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John Robinson

York Minster organ rebuild

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4 minutes ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

I was referring to my own straying rather than yours!  I gather that the RFH organ possibly isn’t a favourite?  It will always be controversial, but I think the 5.55 recitals there introduced the organ repertoire to a whole generation who might otherwise have never encountered it.  Of course, you could argue that this was limited to people who happened to be in London, or who worked there - although London has a huge catchment area.  For these reasons, I think the RFH was a source for good.  Three players at random - Helmut Walcha, Francis Jackson and Noel Rawsthorne all spread the gospel of organ music in their different styles at those recitals.

But if I dare get back to Sheffield, it's the centre of quite a very large conurbation in South Yorkshire that embraces Rotherham, Barnsley, Doncaster and all stations in between and not too far beyond, such as north-east Derbyshire, (Chesterfield). The very dry acoustic of the city's concert hall has more or less killed off interest in the organ there.

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11 minutes ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

I was referring to my own straying rather than yours!  I gather that the RFH organ possibly isn’t a favourite?  It will always be controversial, but I think the 5.55 recitals there introduced the organ repertoire to a whole generation who might otherwise have never encountered it.  Of course, you could argue that this was limited to people who happened to be in London, or who worked there - although London has a huge catchment area.  For these reasons, I think the RFH was a source for good.  Three players at random - Helmut Walcha, Francis Jackson and Noel Rawsthorne all spread the gospel of organ music in their different styles at those recitals.

Skilfully dragging this thread back to its original intent(!), I suspect that the advent of the RFH organ may have influenced Francis Jackson (of whom I have the greatest respect) to have the York Minster organ altered (by Walkers in around 1960) to be more akin to the neo-Baroque sound.

This, of course, is presently being restored by Harrisons to revert to the sort of instrument they worked on in around 1917 and 1930.

To misquote Francis Jackson, the York organ changes 'chameleon-like' to suit the differing tastes of the time.

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Well, if I am lucky to live to hear the results of the latest restoration, I will have heard the Minster organ in three of its incarnations.  The first time was about 65 years ago - FJ playing and the introduction of the 32’ Sackbut was like an explosion!  (It wasn’t Widor V Toccata).  It’s a fine organ in its accompanimental role - there are sounds of real beauty - the ‘neo-Baroquery’ didn’t change those.  On that subject, I remember reading an amusing comment by Henry Willis III - talking about mixtures - referring to Francis Jackson as “one of the bright boys”!

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48 minutes ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

Well, if I am lucky to live to hear the results of the latest restoration, I will have heard the Minster organ in three of its incarnations.  The first time was about 65 years ago - FJ playing and the introduction of the 32’ Sackbut was like an explosion!  (It wasn’t Widor V Toccata).  It’s a fine organ in its accompanimental role - there are sounds of real beauty - the ‘neo-Baroquery’ didn’t change those.  On that subject, I remember reading an amusing comment by Henry Willis III - talking about mixtures - referring to Francis Jackson as “one of the bright boys”!

Yes, I found the 32' Sackbut to be an impressive sound.  I understand that Francis Jackson thought it was too loud, so had it moved to the south transept.  Harrisons, I believe, will move it back to behind the 32' Open Wood and will also add a 32' Ophicleide which, I assume, will be even louder!  I look forward to hearing that and, I expect, other impressive sounds!

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This site is a real time-waster and utterly aborbing!  (I have only just joined.)  I have read with great interest the comments about York Minster; Robert Sharpe and Harrisons must be congratulated for sorting out the organ so comprehensively.  Philip Marshall, (Lincoln) told me many years ago that you could feel a real punch from the pre-1961 organ even at the back of the Nave.  It's especially good that some of the case pipes will speak once again. 

When I first arrived at the Minster in 1983, the Octave and Suboctaves worked on the Tuba Mirabilis.  Unless every note was bang in tune, it could sound terrible even with either one of the couplers.  Those stops are at their best in single notes, iMHO.  In 1990 we decided not to connect them and I never missed them.  

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I was lucky enough to go to a service at York Minster for the consecration of a bishop back in February 2019 (coach from Bristol at 5am so up at 4am - eeek!) and it was a pity to hear an electronic (albeit a reasonable one). The music for the service (Songmen & Choral Scholars of York Minster, along with singers from the University of York (dir. Ben Morris) singing WA Mozart's "Spatzenmesse" (Sparrow Mass) K200) was extremely good and I am glad that the work on the organ has been a success.

Dave

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That's a fabulous photo of York, taken as a stereoscopic pair. Popular in Victorian times, Brian May of Queen is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable collector and curator of these pictures and the viewers for them. Many people can see the 3D effect clearly, unfortunately I can't, perhaps I should try harder, with the rest of that online collection.

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10 hours ago, OwenTurner said:

Coincidentally I stumbled into this picture this evening https://collections.st-andrews.ac.uk/photographs/item/york-minster---the-stone-screen/610492/viewer#?#viewer&c=&m=&s=&cv=&manifest=https%3A%2F%2Fcollections.st-andrews.ac.uk%2F610492%2Fmanifest&xywh=-901%2C-195%2C8786%2C3895

which shows west end chamades quite clearly. I would presume this photo to be from the late 19th century.

 

Interesting.  I wonder what the boxes with crosses underneath the pipes are.  At first, I thought they might be wood pipes, but that would be pointless.

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4 hours ago, Damian Beasley-Suffolk said:

That's a fabulous photo of York, taken as a stereoscopic pair. Popular in Victorian times, Brian May of Queen is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable collector and curator of these pictures and the viewers for them. Many people can see the 3D effect clearly, unfortunately I can't, perhaps I should try harder, with the rest of that online collection.

I believe that such photos need to be viewed using a special apparatus such that the left picture is viewed by the left eye and the right with the right.
I am able to cross my eyes to view such pictures, but the two would have to be exchanged side to side.  I might try that using Photoshop when I have a few minutes.

Edited by John Robinson

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17 hours ago, Philip Moore said:

This site is a real time-waster and utterly absorbing!  (I have only just joined.)  I have read with great interest the comments about York Minster; Robert Sharpe and Harrisons must be congratulated for sorting out the organ so comprehensively.  Philip Marshall, (Lincoln) told me many years ago that you could feel a real punch from the pre-1961 organ even at the back of the Nave.  It's especially good that some of the case pipes will speak once again. 

 

Yes, I have had an interest in the development of the York Minster organ for many years.  I remember reading somewhere that Francis Jackson described the instrument as changing 'chameleon-like' over the years to accommodate current tastes.  Francis, of course, added a number of mutations (Cornet, Sesquialtera, Nazard, Tierce, Larigot) during his tenure, only two of which remain in the current rebuild which I think is a shame.  Of course, we can't keep adding more and more stops into a limited amount of space and the additions and alterations being done by Harrisons at the moment will be, I think, a great advantage in making the instrument more assertive especially when being used with a full nave.  I particularly like the addition of a second 32' reed in the Pedal and a Harmonics mixture in the Great.
When all is completed, I very much hope that Priory might be persuaded to produce a second DVD/BD of the York Minster organ, which would provide an interesting comparison of the new with the old (a copy of which I already have, of course).

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59 minutes ago, John Robinson said:

Interesting.  I wonder what the boxes with crosses underneath the pipes are.  At first, I thought they might be wood pipes, but that would be pointless.

John, I think the crosses could be decoration on what appears to be a three-sided chest, and certainly not pipes.  If you blow up the picture it shows that the chamades were decorated like the pipes in the main case, although it’s not possible to discern a pattern.  In a book which I can’t access at present there is a print of a side-on engraving of the organ with the chamades pointing down the nave - the opposite of the effect at the west end of St Paul’s Cathedral.  Surprisingly, a print of that same engraving was sold in an auction by Christie’s in my Hampshire village about 30 years ago, but Christie’s only catalogued it as “View of a transept in a Gothic cathedral” -  instantly recognisable as York.

Not wishing to divert away from York, there are some other interesting, and rare, photographs in the St Andrews collection, including Salisbury Cathedral’s Father Willis with the backing of the long-discarded Gilbert Scott wrought-iron choir screen, and even more rare photographs of Winchester as it was in the time of S S Wesley with the stone pulpitum still in place.  What a pity Wesley did not get his way by placing the organ on the screen.  Whatever problems York might have in getting the sound down the nave, I have no doubt that a central screen position is the best to overcome that particular problem.

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I had one of these things in the late 1950s early 1960s - VistaScreen I think it was called. Tourist spots sold cards for them "to remind you of your visit". I remember those of Lynton and Lynmouth particularly, but no organs. I don't think I'd been infected by the organ virus then.

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22 hours ago, Philip Moore said:

When I first arrived at the Minster in 1983, the Octave and Suboctaves worked on the Tuba Mirabilis.  Unless every note was bang in tune, it could sound terrible even with either one of the couplers.  Those stops are at their best in single notes, iMHO.  In 1990 we decided not to connect them and I never missed them.  

According to the 2020 Harrison specification, the Solo will include octave, unison off and sub-octave couplers, though it doesn't state whether or not the Tuba Mirabilis will be affected by these.  I think if it were to be so, it would produce a devastating sound.
I'm sure Robert Sharpe could clarify matters.

 

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Well, judging by the printed specification they should act on the Tuba Mirabilis.  I suppose there might be times when it would be more convenient to play at 16' (or 4') pitch with the unison-off. 

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The Solo has always had the octave couplers but, as Philip Moore has said, in recent times they have not affected the Mirabilis. Robert Sharpe has implied in the other thread that this will still be the case post restoration. The only possible use for them I can think of would be when using the Pedal Divide, to have the Mirabilis in the right foot, sounding an octave higher, though this would require a Solo Octave to Pedal coupler.

Paul

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Thank you for that clarification.  I understood Philip Moore to be referring to dissonance with the octave or sub octave coupler with the unison.  Similarly, John Robinson's concern about excessive volume!  

I was thinking more on the lines of a solo line played in the tenor with solo sub-octave and unison-off.  Would that not be useful?

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21 hours ago, John Robinson said:

According to the 2020 Harrison specification, the Solo will include octave, unison off and sub-octave couplers, though it doesn't state whether or not the Tuba Mirabilis will be affected by these.  I think if it were to be so, it would produce a devastating sound.
I'm sure Robert Sharpe could clarify matters.

 

Hello John, and other readers. In answer to your question, the Mirabilis will not be affected by the solo octave couplers in the restored organ. The pedal divide has a fifth Solo Octave to Pedal coupler above the divide point, in addition to the standard four manuals to pedal ones, and this will affect the Mirabilis for when a tune in the middle of the compass on that stop is desired to be played by the right foot. Incidentally, the other Solo stops, when played through this pedal divide coupler and with additionally Solo Octave and Unison Off drawn, will play at double octave. i.e. Orchestral Oboe, Octave, Unison Off and pedal divide Solo Octave to Pedal will sound on the pedals above the divide point at 2’ pitch.

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19 hours ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

Thank you for that clarification.  I understood Philip Moore to be referring to dissonance with the octave or sub octave coupler with the unison.  Similarly, John Robinson's concern about excessive volume!  

I was thinking more on the lines of a solo line played in the tenor with solo sub-octave and unison-off.  Would that not be useful?

Hello Rowland, thank you for your query. In such a situation, one would simply play the solo in the tenor register. Bairstow was fond of this in hymns, and used his left hand for it. Richard Lloyd also did similar in Durham, and I’m sure there were/are many others. Effective with a large congregation as it supports the melody at male voice pitch. 

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21 hours ago, robertsharpe said:

Hello John, and other readers. In answer to your question, the Mirabilis will not be affected by the solo octave couplers in the restored organ. The pedal divide has a fifth Solo Octave to Pedal coupler above the divide point, in addition to the standard four manuals to pedal ones, and this will affect the Mirabilis for when a tune in the middle of the compass on that stop is desired to be played by the right foot. Incidentally, the other Solo stops, when played through this pedal divide coupler and with additionally Solo Octave and Unison Off drawn, will play at double octave. i.e. Orchestral Oboe, Octave, Unison Off and pedal divide Solo Octave to Pedal will sound on the pedals above the divide point at 2’ pitch.

How very interesting.  Clever use of different octave couplers to make full use of the available stops.  I wasn't aware of the 'Pedal Divide Solo Octave to Pedal' coupler until now. 

The more I hear about this organ, the more fascinating it becomes.

Thank you.

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On 27/04/2020 at 18:06, Philip Moore said:

When I first arrived at the Minster in 1983, the Octave and Suboctaves worked on the Tuba Mirabilis.  Unless every note was bang in tune, it could sound terrible even with either one of the couplers.  Those stops are at their best in single notes, iMHO.  In 1990 we decided not to connect them and I never missed them.  

There is an amusing tale related to the above function being removed from that stop during the 1993 rebuild (with all due deference to Philip):

One of the pieces for which Francis Jackson has been closely associated with is Healey Willan's "Introduction, Passacaglia & Fugue in Eb minor" which was famously set down on disc in the EMI "Great Cathedral Organ Series" in 1964 and which Dr Jackson continued to include in programmes particularly at York as late as Summer 2009 (having just whisked off Vierne's "Naiades" to precede it as one does!  In the Willan there is at the end of the fugue  a glissando for which the big tuba was always employed at the climax. Geoffrey Coffin well remembers being quizzed by FJ as to why the octave function no longer worked on the Mirabilis since the glissando is in octaves legato and he always found it a helpful work around! Such corners are no doubt few and far between. :)

 

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One of the consequences of "Lockdown" is having some time to peruse these developments from afar. York Minster Organ post 1960 was the one I recall as having iconic status and it's interesting how most British organs evolve every 30 years or so. The new specification reads much more in-line with one school of thought rather than the admittedly eclectic mix that it had evolved too, and which in his 2007 sleeve notes, John Scott Whiteley says had partly been the aim of the 1993 rebuild. (English Cathedral Organ Series CD XV) I have also been watching Daniel Moult's "English Organ" DVD in which he ruminates about what is "English Organ Culture?" and perhaps in 2020 we have the confidence as seems to be stated in this rebuild that we don't have to, any longer, defer to France, Germany or Denmark as ideal organ cultures but have confidence in our own pedigree. Will Gloucester Cathedral go back also to the pre- Ralph Downes ideal I wonder...) 

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