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William Leslie Sumner
Macdonald, 1962 (3rd edition)
544 pages, hardback, out of print

Writers of organ literature are often also involved in organ design, and it is interesting to see how successful their tonal designs are in practice. Dr. Sumner was a consultant for many schemes, and his tonal ethos could best be described as eclectic. At Blackburn in 1965 his initial proposals combined much of the existing Cavaillé-Coll pipework with new upperwork in a manner similar to, for example, Degens and Rippen's early rebuilds, and more sympathetic to the existing material than Ralph Downes was at Paisley Abbey. At St. Mark's in Sheffield (Cousans, 1964) there is more eclecticism - in an entirely new organ, an Open Wood and multiple diapasons rub shoulders with a Krummhorn and Blockflöte in a manner that would upset purists but that works well on a practical basis.

Dr. Sumner's treatise is perhaps the stereotypical book on the pipe organ - written as the result of a great deal of research, including much pre-WWII study in Germany now impossible due to Allied bombing. The book covers the usual history of the organ's development, principles of construction and sound production, and briefly touches on the study and use of the organ, something perhaps too rare in such books. A large appendix is given to a hundred organ specifications, including two multum-in-parvo designs by Lt-Col. George Dixon featuring a Corno di bassetto as a Swell 16' reed. Sumner went on to use this tonal device himself (e.g. at Branston, 1966).

Since Dr. Sumner's book was last published, many other books have developed aspects of the contents further and illustrated them better, but as a whole it has yet to be superseded in scope, and the author's balanced consideration of different historical organ styles remains refreshing.


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