French Classical Terminology?
  • What is the correct terminology when the cantus firmus is in the pedal on an 8' trumpet accompanied by the plein jeu, e.g. the opening movement of de Grigny's Veni Creator? Should 16' be used in the manuals or not? I've heard very effective hymn introductions improvised in this style and would like to know what it's called.
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • In the case of the de Grigny which you reference, the cf is indeed in the pedal, but is en taille, or 'in the tenor'. It, then, should be played on a strong 8' trompette, which, if necessary or helpful, can be reinforced with an 8' principal. For the manual parts the full plein jeu should be used. This means principal chorus from 16' through 2', plus mixture and cymbale. If the cf were en basse, 'in the bass' (as in Titelouze's veni creator) rather than the tenor, then one would pull the same 8' trompette in the pedal, but omit the 16' manual stops. Good question! These matters can be confusing. You might avail yourself of Dom Bedos' work, which is invaluable. Also very useful is The Language of the Classical French Organ, by Fenner Douglas (Yale Univ Press, 1969).
  • MJO is correct. The classical Plein Jeu always includes the 16'. The reed sound in the pedal (especially en taille) will be distinct enough to be heard against the sound of the Plein Jeu.
  • I think I found it: plein jeu avec la pédale de trompette en taille. The plein jeu can also include bourdons at 16' and 8', even in combination with the open diapasons.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,095
    I just am re-reading the Douglass book and think it "grand". Ok here's a question: in playing the "tierce en taille" pieces, should the accompanying flute manual be 8' or 16' flutes or both?
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • doneill
    Posts: 168
    Yes, if you have a 16' flute, use it. There are various options for the jeu doux that are outlined in Fenner Douglass' book, as well as Barbara Owen's helpful The Registration of Baroque Organ Music. If you only have a sub-coupler, you may run out of notes in the bottom octave. You may be able to "cheat" by helping out with the pedal. Keep in mind that on a French classic organ, a "Flute" is a big broad-scaled sound. If you only have a puny Gedeckt, you may want to combine some other stops with it.
    Thanked by 1madorganist
  • Good question. There doesn't seem to be a consensus. One of my teachers said to use 16' and 8' bourdons plus 4' prestant and pedal 8' flute. This site says the same, but others say not to use the prestant, or to use a 4' flute, or not to use the 16', or to use the 8' montre in the accompaniment. The page I linked to says to include the 1-1/3' larigot in the tierce registration; others say to include the cromorne. I realize this is probably no help whatsoever!
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,954
    A huge problem is that American organs are not built like those French instruments. Using the same stops specified by the composer will likely give you a sound the composer would not have recognized. I love French music, but like everyone else, I have to approximate if not what the composer wanted, what seems to work best for the music.

    I also use the Owen and Douglas books.
  • doneill
    Posts: 168
    4' Prestants rarely work on American organs, and often overpower the tierce combination. Try it on a Clicquot, and it works perfectly! Yes, the Larigot should be in the Tierce combination if you have it. The cromorne is not part of the Tierce - however, there are registrations for "Cromorne en taille." If it just says "en taille," you may actually have a choice of Cromorne or Tierce. You would normally want to combine the Cromorne with other stops - 8' and/or 4' flute, maybe the Nasard. Be wary of the thin-scaled neo-classic American "krummhorns" - they are not quite right. I have been known to be naughty and register things like French horn and clarinet en tailles. Hey, whatever works, right?
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,814
    The Benedictus of Couperin's parish mass calls for fond d'orgue & pedalle de flûte. If one goes by the traditional recipes (16' manual and 8' uncoupled pedal) the first chord is a second inversion. One school of thought is that an ear properly educated to appreciate authentic registrations should accept this (I don't think the late Alan Curtis was in this camp, but can't help remembering his remark a propos another asperity "L'editeur trouve cette note pas seulement correcte mais meme belle."). As always, the work of carefully considering the rules isn't finished until one has also defined le bon goût.
    Thanked by 2Gavin BruceL
  • You would normally want to combine the Cromorne with other stops - 8' and/or 4' flute, maybe the Nasard. Be wary of the thin-scaled neo-classic American "krummhorns" - they are not quite right


    Yes, I regularly add the Nasard to the Cromorne/Krummhorn. If the Cromorne/Krummhorn is not acceptable to me, I will substitute whatever works. I've been known to use a Schalmei instead, especially when our Krummhorn (that's how its spelled on our console) is out of tune.
  • MBWMBW
    Posts: 175
    Pah! Tuning the reeds is for the restoration! (Imagine this is purple)
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,954
    My understanding is that far too often those reeds were either never or rarely tuned.
  • Yes, our organ builder says the reeds don't normally need to be tuned.
  • MBWMBW
    Posts: 175
    My understanding is that well designed and constructed reeds of full (most trumpets and oboes) or half length (most clarinets and krummhorns) resonators may need full tuning once or twice a year. There is usually need for a few "touch ups" during the course of a year. Quarter length reeds (usually vox humana) almost always need relatively frequent tuning. Poorly designed and constructed reeds may never stay in tune.

    My comment about waiting until the restoration refers to the humorous, but not entirely accurate, idea that French organs are very seldom tuned. Early recordings by Messiaen and Dupré of their own music are noted for the out-of-tuneness of the organs. The joke is that the powers that be (primarily the government in France) can't be bothered to authorize the tuning of the organ except at the 50-80 year intervals at which the organs are restored - even at St. Sulpice and La Trinité!

    Much of the out-of-tuneness would have been in the flue pipes, not the reeds. This is because the reeds are easier to tune than cone-tuned flue pipes and there are fewer of them. Therefore the organist or his or her deputy could relatively easily get a few sour reeds in tune. Meanwhile, all the flue pipes are going sharper or flatter depending on temperature fluctuation in the room, a situation exacerbated by the large organs' chests being installed on different levels, each level with its own ambient temperature since heat rises.

    Back home in the US, we are fortunate that, in our climate controlled buildings, the pitch level of the reeds is normally "close enough" to that of the flues. I know that everyone's milage may vary.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • What's really disgusting is trying to play a French baroque duo sur les tierces (note the plural!) on organs (by some of the most highly touted builders, yet) which, if one is fortunate, has even one tierce on one manual. Well, one can, of course, couple it to a second manual and add a 16' stop, etc., and pretend that one has two tierces. But wait!!! This rarely works because these, um, shall we say, 'challenged' builders' tierces do not descend below tenor C, where it disappears from the bass register, spoiling one's attempt to concoct an upper and a lower tierce. As I said, even the most prestigious builders fail this test. Couperin and de Grigny would likely be somewhat vexed - as in 'not amused'. (Or, conversely, they might think that such an organ was highly amusing.)
    Thanked by 1MBW
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,814
    On unit organs the tenor or middle C limit is a courtesy to duo players; much better dropouts in the bass than the treble!. Talk of disgusting...
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,954
    American builders don't tend to build French Baroque instruments for most church installations. Most churches can only afford one pipe organ, if that many, and need generalized service instruments that can do a variety of music styles.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,000
    The Benedictus of Couperin's parish mass calls for fond d'orgue & pedalle de flûte. If one goes by the traditional recipes (16' manual and 8' uncoupled pedal) the first chord is a second inversion. One school of thought is that an ear properly educated to appreciate authentic registrations should accept this (I don't think the late Alan Curtis was in this camp, but can't help remembering his remark a propos another asperity "L'editeur trouve cette note pas seulement correcte mais meme belle."). As always, the work of carefully considering the rules isn't finished until one has also defined le bon goût.


    This is very true. Listening to the (false) inversions presented by registering the 16' jeux doux in some works (of which that Couperin is a great example) really answers the questions for you. Of course, Couperin was pushing the boundaries and it seems quite clear (e.g. in the Offertoires) that 16' pedal pitch is ok sometimes, too. It was certainly present on the larger French organs by the time Francois was composing.
  • True, very true, Charles. But I was, obviously, not referring to instruments that are necessarily limited due to expense or circumstance. I was railing against the seemingly ingrained practice of fine builders of stellar instruments. A small instrument for St Sylvan's out in the woods is not expected to be all that one needs for proper liturgical playing, let alone sacred recitals. There is no excuse, however, for St Polis' Cathedral church or the instruments of well-off parishes, with their Fisks, et al.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW MBW
  • MBWMBW
    Posts: 175
    Personal anecdote:

    I asked (in 1976) Charles Fisk about the lack of characteristic stops on his organs for playing Franck. He was dismissive of the value of designing instruments to play this literature because it was, as literature, unimportant.

    In later instruments Fisk, and other similar minded builders, showed more comprehensive taste.

    When I was in grad school, the Romantic symphonies were clearly second class repertoire. The first class was Bach and people like Guillou. I'm glad this perspective has shifted both in academia and in organ building.

    Back to dueling Tierces. It is unfortunate but understandable that the valuable trove of "smaller" pieces which forms the French classic repertoire is still valued more by teachers and performers than by those who design instruments. However, very large instruments should, as MJO says, at least provide quality (even if not authentic) solutions for the Couperin Masses.

    I think we must bear in mind that every organ is a transcription machine. No two, even of the same country and period, sound alike or have the same resources. (There was variation even in the most uniform school: French classic.) The building affects the sonority in idiosyncratic ways. Whether or not the composer had a particular sound in mind when writing, we organists, except in very rare cases like St. Sulpice, transcribe everything by playing the instrument in front of us. I find this both a blessing and a curse, depending on…I don't know - breakfast?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,954
    I have said for 50 years that I play the instrument I have at the moment. It may not be ideal, suited to the literature I want to play, or of sufficient size. But I will play it and produce the music of which it is capable.
  • Fisk...Frank...this literature....unimportant.

    It is often surprising that narrow-mindedness, even the ignorance and smallness, of many people who are great artists, creators, those whom we for certain reasons hold in high esteem. It would seem that, below their gift of a specific genius, these men are really quite unremarkable human persons. It is recorded of Vaughan Williams that he had a remarkably dismissive antipathy to the nascent early music movement, meaning that, while he obviously respected and was influenced by early music, saw no value at all to the nascent performance practice movement. Andras Schiff, one of the greatest pianists of our time, who plays exquisite Bach on the piano, dismissed the harpsichord by saying something to the effect, 'can you imagine listening to two hours of that?'. Yet, I understand, he is making a new CD illustrating Bach on both instruments. The annals of music reveal some very ordinary prejudices and untutored opinions of many of our greatest minds.

    Yes, at the height of the baroque revival (which I love) nothing much good could be said of the romantic era and its instruments. Now, in the midst of the romantic revival, the greatest of professors and artists can't find much good to say about anything baroque. The lesson being that we, as compleat musicians, have an obligation to appreciate all, respect all, and see the unique and precious value of all. We can do this whilst we cling to our (very subjective) preferences.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen MBW