The Organ

The Box of Whistles: the History and Recent Development of Organ Case Design

John Norman: The Box of Whistles: the History and Recent Development of Organ Case Design
Azure (an imprint of SPCK Publishing)
ISBN 978-1-9026-9431-3

What a splendid book this is! It is lavishly illustrated with some 250 line drawings and (mainly) colour photographs and provides an excellent introduction to, and history of, organ case design. And who better to write such a book than John Norman, given his experience, expertise and track record in the field? The work begins with a short introductory chapter explaining what an organ case actually is, and including a useful description of how an organ’s mechanism functions. Chapter two looks at the ‘front’ pipes and treats us to an erudite description of the different types of pipes and pipe mouths. The next chapter then treat the subject chronologically, starting with Gothic and Renaissance case designs, and then focussing on Father Smith and Renatus Harris (how important they were and what a desert they must have found after a combination of the Reformation and the Commonwealth!). There is a separate chapter on Queen Anne and Georgian cases – noting interesting developments (and perhaps an increasing decadence in design?), followed by a study of nineteenth-century cases and the reductio ad absurdam that often turned into zinc pipe racks; Henry Willis I is singled out in this respect. The next two chapters look at the Gothic revival in case design on the one hand and the maintenance if not the revitalisation of classical models on the other. American influences and neo-Brutalism are next studied, with the examples given showing a gradual return to a greater ‘grace’ in casework. The final chapter looks at present-day ‘eclecticism’ as the author describes it. This is a fine book, and a very good read. John Norman writes knowledgeably and easily. This title should be on the shelves of all interested or involved with the organ, whether maker, player or devotee. Congratulations Mr Norman!