Magazine article Musical Times

From Bath to Bach

Magazine article Musical Times

From Bath to Bach

Article excerpt

From Bath to Bach A provincial organ builder in Victorian England: William Sweetland of Bath Gordon DW Curtis Ashgate (Farnham, 201 1); xix, 307pp; £65, $124.95. ISBN 978 ? 4094 1752 I.

Gordon Curtis is a member of the British Institute of Organ Studies (BIOS), whose speciality is documenting and saving, where it can, the country's organ legacy, both the instruments and a recognition of their historic role. Curtis also benefited from the professional Masters and Doctoral Programmes in organology run by the University of Reading in the days when Music Departments felt it their duty to train students to make a useful contribution to the community.

After introducing life in Victorian England, perhaps inevitably without great depth, the author introduces Sweetland and his residences in Bath where his public activities as painter, architect and organ-builder were based (and where he kept a lady he was not married to). Painstaking research in censuses, local archives, inventories, BIOS's National Pipe Organ Register and other such material has produced a detailed, no-stone-unturned picture of lively activities in a major provincial city, a case study such as could be undertaken for any roughly comparable town (Cheltenham? Norwich? Brighton?) or for any branch of contemporary musical life (in theatres, market-places, concert halls, town halls). Although the density of information is not very rewarding for a casual reader, the roll-call of personnel, towns and instruments results in a useful reference book for diocesan advisers as well as the lively band of organ-devotees.

Not the only organ-builder at the time in Bath or the West Country, Sweedand (1822- 1910) is praised by the author for the quality of his workmanship and materials, with some 40 instruments alone produced during a peak in the late 1860s, modest church and chapel organs but with no major commission for a cathedral or town-hall organ. …

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