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John Compton

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I assume the book in question is Whitworth's 'The Electric Organ' (1948 being the last edition I think).  Whitworth clearly had a profound admiration for Compton's work and deals extensively and exhaustively with Compton's innovations.  Although the primary concern is with the use of electric mechanisms in the control of pipe organs, he also deals with electronic instruments, insofar as they had evolved at the time of writing.  This book is invaluable in putting Compton's work in a wider context both nationally and internationally; I'm less sure that it addresses the issues that MusingMuso poses.

 

Regards.

 

Hi

 

Quite likely - I have read it - but a long time ago. It's a far better book than his Theatre organ one. Sadly, I don't have a copy - maybe if I find one in a s/h bookshop when I've got some spare cash I'll buy it.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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I assume the book in question is Whitworth's 'The Electric Organ' (1948 being the last edition I think).  Whitworth clearly had a profound admiration for Compton's work and deals extensively and exhaustively with Compton's innovations.  Although the primary concern is with the use of electric mechanisms in the control of pipe organs, he also deals with electronic instruments, insofar as they had evolved at the time of writing.  This book is invaluable in putting Compton's work in a wider context both nationally and internationally; I'm less sure that it addresses the issues that MusingMuso poses.

 

Regards.

 

 

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

 

 

The following site offers a very interesting comparison between the style of sound associated with the John Compton theatre organ, and that of other makers such as Wurlitzer.

 

It's interesting to compare the lineage of the one against the lineage of the other, and convincingly demonstrates that to which I refer when mentioning the build up of tonal synthesis (Compton) and the brassier, sassier orchestral style of Wurlitzer; derived from the Hope-Jones style of "one man orchestra".

 

Sadly, the tracks do not demonstrate the Compton "Melotone" unit, which added a haunting, ethereal, electronic sound to the ensemble, but nevertheless, I don't think a pipe-organ can get much closer to the sound of a good electronic valve-organ of the period than this.

 

As a period piece, this is absolutely wonderful, for the tracks have been re-processed and cleaned up from the old 78 rpm discs, and the playing is to an exceptionally high standard; perhaps a style of "Palm Court" playing associated with people like the legendary Percy Whitlock at Bournemouth, when he wasn't playing real organ-music and composing.

 

Whatever one's personal preferences in music, the clean, vibrant playing of Robinson Cleaver FRCO in the two tracks presented, is simply wonderful and so very British.

 

http://organreplay.com/

 

You need to scroll right down to the bottom for the tracks mentioned.

 

MM

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

The following site offers a very interesting comparison between the style of sound associated with the John Compton theatre organ, and that of other makers such as Wurlitzer.

 

It's interesting to compare the lineage of the one against the lineage of the other, and convincingly demonstrates that to which I refer when mentioning the build up of tonal synthesis (Compton) and the brassier, sassier orchestral style of Wurlitzer; derived from the Hope-Jones style of "one man orchestra".

 

Sadly, the tracks do not demonstrate the Compton "Melotone" unit, which added a haunting, ethereal, electronic sound to the ensemble, but nevertheless, I don't think a pipe-organ can get much closer to the sound of a good electronic valve-organ of the period than this.

 

As a period piece, this is absolutely wonderful, for the tracks have been re-processed and cleaned up from the old 78 rpm discs, and the playing is to an exceptionally high standard; perhaps a style of "Palm Court" playing associated with people like the legendary Percy Whitlock at Bournemouth, when he wasn't playing real organ-music and composing.

 

Whatever one's personal preferences in music, the clean, vibrant playing of Robinson Cleaver FRCO in the two tracks presented, is simply wonderful and so very British.

 

http://organreplay.com/

 

You need to scroll right down to the bottom for the tracks mentioned.

 

MM

 

 

I hate to appear to be niggly but as far as I know Robbie Cleaver was only an ARCO but whatever he had was immaterial he was a wonderful performer - in church or cinema.

 

FF

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I'm finding out some very interesting things about John Compton and his life-work, but something fairly leapt of the screen when I was hunting down the subject of electronic-organs and additive sine-wave synthesis.

 

I can across a brief reference to a patent (1933?) under the name of John Haywood Compton (I'm sure that is too rare a name to be anyone else) concerning a device which switched to another set of tuning-values using two keyboards; one of which was a few musical commas away from the other.

 

I can only guess that this was some sort of experimental attempt to embrace the "perfect" harmonic intervals and combine them with the less perfect intervals of the tempered scale, as one finds in the pipe-organ, and which contributes greatly to the overall effect of real pipes.

 

Whilst I am aware that Compton did not work alone, I just wonder to what extent John Compton himself was personally responsible, or whether it was one of his specialist employees who was involved in this sort of theoretical work?

 

The more I read, the more impressed I become, beause it is self-evident that Compton was really at the absolute cutting-edge of music technology, at the heart of which, was the desire to create the best possible organ sound, using both pipes and electronics in a completely interchangeable way.

 

I recall (I think correctly) Stephen Bicknell writing something on the lines of, "the 32ft harmonics (Bass Cornet) work because the pipes are very dull in tone".

 

In effect, if this is translated differently, perhaps what Stephen Bicknell wrote about is a sort of natural organ-pipe additive sine-wave synthesis phenomenon, which of course is exactly what John Compton was doing with the electronic organ.

 

Even at this early stage, I would venture to suggest that John Compton was easily the most innovative and brilliant mind in British organ-building: certainly in the years 1930 - 1950.

 

It is absolutely fascinating, but ever so difficult to piece together from the evidence readily available.

 

Anyone know which school he went to? I bet he had a good Physics teacher.

 

MM

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Elvin notes that Compton went to King Edward's School, Birmingham (and was head boy).

 

Regards.

 

 

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

 

 

As I suspected; one very bright cookie!

 

Permitting my imagination to wander a little, I can't help but wonder what it was like to be educated at a top school in a city like Birmingham, where the white-heat of technology was possibly on a par with anything in the world. In those days, schools had very strong links with local industry, learned societies, tradesmen and technological institutions.......the grammar schools being the resource from which the next generation of engineers and craftsmen were drawn.

 

In fact, I can only think of Manchester as the other possible rival in the technology stakes.

 

Looking back at my own grammar school education, science and technology were a powerful presence in the school, and I think I was all of thirteen when I started to learn how to use machinery such as lathes, grinders, milling machines and drills, as well as saw wood, plane it, glue it, sand it and french-polish it. We even had lessons in "Technical Drawing" which have come in handy over the years.

 

I wonder how many school-leavers to-day could re-build a car engine, lap a bearing or replace interference-fit valve-guides into a cylinder-head?

 

Add to all this the technology and science of electronics and electrical-engineering (then all the rage), audio-electrical acoustics and rapid advances in materials science, and it amounts to a quite extraordinary hot-house of new, exciting ideas, into which the young John Compton must have been planted.

 

The more I read, the more I am convinced that John Compton was a product of that unique age; ever experimenting with new ideas and, perhaps, only brought to an end by the retro-movement of "classical revival".

 

What I find fascinating, is the fact that John Compton may well have been initially inspired by the work of Robert Hope-Jones, as well as being a major UK competitor to the Rudolph Wurlitzer company, but what Compton did was technically far in advance of anything that they achieved, and to a very high quality.

 

As for the aesthetic of installing those ghastly little toggle-switches for the ventil controls, I have often wondered why they had to be so noisy in operation, and look so awful.

 

The the truth dawns, that these nasty little switches still work perfectly after sixty years.

 

As for the Solo Cello and Melotone units; the engineering was just amazing, and I immediately think of old Ferrograph tape-recorders and BBC broadcasting equipment of the 1950's and early 60's.....and they still work too!

 

Quite, quite fascinating.

 

MM

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Something I was shown that impressed me a great deal was an iris valve for adjusting the wind to large bass pipes. Rather than the traditional slide under the pipe foot, there was a circular device which opened like the lens of a camera ensuring that the wind was always delivered to the centre of the foot and speech wasn't therefore affected. Simple and clever.

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Something I was shown that impressed me a great deal was an iris valve for adjusting the wind to large bass pipes.  Rather than the traditional slide under the pipe foot, there was a circular device which opened like the lens of a camera ensuring that the wind was always delivered to the centre of the foot and speech wasn't therefore affected.  Simple and clever.

 

This was a great idea and various other devices such as in the foot of a large pipe, a circular piece of card on a dowell that could be rotated or a cord wrapped round a dowell that could be `wound in' to increase the wind way obstruction did the trick but so often it was simply blocks of wood jammed in the foot of the pipe that meant the pipe had to be heaved out to make any adjustment.

 

This was fine in the `good old days' but with modern heating and resulting lack of humidity, these stopping blocks could shrink, fall out on to the pallet below causing all sorts of problems and often needed considerable strength to get the fault sorted out.

 

FF

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This was a great idea and various other devices such as in the foot of a large pipe, a circular piece of card on a dowell that could be rotated or a cord wrapped round a dowell that could be `wound in' to increase the wind way obstruction did the trick but so often it was simply blocks of wood jammed in the foot of the pipe that meant the pipe had to be heaved out to make any adjustment.

 

This was fine in the `good old days' but with modern heating and resulting lack of humidity, these stopping blocks could shrink, fall out on to the pallet below causing all sorts of problems and often needed considerable strength to get the fault sorted out.

 

FF

 

 

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

 

 

Now let me guess.......

 

Were those iris valves made from Bakelite?

 

Compton liked his Bakelite....I have a Compton ashtray made of the stuff.

 

MM

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Hi

 

Following from earlier comments, John Compton's description of his enforced stay in Italy in WW2 are recounted in The Organ no.114 (Vol.XXIX - Oct 1949) pp.60f

 

the article is titled "Towards a more complete Diapason Chorus".

 

I shall re-read it when I've got some spare time!

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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

Now let me guess.......

 

Were those iris valves made from Bakelite?

 

Compton liked his Bakelite....I have a Compton ashtray made of the stuff.

 

MM

 

Well the iris leaves themselves were of thin brass, but the rim of the unit was indeed bakelite. The foot of the pipe was sized so as to rest in this bakelite 'cup' without exerting any pressure on the iris valve itself, so that you didn't have to remove the pipe to make any adjustment.

 

Compton's engineering workshop included bakelite presses, so they manufactured all these items, including electric stop actions, magnet caps and bases, compound magnet units, ashtrays etc. themselves on site.

 

The ash trays (assuming yours is the same as the ones I've seen) were a promotional give-away to organists, cinema owners, company directors and such like during the 1930s. The picture in the bottom is, I think, the console of the Windsor Playhouse Compton.

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Well the iris leaves themselves were of thin brass, but the rim of the unit was indeed bakelite. The foot of the pipe was sized so as to rest in this bakelite 'cup' without exerting any pressure on the iris valve itself, so that you didn't have to remove the pipe to make any adjustment.

 

Compton's engineering workshop included bakelite presses, so they manufactured all these items, including electric stop actions, magnet caps and bases, compound magnet units, ashtrays etc. themselves on site.

 

The ash trays (assuming yours is the same as the ones I've seen) were a promotional give-away to organists, cinema owners, company directors and such like during the 1930s. The picture in the bottom is, I think, the console of the Windsor Playhouse Compton.

 

 

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

 

 

I just read through this without much thought......but on re-reading it, I was struck by the phrase "Compton's engineering workshop."

 

Did any other organ-builders ever have such a thing, I wonder?

 

MM

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

I just read through this without much thought......but on re-reading it, I was struck by the phrase "Compton's engineering workshop."

 

Did any other organ-builders ever have such a thing, I wonder?

 

MM

 

Back in the days of the large firms, most of them had an `engineering workshop' of some sort where the ironwork components etc. were manufactured. i.e. reed stay supports, bellows counterbalances and supporting brackets, but I don't think there was anything to compare with Compton's set up.

 

FF

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Walcker even had "Think tanks", leading prospective reflexions

about the future of the organ and its music. The organ of Sinzing

was issued from such programs.

 

Pierre

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Guest Barry Williams
Hi

 

I think I'd menioned it (but perhaps that was on the other list in a parallel discussion!)

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

 

Does anyone know of a church where an Augmentum model organ was installed? I recall mention of a church in Scotland (possibly Glasgow).

 

Barry Williams

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I was browsing through "past" topics and noticed this one on Compton. I notice that nobody has referred to Ivor Buckingham's research into this subject. His website is The Compton List To a large extent there is everything you would wish to know (and more) about Compton - and especially the cinema work. He has produced a book called The Compton List which details information of almost every cinema organ the firm ever built. Also details of Electrostatic work, solo strings and the likes....

Well worth a look.

 

Q :)

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I was browsing through "past" topics and noticed this one on Compton. I notice that nobody has referred to Ivor Buckingham's research into this subject. His website is The Compton List To a large extent there is everything you would wish to know (and more) about Compton - and especially the cinema work. He has produced a book called The Compton List which details information of almost every cinema organ the firm ever built. Also details of Electrostatic work, solo strings and the likes....

Well worth a look.

 

Q :)

 

 

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

 

 

 

The problem I have with just about everything I have ever read about John Compton, is the simple fact that everyone has mentioned the "nuts & bolts" but failed to recognise what he actually achieved, and how he did it.

 

I would suggest that even to-day, there are a number of very important lessons to be learned about John Compton's ability to hear what others often failed to hear; especially just a few years following his death, when cloth seemed to replace grey-matter.

 

In all fairness, it is easy to see why a theatre-organ buff can get carried away in the belief that they are writing something of great value, but it's a bit like train-spotting when a list is just a list, or a detailed collection of sightings.

Not being a train-spotting type of organist or even organ enthusiast, I would question the value of any "list," which would probably read like my own train-spotting books from the days of steam, when the name "The Duchess of Atholl" meant rather more than just a Scottish castle, malt whisky and grouse-shooting.

 

To the best of my knowledge, no-one has ever poperly addressed the very clever, and rather scientific way that John Compton approached the art of organ-building, and from which tonal-design important lessons still remain valuable to-day in relation to "straight" organs rather than extension ones.

 

Without the science and the engineering skills, John Compton would just have been a latter-day Robert Hope-Jones, but we know that he was far, far cleverer than that; especially in the way he approached classical organ-building, and built up the tonal synthesis from actually not a great deal: especially with the completely extended instruments rather than the re-builds of already substantial instruments.

 

The Compton List may have value, if it contains the design patents or details of the clever engineering and electrical controls which Compton designed or used, but without reading it, I cannot know for definite. Even in terms of console ergonomics, John Compton could put most in the shade.

 

If I were to compare John Compton to his rival Robert Hope-Jones, the latter would probably emerge as never much more than a telephone engineer. Without Norman & Beard or Wurlitzer, I suspect that Robert Hope-Jones would have foundered badly; as of course he eventually did.

 

MM

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

The problem I have with just about everything I have ever read about John Compton, is the simple fact that everyone has mentioned the "nuts & bolts" but failed to recognise what he actually achieved, and how he did it.

 

I would suggest that even to-day, there are a number of very important lessons to be learned about John Compton's ability to hear what others often failed to hear; especially just a few years following his death, when cloth seemed to replace grey-matter.

 

In all fairness, it is easy to see why a theatre-organ buff can get carried away in the belief that they are writing something of great value, but it's a bit like train-spotting when a list is just a list, or a detailed collection of sightings.

Not being a train-spotting type of organist or even organ enthusiast, I would question the value of any "list," which would probably read like my own train-spotting books from the days of steam, when the name "The Duchess of Atholl" meant rather more than just a Scottish castle, malt whisky and grouse-shooting.

 

To the best of my knowledge, no-one has ever properly addressed the very clever, and rather scientific way that John Compton approached the art of organ-building, and from which tonal-design important lessons still remain valuable to-day in relation to "straight" organs rather than extension ones.

 

Without the science and the engineering skills, John Compton would just have been a latter-day Robert Hope-Jones, but we know that he was far, far cleverer than that; especially in the way he approached classical organ-building, and built up the tonal synthesis from actually not a great deal: especially with the completely extended instruments rather than the re-builds of already substantial instruments.

 

The Compton List may have value, if it contains the design patents or details of the clever engineering and electrical controls which Compton designed or used, but without reading it, I cannot know for definite. Even in terms of console ergonomics, John Compton could put most in the shade.

 

If I were to compare John Compton to his rival Robert Hope-Jones, the latter would probably emerge as never much more than a telephone engineer. Without Norman & Beard or Wurlitzer, I suspect that Robert Hope-Jones would have foundered badly; as of course he eventually did.

 

MM

So ermmm.... you haven't read The Compton List? I guess that if you did you may find it quite a bit more than a train-spotting exercise :)

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Guest spottedmetal
If I were to compare John Compton to his rival Robert Hope-Jones, the latter would probably emerge as never much more than a telephone engineer. Without Norman & Beard or Wurlitzer, I suspect that Robert Hope-Jones would have foundered badly; as of course he eventually did.

Wasn't the Norman & Beard story and association rather interesting? It was always my understanding that John Christie of Glyndeborne fame could not get a builder to build the organ he wanted built. So he bought the organ building company . . . ? And the firm then built the extension instrument installed in Christie's organ room. . . .

 

So one presumes that the Hope-Jones' influence was on Christie, not directly within Norman & Beard?

 

Presumably this led to Christie cinema organs?

 

Sorry, this is leading the thread off topic . . . and somewhere the history of HN&B has probably been covered elsewhere . . . but the topic and association seemed worthy of bringing to notice.

 

Best wishes

 

Spot

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Guest Cynic
Wasn't the Norman & Beard story and association rather interesting? It was always my understanding that John Christie of Glyndeborne fame could not get a builder to build the organ he wanted built. So he bought the organ building company . . . ? And the firm then built the extension instrument installed in Christie's organ room. . . .

 

So one presumes that the Hope-Jones' influence was on Christie, not directly within Norman & Beard?

 

Presumably this led to Christie cinema organs?

 

Sorry, this is leading the thread off topic . . . and somewhere the history of HN&B has probably been covered elsewhere . . . but the topic and association seemed worthy of bringing to notice.

 

Best wishes

 

Spot

 

Norman & Beard must at the very least have taken over some Hope Jones interests. I was amused to find, many years ago, a large supply of Hope Jones bellows-weights inside the Chapel Organ at Winchester College, an instrument supplied by N&B after Hope Jones had left for the USA. This instrument also boasted a far-detached console and an early electric action.

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Norman & Beard must at the very least have taken over some Hope Jones interests. I was amused to find, many years ago, a large supply of Hope Jones bellows-weights inside the Chapel Organ at Winchester College, an instrument supplied by N&B after Hope Jones had left for the USA. This instrument also boasted a far-detached console and an early electric action.

 

Hi

 

Hope-Jones was in a short lived partnership with N&B, who continued to build H-J type organs for a few years after his departure - for instance Battersea Town Hall - a virtually untouched 4 manual due for restoration in the near future, and all Souls, Clive Vale, Hastings among others.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Wasn't the Norman & Beard story and association rather interesting? It was always my understanding that John Christie of Glyndeborne fame could not get a builder to build the organ he wanted built. So he bought the organ building company . . . ? And the firm then built the extension instrument installed in Christie's organ room. . . .

 

So one presumes that the Hope-Jones' influence was on Christie, not directly within Norman & Beard?

 

Presumably this led to Christie cinema organs?

 

Sorry, this is leading the thread off topic . . . and somewhere the history of HN&B has probably been covered elsewhere . . . but the topic and association seemed worthy of bringing to notice.

 

Best wishes

 

Spot

 

 

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

 

 

I think it is very important to distinguish between the "Unit Orchestra" of Hope-Jones, and the full-blown theatre organs of the type we associate with Wurlitzer, Christie, Compton et al.

 

The "Unit Orchestra" was a concept born of the age; and Norman & Beard were really at the forefront of development. They were as interested as anyone else in the orchestral-organ, which was a very different animal to something like the "Symphonic Organs" by Cavaille-Coll, and the town-hall organs of Willis. "Symphonic" does not imply "orchestral," but rather, the concept of an heroic instrument capable of symphonic colours and range of power.

 

Robert Hope-Jones, in his quirky madness, came up with the idea of exact replication of orchestral sound, using organ-pipes: something that was doomed to failure when you care to think about it. Having heard the Hope Jones organ at Battersea TH, when it was actually almost in playing condition, the striking thing was the individuality of the registers. Very fluffy Diapasons, very keen strings, very smooth Tubas, very heavy basses etc etc.

 

The next most striking thing, was the complete lack of blend; with individual voices standing apart from each other.

 

Norman & Beard were obviously well aware of the orchestral tendency of the day, and to that end, they spent many hours, days and months, developing a style of organ which could combine the many orchestral elements in such a way that they would actually blend.

 

There are a few good Norman & Beard organs still in more or less original condition, and it always strikes me, that working within the more orchestral concept, they achieved a very good compromise between traditional organ tone, and the purely orchestral tones of Hope Jones. For instance, they thought long and hard about the blend of flues and reeds, and to a great extent, pulled this off without resorting to the kind of Harmonics mixtures (really a type of Cornet) employed by Arthur Harrison. Indeed, the reed-voicing at Norman & Beard was probably, in its own way, the equal of Fr Willis, but it tends not to be appreciated fully to-day.

 

Hope-Jones spent time in the Norman & Beard voicing-room, and it was that co-experimentation which gave rise to the Tibia Clausa; which was never intended as a theatre-organ stop, but as a great flood of orchestral flute tune. The Tibia Clausa is actually a rather nice sound, but of course, it really never had a place in the classical organ line-up.

 

The bigest contribution of Robert Hope-Jones, was in the introduction of electric-action, using the telephone-exchange technology with which he was familiar as a telephone-engineer in Birkenhead.

 

So after trotting off, (fleeing a sexual scandal with one of his male employees actually), to America, Hope-Jones once more began to build his "Unit Orchestra." It was the very successful, old family firm (back to the 16th century in Germany) of Wurlitzer, who saw the potential of the "Unit Orchestra" in the cinemas; then springing up on every street corner, showing silent films. Due to the fact that Wurlitzer were major manufacturers of automaton instruments, and especially fair organs (called Band Organs in America), they had a ready-made, virtual "unit orchestra" system of their own. The Fair Organ, using punch-card mechanisms, was divided into Solo, Accompaniment and Counter-melody sections, with a suitable Bass section corresponding to the pedal organ in a classical instrument.

 

With the combination of Hope-Jones telephone-exchange technology, and Wurlitzer know how with percussion registers, and sliderless-chest operation, it was a stroke of genius which combined the two. Almost overnight was created an instrument capable of accompanying silent films, providing novelty sound effects and being under the operation of a single performer, using an organ-console. That in turn created a whole new breed of musician; the best of whom were utterly remarkable, and the worst of whom were simply awful.

 

Due to Hope Jones fleeing the UK, he was unable to finish certain contracts, and when Norman & Beard absorbed the interests of the Hope Jones company, they had to finish off a few outstanding Hope Jones contracts; of which Battersea Town Hall was one.

 

So the theatre organ bit comes later, when Norman & Beard had absorbed the interests of Hope Jones, and then amalgamated with Wm.Hill & Sons. The use of the "Christie" name was possibly an attempt to disassociate the classical side of the company with that of the theatre organ, but in essence, it was just two sides of the same business.

 

It has to be said, that Christie were by far the best builders of theatre organs in the UK, but Compton outsold them, and Wulitzer developed such a reputation, that they even set up business in the UK.

 

Fortunately, a few good Christie organs remain, but sadly, not the largest and most famous, which was once in the Regal Cinema, Marble Arch, London. The last that I heard, the organ was badly stored in any number of old trailers in a farm-yard, and restoration was being assessed.

 

For those interested in cinema organs, the late Sidney Torch made many of his finest, up-tempo recordings on the Christie Organ at Edmonton; with its snappy trumpets, lush Tibias and tuned percussions. They remain classics; demonstrating the ferocious energy of a master pianist turned entertainment organist, orchestral conductor, composer and outstanding arranger for the BBC.

 

MM

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Guest spottedmetal
Robert Hope-Jones, in his quirky madness, came up with the idea of exact replication of orchestral sound, using organ-pipes

 

Thanks for such a brilliant rundown of the fascinating story of this area of organ development - I grew up with a Symphonium in my bedroom in my first five years - and in those days dreamed of an automatic orchestra - but luckily have grown up since then. :lol: But perhaps not when thinking of my mad idea of putting on the Poulenc . . . (Anyone game for it? )

 

So is the legend about Christie, Glyndeborne and HN&B true - buying into the firm in order to get the organ built as he wanted?

 

There is a useful webpage on the Glyndeborne organ

http://www.ondamar.demon.co.uk/schemes/trz/glynde.htm

 

I understood the instrument to have been removed to a church in the Strand

 

Best wishes

 

Spot

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