ORGAN TOUR IN CENTRAL SPAIN
SEPTEMBER 2002

After successfully getting up at 5 a.m. on the morning of September 2nd and catching the 6.05 a.m. to London Victoria hauling a suitcase containing a lot of Spanish Organ Music (among other things) I became one of a group of organ enthusiasts who met at Heathrow Airport for the 11.45 a.m. flight to Barcelona. Upon our arrival there we discovered, after nearly an hour’s wait at “Baggage Reclaim” that our luggage had not arrived. Having given our baggage numbers to the Clerk at the information desk we proceeded to join the coach which was to be our mode of transport throughout the tour. We met Nick Watson who lives in Spain, speaks fluent Spanish and was to be our guide throughout the tour.

     

Our first stop-over was at Zaragoza for three nights, during the first of which Nick spent much time negotiating with Barcelona Airport, eventually locating the luggage which arrived at 11.30p.m. the following night. Nick was marvelous. Going “above the call of duty” is to put it mildly! Unfortunately two people’s luggage never did arrive and I have yet to find out how they have fared.

     

3rd September found us at the Old Aljafaria Moorish Palace, a very interesting building, somewhat smaller than the Alhambra at Granada. We visited, and played, the organ of the Church of San Pabloin the old city. This was my first real experience of playing a Spanish Organ, with its 8 studs for pedals, divided keyboard, and short octave, the notes downwards being, B A# A G# G F# F E sounding B A# A E G D F C — a little confusing until one realises that the bottom three notes overlap like the front truck of a goods train which has been detached at points, the points changed, and the truck shunted backwards so that the rear half of it is level with the front half of the next truck. I had no music and so I improvised a Tiento in the style of Cabazon. After a walk in the city and a look at the Basilica del Pilar and the Cathedral, Nick took us to the Monastery of Sto Sepulcro, which contains a portable processional organ with just three stops, 4ft, 2ft, & 1ft. Claudio & Christine Rainolter, who organized the tour from the Spanish end, had rescued this instrument from the boiler room where it was to be broken up and scrapped. It was, however, restored. I improvised a Himmo (Hymn). The Rainolters (German) have been working tirelessly to restore many organs in this region.

     

4th September took us to Daroca. In the Colegiata de Santa Mariade los Sagrados Corporales there is a 15th century organ case containing only show-pipes. It was suggested that the only way to restore this would be to build a replica, using these pipes, and to make replica pipes to fit the old case. It was Francis Chaplet’s visit to Covarrubias and his recording of the organ there (specially restored) that has boosted the interest in Spanish organs, the State now paying for many restorations. The next organ we were to play is that of Santo Domingo (1734). On to Paniza. Here, in the church of Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles there is a new” old organ; new, in that the only parts which are old are the pipes, dating from 1595, all except the clarions which are new, built in 2001. This instrument provided the enthusiasm for research into the Tudor organ in England, thus resulting in the two Tudor” organs, one in East Anglia and the other at Tudely here in Kent. Then it was on to Almonacid de la Sierra. Here and at one other lunch stop on the tour we all dined together sampling the local Tapas. Up to seventeen dishes were passed along the table, we helping ourselves to small portions of each. Plenty of wine too! After sleeping off the effects of the meal (and the wine) we visited our next organ, in the church next door, that of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion (1740). On to Carinena, to the church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion with an organ dating from 1741.

     

5th September saw our departure from Zaragoza, visiting the Preceptorate (a monastery for the military) in which Nick and a friend live, having recently purchased and were renovating, intending to use it as a guest-house for groups and/or individuals. Then we headed for El Burgo de Osma, arriving just as the Cathedral was closing for lunch break. Not to be out-done, we lunched on Chorizo and Tortilla, Coca-Cola and Coffee, then, on to a Convent where there is a French organ which the sisters had purchased whilst in France. It is in very bad condition. Claudio had effected what repairs he could, although it stood up well to my performance of Widor’s Toccata, although the action was so heavy my fingers were nearly dropping off long before the end! Then it was on to Salamanca where .…..

     

6th September….. I was to have what I describe as a great honour bestowed upon me. I was selected from the twenty-one members to play the Epistle organ at the Cathedral, dating from 15th century. The keys were so old that my fingers bedded themselves into them, concave as they are (the keys, that is). Colin was selected to play the Gospel organ, a more modern and much larger instrument dating from c1800. We were asked not to record this so I’m afraid it is a case of “memory only”. After some free time in the city we gathered at the Convent de las Dueñas, a closed order, where there is a reed-organ having divided keyboards, which are divided by a central key cheek. Each keyboard consists of about one octave of numbered “carillon” type keys and there are six left and right pairs rising up like a six-manual console with a row of six stop knobs at the top. The keys, and the music, are marked with numbers indicating a numerical tablature. We climbed to the museum and into the roof-space over the chapel to see how the moulded plaster roof is built inside the original. Neither the organ nor the chapel is accessible and one is left wondering whether the pipe organ is playable. We think not, because there is what seemed to be a reed organ covered over, standing next to it.

To be continued…………

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