Organ building during the late Victorian period was a prolific and frantic business. Organ builders abounded, many are sadly now forgotten, but the few who were at the pinnacle of their craft remain with us in perpetuity through their work. They were bestowed with that extra genius, which made them craftsmen and innovators par excellence, and they stood head and shoulders above the rest.
Strangely their genius and unbounded confidence, although producing remarkable work, was on occasion their undoing. When rebuilds and modifications to instruments were requested, an earlier organ builders work could be ruthlessly changed in ways which today would unquestionably raise eyebrows.
Of course, we can all be guilty, maybe not directly, but countless British organs have succumbed to organists whims and fancies. Human nature that inner self-belief of knowing we are right is always at work. For example, as an organ builder, I spend almost as much time travelling as I do in organs and its fascinating to observe how human nature manifests itself as the average motorist, with unerring self-confidence, takes to the road.
If you see anyone who is obeying the law apart from the odd motorised rickshaw it would be unusual. The national speed limit is, de facto, 99 mph, because everyone knows that you lose your licence at 100 mph. Oh, we can sometimes make a passing stab at legality. If theres a police car on the road, we all slow down to a theatrical 70 mph, and cluster round the cops like guilty sheep around a sheepdog; and for an interval we will keep pace, dawdling politely along, until we feel the proprieties have been observed, and when we have nosed a couple of hundred yards ahead, we give it some welly and show the law a clean pair of heels. Yes, its that human quality of knowing we know best.
I confess I am as guilty as the
next man, whether on the road or working on organs. Over
the years I have been associated with some interesting
organs. Southwark Cathedral and
Southwark cathedral Lewis has now, thankfully,
been restored to its original magnificence by Harrison
& Harrison reversing the wind pressure and
voicing changes made by Willis 111 in the 1950s.
A number of flue stops were transposed by one note and their pipes trimmed in order to achieve the required length, causing an inevitably change in their scale. Even more significantly, the tapered reed stops had been lengthened with tuning slides, resulting in a major change to the resonators which affected the quality and stability of the tone: the covered reeds, like the flue stops, had been transposed, resulting in resonators of an incorrect speaking length. Consequently, while the general musical effect of the organ may have seemed acceptable, the performance of the pipework had departed from its original. The pipework scales had been increased making the pipes, in effect, fatter. As we know, a larger scale produces a fatter tone, which would have altered the overall tonality of the Father Willis instrument, a serious and reprehensible undertaking.
Organ builders have their own distinctive tonal designs, which involve the scaling and construction of their pipes. A Forster & Andrews Diapason was invariably much larger and fatter than a Father Willis Diapason, creating the individual tonal designs we associate with different organ builders.
Undoubtedly, something had to be
done to rectify this tonal situation at
there are still organ schemes put forward from time to
time, which would, if implemented, destroy an original
builders work. Here in
Although organ builders and churches do sometimes have good reason to complain when Diocesan offices seem to drag their feet, it is invariably in a good cause, helping to preserve our dwindling heritage and keeping those whims and fancies under close scrutiny. Strangely, its much the same on our roads with the proliferation of speed cameras yes I know, I really should drive more carefully.