Jump to content
Mander Organs
MusoMusing

Early examples of British neo-classical organs

Recommended Posts

In writing about the Compton firm, I suddenly realised that I didn't know quite as much as I had hoped.  We all know about the Royal Festival Hall instrum,ent and the work of Ralph Downes there, as well as the Brompton Oratory, but who were the pioneers of mechanical-action, neo-classical instruments?

To save unnecessary replies, I am aware of the organ built by Hill, Norman & Beard for Cleveland Lodge and Lady Susi Jeans, which had pipework by Eule.

It's what happened after 1954 that I can';t place in any sort of order, though I do know about (Grant,) Degens & Rippen and their early work at Letchworth and elsewhere. All that led directly to New College, Oxford, but what about Mander, Walker's,  H N & B etc..  I'm just trying to establish whether Johnnie Degens and Ted Rippen (ex-Compton men) were one of the first or even THE first to wander down the neo-classical, mechanical-action route.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As an undergraduate I used to practice here before the Peter Collns organ arrived in the Turner Sims hall at Southampton University. A somewhat strange instrument with the console at the east end and the pipework far away in the west. I always wondered who was responsible for acquiring it from a small and somewhat obscure Hull firm for a downtown church. It always seemed to be freezing cold there! *

http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N11626

Somewhat later with mechanical action this time. 

http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N08854

Roger Yates was an interesting character who was in many ways ahead of his time. A few years back I did a considerable ammount of research into Yates resulting in an extended article for Organists’ Review. If anyone would like a copy please PM me here.

A

* It is interesting, however to look at what Hall & Broadfield did here. Their work here and above seems nothing like the ‘jobbing’ work they were mostly doing elsewhere.

http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N04015

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Book "The Classical Organ in Britain 1955-1974 (which is vol 1 of 3 covering up to 1990) might be a good place to start.  It's written by Rowntree & Brennan, published by Positive Press.  The entries are in size order, so you'd need to skim through the whole book to find the earliest (unless there's anything in the introduction) - I've not got time to do that at present.  Also, they are very strict in what's included - non-tracker pedal actions are excluded for example (but not electric stop action).  Grant, Deagan & Bradbeer were probably the first firm to go almost down the neo-baroque route, but even there, their early organs were electric action, and often included extension (perhaps inevitable with ex-Compton men in key positions!)  "Twenty-One Years of Organ Building" Forsythe-Grant contains a listing.

On another note, I've recently got hold of photo-copies of Compton-Makin brochures from the early 1970's if they're any use.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One aspect of the neo-classical revival is the development of well-designed and responsive mechanical key actions.  Although based on relatively straightforward physical and engineering principles in common use in other fields since the 19th century, their introduction into British organ building was surprisingly slow and erratic with the benefit of hindsight.  One example of the muddled thinking which has persisted into the present century was that the masses of all of the components in an action have a comparable effect on its performance in terms of parameters important to the player, such as repetition capability or key release time.  It was thought by some (Peter Collins was one, judging by an influential article he wrote in the 1980s) that the mass of a key, say, exerted the same influence as that of a tracker.  This is not so, since the mass of pivoted components such as keys, backfalls and pallets has less of an effect than might be thought at first sight.  This explains why it is quite easy in everyday life to rotate heavy things which are balanced and pivoted, such as a jacked-up car wheel, whereas it is more difficult to pick them up bodily off the ground having just changed the tyre.  Consequently some misguided effort has been expended in recent times in reducing the mass of (pivoted) pallets for example in sometimes quite bizarre ways, without apparently realising that it is far more important to concentrate on the (non-pivoted) tracker masses.  It is also only relatively recently that the excellent potential offered by suspended key actions has become more generally realised, even though their (pivoted) keys might seem very long and cumbersome.  Some French classical (pre-Revolutionary) organ builders had obviously twigged this, probably intuitively or as a result of serendipitous observations.  But whatever the reason, this type of highly-responsive action presumably had some association with, even if it did not directly lead to, the florid ornamentation and delicacy of French musical literature from that period.  The music speaks to us about the action if we listen to what it is saying.

Another important factor is not to use pallets which are too wide.  A persistent hangover from the Victorian period, still sometimes seen in organs today, is to simply use the pallets to cover the gaps between the sound board bars, which means they get far too wide towards the bass.  Simple sums show that over-wide pallets deliver only marginally more wind while magnifying pluck unnecessarily.  The main reason for this hangover was that 19th century organ builders were released from the need to design pallets properly once they had transferred to pneumatic and then electric actions, and of course this has persisted to the present day in some quarters.

Using these principles, a modern well-designed mechanical action is likely to be significantly better from a playing point of view than many which were made in the baroque era.  Organ builders then didn't really understand these things, but the difference between them and us is that they had the excellent excuse that none of the physics had then been worked out.  Today there is less of an excuse for mechanical key actions which are not properly designed at the drawing board stage.  But besides the physics, the engineering has to be impeccable as well, otherwise the action just will not last very long. 

CEP

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, AJJ said:

As an undergraduate I used to practice here before the Peter Collns organ arrived in the Turner Sims hall at Southampton University. A somewhat strange instrument with the console at the east end and the pipework far away in the west. I always wondered who was responsible for acquiring it from a small and somewhat obscure Hull firm for a downtown church. It always seemed to be freezing cold there! *

http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N11626

Somewhat later with mechanical action this time. 

http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N08854

Roger Yates was an interesting character who was in many ways ahead of his time. A few years back I did a considerable ammount of research into Yates resulting in an extended article for Organists’ Review. If anyone would like a copy please PM me here.

A

* It is interesting, however to look at what Hall & Broadfield did here. Their work here and above seems nothing like the ‘jobbing’ work they were mostly doing elsewhere.

http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N04015

How interesting that you mention Roger Yates. He crossed my mind also, because he rebuilt an old Brindley organ at Oakham PC (since destroyed) in Rutland. With good German-style voicing from Brindley, and a bit of neo-classicism, I always wanted to see and hear that instrument. (I think Sumner made mention of it in "The Organ".

Hall & Broadfield did some odd work, and some dubious neo-classical jobs, but at least they seemed to have some success at St Mary's, Beverley, which staggers on many moons later.

Going back to the mid--1950's, (post Festival Hall), one of the first to tread the neo-classical path was Noel Mander. Around this time, quite a few rebuilds saw the inclusion of unenclosed Positive organs playing "Organ Wars" with the rest of the pipework. There's one very close to me from the 1960's, at Bingley PC.....Hill organ, all mechanical with a Ruckpositive behind the console. The consultant was Francis Jackson at the time.

Incredibly, Compton also indulged in this at St Bride's, Fleet Street, with an unenclosed Positive surrounded by Swell boxes containing the rest of the organ pipework. It's been re-cast with many new pipes since, but when I played it 30 years ago, I thought it actually blended rather nicely....but then....it was a Compton.

I haven't exhausted the research yet, but it's fascinating to recall how a major organ-builder (which Compton were at the time) should so suddenly fall of a cliff and find themselves utterly unfashionable and even despised by some.

I stumbled across an amazing Doctoral Dissertation which covers this particular period, which is superbly written, but which totally neglects the Compton influence on "Organ reform". It's as if no-one actually understood John Compton's breadth of knowledge, and the experiments he carried out on remote harmonics and the importance of upperwork.

I'll post the link to the dissertation, which is worth reading, if only for the quality of the English prose and eloquence of the whole.

MM


 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
26 minutes ago, Colin Pykett said:

One aspect of the neo-classical revival is the development of well-designed and responsive mechanical key actions.  Although based on relatively straightforward physical and engineering principles in common use in other fields since the 19th century, their introduction into British organ building .....etc


I shall have to read through this a few times to appreciate it, but something very interesting crossed my mind. John Compton was well aware of older methods, and wrote about it at some length.....forever the theorist, experimenter and master organ-builder.

There's a certain irony here, because JC was able to follow every whim and experiment constantly, with all sorts of things, which as anyone knows, costs a lot of money.

Well.......the hugely over-expensive cinema organs paid for it!

MM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
34 minutes ago, MusoMusing said:

How interesting that you mention Roger Yates. He crossed my mind also, because he rebuilt an old Brindley organ at Oakham

Going back to the mid--1950's, (post Festival Hall), one of the first to tread the neo-classical path was Noel Mander. Around this time, quite a few rebuilds saw the inclusion of unenclosed Positive organs playing "Organ Wars" with the rest of the pipework. There's one very close to me from the 1960's, at Bingley PC.....Hill organ, all mechanical with a Ruckpositive behind the console. The consultant was Francis Jackson at the time.

Incredibly, Compton also indulged in this at St Bride's, Fleet Street, with an unenclosed Positive surrounded by Swell boxes containing the rest of the organ pipework. It's been re-cast with many new pipes since, but when I played it 30 years ago, I thought it actually blended rather nicely....but then....it was a Compton.

I haven't exhausted the research yet, but it's fascinating to recall how a major organ-builder (which Compton were at the time) should so suddenly fall of a cliff and find themselves utterly unfashionable and even despised by some.

 

Possibly the work at Bingley was done by Walker.

 http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N01703

This Compton was always quite fun to play and hear. I once chatted at some length with the organist who designed it (I have forgotten his name) when he interviewed me for a degree place (which I never took up) in his later capacity as DOM at St John’s College York.

http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N17245

John Rowntree did a doctorate on some aspects of this, John Norman and Paul Hale also have much to share.

A

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have included St Mary Boltons in my "tome", because it is a rare example of Compton/neo-something or other. By that time, both JC and "Jimmy" Taylor had died, but I'm not sure if Johnnie Degens wasn't still with Compton's.

Of course, the Hill organ that this replaced ended up in Great Yarmouth Minster, where it was rebuilt by Compton's and given "a coat of many colours" by Stephen Dykes-Bower.

I would be interested to know how you found the St Mary Boltons Compton, and whether it was radically different in some way?

It was one of their last jobs, and I think the last, all new organ that Compton's built, went into St Andrew's, Holborn. I think that Compton Sales Manager, Michael Laithem (Sp?) was organist there at some point, and if so, I met him once in Worcester, at the Three Choirs Festival.

 

MM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
21 minutes ago, Colin Pykett said:

Another recent, excellent and similarly eminently readable PhD dissertation is that by Richard Dunster-Sigtermans:

https://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/7217/1/Dunster-Sigtermans17PhD_Redacted.pdf

You (MM) will find lots of Compton references in this one.

CEP

Fascinating stuff, and I learned something also immediately, which I hadn't heard previously.

The date 1960 is wrong, because the organ was completed in 1957, but apart from that, it is a revealing passage:-

Even a committee of establishment figures(Ernest Bullock, Osborne Peasegood, both of Westminster Abbey, and George Thalben-Ball, of the Temple Church), who might be expected to have held very traditional views about tonal designs,was recommending in 1960 a Positive division for the new organ at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, London80that was as far removed as possible from Dixon’s ‘tootling flutes’; here,the Positive division was conceived decisively in the manner of a Baroque organ.

===========================

How many people at the time, realised that Osborne Peasegood played a cinema organ in Acton on Saturday evenings? I don't think he used his real name.

MM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, Tony Newnham said:

The Book "The Classical Organ in Britain 1955-1974 (which is vol 1 of 3 covering up to 1990) might be a good place to start.  It's written by Rowntree & Brennan, published by Positive Press.  The entries are in size order, so you'd need to skim through the whole book to find the earliest (unless there's anything in the introduction) - I've not got time to do that at present.  Also, they are very strict in what's included - non-tracker pedal actions are excluded for example (but not electric stop action).

The requirements also include coherent casework - which is why Mander's 1966 organ for Cecil Clutton is not included.

The oldest British organ listed is a 1964 four stop (8842) organ by Arnold, Williamson and Hyatt for the RC Church of the Most Holy Redeemer in Romford.

The next few included are by R H Walker (1965, St Martin's College, Lancaster), Harrison and Harrison (1966, RCM, London),  T Robbins (1967, Kingsnorth, Kent), Grant Degens and Bradbeer (1967, St Ann's, Nottingham, 1968, West Brompton), Mander (1968, St Michael Paternoster Royal, London), P D Collins (1968, Shellingford), R Yates (1969, Dartington).

Paul

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, MusoMusing said:

I would be interested to know how you found the St Mary Boltons Compton...

It was many years ago that I was there and I seem to remember that someone (possibly Walkers) changed the Swell Schalmei unit for an Oboe at some point since. It sounded quite pleasant with that ‘up front’ voicing one often finds with smaller Comptons. The organist who organised its installation (maddeningly I still can not recall his name) wanted something on which he could play more ‘classical’ schools of organ music with their associated colours and choruses as things seemed to be heading that way in other places. Boltons was likely a wealthy and fashionable church then and having Comptons do it was possibly a brave experiment. I remember Ralph Downes commenting that some of Roger Yates’ work had a ‘whiff of Willis III about it’ and I suppose that similarly with the Boltons organ some of the (perceived) classical elements were there but with quite a lot of Compton too.

A

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, pwhodges said:

The requirements also include coherent casework - which is why Mander's 1966 organ for Cecil Clutton is not included.

The oldest British organ listed is a 1964 four stop (8842) organ by Arnold, Williamson and Hyatt for the RC Church of the Most Holy Redeemer in Romford.

The next few included are by R H Walker (1965, St Martin's College, Lancaster), Harrison and Harrison (1966, RCM, London),  T Robbins (1967, Kingsnorth, Kent), Grant Degens and Bradbeer (1967, St Ann's, Nottingham, 1968, West Brompton), Mander (1968, St Michael Paternoster Royal, London), P D Collins (1968, Shellingford), R Yates (1969, Dartington).

Paul

I think this concurs with my own findings. The neo-classical style (especially with mechanical action) did not really get going until the mid-1960's, except for the H,N & B/Eule organ for Lady Susi Jeans, which was long before. However, it's not the encased, mechanical action jobs I'm really bothered about. Rather, I'm curious to know the thread which led to that once the Festival Hall organ rudely burst onto the organ scene. Most would have been re-builds of older instruments with EP action, and when I first  got interested in the organ, around 1960, everything was starting to happen.....it was quite a decade.   The lovely Frobenius at Oxford came a llittle later, but it certainly showed a number of "experts" the error of their ways.

It intrigues me that Compton's only briefly went down that intial path, and then died a death. I'll have to check the dates, but I suspect that they lost their most talented people, and Compton's was being run by the cinema and electronic organist, Arthur Lord, who probably didn't have a lot of interest or knowledge about the latest trends in classical pipe-organ building. I think he covered the final critical period, from 1960 to 1965 or so, during which time the pipe organ side of the business was being deliberately run down.

MM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was thinking about all this with the recent death of Peter Hurford in mind. My ‘local’ diocesan cathedral back in the 60s and 70s was St Albans and I grew up with trips there as part of a visiting choir, being taken to performances by the St Albans Bach Choir, visiting the IOF and eventually playing for parts of a visiting choir service. To this enthusiastic youth it seemed that we had a cathedral organ like no other and whether in its liturgical role or as a recital instrument it never ceased to amaze. Even today after its recentish rehash and dare I say completion it still excites in the same way as Coventry and Windsor do.

A

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have vinyl recordings made by the late and very great Peter Hurford at St Alban's, and I think "exciting" is exactly the right description for the instrument. So too for Coventry, which is probably the least altered of the trio.  I haven't heard the Windsor organ in the flesh since the days of Sidney Campbell, but I always regarded that as one o the most fascinating tonal schemes and one of the top instruments in the country.   How it compares with the original these days, I do not know.

Add Blackburn to the list (I was at the opening recital by Francis Jackson) and it's easy to see why the 1960's were such an exciting time.

All four instruments have stood the test of time, and I think that in terms of excitement, the organ of St Paul's Cathedral is a match for any of them.

It wasn't all broken glass, bubble and squeak!

MM
 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 hours ago, Colin Pykett said:

Using these principles, a modern well-designed mechanical action is likely to be significantly better from a playing point of view than many which were made in the baroque era.  Organ builders then didn't really understand these things, but the difference between them and us is that they had the excellent excuse that none of the physics had then been worked out.

Perhaps the development and existence of modern materials (eg, very thin wood or plastic(?) for trackers) is an additional advantage for modern builders compared to their earlier predecessors.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 hours ago, Colin Pykett said:

Another recent, excellent and similarly eminently readable PhD dissertation is that by Richard Dunster-Sigtermans:

https://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/7217/1/Dunster-Sigtermans17PhD_Redacted.pdf

Thank you very much for that.  I have copied the link as it is far too long for me to read now, but I look forward to giving it my full attention when I have time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
57 minutes ago, MusoMusing said:

...   ....   (I was at the opening recital by Francis Jackson) and it's easy to see why the 1960's were such an exciting time.
It wasn't all broken glass, bubble and squeak!

MM

Indeed they were exciting times, and we must not forget the Royal Festival Hall organ which polarised opinions then, and still does.  I have fond memories of the Wednesday recitals at 5.55 pm.  There’s no doubt that they, and the organ, were ground-breaking.  Among the players I particularly recall were your hero Francis Jackson (twice), Noel Rawsthorne, George Thalben-Ball, Helmut Walcha (also twice) and, of course, Ralph Downes, in their different ways all of them memorable performers.

The RFH organ wasn’t all broken glass, bubble and squeak (to be clear, I don’t think you are suggesting that, MM).  It sounds different now, better I think, since the Hall’s refurbishment and restoration by H&H with the improved acoustic, and has acquired a ‘bloom’ which it previously lacked.  But it was always a fine instrument and those recitals had an added feeling about them - a sense of being present at a special occasion.  For me, hearing and watching the blind Helmut Walcha play Bach’s Toccata in F at the RFH remains an unforgettable experience - almost 60 years later!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 hours ago, AJJ said:

It was many years ago that I was there and I seem to remember that someone (possibly Walkers) changed the Swell Schalmei unit for an Oboe at some point since. It sounded quite pleasant with that ‘up front’ voicing one often finds with smaller Comptons. The organist who organised its installation (maddeningly I still can not recall his name) wanted something on which he could play more ‘classical’ schools of organ music with their associated colours and choruses as things seemed to be heading that way in other places. Boltons was likely a wealthy and fashionable church then and having Comptons do it was possibly a brave experiment. I remember Ralph Downes commenting that some of Roger Yates’ work had a ‘whiff of Willis III about it’ and I suppose that similarly with the Boltons organ some of the (perceived) classical elements were there but with quite a lot of Compton too.

A

Organist at St Mary le Boltons was David Lang

Article describing the new organ - The Organ no 157 July 1960 makes interesting reading about Lang’s thinking moulded by Flor Peeters and the details he suggested to the builders .

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, philipmgwright said:

Organist at St Mary le Boltons was David Lang

Article describing the new organ - The Organ no 157 July 1960 makes interesting reading about Lang’s thinking moulded by Flor Peeters and the details he suggested to the builders .

David Lang was indeed the Organist of St Mary the Boltons. I was assistant organist there in the 1960's whilst studying at one of the London music colleges. The organ was a revelation to me  as I had not experienced another instrument like it up to then.  it took no prisoners & demanded very clean articulation, every mistake & fudge was obvious, just what an organ student needed!  The detached console was placed immediately in front of the expressive box with it's glass shutters & the choir sat to the right of the console, so everything was 'immediate.'

I understood from David that this organ was the last to be built by Compton & Johnie Degens. The schamei stop was certainly there in my time, & I would have thought the substitution of an oboe would not have been in keeping with the rest of the tonal scheme.

MikeK

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 09/03/2019 at 10:45, MikeK said:

David Lang was indeed the Organist of St Mary the Boltons. I was assistant organist there in the 1960's whilst studying at one of the London music colleges. The organ was a revelation to me  as I had not experienced another instrument like it up to then.  it took no prisoners & demanded very clean articulation, every mistake & fudge was obvious, just what an organ student needed!  The detached console was placed immediately in front of the expressive box with it's glass shutters & the choir sat to the right of the console, so everything was 'immediate.'

I understood from David that this organ was the last to be built by Compton & Johnie Degens. The schamei stop was certainly there in my time, & I would have thought the substitution of an oboe would not have been in keeping with the rest of the tonal scheme.

MikeK

Thank you for this bit of information. I was intrigued by the reference to Johnnie Dehens. The firm of Degens & Rippen was established in 1959, and the two other Compton men were Ted Rippen and Eric Aitken. I'm not absolutely sure, but right from the start, , I believe they were supported financially by Maurice Forsythe-Grant.  The rest, as they say, is history.

It's interesting, and a bit off-topic, but if you search Maurice Forsythe-Grant, almost nothing appears, other than the fact that he was a businessman and organ-builder, yet he was the technical brains behind Racal Electronics which eventually became Vodafone.
Still, he wasn't the first to think of mobile-phones. I think that particular accolade went to racehorse trainer, Ted Wragg, who's main hobby was electronics when he wasn't bothering with nags. I recall with delight the day he told me the story, of how he went to the directors of PYE in Cambridge, and told them that he had an idea for a microwave, portable telephone.

"What a silly idea!" They replied.

Even in the world of business, there are runners and fallers; winners and losers.
 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ian Bell, who was one of the last apprentices at Compton's, wrote a very perceptive and sympathetic article in the BIOS Review some years ago, suggesting that the reason Compton's got the Boltons contract might have been because they were moving the previous large Hill organ in the church to Great Yarmouth.  He was not convinced that the experiment worked out, but others (e.g. Leslie Barnard, who was no fool) were impressed.  Walker's modifications smoothed it out somewhat and replaced the Compton polyphonic bourdon with a second-hand stop from elsewhere, as well as substituting an Oboe for the Schalmei (which seems a pity).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, MusoMusing said:

Thank you for this bit of information. I was intrigued by the reference to Johnnie Dehens. The firm of Degens & Rippen was established in 1959, and the two other Compton men were Ted Rippen and Eric Aitken. I'm not absolutely sure, but right from the start, , I believe they were supported financially by Maurice Forsythe-Grant.  The rest, as they say, is history.

It's interesting, and a bit off-topic, but if you search Maurice Forsythe-Grant, almost nothing appears, other than the fact that he was a businessman and organ-builder, yet he was the technical brains behind Racal Electronics which eventually became Vodafone.
Still, he wasn't the first to think of mobile-phones. I think that particular accolade went to racehorse trainer, Ted Wragg, who's main hobby was electronics when he wasn't bothering with nags. I recall with delight the day he told me the story, of how he went to the directors of PYE in Cambridge, and told them that he had an idea for a microwave, portable telephone.

"What a silly idea!" They replied.

Even in the world of business, there are runners and fallers; winners and losers.
 

21 years of Organ Building by Maurice Forsyth-Grant   Positif Press 1987

Covers Degens& Rippen Ltd,Grant Degens&Rippen Ltd and Grant Degens & Bradbeer Ltd

Foreward by Peter Hurford and a lively read which reflects MFG colourful organbuilding attitude

enjoy!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, MusoMusing said:

... but if you search Maurice Forsythe-Grant, almost nothing appears, other than the fact that he was a businessman and organ-builder, [...]

Does removing the 'e' from 'Forsyth' produce more results?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...