Time's Ever-Rolling Stream
David Bridgeman-Sutton wonders about the changing face of - well, change, and how it affects organs
Dr A.G. Hill, in his monumental work on old organ cases – published well over a century ago – wrote of the organ at Haarlem: "Had this organ been built in England, nothing would remain of the original structure.
Each successive organist would have left his mark on the instrument" Substitute for England “any English- speaking country” and much the same could be written today.
Virtually every organ built in England before 1649 was destroyed by order of Cromwell's Parliament – the soldiery setting about the task with enthusiasm under the supervision of “Commissioners” specially appointed for the task. After the Restoration (1660) when organs were again allowed, a huge demand arose. The waiting list, or backlog, was not cleared until well into the next century and then only because European craftsmen, such as John Snetzler and Bernard (“Father”) Smith arrived in response to what, to-day, would be termed market demand.
Before the great destruction, the chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge had an organ by the Dallam* family. After the Restoration it had to wait until 1688 for a replacement by Renatus Harris. This with a single manual and seven speaking stops, served for more than a century and a half, lasting until 1849. The Haarlem organ, completed 1738 with three manuals, pedal and sixty speaking stops underlines the limitations of English instruments of the day.
Unusually for the time, Harris's organ at Jesus college was replaced by one that looked backward rather than forward. In 1849 Sir John Sutton presented the chapel with a two manual organ on “Old English” lines to his own specification. The builder was JC Bishop. This was housed in a case by the architect AWN Pugin, a fervent mediaevalist (pic 1). The 12 stops included two ranks by Father Smith; there were, of course, no pedals.
Sir John was a clergyman who had travelled abroad extensively and had antiquarian tastes. It is to his work that we owe much of the knowledge we have of organs that had been swept away by the reformers.
Later organs in the chapel of Jesus College reflect changing tastes and fashion in builders: Norman & Beard (1888 – IV/P 43; Harrison & Harrison (1927- IV/P 29): this latter occupied the Sutton - Pugin case. In 1971, Mander provided a neo-classical II/P29, at the same time recreating the Sutton organ, adding a pedal board and bourdon.
In recent years, Orgelbau Kuhn have replaced the large Mander with an new II/P 33 (pic 2.) See details here
(1) Restoration of the Sutton organ, as nearly as possible to its 1849 condition, is planned. (What advantage there will be in removing the pedals it is hard to tell. Left in situ, they would greatly extend the repertoire that could be played on the organ . . . and they could be ignored by players who wished to return to the spirit of Middle Ages.)
Dr Hill, could he return, would probably feel that little has changed. And how might we find our favourite organs if we could return a century hence?
*NOTE: The Dallams had also built the organ in the chapel of King's College Although the “works” of this were totally destroyed, the case survives and, with the addition of a choir case, still adorns the screen.
**Ed. note: Sir John Sutton had considerable influence abroad. In 1857 he financed the restoration of the organ (built around 1500) in the church of St Valentine, Kiedrich. This has also been restored between 1985-87 by Kuhn Orgelbau. (See pic at top) For more information, see here
- the Sutton organ – Philip Wells;
- the Kuhn organ– Orgelbau Kuhn (Copyright Orgelbau Kuhn AG, CH-Männedorf.)
- Kiedrich organ - Jenny Setchell