Have you been in a situation when your chosen registration doesn't have a good balance between the parts when you play on different manuals?
This morning I and Ausra went to practice on the organ at the M.K. Ciurlionis National School of Art where we will participate in a concert of musician families next Friday. We will be performing Adagio by Beethoven for organ with four hands. Ausra took the Secondo Part (the bass) and I played the Primo Part (the treble).
This organ has 10 stops on two manuals and pedals with Flute 8', Octave 4', and Mixture on the 1st manual, and Flutes 8' and 4', Principal 2', Fifth 1 1/3', and Krummhorn 8' on the 2nd manual and Flutes 16' and 8' on the pedals.
Adagio by Beethoven is a sweet, gentle, and slow piece. Here's what we tried:
1. We started with both manuals coupled and used Flutes 8' and 4' on the 2nd manual (Secondo) and Flute 8' on the 1st manual (Primo). This proved to be not enough gravity for Secondo. But in general it might work, if we couldn't find any other solutions which would be more convincing.
2. Then we switched manuals but now the Primo was too weak.
3. Then we added the Octave 4' on the 1st manual (Primo on the 1st and Secondo on the 2nd). Now the Primo was too loud.
4. Then we removed the manual coupler. Still the Primo was too loud.
5. Then I played the left hand of the Primo part on the second manual and everything else on the 1st manual. It was a little better.
6. Then we tried this registration: Primo: Flute 4' and Principal 2' played one octave lower on the 2nd manual. Secondo: Flute 8' and Octave 4' on the 1st manual. Manuals were uncoupled. This version was quite convincing.
7. Finally, we decided to add Flute 8' to the mix on the 2nd manual and still play one octave lower the Secondo part. Keeping in mind that the concert hall will probably be full of listeners on the concert day, this additional boost in gravity will be the best choice.
In church acoustics we usually would play this piece with some kind of combination of 8' stops on two manuals. But here in a very dry space we wanted a fuller sound.
So if you are in a situation like we were this morning, you can try quite a few options (some of them not so obvious right away) in order to find the right balance for your piece. As you can see, sometimes it takes a little more time to make the best of the otherwise not-so colorful organ.
My recent post on 4' registration possibilities sparked a few valuable ideas from the readers (thanks to everyone who responded). So today I'd like to summarize the main points from the comments (plus a few of my own). All might be valuable when you lack certain stops on your organ:
1. If you need a 16' stop, use an 8' stop one octave lower.
2. If you need an 8' stop, use a 2' stop two octaves lower.
3. If you need an 8' stop, use a 16' stop one octave higher.
4. If you need a 4' stop, use a 16' stop two octaves higher.
5. If you need a 4' stop, use a 2 2/3' stop a perfect 5th lower.
6. If you need a 4' stop, use a 1 1/3' stop one octave and a perfect fifth lower.
7. If you need a 4' stop, play with the 2' stop one octave lower.
8. If you need a 2' stop, play the piece with a 1 1/3' stop a perfect 5th lower.
9. If you need a 1' stop, play the piece a perfect 4th higher with a 1 1/3' stop.
10. If you need a 1' stop, use a 1 3/5' stop a major 3rd higher.
If you want to exhaust all the possibilities, it's always possible to come up with many other tricks of this sort. Always check, if the range of your organ piece allows such tricks. Sometimes they can be used for certain episodes only. Usually these tricks can work in the pedals via manual to couplers.
Do you have any special registration tricks of your own that you use? Feel free to share them here.
Many modern organs have stops which do not necessarily work for pieces composed in older times. Sometimes an 8' principal might have too narrow scaling, sometimes an 8' flute might be too soft and without a character etc. What to do in a situation when you have to play a certain composition but the stop list seemingly is suited for something else? Try the following trick which may expand tonal capabilities of your organ.
Instead of playing on an 8' stop, try a 4' registration one octave lower. 4' octave might be just what you need instead of an 8' principal. Likewise, a 4' flute might would sound much better in comparison of an 8' flute for your piece.
You can try building an entire stop combination based on a 4' pitch level played one octave lower. This works when the mixtures are too harsh and too high but you need a full principal chorus.
For example, instead of principals 16', 8', 4', 2 2/3', 2', 1 1/3', and a mixture of 1' basis, try using the same stops but without the 16' and play one octave lower. This way the sound will become fuller and easier on your ears because the mixture will be based on 2'. For this trick to work, though, the manual part of the piece in the original should not descend lower than the tenor C because when you drop it one octave lower, you will go beyond the bass C.
A 4' octave played lower often work for the left hand of the trio sonata or for the right hand solo part of the chorale prelude. Flutes 4' and 1 1/3' sounding one octave lower would produce the same effect as flutes 8' and 2 2/3'. This is especially useful when 2 2/3' is a principal stop but you need a flute-based mutation.
Or consider this: in a chorale prelude with the ornamented right-hand part you would want to use flutes 8', 4', and 2 2/3'. Compare this combination to flutes 4', 2', and 1 1/3' played one octave lower. Maybe the balance of parts would sound better on your organ when you try playing together with the accompaniment on a softer registration?
Remember, even the ugliest organs have at least one decent stop. Often - that's a stop of a 4' pitch level.
Most organs have more ranks than stops. This means that some (like mixtures and other compound stops) have more than one rank (row of pipes) per stop. In other words, when you press one key, several pipes speak at the same time, though only one stop is engaged.
What happens if an organ has one stop which is distributed throughout several divisions at multiple pitch levels? That's what they call unit organ or multiplex system. This way you can have an organ of considerable size with only a handful of stops.
I played a 4 rank, 44 stop, 3 manual and pedal organ once.The 4 ranks were one from each of the 4 stop families - a principal, a flute, a viola, and a trompette.
Although such organs are much cheaper to build, the flip side of multiplication is of course that there is not so much of variety in tone color (the pipes of 16', 8', 4' and 2' principals belong to the same principal stop).
Number of ranks matter a lot more than it may seem at first.
A mixture is a compound organ stop which has several ranks (usually from 3 to 6) of metal pipes. Sometimes it consisted from as few as 2 ranks or as many as 10 or more ranks (for example, on the Hauptwerk in the 17th century Dutch tradition).
Normally it has ranks with repetitions at the octave and the fifth but some mixtures have also an interval of the major third (especially in the middle German Baroque tradition or England).
This stop can have many versions and may be called Mixtur, Mixtura, Rauschpfeife, Cimbel, Cymbal, Cymbel, Gross-Cymbel, Scharf, Furniture, Fourniture, Plein jeu, Plein jeu harmonique, Progressive, Sesquialtera (in England) or something similar.
I guess the mixtures is the relic of from the older late medieval organ which didn't have separate stops and only relied on large principal chorus (with mixture sound). This was called the Blockweck. It could have as many as 50 or more ranks of pipes for one key and multiple bellows.
Because mixtures tend to be quite high-pitched stops, as they ascend through the keyboard range the pipes begin to be too small to handle (and to listen too) and so usually the highest rank drops down one octave lower (sometimes to the closest fifth).
High-pitched mixtures can based on 1 1/3' or 1'. In the lower range, the mixture can have more ranks but fewer in the upper range because the highest rank in the top can drop out when the pipes are too small and the pitch is too harsh.
In Italian tradition the organ lacked mixtures but had principal stops at octave and fifth pitch level going all the way from 8' or 16' to as high as 1/3'. Drawn together (this is called Ripieno) they resemble the traditional Organo Pleno sound with mixtures.
The low mixtures (based on 2' or 2 2/3') are best used together with the 16' stops on the manual because these lower pitches can interfere with the foundation stops and could make the basic notes difficult to distinguish.
Some mixtures on the pedals can be even lower based on 5 1/3'. By the way, the pedals can even lack mixtures but the low fifth sound of 5 1/3' or 6' as written in some cases (combined with 4') will give the impression of the mixture sound. Here I must also add that even the pedals can have high-pitched mixtures in some traditions such as Baroque in the Netherlands.
The low fifth of 5 1/3' used together with other lower stops can also give the impression of the 32' in the pedals. This is an interesting phenomenon.
Traditionally mixture sound is the crowning glory of the organ. But (and this is a big but) they have to be well-voiced and well-tuned. Otherwise many people (not only listeners with hearing aid) will be angry with you for using them (and some will not like them anyway).
The other day I was talking with a security guard at my church when another organist was rehearsing for the upcoming recital. At that moment the organist happened to play a very harsh-sounding piece with lots of super-dissonant chords and everything was registered with bright mixtures.
But the security guard was pretty upset by the sound this organist was creating and said the sounds reminded her of a situation when an organist plays clusters with his elbows at random.
I should add that this guard loves organ music in general, she loves my rehearsals and says she could listen to them all day (and night) long.
And yesterday I received a message from my friend Marcel from Canada who in his own words also recounted similar stories with mixtures (people leaving the recital or going to the part of the church where high-pitched screaming mixtures would not be a problem).
Some people hate sound of the mixtures. Let's consider why.
Let's start with raising a question such as this: if I was playing a similar piece, how this security guard would have reacted? She loves how I play so she naturally might be predisposed to like even sounds and pieces that normally she would refuse to listen to (her story would be something like this "Vidas plays this piece so this must be good music and a great sound. If I don't like it, it's my fault so I should at least tolerate it").
Many of today's modern organs have mixtures which are too harsh for the environment they are in. We must remember that when we register a piece. In this case it might be that even some organists rightly hate such mixtures.
That's why it's better in some situations (if the range permits) to play some pieces one octave lower (like Toccata by Widor) to reduce the effect or to omit mixtures but add a few of high-pitched stops and mutations.
Then there is a question about people with hearing aid. I heard an opinion from Prof. Quentin Faulkner at the time I was studying in US, which resonated with me that harsh mixture sounds clash and interfere with hearing aid. In other words, because hearing aid lets a person hear sounds louder, these mixtures simply become unbearable.
I think we as organists should take great responsibility of what we play and how we play and register the music we play in public. In some extreme cases people who hate mixtures might start to hate organ and its music in general.
When we choose a repertoire for recitals, we must think about the instrument, about the people and about the occasion and aim to have balance between loud and soft, joyful and sad, high and low sounds, fast and slow pieces. Maybe then a little of harsh sound of mixtures interspersed with flutes, strings, principals and reeds will be interesting enough and not become a burden to some of our listeners (and ourselves).
PS. Avoid practicing on your own with harsh mixtures all the time (even when the piece demands it). They may indeed be harmful to our ears. One or two flutes is usually sufficient.
Remember this - practice is not rehearsal and certainly not the same as performance.
When you know how to set up the pistons for registration changes, the inevitable question is this: how to know which stops to use for which combinations?
There are really many variables here to consider: what kind of piece you are playing, what kind of style, what kind of instrument and so on.
Remember this: pistons only facilitate the change of organ stops. Instead of pulling many stops by hand, you simply press one piston with your thumb and everything changes instantly.
But the choices of stops that go into each piston depend on a lot of things. Sometimes you can use pistons in a public performance when you have to play some pieces with contrasting registration and pushing a piston simply reduces the time you would need to change the stops by hand between the pieces.
Sometimes pistons are very useful even in the middle of the piece when you have several contrasting sections and each would require contrasting registration which otherwise would require an assistant to make changes.
Sometimes the pistons are used to make crescendos and diminuendos in the middle of the piece. You set up the pistons in advance in a way that each subsequent piston has a little louder combination of stops. This happens a lot in many French symphonic pieces.
In this case pistons (and toe studs) are used similarly to the ventil system that traditional Cavaille-Coll organs had.
In many pieces of French organ composers, the places for change registration are very obvious - they write in the necessary reeds, other stops or couplers you have to add.
When a composer doesn't indicate the exact pitch level or exact stop combination, then you only see signs for dynamics in the score (pp, p, mf, f, ff etc.) - this is often the case with German Romantic composers. Then you have many more choices for your pistons but still try to consider the general characteristics and requirements for registration for this particular style.
Try to learn to read your score and composer's intentions and you will understand how to use pistons in changing registration.
Many of today's organs have combination action with general and divisional pistons which can be used to make sudden registration changes.
Here's how you can set up the pistons in advance in most cases:
1. Draw the desired manual and/or pedal stops.
2. Locate the "Set" button on the left hand side of the lowest manual.
3. Locate the number of the piston on the front of the lowest manual you will want to use.
4. Press the "Set" button and while holding it, press the desired piston, release it and only then release the "Set" button.
5. Locate the "Cancel" button on the far right hand side of the lowest manual and press it to cancel all the stops and prepare the next combination. You can skip this step if the next registration combination is very similar to the previous one. Simply add or remove a few stops by hand in this case.
6. Repeat the steps 1-5 for any other pistons that you want to set up.
Note that you can use the divisional pistons as well. The divisional pistons are the buttons designed to change registration only for a certain division or manual. For the pedals, there are toe studs. The divisional pistons can be set up in the same way as the general pistons.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you want to practice using pistons:
1. On the place of the score where you have to change the combination, write the number of the piston and circle it. This will differenciate it from the number of the stop. You can use sticky Post It notes or something like that in order to keep the score clean.
2. If the piston change is difficult, slow down the tempo and practice the same spot with the exact motion of the thumb over and over.
3. If your practice instrument doesn't have pistons, you can pretend that it does and practice the movements with your hands anyway. This way you can prepare for public performance on the organ with pistons quite effectively.
There are toe studs for pedal division and/or for general combination pistons on many organs. They can be set up, practiced and used in the same way as the general pistons.
Note that during the performance you can add or remove any number of stops by hand in addition to the piston system.
Some instruments also have a sequencer ("Next" or "Previous" buttons or toe studs) which can facilitate the piston changes for the organist. If you set up the entire combination system in advance from 1 to 10, instead of pushing these pistons by hand, you can simply press "Next" which would engage pistons 1, 2, 3 etc. Likewise, pressing "Previous" will result in engaging pistons in descending order.
As with any other hand or feet movement, using the pistons during the performance requires some repetitive practice to do it fluently. Don't take the piston changes for granted because in many difficult pieces, the changes can throw the inexperienced organist off balance, disrupt the flow of the music and provide the opportunity to make unwanted mistakes.
Simply regard the piston changes as an integral part of the performance process and practice keeping them in mind in advance. This way you can be sure that when the time comes, you will be ready to locate and press the required piston or toe stud successfully and effortlessly.
When it comes to writing in the registration changes in the organ composition, usually people do one of the following:
1. Write in the stop numbers.
2. Write in the shortenings of stop names.
The problem with the first method is that you don't know what exactly stops to change, you only see the numbers. Also if you want to re-use the same composition on a different organ, you have to erase or remove every registration marking to fit the new organ. And if you play the same piece after a break of several years, you might even not remember what stops did you use.
The problem with the second method is that it takes time to get used to such system (for example, instead of adding Principal 8' and Subbass 16' of the pedal division, write Ped. + P8, SB16 etc.). But the beauty of this method is that it allows you to see what stops you are using.
This method prevents strange mistakes an assistant can make. For example, instead of pulling 37 (Mixture), would engage 38 (Trompete). If you knew the difference between the Mixture and the Trompete and had at least a partial sense of good taste, you wouldn't get confused, right?
Sure, it's easier for the assistant (and for you) to only worry about the numbers but in the long run, it's far more effective to actually help both of you think about the stops themselves.
It's better to use your brain in addition to your eyes.
Matthias Weckmann (ca. 1616-1674), a student of Sweelinck and an organist and composer from the 17th century Hamburg left us an intriguing registration suggestion in his long and famous cycle "Es ist das Heyl uns kommen her".
I'm thinking specifically about the 3rd verse of this cycle in which he uses the so-called Sonaten Registration (more on this in Matthias Weckmann: The Interpretation of his Organ Music, Vol. 1 by Hans Davidsson, Gehrmans Musikforlag, Stockholm, 1991).
Weckmann's original registration combination looks like this (the language is also original):
Ruckpositiv Principal 8 fues Pedahl Trompet 8 fus u. Gedackt 8 fus oder trompet 8. und trompet 4 Fuss. In der orgel trompet 16 Fuss.
If we translate it into today's English, then we would get something like this:
RP: Principal 8'
HW: Trompet 16'
Ped. Trompet 8 and Gedackt 8' or Trompet 8' and 4'
The texture of this four-part chorale verse is such that the cantus firmus (choral melody) is played in the pedals in the tenor range, the left hand takes the bass on the Hauptwerk and the right hand plays alto and soprano on the Ruckpositiv (free voices).
I think you could also apply the same or similar Sonaten Registration in your hymn playing as well according to the above example. Of course, you would need a Trompet 16' in the manual to make it work (only really large instruments have this stop in the manual). However, in some cases you could get away with Basson 16' or Fagott 16'.
One thing is clear - your congregation will definitely be surprised in a good way how creatively you use colors of the organ.
By the way, this type of registration can easily be applicable to many other Baroque chorale preludes in four parts where the chorale melody is played in the tenor range with the pedals, for example Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BWV 684 by Bach (in this video, the registration is different).
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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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