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Thread: Mechanical action

  1. #1
    Commodore con Forza
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    Mechanical action

    Is there someone around who can provide a cogent explanation of why some people are still so fond of tracker-action organs?

    There is currently a thread running about a "Dom Bedos" organ in Italy. The instrument sounds like some kind of anachronism. And it's supposedly new, if one accepts a different interpretation of the word. Right in the description it says that it is tuned to play only certain types of music and can't handle anything composed since about 1800. What's the point??

    OK, we are spoiled and used to organs with all manner of electrical aids to make the organ a one-person orchestra. But it's a rather telling point that some tracker-action organs are built these days with electrical stop actions so stops can be controlled with pistons, etc. Sounds like some people can't quite decide which side of the fence to come down on.

    The monster at St.-Sulpice may have been state-of-the-art in 1862, and as long as it is still quite playable, there is probably no reason to change it. But they did build a new one ages ago at Notre Dame. I sometimes suspect that powers that be have turned a lot of those old organs into historical monuments that nobody will dare touch as far as modernization is concerned. Fine and dandy, but it must take some getting used to playing them.

  2. #2
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso wljmrbill's Avatar
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    I always enjoyed playing them. The touch applied to keys is the real big difference for me.. Harder. Which makes you adjust tempos at times. Getting used to the extra noise can be a problem for some installations. Other then that a rather nice feel for playing the old master's pieces,
    ....To play only what is written is the domain of science. To realize what is not written is the domain of art."
    - Jean Langlais

    I wish you the Best for each day, now and always.

    Bill

  3. #3
    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    I've only had a couple experiences playing a tracker organ. As Bill mentions above, there is a period of adjustment to the different feel of this action ... and when manuals are coupled in some installations, it (at first) takes quite the effort to play the notes.

    What I liked most about the trackers was the ability to completely control the speech of each pipe note - the attack and the release - a way to impose more of the players feelings into the piece being played.
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  4. #4
    Admiral of Fugues Contratrombone64's Avatar
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    Lars is spot on with controlling the speak ... I've only played one, in Mudgee NSW. It was hard work when the swell and solo were coupled to the great, that's for sure.
    I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.
    —Albert Einstein.

  5. #5
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso wljmrbill's Avatar
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    A footnote to my above post; tracker action playing is another reason I think many organist play the" masters music" way to fast.. some of these tempos would be very very difficuit on the organ they were writen with. AT least I think so.
    ....To play only what is written is the domain of science. To realize what is not written is the domain of art."
    - Jean Langlais

    I wish you the Best for each day, now and always.

    Bill

  6. #6
    Commodore con Forza
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    I suspect you are correct on that point. I have long felt that the tempi a lot of performers use nowadays is largely a demonstration of ego -- Oh, look how fast I can play it. And it surely could not have been done on the original organs.

    Moreover, depending on the acousitcs and reverb time in a large church, I feel fast tempi destroy the thematic and melodic lines of the music.

    True, we have no recordings to go by, but there are stories that even Widor thought some people played his monumental Toccata too fast. It's mostly just a demonstration of virtuosity, not faithfulness to the composer's ideas. But then, Virgil Fox was famous for not caring what the composers thought.

    It would be interesting to know how many organists have never played a tracker action organ. It seems to be largely recording atists and professors of music who go for them.

  7. #7
    Commander, Assistant Conductor Marc's Avatar
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  8. #8
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso wljmrbill's Avatar
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    dll927: I will see about starting a survey and see .
    ....To play only what is written is the domain of science. To realize what is not written is the domain of art."
    - Jean Langlais

    I wish you the Best for each day, now and always.

    Bill

  9. #9
    Admiral of Fugues Contratrombone64's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wljmrbill View Post
    A footnote to my above post; tracker action playing is another reason I think many organist play the" masters music" way to fast.. some of these tempos would be very very difficuit on the organ they were writen with. AT least I think so.
    I have a feeling you are making a blanket statement here. I remember reading an article from a contemporary about Bach's organ playing and the comment fingers flying across the keyboard were used ...
    I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.
    —Albert Einstein.

  10. #10
    Commander, Assistant Conductor Marc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Contratrombone64 View Post
    I have a feeling you are making a blanket statement here. I remember reading an article from a contemporary about Bach's organ playing and the comment fingers flying across the keyboard were used ...
    And his feet were even flying faster!

    Well, faster than almost any other organist could fly with his hands, that is ....

    Which might lead to the conclusion that this flying Bach was some kind of an exception in those good old days.
    But his (and others) organ works in the Stylus fantasticus were, in a way, probably also meant to impress and dazzle the listeners.
    Anyway, Ton Koopman uses these examples, written by contemporaries, as historic evidence to play Bach rather fast, too.

    Personally, I like Bach almost equally played in a fast, moderate or slow way. In the end, it's his music that survives!
    I even learned to appreciate the sometimes laborious interpretations by Wolfgang Rübsam. He recorded Bach´s organ works twice: in the seventies (Philips) he played rather fast and swift, and ten to fifteen years later (Naxos) rather slow, with much more legato and sudden tempo changes. The latter, still not being my favourite Bach cycle, certainly makes for nice comparison.

  11. #11
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso wljmrbill's Avatar
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    I am sure it also depends on the instrument installation. I remember some instruments were harder to play then others ( touch / pressure required). I know Diane Bish did a series on tracker organs and there was a variety of touch problems related durning her conversations.
    ....To play only what is written is the domain of science. To realize what is not written is the domain of art."
    - Jean Langlais

    I wish you the Best for each day, now and always.

    Bill

  12. #12
    Admiral Honkenwheezenpooferspieler Corno Dolce's Avatar
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    If I may, this *problematique* has vexed me ever since I started my association with the organ and its repertoire. Quite frankly, I'm more interested how the instrument is voiced and finished than how the pipes are *linked* to the keyboard - So to speak.............
    *If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then before he prays for anything else, even his own soul, when he stands and stretches out his hands towards God, he must pray with all his heart for his enemies. Through this action God will hear everything that he asks* -Abba Zeno-

    *Protagoras: "Truth is subjective. What is true for you, and what is true for me, is true for me. Your opinion is true by virtue of its being your opinion."

    *Socrates: "My opinion is: Truth is absolute, not opinion, and that you are in absolute error. Since this is my opinion, then according to your philosophy you must grant that it is true."

    "Improvisational Art": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSxVO3EoCRM

  13. #13
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso wljmrbill's Avatar
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    I think you have made a good point Como Dolce. If an organist likes/loves the sound they will figure out a way to play it...so to speak , if they have the opportunity.
    ....To play only what is written is the domain of science. To realize what is not written is the domain of art."
    - Jean Langlais

    I wish you the Best for each day, now and always.

    Bill

  14. #14
    Admiral Honkenwheezenpooferspieler Corno Dolce's Avatar
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    Hello Br. wljmrbill,

    Yes truly, the artisan will most certainly take the time to acquaint him/herself with the idiosyncracies of the instrument they will perform on.

    Cheers,

    CD
    *If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then before he prays for anything else, even his own soul, when he stands and stretches out his hands towards God, he must pray with all his heart for his enemies. Through this action God will hear everything that he asks* -Abba Zeno-

    *Protagoras: "Truth is subjective. What is true for you, and what is true for me, is true for me. Your opinion is true by virtue of its being your opinion."

    *Socrates: "My opinion is: Truth is absolute, not opinion, and that you are in absolute error. Since this is my opinion, then according to your philosophy you must grant that it is true."

    "Improvisational Art": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSxVO3EoCRM

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by dll927 View Post
    Is there someone around who can provide a cogent explanation of why some people are still so fond of tracker-action organs?

    There is currently a thread running about a "Dom Bedos" organ in Italy. The instrument sounds like some kind of anachronism. And it's supposedly new, if one accepts a different interpretation of the word. Right in the description it says that it is tuned to play only certain types of music and can't handle anything composed since about 1800. What's the point??
    Hi!

    The point is that Dom Bedos is at the very heart of modern organ building - and going back to the basics of our instrument is particularly revealing and EXCITING! If you go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSf7-4t_SWc you'll get just a glimpse of this excitement with a piece that you thought you knew but have never heard it before as played here on an instrument unchanged since before the French Revolution.

    As for being tuned to play only certain types of music, this is on account of our standardised tuning, equal temperament, being equally boring and dulling the ears. When one goes to the temperaments used and relied upon by composers in the past, whole new avenues of emotion open up within the music as explained and demonstrated by Adolfo Barabino on the piano -
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXzSXWaQGmA and
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41xRupc3Hz8.

    On the classic organ, an important stop is included, the Tierce, which has often been banished from instruments in Equal Temperament. The point of Meantone temperament is that it has 8 perfect thirds in the 12 keys and therefore the Tierce stop is in tune and very beautiful
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1YcEjz8Xro
    and it's not as beautiful in Equal temperament
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAql0dfZQHY

    In addition, on the Grand Jeu
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bi2pdYou-Rs
    you get a battery of a dozen or so trumpets and reeds. Now brass bands on brass instruments are all tuned to the natural harmonics with perfect thirds and fifths. Therefore on a Grand Jeu in Meantone temperament, the trumpets simply sound "just there". Forthright. It opens up a new world of tonality.

    This Dom Bedos instrument is exciting enough for me to be flying to Italy for the weekend for its inauguration. 32ft stop on the manuals! Now just what do you do with that? No doubt we'll be finding out. I'll be writing about the experience of the instrument on the Organ Matters Forum.

    If you want to really find out about the joy of these incredible instruments, go on the course at St Maximin at the end of August.

    More explanation of the Dom Bedos heritage is on
    http://www.organmatters.co.uk/index.php/board,2.0.html
    and you'll find details in another section on courses.

    Also do YouTube searches for "Bombardes of Albi Cathedral"

    Best wishes

    David P
    Last edited by Organ Matters; Apr-08-2010 at 11:24.

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