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Jonathan Thorne

Bristol Cathedral - Organ Restoration

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Jonathan,

 

On David Briggs's website, it says he is giving a recital at Bristol Cathedral on 21 April to mark the re-opening of the organ after recent action work.

 

Jeremy Jones

London

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True that was why I asked the question!!! :o I also saw it on D B's website! However this is a real British organ with a lot of charactor and richness in a fine Cathedral.

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Am I right in thinking that the organ at Bristol Cathedral is undergoing restoration?

I would be surprised if Bristol Cathedral Organ is being restored when in fact a complete overhaul and rebuild was done back in 1989/90 to critical acclaim. I ve played the Organ a few years ago for a lunchtime Recital and I can state it is in fine fettle.

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I have been the accompanist on the RSCM Bristol Area's 3-day course in Bristol Cathedral for the last 2 years and on both occasions there have been problems with the action - especially that of the solo organ which was quite unreliable.

 

I am due to accompany this year's course, which is always held in the week after Easter, and have made enquiries as to the availability of the organ. I am given to understand that some work on the action was carried out by Tony Cawston last year, during which time an Allen organ was temporarily employed. This work was completed last year.

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If you look up the organ's current specification on the Bristol Catherdral web site http://www.bristol-cathedral.co.uk/ you'll see that there have been changes to the piston system dated 2004. There don't appear to have been any tonal alterations. One alteration has been to change the reversible toe piston that previously operated the Pedal Trombone 16' to work instead on the Double Open Diapason 32', another has been to reduce the number of tutti pistons from two to one.

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I don't think "restoration" is quite the right word. The bellows which were not restored when we did the work (due to lack of funds) has been done now and adjustments made to the action which is original and was always needing a lot of keeping in regulation. No tonal alterations have been made to my knowledge (fortunately).

 

John Pike Mander

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I am glad to hear that the Bristol Cathedral organ has not suffered any tonal alterations. I too had the privilege of playing it for RSCM courses, and found it to be a wonderful instrument. Quite different to the usual Harrison or Willis sounds flying around the vaults; (not that I dislike H&H or Willis organs - rather, I am able to appreciate many types of instrument, as long as they are what I regard as good and musical. Bristol certainly fits into both categories).

 

I think that Bristol is the only cathedral organ where it is possible to 'watch' the pedal reed progess from bay to bay as the echo decays!

 

In addition, there are some cathedral organs that really do not seem to need 32' reeds; Bristol is one; Truro is another. I gather that DB was offered one by Manders (in the sense of fitting it into the restoration - not gratis!) but refused.

 

On the other hand, the glorious H&H at Exeter, which I know well, has benefited greatly from the addition of a superbly-voiced Contra Trombone. Most of the other alterations to the Exeter specification also make sense, save for the loss of the Choir 1' Twenty Second, with which I would not have parted. I regard it as being more generally useful than a Larigot (for example, in combination with the 8' Gedeckt and the Nazard) and as a better pinnacle to the Choir chorus, which now culminates in a quint, rather than a unison. If it was really desirable to have added a Larigot (I know that it is the old Twenty Second re-stacked, with five new bass pipes), then I would have happiy parted with the Lieblich Bourdon, which borrows the 12 lowest notes from the Pedal Bourdon and is probably little-used. However, in most other respects, the Exeter organ is superb.

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I'm a great fan of the Bristol organ, its a fabulous sound and a wonderful instrument on which to accompany choral services, but surely has one of the worst manual actions on any British cathedral organ.

 

A particular irritation to the occasional player, like myself, is the coupler action from swell to great, which seems to have real difficulty in allowing stops from the two departments to speak together (there is a varying delay before the swell stops speak).

 

Is this not a prime example where the desire to preserve historic material has been followed too slavishly, surely a modern action with improved reliability and touch would have been beneficial.

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I can't agree about the Exeter organ. I think the addition of the 32' reed has ruined the look of the case. (Already partly spoilt by its extended height from years earlier). The 32' pipes at the side all poke up above the choir screen. Not a nice sight...

 

 

The pipes are slightly visible. Actually I suspect that most people do not even notice them. As for ruining the case - I personally cannot agree. Whilst they do stick up a little, they do not interfere with the proportions of the case. As far as I know it was raised in 1891. Somewhere or other I have a photograph of the case prior to this. In fact it looks rather dumpy.

 

Anyway, Exeter desperately needed the 32' reed. I am convinced that it is one case where musical needs had to take priority over visual considerations. I can think of much uglier cathedral organs (e.g. St. Patrick's, Dublin). For that matter, Hereford displays its 32' reed on the wall of a choir aisle. These pipes are not particularly beautiful in this situation, either!

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I'm a great fan of the Bristol organ, its a fabulous sound and a wonderful instrument on which to accompany choral services, but surely has one of the worst manual actions on any British cathedral organ.

 

A particular irritation to the occasional player, like myself, is the coupler action from swell to great, which seems to have real difficulty in allowing stops from the two departments to speak together (there is a varying delay before the swell stops speak).

 

Is this not a prime example where the desire to preserve historic material has been followed too slavishly, surely a modern action with improved reliability and touch would have been beneficial.

 

 

The Bristol Organ is a gem and probably one of the few remaining instruments to be found with original actions. For that matter, when the funding was been raised to restore it several people were approach for advice and the consulant was Nicholas Kynaston. There is nothing wrong with tubular pneumatic action. Obviously there will be some sort of delay with any type of action and any Organist needs to bear that in mind and play with the building's acoustics rather then trying to get a instant note resonse straight away. Eton College has a similar Organ with the same type of action and is reliable so I don't see the justification in vadalising something with a modern action to suit the player.

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The Bristol Organ is a gem and probably one of the few remaining instruments to be found with original actions.  For that matter,  when the funding was been raised to restore it several people were approach for advice and the consulant was Nicholas Kynaston.  There is nothing wrong with tubular pneumatic action.  Obviously there will be some sort of delay with any type of action and any Organist needs to bear that in mind and play with the building's acoustics rather then trying to get a instant note resonse straight away.  Eton College has a similar Organ with the same type of action and is reliable so I don't see  the justification in vadalising something with a modern action to suit the player.

 

I agree with this comment.

And moreover, several organ builders told me that when you change the action, the slighest impact this may mean for the windchests implies changes in tone, which may be far greater than expected. I understand the "state of the art", modern restauration this way: if an organ possess character, musicality and an interesting tone, it is to be restaured as it is with if possible no modification at all. And this, even if the organ is an hybrid one. "Pure styles" are another neo-baroque idea. After all -as I discussed it yesterday with friend organists- even Bach's organs were hybrids, and that's the reason nobody can tell "so is a Bach's organ". The drawbacks any organ may have should be understood as a price to pay for the qualities it shows at the same time.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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The Bristol Organ is a gem and probably one of the few remaining instruments to be found with original actions....There is nothing wrong with tubular pneumatic action.  Obviously there will be some sort of delay with any type of action and any Organist needs to bear that in mind and play with the building's acoustics rather then trying to get a instant note resonse straight away.  Eton College has a similar Organ with the same type of action and is reliable so I don't see  the justification in vadalising something with a modern action to suit the player.

 

I would not necessarily agree!

 

From experience, there is quite a lot wrong with tubular pneumatic (both exhaust and pressure). The worst feature, to my mind, is the lousy repetition. It is not a case of suiting the player - it just does not function precisely enough to play at speed, particularly if the music involves quickly repeated notes. The charge of vandalism is surely misplaced.

 

My own instrument has no appreciable delay whatsoever. It has a detached console and electro-pneumatic action and has been functioning well for several decades and has required minimal maintenance. The repetition is excellent.

 

Incidentally, I am unclear as to whether you think the fact that Nicolas Kynaston advised on the Bristol restoration was inherently good, or bad!

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I know several pneumatic organs with excellent repetition. In Belgium, see for example Kerkhoff's organs. Artists like Rolande Falcinelli were content with them in this respect. Willis had an excellent reputation in this matter too.

 

I learned from a friend organ-builder that when releathering one should pay attention ever replacing all parts at their original place. For this reason, never dismantle anything in advance -"to be restored where it is".

 

Pneumatic organs have a particular attack that is not devoided of charm. Let them be !

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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No, I am not convinced!

 

However, I do agree with nfortin. I found the 'variable delay' on the Swell to Great a little tiresome - not enough to spoil the experience, but an unnecessary distraction. In addition, I found that the Choir Organ action was what I believe is quaintly termed 'spongy'.

 

I am also fairly certain that Mander's restoration of the action at Bristol was both painstaking and high quality. There remains the fact that, however hard one tries, the organ is uneasy with fast music - particularly with repeated notes.

 

Whilst allowance must be made for the cavernous acoustic, which would seem to dictate slower tempi, I cannot help feeling that character is subservient to other needs. If there is a proven alternative (well tried in many other British cathedrals) I can see no harm in changing the action. I certainly would not charge another organist who did so with the crime of vandalism!

 

Willis himself did not hesitate to condemn old pipework to the melting-pot, if he felt that he could produce ranks more appropriate to the acoustics and demands made upon the instrument in question. Wells Cathedral is a case in point. Willis apparently contrived to 'lose' the instructions relating to the preservation of the Samuel Green ranks in the cathedral organ, instead substituting several new ranks.

 

After all, with such a wonderful sound, I cannot see the point in making an organist's job unnecessarily difficult. :unsure:

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Should we act today like Willis did, or rather keep Green's work in one organ, and build another one elsewhere in the room?

 

And yes Character versus dependability (I mean usability according to today's needs) is a vast debate, for which there are no "quick-fix" answers.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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I've nothing against tubular-pneumatic actions. The organ I first learnt on had "Binns Patent Tubular Pneumatic Action" but displayed none of the undesirable characteristics of the Bristol action. Later the Binns action was replaced with electro-pneumatic and this had no effect on the character of the instrument.

 

The problems with Bristol's action are not confined to "quick" music - its difficult to play a hymn with all of the ranks from the different manual sections speaking together, so whilst it may retain historical character it really doesn't function correctly.

 

Surely this wonderful instrument would be less at risk of what we might call the "Worcester Scenario" if it had a decent action.

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This is probably one of those unfortunate no-win situations. There was a great deal of discussion about the action when we restored the organ and this one is particularly complicated. It has, for example, unique relief valves at a mid point in the long pneumatic tube runs which seal off by inflating a small pill-box motor. These need constant adjustment as does the whole action of course and this is the nature of the beast. Some (but admittedly not all) of the delay is due to the relative remoteness of some sections of the organ from the Great which is right above the console. But generally, when adjusted correctly (which typically has to happen twice a year at the start and finish of the heating season) it can be made acceptable. We no longer maintain the organ, so I have no idea if this adjustment is still being done.

 

It was felt at the time by all involved that the pneumatic action should be retained and all involved were happy with the outcome at the time.

 

John Pike Mander

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The problems with Bristol's action are not confined to "quick" music - its difficult to play a hymn with all of the ranks from the different manual sections speaking together, so whilst it may retain historical character it really doesn't function correctly.

 

Surely this wonderful instrument would be less at risk of what we might call the "Worcester Scenario" if it had a decent action.

 

I would certainly concur with those thoughts. Yes, of course the problem is by no means restricted to faster music!

 

I still cannot believe that Worcester are going to throw out the H-J/H&H/Wood&Co., just because Adrian Lucas wishes to have a new toy.

 

I am also sorry to hear that Manders no longer have that care of the organ of Bristol Cathedral. Who is looking after it, now? :unsure:

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I would certainly concur with those thoughts. Yes, of course the problem is by no means restricted to faster music!

 

I still cannot believe that Worcester are going to throw out the H-J/H&H/Wood&Co., just because Adrian Lucas wishes to have a new toy.

 

I am also sorry to hear that Manders no longer have that care of the organ of Bristol Cathedral. Who is looking after it, now? :unsure:

 

 

In answer to who is looking after the Bristol Cathedral organ as far as I know the work of tuning and regulation was entrusted to Tony Cawston who also looks after the Symphony hall Organ and the Organ at St Chad's Cathedral Birmingham. I don't know if it was Mander's who recently altered the piston combinations and provided more memories. If there are serious problems with the up keep and maintenance of the Organ then surely it's the responsibility of the Cathedral Organist and Advisors to address these problems you say are current. I have not played the Organ for a few years so I can't comment on recent developments.

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...just because Adrian Lucas wishes to have a new toy.

 

Ooh, bitch!!!!

 

I am also sorry to hear that Manders no longer have that care of the organ of Bristol Cathedral. Who is looking after it, now? :blink:

 

A bloke called Tony Cawston, who seems to be unquestioningly allowed to look after everything in a 50 mile radius (much like Mr Sc*damore down in my part of the world). No offence, but Clifton has played like a tin washboard since he fettled it... pedal action kept breaking last time I had to play it. Bristol is by far the finest organ in the UK and the cathedral around it likewise. It needs looking after properly - this is not a comment on Tony Cawston's ability but just a reflection that I wouldn't let Bob the Builder put a new roof on the cathedral, and I'm sure Branson doesn't take his Boeing 747's to Kwik Fit.

 

I played it for evensong in early 1992, not long after the work was done, and it was completely and totally splendid with none of the faults mentioned above. One day there will be no pneumatic instruments left and I really, really wouldn't mess about with this one when it can be made to work really well - it just needs the right attention. (Much like the GDB at New College - I'd leave it totally 100% alone, because it's a major line in the sand in the organ reform movement, and totally representative (and indeed better than) much of the other stuff of its era.) For as long as both of these function like musical instruments, they should be left alone - or our generation risks being looked on in the same way as we now view the 1930's guys who went through the Walkers and Willises ripping out the 2's and putting on a nice Open Diapason No 6b - no doubt terribly enlightened at the time. So, when people accuse you of vandalism, it may not be vandalism now - but in 80 years time it might be perceived that way.

 

Mr M, do you think you've any chance of getting the job back? Hope so. Try and get Clifton while you're at it because it was really suffering last time I saw it.

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I absolutely agree. Bristol cathedral is a superb organ but needs careful maintenance to keep it working well. Don't know of a Tony Cawston but I do know of many instances when an organ has been branded "bad" (and hence instigated much inappropriate work on it) because it has been poorly maintained.

 

On the subject of Worcester, a cathedral I have never visited, I understand that this project has created a bit of a kerfuffle in the AIOA. An anonymous report (by an acknowledged, completely independant expert) was submitted to the Dean and chapter. It recommended that the proposed solution by the organist (and endorsed by the advisor) was not the most appropriate solution and suggested another solution. The details of this solution unfortunately escape me now.

 

The saga of organs at Worcester appears to have often be frequently unhappy, often promoting controversional, fashionable solutions (such as H-J) and it looks like they want this trend to continue. But idle tongues can do much unintentional damage and I would rather say no more.

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suggested another solution

(Citation from previous post)

 

So there is at least some "Hope"

(not necessarily followed by "Jones";

I'd be content if the thing remained as it is)

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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