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This article was published in "The Complete Organ Recitalist" , edited by Herbert Westerby, London, 1927, pages 285-6
The Organ of the Future
By JOHN COMPTON
Were I to take example of some writers I might prophesy that the organ of the future - of ten or a hundred years hence - would be pretty much the same kind of instrument that I am planning and building nowadays; with electric mechanism, plenty of mutation and mixture work, wind pressures up to 50 or 100 inches, multiple concrete swell chambers, diaphonic basses and all the paraphernalia of the ultra-efficient organ of to-day. But, frankly, I do not believe anything of the kind. The whole art of organ building is now in the crucible, and it is impossible to predict the course of its development, or the permanence of any recrystallising that may occur in the near future; but it is quite safe to say that many features which to-day are considered essential to a well-designed instrument will ere long be looked upon as monstrous and archaic.
In the United States, where every new idea is tested and valued according to its merits and without prejudice as to its origin, organ building has developed on lines which can without exaggeration be termed revolutionary.
In France, on the other hand, the art is practically where Cavaillé-Coll left it. In our own country the tendency has been, on the whole, conservative , but really healthy progress has been made in certain directions. A month or two ago I had the pleasure of playing a powerful new concert organ of great beauty and general excellence-a finer instrument than the great 19th century organ builders ever produced, and one might easily quote other instances of recent date shewing substantial improvement on the best of the older work.
The development of the CINEMA ORGAN (deplorable enough in some of its manifestations!) is certain to have a far-reaching effect on organ-craft. We who have studied the problem most closely and continuously have long realised that unless we designed and built really suitable and artistic instruments of the highest grade for film accompaniment, there was imminent danger of our picture houses -and sooner or later our concert halls and churches-being fitted up with horrible noise-creating machines such as have already become popular in certain other lands. The cinema organ must necessarily be of far stronger and more durable construction than even the best instruments of the old style. A new and higher standard has had to be adopted, involving more accurate workmanship and more perfect materials than were formerly known or required in the craft.
New methods of tone production had to be devised, in order to overcome the appalling lack of resonance in theatres and to compensate for the unsuitable location so usually assigned to the organs in these places. New means of expression, more convenient console arrangements, perfect dustproof construction, and other mechanical and tonal improvements had to be put into practice. The church and recital organ of the future will get the benefit of all this new perfection, for the improved methods are not necessarily more costly than the old, though vastly more efficient, and they are equally applicable to instruments for all purposes.
Attempts have often been made to establish frontier lines between the church organ and the concert organ, and between them both and the theatre organ, but I cannot too strongly protest that any such sharp differentiation is ill-advised and likely to prove highly mischievous. The organ of to-day, whether for church, concert hall, theatre or residence, should first of all have a properly developed tonal scheme, with diapason chorus, flutes, strings and reeds in ample power and variety, and a really adequate equipment for control of stops and expression. Percussions of any kind (with the possible exception of purely rhythmic devices such as drums) are advisedly excluded from the recital organ, if only because their pitch is often unavoidably at variance with the general pitch of the instrument.
The organ of to-morrow may perhaps be a further development of the present type, or (which is more probable) it may be a vastly different affair; changed not so much in its musical characteristics as in the nature and quantity of apparatus employed in their production. Electricity is now in general use for organ blowing, its employment in the playing mechanism of the organ is becoming more and more popular, and the rapid parallel progress of electrical and acoustical knowledge seems to indicate that we shall very soon be able, by relatively simple and compact electro-magnetic means, to produce in greater excellence all the musical effects for which we at present employ huge pipes, windchests, swell-boxes and wind supply and distribution systems. Be that as it may, we organ builders are willing and anxious to preserve the finest and most desirable musical features of the organ, as manifest in the best present-day examples, but a great measure of responsibility must always remain with our friends the church and concert organists. Upon them will still devolve the important duty of approving or criticising our methods according as they affect the efficiency of the organs we build. We are confident that their artistic sense, thus expressed, will continue to help us in opposing those tendencies which threaten the beauty and unique grandeur of the organ, and in developing it on such lines as will preserve and enhance its worthiest characteristics for the edification and delight of posterity.
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