Description of the Organ

The Sounds of the 1860, Opus 288 E. & G. G. Hook Organ at St. John’s Roman Catholic Church, Bangor, Maine

by George Bozeman

When the Hook brothers produced their opus 288 they had arrived at a new plateau in their stylistic progress. As they began their careers in the late 1820’s their tonal patterns were almost totally imported from Great Britain, whose styles were a somewhat insular variant of the European organ world. The old Renaissance keyboard compass, starting on GG two octaves and a fourth below middle c, which continental organs had long since abandoned, still obtained in all but the smallest British and American organs. The Pedal keys were rudimentary, if present at all. There would be a Great division, an ensemble of pipes which combined to make a fine, ringing chorus, plus some special color effects, perhaps a Choir division to act as a foil to the Great with a lighter ensemble, and a Swell division which was essentially a miniature Great division housed in a box with shutters so that by opening them the tone could ‘swell.’ But this division was only in the treble, from fiddle g below middle c. By 1860, at last, the old GG compass had finally been discarded and this enabled a rational Pedal compass to develop. On the Swell the compass was extended downward to match the Great and Choir for most if not all of the stops. And the overall power of the organ was increased a bit, although not enough to lose the balance and refinement that distinguished the Anglo-American styles from the blazing brilliance of the French or the pungent power of the Germanic organs.

Let us take a journey through the divisions and stops of Opus 288, exploring their various unique merits as well as the way they combine with their neighbors to create a whole even greater than its parts.

We start with the Great division of the organ. Its name is self explanatory; it is the grandest part of the instrument. In Opus 288 it is played by the middle manual keyboard. Its foundation stop is the 8′ Open Diapason. ‘Diapason’ is a uniquely English term for a type of pipes often called ‘Principals’ in other organ cultures. Its tone is produced by the most common form of organ pipes, a cylinder, neither too wide or narrow in diameter, atop a conical foot. The pipes you see in the facade are Diapasons. The tone is rich but balanced, neither too round or too thin, but just right. This gives them a magic facility, for when one plays a four-part hymn or a fugue on a good Diapason every voice can be clearly heard as you process through the music, yet they meld into a single sound of superb harmony. This Open Diapason in Opus 288 is an exceptionally beautiful example. A little larger in scale than usual, it sings out effortlessly into the beautiful acoustics of St. John’s Church, suffusing the space with an aura of restrained ecstasy.

Although this Open Diapason can be considered the foundation of the entire organ, it may be said that the most important ‘stop’ in this instrument is the acoustic of the building. Sounds in this room are bathed in a glorious envelope which continues to ring softly a bit after the last note. Yet there is still a clarity so that the details of the music and timbre are distinct even at the farthest ends of the space.

Above the 8′ Open Diapason sings the crisper timbre of the 4′ Principal. It plays an octave higher than unison but its real purpose is to form with the 8′ a chorus that is brighter and clearer. The next ensemble building stop is the 2′ Fifteenth, still another Diapason voice that adds brilliance and sparkle to the mix. The 2 2/3′ Twelfth adds a golden tang to the chorus, but the build-up doesn’t end there; the Sesquialtera adds three more sets of Diapason pipes to complete the Diapason chorus. In the lowest octaves it consists of 2′, 1 1/3′, and 1′ pitches, but at middle c it breaks back to 4′, 2 2/3′, and 2′ pitches. By means of these breaks the extreme bass is brightened, and the treble is given added breadth. We usually think of the term ‘Sesquialtera’ as a compound stop containing a 1 3/5′ tierce-sounding rank, and in the old English tradition the capstone of the Diapason chorus usually did contain such a rank. In this case, however, the old term was retained but there is no tierce-sounding rank.

Underpinning this chorus is a 16′ Bourdon which adds weight and heft to the ensemble. At unison pitch is a beautiful Melodia, an open wood stop that sings sweet, mellow solos, but also adds body to the Diapason chorus. A 4′ version of this color, the Flute, combines with the Melodia for a fine little flute chorus. For more verve the Great contains two fine reed stops, the 8′ Trumpet and the 4′ Clarion, the latter a rare treasure for this period. The Trumpet is a fine solo stop for a Trumpet Tune. Hook reeds are famous for their fiery yet disciplined color, blending perfectly with the Diapason chorus for a blaze of excitement. The Clarion tops off this excitement with an even brighter flame.

The Swell division reaches its full potential in Opus 288, becoming a perfect foil to the Great chorus, or providing a rich assortment of various ‘color’ effects, but perhaps most important, acting as a means of adding dynamic shading to the Full Organ. This is because the Swell has reached a parity of power with the Great so that when it is coupled to the Great manual it makes a real difference — an expressive difference afforded by opening or closing the Swell shutters.

To some extent, then, the Swell stop list is a mirror of the Great. Here again is the 8′ Open Diapason, 4′ Principal, and 2′ Fifteenth, and a 16′ Bourdon beneath. But the topping in this case is called Dulciana Cornet and it does have a tierce-sounding rank. It is as if the Hook brothers had gone ‘modern’ in the Great, eliminating the tierce, but retained the old recipe in the Swell.

One of the ‘color’ effects is the 8′ Viola di Gamba, the softest stop in the organ, allowing extremely delicate shading. The 8′ Stopped Diapason is a Chimney Flute that has a beautiful, cool timbre and adds a fulness to the Swell chorus. A fairly recent addition to the Hook brothers tonal repertory was the 4′ Flute harmonique, but they already had it perfected. It is a stunningly beautiful solo register but also forms flute ensembles and actually adds to the full chorus. The 8′ Trumpet is quite similar to the Great version, but the 8′ Oboe is a milder voice with a unique timbre. It blends smoothly with the foundation stops in a rich, romantic harmony. For solos adding the Flute harmonique to the Oboe enhances its mysterious timbre. The Swell stops can be affected by the Tremulant, a device which causes the wind pressure to oscillate, imparting a pleasant vibrato to the sound.

The Choir division, played on the lowest manual, is of a design unique to the Hook brothers’ 1860’s period. It has a much milder Diapason chorus. The 8′ Open Diapason is somewhat similar to its siblings on the other two manuals, but the 4′ above it is a Dulciana called Celestina. Actually there is a chorus of Dulcianas because the 16′ Eolina, 8′ Dulciana, and 4′ Celestina are all Dulcianas, and belong to the classical notion of a Dulciana as a clear-toned ‘echo Diapason.’ One can achieve an amazing 4-tiered echo affect by drawing these stops and the 8′, 4′, and 2′ Diapasons on the other two manuals. One can then play a passage on the Great, echo it on the Swell with the shutters opened, echo it again on the Swell with the shutters closed, and finally on the Choir, played an octave higher. You will hear four perfectly graduated versions of the same Diapason chorus timbre.

The Choir has other delightful ‘color’ stops. The 8′ Viol d’Amour is a Bell Gamba, a pipe construction tapered like a Gemshorn, but with a flared bell at the top. It has a keen string tone but also a quick speech. The Stopped Diapason has wooden pipes, contrasting with the metal ones on the Swell. The Hook brothers never seemed to get the spelling of the Flute a Chiminee quite right, but this stop is delicately hued and also combines in many ways to create delicate little tonal mixtures. The 2′ Piccolo is a broad-scaled open flue, a type often named ‘Night Horn,’ and is a crystalline sparkle above the 8′ Stopped Diapason. The Choir reed stop is divided into bass and treble registers. The lowest 12 notes are called Corno di Basetto, another spelling challenge for the Hooks, and the rest is named Cremona. This name has nothing to do with Stradivarius and Amati violins, but rather is an English corruption of the German Krummhorn or French Cromorne, meaning ‘Crook Horn.’ Here it is a colorful , rather mellow Clarinet timbre.

By means of couplers the combined powers of the three manuals can be played on the Great manual but the Choir to Great coupler is actually a 16′ coupler. This enables two surprising effects. First, by coupling the Choir 16′ Eolina and 8′ Open Diapason to the Great via the 16′ coupler, you hear the amazing sound of a 32′ Eolina and 16′ Open Diapason beneath the Great chorus. (Of course the Eolina goes down only to tenor c so its 32′ effect on the Great begins at middle c.) This adds a perfectly balanced gravity to the ensemble. The other effect is achieved by coupling the Swell to the Choir by means of the unison coupler. Because this is all mechanical key action, the Swell is thus ‘pulled through’ by the Choir to Great 16′ coupler. The result is Great plus Swell at 16′ and 8′ plus Choir at 16′. This makes for a superlative grand Full Organ, but you will need to eat your Wheaties for breakfast because the key resistance gets pretty formidable!

The Pedal division is the weakest part of the Bangor organ. Originally there were only two stops — the 16′ Double Open Diapason and the 16′ Double Dulciana, both constructed of wood. Provision was made for the addition of a third stop and a 16′ Posaune copied from opus 288’s sister organ in Woburn, Massachusetts, was added in 1981. But for any higher pitches in the Pedal it is necessary to use the manual to pedal couplers. (The sister organ in Woburn has an 8′ Violoncello which adds some useful flexibility to lighter registrations.) Still, because there are three manuals to draw upon, it is usually possible to achieve a good Pedal registration.

Opus 288 is an instrument on which you can happily play an immense swath of the organ repertory. The reason for this is its temporal location in the historical progress of organ music. It is definitely a post-baroque instrument, but not so far ahead that the key virtues of that period style are not still abundantly present. It is definitely a product of the high Romantic era of organ music, and thus is ideal for composers like Mendelssohn, Franck, and Schumann. It definitely does not indulge in the excesses of the early 20th century when many of the disciplines of the classic organ were abandoned, but that period seems to have produced little music of lasting value. And when the counter revolution erupted in the late 20th centuries returning to us an appreciation for the classic verities, opus 288 was ready for modern composer like Hindemith, Pepping, Alain, or Pinkham. Whether you are a listener or a player you will be beguiled by the beauties and satisfactions of this marvelous musical monument.