Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 164, of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. And this question was sent by David. He writes:
“I'm working on a "paper" about understanding what 18th century French classical registrations really mean when an organ of that period is not being used, since, of course, the French Revolution wiped most of them off the face of the earth. It’s easier to find unicorns!”
V: So it’s a fascinating question, right, Ausra?
A: It is. But I can think that it still would be harder to find the Unicorn.
V: Yeah, we should ask David if he found any Unicorns.
A: Yes, if you would look, let’s say at Paris, in Paris, you would search for French classical organ, you wouldn’t find them, but if look in the provinces, like tiny villages, in those you can still find French classical instruments.
V: And there are of course modern day replicas being built.
V: Great. The basis for understanding 18th century French classical organ registration, probably relies not only on the organs, but on the registration suggestions by the composers.
A: Yes. And I think actually, if you have little experience, I think it’s easier to register French classical pieces of organ music comparing to let’s say, German.
V: What do you mean?
A: Well, because, as you talked earlier, composers indicate what they want from a piece, how they should be played and registered, and French are just very systematized.
V: So, people who don’t understand the system probably don’t read French.
A: Yes. I mean if you know what Plein Jeux or Grand Jeux is, then you should be able to register, you know.
V: Do you think that a lot of people understand the terms Plein Jeux or Grand Jeux? Maybe we should explain a little bit.
A: Yes, so Vidas, let’s tell us or remind us what the Plain Jeux or Grand Jeux and what is the difference between them.
V: In general terms, Plein Jeux is the sound that reminds of the organum plenum sound. Except with some difference maybe from the German. But it has, I think, Principles, right, of many pitch levels, and it has the Mixtures together, right?
V: And if it has the term Grand Plein Jeux then you add the 16’ Bourdon in the manuals too. And very often you would need Cantus Firmus in the pedals, then you would need, I believe a Trompette 8’, maybe together coupled with the Flute 8’. Or if you have Clarion 4’, you could add 2’ to reinforce the sound of the pedals, but no 16’ in the pedals.
A: Well, what about Grand Jeux?
V: In my understanding here, it’s more of a flute sound combined with the cornets, flutes and reeds.
A: Reeds, yes.
V: Which means, Trumpets, then Cornet either real Cornet with five ranks, based on flute sounds; 8’, 4’, 5th, 2 1/3, right? Or you can select those five flute sounds from the manual and add them to the general plunger sound, right? Do you need the 16’ in the manuals here? I believe so.
A: I think so, yes.
V: Mmm, hmm.
A: And what about solo registration for solo voices? What if you have tierce en taille?
V: Those characteristics stops that French organs have, I think, they have specific meaning and specific function, right? Tierce registration means you use a third based on 1 3/5 sounds. But in addition to that you of course need 8’ flute, right? And then a Tierce sound, and maybe even a fifth sound to remind a little bit of the Cornet. You have to check on you balances on your organ, if it’s not your know, historical French organ, if you’re adapting it.
A: Yes, and my next question would be, do you think it’s okay to play the French classical music on modern instruments.
V: I think it’s okay to play whatever a person wants and likes, right? But the result will not necessarily be the same as on the historical French organ. A lot of people don’t care about that. They just love the music.
A: Well should you then just follow closely to the original registration? You should look for and make up your own registration, depending on the sound of a particular organ.
V: Yeah, I believe you’re right. You should listen to some recordings, not necessarily of the same piece but maybe a typical French classical registration that you are looking for, like Tierce en Taille or dialogues of the Voix Humaine or the Crumorne registration, right, or the Cornet, all those things. You could listen to a piece like that, and then check if your organ has similar kind of stops. If it’s not you have to, you know, adapt.
A: Yes, but for example, if you are playing a German organ, those reeds are different from the French reeds. What would you do then?
V: I wouldn’t play French music on a German organ.
V: But you know, a lot of people think differently, and they have the right to do so, right? We’re just telling people, sharing with people our experiences, right Ausra?
V: And you don’t necessarily have to agree with us. And I believe people who are opposed to that, their opinion might change if they try out a lot of historical organs.
V: French, German, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, right? And all those areas have different styles and different types of music.
A: Yes. And what is your favorite French classical composer?
V: Ohhhh, a tricky question. Mmm,
A: I have my favorite.
V: Let’s see. Does it start with the letter called ‘G’?
A: Yes. How do you know? Yes. Nicolas de Grigny. Yes, that’s my favorite.
V: Nicolas de Grigny was very polyphonically oriented composer, because a lot of French composers like Couperin not necessarily wrote polyphonically advanced music. They wrote a lot of harmonically advanced pieces, and their harmony system is basically a pioneer system of the system that we used today. It’s based on the Rameau treatise, right?
V: But Germans were more keen to the polyphony, right, just as Italians were a century later, or earlier, in the Renaissance, even in the 16th Century or the beginning of the 17th Century. But then the Italians started to play those different types of pieces, like Scarlatti, right?
A: I know, it’s just like everything an opposite way.
V: Polyphony changed. But Germans were more strict with polyphony with Bach and that tradition. And French were more eager to explore the sounds and the colors.
A: But yes de Grigny polyphonic pieces were quite complex. You can even find 5 part fugue.
V: And Bach also learned from de Grigny. He copied his Livre de Orgue and based some of his earlier compositions, Fantasy and Fugue in C Minor, for example, or other pieces, like Piece d’Orgue for example. A lot of pieces which have five part texture, they’re based on the French model.
A: Yes, that’s true.
V: And do you know Ausra, why French wrote five-part textures and not four-part textures like Italians? I’ve read that Italian string chamber music, was,
A: I think they had an extra voice, yes?
V: Italians, four parts, and then,
A: Like string quartets, yes?
V: Yeah, two violins, viola and the cello. But French had one extra instrument: two violins, two violas, and one violone.
A: Two violas, yes, wow. That’s amazing.
V: And they used different kinds of clefs. And people sometimes today like to read those clefs, right? Some crazy organists.
A: Yes, like Vidas.
V: Like Vidas. Are you a crazy organist, Ausra?
A: Well, not as crazy as you are (laughs).
V: You are sort of in between normal humans and you can relate to normal humans, right?
V: You can read the music that normal people read. And I can do too. But sometimes, I’m not satisfied with normal stuff so, I get crazy. Alright, guys. Please explore the French classical registrations. It’s really a fascinating topic. We could actually recommend a book, right? Maybe Fenner Douglass and Barbara Oven. They both wrote interesting treatises about organs and registrations, so if you read the transcript from these podcast you could click on the link and check out those books.
A: Yes. They would be a big help exploring different registrations.
V: Wonderful! Thank you so much for listening, and applying our tips in your practice. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: And remember, when you practice…
A: 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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