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What Is The Point Of Exact Restoration?


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Could anyone tell me what is the musical-point in exact organ-restoration, or is it just an antiquarian indulgence?

 

MM

 

My two cents, oh, sorry, Pennies:

 

To go for an exact restoration equals to acknowledge we are not

the best people amongst all those who populated this Earth; past generations

could do well too, and even if we could teach them two or three things

-not always the ones we believe they ignored, so many things being

known earlier as we think- , we could learn from them too.

When we think of an organ for playing de Grigny, for example, we should

first vacuum completely our heads of anything we believe we know, in order

to open our minds to what's really available about the french organ of the late 17th

Century.

Then you will discover, running trough the sources (rather Mersenne than Dom Bédos in this case, DB coming many decades AFTER), this organ was still somewhat a flemish one, already deprived of its tierce Mixtures, not yet of its tinplate reeds and nearly pure lead Mixtures.

Norbert Dufourcq, investigating one of the last organs by Jean de Joyeuse, a parisian builder contemporary of de Grigny -who probably played organs by him while in Paris- who was still in this ancient style, found precisely that: tinplate Trompettes and lead Fournitures and Cymbales.

BUT.......When he made "restore" the organ by Gonzalez, he did not even think to advise the builder to stick to these original traits; they were "bad", because Dom Bédos despised tinplate reeds (remember: Dom Bédos was from another period!) and lead pipes ("It would be better to make them all of tin"). And so the organ received new tin reeds and Mixtures -with standard "neo" scaling, voicing and mixture design, that is, ridiculously high-pitched-.

 

So Dufourcq knew better what a baroque organ was than Jean de Joyeuse himself.

If you disagree, then you are ripe to accept exact restorations have their place

in the organ world.

Pierre.

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That seems to sum it all up pretty perfectly.

 

As well as performance questions - there is the question of future organbuilders needing to have historical models.

 

What I really fail to understand is why new instruments are built with so many anachronistic features. To me, a good historical organ is one which addresses musical as well as historic questions. An example of a good one might be Jesus, Oxford - nice choruses, sensible mixtures, plenty of period features, but also newer developments, like a clever means of giving a trigger swell pedal the feel of a balanced one and being able to retain it in any position you want. You could call it Infinite Speed and Gradation. Much time was spent devising a new temperament that would allow the old music to sound great and newer music to sound good. You could also include Pembroke, Cambridge where such care was taken to make the wind sound like it wasn't coming out of an electric motor. The whole thing is alive. Yet both the instances I mention have more complete pedal departments (and compasses) than you would expect to find on instruments of that size - because the music has to come first and foremost.

 

Examples that, to me, show muddled thinking include instances (on a NEW organ, not a restoration) where obviously flawed or undesirable aspects of a period are included on the basis of authenticity. They seem to be saying "these Victorians didn't understand mixtures; therefore we must make bad ones, to be authentic." But - the principle is not then extended as far as hand blowing and candles at the console. So why is it ok to extend purely dogmatic thinking as far as musical considerations, but to stop short of practical ones? Whose interests are we really serving then?

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That seems to sum it all up pretty perfectly.

 

As well as performance questions - there is the question of future organbuilders needing to have historical models.

 

What I really fail to understand is why new instruments are built with so many anachronistic features.  To me, a good historical organ is one which addresses musical as well as historic questions.  An example of a good one might be Jesus, Oxford - nice choruses, sensible mixtures, plenty of period features, but also newer developments, like a clever means of giving a trigger swell pedal the feel of a balanced one and being able to retain it in any position you want.  You could call it Infinite Speed and Gradation.   Much time was spent devising a new temperament that would allow the old music to sound great and newer music to sound good.  You could also include Pembroke, Cambridge where such care was taken to make the wind sound like it wasn't coming out of an electric motor.  The whole thing is alive.  Yet both the instances I mention have more complete pedal departments (and compasses) than you would expect to find on instruments of that size - because the music has to come first and foremost.

 

Examples that, to me, show muddled thinking include instances (on a NEW organ) where obviously flawed or undesirable aspects of a period are included on the basis of authenticity.  They seem to be saying "these Victorians didn't understand mixtures; therefore we must make bad ones, to be authentic."  But - the principle is not then extended as far as hand blowing and candles at the console.  So why is it ok to extend purely dogmatic thinking as far as musical considerations, but to stop short of practical ones?   Whose interests are we really serving then?

Well, it's pretty clear - it's about creating a musical instrument with an identifiable musical character. It's also a question of how far you can go - materials available are different now and what contributes to the musical effect of the instrument. Having the right pipework, key action and arguably stop control contrbutes, candles - I don't really see a link myself.

 

Sorry, "the Victorians don't understand mixtures" - would you care to elaborate?

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What I really fail to understand is why new instruments are built with so many anachronistic features.  To me, a good historical organ is one which addresses musical as well as historic questions. 

 

The point of progress is surely to keep/improve on the good, and remove/improve the bad.

 

Historic restorations are all well and good, but, as David says, they must serve some musical purpose too. To me the time to do a historic restoration is when reverting to the historical state of the instrument renders it a better instrument than it is in its current state. e.g. Romsey Abbey - I didn't know the old instrument, but, by all accounts the historic restoration that was done fairly recently was a very good thing - the current instrument is very fine.

 

At least one person on this forum won't thank me for this, and I apologise sincerely for any offence the following comments might cause - I wish I could think of another example to illustrate my point... But I can't.

 

I recently played a new "historic" restoration, where the organ has been beautifully restored, rebuilt, crafted, whatever. The workmanship is superb. Absolutely amongst the best I've ever seen.

 

However, there are obvious non-historical features, such as a balanced swell pedal, which are considered acceptable, then there's a single mixture which breaks an octave at middle C, the tiniest swell division in the world, and the whole thing, in its beautiful case, stuck in a chancel where the organ can't speak down the church at all, despite having lots of spaces, and a westend gallery... It has some lovely sounds, but I just can't imagine singing in the congregation with it.

 

So we have progress on one hand - balanced swell pedal, for example - and "historic" handcuffs on the other hand, which contrive to make an instrument that is neither musical nor useful for the church.

 

Doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

 

I compare this to the restoration work done by Mander on a former church of mine, Peartree, in Southampton. The restoration was just going back in when I took over, so I can take no credit whatsoever. Whilst the historic side of it was pretty accurate, I believe (they used G&D workbooks to research the original design of the instrument, etc), the resulting instrument was very musical and very well suited to the church - the position was altered slightly if I recall correctly, to allow it to speak better in the body of the church.

 

Again apologies to the person who's instrument I've just been slightly negative about.

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I can understand most of your comments but not the ones about it not being musical and not being useful for the church, which anger me. It is a very musical instrument and it speaks into the nave without hindrance. I have accompanied a congregation with it and not found it wanting. I think your comments demostrate a lack of understanding of the organ and the architectural logic of the building in which it sits.

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Sorry, "the Victorians don't understand mixtures" - would you care to elaborate?

 

Not really; a very crude way of making the point that our generation is not the only to have fads. The fad in the 1860's was to respond to the new-fangled equal temperament by ripping out tierces and supressing sounds regarded as "horrible, screaming and shrill". I love your organ, Colin; it's fantastically well built, and I bow down in awe and wonder at the integrity of the craftsmanship, but I think it's daft on the one hand to allow the music to become subservient to the rule-book with that mixture break (especially bearing in mind its buried position in a dead building) and on the other to be content with all the modern trappings of balanced swells, floating pan wind regulators and a Willis II pedal reed. Please don't take offence - I didn't name any names but just couldn't think of a better example of what I was getting at... I'm sure there are dozens...

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I can understand most of your comments but not the ones about it not being musical and not being useful for the church, which anger me. It is a very musical instrument and it speaks into the nave without hindrance. I have accompanied a congregation with it and not found it wanting.  I think your comments demostrate a lack of understanding of the organ and the architectural logic of the building in which it sits.

 

Apologies if I've caused offence, that was not my intention.

 

I was stood in the nave, and whilst someone was playing full organ, I could have a conversation over the top of it very easily. If you go up the steps into the choir, then the organ becomes significantly louder, and at the console, louder still.

 

It's not a question of not understanding the church or the building, or the organ, it's purely a matter of acoustics and physics, surely?

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"The fad in the 1860's was to respond to the new-fangled equal temperament by ripping out tierces and supressing sounds regarded as "horrible, screaming and shrill""

(Quote)

 

Well, if you did not read "Sesquialtera, Cornet, Twelfth,Fifteenth and Tierce", the regular romantic Mixtures were crammed with Tierces!

And this in Germany too; The Tutti on a Walcker was technically a "Grand-jeu"....

The Willis standard three ranks Mixture was actually a Sesquialtera...

Pierre

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...the regular romantic Mixtures were crammed with Tierces!

 

The Willis standard three ranks Mixture was actually a Sesquialtera...

Pierre

 

I did say it was BROADLY speaking! A very obvious example would be J C Bishop, who was almost obsessed with designing out Tierces and bringing in whiffly Clarabellas whose tone would mask the poor 3rds of equal temperament.

 

The point I was driving at was a general trend at that time and in this country towards the ante-development of mixture and choruswork (starting with the dropping of the tierce) until we eventually reached a point where they were eliminated altogether, with exceptions obviously (including Willis, and the 'arrison 'armonics). I stand by this being a reasonable general assessment of what happened in the UK, whatever Pierre says...

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We haven't been subservient to the rule-book with the mixture break. It's a 3 rank mixture - you can't break it by a 5th each time, otherwise you get regions where the quints outnumber the unisons - we decided to take the better of the 2 options.

 

However, have you not noticed how well that mixture blends and sits atop the foundation work? have you not yet wondered why it doesn't shriek and sit atop like many other mixtures - and undoubtedly, it is far better than fitting a modern 4 rank mixture of toepfer scaling on top of that pipework. We spent a lot of time getting the scaling, pipe construction and finishing right so it blends and works absolutely right with the other stops in the chorus. Getting that right has created a chorus which is truly musical.

 

And there's a very good reason why we've gone for such a small swell organ, too.

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We haven't been subservient to the rule-book with the mixture break. It's a 3 rank mixture - you can't break it by a 5th each time, otherwise you get regions where the quints outnumber the unisons - we decided to take the better of the 2 options.

 

 

There are countless ways of designing mixtures. I don't want to get into an argument over the specifics. I dislike just one thing about your organ. That's all. If you get reviews half that good in the trade magazines, you will be doing very well indeed! No more from me on this.

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Apologies if I've caused offence, that was not my intention.

 

I was stood in the nave, and whilst someone was playing full organ, I could have a conversation over the top of it very easily. If you go up the steps into the choir, then the organ becomes significantly louder, and at the console, louder still.

 

It's not a question of not understanding the church or the building, or the organ, it's purely a matter of acoustics and physics, surely?

That's fair enough - and I'd agree - we haven't bothered with outright power at all. It is a restrained organ in a way that a Willis III isn't. If we'd attempted to make it loud we'd have ended up with something rather uncouth and coarse. So we've kept the output of the pipes at a comfortable, unforced level and left it to the relative grandeur and brilliance of the chorus to create effect.

 

The new organ is about as powerful as the old organ - perhaps it carries a little better - but I never found the old organ inadequate to lead the congregation so I'm quite comfortable with the power levels of the new organ. It is certainly never louder than lovely and I'd rather have a musical organ than a loud one.

 

You're right: the acoustic doesn't help at all - removing the carpet on the dais would help. It is as dead as a door nail. And those Chagall banners, although they are wonderful, don't really help, either. They'll go in September and it'll be interesting to see what difference that makes but I don't think it's going to transform the place, with its softwood ceiling.

 

We considered putting the organ in the west gallery but decided not to quite quickly, although I was initially keen on the idea. Moving the organ up there would have involved moving the choir to gallery as well. the priest in the chancel would be alone and massively separated from the congregation at the other end of the building and so the focus of attention would change and so the liturgical logic of the building would have been destroyed. The case wouldn't work visually in the gallery and we'd have wondered what to do with the space and empty arch left in the chancel while we lament the loss of our striking west window. So it would have destroyed the architectural logic of the building and and its integrity too (although you could argue this has already been compromised by adding the gallery...). The arch between chancel and nave is lofty; there is no crossing to contend with and the arch for the organ is quite open - so we decided to stick with the organ where it is. I guess it will always remain a tantalizing "what if" question...

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Why's that then? I'm not saying the small swell is wrong at all... Particularly not with that lovely oboe in it.

Fair enough - I put that in as bait - glad someone decided to take the bite on it! :huh:

 

We realised that the swell organ - because of the arch and because of a relatively large Great organ in front of it - was likely to have problems with projection and being heard in the nave from its necessarily buried position.

 

There were two options - have a big swell organ and push it for all its worth or go for a very small division in a very tight box which helps to project the sound out. Taking into account space and money considerations, along with our musical ethos, it's probably no surprise we decided on the latter option and we're very pleased with the way the sound gets out and the effect of the swell box. The tight box helps the swell organ produce a more focussed and musically incisive effect than the more ample great organ. Although the swell organ is no match for the full force of the great organ, equivalent registrations balence. Sometimes I wonder whether a bit more out the swell would be useful but so far I'm happy. Glad you like the oboe - the tuning of the reeds is really quite bad at present but the temperature has gone down nearly 10C since it was tuned during the heatwave in July. My favourite of that division has to be the stopped diapason.

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That's fair enough - and I'd agree - we haven't bothered with outright power at all. It is a restrained organ in a way that a Willis III isn't.

 

And you absolutely wouldn't want a Willis III in that building. Quite the wrong instrument. And I wouldn't trade you :huh:

 

 

 

Rest of post edited out...

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Apologies if I've caused offence, that was not my intention.

 

I was stood in the nave, and whilst someone was playing full organ, I could have a conversation over the top of it very easily. If you go up the steps into the choir, then the organ becomes significantly louder, and at the console, louder still.

 

It's not a question of not understanding the church or the building, or the organ, it's purely a matter of acoustics and physics, surely?

 

It would be interesting to know how many organist have got someone else to play a service for them while they have sat in the congregation to listen to their instrument as it is heard by the majority.

 

FF

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It would be interesting to know how many organist have got someone else to play a service for them while they have sat in the congregation to listen to their instrument as it is heard by the majority.

 

FF

 

I've done it at every church I've been at. Usually as part of my scouting to see if I want to take the job on. Plus, I prefer conducting, so I often get people in to play...

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It would be interesting to know how many organist have got someone else to play a service for them while they have sat in the congregation to listen to their instrument as it is heard by the majority.

 

FF

Yes, but this is only valid if the person you get to play while you listen uses the instrument in the same way that you would yourself, which, for many of us out in the sticks, is difficult to achieve.

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Yes, but this is only valid if the person you get to play while you listen uses the instrument in the same way that you would yourself, which, for many of us our in the sticks, is difficult to achieve.

 

True, but it should give you a reasonable idea of how the instrument sounds in the building, not just at the console.

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True, but it should give you a reasonable idea of how the instrument sounds in the building, not just at the console.

Agreed, but you can get this at a recital - its not necessarily the same as your own service playing. The bottom line is that you can't be in front of house listening to your own playing. If you have a deputy that you can trust to play using your own typical registrations then well and good, but in many a parish church the available deputies would not be sufficiently competent to achieve this.

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Agreed, but you can get this at a recital - its not necessarily the same as your own service playing. The bottom line is that you can't be in front of house listening to your own playing. If you have a deputy that you can trust to play using your own typical registrations then well and good, but in many a parish church the available deputies would not be sufficiently competent to achieve this.

 

Record it, then - you can get a very good basic minidisc & stereo mic kit together on eBay for comfortably under fifty quid.

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As well as performance questions - there is the question of future organbuilders needing to have historical models.

 

What I really fail to understand is why new instruments are built with so many anachronistic features.  To me, a good historical organ is one which addresses musical as well as historic questions.  An example of a good one might be Jesus, Oxford - nice choruses, sensible mixtures, plenty of period features, but also newer developments, like a clever means of giving a trigger swell pedal the feel of a balanced one and being able to retain it in any position you want.  You could call it Infinite Speed and Gradation.   Much time was spent devising a new temperament that would allow the old music to sound great and newer music to sound good.

 

Examples that, to me, show muddled thinking include instances where obviously flawed or undesirable aspects of a period are included on the basis of authenticity, but the principle is not then extended as far as hand blowing and candles at the console.  So why is it ok to extend dogmatic thinking as far as musical considerations, but to stop short of practical ones?   Whose interests are we really serving then?

 

 

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

 

 

There is much common sense here; certainly in respect of new organs imitating older styles.

 

The reason I asked the question is rather complex.

 

I am the first to hop on a plane and go to Alkmaar, for example, to just remind myself of how utterly magnificent that organ is.....yet it is not technically a "Bach organ" at all.

 

As a restoration, it is superb, and as a musical instrument, absolutely peerless.

 

More importantly, when one plays an organ like this, there is an enormous educational benefit to be had, because there comes a new understanding. I may have written previously about this, but I would liken it to the young pilot of today flying a "Spitfire"....at once heavy, slow (by the standards of today) and with the most perfect handling....an insight into the challenges and opportunities afforded by this fighter-plane during WW2, which no simulator or modern equivalent could ever convey.

 

So playing an organ like Naumburg or Alkmaar, is to replicate the exact same sense of sonic opportunity and mechanical limitation which the composers of early music had to live with......a vitally important lesson for the serious student and performer.

 

Take another example; the wonderful instrument at the Martinikerk, Groningen, which was almost decalred a pile of junk at one point. Listen to it to-day, and it IS Schnitger in all but physical reality: made possible by the fact that the genuine articles are there to be studied.

 

This is the value of proper and exact restoration.

 

However, who to-day would dream of re-building an organ such as Holy Trinity, Hull in the same way?

 

Would anyone WANT to carefully clean, re-bush, re-wind, re-leather and meticulously restore ALL the original components and switch-gear?

 

Of course not......there is no real musical point, when modern digital capture systems could do it just as well or better.

 

But hang on a moment..........

 

If very few Compton organs still have the original mechanisms, why are we not valuing the ENGINEERING HERITAGE of a brilliant electrical engineer and organ-builder?

 

Beauty is not just musical, and it is not just skin-deep.

 

For example, I am personally delighted that St.Bart's, Armley, was restored to the point when Binns re-built it. It is now testimony to not one, but three craftsmen organ-builders.....Schulze, Brindley & Foster and Binns....with more than a passing involvement of a fourth, Messrs.Harrison & Harrison.

 

As David points out, anachronism for the sake of it, is stupid. I would further suggest that "exact restoration" is also stupid, if nothing is to be gained by it.

 

However, there ARE cases in point, where a WHOLE instrument is such an important statement, that exact restoration is called for, and that was always going to be the problem with a "restoration" such as the Bavo organ, Haarlem, which is a bit of a travesty.

 

Here, the musical results are absolutely wonderful, but it certainly hasn't done the original Muller sound any favours, and historians will have quite a job deciding just what has happened to the instrument, should they ever wish to replicate the original.

 

What I find offensive, are those people who would restore Doncaster PC back to stiff mechanical action and hand-blowing, which really would serve no purpose whatever, other than to satisfy the antiquarian whims of the historian.

 

I think of Halifax PC, which is one of the last great Arthur Harrison organs in more or less original condition; save for the Great Mixture. That makes it an important piece of musical history.

 

Maybe restoration is an attitude of mind, which must never be driven by the convention of slavish discipleship. Each instrument must be assessed on its merits, and where there is genuine benefit, (musical or otherwise), to be gained from exact restoration, then this may well be the proper course to follow.

 

For the rest, perhaps steady improvement and modernisation is to be preferred; and a whole lot cheaper.

 

MM

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