concerts: chamber organ
about the instrument
The existence of the chamber organ at Knole House, an enormous estate in Sevenoaks, Kent, is traceable back to at least 1605, making it the oldest preserved instrument of its type in England. It bears remarkable witness to a widespread tradition, of which very little survived the destructions of the civil war.
A noble example of Jacobean cabinetmaking, it is built entirely of oak, even up to the tiniest pipe of its fifteenth (2') rank, and presents its keyboard of barely four octaves at the level of a standing player's hands. First stationed in the knight's hall, its singing tone and sprightly speech (which responds gratifyingly to use of 'old' fingering) equally befit polyphonic genres and dance music.
Our instrument is a reconstruction of the original Knole organ by Martin Renshaw and Karl Friedrich Wieneke, and can be heard on CD The Spirit of Byrd (Helikon 1016). It radiates a completely different presence than a church organ, and seems to allow the music to unfold naturally. Tuned according to historical practice, it lets one enjoy the calm sonority of pure thirds (meantone temperament boasts eight or so out of twelve, with 'wolf' fifth where the spiral breaks).
Two hand-pulled bellows supply the organ with wind, thus turning each piece into an object of collaboration - a kind of partner sport.
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