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Jeremy Jones

New Organ For Rco Birmingham

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Does anyone know whether an announcement has been made concerning which organ builder has been awarded the contract to build a new organ for the Royal College of Organists in Birmingham?

 

I seem tor recall reading that whichever builder was awarded the contract would have a free hand in the design of the instument.

 

Jeremy Jones

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John,

 

Thank you for your reply. I only hope no final decision has been made yet. From the RCO, such a decision to appoint an organ builder from abroad to build an instrument for their new premises in Birmingham could only be taken as a resounding vote of no confidence in British organ building.

 

Surely we want an instrument that shows just how good home-produced instruments can be. I hope this is not taken as the rantings of a little Englander - it is not my attention - as I am full of admiration for the best of the work of Rieger, Klais, Frobenius, Metzler, Marcussen etc.

 

It is just that with very few exceptions, all of the significant new builds in this country in recent years have gone to overseas contractors, and what I really want to see is the very best that Manders, Harrisons, Walkers, Nicholsons, Tickell can produce.

 

In this country we can see for ourselves at St Giles in Edinburgh, Tonbridge School Chapel, Symphony Hall in Birmingham, Haileybury College what fine large instruments some of the oversees builders mentioned above can produce.

 

But can we really say the same about UK based organ builders. Harrisons have proved themselves to be superb restorers of many landmark instruments such as the Usher Hall, Reading Town Hall and the cathedral instruments in Lichfield, Ely, St Davids, Leicester, Hereford, Lincoln. But how many people in the UK know what a significant new Harrison sounds like? You have to go to North Carolina, Michigan or Missouri in the USA to find out. For Manders magnum opus, you have to go to New York!

 

I would be interested to know what others think.

 

Jeremy Jones

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Well, I can give you an opinion from a small, multicultural country with four languages. I find the european "organ market" still very compartimented, with the french working mainly in France but Kern a bit in Germany, the germans in Germany and a bit overseas, the english in England and in ex-british empire's countries.

 

Of course, organs are somewhat cumbersome things one cannot export like if they were sardines, but I do know that pre-1914 this market was more open by far as it is by now. For instance, WW1 shut completely the door for german builders like Link and Walcker, who both had significant business in Belgium.

 

Such a purchase having few in common with a fish and chips choice, there are often commisions and the like at play, which means politics has a role ; this explains a strong clue towards "national preference". I hold this for a shame, because each nation's organ builders have their particularities that deserve interest. We do not have a single english organ in Belgium -not that far, though- France ditto, etc. Many little to medium sized german builders of today have splendid things to offer, but we shall see none of them. By the way, there are Mander organs in U.S.A., but no one on the continent, which is a shame -for the latter!-

Who said: EC ?

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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In answer to Jeremy, barring any last minute hitches which are most unlikely, I believe the decision has been made. And I agree it is a shame, but I think we have to be realistic about it. In some ways I think it demonstrates how much more open the UK is to influences and ideas from abroad than other European countries are and that is a strength. It means our ideas will develop better and gives us a wider pallet of instruments within our own shores. But I have to admit that I would be very happy if somebody would give us the opportunities we do seem to get outside these shores within the UK. I believe it will come in time and we just have to be patient. I strongly believe that we should not get into any sort of protectionist mind set as that is artificial. But I also feel that the sort of nationalism one sees in the rest of Europe is a great shame, but there is no point in shouting about it as there is nothing to be done by that. It is sometimes said that backhanders play a part, but frankly I don't believe it and it was very definitely not the case with the RCO decision.

 

John Pike Mander

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Its a crying shame. I feel sure that if the RCO consulted its membership a majority would wish to see the contract go to a British builder.

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I'd prefer to see british builders working in Europe from time to time than less foreigners in Britain.

 

But I do believe it may be partly because of the attitude the english have about themselves. Here some questions to explain what I mean:

 

-The french are proud of Tournemire. Why aren't the english as proud of Howells?

 

-The french blow Cavaillé-Coll's trumpets worldwide. But Willis is very, very little known on the continent. Why?

 

-Mendelssohn is also known worldwide. Samuel-Sebastian Wesley represent the very same style -just deeper and better-, but even in England you cannot find a CD devoted to his music. Why?

 

-French, German, Dutch, spanish and italian baroque organs are known worldwide. But if I happen to tell anybody on the continent about Harris, England, Snetzler or Samuel Green, it's: "File not found". Moreover, there are very few such organs still in original condition. I do not want to support the "historical reconstitutions at whatever price", this craze is already waning. But why not have at least some, and make a fair number of recordings?

 

If a belgian organist could find, in his CD's-store, recordings done on "something like a S.Green organ", he could grasp there is something original there, beautiful, interesting. He then could discover such an organ do not need to be big at all... Why do you think there are so many "North german baroque" organs in Belgium (built by belgian builders...) ? That's precisely because of the sheer number of LP's recordings that were available in the 70's from Germany.

 

Understatment is a good thing, no doubt. But I do not believe the english must fear to abandon this worthwile value if they did a *bit* more marketing. This could even be done with humor -why not?-

Best wishes,

pierre Lauwers.

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This is a really interesting discussion. And I've always wondered why it is that some of Britain's best organ builders get more opportunities overseas than in the home market.

 

I've no idea of the decision-making process at the RCO so I won't even begin to comment there, but will make a few general observations.

 

I think that not enough eminent British organists with real influence get to play some of the fine instruments that British builders have built overseas and, therefore, cannot take a positive feedback to their colleagues back home. And, unfortunately, you do get a case where an eminent recitalist, with significant influence, will play one such instrument once, find something on it they don't like and disproportionately blow it out of all proportions and give a bad account of the organ, in effect, writing off the entire output of the builder concerned.

 

The problem here is that they come to the instrument with a particular, historical bias against a builder, not necessarily based on fact, and look for something they don't like. The fact that what they might not like could be a genuine misgiving, they overlook the fact that A.) it can probably be fixed; b.) they only practice on the instrument for a few days, give a recital and disappear with fee in hand. And they have no appreciation of how a particular instrument works liturgically within the church and throughout its many varied uses during the course of the year. And they probably never even get to hear anyone else play it.

 

Too late, the damage is done, and they go home and rubbish the builder concerned.

 

Somebody in an entirely different walk of life once told me: "A good reputation takes years to make, but it can be destroyed in seconds." I think that is very true.

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Yes !

 

That is to shot in one's own foot; I believe it is the same with british ancient builders, and composers. When I am in England, if I say: "Green, that was a very original builder indeed", I get answers like: "Boooooof, there's nothing written for these organs, that's merely chamber organs, you cannot play Bach on such an organ", etc,etc. If I talk about Howells, I must be prepared to be looked upon as if I was just landing from Mars. "He's still there, this guy"?

 

I feel this is somewhat of a british national trait : if you don't criticize, you are a bit stupid...

 

But how do you want, if you are in this mood, adress the foreign markets like they should be, that is "He guys, come on, queue here to look at what beautiful things we have in Britain!!!" Mind you, the english rose gardens I know have exactly the same problem.

Best wishes,

pierre Lauwers.

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I think you're underestimating the standing of Howells in this country. His organ and choral music (particularly the evening services) are widely used and he's held in very high regard.

 

I don't think you can compare Mendelssohn, known for large scale choral works and symphonic music with S.S. Wesley. There are of course a great many british church composers who have left a substantial amount of wonderfully effective music without ever being likely to be known internationally. Composers such as Stanford, Sumsion, Darke & Bairstow come immediately to mind.

 

I think those who commission organs in this country have a fixed mindset that an organ has to be neo-classical and mechanical action to be of any value. Many people argue that the Flentrop, Ahrend, Klais etc. organs are the best in the country. There are however a few of us old fossils around who would suggest alternative lists. In no particular order, I would suggest:-

 

Westminster Cathedral

St Pauls Cathedral

Hereford Cathedral

Bristol Cathedral

Royal Albert Hall

Truro Cathedral

Lichfield Cathedral

 

Whats wrong with grandeur ?

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I noted what I encountered....

 

About S-S Wesley : he did not write symphonies, of course, but his musical language is quite similar to Mendelssohn's. His father, Samuel Wesley, was one of the "re-discoverer" of Bach's music. When I make any organist here in Belgium hear the LP I have with Donald Hunt at Worcester, they are strongly impressed.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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It grieves me, too, that so many of the major contracts for new organs in this country should go to foreign firms building largely neo-baroque instruments, especially since, as it seems to me, the fashion over the last two decades appears to have moved away from trying to make any and every organ that comes up for reconstruction conform to the baroque model, towards respecting the integrity of the various indigenous periods and styles.

 

It does, however, seem to me that we have not discovered a distinctively British "school" since Arthur Harrison died, and even firms such as Manders look to older models for new instruments (Cavaillé-Coll in New York, and Gray & Davison at Chelmsford).

 

The continental builders, on the other hand, appear to have the self-confidence to build in their own national styles without looking to foreign precedents. And who can deny the excitement and musicality of big instruments such as the Klais in Symphony Hall, Birmingham?

 

So we are wonderful at liturgical instruments and preserving the heritage of the great British builders, but don't have a sufficiently strong "school" to punch our weight in the tenders for new concert instruments.

 

Are we too late, then, to discover a distinctively British "sound", and have the confidence to sell it to the A-list recitalists and the commissioners of new instruments? The Symphony Hall organ is a magnificent instrument, but, to my mind at least, you get more of a thrill from a really good British instrument.

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You said it yourself:

 

The "strong british school" exists ! (No matter the epoch). I do not see Mander organs as Cavaillé-Coll's copies. It's more subtle than that. Moreover, no stop-list gives more than a part of the thruth.

 

On the continent, the "neo-baroque" taste is vanishing at an incredibly quick speed, to the point it's time to think to preserve neo-baroque organs! The trend is frankly neo-romantic now. Yes, ACC's copies might be the "sellers" of tomorrow. And round and round we go !

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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I would be interested to know whether CT Worcester has actually heard the St Ignatius organ in the flesh. If you heard it in English repertoire, either solo or in accompanying choirs, the name Cavaillé-Coll actually does not sit with what you hear. The same is also true when listening to Bach, Buxtehude or Pachalbell.

 

But if you listen or play French Romantique repertoire, there is no doubting the influence behind the scheme, although it would be quite wrong to describe it as a slavish copy. The en chemades sound nothing like anything Cavaillé Coll produced, and neither do they sound like the buzzing, shrill efforts of some modern instruments, but they certainly add a crowning glory to a tutti and a lot of character to the organ.

 

One of the organists at the church, recently told me: "It really is an English organ" when preparing the Parry Bridal March recently.

 

Mander has succeeded in producing one of the most versatile instruments I have ever encountered, but with a core style throughout - no ecclecticism at all. Don't be fooled by some aspects of the stop list, because the voicing sticks with that core style. I can't imagine a single piece in the repertoire that you couldn't play on it without it sounding convincing.

 

In some respects, it is the equivalent of a modern symphony orchestra, but does not fall into the trap of being a jack of all trades, and neither does a good orchestra.

 

Maybe this is what will eventually evolve into a new 'British' style.

 

It seems to me that such instruments serve the repertoire better and provide sufficient resources and tonal colour pallets to attract composers to write for the instrument, much more so than a new-classical or eclectic organ, which inevitably ends up spreading itself too thinly in any period of the repertoire it tries, with the possible exception of the very substantial instruments that have been built in concert halls in America; the Meyerson hall in Dallas comes to mind.

 

For all we know, maybe the RCO instrument will turn out to be an equally as versatile instrument as St Ignatius. Personally, speaking, I would have liked to have seen it go to a British builder, being an Englishman. And being a parioshioner at St Ignatius and hearing and seeing the organ there makes me proud of my fellow country folk's achievements.

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If St Ignatius really is then an English organ, then Manders should surely have had the confidence to give the manuals and stops the English names to go with it.

 

I'm afraid that, as with so many things, this goes back to the Royal Festival Hall organ. Pre-RFH, everyone knew what you got from a British organ, and we were, availability of post-war materials permitting, pretty good at making them. But since the RFH British organ builders seemed to have had an identity crisis.

 

The advantage of asking Klais, Marcussen, Frobenius, Rieger etc. to provide you with a new organ is you pretty much know what you are going to get. Alright, there are exceptions - the Marcussen at Tonbridge School Chapel and the Klais at Symphony Hall, Birmingham - but these are very much the exception rather than the norm.

 

With British organ builders, picking a builder is sometimes only the first of many decisions to be made. Is it to be a la Cavaille-Coll, or maybe based on a William Hill scheme from the mid-nineteenth century, or a neo-baroque instrument straight out of the North German school? Is it no wonder British organ builders are undergoing such an identity crisis? The RFH organ had everyone in a spin 50 years ago, and the after effects are still very much in evidence today.

 

Jeremy Jones

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I can understand you saying that it is hard to put into a few words what is the current British style of organ building, because there probably is not one that stands out as being a defining, contemporary style.

 

With all due respect, I think you missed the point about the description of Englishness at St Ignatius. The comment about it "really being an English organ" was made by one of the organists, because he found it entirely suitable for that particular piece he was preparing. It may even have been tongue in cheek. It is, after all, an exceptionally versatile organ without being eclectic. But people seem to find it just as suitable when registering Frank, Widor, Vierne, Dupré, Messiaen, Couperin, Eben, Paulus, Hidemith, Buxtehude, Elgar, Vaughan Williams or Bach.

 

But the comment does not get away from the clear influences behind the overall scheme, described very articulately on this site, which makes some sense of the stop nomenclature.

 

Personally, I believe that for the most part, the language used for naming stops is irrelevant. Some contracts have the customer making the choice about stop nomenclature, rather than having anything imposed by a builder. Maybe at a future date the names on stop knobs will be electronically generated and an organist can choose the language he or she is most comfortable with.

 

Personally, I don't believe that British organ builders have an identity crisis. If anything, it might be the people that make the decisions about which builders to employ for major new contracts in Britain that have the identity crisis. They seem to want a bit of everything. And maybe they are too easily swayed by some builders who want to, or are determined, to impose a particular scheme.

 

It is hard to avoid the influences of other countries in a world of easy travel and the widespread availability of recordings. So whatever the contemporary British style is, it will inevitably draw on influences from elsewhere. It seems to me that British builders seem to be going down the road of enhancing the blending qualities of different registers. So perhaps, it is not surprising that the French influence is apparent in, for instance, foundation stops.

 

It seems in America, that British builders are getting a reputation for flexibility. And people really do know what to expect. It is a quality that has yet to be appreciated by those decision makers in Britain.

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Of course,

 

Whenever an organ is to be built, you have an "expert commission" that decide of all, as if the builders did not know their job. Up to the color of the name-plates. And of course any disposition you get from a commission will be an eclectic one, because Jones wants to hear Franck while Smith wants to hear Couperin...

 

A Bourdon is not a Gedeckt nor a Stopped Diapason; therefore, I'm against translating the stop-names. A Salicional from Germany is not the same as a belgian one. Even more frightful, the "Dulciana" you find sometimes on the continent is not a Dulciana at all but a Dulciane... So in order to avoid nightmares, I'd find it better to write "Bourdon" for any french or french-built stop; "Trumpet" for any english stop of its kind, "Trompete" for a german and "Trompette" for the french (rather fiery) version. Of course this way you can find, especially in border areas like Belgium, or Alsace, multilingual stop-lists. But we like it that way.

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Anthony Poole puts his finger on it when he alludes to the shrinking world in which we live. Stylistic borders are inevitably going to get somewhat blurred where travel and in particular high quality recordings are now so commonplace. For whatever reason (requests from clients, or our own wishes) organ builders are much more likely to make forays into styles of organ building which are beyond the physical boundaries of their own country. St. Ignatius is an obvious example in our own instance. In doing work like that we learn and are influenced a great deal and it becomes part of our own ideas in the process. So whilst not necessarily making subsequent organs in the same style, we can't but help finding elements embedding themselves in our work, particularly if we have been pleased with the result of the work. If you look at work we did after St. Ignatius a trend (I believe at least) can be seen. Urakami Cathedral was perhaps even closer to the French romantic than St. Ignatius in the treatment of the reeds in particular. We used it as a vehicle to refine what we had learned in doing St. Ignatius. However, subsequent organs such as St. Agnes in New York and Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia make no attempt to be "French" but first and foremost "Mander" and perhaps specifically "John Mander" as over the years I have become more confident in doing what I thought one ought to do rather than what I thought people might want me to do. It is an evolving thing and certainly not an overnight change and will continue to evolve I hope. And I am sure I am by no means the only organ builder to experience this. But in some respects we probably remain "English" to some degree, there may be a ghost or something which we can't entirely escape from and that may be no bad thing either.

 

I however am very dubious about labelling organ builders as English, German, French or even American. I see as much difference between organ builders in one country as between organ builders of different countries. This is particularly marked in America in my opinion, but one also sees it in England and Germany, maybe slightly less in France perhaps, but it is there.

 

What interests me historically is to see how itinerant organ builders changed when they moved from country to country. I think in particular about the Dallams whose organs in Brittany seem much more French than that we believe they did here in England. And look at Fr. Smith as well. His organ in Edam is very different from the work he undertook in England once he got here. On the other hand there is the curious similarity which nobody has been able to explain to me between the old Italian and English organs not only in the nomenclature of the stops, but the long compasses and often single manual instruments of quite some size.

 

The point about Hill being traditional and Willis starting from scratch is also an interesting one. In some respects I think the Royal Festival Hall syndrome (of everything being thrown out and starting with a clean slate) really started in 1851 with Willis's exhibition organ and what came after that. It may be a series of events which we are looking at. And how different Cavaillé-Coll's evolution from Willis's as well. If you look at his early work (St. Omer for example) you can see really strong classical influences which only in time got developed. We tend to focus on the Parisian organs too much I think and they don't display the same trends over time that the organs outside Paris do.

 

It is by no means a clear cut case.

 

John Pike Mander

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Was Henry Willis I himself not somewhere "traditionnal", trough Samuel-Sebastian Wesley influence? I mean especially about compasses, mixture designs and unequal temperament.

 

According to the french authors, the ancient english organs where quite close to the french.....This may have of course to be somewhat relativised.

 

There are no two Cavaillé-Coll organs alike -but the little "models" for private or small churches uses-. For one thing, his taste did evolve, for the other, he very often re-used parts of previous organs.

 

Moreover, Cavaillé-Coll is no summary of the "french romantic organ", exactly like Silbermann is only one baroque german builder. There were other interesting things, for instance in Alsace. In Belgium one finds romantic organs whose stop-lists seem ACC's copies, but actually, they are hybrid between french and german organs.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Oh very definitely in some respects, but I think his voicing was bolder and much less related to what went before than say Hill's work of the period.

 

As to the relationship between the ancient French and British organs, it is now very difficult to say with any certainly as we have too little left over here from that period. But the indications we are left with (from later periods) seem to suggest little relationship to my mind. Whether the French developed or the English I don't know, but why should the influence have been broken between the two if there had been one earlier. Less contact between the royal courts perhaps (I am not a historian)? One interesting indication of a possible connection is in the late 17th century organ at Adlington Hall. That had an embryonic pedal board originally which was assumed to have been a later addition, but when I looked at it in detail it was clearly original to the organ. It is just like a half completed Dom Bédos one, but smaller, the studs had not been fitted, the adjacent B-C and E-F were right next to each other rather than having a space and it could never have been a working one. Somebody had an idea as to how it looked, but not the experience to actually make one.

 

Quite right about C-C not being the only one of course. But (like Silbermann) he seems to have become the representative one. We do tend to forget the others which is not very clever of us.

 

John Pike Mander

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Personally I think nearly all builders except perhaps the French - once again excepting Kern - are experiencing a sort of identity crisis; nobody really knows what a "modern" organ is anymore, so the only thing to do is to take your pick from the huge buffet available. It's just sad when a new specification is drawn up and the comment is made "That's not right, C-C wouldn't have done that......"; that ought to be irrelevant.

 

Many scions of long-established organ building dynasties (most notably Philip Klais) are finding that possibly the most important thing is NOT doing what their fathers were doing. Klais definitely try to make their English organs a little more English than their German ones; whether they succeed is another matter - and yet another whether an English builder wouldn't be the obvios choice, is this is what one wants. But now that the dutch are more French than the French, it's possibly an open question.

 

Maybe the "future of organ building is its past". Against that you have to set "Where there is no vision, the people perish" - that doesn't mean organ builders have to think up crazy new ideas (like Bornefeldt or Bosch) or invent new pipe forms - but if they want to, they should be able to, without others asking "What's it for? You don't need that for Franck". We are just too narrow! Cavaillé-Coll was not the only organ builder in France at the time, and his competitors had their own ideas about organs, as did Schulze or Ladegast, or Walcker or Steinmayer or Sauer or Rühlmann - they are all different!

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Yes,

 

I'm personnaly convinced we are now in a "POST-something" period. But maybe it's pedantic. Anyway, good things may emerge out of such uncertain times, as long as we realize we have no "Truths" more, and have to do or *own* research.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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