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York Minster organ rebuild


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5 hours ago, WJ Swindells said:

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...) 

I completely agree that we should have confidence in our own organ pedigree, but does that mean that we can't still take in some ideas from other national organ styles?  I have heard the 1993 York Minster organ, both on recordings and live, and I feel that it still sounded completely 'English', at least to my ears!
As I have mentioned earlier in this thread, I welcome the changes presently being made by Harrisons and am sure that there will be noticeable improvements, especially with regard to power and projection.  However, I'd still have liked it to retain some of the voices being lost.  The Cornet, for example, would surely not be out of character as cornets have been a feature of English organs for centuries.

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I don't do organ DVDs because, quite frankly, I'm not committed enough to the instrument, but it seems to me that the problem with the traditional British organ is that it hasn't generated any really great music that justifies the medium. Such decent music as has been written for it sounds - or would sound - infinitely more convincing when orchestrated.  The obvious candidate is the Elgar Sonata, but it would be equally true of Whitlock, all of whose output would benefit immensely from orchestration. There probably are odd exceptions to my sweeping statement, but I can't think of them offhand.

I shall now duck for cover, but please remember that, 'sending the boys round' is against government guidelines. :) 

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The orchestration argument could equally be applied to Healy-Willan (imagine I, P & F transcribed for orchestra!), the works of Franck, Duruflé, Vierne etc... The fact of the matter is that the composers conceived the works for organ and that is how they are intended to be heard.  We can squabble all we like over which organ is the best vehicle to convey the written notes -- and further discuss who is best qualified to interpret.  I can't agree with Vox Humana that there is no quality of British organ music...I can hear howls (Howells) of protest already...

H.

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1 hour ago, Vox Humana said:

I don't do organ DVDs because, quite frankly, I'm not committed enough to the instrument, but it seems to me that the problem with the traditional British organ is that it hasn't generated any really great music that justifies the medium. Such decent music as has been written for it sounds - or would sound - infinitely more convincing when orchestrated.  He obvious candidate is the Elgar Sonata, but it would be equally true of Whitlock, all of whose output would benefit immensely from orchestration. There probably are odd exceptions to my sweeping statement, but I can't think of them offhand.

I shall now duck for cover, but please remember that, 'sending the boys round' is against government guidelines. :) 

For some reason when I think of English organ music I think of the Australian organist Thomas Heywood.

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3 hours ago, Vox Humana said:

[...] it seems to me that the problem with the traditional British organ is that it hasn't generated any really great music that justifies the medium.

There are those who would say that post-1750 this was true of the organ full stop ....

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25 minutes ago, Dafydd y Garreg Wen said:

There are those who would say that post-1750 this was true of the organ full stop ....

There are, though I wouldn't agree.

3 hours ago, headcase said:

The orchestration argument could equally be applied to Healy-Willan (imagine I, P & F transcribed for orchestra!), the works of Franck, Duruflé, Vierne etc... The fact of the matter is that the composers conceived the works for organ and that is how they are intended to be heard.  We can squabble all we like over which organ is the best vehicle to convey the written notes -- and further discuss who is best qualified to interpret.  I can't agree with Vox Humana that there is no quality of British organ music...I can hear howls (Howells) of protest already.

Willan, probably.  Duruflé, some of it could - and, like the Requiem, it might sound more colourful, but I find it hard to imagine the P&F, Veni Creator variations and Toccata sounding more convincing orchestrated. They are true organ music, surely?  Franck and Vierne, I think fall into the same category. Much of the latter's output I find truly organistic. You can orchestrate anything, as Beecham tried to prove, in the same way that you can arrange anything for the organ.  It's more a question of which medium makes the music sound best - though I suppose it does reduce to a matter of opinion in the end.

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17 hours ago, Vox Humana said:

I don't do organ DVDs because, quite frankly, I'm not committed enough to the instrument, but it seems to me that the problem with the traditional British organ is that it hasn't generated any really great music that justifies the medium. Such decent music as has been written for it sounds - or would sound - infinitely more convincing when orchestrated.  He obvious candidate is the Elgar Sonata, but it would be equally true of Whitlock, all of whose output would benefit immensely from orchestration. There probably are odd exceptions to my sweeping statement, but I can't think of them offhand.

I shall now duck for cover, but please remember that, 'sending the boys round' is against government guidelines. :) 

A few years ago the Durham University along with James Lancelot and the amazing Cathedral Organ, made and produced a good DVD of the Elgar Sonata, complete with interviews of scholars of the subject (I think)

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Here's something to provoke. The English organ tradition was ruined by at least two things: (1) the removal of organs to chancel dog kennels as a consequence of liturgical change wrought by the Oxford movement and the catholic revival; and (2) the need to accompany congregational singing, never really a part of CofE tradition until imported from Wesleyan influences, by organs in distant chancels of churches with dreadful acoustics (porous stone, too much wood, not enough height).

Which composers wrote durable, quality music for such instruments? 

Erm, that's a hard one. Lots wrote lovely miniatures and organ-enthusiast stuff, but nothing that might reasonably be valued by a non-organ geek serious musician. 

HOWEVER, change may come soon. Given the current cliff edge that the CoE is about to fall over, church leaders met government ministers last week, presumably to discuss inter alia finance. The CoE can't afford both buildings and clergy, Either clergy pay and pensions go, or buildings are shuttered. I can't see the church politburo agreeing to give up its pay and extremely generous non-contributory DB pensions, so unless government takes over the buildings, there will be mass closures. The government has more pressing calls upon its funds than churches. If churches go, organs go. 

Perhaps the organ, freed of its liturgical duties, will develop in different ways. It'll take a few generations though - a couple of centuries.

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When VH laid down his challenge, I have to admit that I scratched my head, and only one work immediately came to mind: Parry’s Fantasia and Fugue in G, very Bach-influenced, but definitely English, definitely organ and not orchestral.  Of course there are others.  Parry was a Bachian and almost contemporary with Max Reger who was clearly similarly influenced.  

Sadly, I think your two ‘provocative’ statements are correct, and true of both the parish church where I live (John Keble was Vicar, and has taken much of the blame for these things) and Winchester Cathedral six miles away where Samuel Sebastian Wesley was thwarted in his plans to place the organ on the stone pulpitum which formerly existed, and, to this day, the organ struggles to accompany a full nave congregation.

As a postscript to VH, I remember Paul Hale writing in the OR an enthusiastic review of Tim Byram-Wigfield’s playing an organ transcription (TB-Ws own, I believe) of the Brahms Academic Overture, saying he thought it was better than the orchestral original!

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On 21/02/2019 at 16:48, AJJ said:

It is interesting to compare the work going on at York with that at Canterbury, both at the hands of the same firm. Rather in the manner of ‘neo’ H&H at one and ‘neo’ Willis at the other.  Both look to being eventually excellent for their respective buildings and uses - I do wonder however whether the next incarnation at Worcester could be ‘neo’ Hope Jones. That would be fun and there is at least one builder I can think of who might be able to build it!

A

I’m sure there must be another more appropriate thread to mention this, and with apologies to York, I have just read that an appeal has been launched to restore Winchester Cathedral’s Father Willis/ Harrison organ, NPOR N00289, last rebuilt and substantially enlarged by H&H in 1986/88 (Cathedral website: www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Organ-Fundraising-Appeal-Leaflet-Website-BROCHURE.pdf).  

Andrew Lumsden refers to the need for an MOT after more than 30 years of daily use.  There is an accumulation of dust, reed resonators are said to be collapsing (the photograph might be of the Father Willis Pedal Ophicleide from the 1851 Great Exhibition organ), there is wind leakage, some keys are chipped and will need repair (they are ivory) and a general overhaul by H&H is contemplated next year.  The organ is expected to be out of action for one year, and a temporary substitute will be used.  As to be expected, Harrison & Harrison are the chosen builder, adding this to their list of major rebuilds at Canterbury and York and restoration work at Lincoln and Salisbury.  Only one tonal alteration is mentioned: the addition of a Vox Humana.  To my knowledge that had been mooted long ago, and there is a certain irony in its return as H&H removed the Father Willis Vox Humana in their first rebuild of the organ in 1938.

Paradoxically, only yesterday I was looking at photographs which I took 30 years ago with a very youthful-looking David Hill at the console, and Tim Byram-Wigfield inside the organ beside the pristine pipework of the Choir Organ and those Father Willis Pedal Ophicleide mitred resonators. 

Let’s hope that this will all go ahead when more normal conditions return.

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Circa 30 years is nothing compared with Hull Minster's Forster & Andrews/John Compton organ that's not been touched for over 80 years. It has now lain silent for several years until the money can be raised for an extensive clean and overhaul. It's amazing how multi-millions can be found almost at the drop of a hat to restore organs in our cathedrals, whilst seemingly lesser buildings struggle to raise the funds. Hull Minster is the city's "cathedral."

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I don't think that is a fair comparison to make.  I don't want to hi-jack the York thread.  Maybe we should start a new thread if any of this is considered contentious.  Do you feel similarly about York, Canterbury and the other recent major cathedrals that I mentioned?  

I took a number of photographs 30 years ago when the interior of the Winchester organ was pristine.  (It is, incidentally, a 'special' organ as the first one in its original form wholly by Father Willis, and in 1854 the first to have a Father Willis "full swell" and what were then the unique features of thumb pistons and a radiating and concave pedal board.)  It gets enormous use - daily choral services (three on Sundays), choral festivals, concerts with orchestras, recitals and, of course, practice.  Why does any of this need to be contentious?  It is a huge building and the organ has the misfortune to be under the tower's stone arches more than 900 years old, supporting a ring of 13 bells.  Imagine what that vibration can do in terms of dust!  It seems a fairly conservative and necessary restoration.  Comparing my photographs taken 30 years ago with the present ones in the cathedral leaflet confirms the need for the work to be done.

Just so that there is no misunderstanding, I know that the Hull organ is an important one.  I also know Hull, and only the present pandemic prevented a planned visit to Hull City Hall last month.

 

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9 hours ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

When VH laid down his challenge, I have to admit that I scratched my head, and only one work immediately came to mind: Parry’s Fantasia and Fugue in G, very Bach-influenced, but definitely English, definitely organ and not orchestral.  Of course there are others.

Yes, that is a good example and, as you say, there are others.  Howells is an interesting case.  Most of his organ music is quite obviously orchestral in concept, even late works like the Epilogue and Rhapsody no.4 (cf. the Concerto for String Orchestra). Yet a large, cathedral (or similar) acoustic seems built into more than a few of these pieces and it is hard to imagine them retaining their true impact as orchestral works in a concert hall. In any event, the Paean is absolutely organistic in texture.

Sorry. This has nothing to do with York so I shall stop hijacking the thread.

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6 hours ago, Vox Humana said:

 

Yes, that is a good example and, as you say, there are others.  Howells is an interesting case.  Most of his organ music is quite obviously orchestral in concept, even late works like the Epilogue and Rhapsody no.4 (cf. the Concerto for String Orchestra). Yet a large, cathedral (or similar) acoustic seems built into more than a few of these pieces...."

Interestingly, with regard to the acoustic question, the last time I played "Master Tallis' Testament" (my favourite) in our acoustically dead building, someone totally unmusical told me afterwards that I should never play it again as it sounded awful, but they would have liked to hear it in a more reverberant building as they suspected it would sound better.

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4 hours ago, Andrew Butler said:

Interestingly, with regard to the acoustic question, the last time I played "Master Tallis' Testament" (my favourite) in our acoustically dead building, someone totally unmusical told me afterwards that I should never play it again as it sounded awful, but they would have liked to hear it in a more reverberant building as they suspected it would sound better.

The organ probably suffers more than most instruments from a dead acoustic.  The sudden cut-off of the sound at key release is amplified by the way our perception mechanisms work for all senses - sudden changes are subjectively accorded a greater importance by our brains.  So in the same dry acoustic, instruments having their own intrinsic gradual decay such as the piano or guitar, can sound more acceptable because the cut-off is slower.  Whenever I've done the mastering for a recording I am tempted to add more artificial reverberation to organ sounds than for other instruments on the whole.  It just seems to cry out for the assistance of a 'wet' building - within reason, of course.  I think the problem is probably worse today than it used to be in the days before recorded sound.  Then, people had no conception or experience of what music could sound like other than when it was played live in whatever building they happened to be in.  But nowadays I suspect few Tonmeisters can resist the temptation to make a dry-ish acoustic seem somewhat more spacious when they do the mastering, particularly for organ recordings.

The organ may have biased my ears, though, against accepting the natural ambiences  of the dryer auditoria for what they are.  So I find that a piano can sound superb in a reasonably wet acoustic, wetter than those we usually experience for the instrument.  This was first brought home to me way back in the 1970s when I happened to be in one of the Smithsonian museums in Washington DC (I think it was the Air & Space one), where a distant pianist was rehearsing unseen for a concert to take place that evening.  It sounded absolutely wonderful in that space, and ever since I think I might have been guilty of adding too much reverb whenever I've mastered piano recordings.  (Nobody has yet complained, though ... )

None of this might apply, or with less emphasis, to players of orchestral instruments such as woodwinds who can (perhaps subconsciously) 'play' the acoustic they happen to be in.  In those cases it could turn out to be a travesty if Tonmeisters meddle with the ambience to the extent they might do for other sorts of instrument.

As something to do in these bizarre times we are living through, why not get hold of a digital reverb/effects unit (it can be your PC with suitable software) and connect it in the signal path forward of your hifi amplifier.  It is great fun, and can be instructive, to tweak the ambience of any recordings you happen to have.  It can certainly transform the effect of the RFH organ for example, though whether for better or worse is purely a subjective judgement.

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On 15/05/2020 at 22:33, John Robinson said:

I completely agree that we should have confidence in our own organ pedigree, but does that mean that we can't still take in some ideas from other national organ styles?  I have heard the 1993 York Minster organ, both on recordings and live, and I feel that it still sounded completely 'English', at least to my ears!
As I have mentioned earlier in this thread, I welcome the changes presently being made by Harrisons and am sure that there will be noticeable improvements, especially with regard to power and projection.  However, I'd still have liked it to retain some of the voices being lost.  The Cornet, for example, would surely not be out of character as cornets have been a feature of English organs for centuries.

Apologies for steering the conversation back to the York Minster organ. I do agree with the highlighted comment above by John Robinson. As you say the Cornet is firmly rooted in the English organ tradition, together with, dare I say, the Sesquialtera! These colourful stops owe nothing to influences from European continental organs. I fully understand the ethos of the current rebuilding of the Minster organ, but I am a little perplexed as to why at least the Cornet has been dropped?

Perhaps Robert Sharpe may be patient enough to respond to this. I know in advance that such issues as space to accommodate a V rank stop (even commencing from tenor C) will always be an issue,  given the new specification for the organ. But I just feel, once all is complete, there may be some regret for the loss of at least the Cornet, with all the colour and versatility this stop can bring to the organ repertoire.

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1 hour ago, contraviolone said:

Apologies for steering the conversation back to the York Minster organ. I do agree with the highlighted comment above by John Robinson. As you say the Cornet is firmly rooted in the English organ tradition, together with, dare I say, the Sesquialtera! These colourful stops owe nothing to influences from European continental organs. I fully understand the ethos of the current rebuilding of the Minster organ, but I am a little perplexed as to why at least the Cornet has been dropped?

Perhaps Robert Sharpe may be patient enough to respond to this. I know in advance that such issues as space to accommodate a V rank stop (even commencing from tenor C) will always be an issue,  given the new specification for the organ. But I just feel, once all is complete, there may be some regret for the loss of at least the Cornet, with all the colour and versatility this stop can bring to the organ repertoire.

Thank you.

Whilst I agree that the York organ needed some changes to make it more powerful and able to project down the nave, I do like the idea of a wide tonal palette in an organ.  Perhaps that is of secondary importance in the accompaniment of services, although I'm sure it must be useful in psalms, for example, and certainly in organ recitals.
Of the losses of mutations from the York organ, I feel that the Cornet is perhaps the one I'd most like to keep.  The Sesquialtera perhaps less so, and its replacement by the Harmonics might compensate to an extent depending on the sound of the latter stop.  The Larigot is probably the least important and the use of the Nazard with the 16' on the Choir might possibly produce a similar solo voice, although the Larigot being such a small stop might have found space somewhere in the instrument!

I suppose I must sound like Ian Tracey's 'knackered cart horse' - always wanting another stop.

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6 minutes ago, Vox Humana said:

That one dates back to Sir John Goss. See page 30 here.

Haha!  I can't remember to whom Ian Tracey was alluding, but probably the same man.

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8 hours ago, Vox Humana said:

That one dates back to Sir John Goss. See page 30 here.

What a fascinating little book - a good read!!

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