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Exeter Cathedral Organ


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It is rather quiet here at present, so I thought that I would drop this little thought onto (into?) the board:

I happened to visit Exeter Cathedral a few months ago and noticed a stylish new display board that was appealing for money for, amongst other things, the organ.

This struck me as slightly odd, since it has recently had around £150,000 - £200,000 spent on it - and gained in the process new 32ft. and 8ft. reeds on the Pedal Organ, a few alterations to the Choir Organ, a new Octave 4ft. to the G.O, a new Viole Céleste* to the Solo - and a Nave section. As far as I am aware, the cost of the restoration had been met by the completion of the work.

This is an organ which I know well, having had lessons on it for several years. Personally, I think that it has never sounded better. There are, in my view, still a small number of things which need attention; the GO mixtures need replacing with new pipework - the present ranks add virtually no brilliance, and the IV-rank stop in particular just sounds unpleasantly quinty. I would also re-instate the Choir Twenty Second and Cimbel (26-29-33) - I think that it was a mistake to lose those ranks. Apart from that, the instrument is fairly complete.

Does anyone happen to know if another rebuild is planned? This hardly seems credible, since a reasonably large sum of money has been spent on the organ only three or four years ago. However, failing this, I am at a loss to surmise the purpose of the new appeal.




*This is, in fact, the old Viole Octaviante, moved up an octave and tuned sharp. This rank itself was, prior to 1965, on the Swell Organ as a Celestina 4ft. (not tuned sharp - or flat.)

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It is rather quiet here at present, so I thought that I would drop this little thought onto (into?) the board:

 

I happened to visit Exeter Cathedral a few months ago and noticed a stylish new display board that was appealing for money for, amongst other things, the organ.

 

This struck me as slightly odd, since it has recently had around £150,000 - £200,000 spent on it - and gained in the process new 32p and 8p reeds on the Pedal Organ, a few alterations to the Choir Organ, a new Octave 4p to the GO, a new Viole Céleste* to the Solo - and a Nave section. As far as I am aware, the cost of the restoration had been met by the completion of the work.

 

This is an organ which I know well, having had lessons on it for several years. Personally, I think that it has never sounded better. There are, in my view, still a small number of things which need attention; the GO mixtures need replacing with new pipework - the present ranks add virtually no brilliance, and the IV-rank stop in particular just sounds unpleasantly quinty. I would also re-instate the Choir Twenty Second and Cimbel (26-29-33) - I think that it was a mistake to lose those ranks. Apart from that, the instrument is fairly complete.

 

Does anyone happen to know if another rebuild is planned? This hardly seems credible, since a reasonably large sum of money has been spent on the organ only three or four years ago. However, failing this, I am at a loss to surmise the purpose of the new appeal.

*This is, in fact, the old Viole Octaviante, moved up an octave and tuned sharp. This rank itself was, prior to 1965, on the Swell Organ as a Celestina 4p (not tuned sharp - or flat.)

 

Being a West Country lad, I grew up knowing and loving this instrument even before I was capable of appreciating the finer points of organ design and tone.

 

I too hope that nothing major is contemplated and potential fears can be laid to rest.

 

FF

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Being a West Country lad, I grew up knowing and loving this instrument even before I was capable of appreciating the finer points of organ design and tone.

 

I too hope that nothing major is contemplated and potential fears can be laid to rest.

 

FF

 

===================

 

I've only ever heard Exeter Cathedral organ once for a recital, and I thought it sounded magnificent then, back in the early seventies or so.

 

Interestingly, that was the only time I've ever seen more than a thousand people attend an organ-recital in the UK.

 

The awful thing is, I can't recall who was performing!

 

:)

 

MM

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This is interesting.

 

Whilst I am prepared to admit that I am probably biased, I have long thought that this is one of our most beautiful and distinctive cathedral organs.

 

It has a particular tone - the tutti (with or without the two solo reeds) is quite recognisable and in a way, unique.

 

Now that it has a really good 32p reed, it also has a good sense of gravitas - something which was a litlle light previously. I am aware that a previous contributor did not like this stop and felt that, visually, it was a distraction. However, it is not that obvious; and this instrument really did need the underpinning effect of a good 32p reed.

 

It also has one of the brightest Tuba stops which I have ever heard - I could almost like it....

 

The quiet effects, mostly of great beauty, are many and varied. In particular, it has possibly the best quiet solo reeds which I have ever heard (Solo Organ: Orchestral Oboe, Vox Humana and Corni di Bassetto). In my view, they are somewhat superior to those at Truro. The latter examples also suffer from being unenclosed - notwithstanding the subterfuge of transferring from the Solo Clarinet to the Choir Corno di Bassetto, which in any case ties-up another clavier.

 

If you have not yet heard Exeter, I recommend a visit. The cathedral is also utterly beautiful - like a jewel in stone and glass, largely due to the number and the size of the windows, many of which have plain glass. However, about twenty or thirty years ago, much of the interior stonework was repainted in a presumably historically-informed medieval style. The result is not gaudy - just stunning.

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Funnily enough, I've just spent four days there. Nobody mentioned anything about another rebuild, though I didn't meet any of the music staff so that's hardly surprising. Nice to see that the display included a good photo of the organ console. I wasn't moved to read it, but I wouldn't have thought that Exeter is contemplating any further work. Rumour has it that, in common with many other cathedrals, it's finances are somewhat fragile. I wonder whether what they are actually doing is what I understand Rochester is doing: trying to raise enough money to create a fund that will secure the future of the cathedral music in perpetuity (and the fabric and other things). I know someone who might possibly have a better idea. I'll ask.

 

I still don't like the 32' reed. It's just plain raucous and doesn't become this refined old lady. And, with due respect, I am quite positive that the Mixtures should be left alone. I doubt they were ever intended to be brilliant. What they do add is a wonderful warm effervescence and bloom to the tone. Changing them to something more scintillating might make the organ just a leetle bit more eclectic, but it would be changing its character in a quite unforgiveable way - IMHO.

 

Of course, you've now got a diap chorus in the minstrels' gallery if you want extra "oomph", though personally I wouldn't want to use it for anything other than other than accompanying a nave-full of people. You'd also need to test the volume down in the nave. I was relieved to be told that the gallery Trompette is just as loud as the Tuba; you'd never guess at the console. (It meant I could use it in the middle section Parry's I was glad which we sang at a big nave service for the Queen's 80th last Friday - yes, we did the "vivats"!)

 

I'm not entirely sure that all the electrics are right even now. Once or twice I found couplers drawn that I'm fairly sure I hadn't touched. I suppose I have to assume it was just carelessness on my part, but I'm not convinced.

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Now that it has a really good 32p reed, it also has a good sense of gravitas - something which was a litlle light previously. I am aware that a previous contributor did not like this stop and felt that, visually, it was a distraction. However, it is not that obvious; and this instrument really did need the underpinning effect of a good 32p reed.
What it needed was something akin to the vintage E. M. Skinner Bombarde at St Paul's, Winston-Salem: noble and smooth - yet still pew-rattling!

 

It also has one of the brightest Tuba stops which I have ever heard - I could almost like it....
Indeed. I'm no lover of Tubas either, but this one really is a very fine example. It was exactly the right for the start of the Parry.
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This is interesting.

 

 

It also has one of the brightest Tuba stops which I have ever heard - I could almost like it....

 

Obviously a case where "must try harder" is the appropriate comment from the list of 100 pithy comments for writers of school reports!!!

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What it needed was something akin to the vintage E. M. Skinner Bombarde at St Paul's, Winston-Salem: noble and smooth - yet still pew-rattling!

 

Indeed. I'm no lover of Tubas either, but this one really is a very fine example. It was exactly the right for the start of the Parry.

 

This is all well and good, VH, but the Skinner rank which you mention is almost certainly a full-length stop - and probably therefore rather larger-scaled. The only place that one could be put on the Exeter organ was horizontally on the north side of the Pulpitum. There was simply no room for anything other than a half-length moderate-scaled rank.

 

Whilst I do accept that beauty is in the eye (or in this case, ear) of the beholder, I did not find anything raucous about the stop. Try S. Eustache, Paris, if you want raucous. Nice organ, though.

 

I am puzzled about your comments regarding the electrics - certainly nothing malfunctioned the last time I played Evensong there.

 

The information which you were given regarding the Solo Trompette is not strictly true. Lucian Nethsingha* had it revoiced and somewhat toned-down quite a number of years ago (in my opinion to its detriment). It is now a pale imitation of its former self. Certainly I can testify to the veracity of this, having played and heard the organ on many occasions, often in an empty building, without the distraction of tourists, clergy, etc.

 

You know, VH, I am so close to agreeing with you about the Exeter Tuba - I do not know what is the matter with me. Perhaps I had better go for a brisk walk and go and play my own church instrument and immerse myself in the sound of a good, bright chamade again!

 

The GO mixtures - no, I am sorry, but I cannot agree with you there. The next time you have occasion to play there, try the GO chorus to Fifteenth (without any other claviers coupled) and then add the IV-rank mixture. The effect is unpleasantly quinty, it adds no real brilliance and it does nothing to improve the clarity.

 

In fact, there were substantial alterations to the mixture scheme of this instrument at the 2001 restoration. The Swell mixture (formerly 22-26-29-33) was pitched lower and the Choir lost its Cimbel (26-29-33). Personally, I feel that both these steps were retrograde and should never have been contemplated. It is true that the Swell mixture was bright and had to be used with caution. Nevertheless, in this reasonably large building - (but not vast, if one were to compare it to Lincoln, for example) - this brightness I now find is greatly missed.

 

However, it is still a superb instrument and has quite the most comfortable console ever (apart from, perhaps, Coventry). In particular, the pedal-board (new in 1985) is incredibly comfortable.

 

Incidentally VH, you are correct - the cathedral authorities are attempting to raise money to endow the musical life of the cathedral (again). However, the display board which I read also mentioned that some of this money was to be spent on the organ. It did not read as if this were to be for maintenance, for the record.

 

 

*Actually he seemed to think that most of the stops were too loud on this organ. The Choir Octaves Alone, together with the three extra top notes to the Lieblich Bourdon, the Lieblich Gedeckt and (I think) the Viola and the Lieblich Flute, were installed at the instigation of LN, in order that certain quiet accompanimental passages could be played on the Lieblich Bourdon (sounding an octave higher). Apparently he felt that this was quieter than the Gedeckt. Hmmm....

 

:)

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There are Tubas & Tubas. I found that Hill Tubas were among my favourites as they did not always come on like a ton of bricks.

 

En Chamades are usually far brassier and thinner in tone and to me can change the tone of an organ from British to Spanish if added as a climax on the last chord, or on occasions used as a solo reed.

 

F.F.

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There are Tubas & Tubas. I found that Hill Tubas were among my favourites as they did not always come on like a ton of bricks.

En Chamades are usually far brassier and thinner in tone and to me can change the tone of an organ from British to Spanish if added as a climax on the last chord, or on occasions used as a solo reed.

F.F.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>



Oh - only on the last chord? :)

Talking of Hill Tuba ranks (yes, I know, I have gone off-topic again) - does anyone know what happened to the Hill Tuba on the Choir Organ of St. Stephen's Church, Bournemouth? The rank which is there now was apparently 'altered' by R&D, but comparing it to the Hill Tuba stops which I have heard, it sounds more as if they actually replaced it.
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Am I right in thinking that the Solo Organ speaks towards the nave? It certainly sounded like it and would explain why the Clarinet was added to the Choir Organ.

 

You are correct - the Solo is behind the 'Choir' case in the Nave - Great & Swell speak across the building (which could account for the somewhat 'less than directional' feel to these - away from the console at least) with the Choir speaking into the Choir - as one might guess.

 

AJJ

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Am I right in thinking that the Solo Organ speaks towards the nave? It certainly sounded like it and would explain why the Clarinet was added to the Choir Organ.

 

Indeed, as Alastair has said. The duplicate 'Chaire' case was added at the time of the Willis rebuild in 1891.

 

For a number of years, one or two of the access panels (at the back of the Solo box) were removed, in order that the pipes of the Solo Organ might be better heard in the Quire.

 

The pipework of the Pedal Fifteenth (originally intended to be part of a 15-19-22 Mixture) is situated in front of the Solo shutters, right behind the case front.

 

The Pedal Open Diapason (W) and its octave extension lie flat (underneath the new 32p reed) on the north side of the Pulpitum.

 

In the main case, the GO and Swell are both on two levels (with the GO reeds connected to the higher flue sound-board mechanically - which is why only a transfer coupler could be provided, as opposed to separate drawstops).

 

The Choir Organ, prior to 1965, was partly enclosed (Salicional, Vox Angelica and Clarinet). Interestingly, before the 1933 rebuild, the GO had fifteen stops and the Solo and Choir organs each had ten. In addition, there was a somewhat higher proportion of 8p and 4p stops than there is at present. Allowing for the fact that in 1965 H&H probably combined two slides in order to provide the IV-rank mixture (the old 17-19-22 Mixture being re-cast as a 29-33-36 Sharp Mixture), somewhere along the line, the main organ actually had a greater number of speaking stops (except on the Pedal Organ) than it has at present.

 

However, if one were to look inside to-day, the case is packed full with chests and pipes. Apparently, it was only possible to make room for the 32p reed by replacing a number of the bulky relay cabinets with a rather more compact Solid-State system.

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(with the GO reeds connected to the higher flue sound-board mechanically - which is why only a transfer coupler could be provided, as opposed to separate drawstops).
Now there's a thing. Last week the "Great Reeds on Choir" stop wasn't transferring anything. It made the reeds available on the Choir alright, but it didn't disengage them from the Great, so you couldn't accompany the Great reeds on the Great flues. I can't believe that was how it was intended to be, but if it was it seems rather pointless to me. I still wonder about the electrics. :)
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The next time you have occasion to play there, try the GO chorus to Fifteenth (without any other claviers coupled) and then add the IV-rank mixture. The effect is unpleasantly quinty, it adds no real brilliance and it does nothing to improve the clarity.
I can understand your point of view, M. Cochereau. The nice thing about being a peripatetic organist is that you can afford to pick and choose your repertoire for the instrument. If I had to live with this organ day, day out, I guess I would feel obliged sooner or later to play some Bach or Buxtehude and quite possibly then I would come to agree with you. But I would have thought that these Mixtures were never intended to be used with the Great flues alone. Were they not designed to top the reeds in the traditional Romantic manner?

 

I did use Great to Mixtures plus Full Swell once or twice and personally didn't find the result at all offensive.

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Now there's a thing. Last week the "Great Reeds on Choir" stop wasn't transferring anything. It made the reeds available on the Choir alright, but it didn't disengage them from the Great, so you couldn't accompany the Great reeds on the Great flues. I can't believe that was how it was intended to be, but if it was it seems rather pointless to me. I still wonder about the electrics.  <_<

 

No it is not - you are correct in that it is supposed to prevent the rank or ranks playing on the host clavier. So there are some electrical problems!

 

Out of interest, was the Great Reeds on Pedal similarly malfunctioning?

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I can understand your point of view, M. Cochereau. The nice thing about being a peripatetic organist is that you can afford to pick and choose your repertoire for the instrument. If I had to live with this organ day, day out, I guess I would feel obliged sooner or later to play some Bach or Buxtehude and quite possibly then I would come to agree with you. But I would have thought that these Mixtures were never intended to be used with the Great flues alone. Were they not designed to top the reeds in the traditional Romantic manner?

 

I did use Great to Mixtures plus Full Swell once or twice and personally didn't find the result at all offensive.

 

No - the reeds were intended to cap a classical/eclectic chorus. There is no tierce rank anywhere on the GO, so saving the mixtures for the reeds is somewhat pointless! The reeds are, in any case, superb stops, which do not need the help of any mixtures.

 

No - the result is not offensive - just not very bright.

 

The other problem with Bach on this organ, is that it has now lost an important part of its secondary chorus. It is now necessary to couple the Swell to the Choir, in order to balance the GO.

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Are there any well-made, fairly recent CD recordings of the instrument?

 

I found a photograph of the beautiful case on the choir screen in an organ calendar back in the 1980ies, and was deeply impressed.

 

This kind of placement, by the way, seems to be the dream of most organ builders who undertook the difficult task to provide an apt organ for a cathedral space. Josef von Glatter-Götz, when designing the organ for the Muenster at Freiburg, wrote about that in an ad in ISO information; and in the competition about a new instrument for Cologne cathedral back in the early 1990ies, many builders favoured this idea, but weren't allowed to develop it due to restraints from the cathedral architect.

 

There is a beautiful drawing by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the eminent 19th-century German architect, that illustrates his vision of an organ resting high on a cast-iron bridge in the westernmost choir bay at Cologne -- in a gothic revival case, but with Pedal towers, Positive case in the railing and all. Now that would have been a spectacular organ!

 

Best,

Friedrich

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The most recent recording is of Andrew Millington playing. However, it is clearly aimed at the casual tourist and so the repertoire is not particularly interesting. I have not heard it, so cannot comment on how well the organ sounds.

 

If it is still available, there is an excellent recording entitled Organ Imperial (the label is, I believe, Priory), on which Paul Morgan plays a good variety of music - without 'pot-boilers'! He was appointed Sub Organist in 1969 and was made Organist a few years ago (Andrew Millington is Director of Music) and so he knows this organ better than anyone else. I thoroughly recommend this recording.

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