Letters to the Editor

Organ cases, Mean Tone and the BBC

Sir, — I was pleased to receive last August’s Journal. Yes, page 12 does illustrate the South organ case at Salisbury Cathedral, over which no one in particular would enthuse. Father Willis was dead-nuts against ‘em! After all, money expended on a beautiful case (as were so many prevalent in the 1700s), could be better expended on more organ pipes, and so, more profit! Did he, I wonder, have Models A, B and C to proffer, up his sleeve?

When his “highest in the land” — so just perfect for egress of sound — namely, Truro, but of only forty-five stops, was much enhanced tonally, after many a battle, by J. L. Pearson’s glorious architecture, who also saw that Willis placed ranks to their best advantage, Pearson having studied acoustics.

Since Father Willis’ time, especially so in the 1900s, with Walker and Mander in particular and more recent organ builders too, an instruments’ visual aspects have been considered as of equal importance to the specification and use!

Next time you’re by Trafalgar Square, pop into St. Martin-in-the-fields (no apostrophe ‘S’, as with all those in the City of London, where its forty-seven churches are such, viz. St. Bride, Fleet St., St. Stephen Walbrook (but it is Paul’s Cathedral!), and walk up to the chancel, turn about looking west, and your jaw will drop with a mighty crash — a superb modern Walker, with a just dazzling ultra-modern case!

There are pros and cons with Brian Wigglesworth’s letter Sooty delights of the 1950s. I wonder if he’s read Ralph Downes’ Baroque Tricks, Positif Press? He should! It gives a more catholic outlook. When Wolfgang Stockmeier recorded Das Orgelwerk Johann Sebastian Bach, (20 CDs), he used over a dozen instruments, and they were all solely by Orgelbau Matthias Kreienbrink of Osnabrueck, which was founded in 1790, and still extant; was Stockmeier trying to send a message?

I find them extraordinarily attractive tonally, save where there’s this wretched mean temperament, so disliked by J.S.Bach, hence his Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, the 48 Preludes and Fugues! There’s a delightful anecdote that has come down to us from J.N. Forkel, that whenever Bach observed his friend Gottfried Silbermann among his select circle of auditors, he used to say to him, in perfect good humour: “You tune the organ in the manner you please, and I play the organ in the key I please”, and thereupon used to strike off a Fantasia in A-flat major; the contest invariably ending in Silbermann’s retiring to avoid his own wolf.

But I’m not urging that our organs should emulate continental ones, theirs in particular, but that we can become, if not careful, as in Victorian and Edwardian times, far too insular. When The Organ Club — twenty of us in 1957 — ventured to Holland and the next year to Denmark and Sweden, our leader Josh Knott, who had arranged everything of both, had to battle with the Club’s Committee to go out under their auspices; five now remain. One of the questions he met with was: Why, aren’t our organs good enough? Not that any recordings were then were available in our shops.

We were to hear and play such famous ones as those in Amsterdam and the Bavokerk in Haarlem, Alkmaar and Zwolle, all with cases of just dazzling wonder. Also the next year, again with Josh Knott, to Denmark and Sweden, and we just walked on air. The IAO first ventured abroad in 1980, and I with them, to Germany.

The BBC is particularly insular and unhelpful. As a gesture of good will, in 1949, Geraint Jones was dispatched by the British Council to record works of Bach, Haydn and Liszt on three famous organs, at Steinkirchen (1686), Ottobeuren (1766), and at Amorbach Abbey (1783). Over the years any relays to us were rare, minimal, and very far between! Due to the kindness of Catherine Ennis, pupil of Geraint Jones before he died in 1998, a CD was made of these 1949 recorded works.

Harry Coles,

Loughton, Essex.


An eye for detail

Sir, — I greatly enjoyed reading the August 2003 Journal, especially the Notes from a small observer and, as always, the profile of one of our members.

However, when Barbara Childs was at The Magdalen College Club was she not working “unsocial” hours rather than “anti-social” hours and our January meeting was held on the 18th January and not the 16th? Also, did one of our members say to Sir Edward “I voted for you in 1970 and in 1973”, or did the later date get altered somewhere in the publication process?

I suppose it could be argued that part of the enjoyment is spotting the errors — deliberate or otherwise!

David Brock

Rainham, Kent.


Editor: We must thank David for his comments and eagle-eyed observations. However, we can confirm the “1973” date was accuratly reported although the General Election was indeed in 1974. Sir Edward was obviously far too polite to correct our member. Although David’s letter did contain one spelling mistake — here corrected — he will certainly be asked to join our future proof reading team.


A favourable impression

SIR, — I thought our meeting at Loose and Boughton Monchelsea was most enjoyable. That Millennium window was stunning. My little group went to visit Graham Clarke’s studio at one of his open days, which are always wonderful and this time we met him, delightful gentleman. I am hoping to take friends to see the window when it’s open for viewing, which is Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons from Easter to Harvest, but thought I would ring the Parish Office, 01622 743321 to make sure! Hopefully I can combine it with a tour to Graham Clarke’s studio!

At the President’s Dinner my ears pricked up when William McVicker said he started his organ playing at Bessie’s O’ Barn. After I spoke to him, and his delightful wife, it turns out I was at school with his Mum! Wasn’t it wonderful that his Vicar, teacher and parents gave him such a good start.

On the 16th November we had a splendid dedication of the renovated Father Willis Organ at the Faversham almshouses, all the local dignitaries came and were impressed. The organ rang out and showed what a gem it is! St. Mary of Charity Choir led the Service under their Musical Director Steve Sivyer.

Vicky Shepherd

Faversham, Kent.



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