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If you don't already read the very entertaining British Pipe Organs site on Facebook, there is a really interesting discussion going on at the moment: - https://www.facebook.com/groups/355269498442029/?fref=mentions

It's all about the merits and de-merits of altering organs when they come to be rebuilt, and generally fiddling with them. Truro is seen, by all of us, I am sure, as a great unchanged cathedral organ (bar the moving of the console, subsequent renewal of the console in the Mander style - [which to my mind was a shame] - and the bringing forward of the Tuba)  at the one end of the scale, and then there is, say, Blackburn with its added manual and its digital pedal stops, and the 70's rebuild of Ely, at the other. In the middle of this are instruments like York and Canterbury which had been changed almost endlessly since their incarnation, but both of which seem to have found a happy and harmonious new and glorious state consequent upon their very recent rebuilds. I am bound to say that having followed the work on these two instruments from afar and not knowing either from a playing point of view, H&H and the cathedral teams and advisers have done astoundingly well. But, in 25/30 years' time, when these instruments are no longer 'new' will the incumbent organists still want to fiddle when they are rebuilt? (Some of us will never know!) And is it reasonable that they might? Anyway, I do not seek to detract from the discussion on the other site - it, and other discussions there, are always lively and interesting.

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12 hours ago, Martin Cooke said:

If you don't already read the very entertaining British Pipe Organs site on Facebook, there is a really interesting discussion going on at the moment: - https://www.facebook.com/groups/355269498442029/?fref=mentions

It's all about the merits and de-merits of altering organs when they come to be rebuilt, and generally fiddling with them. Truro is seen, by all of us, I am sure, as a great unchanged cathedral organ (bar the moving of the console, subsequent renewal of the console in the Mander style - [which to my mind was a shame] - and the bringing forward of the Tuba)  at the one end of the scale, and then there is, say, Blackburn with its added manual and its digital pedal stops, and the 70's rebuild of Ely, at the other. In the middle of this are instruments like York and Canterbury which had been changed almost endlessly since their incarnation, but both of which seem to have found a happy and harmonious new and glorious state consequent upon their very recent rebuilds. I am bound to say that having followed the work on these two instruments from afar and not knowing either from a playing point of view, H&H and the cathedral teams and advisers have done astoundingly well. But, in 25/30 years' time, when these instruments are no longer 'new' will the incumbent organists still want to fiddle when they are rebuilt? (Some of us will never know!) And is it reasonable that they might? Anyway, I do not seek to detract from the discussion on the other site - it, and other discussions there, are always lively and interesting.

Good question.
It seems to me that tastes change quite regularly in the organ world, at least in this country, and consequently many organs (if the money is there) are re-worked/re-designed (put it as you will) quite regularly to fit in with the tastes of the time.
As an example, the recent changes effected at York have, admittedly, resulted in a more effective output of sound particularly in the nave where, as I understand it, the organ was rather lacking in power.  At the same time, though, I believe that all of the historic pipework, especially from Hill and Elliot and Hill, has been retained.

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23 hours ago, Martin Cooke said:

If you don't already read the very entertaining British Pipe Organs site on Facebook, there is a really interesting discussion going on at the moment: - https://www.facebook.com/groups/355269498442029/?fref=mentions

I

I do look at British Pipe Organs occasionally but I don't 'do' facebook! What immediately strikes me is how civilised and polite we are on here compared to that site!

I know that I've ruffled a few feathers here but I hope it has never got as bad as some of the comments I have read recently on there!  

Having said that I have noticed some really interesting threads. There was a brief one, albeit with inaccurate information I hesitate to add, on the organ in All Saints church Rudston in the East Riding of Yorkshire. An instrument I know well. And some excellent pictures of all kinds of fascinating instruments too!

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For all that there is a growing opinion that organs should be left alone, it takes only one person to compromise, or destroy, one on the grounds that certain things need 'improving'. No organ is safe. I'm no better than anyone else. There is not one organ that I have known intimately, which I would not have 'improved' in some little way, had the money and opportunity been available, even if it were only replacing a stop with a similar one of better quality.

How many organs do we now have on which it is possible to hear Stanley and Boyce voluntaries exactly as the composers heard them? - i.e. organs that have had no alterations or reconstructions whatsoever. Not many, I think.

It's not only Britain. The late Prof Peter Williams, always one for challenging assumptions and making people think, once wrote that he could not be entirely sure how an Arp Schnitger organ originally sounded. No doubt someone will have mentioned Cappel, to which I have no doubt that Williams pointed out that it was not voiced for the church that now houses it. Perhaps he was splitting hairs, but, along the same lines, all the organs at which Bach presided have been lost. How sad is that? The reconstruction at Arnstadt is precisely that; it is not the organ that Bach played.

The neo-Baroque movement of the '50s and '60s is now seriously out of favour - to put it mildly. I am tempted to suggest that this is because it was espoused primarily by certain leading players of the time who prized clarity of texture and genuine, idiomatic organ music above vague, stodgy effect. A good benchmark was the end of the Adagio  of BWV 564: you could judge how musical an organ was by how clearly you could hear the semiquavers just before the final chord. The iconic, eclectic instruments of that era are gradually disappearing. Buckfast Abbey has gone, replaced by an instrument generally considered to be inferior, and St George's Windsor, possibly the most eclectic of them all, has been significantly compromised, with its French elements removed. We still have Gloucester, St Alban's, Coventry and Brompton Oratory (only the latter unaltered), but for how much longer? And where does the RFH fit into this picture? Some of these organs are idiosyncratic, to say the least, but they are part of our musical heritage and, as such, ought to be preserved.  Today orchestral arrangements and the old 'town hall' style of entertainment is in fashion. This is also part of our musical heritage, but that is no excuse for forcing every instrument to confirm.

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22 hours ago, Barry Oakley said:

For what it's worth, my view of Rudston is that too much has been crammed into the chamber (case). The result of whims?

 

That case, of course, originally contained a four manual, forty nine stop organ complete with a full Ped. including  32 sub Bourdon, four 16's and Reeds at 16 & 8, Gt. to Mixtures + Trumpet, Sw to Mixtures and reeds at 16, 8, 8, 4, a choir organ 8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 4, 4, 2, and Clarionet and a four stop Solo including Tuba Mirabilis. When I played it, in around 1972, (The Vicar was Eric Dancy, his ashes buried outside the church at the East End. He made the most wonderful home-made soup I seem to remember), it had been significantly reduced but was still a big two manual. It was rebuilt in 1996, I think, with the funding coming from the organist. A new console, a new choir organ and some of the 'big stuff' reinstated. It's a big organ for a small village (Pop. 409), to say the least and I would imagine you have to be very careful registering. I'm told there is no longer an organist there!

You're probably right Barry, definitely the result of several whims, I should say,  but there's not as much as there was originally.

The instrument, at Rudston, could, very easily, fit into another thread running at the moment!

 

 

Good post, by the way, VH!

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8 hours ago, Vox Humana said:

For all that there is a growing opinion that organs should be left alone, it takes only one person to compromise, or destroy, one on the grounds that certain things need 'improving'. No organ is safe.

Interestingly, I have heard that same observation made about ‘Romantic’ (or organs deemed to be Romantic), especially ones by Father Willis and the other leading 19th century builders.  I was in a group visiting Exeter Cathedral and particularly remember Lucian Nethsingha being highly critical of his predecessor’s changes and additions.  A Father Willis organ should be left alone, he said, and didn’t need any ‘improvement’.  He was equally dismissive of solid state electronics in transmissions and registration aids, saying they had proved unreliable!  This might have been 30 years ago.  The setter board was alongside the console with a three-position switch (on, off and neutral) for every stop and piston combination.

Your comments about Buckfast and Windsor are interesting.  The only recordings of Windsor I possess were by Sidney Campbell, and the organ sounded decidedly French in the mostly French repertoire on that disc, including a particularly fine Franck 1er Choral.

Of all ‘modern’ organs I think Coventry takes some beating.  The changes haven’t been that drastic, have they?  I guess that Ralph Downes’ organ at the Oratory is considered sacrosanct.

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3 hours ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

A Father Willis organ should be left alone, he said, and didn’t need any ‘improvement’.

 The first organ I ever set my mitts on was a humble II/P parish church Father Willis, still in original condition. It was, of course, of Rolls Royce quality, but, being buried in a brick organ chamber in a sizeable and very lofty church with a dead acoustic, it was barely adequate for the job, especially the small Swell, which was largely ineffective when the congregation was singing.  Inevitably a later organist had it rebuilt in the '70s, much to my regret.  I have to say that the firm (Deane's) did a very good and musically artistic job (and left the Great mostly untouched), but it's hardly a Father Willis any more.

3 hours ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

The only recordings of Windsor I possess were by Sidney Campbell, and the organ sounded decidedly French in the mostly French repertoire on that disc, including a particularly fine Franck 1er Choral.

Of all ‘modern’ organs I think Coventry takes some beating.  The changes haven’t been that drastic, have they?  I guess that Ralph Downes’ organ at the Oratory is considered sacrosanct.

One of the wonderfully chameleon characteristics of the Windsor organ was that full organ could sound either English or French as you wished, depending on which stops you used. The Swell reeds, the Solo Orchestral Clarion and the Pedal Trombone had French shallots, although tonally the Swell reeds were more English Channel than either pure French or English. So, for Whitlock, say, your full organ would consist of full Great and Swell, but the moment you added the Solo Trumpets the sound would take on a distinctly French flavour.

Coventry was almost a twin of Windsor, specification-wise, the main differences being (1) that its Solo division is another chorus, rather than Windsor's more traditional selection of solo voices and (2) it doesn't have a Chair Organ. Apart from that it was (IMO) probably the better organ in that the whole thing was newly constructed and therefore had a tonal integrity that Windsor lacked in one or two places owing to the use of second-hand material. Playing it felt rather different, due to the detached console, but, from what I remember (from a fleeting acquaintance)  the sound was quite similar, even down to the Solo Trumpets.  I'm not at all up to date with Coventry, but, so far as I know, it is still largely untouched, except that the Solo trumpets have been revoiced.

 

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11 hours ago, Vox Humana said:

For all that there is a growing opinion that organs should be left alone, it takes only one person to compromise, or destroy, one on the grounds that certain things need 'improving'. No organ is safe. I'm no better than anyone else. There is not one organ that I have known intimately, which I would not have 'improved' in some little way, had the money and opportunity been available, even if it were only replacing a stop with a similar one of better quality.

Perhaps we should draw a distinction between 'could' be improved and 'should' be improved.  I might be custodian of, say a Father Willis, and feel that a certain stop should be louder, but if I had the opportunity to change it I wouldn't even consider doing so, as the unaltered instrument has integrity and should be left alone.  But an organ that has already been altered and 'improved' many times over the years is different, even if you take the view that the alterations are part of the instrument's history and should be respected. 

 

11 hours ago, Vox Humana said:

The iconic, eclectic instruments of that era are gradually disappearing. Buckfast Abbey has gone, replaced by an instrument generally considered to be inferior, and St George's Windsor, possibly the most eclectic of them all, has been significantly compromised, with its French elements removed. We still have Gloucester, St Alban's, Coventry and Brompton Oratory (only the latter unaltered), but for how much longer?

I agree with you, and I have a great admiration for these instruments - the iconic ones should be left alone.   But for every Coventry Cathedral, Brompton Oratory, St Alban's  etc that are successful examples of that aesthetic, there are ten badly executed imitations that we all know only too well.  That unfairly gives the whole period a bad name.  

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On 10/07/2021 at 15:26, DariusB said:

Perhaps we should draw a distinction between 'could' be improved and 'should' be improved

I think there is also a need for a contrast between ‘need’ and ‘would benefit from’ in some schemes and fundraising. I’ve seen several schemes where additions which are exciting though arguably not strictly necessary are presented as essential to a fundraising committee. In a construction project anyone can see which aspects could be tamed down but in an organ rebuild it is not very transparent to the layperson.

For clarity I am absolutely not thinking of Leeds here but of a couple of major church jobs.

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3 hours ago, OwenTurner said:

I think there is also a need for a contrast between ‘need’ and ‘would benefit from’ in some schemes and fundraising.

The trouble is that incumbent organists always seem to be adamant that the alterations they want are 'needed', irrespective of what others think. A case in point is the two-manual Father Willis I mentioned above. I could mention other cases, as I am sure we all could.

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I've never found myself in a position where I had the opportunity or the will or felt the necessity to 'improve' an instrument and I have never been responsible for an 'historic' instrument.

The first church where I was the custodian of the organ was in a rough area of a big city, a relatively large three manual instrument built by a good Durham firm (not H & H) that was in relatively good condition but was, just, too big for the church. The congregation was small, the  choir was dying and, I suspect, the church went down a more evangelical route in order to attract more 'bums on seats'!! The instrument is still there, unaltered, and, now, not in good condition I'm told.

The second instrument was in a bad way. The church was 'high' to say the least - 'smells and bells' in the extreme! And the organ was used purely to accompany the plainsong and the occasional hymn at Benediction which, to be honest, it did perfectly satisfactorily. There was no music before the Mass and I chose music for afterwards that the instrument, and me, could cope with. The local organists looked down their collective noses at it, and me for even being there! We didn't sing Coll Reg or Stanford - in C! - that wasn't a part of our tradition. The instrument worked Sunday by Sunday - just, and did its job and a local organ builder would come out if there was anything wrong. Eventually the church was taken over by another religious group, it wasn't what they needed, it went to a skip which, in truth, was probably the best place for it.

The third instrument was put together by a local organ builder from a much larger, three manual, instrument which he had taken out of a another church, flogged off the bits that he thought would make him 'a few bob' and sold the rest, as a two manual, to the place were I was eventually appointed. This was a RC church, run by a religious order, in the days when they didn't need permission to 'improve' things. The Parish Priest was desperate to improve the quality of the music. The old organ, he was advised, was 'falling apart' (I suspect this wasn't entirely true) and he was 'sold a pup'!!! The organ ,despite being 'new' was terrible, you name it and it was wrong, and the organ builder, eventually, was given his marching orders! My brief was to build up the choir which I did - hugely successfully! But the organ was always a disappointment and totally inadequate for the demands of the choir and the church liturgy. There, probably, was money but the church was not large, the smallest the BBC had ever broadcast from, (there were eight 'different flavoured' Masses on a Sunday and 3000 people came through the doors every week) and there was no space to do anything  The console, placed originally in totally the  wrong place, became a little peripatetic but, apart from removing the most foul sounding Gt. Trumpet, we managed Sunday by Sunday. It's still there. The forty strong choir has since diminished and I suspect the instrument is now just about adequate for the needs of the liturgy although I do hear that work is being done on it - but I can't find what and by whom! I have a suspicion it is 'being improved'!!

I suppose the point I am making is that, as a provider of music for liturgy, two of the instruments I have encountered have, despite their downfalls, just about done the job. The third, the latter, I wouldn't have known what to do with it - apart from consign it all to the skip and start again. And, given the rather small building, the lack of space etc. what would I have put in its place?

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On 10/07/2021 at 15:26, DariusB said:

Perhaps we should draw a distinction between 'could' be improved and 'should' be improved.  I might be custodian of, say a Father Willis, and feel that a certain stop should be louder, but if I had the opportunity to change it I wouldn't even consider doing so, as the unaltered instrument has integrity and should be left alone.  But an organ that has already been altered and 'improved' many times over the years is different, even if you take the view that the alterations are part of the instrument's history and should be respected. 

 

I agree with you, and I have a great admiration for these instruments - the iconic ones should be left alone.   But for every Coventry Cathedral, Brompton Oratory, St Alban's  etc that are successful examples of that aesthetic, there are ten badly executed imitations that we all know only too well.  That unfairly gives the whole period a bad name.  

Yes, I think it is a matter of drawing a distinction between iconic or 'special' instruments and others - the majority? - that are more ordinary and were probably built to a fairly low budget. I struggle to agree with the notion that EVERY mechanical action pipe organ must be preserved at all costs without tonal or other changes, especially when they are still needed to do a job in church or elsewhere. Sure, these days, I would be very reluctant to see such an instrument given electric action - that ship has sailed, long ago - but where there is a rank of pipes sitting on an expensive slide on a very expensive soundboard, that is, tbh, dull or unpleasant, I don't have too much problem with 'trading it in' for something more useful that will genuinely help the organ to do a better job of leading the congregation. And no, I'm not saying that I want to rid a Great of its Dulciana, especially if the 8ft flute is too loud to accompany the swell Oboe, but I might be tempted to swap it for a smaller diapason, or perhaps a 2ft stop if there weren't one. 

I think I have said before, that I really do think there are places where a digital organ is going to serve best, largely because of restrictions in space, or because the only place for a pipe organ makes it too remote from the singers. And are pipe organs, per se, really threatened by digital organs? Try typing 'Bristol' or 'Sheffield' or 'Wiltshire' into the address box in NPOR. Hundreds of instruments appear. There are thousands and thousands of pipe organs in existence. The threat to them, surely is from their own complexity and the cost of maintaining them over a long period of time, the lack of people to play them, despite lots of effort, and the fact that fewer and fewer people are attending church.. or, at least, the sort of church where a conventional pipe organ is used. 

Moving on... One thing I would be interested to know is how far one can go in improving a heritage instrument. Near me, there is a beautifully toned one manual William Hill instrument. It has a short compass pedal with a permanently coupled  Bourdon and the pedal board appears to have been extended by four notes. Anyway, the pedals are not easy to use in a conventional way. So, would an organ builder be allowed to reconstruct this instrument with a pedal board that COULD be used and is as close to a modern accepted norm as might be imagined? This would, at a stroke, broaden the scope of this instrument and make it much more versatile without changing a solitary stop or pipe. But presumably, a purist would nail themselves to the pedalboard to prevent that from happening! Or would they?

 

 

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12 hours ago, Martin Cooke said:

are pipe organs, per se, really threatened by digital organs?

I did chuckle at the "nailing to the pedalboard" comment - thanks for that.

I can name three examples where good and ambitious choirs thriving in suburban areas have tired of their previously deemed adequate organ and redirected the funds that might ordinarily have been spent on a wash, valet and a minor tinker or two, being 30 years or so since last rebuild, to an electronic with a specification at least times the one of the pipe organ.

The most extreme of these three is https://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=S00098 compared to http://broughtonparish.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Organ-Spec.pdf. I should confess to not having heard the electronic but my memory of hearing the Ainscough was that it did the job well enough. If the spec of that electronic was pipes then there'd hardly be room for a pulpit in that building never mind a choir.

The other two places are St Paul Sketty Swansea where I spent a spell as assistant, and Cuthbert's Darwen. Both were worthy of being rebuilt with a few swap outs, in my opinion.

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8 hours ago, OwenTurner said:

I have to say that I have a certain amount of sympathy with that scheme and I might, had I been in the business of producing music Sunday after Sunday with a competent choir, have gone down the same road.

I have an ex-student of mine, now organist of a 1960's church considered to be architecturally important, and containing works of art/sculpture/glass of national significance and importance,  who has inherited a very early 'hybrid' instrument. (for various reasons, at the moment, I can't name the church!). It has always been a disappointment - even from the first day, I suspect! (Interestingly, at the beginning, the church was given works of art/glass/sculpture to adorn the building but the organ seemed to get forgotten!) The 'hybrid', almost every time I have sat at it I feel that I have made a fool of myself, is just about on its last legs and, whilst there is money, there is not the interest or the will to spend £250/300k, or more, on the kind of instrument worthy of the architecture of this important building. Architecturally the building has nowhere to put a 2/3 manual pipe organ and, though totally beautiful, is a disaster, acoustically. Siting a pipe organ, even if there was a space, and hearing it around the building, would always be difficult. 

They, at this moment in time, are going down a similar route to that above. The early 'hybrid' is being removed - tomorrow! 

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8 hours ago, OwenTurner said:

The most extreme of these three is https://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=S00098 compared to http://broughtonparish.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Organ-Spec.pdf. I should confess to not having heard the electronic but my memory of hearing the Ainscough was that it did the job well enough. If the spec of that electronic was pipes then there'd hardly be room for a pulpit in that building never mind a choir.

My flabber is well and truly gasted. What an extraordinary specification (2005/2016).

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8 hours ago, Dafydd y Garreg Wen said:
17 hours ago, OwenTurner said:

My flabber is well and truly gasted. What an extraordinary specification (2005/2016).

It ought to be strong enough to lead a congregation you’d think….. in the next parish.

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Does action have something to do with it? I can't imagine a large mechanical action organ such as Birmingham Symphony Hall having a radical rebuild such as has happened to Leeds Town Hall (down from 5 to 3 manuals, and now going up to 4). Is there something about future proofing in the design of a mechanical organ that electric action organs have more scope for moving things around and adding ranks to cubby holes until the thing becomes unwieldy and someone decides to go back to the drawing board of the original builder or some other point in time (and then continue in a giant circle perhaps)?

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An electric organ (even a sampled hauptwerk) can never match a real pipe organ. Mostly in the bass 16ft and below ranks. I'm a bass guitarist and someone once said, the only way to hear the pure note is a pipe organ. Speakers still can't match the real natural bottom end. Also, as someone mentioned how strong that could be, again, they may not have the power to match a pipe organ of a similar size.

Anyway, back to the main debate. An organ I'm now playing regularly after a 25 year break had a refurb 5 or so year back. Back in the 60's an organist had a 4ft on the great and choir moved to make them a 2ft (missing the top octave). As the organist at the time of the refurb knew this he had them moved back to the original spec. Now when I play the organ, I miss those 2ft pipes. There are none on those divisions. Was the organ with the 2fts or the original spec better. The previous to refurb spec here. https://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N16005 You can see the ranks that were changed.

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