on 32’ (Untersatz 32’ from CC, full-length Contrabombarde 32’)
    - octave mutations 5 1/3’ and 3 1/5’ and low-pitched, partly progressive mixtures
    - revoicing of the whole organ, carried out without compromise according to romantic voicing techniques
    - new four-manual console with electronic combination action, MIDI-interface and replay system.

Thus, since 2002, the most significant trait of the organ is the stylistically authentic performance not only of German but also of French and English repertoire from the romantic-symphonic era.”

 

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I'm sorry if I have let my enthusiasm for 'all things German' run away with me! In my defence I was heavily influenced by my father, a first-rate engineer, who always maintained that German locks were the hardest to pick!! After picking several of them he made his way across Germany, occupied France and Spain before arriving back in the UK where he spent the rest of his war in bomb disposal. He had a healthy respect for German technology! When I lived in the UK I bought Bosch products, we had a Bosch fridge, freezer, washing machine etc. and, yes, I drove a Porsche! They just kept on going and some of them I still have here in France.

The tenor of 'Zimblestern's' comment I read to be derisory "This is what Bach’s Nicolai-Kirche in Leipzig got when they accepted over €2 million from Porsche to restore their Ladegast organ:" but I may have misinterpreted that. and, if I have, I unreservedly apologise to 'Zimblestern'. I think the point I was trying to make was that if a business gave me two million Euros to rebuild an organ I could put up with their logo emblazoned across it and, possibly, a good deal more besides!!! As I said, I'm not sure I like it and there are others on here far more qualified than I to comment on the use of, what appears to be, stainless steel in console building.

Do you remember the book "How to bluff your way in Music!"? It came to discussion about organists and began "Organists are a strange race ........." I wouldn't, exactly, say strange but I think organists are, by nature, quite traditional! Do you remember the long thread on the new console in Notre Dame in Paris which stirred up emotions on here?

For those who would like  to look at the disposition, and a little about the history of this instrument, I give a link here: http://www.orgel-leipzig.de/disposition.html

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2 hours ago, S_L said:

I'm sorry if I have let my enthusiasm for 'all things German' run away with me!

No apology needed, S_L, as far as I'm concerned!  What can ever be wrong about a bit of enthusiasm?  And thank you for sharing the extraordinary story about your father. 

I am envious of your Porsche though.  Continuing with the connection between cars and organs, I'll mention again Willis III's speed and gradation swell mechanism - in the original patent of c. 1935 there is mention of "acceleration", "deceleration", "neutral", "braking" and one or two other words (including "speed" of course) common to the two areas.  Bonavia-Hunt also uses them quite independently in one of his contemporaneous books when describing the system from a player's viewpoint.  I wonder if Aubrey Thompson-Allen, who invented the mechanism and wrote the patent specification, was a motoring enthusiast?  Yet another link springs to mind in that somebody (can't immediately remember who - might have been Stephen Bicknell) likened the Hope-Jones organ at Worcester cathedral to a Ferrari when compared with the "family saloon" type of organ that was then being built by all other builders!

But I'm getting a long way away from York Minster now.  My turn to apologise - sorry.

CEP

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Certainly no need to apologise. I don’t blame the Nicolaikirche for accepting Porsche’s money. But I do think whoever came up with that dreadfully crass console design (presumably someone at Porsche who had no interest in organs) was doing the extraordinarily beautiful church a disservice.

http://www.kulturkompasset.com/st-nicolas-church-leipzig/

Luckily you can’t see the console from the floor of the nave, but if you go into the gallery you will certainly see it. It is totally out of place in this historic church, where the demonstrations that culminated in the end of the GDR began, and where Bach’s St. John Passion was first performed. Interestingly, the church was an important centre of freemasonry in the 18th century - thus the palm tree columns.

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