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Bristol Cathedral


DaveHarries
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Hi all,

I hope that my fellow members of this forum, along with their families, are managing to maintain good health in these troubled times: my good wishes to you all.

In the midst of the current situation details have been released of substantial planned refurbishment / restoration works to the organ in the Cathedral of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Bristol. No builder has been chosen as yet for the work (although Dr. William McVicker is given as the consultant for the project) and I think we can safely assume that there will be a delay in this due to the current COVID-19 episode.

Among the works proposed are revisions to the tonal scheme of the instrument comprising of new stops (eg. on the Great: replacement of the Fouriniture III-V with a new Clarion Mixture of either 3 ranks - 22.26.29, planned to be modelled on the 1889/1892/1965 JW Walker organ at St. Mary's Portsea - or 4 ranks - 19.22.26.29) and extension or revision of others.

Proposals are currently out to consultation from 20th April until 17th May and details can be found at https://bristol-cathedral.co.uk/music/bristol-cathedral-organ-project-public-consultation and the proposed resulting specification can be found in the first link on that page. If the work goes ahead as proposed I look forward, as a member of the congregation, to the result.

Hope this is of interest. Stay safe all.

Dave

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As a former member of the cathedral congregation, and having played this organ, this seems a sensible scheme - particularly the Clarion Mixture.  Clifford Harker used to play RH up an octave with a big congregation.  However, I am surprised at the same nomenclature for two Clarinets...?  I am also struggling with the logic of an Acoustic Bourdon at 32' AND a separate Quint stop from the Bourdon.....?

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2 hours ago, Andrew Butler said:

As a former member of the cathedral congregation, and having played this organ, this seems a sensible scheme - particularly the Clarion Mixture.  Clifford Harker used to play RH up an octave with a big congregation.  However, I am surprised at the same nomenclature for two Clarinets...?  I am also struggling with the logic of an Acoustic Bourdon at 32' AND a separate Quint stop from the Bourdon.....?

As far as I can see the Acoustic Bourdon will use the 10-2/3 for the lowest octave only whereas the Quint will be available for the whole pedal compass. Nicholsons have done this recently in a number of schemes.

A

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As everyone knows, a problem of only quinting the bottom notes of a 32 foot resultant is the awkward and often unpleasant 'join' between the lowest pipe of the 16 foot rank and the beginning of the quinted notes as you descend the compass.  It can sometimes be ameliorated by having the 16 foot rank go some way below bottom C so that only the lowest few notes, rather than the entire bottom octave, is quinted.  However, having a full compass Quint removes this problem.  So, whatever 32 foot effect you get, for better or worse, is at least shaded gradually from the top to the bottom of the compass rather than having a sudden discontinuity at some point.  It can be particularly effective when using digital pedal stops, where an additional problem is the difficulty of getting reasonably compact and economical loudspeakers which will radiate the lowest notes of a true 32 foot flue bass.  In these cases the 16 foot and quint ranks can be radiated from different loudspeakers, allowing the two tones to combine naturally in the auditorium just as they do from real pipes.  I don't think I need to offer too abject an apology for mentioning this here, given that so many pipe organs now use digital pedal stops.  It can be even more effective in a domestic setting for a home organ, where there are many problems connected with radiating a quiet, 'breathing' 32 foot bass in a way which sounds reasonably natural.

I have come to this view as a result of many experiments in rooms both large and small, although there is more than one way to achieve one's 32 foot Nirvana and I wouldn't want to be seen as dogmatic.  Having both options, as at Bristol, would seem to offer the best of both (imperfect) worlds.  Apart from anything else, it allows you to use the separate Quint with all the 16 foot flues rather than it being inextricably tied to just one of them.  It might be found that the acoustic quirks of the building result in one combination being better than another.

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Thanks for posting this Dave - very interesting and good to see that the cathedral is seeking to forge ahead with their organ scheme.

What do I know? And I'm sorry that I have never heard the Bristol organ, but I know it to be much revered and in need of restoration. It looks to be a really excellent scheme that makes the best use of the stops available whilst fully respecting the original. I'm not sure I have fully grasped the significance of the Quint business. Obviously, I know what a Quint is and what its effect is, but wouldn't a 'proper' smaller scaled 32 flue be better if the space could be found? I may sound ignorant in saying this, but I can't remember an instrument where having a Quint as a substitute for a 32ft was really successful.

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5 hours ago, Andrew Butler said:

As a former member of the cathedral congregation, and having played this organ, this seems a sensible scheme - particularly the Clarion Mixture.  Clifford Harker used to play RH up an octave with a big congregation.  However, I am surprised at the same nomenclature for two Clarinets...?  I am also struggling with the logic of an Acoustic Bourdon at 32' AND a separate Quint stop from the Bourdon.....?

The Clarion Mixture is a stop that I have heard of but, AFAIK, have never heard used. Same as an ordinary mixture or different in some way? I did try a YouTube search but to no avail.

Dave

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On 23/04/2020 at 06:42, Andrew Butler said:

As a former member of the cathedral congregation, and having played this organ, this seems a sensible scheme - particularly the Clarion Mixture.  Clifford Harker used to play RH up an octave with a big congregation.  However, I am surprised at the same nomenclature for two Clarinets...?  I am also struggling with the logic of an Acoustic Bourdon at 32' AND a separate Quint stop from the Bourdon.....?

I can think of at least one Cathedral organ with both a Choir and a Solo 'Corno di Bassetto', both of different character however.

It seems like a useful idea to have the Bourdon available at 32ft pitch as a softer alternative to the 32ft Open Wood, especially further up the compass where an Open Wood would tend to be too big to use underneath Swell strings, for example.  The Walker at Sacred Heart Wimbledon has this feature and it is very useful.

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2 hours ago, Philip Moore said:

A lovely organ.  I am so pleased it will be restored.  It sounds rich and warm.

Indeed. I attend Evensong on Wednesdays and tend to find that if the organist uses one of the low pedal notes it makes the stall vibrate (I tend to sit on the Cantoris side, below the organ) which is a strange feeling in some ways.

Dave

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This might be apocryphal, but I was told by an organist who came with a visiting choir at Winchester that he was asked by the choir to demonstrate the 32’ Contra Bombarde, fondly known locally as “Bertha”.  He said that when he did so, the floor in the organ loft literally started to shake.  I certainly remember a time when there was a noticeable acoustic rattle in one of the 32’ Open Woods.  I haven’t heard it for a long time now, so somehow it was cured.  It was a well-known phenomenon at the time and, although I haven’t checked the story with him, I was told that Colin Walsh on a visit improvised a theme on the pedal rattle.  That would have been long ago, I suspect when he was at Salisbury.

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On 25/04/2020 at 14:29, JWAnderson said:

It seems like a useful idea to have the Bourdon available at 32ft pitch as a softer alternative to the 32ft Open Wood, especially further up the compass where an Open Wood would tend to be too big to use underneath Swell strings, for example.  The Walker at Sacred Heart Wimbledon has this feature and it is very useful.

Absolutely agree - but the point I was seeking to clarify (and which has been answered further up) was why have an Acoustic Bourdon (ie quinted) AND a separate Quint borrowed from the Bourdon.

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  • 1 year later...

A quick bump to this thread. When in the cathedral recently for a service I saw a notice attached to the wooden screen in the north transept which indicates that the Dean and Chapter have applied to the cathedral's Fabric Advisory Committee for installation of a temporary (electronic) organ. In the same document, under the "Summary of the nature of work [...] [or, in the case of an object, a short description of it and details of the proposal]" it reads thus:


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"The Dean and Chapter of Bristol Cathedral will be undertaking a major restoration of the Cathedral organ. This work will be undertaken between January 2024 and August 2025. During this time the organ will be unusable and so a temporary organ will be installed. There are significant concerns that, due to its poor condition, the Cathedral organ as it is could fail before the restoration works begin. As such the Cathedral will be installing a temporary organ in early 2022, which will remain in place until the end of the restoration project. The temporary organ will come in two parts. The console is a (Viscount) Regent 356 SDK drawstop 3 manual organ, finished in dark Oak. It will be located in the Quire in between the choir screen and the Dean's stall. It has a 1.6mtr sq foot print. There will also be a package of twenty speakers which we are proposing to locate on and in a temporary freestanding structure built alongside the wooden screen in the south Quire aisle, to the same height."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The proposal was made on 20th January 2022 with the closing date for comments being 17th February.

I am told that the plan is to carry on using the pipe organ for as long as possible once the electronic is in place but if the pipe organ suffers a major failure then the electronic will be used instead. I understand that the contract for work on the pipe organ has gone to Harrison & Harrison.

Dave

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6 hours ago, Andrew Butler said:

It didn't work?

Exactly. I recall hearing that, before COVID, a lunchtime recital was taking place (I forget who was playing) and the programme included improvisations on "Come Holy Ghost" which was, literally, what was heard because the wind supply packed up in mid-piece. That hasn't happened since (AFAIK) but presumably something like that or a failure of the action, for example.

Dave

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5 hours ago, DaveHarries said:

Exactly. I recall hearing that, before COVID, a lunchtime recital was taking place (I forget who was playing) and the programme included improvisations on "Come Holy Ghost" which was, literally, what was heard because the wind supply packed up in mid-piece. That hasn't happened since (AFAIK) but presumably something like that or a failure of the action, for example.

Dave

It was me - the programme was all pieces based on Come Holy Ghost (Bach, Buxtehude, de Grigny, Duruflé) and a wind trunk burst after the Bach, so the rest of the recital was accompanied by a great gust of wind.

The wind of the Spirit also put in an appearance next time I played the Bach - it was during Covid so I had photocopied sheets to avoid needing a page turner and the last page blew off the music desk. It's clearly jinxed!

Paul

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It had a major restoration back in 1990 including retaining and presumably refurbishing its original pneumatic action, didn't it? Is it a case of 30 years daily use is good going, or are we better off not trying to restore ageing pneumatics but starting afresh?

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I recall a R3 broadcast of Choral Evensong back in the mid 1980s when Swell to Great wasn't working very well, and Chris Manners (of Percy Daniel Organ Builders of Clevedon) who had a son in the choir, spent the broadcast inside the organ holding things together - literally!

 

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We can all quote similar instances, such as sudden failures of electric actions, including those relying on electronics.  Or CDs which, bizarrely, proclaim in the sleeve notes that somebody had to be on hand in case things went wrong during the recording sessions as though it were something to be proud of.  I won't mention names or venues but could do so.  And these things are by no means restricted to our shores - they happen with pipe organs everywhere. 

This sort of thing does nothing to enhance the reputation of the instrument, nor does it fit well with those trying to construct arguments showing that pipe organs are a more economical proposition than digital ones.  I get lots of emails from people trying to do this, and it's amusing to see the lengths some of them will go to in an attempt to force the answer they want.

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18 hours ago, Contrabombarde said:

It had a major restoration back in 1990 including retaining and presumably refurbishing its original pneumatic action, didn't it? Is it a case of 30 years daily use is good going, or are we better off not trying to restore ageing pneumatics but starting afresh?

Your use of 'we' tells us that you have some input into the restoration at Bristol. Surely, I would have though that, seeing as a builder has been appointed and a date for the work to commence has been given, that a contract will have been signed which will encompass the restoration of the present action or starting afresh!  Is this not the case?

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I seem to remember being told that when  the organ was worked on in 1990, a condition attached to a grant given by English Heritage(?) stipulated that the action was restored & not altered. I wonder if any such conditions have been attached to the proposed works?

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7 hours ago, MikeK said:

I seem to remember being told that when  the organ was worked on in 1990, a condition attached to a grant given by English Heritage(?) stipulated that the action was restored & not altered. I wonder if any such conditions have been attached to the proposed works?

No idea on that: I seem to recall reading / being told that it is proposed to change the action. The website of the cathedral said when the project was launched that the fundraising target was £1.5m and they were "already over half of the way" towards raising it but I don't know the current situation.

Dave

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