Letter: A fine tradition of English organ building

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The Independent Online
Sir: Gillian Widdicombe was right to celebrate the installation of the new organ in St John's, Smith Square ('A voice that's made to measure', 2 October), even if her instructions on how to tune the pipes would produce the opposite effect to that intended. However, now that we can both see and hear the instrument, it is obvious that, sadly, the organ is an opportunity missed. If only its promoters had been willing to listen to informed opinion they might have avoided two serious errors.

First, the treatment of the magnificent 18th-century case from St George's, Great Yarmouth, is a poor example to those churches which, unlike St John's, have to obtain permission for any alterations from the ecclesiastical equivalent of listed building control.

In order to accommodate an organ over three times the size of that for which it was designed, the main case has been raised up several feet, ruining its relationship to both the new chair case and the gallery on which the instrument stands. The brass safety rails that stand up so obtrusively are just one small consequence.

More importantly, the organ does not sound right.

St John's has rightly acquired a reputation for 17th- and 18th-century music, with an emphasis on English composers such as Purcell and Handel. Yet this organ sounds what it is, a modern German neo-baroque instrument with a few Romantic trimmings. The sound is totally foreign to English music and in a style that leading English organ builders gave up 10 or 15 years ago.

This is not said in any spirit of chauvinism - after all, far more organs are exported from this country than are imported - but to record that although the programme is headed 'Notes Tremendous' it would have been more accurate to call it 'Notes Inappropriate'.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN NORMAN

Editor

'The Organbuilder'

London, N20

6 October

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