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Mander Organs

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A couple of weeks ago I bought a double album by the German prog-rock band Inquire. The second disc is titled "Welcome to my rock and roll", and is their recreation of Louis Vierne's 3rd organ symphony. I love it! I think it's an intelligent and thoughtful reworking, but also fun and enjoyable. There are many recreations of organ works by people messing around with synthesisers, most not very good, but there are a couple which I also like. Anyone know of other good adaptations? Beyond Sky's Toccata, of course, which I loved as a kid, although I don't suppose anyone wants to be reminded of that singularly awful use of Saint-Saens 3rd in an early 80s pop song. If anyone comes across the Caribbean steel band version of Widor's toccata, I also love that. It's interesting that all sorts of people find continued inspiration from organ music.

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  • 1 month later...

Damian's mention of Sky reminds me that I remarked some while ago on another thread about the organ playing skills of one of its founders, Francis Monkman, who was classically trained.  I hope Francis will not mind me saying that he has also carried out a lot of research into Thuringian organs and their builders and has recorded many CDs on them, some of which he kindly sent me as part of a private dialogue on the subject.  It seems to me a great pity that they do not seem to be widely available, and I took the liberty of telling him so at the time!  The combination of his scholarship and skills as an executant would I'm sure be appreciated widely by members of this forum and beyond.

And on the subject of using the Saint-Saens 3 theme in the 1980s, I remember that one as well!  But is it not something to do with copyright?  I read not long ago, and not for the first time, that it's almost impossible today for a pop musician to take the risk of recording something which claims to be original music.  If they do, there is apparently a high probability of being taken to court somewhere in the world for breach of copyright, sometimes for ludicrously obscure reasons such as "the third bar of this melody contains a note sequence which is the same as that which composer X used 6 years ago in the bass line of composition Y".  The only sure fire way of preventing this is to use out-of-copyright material, which I guess is why much modern music often seems to evoke echoes in my mind even though I can't always place it.  It also probably explains the prevalence of the repulsive sort of synthesised 'music' often used as the background to almost every TV programme, consisting of a slowly shifting sound canvas of such poverty of invention that it can scarcely  claim to be a 'composition' at all.

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I remember living in Lausanne; one day, I stood utterly transfixed on a corner, listning to a superb accordionist, whom I later  discovered to be Russian, playing music that was so wonderful, but very familiar.

I just couldn't place it.

Then it dawned on me: BWV 543, the entirety of the Suite Gothique, and THAT French toccata. I never thought that an accordeon could "do" a Bosendorfer Imperial, or a Father Willis...

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There was, during last summer, a busker playing an accordion near the RSC theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon  usually playing what I took to be arrangements of Romanian folk songs. He was very accomplished and I usually stopped to listen for a few minutes on the way home from the the gym and made a contribution. One Friday the sound was different and sounded very similar to the sort of improvised toccata that one might expect in a French cathedral after High Mass. I listened, somewhat spellbound, until he finished and then asked what he had been playing. He indicated with broken English and hand gestures that it came from his head into his fingers while he played. He was clearly a real musician and had improvised a well structured and impressive piece of music, far better than I, and I suspect many others, could ever manage.

It was gratifying that he usually had a decent audience who showed their appreciation.

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With the mention of accordian you remind me of something I heard on Radio 3 in what must have been a few weeks before Christmas in 1988 or 1989 which was an accordian (or it could have been some other squeeze-box) player playing the sortie 'vent de la spirit' from Messiaen Pentecote. It was amazing. I've tried to find it as a recording a few times since but unsuccessfully. Does anyone recognise it from this description and who was playing, etc?

Now I'm thinking, I remember Messiaen himself playing one of the big Bach P&Fs, perhaps G 541 but my memory isn't secure, on the radio a year or two earlier than that. This was fairly straight until near the end when a chord was held much much longer than written and notes were slowly added, the timbre morphed and he added a sort of cadenza in his style, reverting back to the Bach and taking it to conclusion. Does anyone know of Messiaen playing Bach recordings?

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Wow!  Cant believe I've just been listening to an accordion playing Messaien.  Remarkable how effective it was.  I suppose the sound isnt too dissimilar to a French organ sound with all its slightly out of tune reeds?  It was just missing the 32ft reeds in the Dieu Parmi Nous!  But very enjoyable all the same.

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Interesting that some of the examples above relate to French romantic and later organ music played on an accordion.  I wonder if this has anything to do with the prevalence of the harmonium in 19th century French musical life with its free reeds, which can sound similar?  Cavaille-Coll himself started off his career with these instruments.  Desirably the chosen instrument has to be expressive though, in the sense of being able to vary the power by varying the wind pressure.  Accordions and harmoniums are (the latter by using the Expression stop), but suction 'American' organs are not.  Many years ago  I once wandered into one of those beautiful Lincolnshire fen churches (at Addlethorpe I think it was) where there was no pipe organ but a Mustel harmonium.  It was an attractive acoustic, in fact the whole place was like a miniature cathedral (it called itself the Cathedral of the Marshes), and the instrument sounded remarkably like a Cavaille-Coll pipe organ in some of its moods!

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An interesting association of Cavaille-Coll and harmoniums. My new-ish electronic (which I should really stop going on about 🙂 ) is unusual in that it has 4 separate organ styles, each with its own appropriate stop list. The French-style voicing has reed specs of GO 8, Rec 16, 8, 8, 4, and Ped 16, as you might expect in a moderate 2 manual CC organ, and represent 25% of the stops. It actually sounds OK, with headphones on and the echo turned up, but gives a clear flavour of such French symphonic organs when compared with the other styles, especially the equally enjoyable English spec.

Noting that much French organ music of the 19th century is often indicated as being suitable for a harmonium, for example Guilmant's works for the jobbing organist and, in particular, Vierne's Pieces en style libre, I've tried playing them using the reeds only, and experimenting with other parameters as only an electronic organ can provide, to approximate a harmonium, and the result is quite nice. I shall try this again with the knowledge of CC's experience of harmoniums in mind. For what it's worth, there is an organ builder in Bavaria, Thomas Reilich http://www.o-h-r.com/ who runs an organ business which includes a lot of work restoring and rebuilding harmoniums of all sizes, and is full of detailed pictures of his projects along with amusing and informative commentaries.

Notwithstanding the joke that there are no organs in heaven because the keys are needed for all the accordeons in hell, as with many instruments there are players with enormous musicality and talent who appear able to play almost anything on them. And some of them are very young.

One piece is the subject of so many cross-overs and arrangements I can't remember which is the original is Bach's Sinfonia from Cantata 29. Try here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S53yAtz0GiA

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Hi

This discussion of Harmoniums (which are excellent and very expressive instruments - and despite Colin's comment above, it IS possible to get a reasonable amount of expression out of an American (suction) organ in the hands of a skilled player by manipulating the pedals) reminded me of a video I came across the other days of a combined pipe organ & HArmonium.  An interesting concept.  

The builder's web site is here - https://orgelbau-lenter.de/besonderheiten.php.  If you browse the site you'll find a larger example of such an hybrid instrument that also has a pedalboard.  

The hybrid pipe/reed organ has appeared at odd times over the years - long before the current interest in pipe/digital hybrids (which themselves have been around for 60 or more years!).  As always, I guess the main issue is keeping pipes & reeds in tune with each other.

Every Blessing

Tony

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On 17/04/2020 at 08:10, Colin Pykett said:

Damian's mention of Sky reminds me that I remarked some while ago on another thread about the organ playing skills of one of its founders, Francis Monkman, who was classically trained.  I hope Francis will not mind me saying that he has also carried out a lot of research into Thuringian organs and their builders and has recorded many CDs on them, some of which he kindly sent me as part of a private dialogue on the subject.  It seems to me a great pity that they do not seem to be widely available, and I took the liberty of telling him so at the time!  The combination of his scholarship and skills as an executant would I'm sure be appreciated widely by members of this forum and beyond.

One of Francis' CDs (in fact a double CD) is available from Crocodile Music:

https://www.crocodilemusic.com/cd/36/

His sleeve notes are fascinating, but especially about the mixtures on the Thuringian organs, which often include the tierce: a reedy sound without reeds.

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  • 2 weeks later...

This thread has wondered far from whence it began, which seems to be normal round these parts, but in an attempt to bring it back, I should mention that my copy of Melancholia by Inquire arrived yesterday, ordered direct from the french label. http://www.musearecords.com/ext_re_new_catselect.php?np=18427 I had already heard the last movement of the Vierne thanks to Contrabombarde's link above, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the rest of the album this morning. The first disc is a concept album based on Sartre's Nausea, which was originally titled Melancholia, and was published in 1938, the year after Louis Vierne's death. The album is dedicated to the memory of Jean-Paul Sartre and Louis Vierne. There is a quotation from Grieg's Piano Sonata in one of the songs. Probably not everyone's cup of tea, but if you enjoy the clip above, then I recommend checking out the rest. 

On the subject of accordions, I was particularly impressed by the Messiaen - a thoroughly convincing performance. The French accordionist Richard Galliano has an album of Bach, but to my knowledge has not recorded any of the organ music. http://www.richardgalliano.com/discographie/bach/ I love his version of the harpsichord concerto in F minor. 

A well played harmonium is an extraordinarily expressive instrument. If you are not familiar with the piece, I would urge all of you to listen to Karg-Elert's 2nd sonata, a real tour-de-force for the player. Both sonatas are on Volume 5 of Johannes Matthias Michel's survey of the complete works. Graham Barber has recently recorded an organ arrangement, which has the potential to bring the work to a wider audience. I suspect it is also considerably easier to play than the original. 

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I hope you’ll forgive a slight diversion, but you might like to check out Gunnar Idenstam’s ‘Cathedral Music’ collections.  These pieces are a fusion of French Romantic and rock and pop styles - some of them very effective.

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