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Organs Built By Money


David Coram
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MM's recent comments about the Saltaire URC machine got me thinking.

 

Anyone familiar with the distinctive tone of the very large Conacher "sausage organ" at St Mary's Calne (5 manuals, later reduced to 4) would understand this question. It was paid for by Mr Harris of bacon & sausage fame, who had a similar instrument made for his house. Sadly, he didn't provide a fund for its upkeep, and so it's been on life support for at least the last 40 years.

 

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm forming a very general impression that organs whose original construction was funded by wealthy local businessmen etc are often found to be Not Terribly Good. But then, William Hill relied on patronage a lot of the time, and he didn't produce many duffers. Which part of my theory is wrong?

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Which part of my theory is wrong?

 

 

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

 

 

All of it David!

 

It is, I think, very easy to be critical of past achievements and non-achievements, but if we transport ourselves back in time to the pre-Victorian era, what do we find?

 

I know it may be a generalisation, and a fairly sweeping one at that, but it seems to me that England had but one predominant style of organ-building, which largely derived from the 18th century and the work of builders such as Harris and Snetzler.

 

Although a nice style in many ways, it implies a certain uniformity in British organ-building, which didn't exactly inspire innovation or allow organist/composers to expand the repertoire into the romantic era. (Think of the problems Mendelssohn had, finding an organ suitable for Bach).

 

OK. Pierre Lauwers is probably about to remind me that Samuel Green did things differently, and this is true, but in his case, any vestige of early romanticism was restricted largely to making things quieter rather than louder. In other words, there was a move towards expressive, gentlemanly refinement, which I suppose was mirrored in the refined spiritual ethos of pre-Tractarian Anglicanism.

 

Forget about organs for a moment, because what happened next goes to the root of the human psyche, and overturns centuries of traditional values and ways of life.

 

Almost in a single generation, Britain is turned from a pastoral, virtual serfdom with a ruling aristocracy, into a thrusting, dynamic workshop, in which the new masters are not aristocrats, but self-made men with an extraordinary determination to make Britain the greatest country, with the largest empire the world ever saw. I don't need to remind anyone of the industrial revolution, but perhaps we might consider the speed of social change, the growth of vast cities, the upheaval in ways of life, mass migration, the death of country communities, high infant mortality and limited life-expectancy; the latter around 42 years of age for working-class people in the inner city areas.

 

Perhaps sowing the seeds of potential revolution and violent over-throw, as happened elsewhere, Britain miraculously escaped all this, but not before a few fights and human sacrifices on the way. In averting that revolution, it was the Christian religion (especialy non-conformist) which preached faith, hope and good works, and fortunately, many of the leading land-owners and industrialists (in a wave of enlightened self-interest and philanthropy) supported that great spiritual revival, which first started with the great non-conformist places of worship.

 

Mention of Saltaire, the model village on the outskirts of Bradford), is a sharp reminder of this new movement towards enlightenment and a sense of public-duty expressed in pastoral-care. It was also supported by many of the great liberal thinkers and academics; more often than not Congregationalists, Unitarians or even Quakers. Sir Titus Salt, (of Saltaire and Alpaca mohair-wool fame) was staunchly Congregationalist, and apparently a rather kindly, paternal sort of man by all accounts.

 

If Britain almost fell apart socially in the first 50 or so years of industrialisation, it certainly re-modelled itself in the 50 years which followed. When we look at the great industrialists, we must not think of great wealth. We must, in point of fact, think of immense wealth: a wealth previously never seen outside the domains of either royal households or the great monastic foundations.

 

(My own family history included a great industrialist, who built not a splendid home, but a huge castle in 300 acres of land: now a magnificent museum and public park)

 

Consider the spiritual upsurge which was so instrumental in welding Britain into a nation, and what do we see?

 

In fact, what we see is not just a few dozen new places of worship, but actually in excess of 100,000 new places of worship, if my estimates are something near right. (It could actually be more!) Most of those new churches and chapels were built between about 1840 and 1890, which immediately translates into an average of something like 2,000 new churches per annum; presumably with the usual peaks and troughs of activity. Every single place of worship (save for the Sally Army and Quakers) would almost certainly seek to procure a new organ, in addition to the huge town-hall and school organs being built. (Many schools had organs, as we know)

 

Who set about building these organs?

 

Some, like William Hill, Fr Willis, Gray, Walker (etc etc) had a solid grounding in organ-building, or were otherwise fully apprentice-trained builders. Others were not, because demand far exceeded supply. Consequently, we see the history of a company such as the one established in my home town, Laycock and Bannister Ltd (now defunct). It all started with a humle local tradesman, who knew absolutely nothing about organs to start with. Nevertheless, like so many of his fellows, he taught himself how to do it, using trial and error as his master. The fact that many still function to-day, is testament to his skill and thoroughly masterful workmanship.

 

I don't know how many organs Laycock & Bannister built, but it was certainly several hundreds; the same being true of other builders such as Conacher, Binns, Abbott & Smith, Wadsworth of Manchester etc etc.

 

Remarkably, these local builders (often self-taught), also got to grips with all sorts of mechnical innovations, which included such things as water-engines, pneumatic-actions and quite complex registration-devices. (Brindley & Foster were the classic innovators).

 

Of course, there is a further, international dimension to all this, in that the demand was such, many continental builders also expressed interest in the British organ-market (including a vast number of reed-organ imports). There was also a fashionable element in the procuring of a splendid Cavaille-Coll, a new Schulze organ or something entirely revolutionary, such as an ELECTRIC ACTION Annessens from Belgium.

 

Broadly speaking, the money was there in the form of patrons, who clambered over each other to get their names engraved on a plaque. What was NOT there was the pool of apprentice-trained organ-builders who knew what they were doing tonally. It is for this exact reason that we find such a huge diversity of tonal quality, which ranges from Fr.Willis all the way down the tonal food-chain to the likes of Hughes or Driver & Haigh from Bradford; the latter two companies incapable of almost anything remotely musical, because they relied on trade pipe-suppliers such as Courcelle, Palmer and the rest. Thus, a local organ-builder would order a Diapason, Flute, String and Reed ranks, without much regard as to the best scales to use. For the most jobbing builder, all they had to do was to insert the ready-voiced pipes into the holes, pump the handle, and attend a "grand opening" by some grandee of the organ-playing world.

 

If Conacher ran a sausage factory, at least they produced a type of sausage. In my experience, a lot of the sausage factories used too much forcemeat stuffing and bread-crumbs; to the point that they became flavourless and unrecognisable except in general demeanour. That said, many of the sausages were wonderful pieces of engineering and used the best possible skins.

 

So, I would suggest that it was "market forces" which ruled the day and ensured a plentiful supply of the worst organs in history, and a few of the best.

 

Nowadays, supply exceeds demand, and quality is a matter of survival.

 

MM

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Well, as you can imagine, I sometimes disagree, dear MM :lol:

 

The british baroque organ seems to have been quite varied, owing

this to multiple external influencies: italian, dutch/north german, french,

and even spanish/ Portuguese, and last but not least south german

(an immensely underrated Orgellandschaft...) with of course

Johannes Schnetzler, whose name was "avatarised" as John Snetzler.

(The fact he was a swiss does not questions his belonging to the southern

german area, since he was german-speaking).

 

But this diversity had to express itself under strict conditions: the size

of the organs was limited, the british organists did not want of a "proper"

(but what means "proper"?) Pedal department, the tonal palette had to

remain limited (Schnetzler succeeded only with the Dolcan as a new, foreign

stop...That became something not tolerated today)

 

Even tougher: a difficult synthesis was needed between the french style, introduced

by the Harris and the Dallams, and the northerner, itself imported by Schmidt (euh, Smith!), and that, while keeping the traditional, italian(?)-based Diapason chorus

(8-stopt'8-4-2 2/3-2).

And this, in a little organ......And ho, yes, we want a Swell with it (since 1712)!

 

The french organ is divided in two incompatible parts, Flutes, tierces and Cornets with the reeds one side, the Diapason chorus+Mixtures on the other.

The northerner did not know this distinction.

In Belgium you sometimes find rather strange compromises, like in the little Gerpinnes organ (17th century, by a builder from the Liège school); this organ has a rather french stop list, with flutes, Tierce, Cornet, and Principals at 4', 2', 1' and Mixtures (Fourniture+Cymbale).

So far, so good, but in reality all the stops are of narrow scale, to the point you can draw all togheter. It was a strange happening to hear Michel Chapuis adding the Cornet to the Diapason chorus while improvising, but fact is, this organ is not a french one.

Back to England, we find another kind of compromise, a compromise that resembles the one the flemish builders (the very next neighbourgs!) realised, that is, to (re)-introduce the seventeenth in the Diapason chorus.

And this the most often with the Sesquialtera, made of Principal pipes, often with breaks, something you do not find in France nor even in "southern" Belgium.

 

That Sesquialtera was an enormous "prepared for".....Something else. It may have sounded "baroque", but you will find it later -voiced differently- in many organs, under the name "Mixture"...

Moreover, the seventeenth we may find in baroque english Mixtures as well.

Our tiny little music box from rural, middle-of-nowhere-poor-belated Britain, had many others prepared-for:

 

-The Swellbox (from Spain, Portugal?) since 1712. Germany had to wait up to

1833, Belgium.....Well, Belgium? Oh, not before 1850, and this on a very

limited basis!

 

-The voicing techniques could have been quite in advance. We know the romantic

way of nicking was introduced in France by Abbey....Immediately adopted by

a certain Aristide. Was it in use in England since the introduction of the italian

style? I do not know, but it deserves study.Before that, nicking was extremely

rare in France, probably limited to some areas in Provence where italian-style organs existed.

 

-Samuel Green I suspected influenced strongly Abt Vogler. Vogler introduced in Germany,after coming back from England:

 

-Total enclosure

-Chromatic chests with simplified tracker action without roller-board

-Soft voicing

-Bigger scales in the basses

 

Where could he have found that?

 

Pierre

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

All of it David!

 

 

Well, that all makes perfect sense. But I have perhaps explained things badly, so I'll have another go - not to be argumentative, but to try to be clearer, as I think you are saying what I was trying to.

 

I have read a bit about Saltaire, and Calne is a broadly similar situation - Mr Harris the bacon man basically employed and housed the whole town and spared it from dereliction when the textiles trade started leaking away. He was helped by largely having an infrastructure in place, and he wasn't quite so didactic about what his workers should do in their spare time as old Titus.

 

Just for clarification - the term "sausage organ" I used is what it's affectionately known as locally, paid for as it was by a sausage magnate - this was not meant to be a pejorative term.

 

My slightly expanded argument localised to this one instance runs as follows:

 

1) the previous organ was a gift too from a local aristo, and was a pretty complete 2 manual Holdich, only 60 years old at the time of its scrapping - it will have been more than ample for the (very old) building and was clearly designed to be useful, not showy

 

2) if a new organ was actually needed, which I doubt, and it was down to the church and musicians to choose, they probably would have gone for something sensibly sized, sensibly designed, that they could maintain in the future

 

3) as it was, Mr Harris decided it should be a 5 manual Conacher (I'm sure he would have considered 6 if someone had suggested it), drew up the stoplist using a very very big book and signed the cheque, and the poor old church (not a large building by any means) has had to cope with maintaining it ever since - which, let me say, they are doing quite brilliantly - their appeal literature is a model to all.

 

Leaving tonal quality (which is certainly trying to be trendy Schulze) to one side for a moment and just thinking of the practicalities, then in a way, this might be the perfect illustration of both our arguments - ego and civic pride prevailing over common sense and need, but for all the right reasons at the time. The lack of provision for future maintenance & rebuilding was either stupidly short termist or headily optimistic, depending on your outlook.

 

Calne certainly had much to celebrate at the time, thanks to Mr Harris - the outlying towns (Chippenham, Trowbridge, Melksham) were in industrial decline and would stay there for many years while Calne prospered. Ironically, when the sausage factory was knocked down in the early 80's (an event which my father took me to watch), Calne's descent began just as the other towns were on the way up again.

 

I think that I was trying to seek other's examples of where one man's brass plaque has been a millstone round the neck for all involved ever since. I wondered if this one instance - a landowner's gift of suitable and adequate size being replaced with an industrialist's gift of rather vulgar proportions - was repeated elsewhere.

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Should we be thankful or envious that we're not American?

 

We could have something like that bad hair day in the Walt Disney Concert Hall - a gift to the county of Los Angeles from the Toyota Motor Corp (but not, I'll wager, for philanthropic reasons). At least the instrument looks as if it might be rather fine. Haven't heard it though.

 

Or that extravagance with illuminated stop knobs in Hurricane.

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Well, that all makes perfect sense.  But I have perhaps explained things badly, so I'll have another go - not to be argumentative, but to try to be clearer, as I think you are saying what I was trying to.

 

I have read a bit about Saltaire, and Calne is a broadly similar situation - Mr Harris the bacon man basically employed and housed the whole town and spared it from dereliction when the textiles trade started leaking away.  He was helped by largely having an infrastructure in place, and he wasn't quite so didactic about what his workers should do in their spare time as old Titus. 

 

Just for clarification - the term "sausage organ" I used is what it's affectionately known as locally, paid for as it was by a sausage magnate - this was not meant to be a pejorative term.

 

My slightly expanded argument localised to this one instance runs as follows:

 

1) the previous organ was a gift too from a local aristo, and was a pretty complete 2 manual Holdich, only 60 years old at the time of its scrapping - it will have been more than ample for the (very old) building and was clearly designed to be useful, not showy

 

2) if a new organ was actually needed, which I doubt, and it was down to the church and musicians to choose, they probably would have gone for something sensibly sized, sensibly designed, that they could maintain in the future

 

3) as it was, Mr Harris decided it should be a 5 manual Conacher (I'm sure he would have considered 6 if someone had suggested it), drew up the stoplist using a very very big book and signed the cheque, and the poor old church (not a large building by any means) has had to cope with maintaining it ever since - which, let me say, they are doing quite brilliantly - their appeal literature is a model to all.

 

Leaving tonal quality (which is certainly trying to be trendy Schulze) to one side for a moment and just thinking of the practicalities, then in a way, this might be the perfect illustration of both our arguments - ego and civic pride prevailing over common sense and need, but for all the right reasons at the time.  The lack of provision for future maintenance & rebuilding was either stupidly short termist or headily optimistic, depending on your outlook.

 

Calne certainly had much to celebrate at the time, thanks to Mr Harris - the outlying towns (Chippenham, Trowbridge, Melksham) were in industrial decline and would stay there for many years while Calne prospered.  Ironically, when the sausage factory was knocked down in the early 80's (an event which my father took me to watch), Calne's descent began just as the other towns were on the way up again.

 

I think that I was trying to seek other's examples of where one man's brass plaque has been a millstone round the neck for all involved ever since.  I wondered if this one instance - a landowner's gift of suitable and adequate size being replaced with an industrialist's gift of rather vulgar proportions - was repeated elsewhere.

 

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

 

You may well be right David, but I can think of many counter-examples.

 

The Courage brewing-family were enormously important benefactors and supporters of serious organ-building; the family effectively owning T C Lewis at some point or other. They also paid huge amounts of money for Westminster Cathedral and had a large organ in the family home, which Dupre knew well.

 

Of course, the Courage family were a bit older than most industrialists of the day, and probably had artistocratic roots. The few remaining members of the family who still worked in the business when I worked for Courage, were charming, educated and extremely gentile people.

 

A better example is perhaps John Foster; the man who made a fortune from wool and established the famous "Black Dyke Mills" of brass-band fame. He also paid for the Isaac Abbott organ at Queensbury PC outside Bradford, which is absolutely gorgeous and has a BIOS historic organ certificate. (Abbott was a Hill-trained OB, I believe)

 

I can't help but think, that certain "middle-men" should really be apportioned the blame for so many musical disasters.....the organists of the day who knew not a lot, and perhaps those who acted as consultant and who may well have embroiled themselves in shady deals with lesser-known "organ-builders" of dubious pedigree.

 

Certainly, organ-building amounted to big money in those days.

 

I suppose the question which must be asked, is whether most organists in Britain, prior to 1850 or so, actually knew ANYTHING about organs: especially those from the mainstream European tradition, which able people such as Dr Gauntlett and Rogers (the organist of Doncaster PC) sought to introduce under the "German" experiment.

 

It says much, that following a promising start, the later organs were stripped of all the most important continental trademarks, and Britain almost took a turn into the blind-alley of orchestral instruments.

 

I think this is precisely why Fr.Wilis shone like a beacon, because the high-pressure, narrow-scale flue approach, with fiery reeds, ensured that there was a fair degree of brightness in the organ-sound, in spite of the lack of mixture-work and the use of tierce ranks.

 

It's only when one looks at the chorus-work of organs such as the Ulster Hall (Hill) and Sydney TH (also Hill), that one begins to realise just how utterly unusual were these great instruments, which almost by accident, tip more than a passing nod to the great traditions of old European organ-builders.

 

I repeat, I do not think the money was the cause of the problem, so much as the means towards a lot of poor-quality musical advice from people who might have been better employed drawing-up plans for rocking-horses.

 

MM

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