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Pistons

dll927

New member
I have often noticed that many European, especially German, organs have pistons only under the first manual. On the other hand, American consoles have them all over the place under every manual. Is there some explanation for the difference?

There seem to be different systems for setting pistons. I've (on TV) seen European consoles that seem to have a series of buttons or controls of some type by each stop, making me wonder how that works. Obviously, I'm talking about electric-action consoles, not Cavaille-Colls!!

One other question: A lot of five-manual consoles seem to have TWO rows of couplers above the fifth manual, and it seems to happen only with 'fives'. That seems like an awful lot of couplers, or are some of them for another purpose? (As you may guess, I've never played a five-manual.)
 

ForsterandAndrews

New member
Hi dll927,
I can't help you with the 5 manual couplers, but can over the first question. I play on both types of organs and the continental 5 or 6 buttons under the bottom keyboard are fixed settings based on volume so you will see written on each piston pp, p, mf, f, ff, tutti and cancel which is in itself a free choice piston because it cancels all the settings and what you have left is what stops you have already switched on. and there may even be a couple of pistons which are settable by the organist, these are done by small tabs over the existing stop tabs, at least on the Verscheuren organ I play dating from 1930. Mainz Cathedral organ also has two tabs above each stop if memory serves me well.
The modern electronic organs produced by Johannes and Viscount also have the same setup and be settable by the organist.
With the English organs the pistons under the manuals might, on the older organs also be fixed on the same loudness principle, but for the more modern consoles these are nearly always settable, the organ in the City Hall in Hull has 15-20 pistons under each keyboard and coupled with a computer system the organist can set up to 16 crescendos and has 64 memories (Ithink)for all the settings for each button on each manual, thus the possibilities are endless and of course very important to allow you to play any music with an appropriate sound.
On the Wanamaker in Philadelphia you also have a similar setup, very necessary for finding your way on that console. I hope this is of some help.
best wishes
F&A
 

Corno Dolce

Admiral Honkenwheezenpooferspieler
Aloha dll927,

I play a five-decker with two rows of flip tabs above the 5th manual. They are inter-manual, intra-manual and manual to pedal couplers at 16', 8', 4' and unison couplers and a pedal to pedal 4' octave coupler.

Cheerio,

CD :):):)
 

dll927

New member
I've usually suspected that those under the first manual did little more than change volume.

Maybe we Americans are somewhat spoiled by the variety we have for setting pistons.

At one tiime, mechanical organs were played with "registrants" at the sides manipulating the stops during playing.

St. Sulpice is supposd to have one stop knob for each manual that allows one change of registration simply by pulling out that knob. How ingenious of C-C!!. But he doesn't seem to have done that with others of his organs.

The so-called "Capture" system has been around for a long time. Nowadays some have computer operated systems that allow various settings on all the pistons except reversibles. That would be ideal for an organ that is played by several different organists.

As in many other pursuits, maybe Americans are just ahead of the rest of the game. And we have a habit of "updating" organs every so often, which doesn't seem to be as common in Europe.

Thanks for your answers, guys.
 

Corno Dolce

Admiral Honkenwheezenpooferspieler
Aloha dll927,

CC has installed *ventils* in many organs besides St. Sulpice. The ventils will activate mixtures, reeds four foot, two foot, and one foot stops(if my memory serves me). Our colleague acc can fill in the details I have missed.

Cheerio,

CD :):):)
 

acc

New member
Divisionals seem to be a typically American thing, whereas Europeans tend to keep to generals only. Hence no buttons between manuals in Europe (one interesting exception is this one here: http://orgue.free.fr/ob23.html, which has 8 generals, plus 6 divisionals per manual). Nowadays, a common “European” argument is that with 5000+ setzer combinations you can do everything you need with generals only, but I still find divisionals quite handy in many situations!

As for why the St-Sulpice system does not exist in other CC organs, the explanation is this: in huge instruments like St-Sulpice, Notre-Dame, or the Ilbarritz castle, not only the key action, but even the stop action would be too heavy if built mechanically, so besides the usual Barker machines for each manual, he built an additional Barker machine devoted solely to the stop action. He then took advantage of this situation to (a) arrange the drawknobs into semi-circles, and (b) include the registration device, both of which could not have been done as easily with a purely mechanical stop action. On not-so-huge instruments, building an extra Barker machine for the stop action would not have been necessary, hence no semi-circles, and no registration device.
 

dll927

New member
It's my understanding that "ventils" are among those infamous little pedals. The reeds and upper work are on separate windchests, and the "ventils" bring them on or off.

I once read somewhere (probably in a CD brochure) that someone playing Franck's "Priere" had no time to press pistons. But this seems to be part and parcel of the happiness of organists at the time with Cavaille-Coll organs. Since there are no pistons, there was no need for time to press them, and all the addng and subtracting was done with the foot controls above the pedal-board.

With all due respect to St. Sulpice (and it has apparently been updated to some extent a few times), I still say that it would be a monster for most American organists to play. I suppose most French organists realize this, but such is the prestige of that position that they will adapt to 1862 standards. And Roth seems to enjoy coupling everything down to that "Grand Choer" (or however you spell it) manual. It's always sort of fun to watch all those other keys dancing around without being touched. Sort of leaves me wondering if Widor, Dupre, etc. did the same. Yes, when needed, but Roth seems to sort of overdo it.

Much ink has been spilled over the "ruination" or replacement of old Cavaille-Colls. They even did it at Notre Dame clear back in the '60's.
 

acc

New member
One advantage of those spoons à la CC is that they are operated by foot rather than by hand. Widor himself already observed that at any given moment, the organist is much more likely to have a foot available than a hand (or even only a thumb). Franck's Prière is indeed a good example, e.g. the beginning of the section in C# Major, when he asks for the Trompette: engaging the Anches Récit spoon is no problem, whereas pressing a thumb piston would be highly acrobatic.

Likewise for Widor: I've located only one spot in his ten symphonies that can not be handled with combination spoons alone (if one is to apply his registrations to the letter), and that's in the first mouvement of the Romane, when he asks for the Récit reeds, with the mixtures already there.

If you're used to modern American organs, St-Sulpice indeed takes a while getting used to. And yes, Daniel Roth couples everything down to the first manual, but there is a good reason for that: CC did not build any couplers between the other manuals! (Mutin added a Récit/Positif coupler in 1903, but that's it.)
 

dll927

New member
It seems a good bit has been written about how the organists of the time were so pleased with the "symphonic" instruments. And if they wrote their music to fit how the organs were played, who can blame them? Pretty much a matter of necessity, I'd say.

The fact remains that these days they usually put electric stop action even on organs built with mechanical key action. So there are advantages, and if technology hadn't reached that point in C-C's day, that's not his fault. He did what he could, and most seemed to think he was building "state of the art", as we would say nowadays.

Apparently he didn't see the need for all the couplers we take for granted now. He has also been accused of ignoring mutation stops and mixtures. But with all the mechanical appertances, there is such a thing as a limit to the space available.
 

acc

New member
1) Indeed, CC didn't see the need for complete couplers when he started building organs in the 1840s — simply because the literature and the liturgical use of that time didn't require them. Although his building style was revolutionary in many respects, it was still deeply rooted in the classical French 18th century tradition.

Franck was the first to ask for complete couplers, and even that was influenced by the peculiar coupler arrangement at Ste-Clotilde: instead of the then usual Réc/GO and Pos/GO, he had Réc/Pos and Pos/GO (and since couplers were "cascading", using both resulted in an indirect Réc/GO coupler, thus giving complete manual couplings). But that was very unusual for 1859: until well into the 1870s, most CC's organs still had couplers to the first manual only.

It was really Widor (and, to a certain extent, Guilmant) who started asking for complete couplers in his scores without having them available at first, and thereby inciting CC to add them to his new instruments. The habit of a systematic Réc/Pos coupler probably started with the Trocadéro organ of 1878 (I'll have to check this next time I can get my hands on a copy of Eschbach's compendium).

2) As for modern instruments in symphonic style, it seems obvious that the stop action (as opposed to the key action) is inessential to an "authentic" rendition of the relevant repertoire, and it would be a pity if one didn't take advantage of modern devices such as setzers, etc.

However, one should keep in mind that the acoustic result does get modified in one respect: when you depress an Anches spoon on a CC organ, the wind first has to fill the chest before reaching the pipes, whereas a modern setzer will just slide the registers and make the pipes speak from an already fully winded chest. I am indebted to Thomas Dressler, who drew my attention to this matter on this very forum, and I have come to agree with him: the effect is not quite the same.
 

Corno Dolce

Admiral Honkenwheezenpooferspieler
Dr. Eschbach's info on the Trocadero in regards to playing appurtenances:

Tirasse Grand-Orgue
Tirasse Positif
Tirasse Recit
Anches Pedale
Octaves Graves des Claviers: Grand-Orgue, Positif, Recit, Solo Bombarde
Appels des Jeux de Combinaison: Grand-Orgue, Positif, Recit, Solo Bombarde
Accouplements au Grand-Orgue: Grand-Orgue sur Machine, Positif, Recit, Solo Bombarde
Copula Recit sur Positif
Combinaison de la gr. Pedale
Combinaison du Solo
 

pcnd5584

New member
... With all due respect to St. Sulpice (and it has apparently been updated to some extent a few times) ...

The organ at S. Sulpice has been restored on a number of occasions, but not updated. Only two additions have been mads since the instrument was reconstructed by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in 1862; The Pédale Orgue gained principals at 16ft. and 8ft. in 1934. The console remains as it was left by Cavaillé-Coll.

Much ink has been spilled over the "ruination" or replacement of old Cavaille-Colls. They even did it at Notre Dame clear back in the '60's.

This is an interesting point. Personally I prefer the sound of the organ as it was by the mid-1970s. Whilst I have to rely on good quality recordings, by 1955 (the year in which Pierre Cochereau succeeded Léonce de Saint-Martin as Organiste Titulaire) the instrument was in a parlous state. True, it could simply have been restored, replacing only worn or damaged parts, but leaving it tonally intact. However, it is possible that, had this course of action been adopted, many of Cochereau's recorded improvisations would simply not exist (due in part to the nature of the console itself) in the form in which they were created.

As is well known, the organ was thoroughly restored between 1990-92, when, in addition to a complete mechanical restoration (and in many cases renewal), a number of tonal alterations were made, the most notable being the re-casting of most of the chorus mixtures, the suppression of the compound stops on the Récit-expressif and the addition of two further chamade ranks (modelled on those on the Grand Orgue in the Basilica of S. Sernin, Toulouse).

It is perhaps unfortunate that the composition of many of the mixtures was altered; gone is the wonderful brightness - so clear on many of Cochereau's recordings. Now the tutti is dominated by the reeds - albeit superb ranks.

I have heard the instrument on a number of occasions, both from the nave pavement and in the tribune (leaning against the beautiful case) and I must admit that I do miss the sheer vitality - almost percussiveness - of the instrument in its previous incarnation. Now it sounds rather different - and not exactly as it did prior to 1955, if recordings are any guide at all.
 
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acc

New member
The organ at S. Sulpice has been restored on a number of occasions, but not updated. Only two additions have been mads since the instrument was reconstructed by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in 1862; The Pédale Orgue gained principals at 16ft. and 8ft. in 1934. The console remains as it was left by Cavaillé-Coll.

There have been a few more alterations by Mutin back in 1903: removal of the three free reed stops and of the 5th and 7th harmonics from mixtures, addition of a septième mutation stop in the Solo (probably taken from the discarded mixture rank).

On http://www.glandaz.com/pictures.htm, Olivier Glandaz also claims that in the 1991 restoration, Renaud did some deliberate revoicing, but I don't know if that is documented anywhere.
 
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