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  • Organ Reform Movement organ collapsing under its own weight...(St. Paul's Pittsburgh)



    Organist Kenneth Danchik knew he was in trouble.



    Perched in the organ loft for a Mass in St. Paul Cathedral, he had just lifted his hands from the keyboard after playing the entrance hymn. But a few pipes did not obey. They continued blaring, even as Bishop Paul Bradley began his greeting. Priests are accustomed to the occasional wail of an infant, but the piercing note -- A above middle C -- that rang out that morning was at another level.



    It was every organist's nightmare: a cipher. That's jargon for when the air that courses through a pipe, or group of pipes, doesn't cease after its key is released. The breakdown that January morning was not the first time for the cathedral's massive aging von Beckerath pipe organ, but it was the most prominent one.



    "I turned the organ off, since sometimes that fixes it, but when I turned it back on, the note was still there," recalls Danchik, associate organist at St. Paul. "It was very loud."



    Danchik eventually shut the organ down and raced to the smaller portative organ near the altar. "I knew I wouldn't make it down in time, and I gestured frantically to the cantor that she would lead the Gloria. I made it down for the Psalm."



    "He never missed a beat; it was like an angel flew down from the choir loft," said the Rev. Donald Breier, rector of the cathedral that is the seat of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.



    Crisis avoided. But the mishap sparked the little note placed in the cathedral's bulletin that very same week: The organ will undergo a massive restoration that will cost nearly $1 million. The instrument will be shut down after Easter and returned to service before Christmas. In the meantime, a Wicks digital organ will provide music for the services.



    "The sad thing is that because of the shape it has been in the last two years, we haven't been able to have the organ concert series and special events because they don't have the ability to use the full organ," says Breier.



    "Only one-half of the organ is playable," says director of music and organist Don Fellows. "Several of the largest pipes are collapsing under their own weight. They were constructed from metal that had had impurities removed, and [later it was discovered] the impurities gave a lot of it strength."



    Many of the largest flue pipes -- the tallest is 26 feet -- are bowing and sagging, which alters tone and hinders "speech." "It takes a while before the pitch even establishes," says Fellows, playing the foot pedalboard. "If you were to go through note to note, you will hear a very big difference from one to the next. That one is dead. That one has a lot of wind before it actually speaks." Also, because of mechanical failure, he had to manually adjust air flow to certain pipes.



    "We did this intentionally because we still need to be playing the organ for major services," he says. Those attending the three to five Masses a day and the 100 weddings and funerals a year may not be able to tell -- the sound is still magnificent -- but the organ ... cannot create the tonal shading and color it is capable of through the activating of all of its different stops, or varied groups of pipes.



    "It is always loud on this keyboard," Fellows says.



    With 67 stops, 97 ranks and more than 5,000 pipes, the St. Paul Cathedral instrument that was installed in 1962 is one of Western Pennsylvania's mightiest pipe organs, and a nice complement to the impressive Casavants, Reuters, Aeolian-Skinners and others in town. "Pittsburgh is widely regarded as a good organ city," says Craig Cramer, a professor of organ at the University of Notre Dame. "There are a wide variety of instruments."



    One element that sets the St. Paul organ apart is its arrangement. While church organs are often placed in compartments throughout the interior, the von Beckerath is displayed in all of its glory in the rear gallery, approximately three stories high.



    "When people hear it they know it -- even to see it is visually stunning," says Breier. "It is a beautiful thing."



    But the true mark of the organ, its reason for renown, is its role in the organ reform movement and in the career of its maker, Rudolf von Beckerath.



    "It is widely known as one of the monument organs in the United States," says Cramer. "Von Beckerath was one of the leaders of the organ reform movement." The reaction was against the style of organs being built in the early 20th century. These were large instruments with pipes often buried in chambers and using electric action -- when a pressed key activates a pipe through an electrical connection. The reform builders in the 1930s and onward looked to the old German organ practice of tracker action -- when the keys are mechanically linked to the pipes, bringing the player into close proximity to the pipes.



    "These organ builders tried to recover the principles of organ building as practiced in the 17th and the 18th centuries, the golden age of organ design, playing and composition," says Cramer. Von Beckerath was particularly successful at learning from the older instruments and applying their ideals into his own style of building. But he was not adverse to new technology. The St. Paul tracker organ uses some electrical wiring for the pulling of stops, but the key action remains mechanical.



    "This organ established von Beckerath as one of the greatest builders in the world," says Cramer.



    The cathedral and the Diocese of Pittsburgh chose Taylor & Boody Organ Builders of Staunton, Va., for the restoration in part because co-owner George Taylor was an apprentice to von Beckerath.



    The first order of business is to replace the nearly 30 damaged pipes with new ones. But the instrument also will be cleaned and tuned, and the mechanical elements fixed.



    "It will be returned to its original state in which all of its components function reliably," says Fellows.



    Danchik would take reliability, but he and the other church and local organists want much more. "I remember what the organ used to sound like when it was working well," he said. "You had such a variety to choose from."



    "It is an organ of vast tonal resources," says Cramer. And soon its pipes will ring out again like new -- but only when the organists intend them to.





    link: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08079/866127-42.stm

  • #2
    Re: Organ Reform Movement organ collapsing under its own weight...(St. Paul's Pittsburgh)

    I must grudgingly admit to loathing von Beckerath's machines.  I will, however, say that their machine at the Cathedral in Hildesheim, Germany and at St. Joseph's Basilica in Montreal are probably their best work. Otherwise, they are but dystempered shriek boxes imo.  Give me a Klais anyday over a von Beckerath.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Organ Reform Movement organ collapsing under its own weight...(St. Paul's Pittsburgh)

      well maybe it can be E-P'd and something musical salvaged from it ;)

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Organ Reform Movement organ collapsing under its own weight...(St. Paul's Pittsburgh)



        Hi,



        I notice the organ has 67 stops and 97 ranks. Without even looking at the stop list, that means one huge pile of Mixture ranks plus Cornet and Sesquialtera ranks.



        I often wonder why the neo-baroque organs needed so many Mixture ranks. I suppose small pipes are cheaper and take up less space than big pipes, but also, there was the idea that "real" organs don't need many strings, if they were even deemed necessary at all.



        I have heard the Montreal Oratory organ. It s even larger than this one, has 5 keyboards and about 110 ranks. It is one bright and loud organ when full organ is played, and one is up in the organ loft. Mind you, that place is huge - seats I think 4,000 people.



        AV

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Organ Reform Movement organ collapsing under its own weight...(St. Paul's Pittsburgh)

          I think it is just that "neo-baroque" organs are generally on as low of wind pressure as possible and as a result need the high pitched screaching mixtures to be heard in a large space?


          ;)

          That case would look nice in modern A-frame style church, but I think in a classical structure it appears obvious that it is a later addition and very dated of its period of construction.... I think it is very very important for the casework to match the church along with the console design....over time those that match stand a better chance of lasting......what was once "modern" or "trendy" will likely have to be replaced.

          I am presuming the case at St. Thomas in NYC will be preserved and reused...can you imagine something "modern" going in there?

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Organ Reform Movement organ collapsing under its own weight...(St. Paul's Pittsburgh)



            [quote user="Kéraulophone"]I must grudgingly admit to loathing von Beckerath's machines. I will, however, say that their machine at the Cathedral in Hildesheim, Germany and at St. Joseph's Basilica in Montreal are probably their best work. Otherwise, they are but dystempered shriek boxes imo. Give me a Klais anyday over a von Beckerath.[/quote]




            Hmm... I actually like the von Beckeraths I've heard. The workmanship is fine (although collapsing pipes in neo-baroque organs is a syndrome with which I'm all too familiar).Von Beckerathscaling and tonal design shows thoughtfulness, even though we seesuch organsas abit dated today. I find their tone to be warmer than most other builders of that era - a very good thing.




            This von Beckerath sounds magnificent in that acoustic, and posseses something that most neo-baroque organs did not: plentiful bass.




            [quote user="arie v"]I often wonder why the neo-baroque organs needed so many Mixture ranks. I suppose small pipes are cheaper and take up less space than big pipes, but also, there was the idea that "real" organs don't need many strings, if they were even deemed necessary at all.




            I have heard the Montreal Oratory organ. It s even larger than this one, has 5 keyboards and about 110 ranks. It is one bright and loud organ when full organ is played, and one is up in the organ loft. Mind you, that place is huge - seats I think 4,000 people.[/quote]




            The Oratory organ may be bright and loud up close, but as with any good organ in a vast space, it sounds perfectly balanced down in the nave.




            As far as mixtures, the Pittsburgh organ actually shows restraint - there are only two mixtures per division (except for the Solo's one mixture). When you have two of anything, you have a choice. [:)]




            Ifyoulook atthe spec, you will see how logical and complete it is: http://www.catholic-church.org/st.pa...an-about.shtml It is quite an eclectic organ, capable of rendering a large body of music convincingly ... it can even be quite thrilling.




            As an interesting comparison, here is the spec of the Aeolian-Skinner organ St. Paul's almost had, before they cancelled their order: http://aeolian-skinner.110mb.com/Specs/Op01318.html




            Why so many mixtures? A couple ideas: Neo-baroque builders were seeking clarity for contrapuntal music; they thought that mixtures helped to reveal the inner voices. Wasn't it G. Donald Harrison who said Mixtures are like a drug -the more you have, the more you want? [:D] The other thing is that inlargeEuropean churches bass tone carries very well, but treble does not. Mixtures can help overcome that.




            Fortunately, the Pittsburgh installation is in an excellent acoustic. One failing of many neo-baroque organs is that all those thin, screechy organs were placed in dry American acoustics.




            As John mentioned, neo-baroqueorgans used rather low wind pressures (thoughmodern researchof ancient organs has shown examples of higher pressure), and Germanic chorus reeds were not typically very loud. What is true of baroque Germanic organs and of neo-baroque organs is that they get their power from mixtures rather than reeds. The larger the room, the more mixtures.




            That design is not worse than a reed-dominated organ, just different (though I prefer reeds myself). [:)] Good mixtures create complexity and weave a 'tapestry of tone'. How's that for poetry? [;)] They can also create the illusion of depth and gravity, via resultant tones.




            [quote user="arie v"]there was the idea that "real" organs don't need many strings, if they were even deemed necessary at all.[/quote]




            That was one of the myths of the neo-baroque era. Baroque organs did indeed have string stops.




            [quote user="NYCFarmboy"]That case would look nice in modern A-frame style church, but I think in a classical structure it appears obvious that it is a later addition and very dated of its period of construction.... I think it is very very important for the casework to match the church along with the console design....over time those that match stand a better chance of lasting......what was once "modern" or "trendy" will likely have to be replaced.[/quote]




            I agree with that! However, if you look at European examples you see quite a bit of stylistic 'layering' going on. Since those churches are so old, they have had centuries to accumulate multiple styles. The architects of each era left their mark, and overall that gives quite a bit of variety and interest. The only thing unfortunate about Bauhaus-like neo-baroque organs is that they are visually so very stark and plain - the contrast can be glaring. [:|]

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Organ Reform Movement organ collapsing under its own weight...(St. Paul's Pittsburgh)

              I shudder at most neo-baroque(n) instruments, I don't necessarily have a problem with all the mixtures, but give fundamental and plenty of it before you give me tons of mixtures.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Organ Reform Movement organ collapsing under its own weight...(St. Paul's Pittsburgh)



                I agree with the "casework should match the architecture" opinion. Contrast the Pittsburgh organ with St. Joseph's in Columbus, OH.




                -Gary

                If it's not baroque, don't fix it.
                YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/thevande...?feature=guide
                Web Site (with sheet music): http://www.garyvanderploeg.com

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Organ Reform Movement organ collapsing under its own weight...(St. Paul's Pittsburgh)



                  The term 'organ reform' seems to suggest that things had gone off center and so a reformation of sorts was needed.Golden Age suggests several things. A time of fine crafstmanship along with bountiful commissions for new or rebuilt organs and excellent repertoire to go with the aforementioned.




                  My concern in either of these expressions is that perhaps another look is in order.There exists a movement of sorts to preserve USA organs of various eras as original as possible. This then suggests that those organs thought to be worthy of strict preservation are not in any way deficient.




                  Golden Age can be a two-edged sword. If not careful we can start to believe as does a dear old professor up in Canada who told me that organ started to decline in 1700.Nother words by that time everything that was worthy had already happened and anything more was heading downward.True: Bachs works for organ are truly stunning and no Bach has come along since. If we dub one era as the finest then everything else is only secondary.




                  Irecall many articles in USA organ journals speak of towards a clarified ensemble. The roaring twenties may have been such that quite a few could afford passage to the continent for serious organ study. Even later on in the depression 30s old Virgil Fox went to Paris for study with Dupre. The net effect was a demand for domestic pipe organs that were brighter in tone. This lead to a new movement wherein certain firms pioneered the way to a new organ combining fine ethereal and orchestral tone with the older English ensemble. Later the aim would be along the lines of German ensemble .




                  Mind you all of these developments meant the wholesale destruction of organs seen then to be merely trash. A fine 1920 4m Skinner went into the land fill behind the church when in the 60s a new Schlicker arrived. Eventually a penchant for imports was such that domestic builders arose who could compete well with the foreigners and supply a market eager to have the latest fashion.




                  As we look back now we see that in the USA there exist many styles of organ that are available . Some are of the American type and others inspired by period focus. Actually from the view of quantity the roaring 20s saw an abundant output of USA pipe organs. Some kept older pipes from 1800s. I played one that had a 1925 addition of a choir and console and the electrification of the original tracker action in the great,swell and pedal. The original material was very fine indeed. A single large diapason in the great that filled a huge space all alone with a rich and colorful tone. A open wood with a low mouth that purrrrrred. And a wood 16 ft reed in the pedal that was a fine as any anywhere.




                  We are at an exciting cross-road. The USA has a sufficiently large market that we can see many styles of organ continue to be built here. The preservation movement needs just a dab of flexibility. If an organ was badly altered and now the desire is to undo that sometimes the principals involved will opt for keeping the best of what is salvageable and also the introduction of new pipes that are harmonious with the old.




                  At any rate I hope the future of the organ will be a golden one and that the reform movement has taught us much but that we remain open to new ideas and innovations.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Organ Reform Movement organ collapsing under its own weight...(St. Paul's Pittsburgh)



                    Maestro Soubasse32,



                    I'm with you on reeds - I just adore reed choruses that add brilliance to the ensemble.



                    Cheers,



                    K-Phone 

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Organ Reform Movement organ collapsing under its own weight...(St. Paul's Pittsburgh)



                      Back in 1990 i did a beautiful tonal job on a 1930s casavant





                      the now organist looked me up and told me off




                      y did u do this or that etc




                      i said i did what i did as per the church the organist and the advisor and my best judgement




                      he rattled on that the organ was fine as it had been and didnt need any improvements




                      wheres the pipework u removed he roared




                      sorry




                      gone




                      basically i told him nobody cared what he thought and get lost





                      the point




                      there is a huge cult worldwide




                      never change anything




                      when st paul got manders to rebuild the willis in london the later willis pipes of father willis were removed




                      the great went from 4 unison diapasons to only 2




                      the 2 were 1872 and the latter 1897-1900




                      one member of the organ comm objected




                      otherwise the cult says u should restore




                      ok




                      then the orgn reform movement in america was a mistake




                      no organ should have been tampered with




                      u simply restore what is there and thats that



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