Friday, 13 February 2015

An organized piano reconstruction

Organized pianos were made during the second half of the eighteenth century but by the middle of the nineteenth century had already passed into history. A few survive but almost all are unplayable. An organized grand piano (possibly unique) was recently acquired by Colonial Williamsburg and is undergoing conservative restoration (here) and an organized square piano built around in 1800 has very recently surfaced (here) but will not be restored to playing condition. An organized square in Bristol City Museum no longer has its piano mechanism but is probably a representative example of the kind of instruments made in the 1780s. A playable organized square by Erard (1791) is in a museum in Paris (here) but as some of the the restoration was carried out over 100 years ago it is difficult to know what is original. Incidentally, the use of the term 'organized' might be seen by my British readers as unutterably Amercan but this was the way it was spelled in British newspaper advertisements in the 1790s so that is what I am going with.

One way to have an historical instrument that is in playable condition so that possible repertoires can be explored is to build a copy or reconstruction. In this case my approach is to make a hybrid - use an original square piano (which are not that rare having been built in tens of thousands, particularly by Broadwood) and make a new organ part. My reconstruction will not be a copy of any particular instrument but as the basic layout of the organ seems to have been fairly standard I hope that it will be considered a fair representative of the instrument. Short of taking an historical instrument apart (highly unlikely in this case!) I will have to work out how some of the internal mechanism of the organ might have been laid out.

The first stage is to make a frame to support the piano and into which the organ part will fit. The Broadwood piano is a five-octave square dating from 1801 with a single action. The organ will have a two stops (a stopped 8' and an open 4') and wind will be supplied by a food pedal. The compass of the organ part will be C-f3 (four and a half octaves) which is the same as the Paris and Bristol instruments and seems to have been fairly standard.

Progress thus far has been the fabrication of a building frame in pine. The frame will eventually be covered by removable mahogany panels to allow access for tuning and adjustments. The stack of partially completed bass pipes underneath gives some idea of how much volume these already take up. A bellows and reservoir will be fitted underneath the right hand side.

Further posts will give updates on the project.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

A restoration/reconstruction almost complete..

In the spring of 2013 Martin Renshaw and I began to restore an organ that used to be in Aylesford Methodist Church. The organ almost certainly started life as a house organ built some time around 1780 as a one-manual instrument in a quite ornate Gothic case. A short compass Swell was added later and sometime during the 19C the compass was extended to C by the addition of extra notes at each end of the windchest. By the 1890s further modifications were made including the addition of a clamp on the Swell. With all of these changes it was decided to reconstruct the organ as a two-manual instrument with it's original G-compass manual as the Great with a C-compass Swell. The Great windchest had retained a second set of sliders for a piano mechanism with the ends of the sliders simply sawn off in the open position. By splicing new ends onto these sliders the piano mechanism could be reconstructed. The organ was being built for the parish church in Villabarou near to Blois in France. The church is used regularly as it is the focus of a 12-church united benefice. As far as was known the church had never had an organ before.

The entire organ, except for the case, was assembled in the workshop at Birling, Kent and then taken down and reassembled in Villebarou in April 2014.
Early stages of rebuilding the organ in the Kent workshop
A new building frame was constructed to allow the Swell to be in its modern position at the rear of the Great.

The new console
New keyboards were made and a new console was made of solid oak. The key action was new (but using some recycled parts) and the Great and Swell stop actions were entirely new in oak. The original three-rank Sesquialtra/Cornet was reconstructed with new pipework. As a compromise to more general use of the organ a pedal bourdon (with new mechanical action) was added using a recycled rank and chest. Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped and Gt/Ped couplers were also made. The only playing aids are a hitch Swell pedal and a piano pedal which takes off all ranks above 4' on the Great.

The casework was restored by French artisans who re-established the original imitation rosewood finish and matched this finish on additional new panels required for the sides of the reconstructed organ that was deeper than the original one-manual house organ. The facade pipes (both speaking and 'flatback') were regilded. Missing finials and mouldings were made to match the remaining originals. This project was an opportunity for me to work with my brother Robin, a carpenter who lives in Germany, who
Robin Shuker and Martin Renshaw at an
 early stage of erecting the case on-site
was able to solve the problems of stabilising the rather rickety case. Robin has built many houses in his career but this was his first organ case.

The organ in Villbarou before
 the restoration of the case

By November 2014 the organ was fully assembled awaiting final regulations and adjustments once everything had settled down.

The organ at Villebarou with its fully decorated case and regilded pipes.
The stop knobs have paper labels in 18C style