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Pierre Lauwers

The 1908 Organ Of Ely Cathedral

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Hello Ladies and gentlemen,

 

We happened to discuss this one on another thread, and I believe it deserves a thread for itself alone. May I suggest our aim is not to criticize what has been done by X or Y; I am not that clever to know what I had done if I was 35 years older. Better? Really?

 

My aim is to try to grasp a better understanding of the late-romantic, or "post-romantic" (french: Post-romantique) organ. This was a rare period of freedom; the big names were gone, that had set the pace and the standards. Their followers tried to break the moulds to try something else, but still between the boundaries of the romantic-symphonic organ.

 

England was at the very forefront of this evolution; there were many interesting, if not mature, experimentations. France, in comparison, did near to nothing but simply adapt some ideas from abroad. Let's cite only two names: Hope-Jones and Thynne, in quite different ways, delivered many new tonal ideas.

 

Then came Harrison & Harrison, who took these ideas and turned them into professionally build, reliable, near to mature organs. Their 1908 organ for Ely Cathedral is a splendid example:

 

GREAT

 

Sub Bourdon 32'

Gross Geigen 16'

Contra Clarabella 16'

Open Diapason I 8'

Open Diapason II 8'

Open Diapason III 8'

Hohl flute 8'

Geigen 8'

Quint 5 1/3'

Wald Flöte 4'

Geigen Principal 4'

Octave 4'

Octave Quint 2 2/3'

Super Octave 2'

Mixture 5 ranks

Harmonics 5 ranks (actually a mutation chorus with Tierces and Septiemes)

Trombone 16'

Tromba 8'

Octave Tromba 4'

 

SWELL

 

Lieblich 16'

Echo Gamba 8'

Vox angelica 8'

Open Diapason 8'

Lieblich 8'

Lieblich Flöte 4'

Principal 4'

Fiftheenth 2'

Sesquialtera 5 ranks

Double Trumpet 16'

Trumpet 8'

Horn 8'

Oboe 8'

Horn Quint 5 1/3'

Clarion 4'

 

CHOIR

 

Double Salicional 16'

Open Diapason 8'

Salicional 8'

Gedackt 8'

Dulciana 8'

Flauto traverso 4'

Salicet 4'

Dulcet 2'

Dulciana mixture 3 ranks

 

SOLO

 

Contra viola 16'

Viole d'orchestre 8'

Harmonic flute 8'

Violes celestes 8' (probably two ranks, one flat, one sharp)

Viole octaviante 4'

Concert flute 4'

Cornet de violes 3 ranks

Clarinet 16'

Cor anglais 8'

Orchestral Oboe 8'

Tuba 8'

 

PEDAL

 

Double open Wood 32'

Double stopped Diapason 32'

Open Wood 16'

Open Diapason 16'

Sub Bass 16'

Salicional 16' (From Choir?)

Stopped Diapason 16'

Violone 16'

Flute 8'

Violoncello 8'

Octave Wood 8'

Bombardon 32'

Ophicleide 16'

Posaune 8'

 

This not too huge organ displays many quite interesting features. The Solo organ alone is something historic, featuring things you will never find on the continent, such as the Cornet de Violes, the Violes celestes and the very orchestral reeds. The Choir is surprising in that it has no reeds, it is actually a Dulciana chorus above anything else, tough one may suppose it must have been a somewhat stringy version; an accompanimental division only? Really? As to the tonal balance, you may observe the "bottom-heavy" tendancy so often attributed to this period is evident only in the Pedal -yes, rather quite evident-. Well, I already talk too much.

Any comments?

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Ours was one of the companies invited to tender for the most recent work at Ely, and I copy two extracts from our report which might be interesting to others:

 

Extract 1

 

The history of the organ at Ely Cathedral is well documented and there would seem to be little point in re-iterating it here in detail except where it is relevant to the instrument in its present form. The most recent article is that by Cecil Clutton published in the organ (No. 219 page 112) shortly after the 1975 re-build, for which he acted as advisor. M.P. Conway, organist at Ely Cathedral at the time the 1932 work was undertaken, also published an article in The Organ (No. 44 page 193). Probably only of passing interest is the edited letter of Canon Dickson to the Musical Opinion re-published in the first issue of The Organ of July 1921. Of these, that by “Sam” Clutton is undoubtedly of the most interest to us now as it illuminates the thoughts behind the work undertaken in 1975. Indeed, as in all Clutton's articles, there is the intriguing mixture of historical fact, unashamed opinion and general comment which always made his writings informative, entertaining and eminently readable.

 

Extract 2

 

As stated above, Clutton's article gives us some useful insight into the thinking behind the work of 1975. Whilst on financial terms (inflation taken into account) it may have been more modest than previous re-builds, it was perhaps paradoxically the most radical. Clutton himself was clearly aware of the dangers of combining styles in one instrument and perhaps the work undertaken was less radical than elsewhere. But nonetheless, the general perception at the time of a need to extend the repertoire of an instrument was clearly uppermost in the minds of Clutton and Dr. Arthur Wells. He was aware of the lack of secondary choruses observing that “In terms of balance, the Willis Swell was a similar version of the Great....but in a Harrison organ it is the Great first and foremost and the rest (were) very poor also-rans.” It is this aspect of Harrison work which he tried to address. The Great and Pedal reeds were completely re-voiced with new shallots and in a completely different style from that for which they had been made. Some mixtures were re-cast and re-voiced and others added, and of course a new Positive section was added in the (by then) empty Chaire case.

 

It is easy to be critical of the work undertaken in 1975 some twenty two years later. Firstly, it is clear that funds were limited and every effort was expended in ensuring that as much was achieved as possible within the financial constraints. Secondly, as Clutton was aware, the material he was presented with at Ely did not lend itself to development as easily as that say at St. Paul's Cathedral. Sound as the Arthur Harrison work undoubtedly was as a basis, it had a strong and unique character of its own; one that did and would not readily sing in a new voice. Much of the success of the re-modelling therefore depended on what could be achieved with the reeds and upperwork. By the standards of the time, the result was undoubtedly successful and the instrument retained a strong and unique character although perhaps by now one which was a little difficult to define. Not surprisingly, after a succession of re-builds the root of the instrument had been somewhat obscured and there is an inevitable degree of incoherence in the overall concept. Some aspects are clearly at odds with the underlying ethos of the organ: one might cite the Swell Sharp Mixture, the Positive Organ and the treatment of the Great chorus reeds and Fanfare Trumpet as examples. The reeds in particular have now been radically revoiced twice, the last time involving sleeves for the new shallots where for reasons of tuning stability, new blocks would have been preferable.

 

In passing, the removal of the Great 32ft Sub Bourdon may now be seen as regrettable. One suspects the purpose of such a stop may not have been fully appreciated, indeed it is only with our own recent research into the organs of Schulze that we have come to understand how such registers enhanced the effectiveness of a manual division. We have therefore proposed that this interesting attribute is restored to the organ.

 

Like so many instruments both here and elsewhere in the English speaking world, the organ at Ely has now reached a point in its history where a careful assessment of its present tonal attributes as well as its history would be beneficial. It has been modified and extended too often already and the integrity of the scheme as a whole (which it undoubtedly once had) has been somewhat obscured over the years. It remains an instrument of character with good and useful attributes, but somewhat lost in the overall scheme. At a time when the whole liturgical use of the Cathedral is changing, it makes sense to look at the organ to see how it can best serve the liturgy in the future. In order to understand where the organ is now, it needs to be investigated carefully to see where its strengths lie and what is contributing to its deficiencies.

 

There is little doubt that some voices will be raised suggesting that the original Arthur Harrison scheme should be re-created, notwithstanding that that scheme in itself was not wholly original as it contained a significant amount of earlier material. If the organ at Ely were the last surviving (if altered) work of Arthur Harrison, the case might well be overwhelming for its re-creation, but this is clearly not so. Whilst other and more worthy examples (St. Mary Redcliffe, City Hall Newcastle, Caird Hall Dundee for example) survive in more original condition it would seem pointless to embark on a conjectural restoration of the organ at Ely.

 

Equally, however, this does not give a builder in the late 20th century carte blanche to re-model yet again without regard to the material which remains within the instrument. Rather, the present day builder is presented with a challenge to re-discover the heart of the instrument and to develop it artistically into both a liturgical useful and highly musical instrument. This entails stripping away (mentally) the inappropriate additions and alterations and using the foundation as a basis on which to build. The aim would be to produce an instrument with integrity first and foremost and this aim in itself makes an understanding of the foundation pre-requisite. This we have attempted to do in forming these proposals.

 

(End of quote)

 

Most surprising to me about the work which Sam Clutton oversaw at Ely was the difference in approach to the work just a few years earlier at St. Paul's where there was a conscious aim to keep well within the general style of the Willis work. The approach at Ely was much more radical and ultimately (in my opinion) flawed. But it is so easy to criticise all these years later and one has to keep it all in context.

 

John Pike Mander

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>>>Most surprising to me about the work which Sam Clutton oversaw at Ely was the difference in approach to the work just a few years earlier at St. Paul's where there was a conscious aim to keep well within the general style of the Willis work. The approach at Ely was much more radical and ultimately (in my opinion) flawed. But it is so easy to criticise all these years later and one has to keep it all in context.<<<

 

This is highly interesting John and vital information to the debate. I would hope that if one were to encounter the Ely organ in supreme 1908 condition now that one would propose the most strictest of preservation schemes with an option for a second organ of defined character as required for contrasting musical use. As I have alluded to in other posts the 1908 scheme caught the attention and passion of several contemporary and later writers in the same way as the Armley Schulze did.

 

But the 1970s was about 'progressive change' in a great many sociological contexts and that led to vast obliteration of romantic organ heritage throughout the western world. By contrast it also lead to some staunce preservation such as at Sydney Town Hall and the likes of Australian David Kinsela in tactling the 'establishment' in England and Australia. Such rebuilds were indeed the very catayst for the creation of BIOS.

 

An interesting bi-line is what we do with contemporary instruments by illustrious builders constructed new in that period. Take for example the 1968 Harrison and Harrison in Auckland's Cathedral of the Holy Trinity which commissioned a report from Mark Venning last year. With period features such as no Pedal Open Wood, no Swell Oboe, a high pitched swell mixture that is contrapuntally useless, a typical fanfare reed of the time, open shallot chorus reeds, open toe flue voicing one could be tempted to meddle as some have proposed. Should we leave well enough alone as per the RFH? Or we do we alter to suit the neo- romantic needs of the twenty-first century.

 

It brings us back to Ely I guess. Regrettable modifications but in the context of a later period of time tolerably understandable.

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Dear Michael,

 

If we modify neo-classical organs from the seventies, we loose any credibility;

we'd do exactly what we now regret about older instruments.

I do not know this organ -of course it's a bit far away- but should it be

an homogenous instrument (thus not an awkward bastling with a hotch-potch

of cut-from-gambas nazards etc), I'd advocate: Keep it.

Do we like it or not, no matter.

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Guest Roffensis
Ours was one of the companies invited to tender for the most recent work at Ely, and I copy two extracts from our report which might be interesting to others:

 

Extract 1

 

The history of the organ at Ely Cathedral is well documented and there would seem to be little point in re-iterating it here in detail except where it is relevant to the instrument in its present form. The most recent article is that by Cecil Clutton published in the organ (No. 219 page 112) shortly after the 1975 re-build, for which he acted as advisor. M.P. Conway, organist at Ely Cathedral at the time the 1932 work was undertaken, also published an article in The Organ (No. 44 page 193). Probably only of passing interest is the edited letter of Canon Dickson to the Musical Opinion re-published in the first issue of The Organ of July 1921. Of these, that by “Sam” Clutton is undoubtedly of the most interest to us now as it illuminates the thoughts behind the work undertaken in 1975. Indeed, as in all Clutton's articles, there is the intriguing mixture of historical fact, unashamed opinion and general comment which always made his writings informative, entertaining and eminently readable.

 

Extract 2

 

As stated above, Clutton's article gives us some useful insight into the thinking behind the work of 1975. Whilst on financial terms (inflation taken into account) it may have been more modest than previous re-builds, it was perhaps paradoxically the most radical. Clutton himself was clearly aware of the dangers of combining styles in one instrument and perhaps the work undertaken was less radical than elsewhere. But nonetheless, the general perception at the time of a need to extend the repertoire of an instrument was clearly uppermost in the minds of Clutton and Dr. Arthur Wells. He was aware of the lack of secondary choruses observing that “In terms of balance, the Willis Swell was a similar version of the Great....but in a Harrison organ it is the Great first and foremost and the rest (were) very poor also-rans.” It is this aspect of Harrison work which he tried to address. The Great and Pedal reeds were completely re-voiced with new shallots and in a completely different style from that for which they had been made. Some mixtures were re-cast and re-voiced and others added, and of course a new Positive section was added in the (by then) empty Chaire case.

 

It is easy to be critical of the work undertaken in 1975 some twenty two years later. Firstly, it is clear that funds were limited and every effort was expended in ensuring that as much was achieved as possible within the financial constraints. Secondly, as Clutton was aware, the material he was presented with at Ely did not lend itself to development as easily as that say at St. Paul's Cathedral.  Sound as the Arthur Harrison work undoubtedly was as a basis, it had a strong and unique character of its own; one that did and would not readily sing in a new voice. Much of the success of the re-modelling therefore depended on what could be achieved with the reeds and upperwork. By the standards of the time, the result was undoubtedly successful and the instrument retained a strong and unique character although perhaps by now one which was a little difficult to define. Not surprisingly, after a succession of re-builds the root of the instrument had been somewhat obscured and there is an inevitable degree of incoherence in the overall concept. Some aspects are clearly at odds with the underlying ethos of the organ: one might cite the Swell Sharp Mixture, the Positive Organ and the treatment of the Great chorus reeds and Fanfare Trumpet as examples. The reeds in particular have now been radically revoiced twice, the last time involving sleeves for the new shallots where for reasons of tuning stability, new blocks would have been preferable.

 

In passing, the removal of the Great 32ft Sub Bourdon may now be seen as regrettable. One suspects the purpose of such a stop may not have been fully appreciated, indeed it is only with our own recent research into the organs of Schulze that we have come to understand how such registers enhanced the effectiveness of a manual division. We have therefore proposed that this interesting attribute is restored to the organ.

 

Like so many instruments both here and elsewhere in the English speaking world, the organ at Ely has now reached a point in its history where a careful assessment of its present tonal attributes as well as its history would be beneficial. It has been modified and extended too often already and the integrity of the scheme as a whole (which it undoubtedly once had)  has been somewhat obscured over the years. It remains an instrument of character with good and useful attributes, but somewhat lost in the overall scheme. At a time when the whole liturgical use of the Cathedral is changing, it makes sense to look at the organ to see how it can best serve the liturgy in the future. In order to understand where the organ is now, it needs to be investigated carefully to see where its strengths lie and what is contributing to its deficiencies.

 

There is little doubt that some voices will be raised suggesting that the original Arthur Harrison scheme should be re-created, notwithstanding that that scheme in itself was not wholly original as it contained a significant amount of earlier material. If the organ at Ely were the last surviving (if altered) work of Arthur Harrison, the case might well be overwhelming for its re-creation, but this is clearly not so. Whilst other and more worthy examples (St. Mary Redcliffe, City Hall Newcastle, Caird Hall Dundee for example) survive in more original condition it would seem pointless to embark on a conjectural restoration of the organ at Ely.

 

Equally, however, this does not give a builder in the late 20th century carte blanche to re-model yet again without regard to the material which remains within the instrument. Rather, the present day builder is presented with a challenge to re-discover the heart of the instrument and to develop it artistically into both a liturgical useful and highly musical instrument. This entails stripping away (mentally) the inappropriate additions and alterations and using the foundation as a basis on which to build. The aim would be to produce an instrument with integrity first and foremost and this aim in itself makes an understanding of the foundation pre-requisite. This we have attempted to do in forming these proposals.

 

(End of quote)

 

Most surprising to me about the work which Sam Clutton oversaw at Ely was the difference in approach to the work just a few years earlier at St. Paul's where there was a conscious aim to keep well within the general style of the Willis work. The approach at Ely was much more radical and ultimately (in my opinion) flawed. But it is so easy to criticise all these years later and one has to keep it all in context.

 

John Pike Mander

 

Well said John, it was radical, but look at what was happening elsewhere, it was relatively conservative!!. I think the latest rebuild has toned down some nasty "corners" it had from 1975, and the replacement of those way too loud great reeds with a more English sound has worked wonders. Of the flaws??...to my mind? well why try to "frenchify" a typically English organ!!?? it slaughtered me then and it still does!! I think as it stands now it has reached its zenith. We have all learnt in time errors in thinking, in Ely's case just in time.

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Oh I agree completely, but I think when compared to the approach at St. Paul's Cathedral (which was what I was comparing it with) it was considerably more radical. Would you not agree?

 

John Pike Mander

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Most surprising to me about the work which Sam Clutton oversaw at Ely was the difference in approach to the work just a few years earlier at St. Paul's where there was a conscious aim to keep well within the general style of the Willis work. The approach at Ely was much more radical and ultimately (in my opinion) flawed. But it is so easy to criticise all these years later and one has to keep it all in context.

 

John Pike Mander

I suspect that the reason for the differing approaches had less to do with Cecil Clutton and more to do with the cathedral organists at Ely and St Paul's at the time of the rebuilds, namely Arthur Wills and Christopher Dearnley.

 

I recall a review in Organists Review a couple of years ago of Paul Trepte's recording of the Ely organ made after the 2001 restoration. This had distinctly unfavourable things to say about the 1975 rebuild. Perhaps not surprisingly, the next issue of OR contained a long and somewhat defensive letter from Arthur Wills that can simply be summed up as saying: "I woz right!".

 

Jeremy Jones

London

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I recall a review in Organists Review a couple of years ago of Paul Trepte's recording of the Ely organ made after the 2001 restoration. This had distinctly unfavourable things to say about the 1975 rebuild. Perhaps not surprisingly, the next issue of OR contained a long and somewhat defensive letter from Arthur Wills that can simply be summed up as saying: "I woz right!".

 

Jeremy Jones

London

 

However flawed or misguided the 1975 rebuild may have been, my recollection is of a wonderfully exciting reed-dominated tutti, which reached right down the nave. As I recall, there was no shortage either of soft and colourful ensembles for the accompaniment of psalms and canticles.

 

Whit Sunday processions were a wonderful affair with the organ providing crackling 'tongues-of-fire' improvisations as the choir, led by Dr Wills in doctoral robes, sang alternatim unaccompanied verses of a hymn on their way to the west end. After a short prayer, the return to the lantern crossing, with clergy and congregation following, proceeded in equally splendid fashion, Fanfare Trumpet and all, leaving groups of suitably awe-struck tourists by the bookstall.

 

It would be wrong to decry more recent painstaking, scholarly and, perhaps, slightly worthy attempts to recapture the style of William Hill and other 19c. builders, but I'd like to think that, just occasionally, the more 'maverick' reincarnations like Ely 1975 might be allowed to survive.

 

John Sayer

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However flawed or misguided the 1975 rebuild may have been, my recollection is of a wonderfully exciting reed-dominated tutti, which reached right down the nave.  As I recall, there was no shortage either of soft and colourful ensembles for the accompaniment of psalms and canticles.

 

Whit Sunday processions were a wonderful affair with the organ providing crackling 'tongues-of-fire' improvisations as the choir, led by Dr Wills in doctoral robes, sang alternatim unaccompanied verses of a hymn on their way to the west end.  After a short prayer, the return to the lantern crossing, with clergy and congregation following, proceeded in equally splendid fashion, Fanfare Trumpet and all, leaving groups of suitably awe-struck tourists by the bookstall.

 

It would be wrong to decry more recent painstaking, scholarly and, perhaps, slightly worthy attempts to recapture the style of William Hill and other 19c. builders, but I'd like to think that, just occasionally, the more 'maverick' reincarnations like Ely 1975 might be allowed to survive.

 

John Sayer

 

I would concur heartily with these sentiments. As it stands now, the organ represents an uneasy compromise between Arthur Harrison's original ground-breaking 1908 scheme (many of the changes specified for Durham, although being drawn-up in 1905, were not actually inserted until 1935) and the infinitely more exciting Wills/H&H scheme of 1975.

 

I still think that the '70s rebuild was tremendously exciting and used carefully, musical. Now the chorus reeds (to my ears) are rather boring and duplicate many examples to be heard elsewhere in the British Isles. I do not see what is so bad about a slightly more 'continental european' timbre. Well, it may have gone a little further than that, but there was so much excitement and life to the sound. Now we have yet another tuba and very 'polite' reeds. (As Downes said, apart from the piece by Norman Cocker, little real music has been written for tuba stops.) Yes, I suppose that they can be used in fanfares, but so can fanfare trumpets - often more effectively.

 

For the record, it is also worth noting that the 1975 rebuild introduced a Positive Organ, supplying useful mutation ranks and a balancing secondary chorus (as originally voiced, I think that it is fair to say that Arthur Harrison's Swell Organs never balanced effectively - works such as the Dorian Toccata have to be played quietly if Bach's manual changes are to make sense.) There were also one or two quiet unison ranks added, including a beautiful flute céleste on the Choir Organ. In my view, all these changes helped to make a thoroughly good instrument. The quality of the H&H voicing was certainly not sub-standard!

 

And, no, I do not know why my post has decided to italicise itself - presumably I have forgotten to cancel something, or pressed something else at the wrong time - frequent problems for organists.... :blink:

 

Ah - fixed, I think

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Can anyone explain to me what the point is of a Clarinet at 16' pitch? I hold the somewhat unfashionable view that a good, enclosed, clarinet or corno-di-bassetto 8' is essential for successful realisation of a good part of the anglican choral repertoire but struggle to see the virtue of such a stop at 16'.

 

Please elucidate!

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How about the 'dark' verses from the Psalms of David? Or the odd, quiet mysterious pedal part (if nothing, else the 'darkness over all the land' bit from everybody's favourite Crucifixion?)

 

Then there are those moments when you require a thin but intense 'full Swell' effect, but a fat Fagotto or Double Trumpet just will not do.

 

H&H (and others) occasionally used them in smaller instruments as the Swell double (and, occasionally in larger instruments, as at St. Alban's Abbey). So did Downes/Walker at Buckfast Abbey.

 

I have often found such a rank useful in creating subtle timbres when accompanying.

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Guest Roffensis
Oh I agree completely, but I think when compared to the approach at St. Paul's Cathedral (which was what I was comparing it with) it was considerably more radical. Would you not agree?

 

John Pike Mander

 

St Pauls rebuild was never "radical" in my book, logical yes, and it preserved the basic elements of the job. Ely went too far, and it came out sounding really quite undignified, and incidently has never yet been caught at all accurately by any recording, so that a vist is essential. People hanker on too much about recordings, which have their limits and simply fail to give a accurate reading of a job. back to St Pauls, you can hear everything going on there now, and there is no duplication or wastage, in the way prior to 73 it had just grown and got a multitude of carbuncles attached it. Looking at what was happenning elsewhere it was a very laid back and conservative approach. I always admired it. The one I hanker on about that was way too radical was canterbury, which followed on the heels of St pauls. Manders really lost a lot of credibility over that, and the outing of so much pipework really was to my mind a grave error. There were some excellent solo reeds that should never have gone, and what is there has been tinkered with, ie wind pressures. The 32 reed was lowered, a bad mistake, and other parts also. This was a typical 70s radical rebuild, and it has left the organ quite starved of resources. I think the removal of the old Willis console was also wrong, I knew it and it was a fine console, very easy to get around. I dont like the new one at all, any more than the reduction to a 3 decker. But I also know some of the thinking behind it and it was not manders, who actually were conservative overall, there were other people who wanted it how it is, Allan Wicks had certainly been unhappy with it for a long time. I think things will be addressed there, and I think careful planning around the current original Great and Swell?pedal, with its handful of original choir/solo stops will give rebirth to a very flexible organ. St Pauls had a nave section that was good, canterbury didn't really achieve that, so the chancel organ was hacked to try and overcome attenuation.

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Guest Roffensis

 

I would concur heartily with these sentiments. As it stands now, the organ represents an uneasy compromise between Arthur Harrison's original ground-breaking 1908 scheme (many of the changes specified for Durham, although being drawn-up in 1905, were not actually inserted until 1935) and the infinitely more exciting Wills/H&H scheme of 1975.

 

I still think that the '70s rebuild was tremendously exciting and used carefully, musical. Now the chorus reeds (to my ears) are rather boring and duplicate many examples to be heard elsewhere in the British Isles. I do not see what is so bad about a slightly more 'continental european' timbre. Well, it may have gone a little further than that, but there was so much excitement and life to the sound. Now we have yet another tuba and very 'polite' reeds. (As Downes said, apart from the piece by Norman Cocker, little real music has been written for tuba stops.) Yes, I suppose that they can be used in fanfares, but so can fanfare trumpets - often more effectively.

 

For the record, it is also worth noting that the 1975 rebuild introduced a Positive Organ, supplying useful mutation ranks and a balancing secondary chorus (as originally voiced, I think that it is fair to say that Arthur Harrison's Swell Organs never balanced effectively - works such as the Dorian Toccata have to be played quietly if Bach's manual changes are to make sense.) There were also one or two quiet unison ranks added, including a beautiful flute céleste on the Choir Organ. In my view, all these changes helped to make a thoroughly good instrument. The quality of the H&H voicing was certainly not sub-standard!

 

And, no, I do not know why my post has decided to italicise itself - presumably I have forgotten to cancel something, or pressed something else at the wrong time - frequent problems for organists.... :blink:

 

Ah - fixed, I think

 

Well I don't like Tubas anyway!!!

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Well said John, it was radical, but look at what was happening elsewhere, it was relatively conservative!!. I think the latest rebuild has toned down some nasty "corners" it had from 1975, and the replacement of those way too loud great reeds with a more English sound has worked wonders. Of the flaws??...to my mind? well why try to "frenchify" a typically English organ!!?? it slaughtered me then and it still does!! I think as it stands now it has reached its zenith. We have all learnt in time errors in thinking, in Ely's case just in time.

 

Dear All,

 

Pardon me if I am wrong.

 

I heard the Ely organ in 1992 (maybe some work has been carried on since), and, as being basically a frenchy, I can tell you that this instrument has nothing of french influence in it.

 

To be honnest, I have been quite disappointed about it, and found it rather dull, loud, opaque and confused.

 

I think that the original Harrison was probably rather dark, but certainly homogenous, which did not seem to be the case of this organ in 1992.

 

More broadly, cpncerning "frenchyfying" organs, I think it is a bad mistake. Building a new organ according french lines is of course another matter

 

But as a general matter of fact, I think that your top-class english organs have to be preserved, even with their original key and stop actions when still existing. It is probably to late for Ely.

 

But there still are other organs to be preserved ! Please do not medernise them, but do keep them as masterpieces of their time.

 

I do not want to badly teach lessons, but e.g. Mr Roth in Paris / St Sulpice, and other concertists do not hesitate to present brilliant and very difficult programs on this organ : although absolutely magnificient, the console is relatively far drom being really comfortable....!

 

Please, be courageous ! England has been an incredible place for organ builiding during the two last centuries, and everybody needs the instruments from this period which are still there untouched or almost.

 

I do regret that Ely has been modified, and do regret not having been able to hear it before !

 

Best regards to all of you

 

PF Baron

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More broadly, concerning "frenchyfying" organs, I think it is a bad mistake. Building a new organ according to french lines is of course another matter

He is, of course, bang on!

 

The abomination recently visited upon the Gloucester Cathedral organ is a classic example of indulging an organists' whim for a whiff of authentic Cavaille-Coll a la Notre-Dame in his own organ loft.

 

By all means start from scratch with a Van den Heuvel or suchlike, but don't disembowel an existing English instrument for such a purpose. Mind you, Gloucester was already a lost cause post Downes, so I don't suppose it matters that much.

 

Jeremy Jones

London

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He is, of course, bang on!

 

The abomination recently visited upon the Gloucester Cathedral organ is a classic example of indulging an organists' whim for a whiff of authentic Cavaille-Coll a la Notre-Dame in his own organ loft.

 

By all means start from scratch with a Van den Heuvel or suchlike, but don't disembowel an existing English instrument for such a purpose. Mind you, Gloucester was already a lost cause post Downes, so I don't suppose it matters that much.

 

Jeremy Jones

London

 

Where does this leave Blackburn then?

AJJ

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Blackburn doesn't have the baggage of the Gloucester instrument, the Walker organ only having been built in the late 1960s and certainly not containing the historic pipe or case work to be found at Gloucester. Blackburn was already a pretty stark and un-compromising instrument, in both visual and sonic terms, and, although I don't approve of the addition of electronic stops, the end result suits the building it stands in, both visually and musically.

 

No, what jars at Gloucester is you have the incomparable setting, an instrument that visually looks in harmony with its surroundings, but sounds anything but.

 

It reminds me of a TV advert for a Manchester-brewed beer that has a bit of fun at the expense of arty perfume ads. Filmed in glossy black and white, this has a beautiful woman sashaying across the screen looking like a Greek goddess, making all sorts of artful poses, such as standing in a waterfall. When handed a pint of said beer, she opens her mouth and in a broad Manchester accent says, "Ta, very much".

 

What you see, and what you hear, just isn't cricket.

 

Jeremy Jones

London

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Blackburn as built was quite frenchified, and what was done to it in the recent Briggs rebuild hasn't spoiled its character, but developed it along the same lines. That said, I do think it is too loud for the building and could do with some really soft sounds.

 

I have to say I much prefer Ely in its present incarnation as opposed to the Wills rebuild, which was one organ grafted on to another.

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Guest Roffensis
Blackburn as built was quite frenchified, and what was done to it in the recent Briggs rebuild hasn't spoiled its character, but developed it along the same lines.  That said, I do think it is too loud for the building and could do with some really soft sounds.

 

I have to say I much prefer Ely in its present incarnation as opposed to the Wills rebuild, which was one organ grafted on to another.

 

Blackburn was a pretty bad rebuild, there was no need to add pedal electronic devices, ever inferior to pipes, and this has thickened its tone in a way not intended. The original scheme was very brassy and verticle, and that made for a lot of its character, there was enough in the pedal to balance. It has now lost some of its vigour. Moreover, it did not require beefing up. As to the sub octave coupler, this again was not needed, but if used makes the job go "horizontal". In many ways it has given it a "opaque" sound that reminds me of dear old Gloucester......

It still seems incredible to me that a Cavaille Coll was melted down as considered past it, and organ builders all said so, but it could have been restored. I have a friend whose father played it, and he said it was a magnificent job, needing work yes, but very French!!!!.......and so hey presto.....its fit only for the melting pot. That was its fate. Hmm....the powers that be work their wonders not. A lack of vision if ever there was one.

Gloucester I quite respect in a way, its a sound, and a recognisable one, but it is not good for evensong or anything English, not with those nasty reeds which are actually the old willis, which have been cut around and sound very angry and undignified at such treatment. Not with those bubbly flutes and diapasons, and the screeching mixtures. Funny how screeching mixtures survive at Gloucester, but are intolerable at Worcester, which dont screech anyhow, but that is one reason that the current organ is considered so terrible. yeah right. The old organ at Gloucester was typically Willis/Harrison, the case had been very badly shot at, and at least the 1971 rebuild saw that restored. The basis of the new organ was supposedly on the old Harris stops, but these too were got at, and do not speak how they would have done, they were also altered, so......

The pendulam swings, 1971 sees the organ case roofed to avoid the vault being used as a sounding board and the sound becoming diffuse. The sound is considered nice then, all boxed in and a proper tone cabinet. "Yes we like that", etc etc. The best thing since sliced bread. So, the last rebuild sees the roof removed, to USE the vault as a sounding board. "Yes we like that", the best thing since sliced bread etc etc. This very sort of indecisive action and constant undoing is exactly what makes me so wary when anything is just thrown out on a whim. It is bad enough where something CAN be undone. Think of Blackburn, think of Gloucester, and really you realise we aint so wise after all. At the moment, think of poor Worcester.

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Of course, no played is actually obliged to use the new electronic stops.

 

As for the tone becoming thicker, the addition of a fifteenth as an alternative to the 2' doublette has made the great diapason chorus very much clearer.

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Of course, no played is actually obliged to use the new electronic stops.

 

As for the tone becoming thicker, the addition of a fifteenth as an alternative to the 2' doublette has made the great diapason chorus very much clearer.

True, we don't have to use the additions that thicken it up. Good point!!

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on if ever there was one.

Funny how screeching mixtures survive at Gloucester, but are intolerable at Worcester, which dont screech anyhow, but that is one reason that the current organ is considered so terrible. yeah right....So, the last rebuild sees the roof removed, to USE the vault as a sounding board. "Yes we like that", the best thing since sliced bread etc etc.

 

So which mixtures screech at Gloucester, then? Knowing the instrument quite well, I think that the mixtures are voiced well. The Swell Tierce Cymbel is bright and contributes clearly to the full organ, but does not scream!

 

The case roof.....um, actually, the panels were removed before the 1999 rebuild. Actually, it does give the organ a fuller, richer sound. But, 'too loud for the building'? Definitely not. It only just copes with a full cathedral singing hymns - God help it if the cathedral were to be full of methodists singing....

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I am not an admirer of the Gloucester organ, but would agree that the mixtures don't shriek. Its also not a particularly loud organ. I was in the congregation for an ordination service a fortnight ago and can confirm that it is barely able to support the singing of a large congregation.

 

However, when accompanying services in the quire, its the agression thats the problem. Its hard to accompany sensitively when the organ fizzes and whistles so much, and its hardly a warm or seductive tone.

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If ever there was a case for an organ (its wonderful case excepted) to go into the melting pot and to start anew, it has to be Gloucester. Maybe events down the road at Worcester, where they are to replace the incumbent with not one, but two, new organs, might just make the unthinkable, thinkable.

 

Jeremy Jones

London

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If ever there was a case for an organ (its wonderful case excepted) to go into the melting pot and to start anew, it has to be Gloucester. Maybe events down the road at Worcester, where they are to replace the incumbent with not one, but two, new organs, might just make the unthinkable, thinkable.

 

Jeremy Jones

London

 

I wouldn't melt it down, I still like it, but it does a very undignified quality, it still sounds at odds with itself, and does scream at times. Of course it will sound quieter and even polite with more people in the place. I fully agree with Worcester under threat as the classic 57 variety heap that seems to be the way people less educated see it, but it opens the door for a lot to go in the bin with it. Gloucester is totally un English, and already very out of date tonally as a glance at the spec let alone the sound reveals, and one expects to see it binned within our lifetimes for exactly that reason. Whatever its virtues, some nut will come along and discredit and make some work for a newbie organ builder called Sheila Hiccups and Sons or something. it will happen.The pendulam swings.......

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