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twenty-one years of organ-building

Maurice Forsyth-Grant
Positif Press, 1987
ISBN 0 906894 14 X
208 pages, hardback, 29.95

This book is the autobiography of an organ-building firm, if there can be such a thing. Grant, Degens and Bradbeer were probably the most influential British firm of the late 1960s with their aurally and visually distinctive organs dividing organists and audiences alike. Twenty-one years is something of an understatement, as Maurice Forsyth-Grant, the motivator behind the firm and author of this account, was involved in organ-building for most of his life.

Forsyth-Grant built his first organ at the age of 22, having learnt his craft by hanging around organ-builders in his spare time. It was strictly a hobby until 1960, when a meeting in a pub with three men from the failing Compton organ-builders led to the creation of one of the most influential organ-building firms of the 20th century. Inspired by tours of continental organs, Grant, Degens and Bradbeer, as it was to become, developed an uncompromising style of neo-classical organs. Although only about forty organs were built, the effect they had on the British organ scene was very significant. The organs themselves were often too bright for conservative tastes, but they were always coherent and innovative, and arguably more successful than their imitators. The organs remain controversial today: of the organs mentioned in the book, many have already been altered or moved.

When he retired from the business, Maurice Forsyth-Grant wanted to publish a record of the organs he was involved in building. But this is more than just a collection of stop-lists, as it returns to his early influences, through the tours of continental organ-builders, to the design and constraints of each opus in the Grant, Degens and Bradbeer catalogue. Equally fascinating is the appendix of organs that were nearly built, and the wealth of personal photographs and insights into the politics and constraints of the business. This book isn't cheap, but makes fascinating reading.

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