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American Versus European Pipe Organs

Mr. Clarence Eddy, in an interview with a representative of "Music," has expressed his convictions, in comparing American and European organs, in a clear and convincing manner. As his extended experience of the past few years has given him unlimited opportunities to study the question, we must concede he knows whereof he speaks; and while we may differ from him in a few details, we can heartily indorse his summing up of the whole matter. Mr. Eddy has "opened" a great many of our American organs, has given concerts on representative organs of all our best organ-builders, and has played many of the leading European organs. As he is not "bound by contract" to any firm of organ-builders or to any national combination, and has had these enviable opportunities to study the relative merits of the work of the different countries, what he has to say on the subject must necessarily carry considerable weight.
"What have you to say about the American pipe organs, Mr. Eddy?" asked the interviewer, "and how do they compare with those of Europe?"
"From a mechanical point of view," answered Mr. Eddy, "American organs lead the world. The action is more prompt and reliable, and all the resources of the instrument are brought under the control of the player with a simplicity entirely unknown in European organs, except a few of the very best. As Europe is an old country, old organs very much predominate. In Germany, until very recently, they made but small use of the swell organ; and in the organs erected more than fifty years ago the swell organ is very small, having only a few stops. They have few or no combination pedals, and the touch is very heavy and inelastic. This makes it a very difficult matter to play upon them, and the modern arrangements for the organ are frequently impossible upon quite old instruments, unless the organist has one or two friends at hand to assist in making the changes in stops."
"Do you meet many of the old-fashioned tracker organs in your travels, Mr. Eddy?"
"Very few large organs are now built with the tracker action, so far as I know; and, if I had my way about it, there would be none of them. The tracker action for a large organ is very bulky, very clumsy, and there is almost always a button off or a wire sticking somewhere. When you attempt to lighten up the touch by putting in the pneumatic lever, you add to the bulk and lose a great deal of time waiting for the pneumatic bellows to expand or collapse."
"What kind of action do you prefer?" asked the scribe.
"On the whole, I prefer the tubular pneumatic. This was originally an English invention, but it has been very greatly improved in America, and practically our best American manufacturers have what might be well enough described as an entirely new and original application of the tubular pneumatic principle.
"The electric action, although admirable for very long distances, is unquestionably liable to get out of order."
"What have you to say about the tone of American pipe organs?" he was asked.
"The American solo stops are beautifully voiced, many of them, especially the soft ones. In this respect we are ahead of the world. In the variety of effects, however, we are not so fortunate. We have not a sufficient range of tone-quality. Our diapasons are too small and voiced too softly, and our reeds are not so resolute and ringing as they should be. For this reason the tone of the full organ is unsatisfactory, and many of the best effects of the greatest organ music fail of realization."
"To what do you attribute this deficiency in diapasons? Is it a question of too small scales or insufficient wind?"
"Both, I should say," said Mr. Eddy. "The main difficulty, in my opinion, is that the wind pressure is insufficient. Most of our American instruments are voiced on three and a half inches of wind, and this is the highest pressure some of them have. In place of this I would have the open diapason and the substantial stops on at least six inches wind, and occasionally solo stops with ten or twelve inches. The organ of St. Paul's Cathedral, London, has some of its stops on a wind pressure of twenty inches: the tone is immensely thrilling and grand. Of course, care has to be taken in the voicing when so heavy wind pressures are used, and the space to be filled has to be considered. I think if our American builders would pay more attention to tone effects, our instruments might lead the world in this respect as much as they do now in mechanical perfection."
Mr. Eddy's remarks relative to the wind pressure of our organs is very pertinent, and we know at least one American organ-builder who has awakened to this fact and is using higher wind pressure in his latest large organs.
With regard to the voicing, Mr. Eddy could easily have said much more, for it is well known that while the voicing of our soft stops is perfect, the variety of stops of any one quality of tone is limited. If an organ has five four-foot flutes, three of them will be almost identical, varying only slightly in power. Then, again, our reeds are too much alike in quality. A cornopean with the swell closed is too much like the oboe in the same swell with the swell open. The trumpet in the great organ is frequently only a duplicate of the swell cornopean. How long has it been since an entirely new stop, was invented for the organ? Have we reached the end of growth in tone-qualities ? We are of the opinion that if our voicers gave half as much time to discovery as is spent in devising new mechanical accessories, we would soon be charmed with some entirely new stops.
With regard to the relative merits of tracker, pneumatic, tubular, and electric action we shall have more to say in a later issue, but it seems to us a weak argument against tracker action to say "there is always a button off or a wire sticking somewhere." A "button off" causes a "silent key," and a "wire sticking" causes a "cipher." Tubular and electric actions are so delicate and susceptible to atmospheric changes that there will generally be about five "silent keys" or "ciphers" with tubular or electric action, in the course of a year, to every one with tracker action in an organ of the same size. We do not advocate tracker action in preference to tubular or electric action, but this particular argument against tracker action is, to our mind, one of the great arguments against tubular and electric actions.
Mr. Eddy has made no mention of one great difference between American and European organs—a difference that has the greatest influence over the tone of the organ —viz., the location of the organ or the organ chamber. Two organs constructed exactly alike by the same builder will sound entirely different if one is placed in an open gallery with an abundance of "speaking room" over the pipes, and the other is crammed into a hole in the wall with a small and insufficient opening through which the tone must come forth. About three-fifths of the representative organs of this country are bottled up in inadequate organ chambers, while most of the European organs which Mr. Eddy has played are admirably placed and are heard to an advantage.

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