#AskVidasAndAusra 71: How to do proper registrations for standard pieces (Bach, Vierne, Franck. etc.)
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 71 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Today’s question was sent by Matt, and he writes that he wants to learn how to do proper registrations for standard pieces (Bach, Vierne, Franck. etc.) and good registration approaches in general.
That’s a very broad question, Ausra, right?
Ausra: Well it is, yes; you could write several doctoral dissertations on this topic!
Vidas: And in fact, a lot of books have been written concerning separate topics of the registration for Bach, separate for Franck, separate for Vierne, right? Quentin Faulkner wrote on Bach registration, Barbara Owen on Baroque music registration in general, Orpha Ochse and William J. Peterson wrote on French romantic music, Fenner Douglas on French Classical music, there is a classic text by George Audsley - about the organ stops and the registration in general.
Ausra: Yes, these are different styles and must be registered differently.
Vidas: But probably Matt doesn’t expect us to give everything in those few minutes that we’re answering questions today; but maybe we could start with some pointers, to start with.
Ausra: Yes, let’s do that.
Vidas: So when a person, let’s say, takes a piece of Bach, and is ready to start registering it, maybe he’s learned some notes with pedals and hands, and the time approaches when he or she wants to perform it in public. And it’s time to start registering it. What would you think about first, when you register the piece? Let’s say, a chorale-based piece, a chorale prelude.
Ausra: Well, you have to think what you want for the piece sound and how that piece is put together, because, like, chorale preludes, they are very different. Let’s say in Orgelbüchlein you could have chorale with ornamented cantus firmus, and definitely then you would want to play those different parts on different manuals, and register them differently. Maybe to put a cornet stop for solo voice, and a couple of soft flutes for accompaniment (8’ and 4’); and a couple of soft flutes in the pedal (16’ and 8’).
Ausra: That’s one of the possible registrations. Or you could take not necessarily cornet, but a reed stop for a solo voice.
Vidas: Yeah, usually you could play with cornet, reed, then maybe mutation combination, like flute 8’, 4’ and 1 ⅓’, or high-pitched third 1 ⅗’ or a fifth, like 1-⅓, to make it more colorful. Can you play the solo line in the principal, alone?
Ausra: Well, in some cases you could do that…
Vidas: If it’s very beautiful?
Ausra: Yes, if it’s beautiful, but that’s not often the case.
Vidas: Sometimes on modern organs, a better solution is to play the 4’ principal, but one octave lower. Usually they are better-scaled.
Vidas: But first, Ausra, you mentioned you have to discover if the piece is to be played on one manual or two manuals, right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s the first step.
Vidas: If the lines have a melody, a solo melody, or not, and then register appropriately. What if the chorale prelude has to be played on one manual? All parts together, but on one manual--with pedal, perhaps.
Ausra: Well, such chorales often work well for organo pleno.
Ausra: And of course, it depends on the character. Sometimes you don’t want to add all the stops together; maybe just use a couple of principals.
Vidas: Should you read the text of the chorale?
Ausra: Definitely, yes.
Vidas: That will explain to you if the chorale prelude has to be performed loudly or softly, in general.
Ausra: Yes, and you need to find out also for what occasion you will play it. If it’s a church service, will it be for communion or will it be for a prelude? Or if you’re playing for a recital, you also see where in the program you will place it, according to the registration--do you need a soft or loud piece in that place?
Vidas: Are you starting the recital, or ending the recital, or somewhere in the middle?
Ausra: Well, but actually what you can know if you are playing preludes and fugues by Bach, that you can easily just play them with organo pleno.
Vidas: And by organo pleno you probably mean full principal chorus.
Vidas: What’s that? Can you spell it out for everybody?
Ausra: That’s principals 8’, 4’, 2’, sometimes even 16’ principal, if your organ has it; and then of course you have to add a mixture. And it depends on your taste and on the organ; you could add other stops to the pleno, too.
Vidas: Maybe a fifth.
Ausra: Yes, sometimes even a tierce.
Vidas: Tierce works well if the mixture doesn’t have thirds.
Vidas: Because in Bach’s area, in Bach’s time, the majority of organs had not only octaves, not only fifths in the composition of the mixture, but also thirds. So if you add the tierce stop, it’s not the same as having a third-sounding pipe in the composition of the mixture which would break every octave or so. It’s not the same, but the general feeling will be similar. It’s a little bit spicier than just the fifth and an octave.
Ausra: What about pedals?
Vidas: Pedals also need principal chorus--if they have principals. In Bach’s area, a lot of pedals had only Subbass and Posaune, and then a manual coupler.
Ausra: So if you would add like, principals on a modern organ, would you supplement it with the posaune 16’, or not?
Vidas: If the posaune is fitting for the chorus, for the chorus registration, then yes. Like in our organ at St. John’s church in Vilnius, I usually add a principal 16’. We don’t have, like, a proper principal 8’, but it’s called Fullbass. It’s a little bit similar. At least it’s an 8’ stop; a little bit darker than the principal, I would say. But then, I would add 16’ Posaune, and then a mixture, if you have one. Mixtures can be bright; don’t worry if the sound is very bright in the pedals, it’s okay! Then, 4’ principal is also good to have in the pedals. So...but you have to listen for the balance, in the manuals. Sometimes you can add the coupler, maybe to the Great sometimes not, depending on the acoustics, environment and location.
Ausra: Yes. So what about French composers that Matt asked?
Vidas: French composers used different organs, right? Cavaille-Coll organs for most of the time. And...it has a lot of differences with the Bach tradition. Probably you need to start with the knowledge of what are the foundation stops and Anches in French and what’s Fonds and Anches in French. Do you know what does Fonds mean in French?
Ausra: That means the main stops; that’s principals and flutes, actually.
Vidas: They’re positioned in Cavaille-Coll organ, I think on the left-hand side of that manual, right? So in Cavaille-Coll’s organs they had horizontal layout of the stops, stop knobs; and on the left-hand side they had, probably, the foundations: 16’, 8’, 4’, all those principals and flutes together--and strings as well, in that order. What was on the right-hand side?
Ausra: I think that was reeds.
Vidas: What’s left, right? Mixtures, mutations...
Ausra: Yes, mixtures and reeds, and imitations. That’s right.
Vidas: So every manual had this layout, and the Positif, Récit, and Grand Orgue also had the same principals, but maybe different kind of reeds, right? Maybe positif had what they call Clarinet, maybe Récit had Hautbois, and Trompette Harmonique; but also the Grand Orgue--had trumpets 16’, 8’, and 4’, right? And I think Positiv and Récit also had those trumpets. So in every manual, you could have 16’, 8’, and 4’ basically, a reed chorus on the big Cavaille-Coll organ in general.
Ausra: Yes, and I think it’s easier to register French music, probably, than Bach, let’s say; because the French composers were quite good at notating, adding in the score what they want. So nowadays, you have so many editions where you simply just have to follow directions and register accordingly. But of course, sometimes it’s hard if you have to adjust from let’s say, a French style organ to a German style organ. That might be a tricky part.
Vidas: Probably a German style organ doesn’t have a lot of foundations, right?
Vidas: Maybe they have 8’ principal and 8’ flute, and that’s it. You have to have more.
Ausra: The German mixtures, they are sort of...screamier than French mixtures.
Vidas: What would you do in this case, if you have a Neo-Baroque organ in the German tradition, but you had to play in let’s say, Franck or Vierne.
Ausra: That’s a hard choice!
Vidas: But you don’t necessarily have to play French music
Vidas: On that instrument.
Ausra: That’s what I’d do, probably. I wouldn’t choose to play French music on such an instrument, but if I would have to do it, I probably would avoid mixtures at all.
Ausra: Because they sound very bad, in French music on a German organ.
Vidas: Or, avoid 16’ stop in the manual, but play everything one octave lower.
Ausra: If that’s possible, yes; that’s a very good solution.
Vidas: You see, the LH part has to go not lower than the tenor C because when you transfer everything one octave lower, then the bass C becomes your lowest note. So if anything goes lower than C, then it’s a little bit too low.
So guys, I hope this was useful. Do you think, Ausra, people can start practicing and registering pieces according to our suggestions, now?
Ausra: I hope so.
Vidas: And if you have more questions, please send the to us when you subscribe to our blog at www.organduo.lt, if you haven’t done so already, and simply reply to our messages that you receive from us. All right! We love helping you grow as an organist. 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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