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A Fantastic Account---the Whys and Wherefores of the Pipe Organ.
Last night I came across a fascinating series called “The History of the Organ”, which was created in 1990 by the distinguished French musicologist Gilles Cantagrel and is now available for all organ lovers to enjoy. It is in 4 parts and each part is a video of over 50 minutes duration.
Part 1 covers the Early and Renaissance periods in Italy, Spain and France and deals with the Latin origins and the beginnings of organ development. I found it to be very interesting and most informative. Infact by the time that I had listened to the videos I had learnt a great deal.
The music examples are played by wonderful performers, on organs with beautiful voices. I was intrigued by some of the early organs having only one keyboard and occupying a small space inserted into a wall, (a bit like a vending machine!), but their sound was that of a true organ---and lovely!
Bartelomeo Formetelli, an Italian organ builder of Verona, takes us through many of the processes he still employs, explaining as he does so. Later he adds more to our knowledge.
I hope that you have enjoyed this video, but because it is a long one I am going to stop here, and continue on another day.
In this series I became very conscious of way the interactions between musical composition, performance and instrument shaped the development of each other. Composers were trying out new music and there was a demand for organs that could perform this music; also of organists capable of meeting the challenge.
First we visited the reputedly oldest playable organ, built in the 1430s, the organ Sion in the fortress cathedral church of Valeré, Switzerland. The narrative had very little detail, but I was able to find out much more through the invaluable” Pipe Organs” website downloaded on my computer. The several videos I watched revealed a single keyboard and rather ancient looking keys, with the notation of the keys being arranged differently to a modern keyboard. So to play the current Sweelinck on it you would need to be aware of this difference. I wondered whether this was an oddity of this particular organ or the same on the organs of that era which didn’t survive the years. The sound was very pleasing, and it was ideal for playing the Baroque music of its time. The old bellows were demonstrated, but the wind chest has since been electrified, about 30 years ago.
Then we go to the thriving mediaeval city of Amsterdam which became a centre of music publishing at that time. It was also renowned for its mechanical street organs. We visit the Nieuekerk sited on the main square –the Dam. The original church was burnt down and the building and a splendid new organ were built in the 17th century, by this wealthy city. The organ was restored by Marcussen & Son to its 1655 disposition, between 1970 and 1981,and is still in full use today
The area of study in this video is of Central and Northern Europe and the German provinces; very rich musically, with composers, performers and organ builders. Sweelinck, of this region, was the founding father of European organ music and was one of the first to write mature music such as fantasies, toccatas and variations.
It was one of those minor miracles that in the wake of the 30 Years War organ music under the influence of Sweelinck was thriving in Northern Germany.
Then like a star in the firmament came Dieterich Buxtehude. In his music he treated a theme in so many different ways. It is no wonder that the young J.S.Bach was mesmerised enough to walk so many hundreds of kilometres to learn more. I can hear the major advance in this music. Bach, and another, would like to have joined Buxtehude but found the personal price too high!!! Filming shows Bernard Foccroulle and Gustav Leonardt ably demonstrating some of the music of this time.
In Northern Germany the Snitger family were building organs with 3 or 4 keyboards. They were very suitable for performing the more complex music of Buxtehude. Arp Snitger built an organ in the church at Norden, East Friesland, which suffered upgrades over the years, until being restored to its original state and full glory by Jürgen Ahrend between 1981-1985.
Bernard Foccroulle explains and very ably demonstrates the 3 keyboards and stops as well performing some music which demonstrated what he’d mentioned- counterpoint and polyphony. The registration is chosen well and the voice of this organ is lovely and mellow.
These earlier composers led eventually to J.S. Bach whose boyhood was marked by tragically losing both parents. Much of his musical education was self-taught, through listening to the performances of others, but his talent was such that he became an organist.
He eventually wished to hear Buxtehude and walked the long distance to see him. However he didn’t take up the offer to join him, but returned home and married his cousin. At Weimar, where he stayed for 10 years, he composed the preludes, fugues and chorale preludes, which were originally meant to familiarise the melody to the congregation so they could then sing the chorale in the service.
A Snitger organ at Cappel, on the North Sea Coast is played by Hans Heintze to demonstrate some of this music. It is of historical importance because it is the best preserved Snitger organ in existance. It was originally in a Dominican Monastery in Hamburg and had survived the French Occupation only because it had been dismantled and stored away. Cappel whose building had been burnt down bought the Dominican organ from Hamburg without realising its true significance.
Hans Heintze plays a Chorale Prelude, as played by an organist, to familiarise the congregation with the melody. However Bach himself, was prone to embroider these melodies , which caused confusion to many! Bach collected these pieces to make up his “Orgelbüchlein".
He also composed secular works like transcriptions of symphonies and trio Sonantas and used them to train Wilhelm Friedemann to become a virtuoso organist. A lovely demo sample here! This is a two manual and pedalboard organ and like the other organs, particularly the Snitger ones, has the most beautiful tone.
This brings us to the end of the 2nd part of the Series. Throughout we have had explanations of the various features and processes and have had some very lovely organ playing by Gustav Leonardt, Bernard Foccroulle and Hans Heintze on excellently registered , beautifully toned, organs. What more could you wish for?
The 4 long videos that I am following, were uploaded in February and March 2014 by Camusmusik96.
However, last night, I came across the Arthouse DVD Trailer in 4 short clips uploaded by Naxosvideos during various months of 2008.
I ran through them and although the content was from the longer versions the order wasn't always the same. Infact in some instances they clarified matters that I was still trying to be more precise about. Also the music sourced in each video was mentioned, so I thought that it would be a good idea to list it here.
Naxosvideos--- Music composed by------->
Video 1 Pierre Attaignant, Antonio de Cabezon, Girolamo Frescabldi, Francesco Correa de Arauxo, François Couperin, Nicholas de Grigny, Louis-Claude Daquin.
Video 2. Jan Pieterzoon Sweelinck, Dietrich Buxtehude, Johann Sebastian Bach.
Video 3 Louis Marchand, Jean-François Dandrieu, Johann Sebastian Bach.
Video 4 Guiseppe Gherardeschi, Max Reger, César Franck, Jehan Alain, Olivier Messiaen.
I hope that the listed music will be of some help to you in identifying what is played. At times I found that I missed out names and locations in the series that I was following , so that I had to backtrack, or consult "Pipe Organs" website or Google for what I thought that I had heard! I also have only a few words of French, which doesn't help matters and my hearing impairment is a nuisance regarding speech. Some voices are clearly heard---others a struggle or not at all but I did what I could to counter any shortcomings of mine. Anyway the videos are there for you to hear for yourself!
I think that you will agree that the music in this series is a sheer joy to listen to as the organ voices and registrations are so good and each organist is a virtuoso performer.
I'm now about to write up the 3rd part of this series---a most enjoyable one, too, so, all being well, I will be posting it quite soon.
This part of the series takes us up to the first half of the 18th Century and covers the Golden Age of the Organ, when mechanical and technical perfection co-incided with the greatest musical expression the instrument was capable of. There were two important Schools of Organ Development at that time ; French and German.
Gustav Leonardt opens, playing an organ piece before we switch over to consider the fortified cathedral at Albi, with its great Classical organ and also remarkable for its fresco depiction of a “Danse Macabre”,( a portrayal of Hell?)
The builder of this organ, Christoph Moucherel was more concerned with its visual look, than sound, and so additional work was needed by others, including Joseph Isnard. Then in the 19th Century it was transformed into a Romantic organ by the Claude Bros.
Xavier Darasse has since been responsible for supervising the restoration work in 1981, by organ builder Bartolomeo Formentelli, back to being a Classical organ.
I found the “Pipe Organ” website to be very informative about St Cecile’s Cathedral, Albi , and to still retain a number of sample videos. I am providing the link for any of you who are interested, and also from there you can research many other organs. Unfortunately some sites have had some of their video samples removed for Copyright and other reasons, but some are luckier than others! And there is of course the photographs and the text!
As André Isoir played this organ I noticed the peculiarly short pedals of the pedalboard., so that really only the toes can be employed in Baroque style.
Next we visit the organ builder Daniel Birouste in nearby Plaisance. He gives a detailed exposition of the Windchest----the “heart of the organ”. We also see the bellows and then in action when the organ is played. This segment of the series is extremely detailed and interesting.
We learn of Dom Bédos de Celles 1709-1779, a Benedictine monk and master organ builder, who published a monumental work, “The Art of the Organ Builder”(1766-1778). It goes into great historical detail about 18th century organ building and is still used as a reference by modern organ builders, today. The series shows some of the pages of fine drawings, but I have also discovered that Dom Bédos de Celles in Wikipedia has facsimiles of 26 pages from his book.
Dom Bédos travelled widely, visiting famous organs and making sketches; amongst these was the Gabler organ of Weingarten the finest example of a Classical organ built, and at the cutting edge of current development. When building the organ Gabler was faced with fitting it in without altering the fine architectural features in any way. He solved that by building organ cases here and there around the abbey, which created mechanical problems--which he solved perfectly.
André Isoir demonstrates the lovely voice of this organ by playing firstly “ Watchet auf, ruft uns die Stimme”by Bach. He also wrote secular pieces for concerts and these often were transcriptions of other works, such as Vivald. Many of these have been presented in the CMM Topic Bach’s Solo pieces for Organ, and I have found the Bach/Vivaldi transcriptions to have invariably been delightful!
Next Isoir plays the Christmas Carol “In Dulci Jubilo”, and in doing so engages the popular mechanical cuckoo stop. It is interesting to note how the melodic theme is woven into this piece.
Finally he performs a a majestic “Prelude and Fugue” using the Great Organ. The full dignity of this composition is realised through his excellent registration a, phrasing and interpretation.
André Isoir’s excellent performance on this superb instrument makes a fitting end to the 3rd part of this series. As always, I have enjoyed listening and learning what the series has presented. I hope that you have, too.
Marie Claire Alain is shown playing a strange sounding piece of music, which with this particular registration reminded me of the train whistle in Western films!!!
At the beginning of the 19th century organ design began to reflect the changes in technology, and needed accessories added to their traditional design to enable them to play fashionable music of that time.
We are taken to a valley very close to the French border,which used to be in Italy.Seven organs of note are scattered within a few miles. The names of three villages/ townships are mentioned here, (I could only locate Tendé on my small scale map), and one organ is chosen by René Saorgin who explains its features and then demonstrates upon it, using some of its accessories. He chooses “A Sonata for an Organ Imitating a Military Band in a March”. The voice of this organ and the registrations chosen, coupled with the extra mechanical bits, like the bass drum, timpani stop and” Jingling Johnny” produces a fine “band” sound. The filming of the pedals and mechanisms, is excellent.
Amongst the new era of organ builders was Aristide Cavaillé-Coll . His great instruments introduced a whole new palette of sound, and he also adopted the German pedal-board. His Romantic organs could emulate a whole orchestra, and enabled the organist to do justice to the works of the new Romantic composers. Many of these Cavaillé-Coll organs were subsequently neglected or badly restored but some examples, have still survived in good condition.
Louis Robillard plays “Introduction & Passaglia in D minor” by Max Reger on the Cavaillé-Coll organ in L’Eglise St. François de Sales de Lyon. He is organist titulaire there and likes it for its rich sound. He follows this a composition by Charles-Marie Widor, who wrote 10 Symphonies for the organ. He plays the famous “Toccata”, brilliantly, with registration and expression bringing out the lovely orchestral tones to perfection. I enjoyed watching both Robillard’s hands on the keys and some fine footwork on the pedals.
Composers such as Liszt, Brahms, Franck, Saint Säens, Vienne and Widor were inspired by these organ developments to write in the style and language of the symphony. César Franck was a famous composer of that time. Xaver Darasse is seen teaching a pupil the finer points of performance. His own brilliant career as a concert organist had ended when he seriously injured his right hand in a motor accident and he has since continued in a teaching and advisory role. His advice to this pupil was to, ”play with more vigour”, and it is noticeable that he gestures and demonstrates with his left hand.
In the late 19th century there was a move back toward the Classical tradition again and the Neo-Classical organ evolved, as well as organs of the particular styles of their builders or localities. Interest resulted in research by organ-builders, organists and composers into the traditions of the past. Organs were restored under the supervision of those with expert knowledge.To side-track a moment, you can find some details here and there in the CMM Topic “Bach’s Solo Organ Works”, as I sometimes found very interesting information on restoration, and included it.
The next example we see is the modern Neo-Classical organ in the Hofkirche, beside the lake in Lucerne, Switzerland, built about 10 years previously. It necessarily has to be a big organ to fulfill its role and so it has 5 keyboards and many stops--- a particular feature is its 32 foot stop. It is enclosed in a Renaissance style case, some of which has been recycled from an earlier organ.
Marie-Claire Alain discusses this Neo-Classical organ which she says combines the fresh tone of the Classical Organ with the depth and rich full tone of the Romantic organ.
Marie-Claire mentions her brother, Jehan Alain’s, music and his role in the development of this type of organ. Demonstrating and explaining, on the Hofkirche organ, she mentions that the frequent changes of stops required in contemporary music required certain developments, as the old method of using registrants wouldn’t work, so by pressing a button on this organ a selected series of stops comes into play. Stops are electronically controlled and the keyboard is covered by an electrical system.
She then performs his 2nd Fantasia, after speaking with enthusiasm, of her brother’s passion for the Oriental, saying that his music also has an element of magic; that this composition is polymodal and has an extremely original rhythm.
Marie Claire follows with a piece from Messien’s “Nativity”--“The Shepherds”. She describes it as a simple but sophisticated piece, and says that the sound is like that of a little portable organ, ( the reediness is later apparent), and that the music is very descriptive. When she begins to play I was able to identify the“Train Whistle” sound that intrigued and perplexed me at the beginning of Part 4!
She concludes with Jehan Alain’s prestigious “Litany”and describes aspects of his personality, which she says are incorporated within it. Her performance is without a score, which shows her deep attachment to the memory of her late brother.
The final interviewing, in French, (which was overlaid by an English voice-over), was by the musicologist Gilles Cantagrel, who was responsible for this series.
This has been an impressive look at the development of the pipe organ, but it is a large subject and I think there is more still to cover. For instance the French author has naturally added a decidedly Gallic slant to the series. As Marie Claire mentioned it is important for all the types of organs to continue to be played when they complement the type of music performed.
Personally all mention that I have found, both here and previously, on the informed restoration of organs---especially those that had fallen upon hard times, is cheering.
I hope that you have enjoyed these sessions listening to beautiful music, performed by virtuoso organists on superbly voiced organs and explanations that enable us to understand the developments over the years.
King of Instruments (a video by Victoria Lane Studios).
I found this video some weeks ago but discounted it as the audio quality wasn’t very good. However I have come across it again, and this time was able to listen on my computer with HD quality.
This account of the organ leaves me rather dissatisfied as I feel that it is facile in the information provided, and hasn’t the scholarly aura of the previous posting, but it has some good footage of some of the processes involved in building a pipe organ and a little history.
Still, although it deals more with organ size and ignores the organ sound, and then it is limited mainly to two organs, it does provide some interesting samples of playing by organists Brenda Caldwell and David Lasky, on their very different types of organ. Both are competent organists and their performances are enjoyable.
Brenda Caldwell is the organist of the E.M.Skinner organ of Christ Episcopal Church, Fitchburg, Massachusetts. She plays with clarity and it was possible to hear the harmonies within a piece clearly, and her pedal work was very confident, too. Even so, one YouTube commentator remarked that like many Skinner organs it had been upgraded in a manner that it shouldn’t have been! I think that it was the replacement of the originally lovely reeds that were in question. My granddaughter particularly liked one registration which she said sounded like the bagpipes!
This 1928 organ was rebuilt in the period 1961-1963 by M.P. Moller. The result was a rich, mature voiced instrument with plenty of body.
David Lasky is the organist of the Casavant organ of 1933, installed in St Cecilia, Leominster, Massachusets. This has the mellifluous tones, sonorousness and richness of the symphonic organ. The two brothers of Casavant Fréres spent some of their apprenticeship in Paris with Cavaillé Coll, learning their unique methods as they trained, so it is little wonder that this Casavant organ has something in common with the French “giant”.
The St Cecelia’s Casavant organ has incredibly beautiful voicing and the acoustics of the building make splendid use of this. The DAC system installed provides much needed assistance when playing larger instruments. David Lasky also says that he likes to do his composing on this organ.
Several firms were involved in the reconstructions, with the main contractors “shopping around” for the best products for the job in hand. Mostly they were American firms but also the German Organ builder, Ahrend, participated, too.
I should have liked to see details of the music played under “Show More” but this was provided instead at the end of the video, also the participating firms and consultants. You may wish to transfer over to YouTube so that you have a larger screen.
This video was copyrighted in 2012 and Victoria Lane Studios announced that there were further episodes planned----but so far I haven’t seen any sign of them.
I hope that you find something to enjoy---the music, and new information to fill in your gaps. Despite my earlier comments I found this to be so, and very worthwhile.
The restoration of the Kilgen Organ of Our Lady of Refuge R.C. Church, Brooklyn.
Sometimes in life you come across something wonderful! I feel that the following, which I learnt of through the internet, comes into that category. It is of the tireless effort by so many people, both near and far, to restore the moribund organ of this church, so that it now sings forth again with its own beautiful voice.
Joe Vitacco loved the sound of this organ as a boy. Many decades later, after travelling the world recording famous organs and organists, (JAV Recordings), he returned to Brooklyn. He was dismayed to find the organ no longer usable, destroyed with the decaying church fabric allowing the weather to get to the it.
The church needed restoration work, and for this the organ had to be removed. Unfortunately funds didn’t cover restoration of the instrument, but Joe Vitacco), with the co-operation of the Parish priest set about fund raising, firstly at a local level, and then through the internet appealing to his musical contacts. Generosity was overwhelming, but even so, as the following video shows the project took over 6 years.
When watching this comprehensive video I recommend that you go through to You Tube and access any notes provided---and the comments, to give you a fuller picture of events. I Googled, last night and there is also quite a lot on line. Also, an exciting extra is that this project has a Facebook page and there is so much that can be gleaned from it.
The video notes cover many details, so I have no need to repeat them. The restored organ was set up again in the church at the end of June 2013. Its dedication was on October 18th 2013, when Olivier Latry travelled from Paris to play on it and demonstrate its voice and colour.
I will attach his two videos of Widor symphony No. 5 which he plays---Allegro Vivace and Toccata, which the restored organ is able to perform beautifully, due to its symphonic colour.
Other artists also use this exciting period to demonstrate on this organ, but I will have to delay these videos for a further posting.
Enjoy----and rejoice in this project’s restoration of the lovely voice of the Kilgen organ.
Continuing the saga of the Kilgen organ of Our Lady of Refuge.
I’ll begin with a quote as to the status of the organ before the extensive restoration was attempted.
"At Our Lady of Refuge the congregation had come to depend on a grand piano near the front of the sanctuary. By the time Mr. Vitacco dropped in again, in 2006, the organ, unplayed, had become unplayable. “Organs like this are of a very certain vintage, built in a way that’s specific to the time from which they come,” said Stephen Tharp, a concert organist who was one of the last to play the organ at Our Lady of Refuge. “When they’re left to sit for a while, they become dull. It’s like a grand old lady whose clothes have been left in mothballs too long, and gets a makeover”.
Stephen Tharp and others had been able to play a limited repertoire on the organ, after the silence, as on his return to Brooklyn Joe Vitacco and other enthusiasts had funded enough for some repairs, including two bellows, to allow the organ to be used. However it was discovered that the weather was getting into the organ and destroying functions as the pointing needed replacing and extensive restorative work on the building itself was needed.
Quote:- Unlike most pipe organs—which are placed either on a gallery at the liturgical west end of the church or located next to the chancel in organ chambers—the Kilgen organ at Our Lady of Refuge is located in the tower of the church, in two chambers. It speaks through a grille mid-way down the nave on the liturgical north side-----end of Quote.
The unusual siting of the organ I feel was likely to have allowed this damage to the instrument. The organ needed to be removed so that the repairs to the church fabric could take place.
Quote:- Its problems were obvious—the leather on two of the six bellows had rotted away after 73 years and a rush of air could be heard. The organ pipes were choked with dirt, out of tune, and out of regulation. Hundreds of them no longer could be played, or worse, would continue to play with minds of their own.---------
In order to safeguard the instrument and preserve the church building, the masonry had to be repointed and the walls of the organ chamber ripped down to the brickwork and replaced. This meant completely removing the organ. Fortunately, the parish was able to find the needed funds for this work on the building itself.
Upon the removal of the instrument the windchests, reeds, and most of the woodpipes were delivered for repair and restoration to A.R. Schopp's Sons, Inc., in Alliance, Ohio. David Schopp thoroughly checked and performed corrective revoicing as necessary on all of the reed ranks.
The remainder of the instrument—which included structure, windlines, console and remaining pipes—had cleaning, repair, and restoration performed by Quimby Pipe Organs, Inc., in Warrensburg, Missouri.------end of Quote.
Various top organists were eager to try out the paces of the restored organ.
Renèe Anne Louprette playing shortly after installation chose the Franck piece “Heroique”. It was a work in which she was able to demonstrate the unique colours the stops permitted. The sound flowed effortlessly, as if in a wash of colours, applied by a painter.
I found quite a few video performances by the Canadian organist Ken Cowan. Firstly I’ll choose the Overture from Wagner’s Meistersinger, a change in style from the Franck example, which additionally includes some of the highlights from delivery to dedication. Another of his videos is the Bach Gigue Fugue in which he skips his way lightly around the organ! He follows this with the beautiful “Nimrod Variations” in which the organ shows the loveliness of its legato tones.
Johann Vexo, Orgue de Choeur Notre Dame de Paris, plays a piece from Duruflé’s Works. In it he demonstrates the dynamic range possible with the restored instrument. It is a pity that the video is cut off just when it is getting into its stride.
Finally I have chosen Stephen Buzard playing J.S. Bach/Ernst Concerto in C, BWV595, which I could not resist. Notwithstanding that this is a Romantically voiced organ the organist plays Bach beautifully.He is a young American virtuoso performer who has had a bright career so far, winning accolades and going to England for a year as an Organ Scholar at Wells. He has studied under Ken Cowan , too. His father is an organ builder and his mother is an organist and choirmaster. Unlike many talented youngster some samples of his playing that I listened to are not fast, brilliant “showy” pieces---but showed qualities of richly toned legato playing on a Buzard Opus 37 organ. He will be an interesting organist to watch for the future!
The outcome of the restoration by the chosen firms appears to be very successfuland it is planned to use the organ often for concerts and lunchtime recitals. Organs thrive on good usage, so this one should be providing music for many a year to come. Lessons have been learnt and so the instrument is assured of a good maintainance programme!
This sad story unfolds with the dismantling of a historic organ, built in 1885 by Johnson and Sons Organ Co., Westfield, Massachusetts. Hopefully, in time there will be a “happy ever-after” element if it is purchased and finds a new “home”.
It begins with the church which houses it being unwanted by the purchaser of the real estate and so due for demolition. The organ would have have been destroyed, too, except for the activities of the Organ Clearing House and the Organ Historical Society providing donations and services to save the organ.
There are further notes under the video if you take it through to YouTube. Also reading the comments provides interesting information too--including that of the uploader Vic Ferrer, who gives the reason and background for the demolition.
As you will see it is often difficult and dirty work, with the need for great care, both of the organ parts and of the safety of the personnel involved. By the end of the video, when dismantling some of the larger elements the men looked as though they had been working at the coal-face, due to the grime deposited over the ages!
I had wondered if we were hearing this organ’s voice, but in a comment, the uploader, states that the opening and closing musical selections were played by Daniel Roth on the organ of Saint Suplice, Paris. (A great pity that the voice of this Johnson organ hadn’t been available).
I found that this video, with its enthusiastic and hardworking crew, made for extremely interesting viewing. There was comment on parts and explanation of their actions-----which I found to be most informative.
I hope that you find this of interest, as I did, and join me in wishing for a happy outcome. At least in the interim the organ is stored in a manner that will preserve it safely.
Aristide Cavaillé-Coll--- master organ builder. Part1.
Every now and then someone comes along who effects a major advance in their area of operation. And so it was, that Mendelssohn advocated the addition of a pedalboard to the English pipe organs so that they were capable of playing Bach and he co-operated with English organ builders to effect this improvement. Dom Bédos advanced organ building greatly, wrote of his discoveries and drew plans that organ builders of today still consult. And then came Aristide Cavaillé –Coll , son of an organ building family, and a visionary, who completely changed the scope and sound of the organs that he built or upgraded!
When I began posting on the organ topic I was firmly in the camp of J.S.Bach’s organ music and addicted to the golden sound of the baroque organs of the Netherlands. Cavaillé –Coll widened my appreciation of organ sound to encompass the symphonic sound and also the organ compositions of the French Romantic composers---Franck, Widor, Guilmant etc. I am gradually making progress with the latter, with their exciting and dramatic music. So as you can see I have achieved an almost complete volte-face!
Cavaille-Coll was well in advance of his time and the instruments that he built effectively inspired the new type of music which French organ composers began to produce, and led to the Romantic School of organ composition.
Quote:- Marcel Dupré stated once that "composing for an orchestra is quite different from composing for an organ... with exception of Master Cavaillé-Coll's symphonic organs: in that case one has to observe an extreme attention when writing for such kind of majestic instruments." Almost a century beforehand, César Franck had ecstatically said of the rather modest Cavaillé-Coll instrument at l'Eglise St.-Jean-St.-François in Paris with words that summed up everything the builder was trying to do: "Mon nouvel orgue ? C'est un orchestre !" ("My new organ? It's an orchestra!"
The music possible with the new instruments in turn triggered the organ builder himself into further developments---it was a circle of attainment----but one could hardly call it a “vicious circle”!!!
Cavaillé-Coll met Charles Barker and improved Hamilton’s invention of the pneumatic lever which effectively improved the tracker action and also allowed the manual to be built detached from the organ. The lever allowed a better and easier response to the human hand, with more registers, couplers etc. than had been possible before. This innovation meant that the huge organs were made much easier to handle.
C-C recognised the importance of different air pressure needed for the different registers and divided the wind chest into 2 sections. A simple foot lever above the pedals enabled the joining of the wind chests. With the size of his instruments the problem of supplying sufficient air---and airpressure, was a very important one.
When reflecting on the beautiful and unusual sounds of the symphonic organs, which Cavaillé-Coll built, I begin to wonder about the awe and excitement the great organists of the past would have felt----with all the wonderful possibilities that they’d never dreamt of! Buchtehude, J.S. and Willhelm Friedemann Bach in particular---but their time was alive with many other such talents, too. How would the Cavaillé-Coll organ have affected their compositional styles? Definitely WFB would have revelled in the fun and the openings afforded to him! As it was, C-C introduced the most exciting sound of the 19th century.
I am not going to follow Aristide, biographically, but instead introduce to you the trailer to the production of “The Genius of Cavaillé-Coll”, c 2012. It is produced by Fugue Films and is 5.01 mimutes long. It is all too short, but narrated very well and what Gerard Brooks and Kurt Lueders have to say is very informative. There are some beautiful sound samples, played impeccably, and besides the awesome roar of which a Cavaillé-Coll organ is capable there is also a moment of sheer beauty at around 1.50 mins. which is delightful.
C-C’s love for and passion for perfection meant that he gave the same attention to any instrument that he built, from the largest, to the smallest----as shown in this quote------>
However, the reality for most people is that their parish will only have a modest church and a modest organ. I find it very impressive that Cavaillé-Coll put so much care into the production of tiny instruments for insignificant parishes, because it says something about his humanity. He was not a man who was only interested in big projects for important clients. He maintained his standards for all of his commissions. He created the instruments and inspired the composition of music that allowed high quality music-making to be present everywhere from the smallest parish to the largest cathedral. It is no surprise that 200 years after his birth we are still inspired by this great man. The Organs of Cavaillé-Coll.
Unfortunately, in the end this dedication to quality caused his firm to become bankrupt.
There are some fine examples of his work still in France today which have not been spoilt by modifications. Changes to any organs are now been undertaken with much greater insight and care, with many being taken back to their original condition---and that applies to C-C’s instruments, too.
There are some particularly famous examples of Cavaillé-Coll’s work that are unspoiled. The organ at St Ouen, Rouen is considered a very fine instrument. C-C used the original organ case built by Crispin Carlier in 1613, as he realised that it should be preserved. It dictated the layout and number of stops of the new instrument. This fabulous instrument is known as the Michelangelo of organs, being impressive in its own right and also situated in such a wonderful architectural setting.
I was very happy to find in “Pipe Organs” Pierre Labric playing a beautiful piece of music.It is "Prelude No 2 in B major"---no other information. Pierre Labric was titulaire at St Ouen for many years and had the measure of its grand and cavernous spaces. He takes this piece slower than some, but it is right for this building, where a faster tempo would blur the lines. It was recorded in 1973 and is very beautifully performed.
I was going to present something from one of the more usual Romantic composers, but can keep it for another of my organ topic sites as I was thrilled by this performance of "Carillon-Sortie" ,composed by Henri Mulet and played by Andreas Meisner, a titulaire of Altenbug Dom. I thought it very exciting and it put the organ through its paces extremely well!
As this has proved to be a rather lengthy posting, and I have much more that I wish to discuss, I will close for the moment.
I hope that you have enjoyed some insight into the Romantic organ compositions and enjoyed the lovely sounds of which the symphonic organ is capable.
Aristed Cavaillé-Coll. Visionary and Innovative Organ Builder. Part II.
The organs of the Baroque and Classical periods spoke crisply and clearly and were able to handle contrapuntal writing. However, Cavaillé-Coll’s organs had a much warmer sound which was very suited to the homophonic style of writing, (a melody accompanied by its harmony), that had emerged as the new style of writing, and these organs had a plethora of stops that extended their timbre . His organs had an orchestral range of voicing and also could manage crescendos and diminuendos very smoothly.
As I mentioned in the earlier posting, composers, such as Franck, were quick to realise the potential of the new organs and write compositions for them which had sounds and effects almost unparalleled earlier. Cavaillé-Coll was held in such esteem by other organ builders that they began to copy his innovations and incorporate them in their own models. I will refer to these rivals in a later posting.
His first organs belonged to the Neo-Classical period, when he was beginning to flex his wings and add to the Classical instrument. During this period he built 8 organs, amongst them being that of St. Denis 1841, which is still in authentic condition.
This was followed by his Operatic period of organ building (1851-1871) in which C-C built 14 organs. St. Sulpice 1862 belongs to this period and its updates and renovations have been done sympathetically. St Clothide 1859, was built during the Operatic period, 1867 but the Cliquot/ Cavaillé-Coll organ of Notre Dame has since undergone many changes, many of which were instigated by organist Pierre Cochereau. Because of its complexity it also has been modernised to the extent of being computer controlled.
During my browsings I haven’t been able to find out how an Operatic organ differs from the Symphonic one. However looking at the dates I think that it may be in the degree of innovation and improvement towards the fully symphonic as he built succesive instruments.
The Symphonic period dates from 1875 and 16 organs were built. After Cavaillé-Coll’s bankruptcy the firm continued for awhile with Mutin, a former employee, at the helm.
From the mid 19th century the capabilities of Cavaillé- Coll’s new organs inspired Cesar Franck, Camille Saint-Saens, Charles Marie Widor, Louis Vierne, Marcel Dupre and Olivier Messien to play and write dramatically expressive music.
Beginning with Saint Denis, C-C built an organ which made it possible for composers to write in the new Romantic style. Organ music in France had reached a low ebb and it was Cesar Franck who established a foundation for its revival.
The following quote outlines the history and innovations embodied in the new organ at Saint Denis more succinctly than I can.
In 1836, architect François Debret designed a new organ case replacing an old organ which did not survive the revolution. A competition was held to select the builder and several well-known organ builders (Erard, Abbey, Dallery and Callinet) submitted a design for the new organ. A few days before the competition was closed, a young organ builder from southern France arrived in Paris: Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (aged 24 years). He was informed about the competition, went directly to St. Denis, worked for two days continuously on a plan and submitted a superior and innovative design. He won the competition, which can be seen as the birth of the French symphonic organ tradition. The organ was inaugurated in 1841, with several innovations: - the swell box operated by a spring-loaded (later balanced) pedal - new stops imitating orchestral instruments (basson, hautbois, clarinet) and the harmonic flute - windchests divided into sections with different wind pressures for fonds and reeds and introducing a pedal to add or cancel all the reed stops of a manual - use of many 8' stops (fonds) - the Barker pneumatic lever machine to couple all the manuals together and play without too much effort. All these innovations allowed a seamless crescendo from pianissimo to fortissimo, which was not possible before. On the other hand, this organ was still very 'classic', with a full 32' grand plein jeu, the second manual for the Great Organ and a classical 'French' pedal with a 'ravallement' from F and a small swell.
I am attaching a video of the present titulaire improvising on this instrument. Pierre Pincemaille has a fine reputation as an organist and improviser.
Also a video, which displays the interior of the Basilica, whilst accompanied by organ music. From these samples you can gain some idea of the impressive sounds that this Neo-classic organ was capable of, and of its strong, grunty bass registrations.
Saint Denis is said to be the oldest Gothic church in Paris, not particularly impressive from the outside, but a treasury within, still bursting with the tombs of kings and famous people despite the ravages of the Revolution. In its importance to France it is likened to Westminster Abbey to England and it has been part of most historic occasions. Cavaillé-Coll certainly built an organ which did this ancient church full justice.
Next I want to talk about the Basilique of Ste. Clothilde, which in the 19th century was the most fashionable church in Paris. It was planned in 1827 but building began 20 or so years later and it was completed in1857. It was the first church in Paris to be built in the neo-Gothic style and is distinguished by its twin spires on the western frontage.
KTOTV explores the interior with some very fine filming. Unfortunately the narrative was in French, but many of you will have a smattering of the language---unfortunately I have only a few of the simplest phrases! At around 7 minutes the mention of Cesar Franck alerted me to the fact that the organ was under discussion and at 7.30mins it began playing----and later there was choral music, too. (I had another short video but this was spoilt by traffic noise and then the organ music was distorted by the lengthy reverb, so I didn’t attach it).
The following video: "Homage au Maitres de Ste. Clothilde" is performed by Olivier Penin, the present incumbent. Beginning with Franck himself it has a notable list of composer/titlulaires. The latest of them, Olivier Penin, who became titulaire in 2012 is a virtuoso performer and also noted for his ability to improvise. The latter skill is very prized and particularly applicable to the French organ scene.
The following is a brief description of the organ which Cavaillé-Coll installed in Ste. Clothilde
The great organ of the Basilica Sainte Clotilde is one of the major works of the Cavaillé-Coll company. It was inaugurated in 1859 by the titulaire César Franck, but not completed until fall 1863. The organ has had a turbulent history. Various titulaires (Franck, Tournemire, Langlais and Taddei) have printed their stamp on the instrument via drastic restorations/extensions, with the result that the current instrument has moved far from the instrument that was made in 1859/1863 by Cavaillé-Coll. However, this does not say that this organ is not among the top of the Parisian organs. The current organ is the result of four building periods (1859-1933-1962-2005), where the organ grew in size from 46 to 71 stops and was adapted substantially to the technical possibilities offered by that period in time. The most recent restauration and extension (from 60 to 71 stops, adding among others chamades and a contre-bombarde 32) by Bernard Dargassies (1999-2005) has re-established some of the former glory of this master-piece of Cavaillé-Coll.
Then I have a video of him playing a "Haendel's Organ Concerto in G Minor". It demonstrates the lovely flutey tones of this organ, and Penin has chosen an extremely pleasant interactive registration, I thought.
Did you notice that blocks of stops were changed at intervals? I have been browsing for answers and believe that it is a matter of pre-prepared stops which although pulled don’t give voice until activated by the ventil (pedal)which opens the wind chest involved. The Cavaille-Coll’s workings are so intricate that I found my head, once again , in a whirl of understanding and misunderstanding!!! It certainly furthered my respect for the talented organists who understand and master these “beasts”.
Finally I have Olivier Penin’s performance of Franck’s “Pièce Héroique”, which was composed for an organ like this. It allowed both the composer and the organist to stretch their wings!
I have yet to introduce the “Big Guns” of the Parisian scene---the organs of St. Sulpice and Notre Dame de Paris, both of whom are particularly well-known these days because of their charismatic titulaires.
I will return another day to continue the saga. Meanwhile I hope that you have enjoyed this present posting.
The Cavaillé-Coll organs of Saint Sulpice and Notre Dame de Paris. Pt. III.
I came across the paragraph below which lays out the situation in regard to the two organs. It is phrased much better than I can do!
Quote:- Since the time of Cavaille-Coll, the grand organs of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the parish church of Saint-Sulpice, Paris, have enjoyed steady international recognition and attention. This is due not only to their status as Cavaille-Coll's two largest creations and among his most famous opera but also for the subsequent tonal and mechanical changes made to them over the years by their titulaires and restorers. Although both instruments were comparable in size and completed within six years of each other, various installation peculiarities and Cavaille-Coll's ever-evolving style produced two rather different instruments whose tonal paths have diverged yet more ever since. The organ in Saint-Sulpice, of which the majority of tonal resources, mechanisms, and chests are still as they were in 1862, has escaped significant invasive overhaul. In contrast, since its completion in 1868, the Notre-Dame organ has undergone radical alteration more than once and now stands as a monument as much to modern technological progress as to its various builders. This oblique divergence between the two organs is largely the result of changes made to the Notre-Dame organ by titulaires Louis Vierne and Pierre Cochereau. However, the modern-day use of these organs also represents important differences between the two. The Notre-Dame organ is now capable of playing literature from all eras of organ music, yet improvisation is the most performed genre on this organ. In contrast, the organ at Saint-Sulpice is better suited to playing French music, yet it is on this organ that the music of German composers such as Bach and Mendelssohn is also regularly played. Social matters are also of interest. "Decorum" and guarded admission were de rigueur at Saint-Sulpice during the tenures of Charles-Marie Widor and Marcel Dupre. Such intense social consciousness was not so strict at Notre-Dame. In contrast, today the Saint-Sulpice organ is a weekly host to numerous tourists, but that of Notre-Dame is virtually inaccessible to the unannounced visitor. Finally, although alterations are necessarily shaped by the personalities involved, other factors such as architecture and even the weather have also played important roles in the daily use of these instruments. Citation Bell, Joby
St. Sulpice, Paris, has become widely known because of the activities of its present titulaire, Daniel Roth.Roth is a charismatic and virtuoso performer who is also a warm and kindly man. Loving his organ, as he does, he is willing to share it with other organists and students and demonstrate to the general public, the rich palette of sounds possible.
This organ has had a line of prestigious organists amongst them, Dupre and Widor., who composed music for it.
The instrument is impressive with its 5 manuals and pedal-board, and is supported by Cavaillé-Coll’s many innovations or additions such as the ventrils, which control sectors of registration and the barker lever which makes things so much easier for the organist. The swell pedals are also used extensively in the Romantic works, too.
This organ is too complicated for most of us to fully comprehend---me included, so I am ignoring the technical aspects, many of which may become apparent in the sample videos.
I have chosen videos of historical significance, one by Widor and another by Dupré.Widor plays his Andante Sostenuto from “Symphonie Gothique” at a meditative pace, with the colours and expressiveness clearly heard. Unlike most organists he kept his tempo slow to moderate.
Dupré improvises upon the theme, “Veni Creator Spiritus”, and provides an warm composition which is both colourful and yet has an aura of meditative calm, too. He said that he found improvising easy---“it is a gift”,he said when asked about it.
Then there is a typical service with Daniel Roth listening whilst the Choir Organ is playing and on cue he joins in with the Grande Orgue.Typically he is surrounded by registrants and well wishers---he seems not to be taking too much notice of what is going on, but begins to play at the exactly the right moment!!! Obviously a master of multi-tasking!
Yet another short “Organ Concert” video was chosen for the amazing colour and odd sound Daniel Roth was coaxing from his organ. I think that you, too, will be amazed at the sounds Daniel Roth produces with his inspired pulling out of stops!!!
Next I’d like to introduce the Titulaire Adjoint, Sophie-Veronique Choplin who plays Widor. I was about to use a Dupré video, but found the Widor much more beautiful and appealing, so substituted that. The flutey notes are lovely.She has a natural rapport with her instrument that is very apparent, as well charm and chic!
Finally , Daniel Roth plays Widor’s 6th Symphony. We have seen him in other aspects, but here you can appreciate what a fine organist he is
This posting has gone on far too long to include the organ and organists of Notre Dame de Paris, so I will have to do this in a further episode.
I hope that you have enjoyed this introduction to the Grande Orgue of St Sulpice.
Aristide Cavaillé-Coll ---Grand Orgue of Notre Dame de Paris. Pt. IV
This is a very old organ dating from the 13th century, but is also a very new one as it boasts computerised aspects to its transmission systems, amongst other modernisations! Funnily enough, as Olivier Latry points out, this modernised organ does not have an adjustable bench!!!
Its great size has necessitated some of the more modern changes, to assist in its usage. For instance, it used to take the efforts of 6 strong men to provide enough wind for the music played.
Henri Cliquot had an expansion and reconstruction in the 18th century and it was upon this Aristide Cavaillé-Coll redesigned and built his organ in 1868.
It has been subject to constant change over the years with additions during the tenure of Vierne and later was subjected to many changes by its titulaire Pierre Cochereau.
In 1992, due to failures, the computerised transmission system had to be replaced and there was also an attempt to restore the Symphonic sounds of Cavaille-Coll whilst preserving some of the tonality of the 17th and 18th centuries.
Work is currently being done in the way of preservation/restoration and hopefully more of the beautifull Cavaillé-Coll sound will again be heard. All the work on this organ has diversified its sound from the original Cliquot/Cavaillé –Coll, instrument whereas the organ at St Sulpice still retains most of its originally lovely tones.
Problems aside, it is still has an awesome voice, but with, a changed timbre, (I think), which I don’t hear on its confrère at St. Sulpice. It is used constantly for concerts , providing improvisations to the service, although the smaller choeur organ is the main accompaniment for the liturgies and the choir.
There are three titulaires to accommodate the busy schedule, and sufficient to cover for their absence when away on concert tours. There are also two organists for the choir organ, too. (Some liturgies require both organs to play their part).
The Grand Orgue organ is so complicated that I feel that we can best learn by looking, so I will try to add videos that explain matters in some way. Maintenance is an ongoing problem and I found ideos that showed this taking place in the galleries, which I hope that you will find as interesting as I did. The replacement of the console provided a logistic problem but was accomplished seamlessly. I see that the present safety measures we are used to are not employed but the work goes on at an unhurried pace, with everyone knowing their role---to rush would probably be disastrous.
Notre Dame de Paris has had some famous composers as its organists, amongst these being Louis Vierne. I was pleased to find a composition of his which he composed after a European tour, called “The Bells of Hinckley”, upon hearing the ringing of the bells of St. Mary’s Parish Church, (erroneously attributed to St Peter’s in the video), which has one of the finest 8s in the country. Olivier Latry is playing this on the Grand Orgue and this piece utilises the very rich palette available.There are several videos on YouTube in which you can see and hear the changes being rung and, depending on what you are viewing glimpse the exterior and interior shots of this fine old church. It is in the diocese of Leicestershire, close to my hometown and in my teens my sister and I biked past this church many times on our tandem when on our weekend jaunts.
Pierre Cochereau was also another notable organist and here in 1959 he is playing Widor’s famous Toccata. His tempo was in accordance with that of the time---but Widor himself didn’t like it played too fast. This performance gives us space to hear the lovely nuances and harmonies and appreciate the tonalities---it also allows for the reverb not to muddy it.
Whilst we are with Cochereau I should like to present an Improvisation he performed during Mass. It is very energetic and vibrant, with gorgeous organ tonalities. How it fitted into the quiet dignity of a Mass I don’t know, but it is very virtuositic. Improvisation, which the French greatly prize, doesn’t usually please me, but this piece has more form and colour than most.
Finally I should like to produce Olivier Latry, one of the present titulaires, a charismatic, likeable and naturally elegant man, performing, ”Three Centuries of Organ Music”, at the time of the Cathedral’s 850th Anniversary. It is clear that he loves the organ and all the music that he plays on it.
This video is very interesting and informative, having English subtitles. In it you can see Latry utilising the playback and editing facilities. It is also stressed that the weather outside affects the organ sound.
Despite the ravages of Time, a Revolution and 2 World Wars this great instrument has survived in one form or another, and has provided us with some wonderful musical experiences.
Competition in the development of Romantic and Symphonic Organs. Pt. 1.
Aristide Cavaillé –Coll was at the forefront of the development of the Romantic, and later, Symphonic organs, but he didn’t operate in a vacuum. Others were making improvements and avidly watching what their competitors were producing!
There were, of course the many small family organ- building firms, but I am just going to mention a few of the larger and more outstanding organ-builders. Many of them became acquainted, and even collaborated. Reading about them I didn’t feel that antagonism and enmity raised their ugly heads! Some developments, such as the Barkers lever, were rapidly adopted by most, as were other improvements in windchests and so forth.
Pierre Schyven, a Belgian, born in 1827, was apprenticed and trained as an organbuilder with Merklin-Schütz originally of German origin; now in Brussels. This firm was already stimulated by the innovative developments that the trend towards Romanticicism was causing to take place in organ construction.
Pierre Schyven rose to eventually become foreman and supervisor, and when Merklin left for Paris, he, and a couple of partners took over. The firm of Schyven and Cie was created in around 1873 or 1875.
To begin with Schyven continued to build in the hybrid style, somewhere between Walcker and Cavaillé-Coll, which was common in the regions close to the German and French borders with Belgium. Then he branched out, introduced a splitting system patented in1882 for cone chests; then in 1883 for box registers. Later he used a tubular pneumatic system derived from Weigle.
Pierre Schyven built many organs for Belgium, 34 for France, 4 for England, 5 for S. America, 1 for Australia and several for the Netherlands. Unfortunately very few now remain unspoiled by their poor restorations or additions. When the organ of the Antwerp Cathedral was envisaged, companies were invited to apply. The resident organist and others were in favour of a Cavaillé-Coll, and he, with Walcker and Schyven, were invited to tender. C-C were over budget, and wouldn’t meet some suggested additions, (at no extra cost!), so Pierre Schyven was given the contract.
The large Pierre Schyven organ in Antwerp, circa 1891, is the Belgian equivalent of a Cavaillé- Coll , incorporating as it does so many of the same features. It is a masterpiece of Belgian organ building, but needs very strong hands to play it when fully coupled . The depths in the pedal registrations and the tightly knit richness of the harmonisation of the middle registers is very pleasing to me!
Additional expression is achieved on these symphonic organs by the use of ventils, which can enable and disable blocks of stops, pedal couplers and swell boxes. The following quote shows the similarities and differences between the organs of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll and that of Pierre Schyven-------->
“Esthetically speaking the instruments by Schyven and by Cavaillé-Coll are quite similar. The reeds of the French organ builder are generally stronger, while the foundation stops by Schyven are rounder and finer in tone. The tutti sound of the Schyven organ is less powerful than that of the large Cavaillé-Coll organs but then again there is the plenitude of Schyven’s poetic 8’stops.”---- Aeolus.
Examples below are performed on the great organ of the Antwerp Cathedral. The first video is Widor’s arrangement of the Mattheus Finale by Bach . Peter Van de Velde, performs it, bringing out the tonality and awesome breadth of sound possible with this organ and the grandeur of the bass registrations.
The next is ”Komm Susser Tod”, by J.S. Bach with the depth, colour and emotion well demonstrated. Peter’s hands show the strength needed to play the coupled manuals.
As a complete contrast Peter van de Velde plays Flor Peeters Variations,(Twinkle , twinkle. little star"), together with some commentary. This music is colourful and livelier, in contrast to the two previous videos, so enabling us to hear a different tonal range.
Eberhard Friedrich Walcher (E.F.Walcher & Cie), came from an organ-building family with roots going back to 1781 and was a German organ builder who shared a close professional relationship with Aristide Cavaillé- Coll”. He was also the first to construct a large assembly room in his workrooms so that an organ could be assembled as it was built, fully tested, and then despatched. Others, seeing the benefits of this, also added their own assembly areas too. They’d became necessary as more and more overseas contracts were being received.
E.F.Walcher invented the cone-valve, that ushered in the age of the stop-channel chest, when he had experimented with improvements which could result in a more stable wind supply. Cavaillé-Coll, learning of the cone-valve, incorporated this improvement into his own instruments, too.
Walcher organs have many characteristics that are deemed Romantic---with their wide sound, colour and smooth dynamic layering, and with their Divisions based on Dynamics rather than timbre. All the voices were warm and expressive. “His concept required a large instrument in order to meet the demands of most of the repertoire---all the different sound layers, fine sound graduations as well as the real effect of the roller crescendo.”
At the end of his life Cavaillé-Coll reduced the number of stops in his instruments, but Walcher tended to increase them. He became interested in the Organ Reform Movement, which originated in Germany. Its aims, simplified, meant looking back to the baroque era to learn from the organ -builders of that time.They wanted to know their secrets of construction and how to obtain the same tonal beauty. Albert Schweitzer was involved and felt that organs should be capable of playing Bach. He thought that the Alsatian Silbemann was ideal in this respect. Walcher was a friend of Albert Schweitzer and they often discussed these matters together.
E.F. Walcher died in1872 and the firm was continued by 3 of his sons---and later two others, as soon as they’d qualified. The sons had other ideas, from their father’s, and were interested in new innovations, but the Riga Dom organ was still built in the traditional manner of E.F. Walcher. Innovations and other matters, caused a rift in the firm, and Paul left--- to become the managing director of Sauer; which he eventually owned in 1910.
Between 1882 and 1883 Walcher Orgelbau built the instrument for the Riga Cathedral. It was inaugurated on January 31st 1884 and is in good shape today, being sympathetically restored by Flentrop in the period 1981-1983. Paul, aged 37 was the organ-builder for the Riga Dom and his eldest brother Fritz, aged 57, was the voicer. Fritz specialised in voicing the reeds, and his voicing of an organ at Mulhausen , built in 1866, had gained the admiration of Albert Schweitzer, who said that it was, “magnificently voiced! Praise indeed!
Frederick Magle, a concert organist, said that the voices of the organ of the Riga Dom had an incredible beauty, particularly the flutes and strings. He noted that the tonal quality of this organ was of a particularly high standard and the craftsmanship was 1st class. He’d observed that it was currently under constant surveillance, maintenance-wise, by an organ builder, who could be summoned by pushing a button!
I listened to an Mp3 of his performance of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565, which he made available on his website, and it was an awesome; utilising to the full the vast tonal resources of this instrument.( This can be accessed through Frederic Magle’s web pages).
I have 2 videos to attach; “Finlandia” performed by Martin Mans,( Netherlands) and Bach in Riga , played by Johann Vexo, ( a choir organist Notre Dame de Paris), which I hope demonstrate the fine tonalities of this organ.
It's time to break off now, and continue with 2 other organ-builders and their instruments, in Pt. 2.
Noted Organ-builders of Romantic and Symphonic Instruments Pt. 2
Joseph Casavant was an organ builder whose sons firstly trained in his workshop, and then in 1878 went to France for a further 14 months where they had further training and also visited many organ builders and organs in the vicinity. On their return to Canada in 1879, they set up business in Quebec as Casavant Fréres. They were innovative and their instruments boasted many features unique for that time such as concave pedal boards, balanced expression pedals, and keyboard enhancements.
Their reputation was enhanced when they constructed an impressive organ for the church of Notre Dame de Montreal in 1891.(More recently,whilst on a visit the Pope proclaimed it a Basilika). The organ had 4 keyboards, 92 stops and used electro-pneumatic action with an adjustable combination system for the pedals. The present console dates from 1962.
They soon dominated the local organ-building scene, and became a major name within Canada.This French-Canadian firm is still actively organ building and restoring, particularly on the American continent and also attracts orders from overseas
I have 2 videos for you which enable us to appreciate the voicing and wide range of compositions possible on this organ. The videos are---Camille Saint Saens' “Danse Macabre”, played by Frédéric Champion, and then there are the intriguing Variations on “Twinkle , twinkle little star” played by the titulaire Pierre Grandmaison. There is no composer mentioned, so I think that these are either Mozart’s variations, or the organist is improvising his own. I like some of the textural effects he achieves---one is a sort of a “burble”! The Basilica has good acoustics, which enhances the organ performance.
Finally there is the “Scherzo Symphonique”, by Pierre Cochereau performed on the Rubenstein Family Casavant Symphonic Organ, (2012), that was gifted to the John Kennedy Centre by the Rubenstein Family.The organist isDaryl Robinson. The organ replaced a former Neo –classical organ, which was removed to a church--- for which it was eminently suited.
This particular Casavant organ is tonally and dynamically designed to play with a symphony orchestra. The video clip I have chosen shows its powerful and colourful range of expression, and fully explores the tonal qualities that make it a good solo concert instrument.
Next we consider the English firm of Joseph Walker, established in 1828, and originally based in London. How did I come to choose this firm, and not one of the very well known names of Willis or Harrison & Harrison? I was led to Walker’s though my liking for a German organist, Thomas Rothfuß and listened to him playing various sized organs. One was the Walker organ of Bristol Cathedral, and I admired its voice and decided to read up on the builder!
Initially Walker built barrel organs and small organs, until in 1858 they were contracted to build an organ, with 3 manuals and pedal-board for Romsey Abbey in Hampshire. The successful completion of this organ, with its lovely mellow voicing, further enhanced their reputation.
When Joseph Walker died the firm was continued by his son John James Walker and remained in the family until the death of his grandson. It was then reformed under the management of Robert Pennells, a previous employee , who moved the firm from London to a new and well equipped premises in Brandon, Essex. He revived the fortunes of the business by the production of new mechanical action instruments, and was joined by his son Andrew, who had trained with Klais Orgelbau of Bonn. Andrew died, young, in 1999, and after his father’s retirement the leadership was assumed by Sebastian Meakin, a former apprentice. Since 1995 Walker have operated from their premises in Brandon, Suffolk, with an enthusiastic staff, all of whom are Walker trained and some have additional experience with German organ-builders, too.
Prior to the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Romsey Abbey was a Benedictine Nunnery. It had escaped destruction when the townsfolk had purchased it to become their Parish Church. It is an impressive massive Norman building, without any form of spire, and has played a significant part in the history of the area. In modern times Lord Louis Mountbatten was buried there.
The organ’s mellow tones, and the acoustics of the building are complementary. Over the years there have been updates and restorations and the organ is maintained regularly by Walker personnel. In 1998 Walker built an additional organ which was situated in the nave, and which can be played separately or from the main console.There is a regular programme of organ concerts throughout the year.
I searched hard for a video of this organ playing, but was about to give up when I chanced on an 18 minute video “Colourful Romsey”. This film is archival, being filmed segments of the times, between 1948 to 1952. I was aged 17 to 21 years at that time, and was surprised how dated that period of my life now seemed! It is fascinating, with street scenes, parks and gardens, the agricultural show, Carnival Queen with her float and attendants, and a visit from Queen Elizabeth II who’d just ascended the throne but was yet to be crowned. The background music for this film was played by organist George Goulding on the Walker organ of Romsey Abbey.At 5.16 minutes I recognised Handel’s “Serse” and just before the end “ Sheep may Safely Graze”, by J.S. Bach. There were other tunes that I felt that I should recognise---but didn’t! Below is a link as this video would not come up with the usual format. Please click on it with your mouse.----->
Next I have a video of David Cook, a London concert organist, playing “Ach bleib bei uns Herr Jesu Christ”, (BWV 649) on a much smaller, two manual Walker organ in St. Mary’s Church, Chigwell, Essex. It was voiced by Ralph Downes, who designed many organs with Baroque voicing, including the one in The Royal Festival Hall, London. This Walker organ has a very original and pleasant intonation and is fully ably to do justice to Bach’s piece.
Bristol Cathedral began its life as an Augustinian Monastery, and was built in 1140. It became the seat of the Bishop, and the cathedral of the Diocese of Bristol in 1542. Renatus Harris built an organ, in 1685, at a cost of £500 which had 3 manuals and 19 stops but no pedals. In the intervening years this organ has been removed, repaired and updated many times but some material has always been retained. This was so----the casing and some of the pipes were included when J.W.Walker and Sons built the present organ in 1907. It is situated above the stalls on the north side of the choir. The following outlines the present condition of this organ ---->
1901 Hubert Hunt was appointed Organist, and began to set in motion plans for the complete modernisation of the organ. This was carried out in 1907 by J. W. Walker & Sons of London. They retained much of the old pipework (26 stops) but also provided much new material, including all the reed stops, a fourth manual, and a much more fully equipped Pedal division (13 stops compared to 3 in the previous instrument), for a total of 60 stops. The two case fronts were stood side by side. The console, tubular-pneumatic action and soundboards were all new. The instrument was dedicated on 8 October 1907. It is one of the finest examples of the English Romantic organ to be found anywhere in the world, and has survived almost unchanged to this day. Some repairs and minor tonal alterations were made in 1947 and 1970, but it was not until 1989 that a complete restoration was undertaken. This work was carried out by Manders. The action was restored, the console ‘playing aids' were slightly increased, and five stops were added. The casework was cleaned, and the solid timber panels at the bottom of the east case were replaced by grilles, as the pipes behind could barely be heard. In 2004, some further restoration work was carried by Cawston, and the console ‘playing aids' were once more increased.
I came across Thomas Rothfuß performing 2 pieces, firstly “Aquarium”, from Saint Saens’ ”Carnival of the Animals” and secondly, Hans-André Stamm’s “Rondo alla celtica.” The organist and organ coped very well, with the registrations giving appropriate colour. It is particularly apparent in the “Aquarium” where the nature and texture of water---and the swimming occupants are brought vividly to mind. In the second piece Hans-André Stamm .himself, comments favourably on Thomas’s interpretation of this bright, colourful, feisty composition, with its strange intonations .
I have only touched the “tip of the iceberg”---and there are many other able organ-builders whom I could have chosen, but I hope that my small sample will show what progress was being made in organ developments, and at the same time a return to the past to capture tonal qualities.
I have enjoyed putting this thread together and hope that you have enjoyed exploring some of the Romantic organs with me.
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