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the art of organ-building

George Ashdown Audsley
Dover Publication, 1965
(a reprint of the original, published in hardback by Dodd, Mead & co, 1905)
Volume I: ISBN 0 486 21314 5, 600 pages, paperback, US $17.95
Volume II: ISBN 0 486 21315 3, 758 pages, paperback, US $17.95

Audsley's magnum opus runs to 1358 pages and two volumes, and deserves a place in any library, especially at the reasonable price the Dover reprint is currently available at. Published in 1905, it is inevitably of its time, although Audsley does not indulge the worst excesses of that period. Many of his personal ideas on organ tonal design described in this book never found wide acceptance, such as his progressive mixtures. However, the book is a superb snapshot of organ-building at that time, helped by the technical drawings of Audsley, who was an architect by trade, and many attractive case drawings by A. G. Hill.

Volume I is concerned with the design, position and case of the organ, and spends considerable time describing what is necessary for an organ in a concert hall or the music room of a large house. Some of Audsley's acoustic theory is of the hand-waving variety and has been superseded by later research. The volume is completed by a stop dictionary and an interesting comparison between the tonal resources of the pipe organ and and orchestra. By no means is Audsley solely concerned with the organ as a quasi-orchestra, but this was written in the heyday of orchestral transcriptions and imitative stops.

Volume II examines each part of the organ in turn: the controls, the mechanisms and the pipes themselves. The whole is lavishly illustrated and no other study of the organ has gone into such depth. The faults of Audsley lie in his presentation of everything, including his opinions, as fact, and even some of his factual data and diagrams give false impressions. Coupled with the vast changes in both fashion and technology in the last century, Audsley's volumes are not quite the authoritative guide claimed on the cover. Readers would be ill-advised to base their knowledge entirely upon these books, but for depth of coverage and the enjoyment of reading an elegantly prepared classic, they cannot be beaten.


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