Visit to the Mansion House on 12/10/2013 by David Sutton

Mansion HouseOn a lovely sunny autumn morning, 12 CLESO members centred on the residence of the Lord Mayor of London to hear and play the new two-manual Mander organ which was sited in the magnificent Egyptian Hall. The instrument was commissioned by the City Corporation as a gift to Her Majesty the Queen and is to be re-located permanently in the Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey at the end of 2013.

Some of us have already been privileged to hear it in a series of recitals instituted for the summer of 2013 to showcase the instrument and to raise funds for the annual Lord Mayor’s Appeal. These events have been very successful.

CLESO, through the efforts and good offices of our president Catherine Ennis, was allowed private access to hear and play it for ourselves. The building is, as you might expect, impressive and particularly the Egyptian Hall so called “because its design was inspired by the Roman architect Vitrivus which referred to a high central section, lower aisles and two superimposed columns” – the details gleaned from the leaflet issued to us by the ever-helpful House staff who were in attendance. Its dimensions also produce a most helpful warm acoustic which suited the organ well. This grand space was in the process of being set up for an event in the evening so we saw the long banqueting table placed in position. What a place to have dinner!

However we were there to hear as well as to view. Ed Kemp-Luck our chairman had been called upon to play it twice previously so he was the obvious choice to talk about it and demonstrate its capabilities. Manders are renowned historically for promoting the early English period of organ-building and this instrument is a copy of the style one would find in a typical organ of the early 19th century both in sound and looks. The concession to the 21st century is a straight pedal board equipped with a 16’ Bourdon. The case is a lovely piece of work with a front of gilt pipes topped with beautifully carved pipe-shades which will grace the interior of the Abbey. There are two ‘accessories’ which perhaps might not – the thunder stop (two adjacent notes at the bottom of the pedal bourdon sounding simultaneously) and the nightingale (which has its own pipe semi-immersed in water and visually depicted in a model bird appearing from the top of the case-work rotating and working its wings.) From my experience of watching the Antiques Roadshow I recall finely crafted and bejewelled small clockwork birds featuring in their programmes (and other exotic automata being the fad of the 18th and 19th centuries for those of the populace who had money). So I suppose this organ had to be so equipped. One wonders when they will be used at the Abbey – perhaps as aural supplements to some of the verses in the psalms! The writer has similar views about cimbelsterns! Also it had to be noted Mr Jordan’s swell was not incorporated as both manuals are unenclosed and of equal power.

Ed gave a short demonstration playing some music of the period (S.S. Wesley if I recall correctly) on manuals only, and then we had our go. The flat, straight pedal-board proved a problem for not a few of us (used to our radiating, concave variety). We explored the bright clear sound (and of course the ‘curiosities’ of the thunder stop and nightingale). The solitary bourdon could be coupled to either manual with small pedal levers controlling each manual.

So it was that all good things had to come to an end and we all retired back through the deserted building to exit in Walbrook. What a privilege to be able to have the private use of such an iconic building! This was recognized by us and we took a special collection as a ‘thank you’ to the Lord Mayor, Alderman Roger Gifford, for allowing us to invade his home in this way towards the end of his tenure of office. Alderman Gifford is a member of the Worshipful Company of Musicians and a keen performer himself, and the choice of a new organ was an inspired one (although one can safely say the decision to place the order was done well before the start of his term of office). It has been a not inconsiderable source of income for his charity appeal in the money raised at the recitals. Our special collection (coupled with our usual CLESO donation to hosts of our events) resulted in 170 which has been sent to Alderman Gifford. Sadly we were not able to give it to him personally as we were informed he was in Malaysia (no doubt on good work for the City).

Thank you to all those who made our visit so memorable – the Lord Mayor, Catherine and the Mansion House staff.

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