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Did Handel Play Your Organ?


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This is a piece of sheer whimsy, prompted by comments in another thread about the outrageous claims sometimes made by local 'experts'.

 

Over the years I have lost count of the number of times I have been told that such-and-such an organ was played by Handel. More often than not he also composed "Messiah" at it. I can't remember them all now, but there's one in Plymouth and one in the New Forest - I have details of which ones somewhere - and my last organ at St Thomas (City), Bristol was another. It's all complete bunkum, of course (though at least my organ had a Renatus Harris case.)

 

I have often wondered just how many organs lay a spurious claim to the same privilege. I have a feeling the list might be quite entertaining.

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For several years, I was D of M at Keynsham Parish Church between Bristol and Bath. GFH had known (and well documented) associations with the church and the town. His patron, the Duke of Chandos had a mansion in the grounds of Keynsham Abbey and it is documented that GFH made several visits. He used the organ on several occasions. Local legend has it that one day, when short of someone to pump the organ, he "borrowed" the son of the local blacksmith (whose workshop was next to the River Avon, just below the church). GFH apparently wrote "The Harmonious Blacksmith" in honour of his Father. I stress that this particular bit is "legend" whilst the rest is actually documented. Handel's final visit to Keynsham was when he had a "last ditch" attempt to cure his eyesight at the famous Bath Spa - on this occasion, he bought the organ and in return, left an inscribed silver collection plate, still used to this day. There are several references to The Duke and GFH himself in the town including "Handel Road" and "Chandos Avenue".

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I believe that the remarkable church at Great Whitley, Worcestershire, claims to have an interior in which Handel played the organ. However it wasn't the same organ and the interior was not even part of the same building at the time.

 

Anyone who has played the present Nicholson organ in this church will know that:-

a. its a very interesting machine

b. its an absolute pig to play

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Well no, but to go off at a tangent (slightly)…….Visitors to my local parish church are told that the organ was built by a chap (his name is never mentioned) who once worked for Cavaille-Coll. No idea who this chap was, he may have been a tea boy for all we know.

 

:unsure:

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk

Did Handel play my/our organ? No.

But Father Smith built it!!!

..... apparently..... even though he died five years before the organ arrived here.

Top that!

 

And apparently there's none of it left. We do have a model of the case - which I admit does have a sort of Smith character. See for yourself!

 

http://pic6.piczo.com/PAULDERRETT/?g=18662419

 

You have to scroll down the page a little. The bit you want is the marble model which appears on top of a monument to one of my predecessors.

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  • 1 year later...

The church on the outskirts of Bolton where my parents worship contains this minor monstrosity:

 

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=N01557

 

Of course, some first rate builders (Lewis??) were able to create beautiful instruments with unpromising specs similar to the one above. This is absolutely not the case here. Sadly, it's not only garbage, but incredibly solidly construed garbage which probably has another 100 years of 'useful' life left in it.

 

A reputable organ builder has verified that the Stopped Diapason, Dulciana and 4' flute ranks do, at least in part, date from the 18th century. However, the local legend-mill has it that this is yet another 'Handel organ'.

 

When my parents first started attending this church, I was asked to dep a few times. I've now not been asked for about six years. It may have something to do with a conversation that I had with a church official after the last service for which I played, which went something like this:

 

'It must be quite an experience to play an organ that Handel played.'

'Yes, I wonder if he found it as disappointing as I just did.'

 

According to another member of the congregation, all those of you out there who are custodians of vintage Hills or sparkly new Manders should weep bitter tears of frustration...Benson of Manchester were the Rolls Royce of British organ builders. :)

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Almost certainly not.

 

Neither did Queen Elizabeth (I) sleep in a bed in the rectory.

 

Carlo Curley, James Lancelot and Dame Gillian Weir have all played it - although as far as I know, none of them stripped to the waist in order to do so....

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Neither did Queen Elizabeth (I) sleep in a bed in the rectory.

Could you let me have the dimensions of the bed that Queen Elizabeth did not sleep in. I will be replacing the car shortly and would like to make adequate provision.

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Could you let me have the dimensions of the bed that Queen Elizabeth did not sleep in. I will be replacing the car shortly and would like to make adequate provision.

 

No problem, Neil.

 

You do realise that it will be quite unsuitable as a medium on which to perform the music of Herbert Howells, I assume? *

 

 

 

 

* No adjustable pistons, irregular compass - and absolutely no expression box.

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Another organ which Handel is said to have played is the former organ of St. Martin in the Fields, London (Christopher Shrider 1726, moved to W-u-E and reb. 1800, reb. Jones of Kensington in 1882, renov. Percy Daniel 1929 & 1963, renov. Tipple of Worcester 1995) which is now in St. Mary the Virgin, Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire and has been since 1800. I quote:

 

"Another uncorroborated story about the organ, which was first reported in 1881 [.....] is that 'Handel was engaged to open it, and he was so delighted with it that he used to attend the church on Sunday afternoons to hear [.....] the organist play; and, it is said, Handel used often to play the voluntaries himself'"

[History of the Organ by David Strong, 2000]

 

Dave

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I have a vague recollection, that doubtless someone here will gladly correct if I'm mistaken, that it was John Norman who made the quip in his superb "The Organs of Britain" book, that organs that Handel played were a bit like beds that Elizabeth I was said to have slept in - too numerous to be believed.

 

But I have played an organ said to have been played by Dupre, if that's any claim to fame...

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This is a piece of sheer whimsy, prompted by comments in another thread about the outrageous claims sometimes made by local 'experts'.

 

Over the years I have lost count of the number of times I have been told that such-and-such an organ was played by Handel. More often than not he also composed "Messiah" at it. I can't remember them all now, but there's one in Plymouth and one in the New Forest - I have details of which ones somewhere - and my last organ at St Thomas (City), Bristol was another. It's all complete bunkum, of course (though at least my organ had a Renatus Harris case.)

 

I have often wondered just how many organs lay a spurious claim to the same privilege. I have a feeling the list might be quite entertaining.

 

Don't know, but I once played an organ with a handle; does that count? R.

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  • 1 year later...

I thought the organ in the parish church in the area of the Duke of Chandos's estate just south of Stanmore on the Jubilee line was one that Handel often played. Marvellous Baroque church. In one of his TV series Paul Dinski went there and played it. I've been in the church a couple of times and the people from the parish who "watch" are always very pleasant. Hideous chapel at the side with family monuments.

 

Malcolm

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I thought the organ in the parish church in the area of the Duke of Chandos's estate just south of Stanmore on the Jubilee line was one that Handel often played. Marvellous Baroque church. In one of his TV series Paul Dinski went there and played it. I've been in the church a couple of times and the people from the parish who "watch" are always very pleasant. Hideous chapel at the side with family monuments.

 

Malcolm

 

The Duke of Chandos had several organs. There was a private chapel at Cannons as well as St Lawrence, Little Stanmore. When the house was demolished in the 1740s Lord Foley bought extensive decorative work for the church at Great Witley, including, presumably, the organ case. The Gosport organ came from Cannons in 1748. The Little Stanmore organ was built by Gerard Smith in 1716, but only the case and front pipes are original.

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Indeed, regarding the Valletta instrument, it would seem strange - the case, perhaps would have been part of the instrument that Handel supposedly played, but I had thought that the majority of the pipework inside is from a 1949 Hill, Norman and Beard!

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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 4 years later...

Over the years I have lost count of the number of times I have been told that such-and-such an organ was played by Handel. More often than not he also composed "Messiah" at it. [...] and my last organ at St Thomas (City), Bristol was another. It's all complete bunkum, of course (though at least my organ had a Renatus Harris case.)

 

I hope members won't mind me dredging up this thread from the deepest depths, but it seems that, so far as my old Bristol organ was concerned, there might have been something in this after all. At least, the rumour goes back a very long way. I have just happened across this notice in The Bristol Mercury of 29 August 1825:

 

"The Parish Church of St Thomas, having been painted, and thoroughly repaired, has been re-opened for Divine Service; and its organ (which was much admired by Handel) has been completely repaired and tuned by our fellow-citizen, Mr. Smith. On Tuesday last, the celebrated performer on the Organ, Mr. Samuel Wesley, who is now sojourning in his native city, visited this Church, and though his intention to be present was made known only a few hours previously, a considerable number of respectable individuals attended, whom he highly gratified during two hours, by executing on the organ several favourite pieces of music, in his usual masterly style."

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I should think it's quite likely that Handel played the St. Thomas organ, given the Harris Bristol connections and Handel's known visits there (local tradition says that he ran through 'Messiah' there before taking ship to Dublin). I was never in the church during my time as a student, although I remember the notice-board claimed that 'Choral Evensong' was sung every Sunday. What happened to it, and the organ?

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