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Guest Psalm 78 v.67

Octave / Sub Octave Couplers

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Guest Psalm 78 v.67

I'm sure this question must have been asked before and discussed elsewhere, but a search has failed to reveal it to me.

 

What are people's views on the existence and use of octave couplers? They bother me on a couple of levels.

 

1) If they are provided as part of a "scheme", is one not, by using them, destroying whatever balance may have existed in the said scheme? (eg I played a funeral today where the swell has 8 8 8 4 4 lll 8 8 + Octave & Sub-Octave)

 

2) If they are included in an "incomplete" chorus (eg my local Methodist Church has Gt 8 8 8 4 Sw 8 8 4 8 + Octave coupler) does this really "work" ?

 

3) In the case I mentioned in 1) above, the organ is too small for a quite large building, and badly-sited, and the octaves were added to boost the power with a full congregation. It actually sounds awful, and I refrain from resorting to them. Am I therefore doing the congregation and/or the organ a dis-service, seeing as they (the couplers) have been provided for a reason?

 

4) In the example qouted in 2) above, I have to say that I do use the Octave as a sort of substitute for full swell, without the reed, which is a very "fat" and badly-regulated Horn that sounds awful. Am I doing the integrity of the instrument a dis-service here too?

 

I accept that Octave couplers can be useful in providing additional solo colours in conjunction with a "Unison Off" for example - but their use in chorus others me.

 

Any views please?

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I'm sure this question must have been asked before and discussed elsewhere, but a search has failed to reveal it to me.

 

What are people's views on the existence and use of octave couplers?

 

I regularly play on an instrument where the swell comprises 8 8 4 2 III 16

 

The 16 is a contra fagotto, probably quarter length in the bottom octave. There is no proper balance in the chorus, the mixture does not seem to fit, and the 2 is a piccolo which doesn't blend. Whatever one does, the result is not very musical! I do use the octave coupler from time to time - otherwise there seems to be an enormous gap between the reed and the fluework. I have also found that, by coupling 8 8 4 III 16 to the great at octave pitch, with unison off, a reasonably balanced, rich sound can be obtained which works in hymns. For anything contrapuntal, I wouldn't bother with the swell at all, let alone with octave couplers - I just use it as an adjuct to the pedal organ.

 

Returning to the question, I suppose I think that use of octave couplers is quite valid in the following circumstances, particularly in smaller instruments:

Quiet accompanimental effects (eg, to get strings 8 & 4 effect)

Transposition of a solo stop (eg, to get 4' pedal reed for chorale preludes where there are no such 4's on the organ)

 

JJK

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Guest Cynic

I approve of the provision of octave couplers. Obviously, like any selection of stops, one needs to listen to the effect. A Swell octave, for instance, may be of limited use if the compass is only 56 notes - but with 61, virtually anything Baroque will fit and a dullish 8' Flute and 4' Principal with octave coupler becomes a near-equivalent of 8.4.4.2 - in fact a suitable lighter chorus.

 

I especially like suboctave stops - excellent with Oboes, Strings and the occasional Clarion. A suboctave on a Swell 8' with Swell/Great drawn will enable Great stops to be used an octave up.

 

I know few Great suboctaves, but in French Music, these can add a tremendous grandeur when there's a heavy pedal that doesn't depend on the Great/Pedal, or where (sensibly) things have been wired up in such a way that octave couplers do not play through. French organs from Cavaille-Coll onwards almost always have them.

 

[Paragraph removed by moderator]

 

Using such couplers one can create stop combinations from nowhere! A favorite might be an 8.2. flute combination, produced by drawing sub, super and unison off with a 4' flute. In these days of Fifteenths on every department, this can come as a welcome relief. Similarly, a small full swell might consist of 4' Principal, Mixture and Oboe with subcoctave, giving 8.4.grave III.III.16.8. The fact that one might not use such a combination often adds to its charm rather than the other way around.

 

I suppose there's a cost in having octave couplers - more knobs, solenoids and switchgear - but I'm sure that this expenditure can be fully justified. The single most useful octave coupler I have ever met is at St.Mary's Twickenham. A fully tracker action H&H (designed by Mark Venning and Adrian Mumford) boasts fairly small divisions (it is not a large church and space for the instrument is limited). The Swell ends in an 8' Oboe as the only reed while Great (sensibly) has the full-length Trumpet. However, the Swell to Great suboctave absolutely makes the full organ.

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Don't get me going! Oh, you just have. :D

 

I regard sub-octave couplers as possibly the most unmusical gimmick ever inflicted on organists. I am amazed at how deaf organists can be to the effect of the missing notes in the bottom octave, relying on a 16' pedal to kiss everything better. Same goes for the octave coupler in the top octave - even more audibly. Don't these people ever listen to themselves?

 

Furthermore I confess to being slightly bemused by people who inveigh against the extension principle, but swear by octave couplers. What's the difference?

 

To answer your points:

 

1) Basically, yes.

 

2) I don't know that one can be dogmatic about this, but on the whole it's quite likely that an organ of this type doesn't work anyway, so using the octave coupler hardly is hardly going to compromise quality that isn't there in the first place.

 

But, as I said, I'm not entirely dogmatic. I have often felt that a Great suboctave coupler would be useful for playing French repertoire (since the music often expects one) and I am perfectly happy to use an octave coupler with Sw or Solo célestes or to produce the effect of an 8' + 4' flute where the latter does not exist.

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I tend to agree with Cynic's comment. The only reservation that I have relates to the provision of octave couplers to Pedal divisions in small instruments so as to provide 4' tone for solo work. It is far better to make suitable stops playable there at that pitch, or otherwise the manuals from which they are derived can be hopelessly crippled.

 

Rgds

MJF

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I agree with Cynic about the Swell Sub to Great - it would seem to me to be decidely more of use than open to abuse. Mind you a good set of strings, Sub and Super over a decent 32' is a good enough reason to have them even if they are never used for anything else - pure indulgence!. There is also the 'Octaves Alone' on the Choir at Exeter Cathedral - which, without it's Sub and Super which are not present, would seem to be odd until one understands (I think) that it is there to shunt the 16', 8's and 4' quiet stops up an octave for more variety in accompanimental noises. This would seem to be Vox H's idea of 'closet' extension principle - not very 'neat' but if it works....

 

AJJ

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One does not, necessarily, use octave couplers for added brilliance - more for extra colours.
I think this comment about extra colours is a valid and important point and I would include suboctave couplers. I have played far fewer organs than Paul, but I have never yet come across one where stops higher than 4' benefit from a superoctave coupler, least of all Mixture stops.

 

I do draw the line, though, at using such couplers to boost the Full Swell. If the Full Swell has been designed with proper integrity you won't need them. On the other hand, if the Full Swell has been designed to be complete only when they are added, then it has been designed to cope with very little repertoire.

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Yes - Cynic makes some good comments, particularly that regarding the use of Octaves Graves on the GO (or Récit) of French organs. However, these are more effective on French organs (especially those built by Cavaillé-Coll), largely due to the scale and voicing of the sub unison ranks - particularly the reeds.

 

In addition, the effect of octave couplers on well-voiced strings can be quite beautiful.

 

In answer to the point made by Vox: sub octave couplers can be unpleasant - particularly on an old Hele & Co. However, on many organs they can be effective. I occasionally use the Swell Sub Octave on my own instrument. For example, the last section of Mulet's Tu es petra, or about a page of the Final from Vierne's Sixth Symphony.

 

In addition, the Swell Sub Octave used judiciously during psalm accompaniments can be very effective - for example, with the Hautbois and quiet foundation stops.

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Guest Psalm 78 v.67
I tend to agree with Cynic's comment. The only reservation that I have relates to the provision of octave couplers to Pedal divisions in small instruments so as to provide 4' tone for solo work. It is far better to make suitable stops playable there at that pitch, or otherwise the manuals from which they are derived can be hopelessly crippled.

 

Rgds

MJF

 

In what way "crippled"? Surely, if using this facility, you would not be using the manual concerned for the hands at that moment? Is that limitation what you mean?

 

I play an organ from time to time (the 1st one mentioned in my post above) that in addition to Sw super/sub, and sw super/ sub to great, has a Swell Octave to pedal - presumably to use when the octave couplers are used to augment full swell, but I have used it succesfully to play a pedal solo at 4' pitch using the swell oboe, accompanying on the Great. I also know a Wyvern toaster that has a Choir Octave to Pedal, enabling the Clarinet to be used thus.

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Guest Barry Williams

The prime function of an organ in the average church is to accompany hymns. There are usually set in the middle of the keyboard. Thus the use of an octave coupler, however, unmusical it may be, will add colour and/or power without the danger of running out of notes at the top because very few hymns go above treble G.

 

Father Willis and many others often provided octave couplers, including intermanual octave couplers, presumably having scaled the pipework accordingly. Did they intend them to be used in organ music or the playing of hymns? I suspect they were intended mainly for the latter.

 

A number of organ builders have built an extra octave on the soundboard to enable the octave coupler to be used without running out of notes.

 

Barry Williams

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In what way "crippled"? Surely, if using this facility, you would not be using the manual concerned for the hands at that moment? Is that limitation what you mean?

Yes, exactly. I referred to "small instruments", but was in fact thinking of small two manual jobs, and in particular one where such a change had been made, viz. making the Swell Oboe playable at 4' pitch on the Pedal. It allowed much more variation and subtlety.

 

Rgds,

MJF

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A number of organ builders have built an extra octave on the soundboard to enable the octave coupler to be used without running out of notes.

E M Skinner sometimes did this, but on all the examples I have played or seen the feature is restricted to the 16', 8' and 4' stops (and not necessarily all of those). At St Paul's, Winston-Salem NC, it was not a feature of Skinner's proposed specification, but was requested by local organists; Skinner supplied the extra pipes free.

 

Has this been done much on British organs?

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E M Skinner sometimes did this, but on all the examples I have played or seen the feature is restricted to the 16', 8' and 4' stops (and not necessarily all of those). At St Paul's, Winston-Salem NC, it was not a feature of Skinner's proposed specification, but was requested by local organists; Skinner supplied the extra pipes free.

 

Has this been done much on British organs?

 

It is done occaisionally, but it's not that common. It seems likely that the 61 note manual compass was introduced over here to reduce the effects of missing notes in the top octave when using the coupler (normal compass until late Victorian times was to g3 or a3 (56 or 58 notes) - and there's not much repertoire that uses the top of the top octave.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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It is done occasionally, but it's not that common. It seems likely that the 61 note manual compass was introduced over here to reduce the effects of missing notes in the top octave when using the coupler (normal compass until late Victorian times was to g3 or a3 (56 or 58 notes) - and there's not much repertoire that uses the top of the top octave.

I have a vague memory of reading about a Victorian organ builder who marketed a small one-manual organ to churches on the basis that it had an octave coupler AND an extra octave of pipes at the top. I can't remember the actual sales pitch but it was a big claim!

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The prime function of an organ in the average church is to accompany hymns. There are usually set in the middle of the keyboard. Thus the use of an octave coupler, however, unmusical it may be, will add colour and/or power without the danger of running out of notes at the top because very few hymns go above treble G.

 

 

Barry Williams

 

 

Alas with so much talk of what can or can't be performed on an instrument this prime function often seems to have been forgotten.

 

FF

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The Swell Organ of an instrument I used to play had been enlarged by adding: an extra octave at the bottom of the Oboe to produce a Contra-Hautboy 16'; a Clarion 4'; and an octave coupler. Although the top octave of the (former) Oboe had been discarded, I don't think it was missed. On the contrary, the result was one of the best small Swells I've come across, all within eight speaking stops and the octave coupler:

Geigen Diapason 8', Lieblich Gedackt 8', Salicional 8', Gemshorn 4', Mixture 12:15, Contra-Hautboy 16', Cornopean 8' and Clarion 4' + octave coupler.

The three reeds were also playable independently on the Pedal.

Overall, probably the best use of octave coupling and transmission I've come across.

 

Rgds,

MJF

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The prime function of an organ in the average church is to accompany hymns.

Only of the British organ and therein lies the problem. Other nations built musical instruments which inspired, and could express, a respectable repertoire; we built hymn machines that tried to double as one-man orchestras. Says it all really, doesn't it?

 

For all that Downes's work may have been flawed, you can see where he was coming from.

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Only of the British organ and therein lies the problem. Other nations built musical instruments which inspired, and could express, a respectable repertoire; we built hymn machines that tried to double as one-man orchestras. Says it all really, doesn't it?

 

I think this has hit a nail on the head - octave couplers aside, I sometimes wonder when I play here quite what music was intended apart fom hymns and service settings etc. Not unpleasant sounds but big 8' and 4' on the Great that dominate and the rest very much in the background. I doubt if even octave couplers could change this.

 

AJJ

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I sometimes wonder when I play here quite what music was intended apart fom hymns and service settings etc.

Probably stuff along these lines B)

 

29 March, 1782 (being Good Friday). I came to Macclesfield just time enough to assist Mr Simpson in the laborious service of the day. I preached for him morning and afternoon; and we administered the sacrament to about thirteen hundred persons. While we were administering I heard a low, soft, solemn sound, just like that of an Aeolian harp. It continued five or six minutes, and so affected many that they could not refrain from tears. It then gradually died away. Strange that no other organist (that I know) should think of this.

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That sounds about right - though when I gave them Naji Hakim last time I was there they were not moved to tears - maybe I'll try the Aeolian harp bit next time!

 

AJJ

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I have a vague memory of reading about a Victorian organ builder who marketed a small one-manual organ to churches on the basis that it had an octave coupler AND an extra octave of pipes at the top. I can't remember the actual sales pitch but it was a big claim!

 

Hi

 

Hodich & the "Diaocton" stop?

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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I remember playing an organ in East Sussex which had the following rather strange specification, which, admittedly, on paper looks absolutely ghastly. In the reverberant church it sounded fantastic. The Viol on the Swell would do duty as a small reed in volume and tonality. Without the octave and suboctave couplers, this organ would have been a lot less effective. I remember it sounding far bigger than it ever had any right to do!

 

GREAT ORGAN

 

Open Diapason 8 (BIG)

Clarabella 8

Dulciana 8

Octave Coupler

S-Gt

 

SWELL ORGAN

 

Leiblich Gedackt 8

Viol d'Orchestre 8

Concert Flute 4

Sub Octave

Octave

 

PEDAL ORGAN

 

Leiblich Bourdon 16

G-P

S-P

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I remember playing an organ in East

Open Diapason 8 (BIG)

 

Did it say that on the drawstop? :)

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A Mickey Mouse question: if Robert Hope-Jones was so keen on the predominance of sub-octave and unison tone in his organs, what purpose did he see in providing octave and suboctave couplers? Was there any extra colour to be gained, or was it just for more power?

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