Author Topic: The Recent H&H Restoration at Exeter Cathedral  (Read 3813 times)

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The Recent H&H Restoration at Exeter Cathedral
« on: March 05, 2015, 10:13:40 PM »
I would be interested to learn of members' views on this.

I know the organ of Exeter Cathedral extremely well. I began having lessons on it as a boy, in the later 1970s (from Paul Morgan, the Sub Organist at that time).

The stop-list at that point in its life was:

Then, between 2000-2003, the organ was rebuilt as follows:

Recently, it has again been the subject of major work:

However, not only have there been a number of small changes to the stop-list (for example, the beautiful, quiet Quintadena 16ft. on the Swell Organ has been revoiced as a Bourdon, and the Twelfth augmented with a diapason-scaled seventeenth, in order to make a Sesquialtera), but there have been several rather more worrying alterations to the mixture scheme.

Initially, from 1965, the mixture compositions (at C1) were:


Mixture  II  19-22 (throughout)


Cimbel 26-29-33


Mixture  IV  19-22-26-29
Sharp Mixture   III  29-33-36


Mixture  IV  22-26-29-33

However, in 2000, the Choir Organ not only lost its Cimbel, but the Twenty Second (1ft.) was pointlessly re-pitched as a Larigot (1 1/3ft.). Since there was already a Lieblich Bourdon 16ft, a Nazard 2 2/3ft. and an 'Octaves Alone' coupler, a Larigot effect was perfectly possible. The Cimbel was supplanted by a Clarinet - also fairly pointless, since it was on an open soundboard (and thus inexpressive), and there was a really beautiful Willis II Corno di Bassetto  (8ft.) on the Solo Organ. Since the tuner's panels had been taken out of the east face of the Solo expression box, this stop worked rather better in the Quire than did the new unenclosed Clarinet.

In addition, the Swell Organ Mixture was re-cast at a slightly lower pitch (19-22-26-29), thus with a further loss of brightness.

(It should be mentioned at this stage that there was never any tendency for any of the compound stops in this instrument to 'scream'; they all added a most agreeable brightness to their respective choruses.)

Now, in 2014, the mixture scheme has yet again been further attenuated. The Swell Mixture has been made to sound 'less bright' (this presumably means 'more dull'.) In addition, the G.O. Sharp Mixture has been re-cast at a lower pitch (presumably 26-29-33) and also been made to sound 'less bright'.

Given that, in 1992, H&H altered the voicing (and the breaks?) of the 1968 G.O. Mixture IV 19-22-26-29, at King's, Cambridge, in order to sound less brilliant - and that, more recently, the similar G.O. Mixture IV (also 19-22-26-29) at Hereford Cathedral has received similar treatment, it does appear that there is a deliberate policy by the voicing team at H&H to reduce the mixture work and the overall brightness of larger instruments.

On a related matter, at the recent rebuild, the organ of Exeter Cathedral also received major structural work, with the replacement of the soundboards, the re-designing of the wind system, new expression boxes (MDF....) for the Swell and Solo organs - and a new building frame, together with a slightly modified internal layout. However, despite claims from the head voicer at H&H that they had thought long and hard about the restoration, they missed an ideal opportunity to effect a major change, which could have transformed this instrument - the swapping of the relative positions of the Choir and Solo organs. If, at the same time, they had slightly reduced the Solo Organ in size, the Choir Organ could have been made two or three stops larger. Since it would now face directly down the Nave, a decent chorus (to act a s a 'foil' to the G.O. chorus) could have been provided. This is what I think should have been done:

SOLO ORGAN  (Now facing east)

Viole d'Orchestre  8
Viole CÚleste  (C13)  8
Claribel Flute  8
Harmonic Flute  4
Corno di Bassetto  16ft  (70 pipes)
Orchestral Hautboy  8
Tuba Magna  8
Trompette Harmonique  8 (Minstrels' Gallery)

Notes:  The Piccolo is discarded (it wobbles unpleasantly and is rarely used.) The Vox Humana to go on the Swell Organ, instead of the Sesquialtera. It would be of far greater use, here. The Corno di Bassetto is given a new 16ft. octave.

CHOIR ORGAN  (Now facing west)

Wald Flute  8
Cone Gamba  8
Stopped Diapason  8 (Old Swell; replaced by former Choir Lieblich Gedeckt)
Prestant  4
Nason Flute  4  (old Swell; replaced by former Choir Lieblich Flute)
Nazard  2 2/3
Flageolet  2
Tierce  1 3/5
Twenty Second  1
Cimbel  (26-29-33)
Cremona  8

Notes:  The Swell and Choir 8ft. and 4ft. flutes have also exchanged places. In any case, prior to 1965, the Swell mild strings (Salicional and Voix CÚleste) were on the Choir Organ, as Salicional and Vox Angelica. Therefore, now the mild strings and the FHW Lieblich Gedeckt and Lieblich Flute are once again available together in the same department. The Lieblich Bourdon has been discarded; for one thing, the lowest twelve notes were always provided by the Pedal Bourdon (due to lack of space), and it was hardly ever used. The Viola has been replaced by a Cone Gamba and the Wald Flute (again replacing a rank which had been present in the Choir Organ, prior to 1965) and Prestant are new. (The new Gemshorn which was added recently now has virtually no chorus left, to speak of. Since I regard such stops as tonal hybrids, I do not think that it would make an ideal 4ft. register for this re-modelled department.)

In addition, the compound stops would be re-instated to their 1965 compositions, breaks and voicing.

One further alteration:  the Trompette on the Solo and Minstrel organs would have its voicing (and construction) altered to a  Trompette Harmonique  8ft. As installed in 1965, this was a bright, brassy (and somewhat anti-social) Trompette Militaire. In 1985 (as far as I can recall), the then Director of Music, Lucian Nethsingha had this stop made quieter (and possibly re-voiced with slightly thicker tongues. It was then a shadow of its former self. Whilst in a way it would be exciting to re-instate the former voicing, I feel that a full-toned, but bright, Trompette Harmonique would be of greater general utility.

I should stress, once again, that this is no idle armchair criticism: I have known this instrument extremely well for well over thirty years and had a high regard for it. Sadly, I am convinced that the present work (and much of the work which was carried-out between 2000-2003) has been detrimental to both the overall character and the versatility of this instrument.

I should be interested to learn what other board members' views are, regarding both the perceived 'dumbing-down of the mixture-work on larger instruments and the Exeter organ in particular - and my proposed alterations to it. 

« Last Edit: June 23, 2016, 03:17:34 PM by pcnd5584 »
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