Jump to content
Mander Organ Builders Forum

What Gives An Organ Its Essential Character?


Recommended Posts

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

I believe therefore, that it is the "in-house" tonal-style concept which is the dominant factor; especially if one were a blind, non-organist, listening in the pews.

 

yet if one were to change the console and discard the organ case, a Father Willis or an Arthur Harrison would sound much the same...

 

...new pipework added from local organ-builders: in reality probably coming from the same pipe-makers and voicing source.

 

The first quoted sentence I agree with. The rest are quibbles, but here they are anyway...

 

The second I don't; the case has much (or SHOULD have much) to do with the way the organ sounds, and the console of course affects how it is used by the player.

 

The third quoted sentence I'm unsure about - pipework may only come from a limited number of sources, but surely the voicing is down to the installer.

 

I'm not so much quibbling with detail as to point out that it's the detail - case, action, winding, everything - that makes the organ sound the way it does to a blind man in the pews, and ultimately makes the experience for the player.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 84
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

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

 

Or the same voicer/finisher?

 

;)

 

MM

 

Not really - on the occasions I have bought new pipework it has been delivered unvoiced. Most voicing in my experience is done on site, which is the only place it is totally possible to understand the job the pipes have to do.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I have thus far avoided answering this question, because I am not quite sure what 'Vox' is searching for in the answers.
I think my question was by nature rather open since I did not have any specific answer in mind. The various replies have all made for very interesting reading - whichever tangent they have followed!

 

The question really was no more than "What is it that makes a Willis, a Hill, a Cavaillé-Coll or a Schnitger organ a Willis, Hill, Cavaillé-Coll or a Schnitger?"

 

Weren't most of Arp Schnitger's instruments rebuilds of earlier organs, or have I got that totally wrong? In any case, many of them have been hacked about subsequently. If an Ahrend comes along and puts one back as near as possible to its original conception, how legitimate is it to go on calling it a Schnitger? Is historical sentiment getting the better of us? Is there a point where it would be more honest to call it an Ahrend? What should be the deciding factor? The sound? Or is there more to it?

 

I said that I thought that the sound was the most important characteristic and most respondents seem to agree, yet David makes a very important point: "it's the detail - case, action, winding, everything - that makes the organ sound the way it does to a blind man in the pews, and ultimately makes the experience for the player."

 

If you visit Portsmouth Dockyard you can have a guided tour of Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory. Or can you? When your guide tells you that not one original piece of wood from Nelson's time remains, aren't you going to start wondering whether the ship really is kosher?

 

I'm beginning to think the answer is not so simple after all.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Not really - on the occasions I have bought new pipework it has been delivered unvoiced. Most voicing in my experience is done on site, which is the only place it is totally possible to understand the job the pipes have to do.

 

 

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

 

It was!

 

;)

 

MM

Link to post
Share on other sites

 

The question really was no more than "What is it that makes a Willis, a Hill, a Cavaillé-Coll or a Schnitger organ a Willis, Hill, Cavaillé-Coll or a Schnitger?"

 

No more than? Wow! That's quite a question. Willis had a very strong personality, he was a good organist and built what he felt people wanted. Hill was obviously a good listener and a good servant, to the extent that he wrestled with new musical concepts, and almost created a very worthy style of British organ. Cavaille-Coll stands unique, in that what you got was what he created, and absolutely without compromise. The Schnitgers, father and son, followed tradition, used whatever salvageable bits they could, and applied a special genius to the voicing of the finished product.

 

I think the exact details of their scaling and voicing methods would only serve to tell us that they all had great personal integrity and maintained the highest standards. All would approach their individual assigngments by re-interpreting what they knew from the past, so Willis would call upon the history of Gray & Davison, and others upon the sources of their own knowledge and abilities.

 

Perhaps what makes them remarkable is that astonishing forward vision, which set out to create something beautiful over a period of time and in which they succeeded better than the majority.

 

Weren't most of Arp Schnitger's instruments rebuilds of earlier organs, or have I got that totally wrong?

 

You are absolutely correct about Schnitger organs. A few were wholly new, like the one built for the Academy Kerk, Groningen, but I believe the majority incorporated older pipework. The whole Schnitger tradition tells of a slow metamorhpic transition from one style to the next, with a very recognisable pedigree.

 

It is my belief that someone like Ahrend is so special and so rare, his artistry is such that it deserves to be heard and represented for all time. A trip to the Martinikerk, Groningen would convince anyone of this, for it is absolutely the equal of anything Schnitger ever achieved, and personally, I am both awed and moved by the fact that one man can bridge the passing of three centuries so perfectly, and get into the mind of the person he so obviously reveres. It is quite simply oran-building artistry at its highest level.

 

I can tell the board members something interesting. I have sat listening to Buxtehude, Bach and Bruhns (et al) in England, and I have rarely been moved. I have wept at recitals in Holland, in the company of others who do the same, and I believe it is because of that astonishing combination of the right organs, the right performers and the right ambience. For whatever reason, there is something in the character of the best Netherlands organists which is both humble, yet at the same time, musically aristocratic. They are often very considerable scholars certainly, and whilst I have been entertained by Americans, awed by the technical brilliance of French or English performers, it is back to Holland that I am drawn every time, simply because of the sheer musical-depth of what I hear and see.

 

Working in that sort of ethos, is it any surprise that in the Netherlands, organ-restoration is taken so seriously and executed so magnificently?

 

MM

 

PS: I've just realised that I have been listening to Rachmaninov playing his own works as I have written this.

Not a bad pianist....not bad at all in fact! ;)

Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with virtually everything in MM's post above. For some reason, the board technology this morning won't allow me to quote it!

 

I have a slightly different answer to Vox's 'big question'.

 

When you listen to a good organ, whether by any single builder, or a mass of different builders like Leeds Parish Church, what an experienced ear will recognise immediately is the 'rightness' or logic of it all, notably the internal balances and refinements. Stops are not just attractive in themselves, but they relate coherently to the whole.

 

A fine organ needs not just a sensible stoplist, but a voicer with excellent ears and patience. However, everyone's ears are different, so a Diapason voiced by Renatus Harris is bound to sound different from one by Bernard Smith, David Frostick's would be different from Peter Hopps'. A close analogy is the training of treble voices: David Hill's boys will sound different from Christopher Robinson's because a different ideal sound is in their imagination and they work hard to see that this ideal is achieved. The point is: a good Diapason can still be a good Diapason without being like every other one you have ever heard. A 'house style' or an expert voicer common to many instruments is likely to make the work of a firm pretty recognizeable. Scalings etc. are, of course, all part and parcel of the house style. The builder is bound to favour scales that 'work' for them!

 

As he begins his career, young Mr.Henry Willis is surrounded by old organs that require his attention. Sometimes (not very often) he incorporates the older material because this is what his customers have asked him to do. However, he knows that his precious reputation is for uncommonly majestic and rich sounds, and often the elderly pipes he is forced to work with will simply not give the firm, clear foundation that his prize-winning reeds demand. 'In for a penny' he thinks, and rather than have well-worn, fragile and thin-sounding pipes letting the side down, from his own resources he just replaces them. It's not a surprising policy.

 

By the time young Arthur Harrison is brought in to modernize FHW organs, he finds (in many cases) that there is little to improve in the Willis ranks that are already there. However, his ear tells him that these Willis organs are all very large and fine, but some of the choruses lack proper foundation tone - so in almost every case, he adds 8' Diapason work, redressing the balance. In the case of pipes that are too bright or too brash, he has his voicer go over them. A lot can be done through patient re-regulation. By the time he finishes, the organ sounds like a Harrison & Harrison no matter which factory actually made the pipes to start with.

 

Where you find an organ with several old ranks worked seamlessly in, this will be because either these stops have been throughly respected (perhaps by the organist who forbids them to be changed) or because the builder has fined them over. [Or both, of course!]

 

A classic case (which really surprised me when I first played it) is Halifax Parish Church. For anyone who doesn't know this organ, on paper it is the typical H&H of nearly 100 years ago. All the expected stops are there. When you drawn the elegant H&H stopknobs, however, you are in for a suprise: these choruses are uncommonly musical - actually a lot of them are old Snetzler stops - and they sound as if they are speaking on quite a low pressure. I remember reading some correspondence in one of our trade journals twenty or thirty years ago where this instrument was decried as just another big romantic heap - it's not!

 

In Lawrence Elvin's book on H&H, one of the men working on a famous restoration is asked

'I assume that you will be revoicing everything?' The answer he was given was, 'when we find perfection, we leave it alone'. What a good policy... and how sensible to realise that there could be such a thing as a perfect stop!

Link to post
Share on other sites
In Lawrence Elvin's book on H&H, one of the men working on a famous restoration is asked

'I assume that you will be revoicing everything?' The answer he was given was, 'when we find perfection, we leave it alone'. What a good policy... and how sensible to realise that there could be such a thing as a perfect stop!

 

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

 

I play an organ on which the Rohrflute is so beautiful, I would take an axe to the person who tried to "improve" it. I'm glad I've got that out of the way........

 

Moving swiftly on, I once got (possibly from the same chap to whom Lawrence Elvin spoke), THE most withering look from a Harrison man.

 

I looked at the beautifully re-leathered reservoirs at St.George's Chapel, Windsor as they were carrying out work to the organ, and said, "In this day and age, you could use a couple of plastic-welded flanges, a few lengths of bendy-tube and a large plastic bag to do the same job."

 

His reply was memorable, "Indeed Sir, but it wouldn't be QUITE Harrison & Harrison would it?"

 

I suppose there is such a thing as "improvement" and such a thing as "restoration," but I suspect that "innovation" is rightly frowned upon by those who know the meaning of "respect."

 

MM

Link to post
Share on other sites

MusingMuso described how the sound of different organs do, or don't, move him and others to tears.

I know what he means, though in my case the latter experience is much more common than the former. If only we could put our finger on what it is that provides that very rare magic "je ne sais quoi" that pushes us over the edge and brings a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye! Whatever it is, if someone could capture and bottle it, they would make their fortune.

 

VH may recall my comparing two cathedral organs, which we both know well, in automotive terms. One of them seems to me like a Ferrari or a Porsche: fine craftsmanship, superbly engineered, but very noisy and brash - no trace of subtlety. It only begins to sound thrilling from a distance of about half a mile, e.g. when we are singing around the High Altar at the end of the 5:00am Easter Vigil. The other gives me the impression of an elegant silver vintage Rolls-Royce, purring gently even when going flat out. Hit Swell piston 8 and you feel a catch in the throat as the large Open Wood and the 32ft Violone kick in. Add the Great reeds at the end of Coll Reg and you still won't drown the choir. Drool....

 

Does anyone else understand what I'm getting at, or am I way off the wall??

Link to post
Share on other sites
VH may recall my comparing two cathedral organs, which we both know well, in automotive terms. One of them seems to me like a Ferrari or a Porsche: fine craftsmanship, superbly engineered, but very noisy and brash - no trace of subtlety. It only begins to sound thrilling from a distance of about half a mile, e.g. when we are singing around the High Altar at the end of the 5:00am Easter Vigil. The other gives me the impression of an elegant silver vintage Rolls-Royce, purring gently even when going flat out. Hit Swell piston 8 and you feel a catch in the throat as the large Open Wood and the 32ft Violone kick in. Add the Great reeds at the end of Coll Reg and you still won't drown the choir. Drool....

 

Does anyone else understand what I'm getting at, or am I way off the wall??

 

I cannot now recall which two organs were mentioned. However, the second instrument above sounds like Exeter. It has an Open Diapason (of wood - unless the implication of 'large' is that there was also a 'small' Open Wood) It also has a 32p Contra Violone. The reference to hitting Swell piston eight and the large Open Wood and the 32p Violone kicking in would imply the presence of a combination coupler almost unique to H&H: Pedal to Swell Pistons (which always gives different Pedal combinations than those set on the normal Pedal pistons). The only other instance of this known to me, which was not supplied by H&H is at Chichester Cathedral. However, in this case, it was specifically requested by Dr. Alan Thurlow, who had encountered this extremely useful device several years before - on a well-known Harrison organ. He was formerly Sub Organist of Durham Cathedral from 1973 - 1980.

 

However, I would be interested to know the identites of both instruments, please.

Link to post
Share on other sites
One of them seems to me like a Ferrari or a Porsche: fine craftsmanship, superbly engineered, but very noisy and brash - no trace of subtlety. It only begins to sound thrilling from a distance of about half a mile, e.g. when we are singing around the High Altar at the end of the 5:00am Easter Vigil. The other gives me the impression of an elegant silver vintage Rolls-Royce, purring gently even when going flat out. Hit Swell piston 8 and you feel a catch in the throat as the large Open Wood and the 32ft Violone kick in. Add the Great reeds at the end of Coll Reg and you still won't drown the choir. Drool....

 

Does anyone else understand what I'm getting at, or am I way off the wall??

 

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

 

In a strange sort of way, this could serve as an epitaph to the errors of the "Bach to baroque" movement.

 

I recall a rather nicely made instrument by Philip Wood (the father of David Wood who did Blackburn). The voicing was fine, except that one could almost accompany a full house on just the Great Gedackt. Flat out, it was totally unsubtle, as if "open foot" equated to "open exhausts" on a Ferrari....an excuse to make a hell of din.

 

What always impresses me about the genuine articles in the Netherlands, is the fact that so many very old instruments are wonderfully subtle, and never seem to exceed the appropriate level of sheer noise for the building in which they are in.

 

Alkmaar looks as if it should be a really big sound, but with the full pleno and pedal reeds, it is not at all overpowering, even though it comfortably fills the building. The same is true of Zwolle, Haarlem, Groningen, Rotterdam and Utrecht (etc etc). Even small churches with a substantial two-manual in a gallery, never seem overloud. One suspects that this type of really good voicing, is the product of almost infinite patience, and possibly the sweetest flute sounds one will ever hear.

 

If DHM is referring to that richly decorated building after one turns right at Somerset, then I too share that delight in an organ which has always impressed me by the subtle quality of the sound in the building. I think that is also true of that very famous modern instrument in Lancashire, which David Briggs likes so much.

 

Of course, we now live in a noisier world, and perhaps that is a reason for the big sound of so many instruments. Perhaps people are afraid of silence or quieter sounds nowadays.

 

So much for organs, but if anyone has a Porsche or Ferrari they don't like............I do.

 

:)

 

MM

Link to post
Share on other sites
The reference to hitting Swell piston eight and the large Open Wood and the 32p Violone kicking in would imply the presence of a combination coupler almost unique to H&H: Pedal to Swell Pistons (which always gives different Pedal combinations than those set on the normal Pedal pistons). The only other instance of this known to me, which was not supplied by H&H is at Chichester Cathedral. However, in this case, it was specifically requested by Dr. Alan Thurlow, who had encountered this extremely useful device several years before - on a well-known Harrison organ. He was formerly Sub Organist of Durham Cathedral from 1973 - 1980.

I agree about their usefulness. Durham had Pedal to Choir and Pedal to Solo couplers as well (dating from 1905). The full name was Pedal and Accompaniment to <div>. They gave a 'solo' combination with suitable accompaniment on another manual and ped. The Ped to Sw and Ped to Ch couplers survived the 1970 rebuild but the Ped to Ch is now Generals on Sw Toes. In some ways they were more use than a general as they only affected parts of the organ, though the Ped to Sw was the most heavily used by far. I can't remember if they were adjustable by any means.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Andrew Butler
I agree about their usefulness. Durham had Pedal to Choir and Pedal to Solo couplers as well (dating from 1905). The full name was Pedal and Accompaniment to <div>. They gave a 'solo' combination with suitable accompaniment on another manual and ped. The Ped to Sw and Ped to Ch couplers survived the 1970 rebuild but the Ped to Ch is now Generals on Sw Toes. In some ways they were more use than a general as they only affected parts of the organ, though the Ped to Sw was the most heavily used by far. I can't remember if they were adjustable by any means.

 

I haven't checked NPOR to see if it's still there post-Mander, but the 1907 Walker at Bristol Cathedral had "Pedal Basses to Swell Pistons" which gave suitable pedal to swel combinations. Very useful to my mind, particularly in choir accompaniment.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I cannot now recall which two organs were mentioned.

 

They weren't - at least, not in this Forum.

 

However, the second instrument above sounds like Exeter.

 

I cannot deny it.

 

However, I would be interested to know the identites of both instruments, please.

 

I'll say no more, lest I offend our generous hosts.

My identity, and therefore that of the other instrument, can easily be deduced from my previous posts.

Link to post
Share on other sites
===================================

 

 

If DHM is referring to that richly decorated building after one turns right at Somerset, then I too share that delight in an organ which has always impressed me by the subtle quality of the sound in the building.

MM

 

I doubt it - unless it has suddenly had the great good fortune to acquire a full-length 32p Pedal Violone.... Even the Pedal foundations are a little thin; there is a moderate Open Diapason and a Sub Bass - the Geigen is borrowed from the G. O. This is one H&H where the Pedal to Swell Pistons coupler is less useful, due to the lack of gravitas.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I haven't checked NPOR to see if it's still there post-Mander, but the 1907 Walker at Bristol Cathedral had "Pedal Basses to Swell Pistons" which gave suitable pedal to swel combinations. Very useful to my mind, particularly in choir accompaniment.

 

 

Unfortunately not.

 

http://www.bristol-cathedral.co.uk/2004spec.htm

 

However, the replacement is also quite useful, as are the other changes and additions to the accessories which were made in 2004.

Link to post
Share on other sites
My now-defunct HNB at St Thomas, Bristol, had a Pedal to Swell Pistons coupler.

 

Following the R&D rebuild of 1976, the organ of St. Peter's Church, Bournemouth acquired two quite useless accessories. At least, I never found a use for them. They were Pedal to Choir Pistons and Pedal to Swell Pistons (in addition to the more usual Great and Pedal Pistons Coupled). However - and here is the rub - whatever settings one selected and set for one piston coupler were also what one got on the other two - it was not possible to set different Pedal combinations. So, if one wished to set quieter Pedal stops to balance the Choir pistons, these combinations would remain the same, regardless of which piston coupler was drawn.

 

I have to say that I found this to be slightly pointless. This was not the only short-cut which R&D made. They also removed the top twelve pipes of the Cor Anglais (which had formerly enabled this stop to function at 8p pitch in conjunction with the Choir Octave and Unison Off couplers). Apparently, they stated that it was impossible to include this in the design of the new (1976) electric action. I found this to be surprising, since Harry Harrison had managed to incorporate this perfectly well in the original 1914 electric action.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The late lamented had the typical H&H "Pedal on Swell Pistons" coupler. For choral accompaniment this was far more useful than "Great & Pedal Pistons Combined" because one would rarely get above Great 2, and yet the difference in volume between Swell 1 and Swell 6 (max on this organ) was tremendous. Hence without the "Pedal on Swell Pistons" coupler it would be difficult to adjust the pedal volume appropriately.

Link to post
Share on other sites
The late lamented had the typical H&H "Pedal on Swell Pistons" coupler. For choral accompaniment this was far more useful than "Great & Pedal Pistons Combined" because one would rarely get above Great 2, and yet the difference in volume between Swell 1 and Swell 6 (max on this organ) was tremendous. Hence without the "Pedal on Swell Pistons" coupler it would be difficult to adjust the pedal volume appropriately.

 

Lincoln Cathedral has a Pedal to Swell Pistons as well as a Pedal to Great Pistons - I was often told by my organ teacher there (the Assistant DOM at the time) what a bonus these were for service work along with the generals etc.

 

AJJ

Link to post
Share on other sites
I have to say that I found this to be slightly pointless. This was not the only short-cut which R&D made.

 

I have never played an R&D instrument which I thought was musical or well made, let alone both.

 

I know someone was singing the praises of Holy Trinity, Brompton as being a "good" R&D... Are there any others?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...