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C F Abdy Williams

Colin Pykett

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Does anyone have a view on the books by Abdy Williams (1855-1923)?  I have sometimes come across them in second hand bookshops both real and online, and he seems to have written on a number of organ-related topics.  Currently I'm re-reading 'The Story of Organ Music' published in 1905.  He writes in a generally entertaining manner, though the book reflects his time and his own predilections perhaps excessively, and some of it might provoke a response (such as annoyance I suspect!) today.  Examples:

" ... those works which we call classical are bound in course of time to become antiquated, and to find no response except for those few persons who, possessing a feeling of antiquarianism, can project themselves mentally into a distant past".

" We are living in a period with regard to organ music which may be said to have commenced in the first half of the eighteenth century".

" ... there has nearly always existed a "high" school of organ-playing, contemporaneously with a commonplace, ad captandum style, against which musicians and churchmen have inveighed in vain".

And this gem:

"The organ is heard by the majority of civilised mankind once or twice a week through the whole year.  No other instrument is heard so much by so many, and it is only in accordance with human nature that organists should frequently yield to the temptation to please the uncultured majority rather than the cultivated minority, even if their natural taste is that of the minority, which is not always the case".

So it's good fun, and to be fair one can learn things from it more easily than from many a drier text.  However his books' low prices suggest that they are not held in much regard today, so maybe this answers my own question.

He puts me in mind to some extent of Laurence Elvin, whose rather scattily-organised and opinionated works nevertheless contain useful stuff.


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Fascinating! I've never heard of Charles Francis Abdy Williams (1855 - 1923) and, not surprisingly, when you 'google' him, it is difficult to get results for any other Williams other than Andy Williams (the B being next to the N on a keyboard doesn't help!!) 

However looking a little further I have found several of his books for sale on Amazon including - 'The Story of Notation', 'Handel', 'The Aristoxenian of Rhythm', 'Bach', 'The Story of Organ Music', 'The Rhythm of Modern Music', and the, what I would think, completely useless 'A short historical Account of the Degrees in Music at Oxford and Cambridge: With a chronological list of Graduates in that Faculty from the Year 1463'.

I've also found a 'Mag & Nunc' in F - published by Novello, some chants to the 'Benedicite' and 'Te Deum', a couple of Madrigals and a setting of the Morning and Evening Canticles for Alto, Tenor and Bass. A 'Scherzo for Organ' dating from 1889 also exists. 

The books might make interesting and amusing reading. Quite what the music is like I'm not sure - but I do have a suspicion!!!

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