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English Voluntaries for the Corno Stop


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I am looking for English Baroque voluntaries that call for the Corno stop. There are two by Stanley (one in each of Op 6 and Op.7), there's one by Francis Linley and a few bars by Prelleur can be heard here, but these are the only examples I know. Can anyone point me to others? I have the impression that the Baroque stop was quite rare.

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That's a good question, Zimbelstern.  Its name implies that it was a stop intended to imitate a horn, but no complete early English example has survived.  I doubt I have the story entirely correct, but I believe that when Bill Drake was restoring the Bridge organ at Christ Church, Spitalfields he had virtually to re-invent the stop (as heard in the link I posted above) from just a couple of surviving pipes found elsewhere.

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26 minutes ago, John Robinson said:

Bearing in mind how names change over time, is it possible that they were referring to a Cornet?

As I understand it the Corno was a Choir Organ reed stop. The three voluntaries I know are all written as if for a pair of horns. For one of Stanley's see the second movement of Voluntary 6 here - you can see that it's definitely "horn" writing.  In each of their Corno voluntaries Stanley and Linley specify "Corno or Diapasons", presumably because the Corno was rare. However, if the Corno sounded anything like the Spitalfields one, then IMHO the diapasons (i.e. Open and Stopped at 8' only) might well have been the more convincing alternative!

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On p.101 of Barbara Owen’s book ‘The Registration of Baroque Organ Music’ it is stated: “Towards the middle of the (18th) century a Horn (or French Horn) stop began to appear on some larger organs, and “horn call” effects began to appear in voluntaries as well as transcriptions. Referring to John Stanley she writes: “An insight into the registration of “horn call” movements is found in Voluntary VI of Volume III, where the second section calls for ‘Corno or Diapasons,’ implying that if no Horn stop is present, the Diapasons could be substituted.”

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There is an attractive but rather dull - and boring to play - "Air for French Horns and Flutes" by John Reading in Volume 3 of Novello's "English Organ Music" where Reading says "Play the French Horns upon the Diapasons an octave lower"  (Only possible exactly as writ with a "long compass")  It is true "horn writing"  

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I can understand the oxymoron if one was subjected to a surfeit of this repertoire, particularly on an organ which wasn't built for it. I would guess that one could listen to all the above at Spitalfields and still want more, whereas at the Temple Church a little would go a long way.  I use the Temple as an example, though, because I remember hearing George Thalben Ball playing a Stanley voluntary there in a full-blown three-stave edition and, of course, it sounded absolutely right.  I think, these days, we can play from such editions without feeling guilty, depending on the occasion and the instrument.  If I were back home in Essex, I would take the original edition to Bardfield (Little or Great), but the three-stave version along the road to Haverhill (Old Independent - the best Binns I have ever met).

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I know what you mean, and generally I'd go for the original if I could get the right ambiance.  But sometimes the effect doesn't match up to the stature of the music and in such cases, I find that the puffed-up version has a better effect.  I would probably not regard the score as sacrosanct in such cases, and might well thin out the texture, modify the registration and use my imagination with regard to ornamentation.  The so-called Purcell Trumpet Tune ("Cheer, boys, cheer, me mother wants the mangle"), which I believe is now reckoned to be by Jeremiah Clarke, is a case in point.

A subtle point about old English voluntaries is that the generally sparse textures can sound more full on an old instrument with "authentic" tuning because the tierces harmonize in a way that they fail to do in equal temperament, thus filling in the thirds of the chords.

I have in the past been surprised at  otherwise highly qualified (FRCO and various other types of war-paint) organists who played from authentic editions but didn't know how to register for a cornet voluntary. One would hope that this sort of thing would not happen these days, but I have observed some amazingly inept registrations over here from advanced students.  A lot of it is about remembering to listen to the sound rather than pulling out what one considers to be the right stops....

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Yes, I do understand where you are coming from, David.  I often feel the same about Bach.  Gordon Reynolds once referred to the choice on British organs being between "tubby Bach or skinny Bach", the veiled implication being that neither was wholly satisfactory - and I'd have to agree really. On the average British church organ, one always has to put up with a compromise.  Classical French music comes off worst of all on such instruments. As far as Stanley and his contemporaries are concerned, I'm of the view that, if the organ is seeming to demand filled-out, orchestral harmonies, then there is plenty of music that was written that way, so there's no need to resort to inflating the music of earlier composers. I guess I'm incurable, having signed up in my teens to the concept of the eclectic organ as an ideal (though I always had misgivings about mixing Schnitgeresque voicing with Romantic voicing). My teacher was very much of the eclectic aesthetic and, although I have posted this before, I can't resist repeating what he once had to say about English Baroque voluntaries:

"For close on fifty years organists have played English music of the earlier periods in editions one of whose aims was to provide for the use of pedals. The left hand, which should play the bass, was consigned to a predicament from which it did not always emerge with distinction. It either doubled the right hand an octave lower, clogged the sound with a stream of thick chords, or else provided scraps of counterpoint which continually petered out for want of elbow room, The bass line itself was sometimes modified 'in the interests of modern requirements', especially if a composer had been inconsiderate enough to write a left hand part which could not be accommodated on a modern pedal board. ... There is little point in arranging, for the organ, music which was actually written for the organ." (Sidney Campbell, 1956)"

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14 hours ago, Andrew Butler said:

There is an attractive but rather dull - and boring to play - "Air for French Horns and Flutes" by John Reading in Volume 3 of Novello's "English Organ Music" where Reading says "Play the French Horns upon the Diapasons an octave lower"  (Only possible exactly as writ with a "long compass")  It is true "horn writing"  

Thanks, Andrew. How intriguing. I can't trace anything about this on the internet, so I guess I'll have to buy a copy! :)

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3 hours ago, Vox Humana said:

Yes, I do understand where you are coming from, David.  I often feel the same about Bach.  Gordon Reynolds once referred to the choice on British organs being between "tubby Bach or skinny Bach", the veiled implication being that neither was wholly satisfactory - and I'd have to agree really. On the average British church organ, one always has to put up with a compromise.  Classical French music comes off worst of all on such instruments. As far as Stanley and his contemporaries are concerned, I'm of the view that, if the organ is seeming to demand filled-out, orchestral harmonies, then there is plenty of music that was written that way, so there's no need to resort to inflating the music of earlier composers. I guess I'm incurable, having signed up in my teens to the concept of the eclectic organ as an ideal (though I always had misgivings about mixing Schnitgeresque voicing with Romantic voicing). My teacher was very much of the eclectic aesthetic and, although I have posted this before, I can't resist repeating what he once had to say about English Baroque voluntaries:

"For close on fifty years organists have played English music of the earlier periods in editions one of whose aims was to provide for the use of pedals. The left hand, which should play the bass, was consigned to a predicament from which it did not always emerge with distinction. It either doubled the right hand an octave lower, clogged the sound with a stream of thick chords, or else provided scraps of counterpoint which continually petered out for want of elbow room, The bass line itself was sometimes modified 'in the interests of modern requirements', especially if a composer had been inconsiderate enough to write a left hand part which could not be accommodated on a modern pedal board. ... There is little point in arranging, for the organ, music which was actually written for the organ." (Sidney Campbell, 1956)"

Not so long ago, I noticed a suggestion by an eminent authority (although I can't remember where or by whom), that the nearest one could get to the sort of sound Bach was used to might be a Victorian Town Hall organ.  Quite a difference from opinions of some years ago!  I guess one has to be pragmatic and do whatever suits the instrument one happens to be driving at the time.

Getting back to the topic - how does one register "Corno" on an organ that isn't Christ Church, Spitalfields?  In my notoriously and uncurably flippant mind, a little voice is saying, 'Diapason Phonon', but I have one of those here on the Swell and it sounds just like an ordinary Swell diapason to me and (because the beast behaves herself reasonably well) I haven't been inside to take a look yet. 

When I was a choir-boy at the local parish church, the choir-mistress (a heavily-tweeded, ultra Anglo-Catholic and initially scary lady by the name of Miss Virginia du plat Taylor - known to us as D flat) said that when she was a student at the RSCM Gerald Knight told her that current editions of music from the period in question should be played on manuals with the left hand taking the pedal part and the right hand playing the melody without much infilling.  No authentic editions in those days, but at least the wind was beginning to blow in the right direction.

Incidentally,  I haven't heard Spitalfields yet.  Any opinions from those who have?  It sounds like an exciting job.  I see that Thaxted has also been restored.  I knew this one quite well before the restoration - it had been in the last stages of decrepitude for very many years.  It was very mild in its effect.  Has it perked up at all since it was renovated?  Another such was the Flight at Harwich (which according to legend sank in the North Sea on its way from London and had to be salvaged).  it had been on its last legs for about fifty years until Peter Bumstead restored it, and it is still very quiet.  Same at Ashridge House (although I haven't played this since about 1973 and I think it has been restored in that time).  On the other hand, Christ Church, Durham Street, Belfast (a Robson which I helped to remove a few days before the local yobs torched the building and now in Queen's University) was quite bold, especially the Great Trumpet.  So is Little Bardfield, whoever the builder was (I suspect an early job by Miller of Cambridge).

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7 hours ago, David Drinkell said:

I see that Thaxted has also been restored.  I knew this one quite well before the restoration - it had been in the last stages of decrepitude for very many years.  It was very mild in its effect.

In 2009 the College of St Mark & St John in Plymouth acquired a little one-manual Lincoln, like Thaxted also from 1821, that had been restored by W & A Boggis. I read somewhere that it had originally been a finger and barrel organ. It, too, is very mild, but the tone is absolutely delightful.

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the nearest one could get to the sort of sound Bach was used to might be a Victorian Town Hall organ.  Quite a difference from opinions of some years ago!”

Of course the so-called Organ Reform Movement (which we now know had its origins in nationalist German political ideology of the 1920s) mistakenly identified the “Bach” sound with the North German organ. But Bach lived and worked in Central Germany. With the opening up of East Germany after 1989 we are now able to listen to and even play the kind of organs that Bach would have played, and, in a few cases, organs that he actually did play. They are very different from even real North German organs, and certainly nothing like the shrill, screaming machines foisted on us after 1945. The organs of Trost in Altenburg and Waltershausen, and that of Hildebrandt in Naumburg, demonstrate this admirably. They are like an artist’s palette - many different stops can be combined together (yes, you can play on more than one 8’ rank at the same time, as Adlung allows) to make beautiful sounds of different colours and hues.

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14 hours ago, Vox Humana said:

Personally I think Romanticised Stanley just sounds wrong whatever instrument it's played on. Chacun a son gout. :)

I agree about re-arranging 18th century English organ music to include pedals. However I'd make an exception for Simon Johnson's performance of Greene's "Voluntary in C minor (as arranged by West) on his St. Paul's DVD. 

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Rummaging around a selection the old specifications on NPOR today (Bridge, Harris, Byfield, Seede, England, etc) confirmed that the French Horn stop was indeed rather rare. On the other hand it seems it was by no means confined to the Choir Organ: it could just as easily turn up on the Great or Swell.

I also found an interesting movement in John Keeble's Second Set of Select Pieces for the Organ. It's on page 60 here. The passages allotted to the Great diapasons are very "hornlike" and in a low register. No mention of a Corno here, but bearing in mind what Andrew Butler said above about the piece by John Reading, I wonder whether on organs with a French Horn stop, the organist might have played the diapason passages an octave higher on that stop (presumably playing the  bits on the third stave of p.63 as written)?  This would have been technically possible were the Horn on the Great or Choir.  Changing between the Choir (4') Flute and a Choir Organ Horn (plus Stopped Diap?) and back again on page 61 would have required some licence (especially on the top line), but should not have been impossible. Otherwise stop management would have been straightforward enough. With a Great Horn everything would have been much more straightforward. The Great (or Choir) would have been needed to accompany the "Ecchoes" in the final two staves, but again any stop changes would have been manageable.

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On ‎2‎/‎2‎/‎2018 at 17:29, Dafydd y Garreg Wen said:

Eh?? How can it be both "attractive" and "dull"?

Apologies for delay in replying - I only look on the forum occasionally.  That was badly put owing to doing it in a hurry - apologies.  What I meant was that it is the sort of piece that sounds "nice" but is lacking something - I use it as a voluntary, and people have commented that they like it, but it bores me.  I suppose it would be more interesting using a period "French Horn" stop than the composer's suggested Diapasons.  

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16 hours ago, Andrew Butler said:

Apologies for delay in replying - I only look on the forum occasionally.  That was badly put owing to doing it in a hurry - apologies.  What I meant was that it is the sort of piece that sounds "nice" but is lacking something - I use it as a voluntary, and people have commented that they like it, but it bores me.  I suppose it would be more interesting using a period "French Horn" stop than the composer's suggested Diapasons.  

I guessed that was what you meant! Attractive, but superficial, and thus tedious with repetition.

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2 hours ago, Dafydd y Garreg Wen said:

I guessed that was what you meant! Attractive, but superficial, and thus tedious with repetition.

Indeed - and the repeats in this piece are integral as it is a dialogue between Horns and Flutes.  Superficial is a good word! 

There is a parallel - to me at least - with his Preces & Responses which, although attractive, do not stand up as well as others from the same period or earlier.

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The Responses are fun - more so if you double dot like mad and go a bit overboard with the underlay.  I have an arrangement of the Lord's Prayer put together from the Responses which I originally encountered at Chester Cathedral and tarted up a bit more. Date-wise, there's not much else in the Responses line as late as that - Ebdon's, perhaps, which are ok in Lent.

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1 hour ago, David Drinkell said:

Date-wise, there's not much else in the Responses line as late as that - Ebdon's, perhaps, which are ok in Lent.

A question for a another thread really, but one that I have wondered about, is are there (a) from the earlier period any responses later than Ebdon, or (b) from the twentieth-century revival any earlier than Rose? (Excluding local variants on the ferial responses - Durham, Norwich, Canterbury, etc.)

A related question (pair of questions) would be: when did choirs stop singing festal responses (other than the ubiquitous Tallis), and when did they start again?

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