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The State Of United Kingdom Organ Preservation


Michael Cox
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I wonder what discussion board participants feel about the state of organ preservation in the United Kingdom at the present time?

 

I have recently received the August 2004 issue of Organists Review and several items concern me.

 

While we read of a redundant Willis III organ receiving new life and love at Sutton Coldfield and the wonderful 1861 Walker organ in Tansor near Oundle (an instrument I have personally happily experienced) receiving an historic restoration by Bower and Company, I note other instruments receiving far lesser sympathetic treatment.

 

Take an advert of Principal Pipe Organs of York for instance. At St Olave's Church in York they have succeeded in adding high upperwork quite of out 1907 period character to the J.W. Walker organ as well as Choir mutations and an unenclosed diapason chorus. The justification it seems is to "develop and expand the instruments tonal choruses" and blend in "additional colours to match the musical needs". Whose musical needs one may ask- the organists, the Vestry, the church community?

 

Such statements speak of a dated reform philosophy that seeks to justify stylistic difference upon an integral entity. Was this not an organ that several years ago Nicholas Kynaston justified as having a mechanical overhaul without tonal change?

 

The other situation of concern was an advertisement for a project for Ashton Town Hall in Lancashire. Here it is deemed fitting to suggest elaborate digital control systems upon a 1909 4 manual Norman & Beard Concert Organ. Can someone please advocate an audacious return to period registrational control with exhaust-pnuematic playing technology, brass thumb pistons and pedal toe levers? An excellent role model (1906 Norman & Beard 4 man & ped. exhaust pnuematic) can be found here in New Zealand at Wellington Town Hall where our own South Island Organ Company undertook an historical restoration in 1986. Despite some suggestions to the contrary the original 5 thumb pistons to Great, Swell & Choir and toe lever registration system were left intact. Seasoned and highly professional concert organists such as Carlo Curley, Hayko Siemens, Christopher Herrick and Robert Costin have recorded or played there (plus many, many others) and have never uttered a word of complaint about the lack of registrational control, and this is a 57 stop 4 manual organ.

 

Have we gone too far in the disease of consoleitis, playing systems and over registration?

 

Do we really care about preserving or even recreating a number of period instruments and teaching future generations the way of playing them for which they were built?

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:) Thank you Mark

 

That was one of the points I wished to be noted. If the highly expertise like Roth and Herrick can do it with period instruments that can be controlled in a 'period' fashion then we could train an entire new generation in this way. This would challenge what I consider to be some current narrow thinking.

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Guest Geoff McMahon

Some of us are trying very hard you know, but it remains an uphill struggle here in Britain sometimes. When we restored the organ at Bristol Cathedral, we lobbied very hard to retain the original purely pneumatic stop action, but we were overruled by the consultant and organists who insisted that for modern day cathedral use, the organ had to have a full compliment of pistons. We did manage to persuade them that the pneumatic action to the keys must be retained and the stop action was done in such a way to retain the pneumatics as far as possible. Following our recent restoration at St. Mary at Hill, one eminent organist chastised us for not updating all the stop controls and for not changing the composition of the (admittedly slightly curious) mixture compositions. Only a few years ago the historic organ at The Royal naval College was enlarged and fitted with a detached electric console (thankfully retaining the tracker one) when a true restoration would have been both possible and desirable. A strong campaign by BIOS and of mine personally (we refused to quote to the suggested scheme) came to nothing. It happens too often that historic material even today gets treated in a cavalier way. We all just have to do our bit to secure a more enlightened attitude with regard to restoration.

 

John Pike Mander

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Well stated John and I am quite aware that Manders have led the way.

 

Does not the IBO enforce restoration guidelines that accredited members must adhere to? Are there guidelines as to altering playing technology?

 

Such a course of action would not be tolerated in Australia though to be frank the guidelines of the Organ Historical Trust of Australia went out the window when Schantz did their transmogification of the Hill, Norman & Beard concert organ of Melbourne Town Hall. New Zealand more or less meticously restored our Dunedin Town Hall version!

 

I understand Manders has been shortlisted along with Klais and Harrisons for proposals for the severely organ reformed 1911 Norman & Beard concert organ of Auckland Town Hall. I await further news with great interest.

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Guest Geoff McMahon

Yes, the IBO is indeed enforcing strict criteria in deciding who can be accredited with the "restoration" blob in the directory and it tries to keep an eye on what people are actually doing as well. I have to say that the Australians have been very much better at this than we have, particularly with their very interesting Hill survivals. In some ways they have been fortunate in missing out on the multiple rebuilding stages that so many of the English organs have gone through, but there are survivors here as well if you think about Christ Church Eastbourne, Eton College (Hills) Bristol Cathedral (bar the stop action) and Sacred Heart Wimbledon (Walker).

 

Michael mentions Auckland Town Hall (I had not heard we were on a short-list for that). What does one do with that one? There is so little original material left that I wonder if the term restoration could ever be applied. Reconstruction perhaps and it would certainly be interesting to do, but only if it is done authentically and would the result then be sufficiently versatile and generally useful to be acceptable? I am not saying it would not, but there is definitely a question mark there. Looking at it I had the feeling that the instrument had been altered very extensively including the moving of whole departments from one place in the organ to another. The dummy pipes at the upper level have (I am almost certain) been speakers at some point, but for what I don't know. I also think that there was a department above the central Great soundboard originally. I even wondered if there had been some swapping about of the Choir and Swell organs, but I am not sure. In any event, there are a lot of questions which need to be resolved and my fear is that in the end there would be so much conjecture as to make even the term "reconstruction" a little dubious. What are the general feelings about that in the antipodes?

 

John Pike Mander

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There's been a lot of debate, if not to say disagreement, in recent years around the historical restoration issue. One thinks of the recent case at Doncaster as a prime case in point.

 

It seems to me that both Mander's and Harrisons have done excellent work in this country and that we should not be too critical. Think about the De Montford hall for example, there was no move to modernise the console here as far as I'm aware.

 

I would add a slight note of dissent however. Those of us working in parish churches are looking to produce musical results, were not curators of museum pieces. I would certainly caution against too many tonal changes. There are so many examples of organs where upperwork added in the 1960's & 70's is completely out of character and fails to blend. However, few of us want to struggle with heavy actions, kick swells and generally uncomfortable consoles. If an organ can keep its tonal integrity but be made comfortable to play is that such a crime ?

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Guest Geoff McMahon

And that is, of course, the whole crux of the matter. How does one balance the requirements of a workhorse in a parish church (or any church for that matter) and the requirements of our historical heritage? Ultimately, one probably simply can't and decisions have to be made on individual merit. Whilst recognising the inevitable demands made on an instrument Sunday by Sunday, we also have musical and historical ones and the lack of pistons and kick swell pedals are an integral part of our attempts to build up a better understanding of how these organs were used and what the music sounded like when it was played on them. People sometimes forget that a large chunk of the choral repertoire, that which we are now told requires pistons was in fact written before there was much in the way of playing aids and one assumes it was playable then. Restored actions do not need to be heavy either as we have (I believe) adequately demonstrated at both St. Mary and Hill and the University Church in Cambridge. It is often simply the case that the action needs proper restoration and adjustment.

 

John Pike Mander

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Can the instrument become too clever?

Oh most definitely. I've had the opportunity to play a number of cathedral, abbey & collegiate church organs recently and have noticed a growing trend, where the instrument has been rebuild recently, for an "instruction book" to be available for visiting organists.

 

I'm not at all sure that it can be viewed as progress when you need to read instructions before you can play the darned thing.

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When visiting "ruins" -I mean organs that were silent since many years- I often noted the pneumatics were the least affected, when the electrics were rotted and the mechanical actions out of order. One day, with two friends, we even succeeded to restart a pneumatic Goll that was silent since more than 20 years (just enough to hear something).

 

When the tubes are short and the organ played daily, this action works quite well. So I would not advocate its re-use in modern organs, of course, but retaining it wherever possible. Mr Mander prefers the mechanichal action. It is an artistic choice nobody has to discuss ; but when he encounters another type of action, he will restore it and this is what everybody should do. Another important point : the lead tubes are horribly expansive ! The more so it is a shame to find them savagly cutted ans packed in a corner of the organ-loft, while a valuable instrument is now filled with cheap electrical cables, glued under the chests with chatterton !

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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A lot of sense is being talked here. The revolution in console technology had largely passed me by until I attended organ concerts at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (Marcussen) and Symphony Hall, Birmingham (Klais) given by Dame Gillian Weir and John Scott respectively. Both recitals were played on the detached 'tab consoles, and I was amazed that for the duration of both concerts, the only piston used was the sequencer. No stop tabs were changed by hand at any point, and nor were any other manual or pedal pistons used, as far as I could see. While this was incredible, I do feel something is lost in this rush to technology - the human element, perhaps?

 

On the other point raised in this stream about supposed 'improvements' being made to historic instruments. Harrisons and Manders are of course past masters at sympathetic restorations and rebuilds, generally careful to ensure that nothing added should intrude upon the overall tonal scheme. I say 'generally' as a bete noir of mine are the Bombarde reeds Harrisons installed at Westminster Abbey in 1987 which have none of the refinement of the other reeds and are, to my ears at least, not very musical. An exception, I think.

 

No, it is the smaller companies who are asked to restore old Willis, Walker, Hill organs and who make tonal alterations to what were already exceptional instruments. Reasons given for this are legion, ranging from the tonal scheme being developed and expanded to meet the current needs (St Olave's, York) to the original scheme being completed (All Saints, Hertford), complete with the now obligatory 32ft reed.

 

But what is to be done? At the end of the day, if the church organist wants his 32ft reed, or a high-pressure Tuba, and there is money to pay for it, there is not a lot anyone can do.

 

Jeremy Jones

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Guest Geoff McMahon

In theory, yes. But I have found myself arguing with organ advisors on too many occasions who wanted to add things or not take away later accretions which should have been removed or who have not wanted to carry out the work in the right way.

 

JPM

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I must say that I am impressed by the quality of discussion that my initial comments have created. I would take task with nfortin however, that the needs of parish church music take precedence over preservation issues. As a parish church musician in one of the last parish choral establishments in this country I'll happily swap my detached console, 35 stop knobs, numerous pistons & couplers, 45% degree stop jams, balanced electric action swell pedal etc. any day for a pristine Victorian console of archaic style if I could have the musical integrity and sounds that go with it!!

 

In Australia it is salient to watch several bright young stars with technique to burn get around kick swell pedals and pistonless consoles and make seamless and fine music. And they seem to play the right repertoire to match the instrument. Young student organists there seem to seek posts which offer such instruments.

 

I well remember John Stiller (now deceased), the Research Officer to the Organ Historical Trust of Australia prepare a performance of Liszt's BACH Prelude and Fugue on a fine 1888 William Hill & Son Organ in Wellington that once resided in the Kentish Town Congregational Church, London. When wanting a registration change for a passage he merely depressed the next Swell composition pedal; out came Open Diapason 8, Stopped Diapason 8 and Principal 4. "Perfect", he exclaimed and played the next section. As he was German trained, doesn't that tell us something.

 

Alot of blame can be laid at the feet of the RSCM/Anglican Organist mentality that claims service playing must be a highly coloured and orchestrated artform. For my money a parish organist that crys poverty on not having technology to serve him or her in accompanying Darke in F or a unison eucharist setting by Martin How (let alone Psalms) once a week shouldn't be the musician there in the first place.

 

As for organ advisors, I am aware that in Germany at least they are required to have specific training. Imagine Harold Vogel as an English consultant!

 

Perhaps the good people of York whether as musicians, organ advisors, or builders could explain the rationale behind their actions. That would make for an interesting forum.

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I agree totally with you Mark. The pyschological feeling/condition of playing any musical instrument is very important. I always feel that playing a preserved Victorian or Edwardian instrument that is unmolested allows one a unique experience into a past sound world or culture and therefore a deeper understanding of the literature.

 

I think this is one of the central issues why many are trying to re-discover the "Bach organ' concept and while there is such strong interest currently in the little known instruments of Eastern Germany.

 

Also, the historical archetype is the dominant force in world organ building. Take the instruments of Paul Fritts in Seattle, Washington State. He is always working in a North-German aesthetic as the principle goal but is not afraid to occasionally allow a more modern element or two in.

 

I get this feeling when I have listened to the Grosvenor Chapel organ in London. I think Bill Drake is a marvellous creator of antiquity yet still allowing his instruments to be creative and versatile for several other repertoires within the principal stylistic limitation. I believe stylistic limitation is a key issue to success in any pipe organ.

 

Peter Williams captured it all so abley when he coined the phrase 'the future of the organ lies in the past'. One element of this is preserving the best (and sometimes even the mediocre) of the past for the future.

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In principle I think all are right - especially when there is a system of control of any sort in place, whether it's the old non-adjustable pneumatic pistons (i remember well the Hill of Cape Town Cathedral in this respect - a marvellously easy instrument to control really flexibly!) or Cavaille_Coll's elegnat system of Ventils. But I am to play a recital on the famous Ladegast of Maerseburg cathedral tomorrow, the restoration of which was completed just a month ago. In the course of this the Barker levers which were at some stage considered to be necessary have been removed and there have been no modernisations of the stop action. We know that the first performances of the big Liszt pieces there required four registrants (there are exactly 100 stop knobs), and that the first perfaormance of "Ad nos" lasted three quarters of an hour. I can sympathise....... there are "Sperrventile", but only one to a manual, meaning that one can not use them in the french manner; there are three to the pedal, which helps quite a lot. I can not press the keys of the Hauptwerk down at all with more than one coupler, and even the pedals with HW coupled are really hard going.

Might this not have been a case for slight deviation from the principle? The sound is........glorious!

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I just learned Porsche subventionned Leipzig's Ladegast restoration. I hope they did not replace the Barkers there with turbos. Who added the Barkers at Merseburg? Was it not Ladegast himself? After all, Ladegast was one of ACC's pupils, so I don't see many "deviation" with the Barker lever in his organs.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Well, Leipzig ist not really a restoration. There is some reconstruction of lost Ladegast material, but the Sauer work is being retained as well as a lot of new pipe material being added, so the organ will attain a state which it historically never had - it will have 5 manuals and 109 (? - perhaps it's 104) stops. (Ladegast: IV/84). It will regain its Barkers (it had EP-action after the last rebuilds). But the console is very definitely Porsche!

 

Nobody could tell exactly when or by whom the Barker levers in Merseburg were added -"about the turn of the century", I was told, so since Ladegast died in 1905, it is certainly possible that he did the work himself. And of course he used Barkers in most of his later, large instruments.

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  • 2 months later...
Guest Roffensis

I think that things are getting better as regards not altering our genuinely important Organs.Alteration often stems from personal preference, in particular from crazed power mad Organists who insist on that 32 foot reed and Tuba, but have little regard to what is currently there. How often is a organ ruined before Mr Norganist goes to pastures new?? I have witnessed the demise of many fine Organs, but am glad to see that at least now we are more geared to preserving historic gems, Rotherhithe, Adlington, as well as our "greater" instruments. What was deemed a radical rebuild of St Pauls in '73 was actually the most logical approach to it, stripping way years of terrible carbuncles and odd bits of inferior (non original) pipework poked into every available crevice. What is there now is cohesive. That is one example, and "recent" rebuilds of such as Lichfield, Rochester, Winchester and Bristol have all sought to retain what was there, even reversing some "damage" (Ely). So, its not all doom and gloom, but organ advisors perhaps do have too much sway?, and so do Organists. Organ builders put their placques on consoles, and by their work they gain a reputation. Good or bad.

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  • 1 month later...

Even so, I think that there will always be dispute as to what consitutes a "genuinely important organ". An instrument may be relatively modest, and neither be particularly well built nor have a fine tonal character. Yet, as it ages, it can assume an importance out of all proportion to its real quality, simply because other, more worthy instruments no longer exist or have been altered to such an extent that they no longer represent the relevant historical tradition.

 

I also find interesting the following point related to organs of merit. Sometimes worthy instruments can be found in churches or civic halls, where the authorities have effectivly left them to rot as being irrelevant to the needs of modern society or liturgy. Better of course is where those authorities see some value in selling to groups looking for second-hand instruments. But herein lies a problem.

 

Transferred to another venue, the organ's tonal balance might in fact be rather unbalanced in the new acoustic. Undoubtedly you (as the purchaser) want to have it sound as it did in its glory days. So, aiming for its original sound (or what you reasonably believe to be its original sound), do you revoice it to suit its new environment? Or make additions in keeping with its original style, aimed at producing a proper tonal balance? Or perhaps a combination of these?

 

Or fearing that any change could be seen as a form vandalism, do you merely keep the organ in its original state, and make the best of it that you can in the circumstances?

 

Malcolm F

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Anyway, I believe it would be prudent to modify the least possible. And of course, to try to find an organ that was built for as comparable a room as possible. There are invaluable organs in rural, forgetted areas, where there is no money any more since enough time to have old organs left. I always prefer to encounter an original ruin than a spoiled, "working" organ..."updated" every 15 years or so. I am very pleased to see how modern builders -like our host- are prudent and carefull in their restorations today. One can really say we have nowadays a "modern restoration method" that could well stop the endless spoiling of organs with each rebuild, as this is ongoing since...?

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Overall, I agree, although I think there is often a wish when looking for and purchasing a 2nd-hand instrument to go beyond what is strictly needed. And when one does this, trouble can follow. I suspect I'm opening myself up for a fair bit of criticism now, but here we go ...

 

Quite some years ago - and I'm looking back about 17 years here - I was a member of a church's committee briefed with finding and acquiring a 2nd-hand organ. What the church really needed was a good-sized 2 manual or moderate 3 manual instrument of 25 to 30 stops, and we certainly had that primarily in mind. However, we didn't find one that we felt was good enough or otherwise suitable. What we did find was a large 3 manual organ of almost 50 stops. It was solidly built, tonally quite nice (subject to what I will say below), and in quite good condition as it had had periodic maintenance.

 

The organ we found had been built in the early part of last century - during the late 20s, I think from memory - and was fairly typical of its time. Its action had always been all-electric. The Great Organ contained, in addition to a fine diapason chorus of 16', 2 x 8', 4', 2' and 3 rank mixture, a leathered Diapason Phonon of great power but not the least hint of blend. It also contained a Tromba on high pressure, supposedly voiced to do double duty as both the organ's primary chorus reed and as a quasi-Tuba, but in fact being far too powerful for reasonable use as a chorus reed, especially (we surmised) in the more organ-friendly environment of our church where it was to have been installed. The Pedal reed was a match for the Great Tromba, and was therefore simply overwhelming in all but full organ combinations. At some stage, apparently after (but not too long after) the organ was built, the Tromba was made playable from the Choir Organ at 8' and 4' pitches (although an extra ovtave of pipes was not added). The former organist had normally used the Swell Organ chorus reeds - Fagotto, Cornopean and Clarion - as the primary reed chorus, although they weren't really quite big enough to balance the Great Organ diapason chorus.

 

As it was, this was one of those happy situations where another party was interested in the same instrument, and beat us in acquiring it. However, before it did so, we had preliminary discussions with a certain builder - not Mander Organs, I would add - regarding a few changes and additions that would be made to render the instrument more suitable to our church. The proposed changes were apparently rendered possible by the organ being all-electric, although I confess I have little knowledge of electrical matters, and simply don't know how easy or difficult they would have been. These were:

- Keeping it playable in its then-current condition from the existing console;

- Adding a 2nd console that would be for normal use. It was to have had a 4th manual - we were really going the "whole hog", weren't we? - from which the Diapason Phonon, Tromba and its extension would be available (these last two, however, still being available on the Choir Organ). A more normally scaled Trumpet was to be added, playable from the 4th manual, which could then be coupled through to the Great Organ to provide a full Great when necessary.

- Finally, with respect to what would have been available from the 2nd console, extending the new Trumpet down to provide a more generally usable Trombone 16' on the Pedal Organ, and also allowing the separate drawing of the Swell chorus reeds on the Pedal.

 

In retrospect, I see these as fairly substantial changes, although at the time we were able to rationalise them with easy consciences. However, a friend of mine still occasionally calls me "the vandal", although not with the same feeling that he once did ...

 

Regards

Malcolm F

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