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Canterbury Cathedral Organ And 32' Flues


pcnd5584

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Does anyone know if the occasional vague rumour I have heard about a possible rebuild at Canterbury Cathedral has any substance, please?

 

I also still wonder what happened to their 32ft. pedal flue - it does not appear on the current stop list. One still hears the occasional rumble about the Gloucester one - particularly after the cathedral's maintenance staff sawed it up in situ, but I don't think I ever heard anyone question the disappearance of the one at Canterbury. Presumably it was ineffective, although I think personally I would have missed not even having a stopped 16ft.

 

I wonder, too, if Ralph Downes was possibly over-hasty when he had the Gloucester 32ft. "thrown out for the irrelevance it was" and when he said that the 16ft. Bishop Flute (actually 13ft. longest pipe!) more than compensated for the lack of a 32ft. I particularly like the sound of etherial strings with (whisper it) octave couplers, being underpinned with a full-length 32p flue - an effect not possible simply by relying upon the expedient of a monster-scaled Open Wood! If the acoustic environment of the building creates the illusion of unity of sound-source, (as Gloucester did) then surely there is no problem. In any case, there were already two other pedal stops outside the case: the Flute and the Sub Bass (upside-down) so the question of the entire instrument being within the case was not strictly accurate.

 

I would, however say that I find the Gloucester organ one of the most exciting and stimulating instruments in the UK.

 

Any thoughts?

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It is interesting that you couple the Canterbury and Gloucester organs in your message. For me, they are probably the two most unsatisfactory cathedral organs in the country, and in such glorious settings.

 

Canterbury first. What I would really like to see here is the organ put on the screen and a setup similiar to Norwich, York or Lincoln, with the big stuff retained in the triforium. The current Mander Nave division really can't do a proper job of supporting singing in the Nave from its present position, and the main organ in the triforium is not ideal for accompanying the choir.

 

As for Gloucester, I regret what Ralph Downes did in 1971 but the resulting instrument still had some integrity. I am afraid the most recent work on the organ by Nicholsons has made matters worse, and what we have now is a poor imitation of a bad French organ. There are undoubtedly some lovely quiet registers, but the 32ft reed doesn't convince and the full organ sound is strident and unmusical. Personally, I would do away with it all, apart from the glorious case, and start afresh with an unavowed English sounding instrument. But I suspect that this is not financially viable.

 

Jeremy Jones

London

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I can't comment on the Canterbury organ, but it is interesting that Gloucester continues to divide opion so strongly some 35 years after the HNB rebuild.

 

I've played in Gloucester many times and its always a joy to experience the soft sounds rolling around the accoustic, but I would say the lack of a 32' flue is a sad omission. The 16' Flute is indeed a glorious stop but I can't see that it makes up for the missing 32'.

 

Overall the organ can be very exiting, especially for the French repertoire, and it certainly sounds grander since the recent Nicholson rebuild - reputedly due to removing the roof of the case.

 

My personal view is that the primary function of a cathedral organ is to accompany the choir during the liturgy, and in this respect the organ needs to be able to play the music of unfashionable composers such as Stanford, Elgar, Bairstow and Howells well. This requires a good variety of soft tones, including solo voices under expression. Gloucester fails miserably in this respect and is also the only Cathedral organ I know of that lacks even a single solo reed.

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I was interested to hear the replies re-Gloucester.

 

As far as I am aware, the sound of the tutti has not been changed. The only re-voicing or re-balancing was to one soft G.O. foundation stop. The instrument, to my ears, makes a rich, thrilling, clear and above all, musical sound. Apparently, many genuine music lovers used to find the old organ (in its H&H incarnation) oppressive and unmusical, particularly when played loudly. In addition, we do have lots of cathedral organs which are very 'English' in sound (e.g.: Bristol, Truro, Exeter, Ripon, Lichfield, Peterborough, etc, etc). Gloucester does at least enable one to hear a more continental sound. With this in mind, it is interesting to compare the sound of Gloucester with the Gonzales instrument at Chartres Cathedral - Gloucester definitely sounds superior to me (a previous Titulaire also concurred with this).

 

Incidentally, the removal of part of the roof of the case was, I believe, undertaken before the Nicholson rebuild- because I was made aware of the fact one winter's evening, and I am certain that this was before 1999.

 

I have also played several services at Gloucester, and found that with careful choice, it is perfectly possible to accompany Howells, Stanford, et al, quite effectively. There are actually two quiet solo reeds (three if you like a Vox Humana...). The Choir Cremona is quite acceptable - the acoustic giving it a little more body and smoothness, and the Swell Hautboy, which is, of course, under expression. There are at least two flutes 8 which are quiet enough to accompany this stop!

 

Finally, I only made the reverberation period about six seconds in the empty cathedral (c.f. CT Worcester) - ten is a long time: St. Pauls is probably no longer that this!

 

Of Canterbury, I know little, but I must admit I would not have parted with the old (Willis 1968) Choir and Solo organs for anything less than apartments in Florida and Paris....

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The organ at Canterbury Cathedral has been discussed at length before in this Forum (in 2003 I think). Everyone concurred (including the host) that the situation at Canterbury is lamentable, even pathetic. It seems amazing doesn't it that in such a glorious and historic setting the Organ provision is at best puzzling. Yet just a short distance across the Channel in the diminuitive setting of the small and impoverished Parish Church of St Nicholas of Boulogne exists a classical French organ that puts a considerable percentage of organs in England (let alone Canterbury) to shame. And that's before you get to the even more impressive organ at St Omer! And we haven't arrived at Paris yet!

 

Gloucester is a little different. We must excuse the English for their attempt to impersonate a French organ in England. To understand the latest sound at Gloucester you must understand the influence of David Briggs. The foundations of the Downes rebuild are still there but the rather neurotic attempt to imitate further the Cavaille Coll of Notre Dame de Paris (Pedal mutations amongst others) can be best excused as a personal essay in eccentricity. Gloucester is a fine example of an ex-incumbent 'Titulaire' expostulating his dreams writ large. Unfortunately, it doesn't work. Best to leave the English to do as they do best, and go and listen to French organs the way they are meant to be, in France!

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Regarding my earlier comment re. lack of solo reed at Gloucester, I think its stretching a point to put the swell reeds into this category. I disagree with the assessment of the choir cremona, to my ears this is a raucous stop of little musical use. It's also too loud to use for soft solo passages such as the opening of Sumsion in G Nunc Dimittis for example.

 

What I really meant was that there is no solo trumpet of any description. There is a "Great Reeds on Manual IV" transfer coupler but these are chorus reeds and not really big enough for solo use. The opening of Finzi's "God is gone up", for example, is a complete non-event in Gloucester.

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Regarding the Gloucester organ, I think Mark Wimpress hits the nail on the head. David Briggs is an outstanding organist, but was misguided to bring his abiding passion for the French symphonic repertoire, and in particular the Cavaille-Coll in Notre-Dame, to bear on the Nicholson rebuild. Gloucester is just not the place for such a vanity project, but they are lumbered with it now, and will have to make the best of a bad job. If one can look on the humourous side, I understand they are apparently having great trouble keeping the Gloucester reeds in tune, so you see the instrument really does have a French pedigree, even if it is of the mongrel variety!

 

Jeremy Jones

London

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As I believe I have mentioned, no alterations were made to the voicing of the Downes instrument, save for the one G.O. flue. The pedal 32ft. harmonics (which John Compton used extensively in a not-too-dissimilar manner) actually work quite well in the building, and certainly do a passable job of compensating for a 32ft. flue. (Well, they didn't have to saw it up, did they?)

 

Aside from the electrical devices of the Swell Sub Octave and the Pedal Divide, there were no further additions or alterations - everything else sounds the same as it did when HN&B left it, in 1971. (The removal of part of the roof has actually improved the sound - prior to this, the G.O. reeds in particular were somewhat throttled)

 

I can see no harm in having one British cathedral organ which speaks with a Gallic accent. (It's not that bad an imitation - having heard and played many French instruments there are a fair number of mediocre examples available there, too.)

 

Still, I understand that to each is given a perception of beauty (anyone know Anna Kournikova's mobile number....?)

B):wub:

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Guest Roffensis

I well remember Canterbury before the last rebuild by Manders in 78. I think it was a mistake to have reduced it to three manuals, lopping off the Solo and the Choir also, and putting in a new Choir, with a handful of orginal stops. But the organ there will probably always remain in the Triforium, and it never was intended to fill the Cathedral. Even on a sreen, it would have to get past the Nave Girder arch, and frankly, no organ would. Willis's mentioned in a 1949 booklet that the organ was ideal fro the choir, and that a nave organ would be required. Bringing it forward in 78 helped, and the current nave organ is better than nothing, and does quite well for such a small division. The answer really is the retention of all the Willis pipework, and the two Green stops left, but a new Choir and Solo, voiced to match the Willis. The Choir is certainly too loud, and needs enclosing. What we don't want is to lose it on grounds of it being "inadequate". The organ still has a lot of character, and is a very fine instrument. No organ in that position could ever be 100% successful in all directions, and that will never change. I too have heard rumours of rebuild, which surely it must be about due for. I hope it is treated sensitively, and not further altered. I played it in 97, and was bowled over by it, and it is excellent in the Choir and for the choir, it just needs a few soft additions and a better nave division. There's nothing else wrong with the instrument, and we should be grateful that the Great,Swell and pedal were retained, which remain its crowning glory. These divisions are, in my opinion, far more exciting and bold than Salisbury, Lincoln, or Hereford, and the overall sound fits the acoustic very well.

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Guest Roffensis

Oh and for the record, the 32 flue at Canterbury was removed. What became of it I don't know, but you are quite correct. Personally I would have simply sorted out the Willis action and restored it as was, and concentrated on a decent nave division! See, it was "fashion". Latest casualty in waiting? first we had Oxford, now we Worcester maybe going to the melting pot or pipes being sawn up to make serviette rings for those who we so blindly trust with our heritage........

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The ten-second reverberation was the old organ.  I also make it six seconds for the current organ.

 

That is a new idea....

 

Surely the length of the reverberation period is governed by such things as the type of stone used, the size and shape of the building, the area occupied by glass and the ambient air temperature, etc. It is extremely unlikely that it would be affected purely by whether or not the organ in the building was a romantic or a classical instrument. Four seconds is a long time in terms of resonance.

 

I have an old recording of the 1920s H&H and whilst I appreciate that the sound quality and the technical limitations of the recording equipment available at the time would have an effect on the appreciable resonance, I do not believe that the reverberation period was anything like ten seconds.

 

Any physicists out there?

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I'm always amused when I read of the hankerings for the old Gloucester Cathedral organ. Supporters of the former instrument have been vocal on this topic for over 25 years. Perhaps its a reflection on the 'happier' times in English Church music when players of the likes of Sumsion ruled the loft. To me Gloucester is an important reform instrument in 20th century English organbuilding.

 

On a different note surely if a better solution can be initiated for the Willis organ at St David's Cathedral in Wales then a better solution can ensure for Canterbury. Likewise I was so pleased to read in an IBO journal of the vandalistic indiscretions perpetrated at Ely Cathedral in the 70's having been reversed. In my opinion time will not judge Cecil Clutton's practical organ building consultancy that advisedly.

 

Some other instruments which we might look at bringing back to 'how things should be' would be Lemare's Walker organ at St Margaret's Westminster, the Willis at Carlisle Cathedral, the Lewis at Ripon Cathedral and sundry parish church situations.

 

One of NZ's most disastrous 'reform' cathedral organ rebuils is such a electronic, not to mention tonal, embarrasement after a mere 24 years that major recitals have become too risky. It seems that chamade trumpets, 2' based Positive divisions, German principals alongside older English Diapasons, pile driving 32 Bombardes etc. have used their useby date most dramatically. Amen to that!

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Actually, I really liked the Ely Cathedral organ in its 1970s incarnation. It was the one place in the country you could go to hear Langlais' or Vierne's Messe Solennelle and it would sound as if you were in Notre-Dame. The organ was so alive. Now it just sounds rather ordinary again. (It also managed to accompany Stanford and Howells perfectly well to my ears, for the record.)

 

I personally do not see the harm in one or two cathedral organs being given a more continental flavour. I am aware that the French do not attempt generally to ape our instruments, but I can see no problem in the UK having a few examples with a more European flavour. There are certainly some more extreme types than that formerly at Ely, the basically romantic nature of which was respected in the 1970s re-build. Certainly, French repertiore played there sounded convincing - rather more so than at Winchester or Ripon, for example.

 

Surely it is a good thing to have a variety of instruments? There are plenty of bad examples around. (How about the new thing at St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford? No swell box, no registration aids, a paucity of foundation stops....) I am sure it is very nice if all you want to do is play renaissance or baroque music, but for accompanying Evensong, as far as I am concerned, it was about as much use as a chocolate chastity belt....

:wub:

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Well, Ely might be something like a red flag in front of a bull to me...Because the 1908 H & H was soooo interesting !

 

I heard it in 1978, so in its 1970 state, and what really impressed as a "newbie" from the continent was the 1908 Cornet de Viols on the Solo division. Apart from the german "Harmonia aetherea" -of which no one remains- the sole place to find that was the late-romantic english organ.

 

Why not buy some french organs from France and, reversely, build english organ for us here? I'd like to see -and hear!-

-The Samuel Green type

-The William Hill type (not fully romantic yet, with choruses aplenty)

-The Willis I type

-The Willis III type

-The H & H type about 1910

-A modern interpretation of the english organ by Mr Mander

 

So there are many, mant things possible; I even forgot Smith and Harris, England, older types that are not my cup of Tea but might interest others.

 

I believe one of the reasons why english builders do not get contracts in continental Europe may be a lack of interest in the english organ by the english themselves...

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Well, Ely might be something like a red flag in front of a bull to me...

Because the 1908 H & H was soooo interesting !

 

I heard it in 1978, so in its 1970 state, and what really impressed

as a "newbie" from the continent was the 1908 Cornet de Viols

on the Solo division.

Apart from the german "Harmonia aetherea" -of which no one remains-

the sole place to find that was the late-romantic english organ.

 

Why not buy some french organs from France and, reversely,

build english organ for us here?

I'd like to see -and hear!-

-The Samuel Green type

-The William Hill type (not fully romantic yet, with choruses aplenty)

-The Willis I type

-The Willis III type

-The H & H type about 1910

-A modern interpretation of the english organ by Mr Mander

 

So there are many, mant things possible; I even forgot Smith and Harris, England,

older types that are not my cup of Tea but might interest others.

 

I believe one of the reasons why english builders do not get contracts in continental Europe may be a lack of interest in the english organ by the english themselves...

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

 

 

Well, in Holland there's a growing interest in english organs:

http://www.organist.nl/wcms/modules/news/a...php?storyid=244

http://www.organist.nl/wcms/modules/news/a...php?storyid=285

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Guest Barry Oakley

 

You're absolutely right about the English now being obsessed with foreign organs. The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, is a particular case in point. I'm sure an English organ builder could have done better. And I feel the same about Symphony Hall, Birmingham. A couple of years ago I raised this very point with Gillian Weir during a Radio3 phone-in. Her reply was, "Repertoire." Well most of our British-built concert organs are quite capable of playing music from any repertoire. Surely that is the art of designing a first-class organ.

 

I don't think there are very many organs in France where the work of rebuilding has not been given to a French builder.

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Well,

 

I think the problem is neither foreign organs in Britain, neither french organs build or rebuild by french builders in France.

 

If the english want french organs, it's logical to have them build by french. Now let's see from the other side: Why would the french ask an english buider to build a french organ? They would do so if they wanted a true english organ ; and if they do not want that yet, it's because they do not know them. On the french forum I am a member of nobody knew what a Dulciana or a Tromba is, let alone a Recorder or a Viole d'orchestre after the Thynne model.

 

I'd personally like to see our continental buiders working in England, building what they know and like, and english builders coming here to build english organs. But to fulfill such an aim it would be necessary to advocate and "push" the english repertoire; why is it impossible to find any complete recording of Howells on CDs ?(not even an answer from english publishers to my Mails). Why is there near to nothing to find from S-S Wesley, whose choral music is an incredible gem? I have an old LP I took back from Worcester, that's it, and whenever any belgian organist hears it he ask why we do not know such a thing. Even W.T. Best's transcriptions could well become fashionable again, if even someone had the idea to record them on a beautiful concert organ from the correct period and have the thing present in the CD's shop on the continent...

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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