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Thread: Smallest and Biggest you've played?

  1. #1
    Civilian Marek Michalak's Avatar
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    Smallest and Biggest you\'ve played?

    Hi people,

    I was just wondering, those of you who play the organ, what's the smallest and the biggest organ you have played on? And do you have any memorable experience or funny story or whatever to tell about it?

    I myself am not a schooled musician if you will, but I have had a bit of piano classes myself when I was younger and while studying in Helsinki during the last academic year I've got the opportunity to reherse on a small organ once a week. Left to myself I decided I wanted to learn playing Bach's d-minor Toccata (I have always secretely practiced that one allready during my piano times, much to the dislike of my teacher).
    I succeeded eventually and managed to play it both with hands and pedals and even quite well synchronized so
    A "real" organist or teacher could probably spot a long list of mistakes from technique over fingering all the way up to articulation, but for me it's more than I could wish for at the moment. A year ago I would not have even thought about that I would be able to play that piece anywhere within the next 10 or 15 years, so I'm happy.

    My practice instrument was a two-manual organ made 1967 by Richard Jacoby, a swedish organ builder if I remeber correctly and supposedly there are only two of his instruments in Finland.

    The following is the stop list:
    Man. I:
    1. Principal 8
    2. Spetsflöjt 8
    3. Octava 4
    4. Svegel 2
    5. Mixtur IV

    Man II (Swell box):
    6. Koppelflöjt 8
    7. Kwintadena 4
    8. Principal 2
    9. Seskvialtera II-III
    10. Scharff II
    Tremulant

    Pedal:
    11. Subbas 16
    12. Flagflöjt 8
    13. Koralbas II

    Couplers:
    I-P
    II-P
    II-I

    It was nice instrument, had its certain charm and some lovely sounding voices.
    The thing I'll always remeber most from this instrument however will be the hard action. I found it incredibly hard to press the keys down and the first two or three weeks my fingers ached after an hour of rehersing. I very rarely used the manual couplers as this logically made the first manual even harder.
    But it was my first ever organ to play on and I am glad I had this opportunity.

    Shortly before leaving Finland in the end of May I arranged a visit to the organ at Turku Cathedral, which I think is the biggest organ in Finland, four manuals and 80 or 81 stops.
    I was givn a brief description and presentation of the organ and was allowed to play myself too.

    I messed up my playing there a bit as my nerves "let me down". Playing around noon with tourists flogging in and out and such as huge instrument under my hands I just felt too nervous and made a couple of bigger mistakes. The pedalboard, the feel of the action, different divisions on the manuals I was used to play....it was all just so different than on what I have practiced up till then.
    But it was a fantastic experience at the same time to play the organ and enjoy the long echoing in the cathedral, enjoy the full pleno sound and generally just enjoy the feeling that's its me who controls the sound of all these pipes for these few minutes......

    Well, these are my two cents for the openeing. I'm looking foreward to reading other peopel's experiences.

    Kind regards,
    Marek

  2. #2
    Administrator Frederik Magle's Avatar
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    Re: Smallest and Biggest you\'ve played?

    Great Post, Marek!

    It's interesting to see the disposition of your practice instrument. The stop list is neo-classical, but seems ok versatible. But it reminds me on how different two organs with the same stop list can sound - A very significant part of an organ is in the construction and not least intonation. I have no doubt that the "Jacoby" organ have a very beautiful tone, though from your description is sounds like the key-action and/or couplers has not been optimally constructed. The action on such a small and intimate instrument should not be that hard I think. But I guess it's also a matter of taste to an extend.

    Back to your question, the smallest organ I have tried have just 2 voices: Gedackt 8' and Salicional 8' (and an octave coupler). It's a small danish "Bush" organ from the 19th century, placed in the main lodge of the Free Masons in Copenhagen (I believe they have about 4-5 organs of various sizes in that lodge. I have visited as guest and played three of them). That small organ is surprisingly versatile and has an absolutely beautiful tone.

    The largest organ I have played on so far is the organ in the First Church Congregational, Los Angeles, California (USA). It has 5 manuals and 265 stops with more than 20,000 pipes. I tried playing on that instrument during a visit to Los Angeles in 1998. The complete stop-list can be found here. It's listed as the third-largest pipe organ in the world, and the largest "church organ" of all (though there is some ongoing debate about the 3rd, 4th and 5th places on that list, given their closeness in size. (List of the World's Largest Pipe Organs))

    I was actually just going to attend a concert that was held in the church, but got stuck in the Los Angeles traffic, and missed it. When I finally arrived, everybody had left, but I managed to get hold on someone that put me in contact with the organ curator who gave me permission and access to play on the organ for more than an hour. That was great fun, though I must admit the organ feels perhaps slightly too big for the relatively small and acoustically dry hall (compared to the vastness of the organ that is - it would fit perfectly in the St. Peter Basilica in Rome or some such place ). Still, the power and grandeur of that instrument is amazing. It also has a lot of beautiful and interesting individual voices. I simply improvised for that hour and had a great time. I also met some very nice people.

    The largest organ on which I have held public concerts myself is still the organ the Riga Cathedral, Latvia, with 4 manuals and 124 stops (144 ranks). That is also one of my all-time favourite organs.

  3. #3
    Civilian Marek Michalak's Avatar
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    Re: Smallest and Biggest you\'ve played?

    Thanks for your reply, Frederik.

    I know both instruments, but sadly only from recordings (there is a very nice mp3 of a young danish guy playing Bach's BWV 565 at Riga Cathedral )

    In a way it is funny that you mention the organ in Los Angeles as I have just yesterday received my ordered copy of Michael Murray's Bach CD from that organ.
    I really like the sound of the intrument. I thought too the organ would be a bit big for the church, but judging purely from a CD you never know, it might just be the recording setup. So thanks for your "witness" account of it

    As far as the size of organs is concerned you can take a look at at this website (Click Here) in case you don't know it yet.

  4. #4
    Administrator Frederik Magle's Avatar
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    Re: Smallest and Biggest you\'ve played?

    In a way it is funny that you mention the organ in Los Angeles as I have just yesterday received my ordered copy of Michael Murray's Bach CD from that organ.
    I really like the sound of the intrument. I thought too the organ would be a bit big for the church, but judging purely from a CD you never know, it might just be the recording setup. So thanks for your "witness" account of it
    Well, in a way an organ can almost never be too big (as long as the acoustics and/or archithecture is not damaged by its presence, and there's still room for the audience ). Just because there are hundreds of voices available, doesn't mean they all need to be used together at the same time. The skilled organist will of course find the right blend to use at any given time.

    Please don't take my comment regarding the size as too negative - it's primarily an aesthetic impression as I can be a bit of an aesthete when it comes to pipe organs (and many other things in life) which I to some extend consider works of art in themselfs. The organ in the First Congregational Church, Los Angeles is still great - in several senses of the word!

    As far as the size of organs is concerned you can take a look at at this website (Click Here) in case you don't know it yet.
    Thanks! I didn't know that site. It looks more extensive and more up-to-date than the other site.

  5. #5
    Civilian Marek Michalak's Avatar
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    Re: Smallest and Biggest you\'ve played?

    Don't worry Frederik, I did not mean it in a negative way with the organ being "too big".

    By European standards as to how big an organ in how big a church I think we might label the LA organ "too big", but it doesn't mean it's bad. Perhaps Americans would view many of our organs as too small.

    It still sounds terrific though, it's still a great instrument, and I still would love to hear it live and play around on the console myself one day
    So not taking things too negative here

  6. #6
    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    Re: Smallest and Biggest you\'ve played?

    In response to both of your comments regarding size of instruments, I would have to admit that yes, there is a large group of organists here in America who like very large instruments, but not all of us are part of that group. I myself prefer modest sized instruments as long as the room is not huge. The largest organ I have played and actually LIKED is the large, 4 manual Flentrop at Duke University. That's a big room, and the organ sounds wonderful in it, plus it's a tracker and what I would consider a nicely musical instrument. To me and my way of playing, trying to make music on some of the really huge instruments is a bit like trying to get an elephant to dance ballet, and yet some organists play them very well. When it comes to large instruments, though, I prefer instruments like the Duke Flentrop or big trackers like those built by Rosales--I think they are WONDERFUL sounding instruments!

    As to small instruments, I am extremely fond of the little instruments built here in America during the 18th century by David Tannenberg. There are two of his instruments with only four ranks--8' flute, 8' string, 4' flute, and 2' principal. To me, they are beautifully voiced and because of the sensitivity of their speech, they can play quite a variety of music convincingly.

    Thomas Dressler

  7. #7
    Recruit, Pianissimo Jarle's Avatar
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    Re: Smallest and Biggest you\'ve played?

    I recently returned home from a visit to England, during which I got to spend two hours at the Willis of Liverpool (Anglican) Cathedral, according to the website Fredrik mentioned the 20th biggest organ in the world. It used to be the biggest in the UK, but was surpassed when Mander rebuilt the Royal Albert Hall organ.

    I can imagine my experience was similar to Marek's, in that the organ was SO big and very different from anything I had played before. Such instruments require an organist of extraordinary skills, which I'm not! Surely my playing that evening was the worst I've done in a long time. But don't get me wrong, it sure was a lot of fun having everything I could ever wish for (well, except the Atlantic City Ophichleide on 100 inches of wind) at my disposal! And the athmosphere of being in one of the largest churches in the world ...:O

    Another big organ that I know better is the 1930 Steinmeyer of Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim, here in Norway. Even though the main organ was reduced from more than 130 to some 85 stops (about 20 stops were used to build a choir organ which is playable from the main console) in 1962, the "feel" is still there, and overwhelmingly so. It's one of the most beautiful organs I know, matching its fellow "colleague", the 1741 II/30 Johann Joachim Wagner organ in the north transept. Both are absolutely stunning musical instruments. And at some point in the future, how far I don't know, the Steinmeyer will be restored to its 1930 glory, in which condition it was praised as one of the greatest Cathedral organs in the world.

    As for the smallest organ -- I've played a number of 4-stop trackers, none of which were really interesting...

    Cheers
    Jarle Fagerheim

  8. #8
    Commodore con Forza
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    Re: Smallest and Biggest you\'ve played?

    My biggest is the organ of St-Servais church in Brussels (Klais 1954, IV/76).

    My smallest had just... one stop (now try to beat that! ). It was a "book-organ", i.e. it had the looks, size, and format of, say, a 15th century Gutenberg bible. When you opened it, one half consisted of the manual and the pipes (an 8' Regal with extremely short resonators - the only stop that could possibly fit into such a small volume), and the other half of two weighted bellows that you had to lift (in alternation) with your hand.

    OK, if that doesn't count, then I'll have to go up to five stops (8'4'2' manual plus 8'4' pedal) by Patrick Collon (a Belgian organ builder).

  9. #9
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    The smallest I have ever played is a one manual with no pedals was an 1840 F.W. Jardine
    of 3 divided ranks ---Dulciana, Stopped Diapason and Principal very interesting and this organ once belonged to US Vice President John C Calhoun's wife and is at an Episcopal Church in Pendleton, SC. Do not confuse this Instrument with other instruments of the Jardine family who lived in the United States. This one was built in Britain and shipped here to Charleston and thence to Western South Carolina via Ox Cart. It apparently suffered an accident in which some pipes were damaged. They were not replaced for some 150 years later but otherwise this Organ is still the same it was in 1840 other than having an electric blower added.

    The largest I have ever played +80 ranks 4 manual and Pedals untouched voicing by G. Donald Harrison.

    I am hoping to one day get to play a 165 rank Organ of 5-6 manuals now being built in Charlotte, NC. which will be listed on the list of worlds largest Organs.
    Last edited by ludwig; Jul-09-2006 at 06:39.

  10. #10
    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    That sounds like an interesting instrument, Ludwig.

    A couple weeks ago at the Organ Historical Society convention, I played a wonderful 9 rank Woodberry and Harris. Anyone who heard that instrument can attest to how gutsy it sounds and also how flexible it is.

    I believe the largest instrument I have performed on is the Curtis organ at University of Pennsylvania http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/perelmanqu...rtisorgan.html

  11. #11
    Lieutenant Commander, Concertmaster FinnViking's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marek Michalak
    Shortly before leaving Finland in the end of May I arranged a visit to the organ at Turku Cathedral, which I think is the biggest organ in Finland, four manuals and 80 or 81 stops.
    The organ in Turku Cathedral has 81 stops and it is not the largest in Finland, but the organ in Lapua Cathedral which has 85. So far my biggest has been the organ at St.Paul´s in London with 105 stops on 5 manuals.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by acc
    My biggest is the organ of St-Servais church in Brussels (Klais 1954, IV/76).
    Ubelievable! I was there too last year (may I risk a guess, are you from Brussels?), even though my time on the console lasted only a few minutes. But the organist made a quite detailed presentation of the organ for me which I really enjoyed. I still remember the tutti effect in a piece he played. What an earthquake!

    So, long story short, the Klais organ of St. Servais is my biggest one too. The smallest is an old Schyven organ (2 manuals, pedalboard, 12 stops) of St. Paul, Uccle, where I do in part my practice (just finished my first year in organ). The console is the original one from 1873, but the pipes suffered several changes over the years and today the reeds need some more elaborate maintenance.

    In passing, I would like to say that Pierre Schyven constructed some of the best organs in Belgium. As for Brussels, there is the really fine organ from him in the Notre-Dame de Laeken. And we are lucky to have every Sunday for two months (July-August) free concerts there. The organ composition can be seen here. Despite the apparent lack of a Kontrabombarde 32', the organ is rather complete and, mostly, very very powerful and really high quality. There are times that I feel parts of my body shake while this organ plays.

  13. #13
    Lieutenant, Associate Concertmaster robmcw's Avatar
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    The largest organ I played is the Hazel Wright organ at the Crystal Cathedral
    in Garden Grove California. This was during the time Fred Swann was organist there and he was so kind to let me play for about three hours
    after they just tuned the instrument. It was about 8:00 pm. They left all the lights on and to view the stars above me while playing was quite an
    experience. As for the smallest organ, I have yet to bump into it.

    Rob

  14. #14
    Midshipman, Forte
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    Quote Originally Posted by robmcw
    It was about 8:00 pm. They left all the lights on and to view the stars above me while playing was quite an
    experience.
    Rob
    W-O-W! This is one of the most unique organ playing one can dream about. Moreover, I find quite fascinating playing the organ at night.

  15. #15
    Commodore con Forza
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    Hi pb05,

    Indeed, Schyven was one of the foremost Belgian organ builders of the late 19th century. I'm not from Brussels, but I have attended a number of the summer recitals in Laeken you mention (I was there just last Sunday - and so was Queen Fabiola, believe it or not!).

    Have you heard Schyven's biggest instrument in Antwerp Cathedral? It's less powerful than Laeken (despite being bigger "on paper") - too soft, really, when listened to from the nave - but also much more refined. So different from Laeken, in fact, that I wonder if Laeken's character wasn't completely changed by Van Bever's restauration (around 1910).

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