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Martin Cooke

Susi Jeans organ - Royal Birmingham Conservatoire

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This is interesting. The RBC is disposing of the SJ organ which was only moved into the new building two years ago. I don't know the instrument but recall the old pic of Susi Jeans sitting at it when it was installed in her home, Cleveland Lodge. Has anyone played it? On paper, at least, and because it has only just been rebuilt by Nicholsons, it would seem a very good option for someone seeking a pipe organ - rather like the Turner Sims/Orford story.

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I seem to recall someone at Nicholsons writing that they had only moved the organ and installed it in the new site rather than anything like a rebuild in the larger sense.

A

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10 hours ago, AJJ said:

I seem to recall someone at Nicholsons writing that they had only moved the organ and installed it in the new site rather than anything like a rebuild in the larger sense.

A

Ah, yes - you're right, AJJ... see here where they mention that the instrument will need some work in the medium future. I wonder what the plans are for organ development at RBC? 

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Well, it was restored by Harrisons in 1999 when the RSCM owned Cleveland Lodge. This is the very first Orgelbewegung organ in Britain, by a long way. Since the Conservatoire is an entirely new, purpose built building it seems they just don't care. Out of fashion. 

 

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2 hours ago, Martin Cooke said:

I wonder what the plans are for organ development at RBC? 

If you look at the website the future seems rosy for organists at RBC. Then look more closely and the website is, seemingly, rather out of date! The opening sentence on the organ page reads "With 25 students, a world-class faculty and a new home on the horizon, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire enjoys a reputation as a leading centre for organ studies in the UK."

Later we read  "The arrival of a major new instrument at the University of Birmingham this year and the Conservatoire's move to a new, purpose-built home in 2017 (together with new instruments and state-of-the-art facilities) promises to provide a unique set of resources that will further equip our students to become leaders in the profession."

The advert reads "...………………………………………………. there is no room to continue to house the instrument on site"

One wonders!!!

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I hope I can help clarify the recent history of this instrument.  When the organ was built in 1936 (not 1937 as is stated on the RBC advert), the pipework was all made and voiced by Hermann Eule of Germany but everything else was made by Hill, Norman & Beard.  The organ has mechanical action for the manuals, pedals and all couplers, but charge pneumatic slider actions and stop actions.  It was a wedding gift to Lady Susi Jeans from her husband, the eminent physicist Sir James Jeans and was installed in their home (Cleveland Lodge) in Dorking.

As is well-known, the Jeans' home eventually became home to the RSCM in 1996, and it was during this era that Harrison & Harrison undertook some restoration work in 1999.  Our friends in Durham will be able to confirm the precise scope of work, but my recollection was that it was not a total restoration but a thorough cleaning, repairs to pipework, and releathering of all pneumatic actions.

In 2006, Nicholson & Co. was commissioned by Birmingham Conservatoire to move the organ from Cleveland Lodge to the Birmingham Conservatoire building.  As well as the relocation, completed that year, this work included provision of a new blower, provision of a platform and side facades to the instrument (it had been in a chamber in Cleveland Lodge), re-leathering of the main reservoir (not done in 1999), repairs to the soundboards (not restored in 1999 or 2006; just splits repaired).  The keys were re-covered (not sure what they were originally, but by 2006 they had black wooden naturals and white plastic-capped sharps) in white cow bone for the naturals and ebony sharps.  

The organ remained in Birmingham Conservatoire for 11 years, until Nicholson & Co. was again commissioned to move the organ, this time to the Conservatoire's new home (now the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire).  This was completed in 2017.  The 2017 relocation work included a cleaning of all pipework and further repairs (but still not restoration) to the soundboards which had developed new splits.  New leather buttons were fitted throughout the action.  Some pictures can be found at http://www.nicholsonorgans.co.uk/pf/birmingham-conservatoire/

The leatherwork is all fine, none of it being older than 20.  Anyone considering the organ should plan for the soundboards to be thoroughly restored, as they have had numerous partial repairs to splits, but otherwise the organ should quite happily be dismantled and re-erected without the need for other restoration work.

My personal observation, which I think is shared by many, is that the organ is of greater historical significance than musical value; interesting but not altogether beautiful.  It is voiced for a small room and would struggle to fill a large space.  Some minor tonal changes appear to have been made at some stage in the organ's life e.g.. there is a Quinte [sic] 2 2/3 that is actually a Larigot.    I hope our benevolent hosts won't mind me joking that we are getting quite good at moving it now, so if anyone is interested.... 


Andrew Caskie
Managing Director, Nicholson & Co.

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17 hours ago, caskie said:

I hope I can help clarify the recent history of this instrument.  When the organ was built in 1936 (not 1937 as is stated on the RBC advert), the pipework was all made and voiced by Hermann Eule of Germany but everything else was made by Hill, Norman & Beard.  The organ has mechanical action for the manuals, pedals and all couplers, but charge pneumatic slider actions and stop actions.  It was a wedding gift to Lady Susi Jeans from her husband, the eminent physicist Sir James Jeans and was installed in their home (Cleveland Lodge) in Dorking.

As is well-known, the Jeans' home eventually became home to the RSCM in 1996, and it was during this era that Harrison & Harrison undertook some restoration work in 1999.  Our friends in Durham will be able to confirm the precise scope of work, but my recollection was that it was not a total restoration but a thorough cleaning, repairs to pipework, and releathering of all pneumatic actions.

In 2006, Nicholson & Co. was commissioned by then Birmingham Conservatoire to move the organ from Cleveland Lodge to Birmingham Conservatoire.  As well as the relocation, this work included provision of a new blower, provision of a platform and side facades to the instrument (it had been in a chamber in Cleveland Lodge), re-leathering of the main reservoir (not done in 1999), repairs to the soundboards (not restored in 1999 or 2006; just splits repaired).  The keys were re-covered (not sure what they were originally, but by 2006 they had black wooden naturals and white plastic-capped sharps) in white cow bone for the naturals and ebony sharps.  

The organ remained in Birmingham Conservatoire for 11 years, until Nicholson & Co. was again commissioned to move the organ, this time to the Conservatoire's new home (now the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire).  This was completed in 2017.  The 2017 relocation work included a cleaning of all pipework and further repairs (but still not restoration) to the soundboards which had developed new splits.  New leather buttons were fitted throughout the action.  Some pictures can be found at http://www.nicholsonorgans.co.uk/pf/birmingham-conservatoire/

The leatherwork is all fine, none of it being older than 20.  Anyone considering the organ should plan for the soundboards to be thoroughly restored, as they have had numerous partial repairs to splits, but otherwise the organ should quite happily be dismantled and re-erected without the need for other restoration work.

My personal observation, which I think is shared by many, is that the organ is of greater historical significance than musical value; interesting but not altogether beautiful.  It is voiced for a small room and would struggle to fill a large space.  Some minor tonal changes appear to have been made at some stage in the organ's life e.g.. there is a Quinte [sic] 2 2/3 that is actually a Larigot.    I hope our benevolent hosts won't mind me joking that we are getting quite good at moving it now, so if anyone is interested.... 


Andrew Caskie
Managing Director, Nicholson & Co.

Thank you very much for all of that, Andrew - most interesting.

It is not hard to imagine that the RBC might have higher ideals in terms of a departmental instrument or instruments. Does anyone know of any announcement regarding the commissioning of a new instrument?

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In 'Baroque Tricks' (Ch. 6), Ralph Downes recounts that the instrument was refurbished by Fritz Abend (the original voicer) in 1949 - 50 and the Sesquialtera added.  The pipes were made by H&H and voiced by Abend.  NPOR shows the work as 1950 and presumably the Sesquialtera was later either changed or just re-named to the Tertian.

https://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N12713

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