Stops and Manuals for Polyphony as Organ Solos
  • I have recently started taking sacred polyphony and putting the music in the grand staff for use as organ solos (the melodies are so beautiful, but there's no way it's ever going to be sung at my parish any time soon, so the only way to have it is to play it solo). So far, I have F. Suriano's Ave Regina Coelorum, Palestrina's Jesu! Rex Admirabilis (to which I added a pedal part), Ett's Iste Confesor and Jaquet of Mantua's O Jesu Christe. I am wondering how I should play them so that all the melodies can be heard, not just the soprano with everything else in the background, particularly when the alto or tenor and/or bass is the moving part, while the soprano is just a whole note. I am thinking primarily about the O Jesu Christe, with the thought of using it, perhaps, as a prelude on Laetarae Sunday. The organ is electric, with two manuals and a set of pedals.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,305
    I haven't really done this myself, but it sounds like a worthwhile idea--keep with it!

    Hopefully, when it is possible to do some of these pieces chorally, the parishioners/choristers will remember the melodies from when you've played the pieces before. Familiarity is a big driver of preferences: if a song is well-known, it's usually well-loved.

    Armchair advice: try playing B in the pedal, T with strings on one manual, and SA with flutes on another manual. This jumps out at me as a possible solution for your problem, but (like I said) I haven't tried it myself. Proceed with caution! :-)
    Thanked by 1youngcatholicgirl
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 2,063
    Historically, these would most often have been played on one manual (or possibly alternating manuals), with a fair bit of ornamentation (used, it has been argued, as a dynamic device). Italian organs were flute-rich. The Ett is early-19th c. so you can do that with practically any stop combination that sounds good. Most important thing will be to make sure your chosen stops have enough definition down low, so that the bass can be heard clearly.

    Go for it!
  • francis
    Posts: 10,706
    Playing all parts on a single manual with an 8’ flute would work well.
  • What a brilliant (and labour intensive!) idea.

    There is certainly historical precedent for this, so you are on terra firma. I can't vouch for the continent, but there is an appreciable number of English renaissance and early baroque examples of motets transcribed as organ pieces or voluntaries.

    As for registration, I would agree with Francis' suggestion - an 8' principal or flute, though I would probably use 8' and 4', maybe an 8' flute with a 4' principal. (A lone 8' flute is not likely to reveal the counterpoint clearly.) You can judge what sounds on your instrument bring out all the voices of the pieces in equal fashion. Strive for a 'clean' sound and avoid anything that sounds 'muddy'. Do not separate any voice on a solo stop, and do not use 16' sound in the pedal. In fact, if you use the pedal at all it should have no independent stops, but simply be the sound on your keyboard coupled to the pedal. No pedal at all would be desirable. You want to replicate the SATB vocal style of your originals and use a registration by which the counterpoint and interplay of voices is made clear.

    By the way - there is nothing like copying in one's own hand any literature that one is playing as a means of really learning and knowing what one is playing - especially for recital preparations! This is an excellent idea for students and professionals alike. (If it was good enough for Bach it's good enough for us!)
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,577
    The early 1900s had books on the topic of organ transcriptions.
    These are public domain and available as PDFs. Search at ..

    To remind yourself of the possibilities .. go to youtube and search for .. organ trios (eg each voice on separate keyboard, whether hands or feet) .. transcriptions (eg thumbing down) .. pieces that use Chimes ..

    Maybe a combination such as ..
    S upper keyboard right hand
    A lower keyboard thumbs of both hands
    T upper keyboard left hand
    B pedals

    Alexandre Guilmant and Edwin Lemare did thumbing down.
    Usually thumbed notes are indicated with nearby plus sign (+).