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Messages - Contrabombarde

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Organs on eBay or for urgent sale / 1 manual Renn seeks new home
« on: July 01, 2020, 06:34:34 PM »
I've been asked if I can draw attention to this one manual and pedal Renn circa 1840 and featured in the Organ Magazine May 2018:

In a private home now and the owner is seeking its relocation.

Sadly this spectacular theatre organ has been scrapped after the (understandable) failure to raise £2 million to restore it. As it was not removed prior to the commencement of building work in the hall the pipework became irredeemably contaminated with asbestos and it has just been announced that it has been removed and scrapped as contaminated waste.

As subject line.

GREAT: Open Diapason (8'), Claribel Flute (8'), Dulciana (8'), Harmonic Flute (4')
SWELL: (enclosed): Violin Diapason (8'), Lieblich Gedackt (8'), Gemshorn (4'), Piccolo (2'), Oboe (8'), Tremulant
PEDAL: Bourdon (16')
Swell to Great, Great to Pedal, Swell to Pedal; 'hitch down' swell pedal; two combination pedals each to Great & Swell

Birmingham's Central Methodist Hall is home to a large three manual Walcker which was originally built for a church in Germany, and was brought to eh UK in 1903. I played it about 30 years ago and thought it was a very grand, if somewhat tired, creature. Sadly the hall has been disused for many years, having ceased to be a nightclub venue some time after its ecclesiastical function stopped. Today's local paper says that it is to be converted into a new hotel and leisure centre. What particularly struck me in the report was a claim that as part of the refurbishment the organ is to restored. Can anyone shed light on this potentially very welcome news?

Would the estate agent and vendor be aware of that restriction in the listing I wonder? Perhaps someone should inform them before it ends up in the skip!

Bargain indeed, though for a reason. As a listed building but with major structural problems it is only being sold to cash buyers with the means to effect the repairs necessary, and I should imagine that the cost of the building itself would be dwarfed by the cost of restoring it to its former glory. The present owner (himself a noted architect who worked on the conversion of part of Somerset House in London to become the Courtauld Institute in London) sold off much of the surrounding land a few years ago to build housing in an attempt to raise more money to save the manor house, but it sounds as though far more is still needed. And in selling off the surrounding land for a housing development, it has inevitably reduced its value further. Just being a listed building would put a lot of people off buying it (including those who might object to having a pipe organ in the attic!) due to the additional costs of having to do any changes sympathetically. 

Still, for the same money you could have a bedsit in central London and I know which I would rather have if I had the means to buy it!

The house is for sale, that is....and presumably the three manual Christie organ in the cinema in the attic (yes seriously!) would come with it. £350,000 for a semirural mansion this size looks like a bargain, though I can imagine you would need to spend several times that much to bring the house back to first class condition. And the organ has long been unplayable.

The Christie was installed by the present owner's father when he converted the attic into a paying cinema early in the 20th century. Amazingly I have actually managed to track down a recording of Firmstone senior playing at (scroll down to Eldon Firmstone). It was used to make radio broadcasts in World War II and is one of only two Christie organs to have been installed in private residences apparently.

Any millionaires interested in building a French gothic cathedral in which to house this? How many kidneys does one have to sell to buy it?

Does anyone know what is happening with this behemoth? I went to the Association website only to find the domain had become a vendor of e-cigarettes!

Out of curiosity, are there any organists with arms long enough to reach the seventh manual or turn pages? Has it ever been played? I've often wondered. (I recall an article some years ago in Organists' Review about the Wanamaker organ in which the console was described as very comfortable and surprisingly easy to reach the sixth manual, but seven?)

This could be a very worthwhile educational project for a school, involving as you say music, IT, physics and woodworking departments.

There is plenty of info both on the Hauptwerk website and on about requirements but in a nutshell, you can never have enough memory and if you are running four manuals you should aim for at least 24GB, preferably a minimum 32 GB. You will need a fast processor (four or six core i7 or whatever they are called now) to allow all the polyphony especially if playing wet echoey sample sets (less critical if the organ is playing in a reverberant building, since in that case you will be playing dry sets and polyphony in echos is less relevant). All that memory takes a long time to load from hard drive unless you get an SSD, kerching! (You could instead go for two hard drives in RAID0 but greater risk of failure and not quite as fast as a single SSD though much faster than a single platter drive. I believe RAID0-ing SSDs doesn't gain much performance over a single SSD however). You really don't want to be waiting much more than a minute or so for sample sets to load versus several minutes for conventional hard disk.

You probably want an external MIDI and audio interface rather than built-in sound card, again lots of recommendations but I'd advise going for a more "pro" model in a school. I have an internal M-audio delta 1010LT soundcard but have a feeling they are no longer available. The number of channels is important: minimum four ie two stereo pairs in a dry practice room plus subwoofer (for surround sound); I can't advise on setup in a reverberant room other than that you will want to play through as many channels as possible, potentially in multiples of six to avoid sending too many different notes through the same speakers. With six channels for each manual your speaker budget quickly mounts up. David is better placed than me to comment on the cost of such systems! The ECHO audiofire 12 has 12 analogue outputs and a MIDI input for around £470 and is often recommended for "larger" systems.

Worth investing in proper thumb and toe pistons from Kimber Allen - cheap Ebay switches are less robust and thumb pistons are a nightmare to repair. Last time I checked K-A thumb pistons were around £7 each engraved, so let-s say 60 = £400. Toe pistons typically £20 each, also available second hand from organ builders sometimes. Expression pedals can be bought for around £50 (Fatar or Kimber Allen) or made if you have a lump of oak and a potentiometer.

Rough computing cost estimates - for your PC you should allow £1000, you have to search for companies that will sell you so much RAM within the budget but there are a few around.
23 inch touchscreens (perfect size for a three or four manual stopjamb) - £300 each, aim for two.
27 inch monitor (perfect size for displaying two pages of A4 sized music) - £200. You really need a screen to control Hauptwerk (there are "headless" consoles with stop knobs and no visible screen, but it's just simpler to have a console screen especially if adjusting the organ e.g. with changes to tuning, and a 27 inch is perfect for displaying open source music as pdf documents. Page turns can be accomplished by sending MIDI signals via a suitable piston to Bome's MIDI convertor program, which triggers Autohotkey to turn my pages.)
software MIDIfication of an existing keyboard stack and pedals - there are several hardware vendors on the Hauptwerk forum. MIDI Boutique bundle their HWCE-MAX plus six scanrow to matrix convertors for £350 - it has five potentiometers for expression pedals and can accomodate six keyboards of 64 notes (good for pedals and pistons). They also sell reed switches and magnets for MIDIfying pedals or manuals.
Hauptwerk software - fora public installation you will need the advanced public licence, £830
Sample sets - four or large three manual organs like Salisbury Cathedral are around £400 upwards. Allow for several different organ styles e.g. St Maximin (French baroque) Caen (French romantic), Zwolle (Germanic baroque), Doesburg (German romantic), Salisbury (English romantic), Palace of Arts (modern). Not all organ vendors allow public installations as they are understandably perceived to be a threat to real pipe organs so choose carefully.

So within a budget of £5000 excluding speakers and assuming the keyboards and pedals were already available you could probably build a pretty impressive 12 channel system and still afford Hauptwerk and a couple of large sample sets.

Organs on eBay or for urgent sale / Interesting find on Ebay
« on: August 09, 2013, 08:36:59 PM »
Just spotted in Aberdare near Newport:

Lots of different bits from different organ builders, with the intriguing message to watch this space for more to be added in the coming days due to retirement forcing clearance of stock. There might be some interesting finds for some here (I have no connection to the sale so am only promoting for interest's sake). I wonder who is retiring?

First off, a three manual and pedal Crane:

And then a self-playing Aeolian:

No connection with either seller other than curiousity!


Dr David Pitches plays a recital of organ music with a public health twist
on the grand Nicholson and Lord organ of Walsall Town Hall
Thursday 20 June 1pm, admission £2

Dr David Pitches trained as a consultant in public health. He worked for several years in central Africa before returning to the UK to work for Walsall Primary Care Trust. Until the 1970s, public health delivery was the responsibility of local government, and in April 2013 following recent NHS reforms public health has returned “home” again to local councils. It is to celebrate this arrival that he performs today a recital that calls to mind the contribution that advances in public health have made to life expectancy and health over the centuries, since many of the composers featured died prematurely from conditions that we would aspire to prevent nowadays. Even today in Walsall we face huge challenges and there is enormous potential for improving health – children born on the west of the borough face on average eight years’ shorter life expectancy than those born on the east.

Details of this and many other organ recitals can be found online at
David maintains a Youtube channel at
Johann Ludwic Krebs (1713-1780) Toccata, from the Toccata and Fugue in E major
Getting people to do more exercise is a high priority – only one in six adults in Walsall meets the recommended minimum level of moderate exercise per week. This exuberant baroque work was composed by Bach’s greatest pupil and is enough to get any organist’s legs into good shape!

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Sleepers wake, the watch cry pealeth)
This well-known tune, often used in television commercials, comes from a Lutheran hymn written at the start of the 16th century by a pastor who buried thousands of people during a particularly bad plague outbreak and is a reminder that none of us knows when our life may end. Bach was no stranger to tragedy: of his twenty children, ten died in childhood and his first wife died, possibly as a result of complications of pregnancy.

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621) Mein junges Leben hat ein End (My young life hath an end)
Sweelinck was a noted Dutch organist, teacher and composer, spending his entire life in Amsterdam. This set of variations on a popular tune of the day highlights something public health professionals would rather not think about and would hope to delay!

Domenico Zipoli (1688-1726) Elevazione in F
Zipoli was an Italian Jesuit who went to Argentina as a missionary and wrote music for the local indigenous population. His beautiful, dreamy music formed the inspiration for Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack (most famous for including “Gabriel’s oboe”) to the film “The Mission”. Orchestral arrangements of his two Elevaziones are frequently played on Classic FM. He died from a tropical infection, possibly tuberculosis, before he could be ordained as a priest.

Edward Macdowell (1860-1908) To a wild rose (arranged for organ by Charles Scott)
Macdowell was an influential American composer and music professor and a founder member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His best-known short piece is “To a wild rose”, written originally for voice and piano and here arranged for organ. He died from dementia resulting from tertiary syphilis. Thanks to early diagnosis and effective treatment this is very rare nowadays.

Jeremiah Clarke (1674-1707) Prince of Denmark's March (arranged by Jürgen Knuth)
Often incorrectly attributed to Henry Purcell, this is Clarke’s best-known piece and was performed at the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles. He was organist at the Chapel Royal but fell in love with a woman he could not marry and eventually completed suicide with a shotgun.

Max Reger (1873-1916) Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir (From depths of woe I cry to Thee)
Reger was a prolific composer whose life was cut short from a heart attack aged 43. He battled with profound depression and alcoholism for most of his creative years.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) O welt, ich muss lich lassen (O world, I must now leave thee)
This is the last piece Brahms ever wrote, as he was dying from liver cancer, one of a set of eleven chorale preludes based on hymn tunes.
Felix Mendlessohn (1809-1847) Variations on “Vater unser im Himmelreich” (Our Father who art in Heaven”) from Sonata no. 6
This set of variations is based on the Lutheran hymn tune for the Lord’s Prayer and forms the first part of Mendelssohn’s final organ sonata. Mendelssohn died aged only 38 from a stroke.
Ernest Chausson (1855-1899) Veni sponsa Christi, from Vepres, opus 31.
Chausson entered music relatively late, having first studied to become a barrister. At the height of his musical career he crashed into a wall going downhill on his bicycle and was killed instantly.

Léon Boëllmann (1862-1897) Finale - Marche from Deuxième Suite
Boëllmann was organist at St Vincent-de-Paul in central Paris and composed many works, though he is chiefly noted for his “Gothic Suite”. He married the niece of his teacher and had three children, but died aged only 35 from tuberculosis. His wife died shortly afterwards, leaving his professor to adopt their three children. He composed this exuberant piece shortly before he died.

Organs on eBay or for urgent sale / Re: Five manuals?
« on: April 30, 2013, 02:27:42 PM »
The Wimbledon organ according to NPOR must have been a monster - choir, great, swell, echo, bombarde, solo and tuba divisions, with pipework by Walker, Willis, Cavaille Coll and Hunter. It rings a vague bell with me that at the turn of the twentieth century there was a monster five manual house organ somewhere so maybe this was it. The NPOR survey was done in 1940 though, and there is a mention it was transferred to St Mary the Virgin in Ringmer but in 1922?

I seem to recall the Copeman Hart six manual house organ advert from April 1993 too, though if I recall, it came out right at the beginning of the month.....

Organs wanted / Re: Zimbelstern
« on: April 04, 2013, 09:31:27 AM »
Even though I'm not looking for a zimblestern I couldn't resist looking at the website and came across this:

What the *&^R is that? Is it a house organ? Church organ? Double organ? One organ two consoles? I can't read German and Google translate didn't offer any further clues, other than it looks like it (they?) are pipe organ(s). Bizarre.

Miscellaneous & Suggestions / Re: Auto-page Turner - no hands no feet!
« on: February 11, 2013, 08:44:32 PM »
Well, to be fair it's not quite automatic - it requires the user to wear a headset and vocalise a command when they want to turn pages. I was expecting some fancy software that reads the music as you play and works out when you have reached the pageturn and turns automatically - though I suppose it might be confused depending on how many wrong notes you play!

Here is another Youtube clip somewhere of someone playing using a tablet that's controlled by a toe-piston:

For another take on the same problem see this console, which displays two pages at once and has thumb pistons either side of the music desk plus two toe pistons for page advance and page back:

I guess what you really need is a laser beam or something that you can intersect by waving your hand briefly, connected to a tablet or monitor.

The result is that electricity will be in short supply, prices will go up, and tracker instruments with hand pumping will be in demand.

Tongue-in-cheek I have posited before that the organ building industry really has nothing to fear from the European Union declaring that if lead should be banned from any electric items, and organs are electric if only because they have a blower, then organs should stop having lead pipes. Apart from really enormous organs with detached consoles, there are few if any situations where either mechanical or pneumatic action can't suffice, even if it means dusting off the patents for Binn's adjustable pneumatic combination actions. And for really "up-yoursing" it to the EU, how about rebuilding the Royal Festival Hall organ (the restoration of which was threatened by the lead ban) as say a steam-powered (obviously cloal-burning for extra pollution!) tubular pneumatic action organ, with lead tubes running into the tens of miles probably.

On the subject of church roofs, nice idea, but many churches are listed buildings. One near me was recently successful in installing panels, and because of the slope of the roof and the crenallated wall the roof and panels are virtually invisible at street level. But the amount of aggro it provoked in the local community was amusing.

Organs on eBay or for urgent sale / Re: St Mary's RC Leek - Jardine
« on: October 05, 2012, 11:10:06 AM »
Not that I want to sound biased but I have yet to find any enthusiasm for anything ever built by Jardines (and I've played quite a few having come from Manchester!)

Since my church scrapped their undistinguished far-too-small-for-the-building pipe organ of dubious provinence and installed a Johannus (that I used to own but donated to the church as I was building myself a Hauptwerk organ so the Johannus was superfluous) the church has used the organ for more services than ever before. I personally dislike the sound (one reason why I went for Hauptwerk) but the church thinks it's a vast improvement and they actually sing more hymns than they ever did when they had a "proper£" organ.

Organs in danger / Re: Trinity Methodist Church, Workington
« on: September 06, 2012, 04:22:25 PM »
It is listed as available for transplantation on the IBO website:

Any development on the Stone spec on NPOR

We are looking for a decent 3 manual at St German's Cathedral, Peel, IOM

Out of curiousity, what happened to the 3 manual Brindley and Foster at St German's? NPOR suggests it was reduced to 2 manuals at some point in the past half century, but other than that what condition is it in?

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