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St Albans Cathedral Organ


contraviolone
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The most significant memories I have from the services we attended as children are organ pieces and improvisations on the Voix céleste with a 32' Subbass. Of course this is only a little part of the organ, and not the most important by far. Let's say it's like the leather in a car.

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Andrew Lucas is surely correct in stating that making music is more important than making sound effects. However, would he not admit, as a former distinguished organist of St Paul's Cathedral, that in that building good intentions to make the former tend to end up producing the latter?

 

Jeremy Jones

London

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I'm not at all sure what Jeremy Jones is trying to say, or trying to get me to say in his post.

 

My experience at St Paul's was always that the greatest challenge to any player in any style of music was clarity of texture. With such a hugely challenging acoustic

sometimes things came off and sometimes they didn't. The building itself creates its own unique 'atmosphere' - creating 'atmospheric' or aetherial effects was therefore always the least of my worries!

 

It is not for me to judge whether any of us were successful in this. All I can say is that we all tried very hard!

 

When I was recently attending a service at St Paul's I thought that Huw Williams playing was a model of clarity, elegance and poise. The music lived and sang and there wasn't a single gratuitous special effect.

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I'm not at all sure what Jeremy Jones is trying to say, or trying to get me to say in his post.

 

Re-reading what I said in my previous posting, I perhaps did not explain myself clearly.

 

All I was saying was in that in such a large acoustic as St Paul's, there must be occasions when however honest, musical and articulate the organists' playing may be, such artistry can be lost on those listening in the main body of the cathedral. But what a sound!

 

Jeremy Jones

London

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  • 1 month later...

I read the above with interest. Does this mean that the talked about plans to add a 4th manual have been dismissed? This seems another case of the organist as cab driver; always wanting another stop. Ralph Downes was a brilliant designer and if we are not careful we will end up with no organs by him in the UK left in their original state. We have already seen the enlargement of the Gloucester organ and its spilling out of the organ case again into the pit of the screen. And goodness knows what we will end up with in the RFH (if anything?). Why can we not regard organs by Downes as historic and worthy of preservation. The time has come to call a halt to all this.

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Downes was certainly a good organ designer, although arguably, even he did not get everything right. I believe he mis-calculated at the RFH with the chorus reeds. All the examples he cites in his book were situated in large French churches with stone vaults and a warm acoustic. Wilst I accept that the acoustic properties at the RFH were somewhat conjectural until the hall was actually finished (at which point some of the natural resonance had to be recovered by various means) Downes himself did have some idea that it was going to be pretty dead. The reeds as finished always sounded hungry, as it were. At Gloucester, in that superb acoustic, naturally no such problem arose.

 

Incidentally, it is not quite fair to complain about the Gloucester organ once more overflowing its case. Downes' scheme as executed in 1971 left the Pedal Flute 16' and the Sub Bass 16' in the screen (the Sub Bass being hung upside down, presumably the better to project into the building). As Mark Blatchly says in his excellent post, the new additions to the Pedal Organ at Gloucester have 'given the organ some trousers' - it did rather lack gravitas. Anyway, the player can always choose not to use the new stops. The same could be said of the recent trend of adding electronic 32' and 16' pedal stops (Blackburn and Southwell, for example). Downes himself did not hesitate to throw out pipes and other material if he felt there was a strong cause. Take Paisley Abbey - whilst he did not actually replace the C-C case pipes, he had then re-cast, with altered feet lengths, but retaining the same grade of metal and scaling. That in itself is arguably a stronger case of vandalism than the new additions at Gloucester, where the Downes material has been retained (with two exceptions) exactly as he left it.

 

Phew!

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This is quite interesting to me, in that I still wonder why the french reeds meet with so much interest in Britain. But maybe the "english french reeds" are something else, a kind of interpretation; I personally would try -in a new organ, absolutely never in any existing one- to have french reeds on the Récit, and english ones on the Great. But that would be something typically belgian. In a genuine english organ I scarcely imagine an ACC's reed chorus, let alone a Trompette like Isnard's at St-Maximin.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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I refer you back to my post on the 5th November, which I hope is very clear about the stance we intend to take.

 

I am in total agreement about Downes' genius, but remember this organ is not 100% his creation (there was substantial input from Hurford and also Harrisons, of course - please read Baroque Tricks page 202 before considering making further pronouncements). Nor is it unaltered.

 

Downes was a tinkerer, as many perfectionists are, and his input on several subsequent changes to the St Albans organ is also quite clear. He had second (and later third) thoughts about the voicing of certain stops, not least the Swell Mixture, which is in its third incarnation already, with completely new pipework each time. I have on file a note in Barry Rose's hand of a conversation with Downes at the time of the last replacement of the Swell Mixture which is quite revealing about his views on the voicing of one or two other ranks about which he obviously had some misgivings.

 

But no-one with ears to hear can really say that the Fanfare Trumpet is an acceptable substitute for properly balanced Great reeds in the tutti. These were originally planned, but later revisions to the specification put other stops higher up the priority list. Where else did Downes use a high pressure, and effectively horizontal, reed? (Certainly not the reed at Fairfield which is much more polite than ours!)

 

Hurford always wanted a 32' reed but cost prevented it. I know this because he and I talk to each other. Therefore if we can find the proper room and the necessary finance then we will probably gain one. It will not be a Contra Bombarde, but would expect it to be balanced more like the stop at St David's Hall. (When I played there recently I found that the two organs are remarkably alike, particularly to balance and register, but then their size and specifications are very similar too).

 

Neither of these additions will substantially alter the fine sound and quality of the instrument. What we do have is a superb instrument which, though not totally flawless, has evolved over the last 43 years and I have every intention of making sure it remains for future generations in tip-top condition.

 

All previous changes were made largely to counteract the fact that in the great length of our nave the organ loses a lot of its impact.

 

Do remember that organs are there to do a job of work, and if they cannot fulfill that job then those who own them, or have a responsibility for them, may need to review the situation.

 

To answer the first question - there will be no fourth manual at St Albans, nor extra swell box, orchestral reeds or Gambas. They would ruin the instrument's concept and character and we have dismissed any suggestions of such things.

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  • 3 months later...
Peter Hurford, one of the orginal designers, also thinks these additions would be suitable enhancement of what is still a great organ. Unlike the RFH organ it sings into an acoustically sympathetic building which is partly why it sounds so good.

 

It sounded quite superb today on Choral Evensong - as did the choir.

AJJ

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It sounded quite superb today on Choral Evensong - as did the choir.

AJJ

 

 

I agree. You can hear a recording of this broadcast, available up to seven days after the original broadcast. In this recording, you can hear the organ accompanies Stanford, Purcell and Ireland and plays a Vierne movement at the end, all superbly genuine and authentic.

 

However, I'm afraid you'll need a high speed connection to hear a decent version of the recording. Below is the link:

 

Choral Evensong from St. Alban's on 22 June 2005

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