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The organs of St Mary-le-Bow

The main organ in the west gallery was built by Kenneth Tickell & Company in 2010, replacing a former instrument by Rushworth & Dreaper. The casework, designed by John Hayward and made by Dove Brothers, dates from the rebuilding of the church in 1964 after its destruction by enemy action in 1941.

The case seems to be loosely based on the work of the Alsace Silbermanns and this French influence was carried into the stop-list. Hence fine mutation registers and reeds with great character. The organ has also a Germanic pleno, rendering it highly suitable for the music of J.S. Bach and other German baroque composers. The French influence enables authentic performances of all periods. In fact, the careful choice and blending of the sensitively voiced registers and the superb ambient acoustic in the church, makes it possible to play almost any style of music with convincing colour, richness and depth. This organ is highly acclaimed for its ‘singing’ quality. It is also fitted with a MIDI interface, enabling it to drive synthesizers and computers. This opens up a further range of colour, making it possible for other sounds and sonorities, especially those of an avant-garde ‘electronic workshop’ nature (formerly called ‘prepared tape’).

The chamber organ’s origin and builder is unknown, but follows a modest early 19th-century design. It is often used as a continuo instrument, accompanying instruments and voices in the nave.

Alan Wilson (b. 1947) was Director of Music at St Mary-le-Bow from 1986-2018. He won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, London, where he studied organ, piano, harpsichord and composition, Nicholas Danby being his organ professor. His main teacher for composition was John Lambert, but he also took part in master classes given by Nadia Boulanger. He won a further scholarship to the Amsterdam Conservatorium, where he specialised in early keyboard music with Gustav Leonhardt, one of the greatest exponents of this genre.

Alan was formerly Director of Music at Queen Mary College, University of London, (1976–2014), and at the University Church of Christ the King, London (1973–86).
He has been Organist and Director of Music at St Mary-le-Bow since 1986, working with two successive Rectors, the Revd Victor Stock and the Revd George Bush. As well as being organist, he directs a small group of professional singers and has composed and arranged much music for this church.

As well as the Toccata on ‘Oranges and Lemons’ and the ‘Bow Bells’ Mass, other works include the Requiem of 2015, a setting of the words ‘Ubi caritas’ for Maundy Thursday, numerous carol arrangements, duets and solo adaptations of larger works, and many other anthems and psalm settings. Some of his compositions and arrangements can be heard on the CD ‘Turn again’, some copies still available from St Mary-le-Bow.

Alan delights in organ improvisation, and as a composer has fulfilled commissions from churches, schools, colleges and cathedrals, both in the UK and abroad. He is one of the music directors for the BBC Radio 4 Daily Service, and as recitalist and continuo player he has toured extensively, notably in Germany, France, Finland and Australia. For many years he performed and recorded in the early music ensemble The Consort of Musicke. He has contributed significantly to the work of the Royal School of Church Music and was made an honorary Associate in 2016.

Toccata on ‘Oranges and Lemons’
Composer Alan Wilson writes: Everyone will know the nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’ with its reference to ‘the great bell of Bow’, and the cockney association if one is born within the sound of Bow Bells. The tower clock also chimes every 15 minutes to a melody by C.V. Stanford.

The origins of this toccata date back to an improvisation I did at an organ recital a few years ago, centred on the history and associations of St Mary-le-Bow. This sparked interest and the piece came to be used at other functions and often as a wedding voluntary. Every time I played it, it was in my head, so in the summer of 2016 I decided to write it down for future performances. I set about a carefully constructed piece using both the ‘Oranges and Lemons’ tune and the ‘Bow Bells’ carillon chime (on which I had previously written a Mass setting).

The two tunes work in dialogue as a sort of first and second subject, eventually merging and culminating in a stretto. The style is exuberant and playful, the bubbly ‘oranges and lemons’ and the chorale-like nature of the carillon chime eventually break down into smaller motifs. The last line of the tune to the nursery rhyme, referring to ‘the Great Bell of Bow’, is given a Regeresque treatment in a resounding chromatic coda.

click on the You Tube link to listen:

The Tickell organ 2010
Alan Wilson 01 LR