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Jeremy Jones

Canterbury Cathedral Organ

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
It's rather like Notre Dame installing a Harrison organ isn't it.

 

Suppose it doesn't matter that Canterbury will have 2 instruments, but how often will the nave organ actually be used? Most of the time it'll probably sit there looking pretty or whatever the case may be. Personally I'd rather the good people of Canterbury gave their money to a more worthy cause like the starving beetles society, or the institute for the procreation and care of grasshoppers.

 

 

To be fair, even in France foreign firms sometimes get a go. Ste Eustache Paris, for instance, has a Van den Heuvel (Dutch). The fact that this contract was placed abroad could be connected with the appalling mess-up that Synaptel and others had with the new electronic systems at Notre Dame a few years before. Put it this way, suddenly there was ample proof that French companies cannot (always) necessarily deliver hi-tec and unusual kit.

 

In case this story is news to anyone, I'm happy to retell it in brief:

For a few months after the last rebuild with all the most up-to-date and fancy memories etc. added, the electronic action control at Notre Dame had failed so badly that in order to play the organ at all the signal went from the console down a dedicated phone line from the cathedral to Synaptel's works, got processed, sent back down another phone line and up to the chests!

 

 

 

 

 

Why have we had so many imported organs? My theory:

Two reasons, both to do with advisers - 1. anxiety over the results of their designs and 2. prestige!

 

I think some of our really high-flying recitalists - you know, the ones that travel everywhere like hired guns - are a bit like our politicians. They are used to being seen on the world stage and seem anxious to demonstrate how they are not insular or bound by our little traditions. At the same time, some of our brilliant players have tried to recommend UK firms with (shall we say) not totally satisfactory outcomes.

 

You will want examples (necessarily 'broad-brush' and sweeping statements!):

Nicholas Kynaston succeeded superbly with Walkers at St.Chad's Birmingham and Kenneth Jones at Tewkesbury Abbey but less happily with Nicholsons at Christchurch Priory and Kenneth Jones at Rugby School. Needless to say, for Athens Town Hall he did not pick a UK firm. He has installed there what has sometimes been referred to as an 'all-purpose Modern European organ'!

 

Simon Preston wanted a Lawrence Phelps at Christ Church, Oxford only for that firm to go bust before the organ could be delivered. He ended up with a Reiger. He also advised on St.John's Smith Square, a Klais. Less known is that he had dealings with Grant Degens and Bradbeer over a scheme for the Barbican Hall which never came to fruition. Mind you, he also designed the 'world-beating' electronic organ at The Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford.

 

Thomas Trotter knows Nicholsons and Manders' work through St.Phillips Cathedral Birmingham and Birmingham Town Hall. For some years he regularly played for services at St.Margaret's Westminster - a badly spoiled romantic J.W.Walker. You could say that for a 'money-no-object job' like Symphony Hall, he was taking no chances - an 'all-purpose Modern European organ' is what they got - Klais, again.

 

Whoever it was on the RCO council that travelled far and wide in search of the best builder for the (now aborted) RCO complex in Birmingham settled on a Goll - presumably because they found some really nice Goll organs sur le continent - all in quite different acoustics from a small auditorioum, but who's fussing?! If it ever occurred to anyone on that committee that the RCO might not need an expensive continental organ they kept this thought firmly to themselves.

 

Two advisers who have been seen to consistently support UK firms are Paul Hale and Margaret Phillips. They are in the minority. For the RC Church, John Rowntree has supported two UK firms (Peter Collins and Nigel Church) he has also overseen the importing of a large number of (not universally successful) small tracker organs. The finest organ built under his aegis IMHO is the Tickell organ at Douai. [sotto voce, though he had that instrument toned down before its inauguration, not neccessarily to its advantage.]

 

Some of our advisers have backed UK firms for the very logical reasons that these organ-builders are used to caring for and thoroughly understand our native organ heritage. Designers of this kind are Nicholas Thisthlethwaite, the late Michael Gillingham and Ian Bell. Where a traditional 'English' organ is required, these people know what to do. In the case of concert halls - planners nearly always look for a big recitalist's advice and (as seen above) to many of these the import looks like a good move. To put Professor Titterington on to the job at Canterbury does seem to be a little 'out of left field' - though let it not be forgotten that he has had a deal of Anglican experience, viz. he was an Organ Scholar at Oxford and Organist and Choirmaster at All Saints' Church, Cheltenham before he became famous.

 

It has been mentioned here before that there are problems with importing a large organ for one of our cathedrals or town halls. These are bound up with the particular uses such organs are put to over here. Our Town Hall tradition is unique - the closest anywhere else might be municipal organs in the USA. Our Town Halls soak up tone and need plenty of fundamental tone at 16 and 8' pitch. Our cathedral choirs and their repertoire are similarly unique - a certain refinement is desirable in registers that are intended for accompaniment. Blending reeds in particular seem to be a problem for builders who have always specialised in West end organs in massive buildings abroad. Why should we be surprised when Klais and others produce reeds that don't sound terribly pleasant in an English Church? This isn't a market they often have to deal with. I had no particular regard for the 50s Mander (re-using mostly earlier pipework) that stood in St.Lawrence Jewry, but the reedwork that was thrown away there recently was IMHO much easier on the ear that the splendidly made but unusual (to our ears) reeds that have been put in the new organ. To be fair to Klais, in an equivalent sized German church, they would have been asked to build a specification half the size for a completely different musical use. Horses for courses?

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Sadly, my hunch is that Canterbury will see yet another new organ(s) contract going to a mainland European or Scandinavian builder, adding further to the demise of reputation of British organ builders.  Only the crumbs (tuning) are likely to go to a British outfit. But like Paul, I hope I’m wrong. No apologies for being patriotic, Canterbury is the mother church of the Anglican Communion and, as such, aught to have a British-made organ. We can do it!

 

I think Barry's pessimism about the reputation of British organbuilding is not entirely justified.

 

Our native builders are getting the majority of the work in the UK. How many of our cathedrals have an organ constructed or rebuilt by a non-UK builder? They can be counted on the fingers of one watch, can't they?

 

It's just that we don't take much notice when a UK firm lands a major British instrument, whether new or a rebuild - e.g. Exeter, Peterborough, Bridlington, St Albans, OLEM and Magdalen College (Cambridge), St Davids, etc. By contrast, if Klais were to be appointed to rebuild (say) Liverpool Cathedral, everybody would know about it.

 

The traffic is not all one way, either. Harrison's list 16 organs built for overseas customers in the last 20 years, and they are about to start work at Stockholm City Hall. Mander's have several overseas instruments under their belt, including seven in Japan. Henry Willis & Co have just signed for an organ in Florence. Goetz and Gwynn list 4 overseas instruments among the 11 new instruments featured on their web site.

 

Talk of the demise of the reputation of British organbuilders is rather premature. It is also likely to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. We should be talking up the UK organbuilding industry, not talking it down.

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Guest Roffensis
I think Barry's pessimism about the reputation of British organbuilding is not entirely justified. 

 

Our native builders are getting the majority of the work in the UK.  How many of our cathedrals have an organ constructed or rebuilt by a non-UK builder?  They can be counted on the fingers of one watch, can't they?

 

It's just that we don't take much notice when a UK firm lands a major British instrument, whether new or a rebuild - e.g. Exeter, Peterborough, Bridlington, St Albans, OLEM and Magdalen College (Cambridge), St Davids, etc.  By contrast, if Klais were to be appointed to rebuild (say) Liverpool Cathedral, everybody would know about it.

 

The traffic is not all one way, either.  Harrison's list 16 organs built for overseas customers in the last 20 years, and they are about to start work at Stockholm City Hall. Mander's have several overseas instruments under their belt, including seven in Japan.  Henry Willis & Co have just signed for an organ in Florence. Goetz and Gwynn list 4 overseas instruments among the 11 new instruments featured on their web site.

 

Talk of the demise of the reputation of British organbuilders is rather premature.  It is also likely to be a self-fulfilling prophesy.  We should be talking up the UK organbuilding industry, not talking it down.

 

Well said. Firstly, can I say I cannot see any reason to wish to use the nave and choir organs at Canterbury in tandem, beyond support for congregational singing. The choir organ is, and always has been poor in the nave, because of the unique acoustics (yes there are two), it's a more difficult building even than St Pauls to design ONE organ for. You couldn't. I see an ideal chance to have a very unique organ in the Canterbury nave, and think a Klais or Letourneau, from what I have heard, would sound magnificent, and also enforce singing in the nave as required. Who would want two organs that both speak the same language? Our foreign builders have made some very fine organs here, and I have played the Letourneau at Pembroke, Oxford, and it is really a delight. That sound is never going to tire anyone. A very forceful organ in the nave may be wrong, because there is total 100% acoustic reflection, it needs COLOUR!!!!!

 

The choir organ should be returned quite rightly to its use for which it was built, and as for British builders, I cannot enthuse about them, as some have done such unwarranted vandalism in past years, although latterly I think they have realised......as the pendulem swung back to common sense..... But despite that I would be very wary who to trust......

 

The Klais rebuild of Bath, following some thoroughly drastic work on the old Hill, the original Hill I mean, has provided a very balanced organ, which, if you listen, has not obliterated it's original character. That cannot be said of Gloucester. One would not wish to see the Willlis at Canterbury obscured, or compromised, but as for a new nave organ, let's go for it. The world is a big place, even if a 4 manual in the nave seems a little big!

 

R

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Well said. Firstly, can I say I cannot see any reason to wish to use the nave and choir organs at Canterbury in tandem, beyond support for congregational singing. The choir organ is, and always has been poor in the nave, because of the unique acoustics (yes there are two), it's a more difficult building even than St Pauls to design ONE organ for. You couldn't. I see an ideal chance to have a very unique organ in the Canterbury nave, and think a Klais or Letourneau, from what I have heard, would sound magnificent, and also enforce singing in the nave as required. Who would want two organs that both speak the same language? Our foreign builders have made some very fine organs here, and I have played the Letourneau at Pembroke, Oxford, and it is really a delight. That sound is never going to tire anyone. A very forceful organ in the nave may be wrong, because there is total 100% acoustic reflection, it needs COLOUR!!!!!

 

The choir organ should be returned quite rightly to its use for which it was built, and as for British builders, I cannot enthuse about them, as some have done such unwarranted vandalism in past years, although latterly I think they have realised......as the pendulum swung back to common sense..... But despite that I would be very wary who to trust......

 

The Klais rebuild of Bath, following some thoroughly drastic work on the old Hill, the original Hill I mean, has provided a very balanced organ, which, if you listen, has not obliterated it's original character. That cannot be said of Gloucester. One would not wish to see the Willlis at Canterbury obscured, or compromised, but as for a new nave organ, let's go for it. The world is a big place, even if a 4 manual in the nave seems a little big!

 

R

 

I agree about Klais at Bath (although know of others on here who do not) and would also point out that with David Flood in charge Canterbury has a first rate practitioner who is not going to let just anything happen. One must remember that he was at Lincoln with it's Willis before Canterbury and..... was part of the group instrumental in getting the new Aubertin for St John's College Oxford!

 

AJJ

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Who would want two organs that both speak the same language?

Probably no one in their right mind - if the two organs are to be kept totally separate. The thing here, though, is that they apparently aren't since the screen console is going to control both. So it is going to be more like some of those large German organs where master consoles control several different instruments. Whilst I recognise - and accept - the practical necessity of what is proposed at Canterbury, I just happen to think that whatever is under the control of one console should have a consistent integrity. Because you can bet your last cent that sooner or later some oik of a tyro organist will come along and mix and match indiscriminately. Whether such people are allowed at Canterbury I have no idea - it's more the principle of the thing than anything else. In other words, have one organ or two, but make your mind up and don't pretend that two are one. I have a feeling not many are going to agree with me though.

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Guest Roffensis
Probably no one in their right mind - if the two organs are to be kept totally separate. The thing here, though, is that they apparently aren't since the screen console is going to control both. So it is going to be more like some of those large German organs where master consoles control several different instruments. Whilst I recognise - and accept - the practical necessity of what is proposed at Canterbury, I just happen to think that whatever is under the control of one console should have a consistent integrity. Because you can bet your last cent that sooner or later some oik of a tyro organist will come along and mix and match indiscriminately. Whether such people are allowed at Canterbury I have no idea - it's more the principle of the thing than anything else. In other words, have one organ or two, but make your mind up and don't pretend that two are one. I have a feeling not many are going to agree with me though.

 

Well wouldn't it be a monster console if they both were controlled from the one.....I wonder if there may be two independent consoles surely?

 

R

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Good point, Richard. Maybe I misread Alistair's post though he did say "Perhaps the nave organ will have its own console downstairs too" (my emphasis).

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While we would all like to support UK organ builders in projects such as this, in these days of free trade it is normal for tenders to be invited by advertisement in the Journal of the European Union. Then it comes down to who can meet the specified requirements for the lowest tender. In my professional career, I sometimes had to go with suppliers I would not have chosen, but who could demonstrate they were competent enough and offered good value for public money. Sadly it is not always the purchaser or consultant's choice that wins.

 

JC

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True, but the EU procurement rules are for public authorities and I doubt that the Anglican church is classed as a public body - in which case it would not be required to advertise the tender in the Official Journal. As far as I know the private sector is free to place its contracts where it chooses. Damn, I'm unsure - I must check.

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Guest delvin146
Well wouldn't it be a monster console if they both  were controlled from the one.....I wonder if there may be two independent consoles surely?

 

R

 

Why not just go for an eight manual console. Might as well make it circular with a large green curtain with the stop tabs dispursed all around. It could be walk-in rather like those modern public lavatories.

 

It'd be a first for this country, and both Liverpool Anglican and RAH might well be feeling a bit sick about it. Before you know it'll be battle of the organs and Liverpool and RAH will be upgrading to full length 128' pedal reeds en chamade and tuba mixtures.

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Why not just go for an eight manual console. Might as well make it circular with a large green curtain with the stop tabs dispursed all around. It could be walk-in rather like those modern public lavatories.

 

It'd be a first for this country, and both Liverpool Anglican and RAH might well be feeling a bit sick about it. Before you know it'll be battle of the organs and Liverpool and RAH will be upgrading to full length 128' pedal reeds en chamade and tuba mixtures.

 

 

I don't see why it need be a more complex console than, say, St Pauls, which is controlling organs in three parts of the building. And, given the sort of people who are going to play it, why would it be a problem anyway?

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It's rather like Notre Dame installing a Harrison organ isn't it.

 

 

To my ears (and I think that Mark Wimpress would agree), it sounds as if that is exactly what they have done....!

 

<_<

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For a few months after the last rebuild with all the most up-to-date and fancy memories etc. added, the electronic action control at Notre Dame had failed so badly that in order to play the organ at all the signal went from the console down a dedicated phone line from the cathedral to Synaptel's works, got processed, sent back down another phone line and up to the chests!

 

Indeed - and not just for a few months, either! At the recital to commemmorate the tenth anniversary of the death of Cochereau, David Briggs was playing some monumental work - and the organ quite literally seized-up in the middle of a climactic moment. He decided to back-track - whereupon it did the same thing at the same point. I cannot recall what he did then. After several such happenings during services, the cathedral authorities decided to take action. Eventually, the computer part of the equipment was largely replaced (significant advances in signal-processing, etc, having been made by then) and the telephone connection to Synaptel was severed (and they went off to sulk somewhere). Most concerned felt, with hindsight, that the idea had been in advance of the technology available at the time.

 

There is a happy ending - the organ at Nôtre-Dame is currently extremely reliable and has not had a major computer fault for years, as far as I know.

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I agree about Klais at Bath (although know of others on here who do not) ...

AJJ

 

Indeed, Alastair! I am one who does not. I have played both instruments (as, no doubt, have others here) and the reeds have been altered - particularly those on the Pedal Organ. I find them now all too similar. More importantly, it has lost a department; there were five clavier divisions before the recent rebuild.

 

I confess that I actually thought that the former instrument made a superb sound and was quite adequate for everything which it was called upon to perform. It had a comprehensive specification, superb choruses and excellent reeds.

 

However, each to his own!

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I confess that I actually thought that the former instrument made a superb sound and was quite adequate for everything which it was called upon to perform. It had a comprehensive specification, superb choruses and excellent reeds.

Me too. Used to enjoy playing that. Was never quite convinced that the Positive department gelled with the rest, though - nice as it was on its own. I don't know the Klais.

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Guest Roffensis
I don't see why it need be a more complex console than, say, St Pauls, which is controlling organs in three parts of the building.  And, given the sort of people who are going to play it, why would it be a problem anyway?

 

 

Think of the number of stops.......two four manual organs.......... <_<

 

R

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Can't see that being a problem. Current organ has 60 stops. Even if they increase that to 70 and build a similar-sized nave organ, the screen console's still going to be a lot smaller than Liverpool Cathedral. Atlanta Cathedral has around 140 stop knobs on a low-level console and it's perfectly manageable.

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Guest Roffensis
Can't see that being a problem. Current organ has 60 stops. Even if they increase that to 70 and build a similar-sized nave organ, the screen console's still going to be a lot smaller than Liverpool Cathedral. Atlanta Cathedral has around 140 stop knobs on a low-level console and it's perfectly manageable.

 

 

That's true.

 

R

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What seems to be getting lost here is that Canterbury wants to recruit just one organ-builder to provide a new 4M Nave organ and rebuild the existing 3M Choir organ as a 4M with added casework. This is a huge undertaking and there are only a small number of organ-builders with a big enough workforce that could in all probability take on such a project: Harrisons, Manders, Klais, Rieger and Letourneau.

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Indeed, Alastair! I am one who does not. I have played both instruments (as, no doubt, have others here) and the reeds have been altered - particularly those on the Pedal Organ. I find them now all too similar. More importantly, it has lost a department; there were five clavier divisions before the recent rebuild.

 

I confess that I actually thought that the former instrument made a superb sound and was quite adequate for everything which it was called upon to perform. It had a comprehensive specification, superb choruses and excellent reeds.

 

However, each to his own!

I too always enjoyed playing the instrument in its former state, however I would also agree that reconstructed organ is a very fine and exciting instrument. The old organ was, in my opinion, much better suited to choral accompaniment and english music generally, whereas the new organ not surprisingly is better as a germanic recital instrument.

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The old organ was, in my opinion, much better suited to choral accompaniment and english music generally, whereas the new organ not surprisingly is better as a germanic recital instrument.

How many times do we hear this when a new continental instrument has been installed? Though the spec may appear on paper to fit the bill, in reality we often hear about accompaniment being harder work than it ought to be. You'd have thought people would ahve learnt by now. Or are the incumbent organists more concerned about organ music than the Opus Dei?

 

For the record, I have loved all the Klais instruments I have played or heard so far.

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Here's something nice from Von Beckerath to get us thinking about new 4 mans.:

 

Marlborough College

 

Great Swell (enclosed)

Großprincipal 16’ Flûte allemande 16’

Principal 8’ Bourdon 8’

Principal Célèste 8’ Flûte ouvrit 8’

Rohrgedeckt 8’ Viole d’Orchestre 8’

Viola da Gamba 8’ Voix Célèste 8’

Octave 4’ Aeoline 8’

Waldflöte 4’ Fugara 4’

Quinte 2 2/3’ Flûte octaviante 4’

Superoctave 2’ Nazard 2 2/3’

Cornet V 8’ Octavin 2’

Mixtur V 1 1/3’ Tierce 1 3/5’

Cymbel III 2/3’ Sifflet 1’

Bombarde 16’ Harmonia Aethera III 2 2/3’

Trompete 8’ Plen Jeu V 2’

Clarine 4’ Basson 16’

Trompette harmonique 8’

Hautbois 8’

Clairon 4’

 

Positif Solo (enclosed)

Prestant 8’ Harmonic Flute 8’

Holzgedeckt8’ Dulciana 8’

Prestant 4’ Concert Flute 4’

Spielflöte 4’ Vox Humana 8’

Nasat 2 2/3’ Clarinet 8’

Terz 1 3/5’ Trumpet 8’

Gemshorn 2’ Tuba 8’

Larigot 1 1/3’

Scharf IV 1’

Cromorne 8’

 

Pedal

Untersatz 32’

Principalbass 16’

Offenflöte 16’

Bordun !6’

Octavbass 8’

Flötenbass 8’

Choralbass 4’

Mixtur V 4’

Kontrabombarde 32’

Bombarde 16’

Fagott 16’

Posaune 8’

 

It's just up the road from here - and ready now I think.

 

AJJ

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