Jump to content
Mander Organs
DaveHarries

St. Peter's, Rome

Recommended Posts

Through a link on the "Organs of Paris" group on Facebook I have been made aware of this. Sounds like the organ at this most sacred of places of worship is not in good condition but, either way, I hope that this installation, if it has already been done, is not a permanent thing. Either way a petition has been set up which is written in Italian so you will need a translator to read it.

It appears that St. Peter's Basilica, Rome has acquired an electronic organ!! :o:o:o

https://www.change.org/p/appello-per-l-organo-a-canne-nella-basilica-di-san-pietro-in-vaticano/fbog/847366699

Out of itnerest what is the history behind the pipe organ there?

Dave

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

I conducted in St. Peter's in Rome, just after Easter, in 1991 and, to put it mildly, it was a nightmare! 

The year before a Cathedral choir, local to my home, had visited Rome and I wrote to the, then, Master of the Choristers making enquiries of his experiences that might help me in our visit. He wrote me one of the most amusing letters I have ever received which basically said to be prepared for almost anything happening - including an over-enthusiastic Nun grabbing a microphone in the middle of a piece and singing Taize chants into it during our 'performance' . His, very firm, advice was not to choose anything which involved the use of the organ. I found the Basilica to be noisy, far worse than Notre Dame in Paris, and the sound just seemed to get lost in the acoustic. Quite what it sounded like down the Nave was impossible to find out with restrictions on when we could rehearse and, even, where I could move around the Basilica to listen to the rehearsal.

In 2000 I visited Rome again, this time as a tourist. On the Sunday morning my late wife and I went to the Basilica for the morning Mass where I was asked to read the second reading in English. Standing under Bernini's Baldacchino, facing the main altar, whilst the choir were singing the Responsorial Psalm I could both see and hear the organ. It's sole purpose was to accompany the choir. There was no way it could accompany a congregation - even if they had wanted to join in!

I was interested that Dave Harries used the term 'this most sacred place of worship'! Would that it were so, Dave. The behaviour of the Congregation, particularly in the presence of the Pontiff, is appalling, I was there last Easter, with constant chatter and cameras and phones continually being used. Tourists are, now, forbidden to walk around during a celebration but still the noise, in the acoustics of the Basilica is just incredible. In truth can't imagine how any builder could design an instrument that would cope with the building. Having said that I have at the back of my mind that there was, once, a scheme drawn up (was it by Ruffatti?) to put in a huge instrument - as we now know, it came to nothing!

The letter , from the Association of Italian Organists, is couched in very colourful language. As far as I can see, and I do expect to be shot down for this, and for what it is used for, a high quality 'toaster' will serve he Basilica very well - or is that bordering on the realms of heresy?

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My wife and I have quite often watched part of the Christmas Midnight Mass from St. Peter's after getting home from our own and were struck on numerous occasions by the fact that, after the choir had sung unaccompanied for a passage, the organ seemed to have gone sharp.....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Cavaillé-Coll created a scheme for a monster pipe organ for the venue. Would that it had happened; it might have drowned out the most insistent racket of tourists (and nuns...).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, handsoff said:

Cavaillé-Coll created a scheme for a monster pipe organ for the venue. Would that it had happened; it might have drowned out the most insistent racket of tourists (and nuns...).

 

Correct! Thank you, handsoff, it has come back to me now!!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Cavaillé-Coll had at least two tries at persuading St. Peter's to have one of his organs, even having an expensive scale model made of a proposed instrument, which the Pope refused to let him have back.  Henry Willis III was favoured by Fernando Germani and wrote that proposals had been mooted for him to supervise two Italian firms to do the construction, providing at least some of the pipes and voicing himself.  G. Donald Harrison was also in correspondence with the St. Peter's authorities about a new organ.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Some reflections ...

There might be wider issues of culture and national identity here.  I also have observed the 'touristy' nature of St Peter's and other Italian cathedrals as well.  The last time I was in the country I got to Pisa early (where I was flying back from), so decided to spend a few hours doing the tourist bit in the cathedral square.  It was just the same as in Rome.  An evening Mass was in progress, it was warm and balmy and all the doors were wide open.  The organist, in jeans and an open-necked shirt, seemed to spend most of his time somewhere else, only dashing back to the console when he  had to play.  (The organ didn't sound up to much though - I don't know anything about it).  People were milling in and out all the while, including quite young children who rushed in, genuflected and then rushed out again.  Yet I have to say that I found it refreshing that even the grandest places of worship in Italy are considered so accessible to everyone, from aged nuns to youngsters.  And the place was packed full of heaving humanity the whole time.  Isn't that what worship is actually all about?  How very different to (stuffy and elitist?) Britain!

It's a pity in some ways that the organ is still so strongly identified with the church, rather than being regarded as a secular instrument like every other.  But that's the situation we have, we are where we are, and if there were to be a hypothetical fight to the death between the church and its music, I think I know which would lose.  And quite right too, really. 

A couple of quotations:

" ... it does not help when someone like Carlo Curley takes an Allen into a place like Ely Cathedral, where I was two weeks ago, and due to the acoustical situation and placement, the Allen sounds depressingly effective."

Jonathan Ambrosino

"I am as fond of fine music and handsome buildings as Milton was, or Cromwell, or Bunyan; but if I found that they were becoming the instruments of a systematic idolatry of sensuousness, I would hold it good statesmanship to blow every cathedral in the world to pieces with dynamite, organ and all, without the least heed to the screams of the art critics and cultured voluptuaries".

George Bernard Shaw

Heavy stuff.  So to counter it, I'll conclude by mentioning that my sojourn in Pisa ended with an al fresco meal during which we could gaze up at the leaning tower silhouetted by a full moon.  How wonderful it was.  I just hope us Brits can continue to enjoy these Italian pleasures post-Brexit.  I love the place and people, and am so glad it isn't at all like home, cathedrals and all.  I hated having to leave as I watched the city lights recede from the steeply-banking plane ...

CEP

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 hours ago, DaveHarries said:

Through a link on the "Organs of Paris" group on Facebook I have been made aware of this. Sounds like the organ at this most sacred of places of worship is not in good condition but, either way, I hope that this installation, if it has already been done, is not a permanent thing. Either way a petition has been set up which is written in Italian so you will need a translator to read it.

It appears that St. Peter's Basilica, Rome has acquired an electronic organ!! :o:o:o

https://www.change.org/p/appello-per-l-organo-a-canne-nella-basilica-di-san-pietro-in-vaticano/fbog/847366699

 

Using Google Translate,  I see that the author is 'not completely in favour' of the use of a toaster in St Peter's!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, John Robinson said:

Using Google Translate,  I see that the author is 'not completely in favour' of the use of a toaster in St Peter's!

That is how I put the petition into English as well John. Frankly I don't blame him either: a place such as St. Peter's, Rome is the last place I would expect to find an electronic organ.

Dave

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, DaveHarries said:

That is how I put the petition into English as well John. Frankly I don't blame him either: a place such as St. Peter's, Rome is the last place I would expect to find an electronic organ.

Dave

I agree.  However, although I have never heard it, I believe that the pipe organ there can only be described as pretty weedy anyway.  That place really needs a big organ and, as has been said, one that can shout down the tourists!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm not sure I agree with either of the last two posters - I think I know where they are coming from and I can think of reasons why St. Peter's should have a monster organ but I speak from a certain amount of experience of having to produce music for a liturgy in the Basilica.

What is the purpose of the organ? I presume, in a church, to accompany the liturgy - St. Peter's in Rome is not used for concerts! The heritage of the Catholic church in Italy is largely unaccompanied polyphony, the 'congregation' seem, even now, to be often spectators. And, of course, until the 2nd Vatican council this was the same worldwide. You went to Mass, the Priest said or sang the Mass, the choir sang the Propers, the Ordinary and the Common, accompanied or unaccompanied, and the people watched! Congregations in St. Peter's still do not 'join in' and, as Dr. Pykett has pointed out, there is a lack of 'stuffyness' about going to church in Rome, people come and go, the buildings are heaving and are noisy! This is not, and I am reminded of a thread about this very subject, a cathedral where, if he doesn't like the look of you, the verger will not let you into the choir for Evensong!!

Where would you put a monster organ? Have you been in the place? Almost every nook and cranny is full of something, a fresco, statue, a painting, a sculpture!  I just can't imagine!

And, under Benoit XVI, who is a cultured man and a fine pianist, you might have stood a chance. JPII had no interest in music and the present pontiff seems to be the same. 

I know it is heresy to say it here but, and I always thought I would be the last person to say this, but I still think a high quality electronic with a first class speaker system that can be used in the Cathedral and outside in the square is the answer!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sacrosanctum Concilium: I quote 'In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendour to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man's mind to God and to higher things.'

Cavaillé-Coll 's Monumental Organ Project for Saint Peter's, Rome: Bigger Than Them All, by Ronald Ebrecht, tells the engrossing story of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll 's quest to build the largest-ever mechanical-action organ in the biggest church at the time. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cavaille-Colls-Monumental-Organ-Project-Peters/dp/0739184393

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

1 hour ago, Christine Jose Rigby said:

Sacrosanctum Concilium: I quote 'In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendour to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man's mind to God and to higher things.'

 

................... and it continues:

"But other instruments also may be admitted for use in divine worship, with the knowledge and consent of the competent territorial authority, as laid down in Art. 22, 52, 37, and 40. This may be done, however, only on condition that the instruments are suitable, or can be made suitable, for sacred use, accord with the dignity of the temple, and truly contribute to the edification of the faithful."

 

Thank you for the pointer towards the Ronald Ebrecht book - I shall look forward to reading it. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, S_L said:

 

I know it is heresy to say it here but, and I always thought I would be the last person to say this, but I still think a high quality electronic with a first class speaker system that can be used in the Cathedral and outside in the square is the answer!

Or a high quality pipe organ with a first class speaker system, S_L !!

Previous comments about the accompaniment of the liturgy and lack of recitals at Saint Peter's remind me of the little used Cavaillé-Coll/Mutin organ which was once that of le baron Albert d'ilbarritz.
As a Shrine of Perpetual Adoration, the Basilique du Sacré Cœur, Paris does not have recitals, and I understand that those in charge there are said to be indifferent to the instrument.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The article on Allen's website makes interesting reading. It is clear that the authorities at the Vatican seemed to change their mind several times, even after delivery, about what the organ would be used for. The photo of the boxed up organ and speakers would suggest that there is no where near enough speakers for the size of the building and the final solution seems to involve plugging it into the PA system so I doubt very much how much like 'the real thing' it will sound. It may also be relevant to note that several sources suggest that Allen donated the organ to the Vatican which may explain why they were preferred to the Italian domestic toaster manufacturer. As for the organ itself, judging from the photos it's a 3 manual 3 stop model like their G330, whether it has been custom built or off the shelf is not mentioned.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, Choir Man said:

As for the organ itself, judging from the photos it's a 3 manual 3 stop model like their G330, whether it has been custom built or off the shelf is not mentioned.

3 stops?!

Well that would provide, by my calculations, a maximum variety of sounds amounting to no less than SEVEN!  (23)-1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've just checked in Charles Callahan's "The American Classic Organ", where there are several letters from Henry Willis III and G. Donald Harrison relating to a proposed grand organ.  HWIII states that Fernando Germani wants a Willis organ but because of local pressure and exchange rates, there was a proposal that the instrument should be built jointly by Mascioni and Tamburini, with Willis supplying the reeds and the voicing.  This is slightly odd, because some years earlier Willis had declined to supply reeds to Steinmeyer for the organ at Trondhjem Cathedral on the grounds that this was contrary to the traditions of his firm (although he did provide detailed instructions so that these stops could be made to his specification by an outside pipe-maker - this sideline was charmingly completed a few years ago when the present Willis firm supplied superb new reeds for Kuhn's restoration of the Trondhjem organ). Willis refers to a specification having been drawn up which looked like Liverpool Cathedral and then some (more mixtures and mutations).  The organ was to be at the east end of the building and its position would require higher than usual wind pressures.  It would be interesting to see this scheme if it has survived, and it is also intriguing to speculate just how serious the St. Peter's authorities (rather than just Germani) were about such an instrument.  In the same book, Willis mentions one or two other jobs that "got away" - Southampton Guildhall (Thalben-Ball recommended Compton as providing so much more for the money) and the Temple Church (again, GTB wanted to wait until "Daddy" Rothwell passed on before having the organ rebuilt by other hands).

Stephen Bicknell says in his "History of the English Organ" that HWIII only had two stabs at really monumental organs - Westminster Cathedral (where he may to some extent have inherited the job through amalgamation with the Lewis firm) and Liverpool Cathedral (planning of which had begun many years before the instrument materialised).  He appears to have forgotten Sheffield City Hall, which was all new and, with 75 speaking stops, fairly monumental (at least, to anyone outside the USA), although cursed with a dreadful acoustic.  It would thus be even more interesting to see what Willis had in mind for St. Peter's, as well as others which slipped through his fingers.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The allen can be heard on this video.  Unsurprisingly, it just sounds like an electronic organ (to an organist's ear) - flat, mushy and forgettable.  However it's in tune, reliable, and given that it's easily relayed over the PA system it may well feel like a huge improvement on the ground over the previous ailing pipe organ, especially from further back in the Nave.   After all, St Peter's is a difficult building, as previous posters have described.

No doubt an effective and comprehensive pure pipe organ solution would be considered too elitist and expensive in the current liturgical climate, and I'm sure the practical difficulties are colossal.  I can sympathise with this decision but it does seem a shame and a lost opportunity given the banality of the sound. 

In the past I understand they used an amplified pipe organ out in the square.   I would expect that an amplified pipe organ would probably be preferable musically over an amplified toaster, but I never heard it live so others may be able to comment better. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Still not quite as awful as the amplified harmonium they used to have for outside services at the Anglican Shrine at Walsingham!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 hours ago, Choir Man said:

Apologies for the typo, should be 30 stops.

Ah, that makes more sense.

That would provide 1,073,741,823 possible sounds then.  Quite an acceptable choice!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 07/01/2018 at 14:00, S_L said:

"But other instruments also may be admitted for use in divine worship, with the knowledge and consent of the competent territorial authority, as laid down in Art. 22, 52, 37, and 40. This may be done, however, only on condition that the instruments are suitable, or can be made suitable, for sacred use, accord with the dignity of the temple, and truly contribute to the edification of the faithful."

This seems to have been interpreted liberally:

"There is no dogma that the organ or harmonium can be used in church, but not the drum"

Cardinal Francis Arinze

CEP

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, Colin Pykett said:

This seems to have been interpreted liberally:

"There is no dogma that the organ or harmonium can be used in church, but not the drum"

Cardinal Francis Arinze

CEP

Not the only bit of S.C. that has been "interpreted liberally", e.g.:

"[. . .] the use of the Latin language is to be preserved [....] The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services."

If I'd had a penny for the number of times I've read/heard that Vatican II abolished "the Latin Mass" I'd be a rich man.

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...