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David Drinkell

Tuning at the Albert Hall

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This appeared on Facebook today.  Interesting, though I'm surprised that the Albert Hall organ is still referred to as being by Father Willis - surely it's stretching the point since it was modified so much by Arthur Harrison.

https://metro.co.uk/2018/10/15/my-odd-job-im-an-organ-tuner-in-charge-of-the-9999-pipes-of-the-organ-at-the-royal-albert-hall-7755715/?ito=article.amp.share.top.facebook

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The label on the music desk on the console says Harrison and Harrison, faithfully reinstated when we refurbished the organ. There is no mention of Willis on the console and also no mention of Mander either, I refused to have a Mander label put on the console because our job was to respect the job as it was and not to put our stamp on it. Also, the statement that there are 9999 is a myth put out by the consultant and others for no good reason. There are in fact 9997 pipes in the organ.

John

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That seems very modest, almost self-deprecating, as most people think that Mander’s rebuild corrected shortcomings in the RAH organ resulting in a noticeably improved instrument.  Was Arthur Harrison’s rebuild/ transformation so far-reaching (drastic?) as to justify expunging all reference to Father Willis on their builder’s name plate?  Put another way, does re-voicing the original builder’s pipework entitle the new builder to instal a name plate which, to anyone who doesn’t know the instrument’s history, gives the impression that the organ is wholly theirs?

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An interesting point Rowland. I see that Keble College now refer to their organ as the Tickell-Rufatti Organ. Although the revoicing was widely known, this change must be quite recent. I have neither the knowledge nor the competence to appreciate what the chain of events was, but this amended name is at least clearly descriptive.

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This is all an interesting argument and there are a lot of grey areas. Taking the RAH organ first, yes, a lot of what we did corrected shortcomings, in particular long-standing ones with the winding, which went right back to the original instrument by Willis, with the inadequate main trunk from the blowers. That, at last, enabled the pipework to get the wind it needed, no raising of pressures and no re-voicing. It speaks as it was meant to at last and in saying that, no criticism oh H&H whatsoever. I suspect we were able to do what H&H would have liked to do for some time.

So, the RAH organ retains its H&H label, because it remains very substantially, overwhelmingly so, an H&H organ, we believe, and if not, I would consider we had failed in our task. St Paul's Cathedral, however, is different. That instrument was changed dramatically from what it had been, so that organ does have a Mander label on the consoles. Similarly, Pembroke College Cambridge has no label, because it is an attempt to reconstruct what had been there many years before.

 

John

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Well, although I know that it might be completely incorrect,  the RAH organ is still known throughout the world as being built by Henry Willis, with some enlarging and revoicing by Harrison &  Harrison in the 1930's.

The organ in St Pauls' Cathedral, however,  is acknowledged to be a complete re-interpretation of the original Willis organ by Noel Mander so it should rightly carry that builder's name.

I heard too that Noel Mander really wanted to restore the historic Smith case and return it to its original position on a gallery between the nave and the choir as were most cathedral  instruments originally sited, but as usual the Church of England would not sanction such a bold enterprise. I can still feel Noel Mander's frustration over this, but I'm afraid this blinkerd thinking over the siting of organs within the Anglican Church has never actually gone away and probably never will.

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9 hours ago, Ian van Deurne said:

I heard too that Noel Mander really wanted to restore the historic Smith case and return it to its original position on a gallery between the nave and the choir as were most cathedral  instruments originally sited, but as usual the Church of England would not sanction such a bold enterprise. I can still feel Noel Mander's frustration over this, but I'm afraid this blinkerd thinking over the siting of organs within the Anglican Church has never actually gone away and probably never will.

There's no secret about the idea of returning to a screen organ at St Paul's and I for one do not think it would have been desirable given the size of events that St Paul's has to accommodate and the need to keep an 'all through' nave-chancel design. In terms of what was achieved in 1972-77 and subsequently, it surely has to be one of the most successful rebuilds of a large instrument ever. I don't think it was blinkered of the cathedral authorities not to pursue the screen organ idea taking all the needs and circumstances into account and I would hope that nobody was or is disappointed or frustrated. 

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3 hours ago, Martin Cooke said:

There's no secret about the idea of returning to a screen organ at St Paul's and I for one do not think it would have been desirable given the size of events that St Paul's has to accommodate and the need to keep an 'all through' nave-chancel design. In terms of what was achieved in 1972-77 and subsequently, it surely has to be one of the most successful rebuilds of a large instrument ever. I don't think it was blinkered of the cathedral authorities not to pursue the screen organ idea taking all the needs and circumstances into account and I would hope that nobody was or is disappointed or frustrated. 

Least of all Sir Christopher Wren.....  😎

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Oh yes, dear old Sir Christopher Wren positively hated organs, referring to the St Paul's instrument as "that damn box of whistles" apparently when the original siting of the organ was up for discussion. Given the fact that he designed so many of the churches in London after the great fire, you'd had thought that he would have got quite used to them!

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Is this why, in the majority of Wren churches, the organ is at the west end where it wouldn't spoil the clean lines of his architecture when viewed from a pew? Do you know what other options were considered for St Paul's?

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4 hours ago, Choir Man said:

Is this why, in the majority of Wren churches, the organ is at the west end where it wouldn't spoil the clean lines of his architecture when viewed from a pew? 

Musicians/organs traditionally, as they still do in a lot of Roman churches, inhabited a gallery at the back of the church. I suspect that, using this as an excuse for locating 'that damned box of whistles' at the back of the church, Wren looked to history for where organs and musicians were usually located and used history as his excuse not to spoil the clean lines of his architecture. 

Just a thought!  

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Hi

The introduction of robed chancel based choirs (and hence organs close to the chancel) in English Parish Churches was in the main a result of the Oxford Movement in the 1800's, prior to that, the West Gallery was the common place for musicians (West Gallery Bands), choirs, and in the churches that had such things, organs.  The organ history of many churches includes the removal of the organ from the West Gallery to a chancel chamber or one of the transepts.

Every Blessing

Tony

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One of the churches where I used to play has, displayed in a glass case at the west end, a ‘serpent’ - a splendid-looking instrument and the sole survivor of the church band.  The organ is, indeed, now at the eastern end of the south aisle.  As in many other churches re-ordered in the 19th century, the gallery has gone.

Apart from a mediaeval west tower, the village church where I live is wholly Oxford Movement with the organ in a chamber in the chancel, and, alongside, set into the floor centrally, a large brass to John Keble who is, however, buried outside in the churchyard.  Even the font canopy was the gift of Dr Pusey!  

We seem to have strayed a long way from tuning at the RAH!

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2 hours ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

One of the churches where I used to play has, displayed in a glass case at the west end, a ‘serpent’ - a splendid-looking instrument and the sole survivor of the church band. 

We seem to have strayed a long way from tuning at the RAH!

Quite a few serpents seem to have survived and are now enclosed in glass cases in church - I know of three!

Yes, we have come quite a long way from he Albert Hall - it shows you the excellent intelligence of thought we have here! It can be a bit of a nuisance sometimes but I, for one, welcome it!

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1 hour ago, S_L said:

- it shows you the excellent intelligence of thought we have here!

Yes it does, on the part of those who have already posted on this topic.  I'm not sure it will apply to me and what I'm about to say though, but here goes.

In his novel "Under the Greenwood Tree", Thomas Hardy describes delightfully the grumbles and rumbles which accompanied the removal of the west end church musicians in his not-so-fictional Dorset village setting, and their replacement with an organ complete with lady player (who turned more heads than one among the male members of the congregation).  So, and probably quite unwittingly, Hardy was depicting something which was happening right across the country at that time as previous posts have mentioned.  The novel was set bang in the middle of the Oxford Movement.  I've never been certain, however, whether "organ" meant pipe organ or reed organ.  It's some time since I last read it, but when I did I remember trying to establish which type of instrument he meant.  I recall there was mention of  a cabinet organ and, elsewhere, a harmonium (called 'harmonion' by the rustic choir and band), together with a passage implying that the lady blew the instrument herself with her foot.  Perhaps all this sways the argument in favour of a reed organ, though in those days it was not unusual for a small pipe organ to be blown by a foot pedal.

Incidentally, when I did last read the novel I was living in Hardy's fictional Weatherbury in an old thatched cottage which the great man was said to have visited often as a boy.  I also played the organ there from time to time, which had escaped the reforming zeal of the age because it was still sitting resplendent in its west gallery in the late twentieth century!

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Another, I hope permissible, digression.  You have to be of a certain age, possibly antiquarian, to be familiar with the architectural writings of Francis Bumpus.  As well as the cathedrals his interests also very much extended to church music, liturgy and organs.  Somewhere he relates a visit to Canterbury Cathedral around the time of the arrival of the Father Willis there, and a verger referring to it as “the new hargin in the trifolium”!

I’m intrigued to learn of these other surviving serpents.

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There are serpents at Berkswell Parish church in Warwickshire and at Selby Abbey in Yorkshire. The third one is a Contrabass serpent (an Anaconda) in a museum in Edinburgh - https://web.archive.org/web/20070313180625/http://www.music.ed.ac.uk/euchmi/ujt/ujt2929.html In France there is a serpent in Amiens cathedral.

If you're interested in Serpents this website, which hasn't been updated for quite some time, might be of interest.

http://www.serpentwebsite.com/

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Thank you for those two links.  A website devoted to the Serpent - fascinating.

Francis Bumpus, mentioned in my earlier post, wrote a splendid book “Summer Holidays among the Glories of Northern France” describing the major cathedrals, abbeys and greater churches at the end of the 19th century and the earliest years of the 20th century.  As well as the architecture (and wonderful early contemporary photographs) there is wealth of detail about music, liturgy and ceremonial - we are told that there are 35 choristers at Chartres where he describes the elaborate ceremonial with both organs being used in the Offices, and one of the lesser Offices accompanied by a trombone.  

Somewhere (I cannot just lay hands on it at the moment) there is a reference to one of the cathedrals’ “former Serpentist”, but this is not Amiens.

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1 hour ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

Somewhere (I cannot just lay hands on it at the moment) there is a reference to one of the cathedrals’ “former Serpentist”, but this is not Amiens.

Auxerre perhaps?

The Serpent was used to reinforce or assist the plainsong!

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How very perceptive!  

The chapter on Auxerre contains the following:  “The musical instrument called the serpent is now all but obsolete in the French cathedrals.  It was invented by a canon of Auxerre, one Edmé Guillaume, in 1590.  The ‘Serpent de l’Église’ is, however, still a functionary in Gallican churches, and I remember when at Amiens a few years ago buying the Semaine Réligieuse, a little ‘monthly’ corresponding to our parish magazine, in which was recorded the death of the ‘serpentist’ of the cathedral at an advanced age.”  

So it was Amiens, after all!

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Hi

The Early Music Shop in Saltaire stocks (or at least used to stock) modern reproductions of the Serpent.

Also, of course, there are a handful of organs that have stops called Serpent - the one I've played is Blackburn Cathedral.

Every Blessing

Tony

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2 hours ago, Tony Newnham said:

The Early Music Shop in Saltaire stocks (or at least used to stock) modern reproductions of the Serpent.

It doesn't any more - but the website I gave above has a list of Serpent makers!! http://www.serpentwebsite.com/index.htm

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That website has pictures of the Serpent being played at Amiens and also includes sound samples: three of the Serpent, scales with an enormous range, and one of the Ophicleide (a more familiar name for organists).  On the Ophicleide the tune is recognisably “Come into the garden, Maud”!

Go to “Miscellaneous” and the link “Hear a Serpent”.

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On 19/10/2018 at 08:53, Rowland Wateridge said:

That seems very modest, almost self-deprecating, as most people think that Mander’s rebuild corrected shortcomings in the RAH organ resulting in a noticeably improved instrument.  Was Arthur Harrison’s rebuild/ transformation so far-reaching (drastic?) as to justify expunging all reference to Father Willis on their builder’s name plate?  Put another way, does re-voicing the original builder’s pipework entitle the new builder to instal a name plate which, to anyone who doesn’t know the instrument’s history, gives the impression that the organ is wholly theirs?

For the record - apparently, as originally built, FHW didn't put a builder's name-plate on his instrument in the Royal Albert Hall, either.* The same point was made at the time of Harrisons' drastic transformation in 1933. (At least, that was when the rebuild was finally completed.) 

And, yes - tonally, according to well-known (and in several cases, highly influential) commentators at the time of Harrisons' rebuild, the organ, as it emerged, was un-recognisable. There are one or two illuminating articles in back-issues of The Organ (perhaps the most notable being by Gilbert Benham), which shed some light on the controversy prevalent at the time. However, it is in the Letters to the Editor section where it is possible to glean much interesting information - and to gain some idea of how high feelings ran with regard to the Harrison rebuild, in the musical establishment of that day.

 

* Presumably he felt that his work was well-known enough not to require a name-plate.

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