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Mendelssohn Registration Query


john carter
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Running through Mendelssohn's 5th Sonata last night, I had difficulty deciding how to register the opening Andante. The score indicates "mit 16" for the manuals, but every option I tried just sounded muddy to my ears, even using a double string which blends easily in most circumstances. Of the recordings I have, none sounded significantly better. I hate to ignore something clearly indicated in the score, but it just doesn't sound right. Is it just me, or does anyone have the same feeling? How do you register this movement?

JC

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-What kind of "Double string" (16' Gamba) do you have ?

 

-What are the 8' you use ? and the 4' ?

 

British 16' Strings can be quite heavy, while the 4' is very important; it must

stand out on the right hand; you should use a stop voiced with treble ascendency,

say a 4' harmonic Flute -though some can be quite muddy in the bass-

 

In Leipzig, Mendelssohn played transition organs, just between Silbermann

and Ladegast. And oh, yes, he also knew of british Music boxes.

 

Here is an alternative on a big, late romantic organ -also not suited to Mendelssohn stricto sensu-

which had the same problem (Walcker St-Paul Strasbourg):

 

http://www.walckerorgel.de/gewalcker.de/Fo...ter%20unser.mp3

 

This MP3 lends to a trial with a kind of Full-Swell added to the too dark Manual I flue stops.

 

Pierre

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Huh, amateurs! I'm feeling a bit silly now. :o Having engaged my brain and ears this morning, the problem turned out to be as much with the pedal registration as the manual 16. Having lightened the pedal, it all sounds closer to what I was aiming to achieve. Either Gamba or Salicional coupled suboctave from their respective departments to the GO work well and much better than the GO's own Bourdon 16.

 

Thanks for the link, Pierre. It sounded depressingly familiar and just what I was trying to avoid. Hopefully, I have now found the right balance.

JC

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Guest Cynic

Dear John Carter

I'd give you simpler advice: If it sounds wrong for the organ you're playing, choose other stops and ignore the 16.8.4 direction.

 

Time and again composers for the organ recognise this principle and several of them have printed such comments inside their scores.

 

For you to know that it sounds wrong, it strikes me that you're already doing all the right things!

 

P.

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
Running through Mendelssohn's 5th Sonata last night, I had difficulty deciding how to register the opening Andante. The score indicates "mit 16" for the manuals, but every option I tried just sounded muddy to my ears, even using a double string which blends easily in most circumstances. Of the recordings I have, none sounded significantly better. I hate to ignore something clearly indicated in the score, but it just doesn't sound right. Is it just me, or does anyone have the same feeling? How do you register this movement?

JC

 

As Felix happily says to us (!):

 

"Much depends, in these Sonatas, upon the proper selection of the Organ stops. Every instrument, however, with which I am acquainted has its own peculiar mode of treatment in this respect, and stops of the same name do not always produce the same effect in different organs. I have therefore given only a general indication of the kind of effect to be produced, without adding a list of the particular stops to be used. By fortissimo, I intend the use of Full Organ; by pianissimo, a soft-toned 8ft stop is generally intended; by forte, the Great Organ, without some of the most powerful stops; by piano, some soft-toned 8ft stops in combination, and so forth. In the Pedal, I prefer throughout, even in pianissimo the 8ft and 16ft stops together, except when the contrary is expressly specified (see the 6th Sonata). It is therefore left to the judgment of the organist to combine the different stops appropriately to the style of the various movements. Let him (or she, of course in today's climate of equal opportunity! - N), be careful, however, when employing two manuals that the kind of tone in one should be readily distinguished from that in the other, but without producing too violent a contrast between the two qualities of organ-tone."

 

Therefore, the sonorities are left to the individual to select. I have always treated the sound of adding the 16ft as one of inducing gravitas to the music and thus producing an all-embracing richesse of sound to the listener in the church (with acoustic). But I rarely find a Romantic/Symphonic instrument doing this in M-B's music as it is so often bottom-heavy in scaling. Baroque-age organs frequently are just right as the basses are light and opaque and the trebles more singing. The musical lines are still completely audible. This is the test for me - "can I hear what the composer has written?", for I sincerely believe that he would not write the notes with such care if they were to be hidden by gunge. The prime difficulty for me is playing polyphonic music on a homophonic instrument. I also came across the fact that many of my students (when I taught) thought of Mendelssohn being synonymous with the High Romantic instruments in the UK and a Tuba completely necessary for Sonata No 3. (read last sentence above :) ). This movement is not part of Tannhäuser.

 

Best wishes,

Nigel

 

P.S. A wrinkle. To test the Polyphonic qualities of an organ, I take the main Diapason/Principal of the Gt and play a triad on the bottom C. If it is clear and true, then I am going to be happy and the collaboration fruitful. N

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I also came across the fact that many of my students (when I taught) thought of Mendelssohn being synonymous with the High Romantic instruments in the UK and a Tuba completely necessary for Sonata No 3. (read last sentence above :) ). This movement is not part of Tannhäuser.

How interesting that you should say this. Last year I heard a performance of the 5th Sonata in which the registration was orchestral in the extreme, with a wealth of colour. I thought at the time that the interpretation was quite Wagnerian in concept. The performance was splendid - but it didn't sound remotely like Mendelssohn! (And it wasn't on a Hele, either!)

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How interesting that you should say this. Last year I heard a performance of the 5th Sonata in which the registration was orchestral in the extreme, with a wealth of colour. I thought at the time that the interpretation was quite Wagnerian in concept. The performance was splendid - but it didn't sound remotely like Mendelssohn! (And it wasn't on a Hele, either!)

 

With Wagner's view on Mendelssohn in mind, somehow I don't think I would use "Wagnerian" registrations for MB's music....

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With Wagner's view on Mendelssohn in mind, somehow I don't think I would use "Wagnerian" registrations for MB's music....

 

This is another problem.....

Mr Allcoat's comment go in the very same direction as the datas I could gather

about the organs Mendelssohn played in Leipzig: just between Silbermann and Ladegast,

also far away from "fully romantic" ones.

Some later organs, like Schulze or Furtwängler, do well, but it is precisely because

they are conservative, still with baroque-like choruses.

 

Pierre

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
This is another problem.....

Mr Allcoat's comment go in the very same direction as the datas I could gather

about the organs Mendelssohn played in Leipzig: just between Silbermann and Ladegast,

also far away from "fully romantic" ones.

Some later organs, like Schulze or Furtwängler, do well, but it is precisely because

they are conservative, still with baroque-like choruses.

 

Pierre

 

I play at Armley (the Schulze) next Monday - so will try first hand these sounds.

 

N.

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Dear John Carter

I'd give you simpler advice: If it sounds wrong for the organ you're playing, choose other stops and ignore the 16.8.4 direction.

 

Time and again composers for the organ recognise this principle and several of them have printed such comments inside their scores.

 

For you to know that it sounds wrong, it strikes me that you're already doing all the right things!

 

P.

Thanks for the wise words and re-assuring advice, Paul. As you suggest, every instrument is different, so it's better to trust your ears rather than the printed page.

JC

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As Felix happily says to us (!):

 

"Much depends, in these Sonatas, upon the proper selection of the Organ stops. Every instrument, however, with which I am acquainted has its own peculiar mode of treatment in this respect, and stops of the same name do not always produce the same effect in different organs. I have therefore given only a general indication of the kind of effect to be produced, without adding a list of the particular stops to be used. By fortissimo, I intend the use of Full Organ; by pianissimo, a soft-toned 8ft stop is generally intended; by forte, the Great Organ, without some of the most powerful stops; by piano, some soft-toned 8ft stops in combination, and so forth. In the Pedal, I prefer throughout, even in pianissimo the 8ft and 16ft stops together, except when the contrary is expressly specified (see the 6th Sonata). It is therefore left to the judgment of the organist to combine the different stops appropriately to the style of the various movements. Let him (or she, of course in today's climate of equal opportunity! - N), be careful, however, when employing two manuals that the kind of tone in one should be readily distinguished from that in the other, but without producing too violent a contrast between the two qualities of organ-tone."

 

Therefore, the sonorities are left to the individual to select. I have always treated the sound of adding the 16ft as one of inducing gravitas to the music and thus producing an all-embracing richesse of sound to the listener in the church (with acoustic). But I rarely find a Romantic/Symphonic instrument doing this in M-B's music as it is so often bottom-heavy in scaling. Baroque-age organs frequently are just right as the basses are light and opaque and the trebles more singing. The musical lines are still completely audible. This is the test for me - "can I hear what the composer has written?", for I sincerely believe that he would not write the notes with such care if they were to be hidden by gunge. The prime difficulty for me is playing polyphonic music on a homophonic instrument. I also came across the fact that many of my students (when I taught) thought of Mendelssohn being synonymous with the High Romantic instruments in the UK and a Tuba completely necessary for Sonata No 3. (read last sentence above :) ). This movement is not part of Tannhäuser.

 

Best wishes,

Nigel

 

P.S. A wrinkle. To test the Polyphonic qualities of an organ, I take the main Diapason/Principal of the Gt and play a triad on the bottom C. If it is clear and true, then I am going to be happy and the collaboration fruitful. N

Nigel,

Thanks for the reminder about Mendelssohn's own words, which I have seen before, and your insight into how to interpret them. I see how necessary it is to be confident and adapt one's approach according to the instrument you are using. Your "wrinkle" about assessing the polyphonic qualities is indeed a most interesting and revealing test.

Incidentally, you will be pleased to note that I would never use a Tuba in Sonata No 3, though I might admit to a Trompette Militaire ... :D

JC

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
Running through Mendelssohn's 5th Sonata last night, I had difficulty deciding how to register the opening Andante. The score indicates "mit 16" for the manuals, but every option I tried just sounded muddy to my ears, even using a double string which blends easily in most circumstances. Of the recordings I have, none sounded significantly better. I hate to ignore something clearly indicated in the score, but it just doesn't sound right. Is it just me, or does anyone have the same feeling? How do you register this movement?

JC

 

Somewhere on this Power Board* I said that I would return with a description for this registration on the Schulze instrument in St Bartholomew's, Armley after coming home last night. It was an illuminating experience in so many ways. And what a restoration of everything! The church is spectacular. Well done Lottery Funding!

As for musical things, the using of 16fts are always necessary on Gt, Sw and Ch choruses. In fact there is a totally odd feel to everything without them. Scaling is the key. I tried numerous softer combinations too and the the inclusion of a 16ft to them added a glorious richness and a fullness that worked wonderfully. The grand singing quality of the organ is enhanced so well by the splendid acoustic. This was all such a treat.

 

All best wishes,

Nigel

 

* I would find my Post, but am quite at sea with the new layout. Although I abhor sequencers I like my Board in sequence! I am old fashioned, of course. N

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
"It was an illuminating experience in so many ways. "

(Quote)

 

Isn't it? B)

 

Did you try Mendelssohn there?

 

Pierre

 

I played Bohm Praeludium C, Bach (6th Trio Sonata), a Walter Variations and Buxtehude F# minor and a large 4 movement improvisation after the interval. But I assure you - all was fully tried out (having remembered the discussions here about Felix M-B ). Having played it 20 years ago, it was illuminating to see how things had changed (with wind, action and cleaning) as well as with the new Harrison internal layout. It also shed light on the lineage of my first organ in London which was by Lewis and the Great had such a similar impact as the Armley produces. It was delightful to hear soft and characterful sounds too that are reappearing from the continent to these shores - perhaps notably by Bernard Aubertin. Also illuminating to hear a story that the organist refused to have these delights re-voiced. Good on Graham!

 

All best wishes,

Nigel

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This is another problem.....

Mr Allcoat's comment go in the very same direction as the datas I could gather

about the organs Mendelssohn played in Leipzig: just between Silbermann and Ladegast,

also far away from "fully romantic" ones.

Some later organs, like Schulze or Furtwängler, do well, but it is precisely because

they are conservative, still with baroque-like choruses.

 

Pierre

 

 

I'm sure it would be well worth finding out more about the organs played by M-B around the time of his organ compositions. The only documented instance I know of is a public recital at the Thomaskirche, Leipzig in 1840 to raise funds for a Bach memorial. Does anyone know of any schlarly research into organs of the 'in-between' period referred to by Pierre Lauwers?

 

The 3 P&Fs date from 1837 when M-B was based in Leipzig. One theory I have heard is that he was accustomed to playing the organ in village churches on excursions into the surrounding countryside. If so, these are likely to have been fairly modest 2m instruments, perhaps by Gottfried Silbermann himself (e.g. Marienkirche, Rötha IIP/23, only 15 km away) or else by local builders influenced by him.

 

J F Ladegast's Opus 1 dates from 1838. Until Merseburg Cathedral (Opus 23) in 1855 all his organs were modest affairs of 1 or 2 manuals and no more than a couple of dozen stops and designed very much in the traditional Saxon/Thuringian style.

 

J F Schulze set up on his own account as an organbuilder in 1826. He is known to have built a number of rather larger instruments in the same part of Germany: perhaps some of these were known to M-B. (The Armley organ, of course, did not begin life until 1866).

 

The 6 Sonatas were written in 1844/5, by which time M-B had moved back to Berlin and had travelled widely abroad, including to England, where he is known to have played the organ at St Paul's Cathedral after evensong on several occasions.

 

It's worth noting that many of M-B's organ compositions, including the P&Fs and Sonatas, were the result of English commissions and that they were published both here and in Germany. However, it is unlikely that they were playable - at least, as written - on more than a handful of English organs at that time.

 

Maybe the simple answer is that M-B composed them as 'pure music' with no particular instrument in mind.

 

Margaret Phillips has recorded the complete works on two historically preserved/reconstructed organs from the 1830s, though both from a different region of Germany (Westphalia & Baden-Württemburg). Nevertheless the music sounds pretty convincing.

 

As for the opening of Sonata 3, we know it was first conceived form his sister, Fanny's wedding, so parhaps we may be forgiven the odd burst of Tuba at bar 7 .... Perhaps some enterprising soul would like to discover where the ceremony took place, what the organ was like and hence what it must have first sounded like.

 

JS

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To find more about the organs F.M. actually played, liked,

and made the reception of, is one of the things I am

researching.

For the moment particularly with two names:

Schweinefleisch

 

Johann Gottlob Mende.

 

The second was a teacher of Ladegast, and F.M. made the reception

of an organ he rebuilt in Leipzig.

 

More later.

 

Pierre

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Some more:

 

Johann Gottlob Mende rebuild 1841 the"Thomaskirchof" organ,

which was built by Schweinefleisch in 1766.Mendelssohn

was a member of this church.

 

He himself receptionned the work.

 

The history of the german romantic organ would fill many books.

The "grand romantic" movement is a southern affair, with

of course Eberhard Friedrich Walcker; he was in the tradition of

builders like Gabler and Holzhey, and Trost and Casparini.

Typical are the flue choruses, which are rather in the Trost manner,

with tierce ranks everywhere. The Mixtures had different scales for

each rank, and the chorus was formed with several families of stops.

 

In the central and northern Germany, the Principal chorus remained very

much in the Silbermann (with builders like Ladegast, Jehmlich and Schulze)

or even Schnitger (Furtwängler) tradition, with choruses on each manual save the

last, third one ("Farbwerk", a division providing solo and color stops, or an Echo division).

I call these organs "northern german romantic organs", and Armley is one of the

very best examples we still have nearly original tonally.

 

F.M.B. had "Silbermann tradition" organs in Leipzig, somewhere "in-between"

in style but still rooted in that tradition.

 

So despite being of course anachronist in saying Armley is ideal for F.M.B., fact is

the organ itself is very close to the point as a conservative, rather classical design.

 

Pierre

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It's worth noting that many of M-B's organ compositions, including the P&Fs and Sonatas, were the result of English commissions and that they were published both here and in Germany. However, it is unlikely that they were playable - at least, as written - on more than a handful of English organs at that time.

 

Maybe the simple answer is that M-B composed them as 'pure music' with no particular instrument in mind.

I think the English connection can be overdone. The sonatas were cobbled together, with many of the movements being reworkings of pieces Mendelssohn had written earlier (though I don't remember how much earlier). The edition by William A. Little prints all the variant versions.

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