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The Reverend Andrew Freeman (1876-1947) is a name familiar to most organ historians – not least because of his important work on the organ builder ‘Father’ Smith, written in 1926 and edited by John Rowntree (Positif Press, 1977). This new publication, launched at the British Institute of Organ Studies’ 40th Anniversary Conference in Cambridge, is a record of Freeman’s important photography and writings which are now deposited in the British Organ Archive in the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham. His photography of organ cases commenced in the 1890s, continued during his employment (from the age of 39) in the Church of England, and from 1923 as vicar of Standish-with-Hardwicke in Gloucestershire. From there he must have made a curious impression on his parishioners as he continued to travel by bicycle or public transport with his camera equipment to take photographs of interesting organ cases.

Under Katharine Pardee’s editorship, four organ historians have been commissioned to write about aspects of Freeman’s work: Nicholas Thistlethwaite examines his life and activities; Christopher Kent looks at organography before Freeman’s activities; James Berrow’s chapter provides an assessment of Freeman’s work as a critic and designer of organ cases, and of his consultancy and written work; and Andrew Hayden describes the photographic techniques and the equipment available to Freeman during his lifetime. Pardee’s contribution is an overview of his journals from his six trips to the continent in the period around the second world war. Much of the book – well over 200 pages – is devoted to Freeman’s photographic plates of organ cases, both small and large, throughout the United Kingdom, as well as in France, Belgium, Austria, Germany and Switzerland. His foreign excursions were undertaken between 1927 and 1939, with one final trip in 1946. Extracts from his fascinating notebooks (originally written up and published in The Organ and Musical Opinion) are part-reproduced in miniature facsimile in a series of colour pages.

The black-and-white photographic plates are perhaps the most interesting part of the book – providing a snapshot of instruments and church interiors between 1895 and 1945. Some wonderful artistic casework (photographed by Freeman) has subsequently been lost (Jesus College and Clare College, Cambridge, St Clement Danes, Strand, Radley College), altered (Trinity College, Cambridge) and many interesting period consoles have been transformed through modernisation. Just as interesting is the occasional clutter in some churches – including consoles and choir stalls strewn with music, psalters and hymn books. The photographs record church interiors with pews which have subsequently been ripped out, together with interesting items of period furniture fixtures and fittings in churches, cathedrals and halls. A number of the plates have an extract from Freeman’s occasionally entertaining (but usually erudite) commentaries: ‘A bar of wood across the front of the pipes is an unnecessary and mistaken feature’ (Christ Church, Chalford, Gloucestershire), and, of the ‘curious contraption’ at Tavistock: ‘It would be quite easy to call it opprobrious names’.

This is a book to dip into again and again, and I congratulate BIOS on marking its 40th anniversary with such a noble piece of scholarship.

WILLIAM MCVICKER Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Choir & Organ, 2016 - ©Rhinegold Publishing