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Handel Organ Conference
Edinburgh, August 1998

A One-day Conference on the Historical Background to the New "Handel"
Organ in St Cecilia's Hall

10:00, Saturday, 15 August 1998

Laigh Room, St Cecilia's Hall, Niddry Street, Cowgate, Edinburgh, U.K.

In 1993 the Russell Collection of Early Keyboard Instruments at the
University of Edinburgh was able to purchase a new chamber organ with an
enharmonic tuning arrangement.  The restoration of this organ has now been
completed and the organ has been installed permanently in the Laigh Room
at St Cecilia's Hall.  Ever since its installation the organ has excited a
great deal of interest by everyone who has come into contact with it.  It
sounds wonderful, it is crisp and clear, and it has a light responsive
During the course of the restoration by Dominic Gwynn he was able to
establish that the organ was made by Thomas Parker of London, and it can
be dated to the period around 1765.  The instrument is similar in many
ways to another organ which Parker built for the Foundling Hospital in
London, and which was installed there in 1768.  Before his death in 1759
George Frederick Handel became an important benefactor of the Foundling
Hospital, gave a number of performances of Messiah there, and donated the
proceeds of these performances to the Foundling Hospital.  Handel even
donated an organ to the Foundling Hospital but it was unfortunately of
poor workmanship and had to be replaced by the new organ by Thomas Parker. 
The construction and tuning of the new organ, like the organ now in St
Cecilia's Hall, was inspired by the writings of Robert White, a Cambridge
don and authority on tuning.  These two organs were built with special
registration levers which enabled them to be tuned in White's tuning
system and provided separate pipes for c sharp/d flat, d sharp/e flat, g
sharp/a flat and a sharp/b flat. 

The tuning of the organ and the provision of these extra notes must have
had important implications on the performances of Messiah which were given
at the Foundling Hospital in the years after 1768.  Because of the
importance of the new Russell Collection organ and because it is such a
fine instrument, it has been decided to organise a conference at the
beginning of the Edinburgh International Festival this year with the organ
as centrepiece.  The object of this conference will be to explore the
implications to the performances of Messiah and the other music performed
at the Foundling Hospital of the tuning and construction of the Thomas
Parker organ and, in a similar way of the tuning and construction of the
new St Cecilia's organ.  A concert of some of the music of Handel will be
given during the conference by Dr John Kitchen of the Faculty of Music,
and will include a demonstration of some of the advantages and problems of
the organ's tuning system and extra pipes in illustrations from Messiah,
as well as in music by some of Handel's contemporaries. 

Speakers include 
A.C.N. MacKenzie of Ord (Smith's tuning), 
Dominic Gwynn (the organ restoration), 
Donald Burrows (the organs and organists at the Foundling Hospital), 
John Kitchen (Handel and the Parker organs) and 
myself (a Kirckman harpsichord and Smith's tuning).  
The cost of the one day conference is 20 pounds sterling including lunch
and the concert.  It will start at 10:00 on Saturday, 15 August 1998,
and will be held in the Laigh Room, St Cecilia's Hall, Niddry Street,
Cowgate, Edinburgh.  Put it in your diary now!  Details of the
conference including an application form will be posted soon on the
WWW.  Any further information can be obtained from me at

Grant O'Brien, Curator,
The Russell Collection of Early Keyboard Instruments
The University of Edinburgh