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Recently enjoyed several pieces written by Finzi featuring the clarinet ("Bagatelles", etc.). A few questions surfaced:
Are some organ pipes basically designed to replicate the tonal qualities of the various woodwinds and horns?
Some clarinet soloists create beautiful long notes that swell and recede so softly, like floating. Is there a way to play notes this kind of floating dynamic on an organ?

Frederik Magle

Staff member
Yes, most pipe organs does indeed have voices that are designed to imitate various woodwinds (and brass) instruments with their reed-stops. In fact most "reeds" have always been intended to imitate other instruments, right from the first time such stops appeared - I believe 5-600 years ago. Back then they imitated early instruments such as Schalmey, Dulzian, Cromorne, and other instruments that are no longer in use, but continue to live as voices in pipe organs to this day.

Back to your question about the clarinet-voice: The Clarinet-stop first became popular in the romantic organs of the 19th century, and later on it was "improved" in the "orchestra-organs" so as to resemble the "real" clarinet as much as possible. Many (but not all) organs today have a clarinet voice. It can of course never fully imitate, but can get quite close, when used in certain ways and tonal areas.

The tone can be modulated to an extend by using the swell box, which alters the volume and also the tone slightly (the tone gets a little darker when the swell is closed - at least in a well constructed swellbox), and with use of tremulants. But those long note that "swells" are not possible to recrate on normal pipe organs (although I do believe attempts has been made to imitate such effects in some "orchestral" pipe organs)


Commodore de Cavaille-Coll
On some organs you have a stop called the orchestral clarinet which can give a reasonable facsimile of the clarinet sound as opposed to the regular *clarinet* stop.

Certain organbuilders will construct the clarinet stop in such a way and then *voice* the pipes to give a certain *piquant* color to the ensemble or as a snazzy *solo-line* stop. It can vary greatly from organbuilder to organbuilder - budgets, space, character of the instrument, acoustics and the like will affect the placement or non-placement of said stop.



Thomas Dressler

New member
What Frederik said is very good. The most successful imitations of modern instrument are on early 20th century orchestral organs. These organs are a radical departure from standard organ design, and while they can play transcriptions of orchestral works, and certain kinds of pieces meant for such instruments, they do less well at blending many stops together into a full and rich chorus. . .or at least they do not produce the traditional kind of organ chorus, and therefore it is difficult to use them to play most organ repertoire. But they can be beautiful sounding instruments. One of the best in the US is a Woolsey Hall at Yale University.

Keep in mind that in most pipe organs built according to traditional tonal concepts, the imitative sounds are more or less imitative, and often less, because they are designed for specific tonal functions in terms of blending with other stops. For instance, an organ trumpet may sound different from a real trumpet, but it works very well for its intended use in organ music.

But I suspect that the sounds you're seeking are nearly impossible to recreate on the organ. While it is possible to get fairly close in overall tone quality, the swelling and receding effects are produced with great effort through Swell shades, as Frederik mentioned, and producing this effect on each note like a real clarinetist would be extremely difficult if not impossible.