Howard Bowen, writing in 2015, about his house organ, Opus 64:

When the decision was taken to inquire about a house organ from Neil Richerby, the instrument that first attracted me was Opus 44, built for Dr John Kitchen in Edinburgh, inspired by the smaller instruments of Arp Schnitger and his contemporaries in both Northern Germany and the Netherlands.

A visit to see and play Dr Kitchen's house organ (Opus 44) was kindly arranged, where it was immediately evident that not only did this instrument look like a North German instrument, it also sounded like one, with all the clarity that one associates with these organs.

This visit confirmed my interest to have one of my own, and I proceeded with its design.

It was established early on that a 2' stop would be a worthwhile addition to the upper manual to add more brightness and enhance the feeling of a Positiv organ. Neil cautioned against the idea of having a 2' Principal, suggesting a Gemshorn 2' as being more interesting tonally yet still in line with Schnitger's thinking.

In order to provide a more Mixture-like feel, a Rauschpfeife II (2' and 1 1/3' pitches) was initially considered, in addition to a Gemshorn 2'. This evolved into leaving the Gemshorn 2' on the upper manual and placing the Siffloete 1 1/3' on the lower manual for greater possibilities in trio playing. This also provided a Mixture-like "klang" to the Principal chorus on the lower manual tutti.

Copying the style of foundation flues on each manual as in Dr Kitchen's organ was considered. Small Schnitger organs of 12 to 14 stops (built as Zwillingslade - one soundboard for two manuals) were designed with foundation flutes either as in Dr Kitchen's organ or with more marked scaling differences. The approach for Opus 44 was to have medium-scaled pipes on the lower manual and wider-scaled pipes (with pierced stoppers) on the upper manual; on Opus 64 the decision was to have medium-scaled pipes on the lower manual and narrow-scaled pipes on the upper. Both approaches are documented historically.

The wide-scaled Chimney Flute 8' with pierced stoppers (Opus 44), and the narrow-scaled Quintadena 8' with relatively low cut-ups (Opus 64) each produce a broader span of harmonics when set against the rounder sound of the Gedackt 8'. My solution results in the greater contrast between the foundation stops: the lower manual has a Gedackt 8' of wood (oak) and the upper manual Quintadena 8' also of wood (oak) - one of Neil's specialities. (This approach was previously adopted for Opus 46.)

The Chimney Flute for Opus 64 appears at 4' pitch and is made of metal. Research into other Schnitger organs indicated that the use of Quintadena 8' and Rohrfloete 4' was a favoured combination.

The final design question was whether to have coupled pedals or a separate Pedal organ, as each extra stop would increase the depth of the instrument. Thus, partly for space reasons and in order to provide as complete a North German school plenum as possible, it was decided to have a short resonator Dulzian 16' to complete the specification.

The couplers were to be as in Dr Kitchen's organ - a Schiebenkoppel ( a manual shift coupler in the North German tradition) along with the hitch-down pedals operating the manual to pedal couplers.

For the keyboards I chose boxwood naturals and ebony sharps in the Schnitger tradition (as at Cappel near Hamburg, St Peter and St Paul). The manual compasses of Opus 44 and Opus 64 are identical: C - a''', 58 notes.

The pedalboard compass is C - f', 30 notes, straight and concave to BDO standards. Although the compass of both manuals and pedals is greater than Schnitger would have provided originally, the organ is intended as a practice instrument for playing all periods of music. The final specification, with stop-names in German to maintain unity, is listed below.

The case is in English oak (grown in Scotland!) and is deeper than that of Opus 44, sharing the same Schnitger/North German layout - a heptagonal-facated central tower, V-shaped side towers, and narrower lower case. The Prinzipal facade pipes are polished tin; the pipe-shades take motifs from the room where the organ is housed and have been admired by everyone who has seen the instrument. Entablature incorporates dentate ornamentation, fitting for the organ of a retired dentist! The result is an organ that looks as good as it sounds!

The builder pressed for the appearance of the console to be symmetrical, and, in the great tradition of German organ builders' humour, the 'extra' stop-knob on the right of the console (labelled 'Bleistift HB' - lead hardness or owner's initials?) cunningly reveals a pencil-holder in the shank! (After all this is a practice organ and this saves pencils cluttering the console and falling down between the pedals!) Finally, the stop labels are of parchment, printed in the style of a North German organ of the 17th century; the 8' stops are at the top and higher pitches further down so that the more frequently changed stops are nearer to the player.

Robust voicing was requested and the result is an organ that sounds much more expansive than its specification would suggest. Letting the pipes "have their head" allows for the fact that metal pipes in particular mellow over time (according to Gerhard Andersen, formerly designer and manager at Marcussen of Abenra in Denmark).

The plenum is thus rich and brilliant, yet the individual stops, from the gentle "flutey-stringy" Quintadena 8' to the Rohrfloete 4' and the smooth bright Gemshorn 2', all combine to provide a convincing Positiv chorus. On the Hauptwerk the more fundamentally based Holzgedackt gradually develops its bright "flutey" charms as the scale ascends, whilst the solid bright edginess of the Prinzipal 4' gives a sound which can be played for long periods without the absence of a 2' on the Hauptwerk being noticed. The Siffloete's almost principal-like brilliance crowns the chorus and completes the "organ pleno" tonally. This latter stop is very useful in solo combinations and its voicing disguises the absence of a tierce. The Prinzipal 4' played an octave lower provides rich clear solos. Similarly, played an octave lower, the Rohrfloete 4' provides clear solo lines against the Holzgedackt on the lower manual. The pedal Dulzian 16' is very successful and clearly underpins the whole organ, as any self-respecting 16' reed should do, yet is also suitable for the cantus firmus in chorale preludes.

The organ has more than fulfilled its original design promise and is still daily surprising its owner with its tonal possibilities; indeed one visiting organist remarked that he could perform a whole recital on it! Being essentially a Baroque-inspired instrument, the organ works of Bach and his predecessors (Buxtehude, Bruhns, Kerll etc) can be played easily and convincingly. Its voicing and flexibility also allow the playing of Romantic organ music, modern organ music, even Howells.

This ability therefore raises the question: do smallish organs actually need swell boxes? Some people who have been raised on Romantic organs in Britain seem to think so, yet experience in many other parts of Europe suggests otherwise, judging by the number of new instruments being built without swell boxes. (To say that such non-expressive organs are incapable of accompaniment is surely wide of the mark as these instruments are used to accompany choirs etc with great success. A little imagination with the registration and a careful understanding of the tonal intentions behind the music is surely all that is required when playing organs with this musical palette, thus to draw out the hidden depths of a composition rather than to slavishly follow expression marks. Such organs have their rightful and unique position in musical art and represent the origins of the organ, not as an imitator of the orchestra, but as an instrument in its own right. Performances on the Continent show that all periods of organ music can be played on historic instruments as well as on new classical ones, with or without swell boxes.)

I therefore commend to you small artistically designed and voiced organs, like Opus 64, for the delights of their tonal possibilities. It all requires a little imagination. It is worth exploring a different approach. I know that this organ has allowed me to do this ever since it arrived, and my musical life has been enriched through its charms. Furthermore my organ-playing life will never be quite the same again!


Hauptwerk:C - a'"
Holzgedackt8'Oak and walnut
Prinzipal4'75% tin, in case facade
Sifflote1 1/3'20% tin
Hinterwerk:C - a'"
Quintadena8'Oak and walnut
Rohrflote4'20% tin
Gemshorn2'20% tin
Pedal Organ:C - f'
Dulzian16'Oak, sycamore and brass
BleistiftHBPencil storage draw-stop, essential for any practice organ!

Intermanual 'shove' coupler.

2 manual to pedal couplers by hitch-down pedals.