Some organs seem particularly happy in their surroundings. David Bridgeman-Sutton looks at three good examples — two of which are transplants
Cowling Hill Chapel, Yorkshire, — old black and white picture 1 — is typical of many built by Baptist congregations in Britain and in the USA from the 17th to the 19th century. This one dates from 1744. As many have been altered beyond recognition or swept away altogether over the years it is something of a rare survival. The interior is all of a piece and of very high quality workmanship. The elegance of staircase, balustrades, panelling and organ-case would have been matched, though rarely surpassed, in the kind of country house inhabited by characters from Jane Austen novels.
The organ case - in a Baptist chapel of that date? For long, music played a relatively minor part in the worship of the denomination and it was usually provided by small groups of singers and instrumentalists who often walked many miles each Sunday serving several chapels as they went. Those delightful music stands beside the organ - let us hope they still exist - must have been made for such performers. Organs began to be admitted to chapels in Britain from about 1850 - a century after Cowling Hill was built - and perhaps from a decade later in the USA.
Picture 2 illustrates what happened. Case details and, especially, the treatment of the case pipes shows this to be high-Victorian, though classical in outline. This one (IP/6) was commissioned privately in 1851 and stood for some years in another chapel. It was moved here in 1873 by John Laycock, a local organ-builder whose firm made solid, reliable instruments for about a century.
The size and antiquity of many organs in Catholic churches is evidence of their importance in performing the liturgy. A most unusual organ case is to be found at Oliwa Cathedral, Poland - at one time the church of a Cistercian convent.
The original builder, Johann Wilhelm Wulff, had two problems to overcome when planning an instrument for the West end of the Nave (1763). The space available is narrow and a large and beautiful window had to be accommodated. A very ornate U-shaped case was designed (picture 3) that “wrapped round” the west end and the adjacent walls: the window was, in effect, incorporated in this, with casework forming a frame for the stained glass.
The original organ was of 3 manuals and pedal, with 83 speaking stops. Successive work has increased it to VP/99 - all contained within the original case. Rarely has an organ builder adapted work to a difficult site with such effect. More about this organ will be found here
Our third case — picture 4 — is an old one transferred to a modern building - de Schuilplaats, Urk - in the Netherlands. The organ (IIP/24) by Hendriksen & Reitsma is also modern and is of classical specification. The recessed organ chamber gives the instrument something of the quality of a picture, enhanced by the curved gallery rail - and note those delightful cherubs at the base of each tower!
This case was altered to suit this building. Heavy cresting to the towers was removed and urn-finials substituted, giving a generally lighter appearance; this was enhanced by painting the whole case white. To provide additional breadth, fretted wings were added to the outer towers. The original case may be seen here. (Click on De Schuilplaats on the menu at the left of the page and then scroll down the page.)
If such a demonstration is needed, these cases show how much a good case enhances both an organ and its surroundings. Architects and organ-builders are re-discovering this after a period of sad decline.
David Bridgeman-Sutton, March 2009