Thomas Casson.

Reform in organ building : a lecture delivered to the Birmingham and Midland Musical Guild, 4th February, 1888 online

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Reform In Organ Building












4th February. 1888,

S. S. STRATTON. Esq.. presiding.

Kfprin: .n.\Kn.








I am particularly glad to bring my ideas before your Guild
because it is not one primarily concerned in the building or
playing of organs. The question of reform in the organ is
not primarily one for the organ-builder, and is only second-
arily for the organ-player. First and foremost it is for the
"all round" musician. This idea is very clearly recognised,
so far as the playing is concerned, by that useful body the
College of Organists, whose aim is far higher than that of
turning out organists and organists only, viz., to paraphrase a
well-known saying to make the organist a better musician,
the musician a better organist. In this endeavour the College
must have the sympathy of us all. I have endeavoured to
emphasise this point also in the terms of the dedication to Mr.
Best of my first work.

It is then primarily in your quality as a Guild of Musicians
that I invite your attention to the following remarks: pre-
mising that I do not wish to lay down the law except so far
as it has been done by recognised authorities, and that I shall
be glad at the close of the lecture to answer any intelligent
criticism or to give any cxplanatians that may be demanded.

The modern English organ-builder looks complacently
upon his typical instrument, and it is difficult to persuade him
that it is very imperfect. I will, however, quote two eminent
authorities whose consensus is most significant, viz., Mr. W. T.
Best and Mr. E. H. Turpin significant because it is well
known that on several points the great Liverpool organist
does not hold the same opinions as the accomplished musician
whom we all regard as the personification of the College of
Organists. What says Mr. Best?

"Unfortunately, when organ-builders shortened the key-
board compass in the important region of the 'bass/ they
have constantly neglected to supply the indispensable equiv-
alent of an adequate pedal organ. Even in the largest in-
struments, where an attempt is made in this direction, it will
be at once remarked that the pedal-bass is only suitable for
the stops comprising the great or most powerful clavier; the
varieties of delicate tone in the bass (to combine with the more
frequently used 'choir' and 'swell' claviers) being almost in-
variably absent. A never-ending obstacle, also, in the act of
playing, is a want of ready means to control the use, or vice
versa, of the different pedal couplers when absolutely neces-
sary. As a case in point I may name an organ piece highly
popular some years ago, viz., the Concerto in F major, with
flute solo, by Rinck. I know of no instrument where it is
possible to perform this work with a suitable pedal-bass in
the sudden entries of the ' Tutti ' on the loud clavier, opposed
to the soft bass tone required instantly after in accompanying
the solo passages, involving in addition the co-operation of
the pedal couplers."*

This is a sufficiently strong condemnation of the instru-
ment generally from the musician's point of view, and shows
that as an executant the writer, in all his wide experience,
knows of no instrument in which the basses are sufficiently
appropriate and controllable to perform Rinck's flute con-
certo !

I may remark en passant that in some recent correspondence,
our friend Mr. Heywood mentioned this particular piece of
music in relation to the impossibility of sufficiently controlling
the manual tone.

Mr. Turpin's opinion is more sweeping. He condemns the
modern organ as clumsy and unreasonable in its general de-
sign, and as not having a word to be said in its favour, but
to be merely what the builders give to organists to make the
most of.

Let me quote one more authority, that of one whose name
must ever be held in respect in this town, and whom I am
proud to remember as one of the earliest supporters of my
system. I omit his complaints about his own special hin-
drances, for I have no wish to condemn any organ or to blame
any builder in particular, or to hurt the feelings of anyone.

* Mr. Best's letter proceeds to except Mr. Carson's organs, but
could hardly be quoted in a lecture without suspicion of advertising.

"September, 1884.

" MY DEAR SIR, Accept my best thanks for your book and
kind letter. My experience leads me to value your immense

improvements If I had your patent applied to organ,

you may guess how much I should appreciate it. A year or

two ago I gave a recital at the and there found an

ingenious (?) arrangement ; the whole pedal organ was thrown
out at the same time as the Full Great Organ; but if you
wanted a soft pedal organ immediately, your hand must make
the necessary alteration in the pedal organ. The great draw-
back to any improvements in organs has been the unwilling-
ness of builders to listen to any suggestions, or to move out

of their groove Personally, I thank you with all my

heart, and beg to assure you that it shall not be my fault if
your improvements are not more widely known and more gen-
erally adopted. Believe me, faithfully yours, J. STIMPSON.
Thos. Casson, Esq."

Without going further, I think that I have quoted authori-
ties sufficient to start with the following axioms :

1. That the modern English organ is unsatisfactory as a

2. That its basses are especially so.

3. That it is difficult to stir up organ-builders to the appre-
ciation of progressive or thoroughgoing ideas.

The last axiom laid down with full knowledge and appre-
ciation of various beautiful details of construction for which
we have to thank modern builders.

I propose to contrast the English and German instruments
of two hundred years ago, to examine their respective advan~
tages and defects as bearing upon broad principles, to trace
briefly the evolution of the present form of English organ,
and to show that by falling back upon a combination of
sound English and German principles we may obtain more
satisfactory instruments. It is by this means only, and not
by commencing with the adoption of details, however ingeni-
ous, of piecemeal and makeshift character, that progress is to
be made and efficiency and comfort are to be secured.

It is here that the College of Organists made in their cele-
brated conference their great mistake. I think that you will
agree with me that a great conference should again be held
by them, at which important principles, almost entirely neg-
lected by the builders, should be laid down. That this was
not done is not only regrettable in itself, but has given rise
to a report that the College " feared the wrath of the builders "
forsooth, if they should venture to treat of anything but the

"outer timbers" of the organ! The absurdity of the report
is obvious to anyone who knows the College; but not too ab-
surd for adoption by some builders, who complacently re-
gard it as evidence of their superior wisdom. That is as if
the soldier, musician, or workman were to be dictated to by
the maker of the weapon, instrument, or tool !

I speak of the builders generally ; but I am bound to admit
that in the case of a few I have found some symptoms of
"divine discontent." It is of such men and such only that
there is hope. The artist who is content is ever on the down

The case then that I would present to you is that by falling
back on broad principles, we may blend the organ into one
homogenous, sympathetic, controllable entity, and entirely get
rid of the present objectionable features and defects. That
is my case, but I propose to show not only this but that by
adopting this course we may secure greater economy in money
and room, and gain enormously in simplicity of build and
manipulation. It will be for you to decide whether or not I
shall have proved this also.

It may appear to be like "flogging a dead horse" to dis-
cuss the G organ, but it is necessary in investigating these

We must remember that our great-grandfathers were satis-
fied with a thin harmony which, to our ears, is ludicrous ; con-
sequently the desertion of the middle of the clavier to enable
the deep basses to be touched by hand was scarcely noticed.
The great English principle was adapted to the end in view
and was reasonably carried out. If a change had to be made
from "full" to "verse," the hands were transferred to the
clavier of an organ having bass and treble instantly ready,
appropriate, sympathetic, musical. In spite, therefore, of the
irreconciliability of the details of this class of instrument
with modern requirements, I draw your particular attention
to the underlying principle, great and important. Each divi-
sion of the organ was complete as a musical entity. We will
presently consider whether this noble principle is irreconcili-
able with the CC compass. The G organ, characteristic of two
hundred years ago, retained its general features until some
fifty years since, when not only had the partial introduction
of the pedal led to appreciation of a fuller harmony, but the
music of Bach began to attract attention. This led to the
battle between the " G men " and the " C men," a contest of the
bitterness of which few of the present generation have any

. 5

In Germany the pedal organ had long been known and es-
teemed. The organ was always regarded as of 16 ft. com-
pass, but the relegation of the deeper notes to the pedal was
found to be the most convenient method of playing them.
Thus we find that the pedal organ was the place for the basses
of the chief manual stops, which in England would have been
cut short at GG and left on the manual. The German organ
was therefore also a complete musical entity, theoretically
more complete than the English. No adequate mechanical
appliances existed, however, for shifting the pedal basses with
appropriateness and speed sufficient to sympathise and syn-
chronise with the manual changes. The stops could be only
" set " beforehand, and as the pedal bass could be dispensed
with more readily in the soft than the loud passages, the pedal
organ became in the main (as may be seen in the music of
Rinck and even more recent writers) a bass for the great organ
only. It is obvious that for instantaneous provision of ap-
propriate basses the English principle was far better. The
absence of pedals made the harmony thin, the pedal obbli-
gato was of course unappreciated ; but the pure, deep, sympa-
thetic basses of old English organs so ruthlessly destroyed
by modern builders are still remembered with regret when
contrasted with what Mr. A. J. Hipkins truly calls our " sense-
less pedal basses."

I trust that I have now made clear the two great principles
of the English and German methods respectively. The Eng-
lish, that each department of the organ must be complete; the
German, that the pedal organ must contain representative
basses for the chief manual stops.

It will have been perceived that these two principles are
alike excellent in theory and defective in practice. Leaving
the Germans to amend their own defects, as they have re-
cently done to a great extent, we will for a moment glance
at the development of the pedal in England to see how both
principles were deserted in its case. The first pedals intro-
duced merely dragged down the lower notes of the great or-
gan, but were afterwards reinforced by a few "pedal pipes"
in unison or "repetition." Increasing appreciation of the
pedal obbligato enforced a demand for 16 ft. compass, and
after a few grand efforts to maintain the English principle in
connection with it, the manual compass was shortened to the
C of 8 ft.

Here occurred a most serious error. The English builder,
ignorant of the theory of the pedal bass and unaccustomed to
regard the pedal stop as anything beyond a mere reinforce-


ment, looked upon the alteration as a shortening of the man-
ual compass and not, as he should have done, as a lengthen-
ing of the compass of the organ. This error, involving the
denial of the pedal bass theory, continues to this day with the
most disastrous results to English art. The apparent saving
of cost was, and still is, applied to the multiplication of man-
ual stops, the pedal having generally only one or two stops
and they of large scale and loud intonation. Even, as Air.
Best says, when a reasonable number of stops is found, they
seldom provide a bass for anything more than the great organ.

Here let me quote from a writer who, by profound study
and eclectic spirit, is thoroughly competent to express his
opinion in this matter, viz., Mr. Audsley, F.R.I.B.A., of Chis-
wick.* He says : " It is quite safe to say that of all depart-
ments of the church organ, as commonly constructed in this
country, the pedal is the most deficient and radically imper-
fect. These lamentable shortcomings are attributable to sev-
eral causes, viz., shortness of funds, deficiency of space, want
of proper conception of the true office of the pedal depart-
ment, etc. Now it is not too much to say, that without an
adequate pedal organ, it is hopeless to construct a well-bal-
anced and satisfactory instrument. Judging by the generality
of church organs constructed in England, it is obvious that
the true office of the pedal department is altogether misunder-
stood or ignored, and that it is sacrificed or denuded of its
true glory for the sake of the manual departments. Nothing
could be more short-sighted than such a method of procedure.
It must be recognised, once for all, that the true office of the
pedal stops is to carry down and to furnish correct basses for
the foundation and other important stops in the manual or-
gans, and unless they do so the pedal organ is a fraud. In
addition to this, it must within itself have a true harmonic
structure, and certain of its stops should be made expressive
by being enclosed in one or other of the swell boxes."

Here, then, is a clear statement of the theory ad require-
ments of the pedal basses. WE MUST HAVE MORE OF THEM.
In order, however, to avoid the German defect by which we
arrive at the same pitiful conclusion, a bass for the great or-
gan only, we must devise a system of control.

For this purpose the resolutions of the College of Organ-
ists will not serve. It is useless from an artistic point of
view to adopt such conclusions os those in resolutions four
and six. To make the pedal basses move in sympathy with

* This is all to the same effect as my " Modern Organ," 1883
(Reeves), but I prefer quoting others.

the great organ only is to accentuate and perpetuate the
lamentable error already condemned. You have seen what
Mr. Stimpson thought of this contrivance. To have an ap-
pliance to shut off the pedal organ to "a soft 16 ft. tone,"
without reference to the quality of that tone, is absurd. The
pedal couplers too are of equal musical importance, so it is
-unreasonable to provide elaborate arrangements to bring on
and off the great pedal coupler while making no similar pro-
vision for the others.

Pray do not think that I in the least blame the College of
Organists for these resolutions; they are as good and sensible
as anything that can be devised with the present style of in-
strument. To obtain ready control we must revert to the old
English principle, viz., every department of the organ must
be absolutely complete. Adding to this the principle of the
pedal organ, the pedal stops must provide the basses of as
many as possible of the chief mamtal stops, we are driven
irresistibly to the conclusion that to combine the advantages
of German completeness and English control, every mamial
organ must have its own appropriate pedal organ. This is
the central feature of my system, and I must beg for your
careful consideration of it.

To complete this amalgamation of the English and Ger-
man principles, two important matters require consideration,
viz., the couplers and combination movements. These are
contrivances that hitherto have been applied in a haphazard
and unsystematic manner.

Now what is a coupler? It is simply a mechanical stop,
adding the resources of one department to those of another;
or its action may be regarded as analogous to that of a ventil,
attaching to the augmented department a given combination
already made up. Whether regarded as a stop or ventil,
however, no one would think of dissociating it from the de-
partment which it augments, whereas all that has been done
with couplers is to accumulate them at the performer's left
hand, under the moribund idea that the left hand is of little
importance as compared with the right, or else they are rele-
gated to hitching pedals in an equally unsystematic and even
more confusing manner. It is in either case impossible to
remember them in an organ to which we are unaccustomed.
Apply to this difficulty the English principle, and it at once
disappears. Let the couplers be grouped with the division
which they augment, and their place and office are at once
found and remembered. In this way the " swell to great "
coupler ranks as a stop of the great manual organ, "swell to


pedal " becomes a stop of the pedal swell organ. Both coup-
lers will be grouped with the stops of the division which they

Of combination actions I do not propose to treat at length
to-night; much may be done in the way of improving com-
position pedals and pistons so that they shall be adjustable
at the will of the organist, as is done by Rossevelt, of New
York. At the same time it must be remembered that the per-
former's memory and presence of mind have a limit; still if
(as is probable) he in a large measure stereotypes his pet com-
binations, he will have at least his own stereotype instead
of that of the builder, a vast improvement. This, however,
by the way. What I want to impress upon you is the applica-
tion of the English principle to these accessories. To carry
it out, the combination actions must control all the stops of
a given organ, i.e., the manual stops, the couplers which aug-
ment the manual, the corresponding pedal organ and the
pedal coupler. By this means everything will be simultane-
ously prepared for action.

Let me now draw your attention to diagram No. i, showing
the exterior arrangements of a two-manual organ. At the
right we have the great organ group, consisting of great man-
ual organ with augmentative manual coupler at the top, viz.,
swell to great; immediately below are the pedal stops, viz.,
three sounding and the coupler great to pedal. This group
of pedal stops and coupler I term a pedalier. Below, at the
right side, are three composition pedals. These act upon the
entire group of the great organ, setting an appropriate bass
and controlling the couplers. At the left side are the swell
manual stops, the swell pedalier (all the stops of which must
























be in the box) and the swell composition pedals. You will
see that we have in every respect two absolutely complete

Here we are confronted with a difficulty. We have only
one pedal clavier, and it is impossible conveniently to have
more. In order to get over this, I introduce for each organ
an appliance called a "help." This may be a pedal, but is
most conveniently a pneumatic stud placed immediately under
each manual. The office of the "help" is to attach to the
pedal board all the pedal stops (including the coupler) then
drawn in the pedalier, simultaneously cancelling (without
moving them) the stops of the other pedalier. There is a
special arrangement by which, when the swell is coupled ta
the great, the great help brings on the pedaliers of both,
though the swell help will continue to detach the great

To resume our subjects, we will go first into the matter of
cost. Let me again quote Mr. Audsley, who, after giving ex-
amples, says : " I am perfectly aware that the large-sized
pipes necessary for the pedal organ are both costly and cum-
bersome affairs, and that the deficiency in funds and the blun-
ders of architects generally militate against the more liberal
introduction of them. But, in the name of art and common
sense, it is surely more advisable to scheme an organ with
all its departments properly balanced and fitted to each other,
however circumscribed they may be, than to have the manual
departments enlarged at the expense, if not to the total ruin,
of the pedal organ. Where is there an English church organ
schemed on such lines as those followed in the appointment
of the moderate-sized instruments in the Lutheran churches
of Warsaw and Vienna? The former organ has eighteen
manual stops and nine pedal stops, while the latter has fif-
teen manual stops and eight pedal stops. Eight or nine pedal
stops are considered by English builders to be ample for an
instrument of four manuals and forty-five or fifty manual
stops. By far the greater number of organs in this country
have only one, two, or three pedal stops. I have commented
upon the absurdity of depending upon our master-of-all-work
deep booming 16 ft. 'open diapason,' or still worse, a ' tubby *
bourdon, to supply an appropriate bass for fifteen or twenty
manual stops. It is truly melancholy to note the shifts or-
ganists are put to in performing on instruments with totally
inadequate pedal organs."

I do not advocate so large a proportion of pedal stops as
is here given; but this is suffirir-nt to show that even if you


do not approve of the contrivances that I am about to describe,
you are not thereby excused from providing a sufficient num-
ber of pedal stops say twenty per cent of the whole, exclu-
sive of couplers and solo stops. Adequate pedal organs must
be provided in any case and at any cost.

If, therefore, you like my principles but do not like the fol-
lowing contrivances, you can have entirely distinct pedal
stops. An organ of the sort will cost no more by adopting
the principles than an ordinary organ adequately provided
with pedal stops. I wish to point out, however, that we may
save enormously in room and cost by two important details
or appliances, viz., borrowing and duplication. Borrowing
is an old and well-known contrivance by which a stop is made
to speak, pipe by pipe, upon two claviers, an example being
the solo organ in the Birmingham Town Hall. It is a con-
trivance in some disrepute, being generally defective in con-
struction and frequently applied in a way that should be
described rather as thieving than borrowing. But abuse is no
argument against use. The mechanical difficulty need not
exist in these days, and all that we have to see is that the bor-
rowing is legitimate. To do this only one law is necessary,
viz., the borrowed sound must not be lacking in the original
stop when both stops are used together. In this law, as in
others, we may apply the saying, de minimis non curat lex,
as may be seen.

Let me again direct your attention to figure I. We will
suppose that in the Great Manual stops we have a Bourdon
of 1 6 ft. and an Open Diapason of 8 ft. In order to get a
pedal Open Diapason of 16 ft. we require only twelve
pipes; for the upper range may be borrowed from the lower
Tange of the manual Open Diapason, say, eighteen pipes
from 8 ft. upwards. To see if this clashes with the
law, I refer you to diagram II. Here you will see the
twelve pedal notes, and a representation of manual diapason
notes from 8 ft. upwards. The action of the coupler is shown
by the diagonal lines. The 8 ft. manual note speaks with the
1 6 ft. pedal note, the 4 ft. manual note with 8 ft. pedal note,
and so on.


r6-ft. PID. 8-ft.



a-ft 4-ft.

1 1

Now if you complete the pedal range and strike the 8 ft.
pedal and 4 ft. manual note, you will perceive that you have
an 8 ft. manual pipe standing idle, which might just as well
be borrowed for the 8 ft. pedal note. This form of borrow-
ing, therefore, does not break the law. Similarly the manual
Bourdon may be borrowed in 32 ft. pitch in its upper range,
and be pieced out with twelve notes of Quint of lof ft., a
stop which, in this octave, and in this octave only, may be


Online LibraryThomas CassonReform in organ building : a lecture delivered to the Birmingham and Midland Musical Guild, 4th February, 1888 → online text (page 1 of 2)