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The Christchurch
Town Hall organ


Why on earth did someone start putting organ pipes horizontally instead of the tried and true upright position? Aethestics?
Or perhaps there is a more mundane reason . . .
David Bridgeman-Sutton
dusts off the possible answers

Welcome to the website of the Rieger
pipeorgan home
in the Christchurch Town Hall,
New Zealand

Musings & Amusings

Spanish Fly

(Updated March 2010)

On a summer afternoon 55 years ago, an elderly Spanish organ-builder finished removing the obstruction that had put a small pipe off speech. This turned out to be a fly, long dead, though probably still mourned by all who knew it.

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Picture 1 shows the case of one of the organs of this cathedral: Careful examination shows that there are numerous ranks of smaller horizontal pipes beneath those which overshadow them.
[Click image to see larger version]

Flies and air-born sand and dust were a problem to organ builders in many parts of Spain, he said. In his eyes, the great advantage of the horizontal trumpets I had been admiring was that they were far less susceptible than vertical pipes to these nuisances. Many old examples of horizontal reeds were found in areas where the dust and dirt problems were particularly acute. This led him to believe that practical, rather than tonal, considerations, had first caused the use of horizontal reeds.

Iberian organ cases are impressive, usually being both well designed and beautifully made. Decoration is elaborate, sometimes florid. The most distinctive features, though, are the horizontal reeds. These can sprout from at several levels, from sides and back as well as from the front and include most of the reeds within the instrument. The specification of the Emperor organ in Toledo cathedral lists no fewer than sixteen stops as "en chamade".

Even large instruments often have only one manual. The division of stops into treble and bass, makes possible the playing of both solo and accompaniment on this. Considerable variations in compass between instruments and the limited pedal claviers - often with one octave of idiosyncratic keys - put most of the mainstream organ works outside their repertoire. Instruments of North European specification - with full complements of Spanish trumpets - are found in increasing number beside the older ones that they by no means replace.

Picture 2 is of the university chapel of Coimbra in Portugal - a country that observes similar traditions. Indeed, for over 700 years, from early in the eighth century, much of the Iberian peninsula was united under Moorish rule.
One of the legacies of this is the wide use of richly coloured wall tiles, as may be seen here.

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Picture 2.

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Ivan Larrea, of Alicante, who is skilled both as a worker in stone and as an organ builder has constructed the world's only (so far!) stone organ which was demonstrated for the first time at Spain's national museum in 2001. (Picture 3).

Sr Larrea is now working on a "fountain organ" of stone and has other projects in view, including the construction of a two manual and pedal instrument. He has also made a clock of which both the case and the wheels are of stone.

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Picture 3
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1. - The Cedric William Laycock archive:

2.- Lesley Smits - Eindhoven, Holland:

3. - Ivan Larrea, Salinas E-2 Novelda 03660, Alicante.

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David Bridgeman-Sutton, 2004
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