Vidas: Let’s start Episode 130 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here. Today’s question was sent by Aleksey, and he wants to know about registration: “What are some of the perfect, or worst, stop combinations?” That’s a broad question, right Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, it’s a very broad question.
Vidas: Where should we start?
Ausra: I think, you know, not understanding the style well can make you to put wrong stops for your pieces.
Vidas: Remember sometimes we go to churches, and...especially not in Vilnius, but in other cities where people play the organ, but they completely--they don’t know what they’re using, what type of instruments, and what type of stops they should use. Sometimes they play with all the stops drawn out, and with vibrato, with tremolo.
Ausra: Yes, that’s right, yes.
Vidas: Have you heard that?
Ausra: Yes, I have heard that actually many times.
Vidas: It’s like a big Hammond organ--although it’s a pipe organ. It sounds quite funny!
Ausra: I know, or when you use some undulating stop and you don’t use an 8’ stop.
Ausra: That’s another thing; I have heard that also many times.
Vidas: Or when you use mixtures without foundations.
Ausra: Yes. It’s also a horrifying sound, at least for my ears.
Vidas: The reason they do that is sometimes mixtures are positioned closest to the player, in the bottom row--
Ausra: And it’s easy to pull them!
Vidas: Easy to find them! And the principal is on the top, and you have to reach for it. And maybe an amateur organist just looks at the closest stop and draws it!
Ausra: I know, it’s a hard thing, you know. And it takes time to develop good taste, and knowledge about different styles and different registrations; and how to adjust, for example, to a particular organ which is not built in that period, or not styled in that period, but you still have to play music from some particular period...
Vidas: What organ do you know the most, Ausra?
Ausra: St. Johns’, probably.
Vidas: I agree.
Ausra: And of course, our practice organ. I know it’s very big! It has 2 stops!
Vidas: Yeah-- 8’ and 4’!
Ausra: And pull-down pedal.
Vidas: There is so much to learn about those 2 stops.
Ausra: I know.
Vidas: Soft, and softer!
Vidas: Hahaha. Do you have a favorite organ stop in our church?
Ausra: Well...well...my very favorite? ...Cornet. If I had to choose one, it would be the Cornet stop.
Vidas: If I had to choose...I would choose two, actually: Unda Maris, and Viola Gamba. At first, Unda Maris was better for me than Gamba; but recently, I’ve been discovering such beautiful (and quite intense!) colors with the upper range of Viola Gamba on the third manual, that I kind of keep improvising on these stops all the time.
Ausra: Yes. And I find that Cornet really beautiful; it’s very nice for a solo voice.
Vidas: I think in every recital, we use Cornet at least once.
Ausra: Yes. And there are also other nice stops. Some flutes are really nice. And I like Posaune in the pedal--Posaune 16’ in the pedals.
Vidas: Especially the low E♭?
Ausra: Haha yes!
Vidas: Why E♭?
Ausra: Because it makes such a funny sound. And it’s fun to play Bach’s Prelude in E♭ Major, where you have to...press it!
Vidas: Oh, the B section?
Ausra: Yes, yes.
“Ba-ba-ba-bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum...BAHHH!” Haha! That low E♭!
Ausra: Yes. It sounds funny! So, if we could tell people about things that they should probably not do while registering...I think even playing Trio Sonata by J. S. Bach...
Ausra: I would say you should always add 16’.
Vidas: In the manuals or in the pedals?
Ausra: In the pedals. In the pedals, because I have heard trio sonatas played so many times; and people not using 16’ in the pedal--I think that’s a principle mistake.
Vidas: Remember, we recently heard even Bach cantatas--Christmas Oratorio--performed--
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: And they didn’t play the continuo arias with double bass. Doubled bass was always present with choir movements, right? So always that octave-down sound was present in the loud sections; but when somebody sang an aria with 1 or 2 instruments, they didn’t use 16’.
Vidas: Which was, I think, not a good choice.
Ausra: No; in general, I like a low foundation, that gravity in the pedal. And I would suggest to always play with a 16’ stop in the pedal, unless there is some indication by the composer not to do that, or if it has like a solo voice, or it should be played on some particular stop.
Vidas: You sound like Mendelssohn, now.
Vidas: He wrote in his Preface to his 6 Organ Sonatas that you should always include a 16’ stop unless there is indication otherwise.
Ausra: Because, you know, without a 16’ stop in the pedal, organ loses half of its beauty.
Vidas: But then there is the question of the historical period, right? Before the 17th century, for example, 16’ in the pedal was not very common.
Ausra: Well, yes, because most of that music before that period was written only for manuals, so you don’t have that trouble. Think about, like, early Italian music, early French music--they didn’t have a developed pedal, so they did not need 16’.
Vidas: What about German?
Ausra: Well, I’m talking about non-German, starting from non-German. Look how the organs are developed; I mean, look at their huge pedal towers…
Vidas: But before the 17th century, 16’ pedals even in Germany was not always chosen.
Ausra: Well...do you mean if the performer would not choose it, or that it was absent from the organ?
Vidas: Performer, of course. Because of course, those big huge pedal towers sometimes include 32’ stops. But cantus firmus in the pedals, when they used chorale notes in the long values played by feet, they did not always include 16’.
Ausra: So then you have cantus firmus in the pedal. I already mentioned it’s when the pedal has a solo voice, then actually yes, you don’t include the 16’, but that’s another story.
Vidas: Unless it’s the bass.
Vidas: In the bass, yes.
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: But if it’s in tenor, it’s 8’ level; if it’s alto, maybe 4’ level; if it’s soprano, maybe 2’ level. Right?
Ausra: Yes. But for most cases, still you can find, you know...If you would compare repertoire with 16’ stop in the pedal and without it, I would say that with-16’ would win over those cases without 16’.
Vidas: Especially the repertoire that we are accustomed to today.
Ausra: Yes; and plus, if you are a church organist--if you are accompanying congregational singing--I just would not imagine that you would not use 16’ in the pedal.
Vidas: Yes, you’re right. For congregational singing, 16’ stops are essential.
Ausra: Yes. What about putting 16’ in the manuals? What would you suggest for people to do then?
Vidas: There are choices when you want to have more gravity. And for example, some organs don’t have a pedalboard at all, but they have 16’ in the manual. Then you have stop combinations with 16’; and it’s a little bit muddy, but it’s a broader sound, with more gravity. It fits sometimes. And then there was a question with mixtures. Sometimes mixtures are high, sometimes low. With low mixtures, like in our St. John’s Church, the first manual mixture is based on the 4’ level; which means that you do need to have 16’ in the manual.
Ausra: And I have heard many times, when organists come, and they just don’t use the 16’ in the manual but use that mixture--and it sounds, actually, not good.
Vidas: Can you use mixtures with strings, for example? Is it a good idea?
Ausra: Well...not so much.
Vidas: You don’t...?
Ausra: I don’t like that combination. Although I’ve heard some organists do that. What about you?
Vidas: Yeah, sometimes. If the string is soft--and I don’t mean, here, undulating strings, like Viola Celeste, but just like Viola or--
Vidas: Gamba. Then sometimes it’s okay, especially when I improvise, and I build up a pleno sound, and I don’t have time to take out some of the strings--it sounds convincing, to me.
Ausra: Well, if I want to strengthen my principal chorus, then I add flutes, not strings. That’s what I prefer.
Vidas: Do you think flutes eat more air, or strings?
Ausra: Flutes, probably.
Vidas: So in our case, in our organ, there is some inconsistency with the winding system, and sometimes those “big” stops which require a lot of air don’t necessarily fit the large sounds--I mean, the large registration. I mean here, the 16’ flutes, on the third manual or on the second manual--I don’t use them.
Ausra: Well, I don’t use them either; but I use 8’ flutes, and that doesn’t hurt the organ so much. Other than the wind system. So basically, registration is a tricky thing. You can know it theoretically very well; but on each instrument you need to adjust, and you need to listen. Because sometimes, you know, if you just pull out the stops that are required for that piece, and you will not listen to it, you might get a disaster, because each organ is a little bit different. But, like, we talked sometime about that organ in Nida that we have on the coast in Lithuania, that has just a ridiculous mixture. It’s so awful! I never use it! Even if I’m playing a piece by J. S. Bach that requires mixture and pleno registration--still, I don’t manage it. It’s very ugly!
Vidas: It is too fierce, too...screaming.
Vidas: Too high-pitched.
Vidas: Like a cymbal, but too bright.
Ausra: I know. And I’m thinking if I would use it, after my performance, probably the church would be empty--everybody would just leave!
Vidas: Maybe it’s ok to use it just once in awhile, just for a special effect. And that’s it.
Ausra: But, well, if you are playing, let’s say, a prelude and fugue by Bach--
Vidas: A long one…!
Ausra: A long one! Then, you know, hardly anybody would survive it. And I’ve heard organists use that mixture, you know. So you always just need to listen to the organ stop, and to your registration.
Vidas: And how it sounds in the church, in the sanctuary.
Ausra: Yes. So it’s always a good idea, if you’re registering pieces for your recital, to have an assistant or somebody that could help you, to play a little bit of your music, so you could just go downstairs and listen to how it sounds.
Vidas: If you don’t have an assistant, put a recorder or a phone down in the pews, and then record yourself for a short moment, and see if you like the combinations; and then come back, listen to it, and change something if you don’t.
Ausra: Yes, that’s a good idea, too.
Vidas: Thank you guys! This was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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