The Catholic Church of St. Everilda, Everingham, Yorkshire
This essay first appeared on the electronic mailing list Piporg-l
The actual purposes of the long bass compass in English organs are not all that clear. In the voluntaries of the eighteenth century the low notes only appear occasionally, but as 'real organists' did not play composed music, but rather improvised, we cannot really be certain of the full extent of their technique.
It is not until the early nineteenth century that the picture really becomes clear. The music of Samuel Wesley (father of Samuel Sebastian) and of William Russell exploits the long compass much more. Both composers also write for the long-compass Pedal Organ, and in a way that's where the fun begins.
Everingham is important as being a very-little altered example from the end of this period (1839), by a conservative builder (Charles Allen of London). Although it has only two manuals (long-compass Great, short-compass Swell) it has a 17-note pedalboard starting at GG with its own open wood unison Pedal Pipes. The scheme is as follows:
|GREAT ORGAN (GG, AA - f3, 58 notes)|
8 Open diapason
8 Stopped diapason
III Sesquialtera (Bass)
IV Cornet (Treble)
SWELL ORGAN (f - f3, 37 notes)
8 Pedal pipes
Shifting movement (described below)
Swell to Great (labelled 'Coupler')
Pressure 3 1/8"
From this simple provision emerges a very complex sound .... but let me fill in some of the background first.
Until the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 it was illegal to build a Roman Catholic church in England. Once the act was passed, notable catholics rushed to fill the gap, and churches and chapels were flung up all over. Yorkshire has numbers of old families who remained Catholic long after the reformation ('recusants'), indeed there are entire recusant villages. Everingham is one of these, and the Catholic Church of St. Everilda was put up in the grounds of The Big House in the 1830s (an Italian architect being engaged for the purpose). The exterior is unexceptional, but the interior is a long hall flanked with Corinthian columns, barrel-vaulted, and ending in an apse behind the altar. Plenty of 'faux' marbling and real gold leaf adds to the effect, and the acoustics are terrific. The organ is on a high west gallery, under the barrel vault. Despite the small specification, the organ is laid out grandly and occupies a big mahogany case with a gilded front (the facade starts at 8' C - the four lowest Open Diapason pipes are inside). The Great Organ is in the obvious place at impost level, and the tiny swell-box is above and behind, with the Pedal Pipes on either side below it. The entire base of the organ is occupied by an enormous double-rise reservoir, about twelve feet by six.
Let us start with that most characteristic of combinations, Open and Stopped diapasons together. The Open is of tubby scale in the bass, but softly voiced. As it approaches the middle of the keyboard it gradually gets narrower, keener and mariginally louder, easing again towards the top of the keyboard. The tip-holes are small, the cut-ups low, and there is firm nicking on the languids and little attack. The Stopped diapason has a wooden bass, voiced (as are all old English examples) almost as a quintaton. Though soft, it adds both articulation (from prompt speech) and gravity (from the 5 1/3' component - there is a noticeable acoustic 16' effect). In the treble it is a metal chimney flute, and it adds warmth, breadth and suavity to the Open.
Note that we are encountering stops that produce different sounds in the bass and treble. It will be apparent already that by playing in different parts of the compass the colouration can be varied, and indeed the characteristic writing for 'Diapasons' throughout the period 1750-1820 starts low in the compass in two parts, climbs into the treble gaining a third (and sometimes fourth) part, and then subsides gracefully to a final low unison chord. The expressivity of these very beautiful pieces is brought out by the voicing.
The chorus continues where the Open diapason left off, the tone quite moderate and singing, but all the ranks of much the same power. However, in all ranks the smaller pipes are treated with great delicacy, the top notes of the Fifteenth being really quite gentle (a delightful little 'peep' from each one). The upperwork consists of a Sesquialtera and Cornet voiced in the same way, with a full-blooded and pungent tierce rank. The delicacy of voicing in the top notes means that the chorus trebles can be played quite happily in chords; the effect is quite astringent but it does not shriek.
The Trumpet has a good scale and beaked shallots, and is voiced quick and free. It is the complete antithesis of 'English' reed tone as developed in the later nineteenth century. It is not as loud as a French Trompette, but it is just as fiery, and in the context of a rather mild organ it is very impressive indeed. The bass is loud and brassy, the bottom notes as pungent as one would normally expect from a Pedal 16' reed. The treble, given the pressure, is inevitably weaker, but the brightness is kept up well to about d3 - after which comes the inevitable collapse into squeaking.
The brassiness of this stop and the uneveness of power through the keyboard might be dismissed as amateurish. In fact criticism would be misplaced, as the effect is very well judged and the stop has considerable finesse in the voicing (careful measurement has shown that it is remarkably consistent in treatment from one pipe to the next).
In the tutti the variety of tone from bass to treble is a terrific asset to the improviser, who can engineer all sorts of effects akin to orchestration by moving around the keyboard and varying the texture. It is one of those organs that seems to get dramatically louder if you hold lots of notes down, and if you think about it there are many possibilities for subtly differentiated effects. You can use thick or thin texture, with either hand, at any part of the compass. It feels odd playing octaves in the left hand on the organ, but when you do the bass line leaps out like a pedal part. The whole idea can be inverted by playing octaves in the right hand; on most organs this is sounds a bit 'bare' - even ugly - but on old English organs the strong tierce entirely fills up the gaps. If you play thick chords the dissonances in the upperwork add real drive and anger, and four-part chords in both hands would be reserved for the most earth-shattering moments.
Ultimately the point about this Great Organ is its remarkable expressivity, owing to the variable nature of the voicing and balance, extended over a long keyboard. Remember that, by the standards of the day the English organ is long-compass in the bass and in the treble: other European organs of c1800 might have a compass of only C - d3 (51 notes). Grandeur is there in abundance, especially on account of the generous scale of the Open diapason and Trumpet basses and the thick cornetty twang of the upperwork; but even full organ is treated with restraint and delicacy, allowing it to be used extensively without becoming tiring.
The stops in the short-compass Swell are of exactly the same power as those on the Great. The three reed stops are remarkably similar to each other in output: the Hautboy is barely any softer than the Trumpet and just as free, and the Cremona is also bold and telling. This is not a Swell in the modern sense, but rather an expressive Solo division. The small box makes for a remarkable crescendo and very good projection, both features being aided by the high central position. The lever swell pedal allows the most delicate shading of solo lines and encourages sudden sforzandi (an effect far more difficult to obtain with a balanced pedal).
As well as the swell pedal, operated by the right foot, there are also two pedals operated by the left foot. These are linked to a 'shifting movement': pressing one pedal silences the Great Organ 12th, 15th, Sesqui., Cornet and Trumpet (if drawn), and the other brings them back on again. This simple device gives virtually the effect of a third manual. A characteristic way of playing would be to alternate rapidly between (1) full organ and (2) swell RH with LH accompaniment on the Great.
At this point one should observe that the overall effects are designed to recall those provided by the orchestra of the day (essentially that of Haydn, who made a deep impact on English taste when he visited London in the 1790s armed with a set of new symphonies). It is unfashionable to admit to orchestral imitation in the organ, but it is at the heart of this particular style. 'Imitation' is pehaps not the perfect word, because all the sounds available are true organ effects and there is no attempt to deceive (as it were). However the end result is so profoundly reminiscent of the texture, effect, and colour of contemporary instrumental writing as to make the debt perfectly plain.
The whole story is completed in the pedal organ. The unison Pedal Pipes are large scale open wood, and very bold. They boom: no other word will do (in fact the organ case and surrounding windows rattle furiously whenever they are used). In the context of the scheme they are clearly playing the role of timpani, clearly audible through full organ (and almost unusable in softer combinations). This is not an independent department in any conventional sense; it actually tends to reinforce the distinctive quality of the long-compass manual and removes the sound still further from mainstream European practice.
Dr. Oneskull (yrs. truly) and The Eminence Grise (Jonathan Ambrosino) tested these many delightful effects on Sunday afternoon. I claim to be able to play a little, and made some rather chaotic attempts to deliver choice moments from the voluntaries of William Russell, getting hopelessly tangled. Jonathan, who claims not to be able to play at all, played Clementi and J. C. Bach rather well (these two composers were once much loved by the English), even managing to put the Pedal Pipes to effective use.
The only major alteration to this organ since it was built is the application of the Equal Temperament. It would originally have been meantone (probably 1/5th comma, perhaps with a modified wolf), which remained the only tuning in regular use in the British Isles until the 1850s (The Willis at St. George's Hall Liverpool was meantone until 1867, and that at Wells Cathedral until the 1890s - how quickly we forget things that were taken for granted by our forebears!). It is no longer quite equal (since the restoration by Mander a few years ago), but the loss of the original tuning is sad. The impact of nearly pure thirds on an organ with tierce mixtures is quite unforgettable, and would further enhance the sense of expressive variety obtainable through changes in texture.
There is considerable magic here. This is an organ that appears extremely limited on paper, but if played with seriousness and conviction it fairly blows you away. When the historian Charles Burney tracked round the organs of Europe at the end of the eighteenth century he found them coarse, noisy, repetitive, and completely lacking in expressive variety. At Everingham it becomes fully apparent that he had a point, and that the English organ of the day was sophisticated, intelligent and, above all, different.