We are very proud to have contributed to the revival of the classical English church organ, funded in large part by the Heritage Lottery Fund. These include the important organs at St Botolph Aldgate ca1704 and St Helen Bishopsgate 1743 in the City of London, St Lawrence Whitchurch on the NW edge of London 1716, Leatherhead parish church on the SW fringe of London 1766, St Mary Rotherhithe 1765 and St James Bermondsey 1829 in the SE suburbs of London, the organs by Robert and William Gray in St Patrick RC in Soho Square, Westminster 1793 and St Swithun Worcester 1794, and the 1821 Lincoln organ at Thaxted in Essex. Part of the point of restoring or reconstructing these organs is to reveal a musical world which we have lost, the revival of psalmody for solo singers and congregation, and also to pursue their contribution to the concert music of their time, instead of the tiny anodyne box organs which almost always stand in for them.
We are as proud of restoring early chamber organs, like the Thomas Parker organs for the Russell Collection at Edinburgh University and Merton College Oxford, the Dutch chamber organs for Steve Barrel in North Carolina, Alan Rubin in Provins France, Christopher Hogwood in Cambridge, and Liverpool Hope University, and an early 18th century south German organ for Alan Rubin. Chamber organs are the Cinderella of the organ world, not sufficient for those who like a musical world at their sole command, too mechanical for those who like their personality to emerge directly into their instrument. But the musical repertoire to which they contribute can be as significant as that for the church organ.
We have also over the years made new organs which reveal or contribute to a particular repertoire. Some of these are highly specialized, like the copy of the organ part of the 1579 Lodovicus Theewes claviorgan which we made for Joseph Kung in 2008. Malcolm Rose from Lewes made the reconstruction of the harpsichord. This organ which might have been referred to as ‘regals’ at the time, perhaps an ‘instrument’ when combined with a harpsichord, is the only working instrument which can illuminate the sound of the Elizabethan court, whose music is particularly ill-served by authentic musical instruments.
Another is the ‘consort organ’ made for Harm Vellguth at the suggestion of Annette Otterstedt, historian of the viol. It was designed to be used with a viol consort, based on the ca1630 organ at Staunton Harold in Leicestershire, where one of the greatest of composers for viol consort, William Lawes, was music master in his youth. The English consort organ, often made entirely of narrow-scaled wooden pipes, is so suited to playing alongside the viols that no other organ will really do. The fluty tones of the average box organ cut through the texture of the viols.
We have also made an Italian chamber organ, based on the ca1700 which we restored for Sheila Lawrence in 1988. The point of an Italian organ is that it consists of open metal pipes, voiced with low wind pressure and low cut ups, with a characteristic gentle brilliance and melodic presence. Ideally one would have a full-size church organ from 17th century Italy, but chamber organs were very common in Italian churches. They are particularly well-suited to accompanying cornets and sackbuts in the wonderful Italian ceremonial church and court music of the age, as well as accompanying its sonorous church music. It is music in which the organ needs to have some presence.
A most unusual and rewarding recent project was the reconstruction of three early 16th century organs for the Early English Organ Project, and for the Experience of Worship research project based at Bangor University in north Wales. They are based on two soundboards found in Suffolk in recent years, the only remnants of mechanism to have survived from English organs dating from before the Reformation. The soundboards were copied as the basis for the new organs, and the other parts of which are based on early 16th century Spanish organs, since Mediterranean organs provide the closest analogy to the characteristics of English organs revealed in the two soundboards and the earliest surviving English organs. The smaller soundboard was found in the church at Wingfield, the pipes are based on those in the ca1600 chest organ at Knole, the oldest surviving English organ. The two organs will appear for the first time together at the Norwich Festival in May.
We have worked on organs associated with Handel. Two organs have been used for recordings of the Organ Concertos by Paul Nicholson and Richard Egarr: the organ at St Lawrence Whitchurch, parish church to Canons Park, where Handel worked for the Duke of Chandos, and which still contains part of the keyboard which Handel played, and a new chamber organ copying organs associated with Handel for the new Handel House Museum in Brook Street in London (which lives at St George’s Hanover Square, Handel’s parish church). We have restored the Clay musical clock for the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, which has tunes by Handel. And we have restored the organ for Sir Watkin Williams Wynn at Wynnstay 1774 (now in the National Museum of Wales) was built in homage of Handel, whose portrait appears on the Robert Adam case; Sir Watkin being one of the three men who initiated the Handel Centenary Concert at Westminster Abbey in 1784.
Underlying all our activities is a desire to revive the classical tradition of English organbuilding and to raise the level of interest in old English organs. Since most old English organs have been irredeemably altered or destroyed, it is mainly on new organs, or on reconstructed organs using original parts, that today’s players can recreate the music of the past, and create new music with its roots in the English classical tradition.
In other countries copies and reconstructions of our organs are the only way in which players are going to experience the English contribution to European music. In the UK we also want to hear the music of the church from other parts of Europe, and it would make sense for the concert halls, music colleges and university music departments to commission organs which copy and reconstruct historic organs from other parts of Europe. It is a development which has barely begun.