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Standards Of Tuning


Guest Cynic

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Guest Cynic

I have occasionally hinted on this forum that I am not averse to organs sounding slightly less than perfectly in tune - e.g. divisions slightly adrift from each other. I am against the principle of fluework being completely re-tuned every time the tuner comes, just for the purpose of adapting to a change of weather etc. etc. Well...... for me, all this extra resonance and warmth definitely adds a richness that is absent when everything has been gone through with a fine tooth comb immediately before the performance.

 

However, all of us have limits! I would, for instance, refrain from using a solo stop (assuming there is any choice left to me) in a recital if the out-of-tune notes occur in an obvious way. This is (for me) worse than an inadequate solo singer who may miss top G the first time, but makes a better stab of it as the piece goes on. With a solo stop out-of-tune, a listener has no option but to hear the same offensive note regularly repeated - this becomes an experience quite alien to the music if one knows the piece, sitting nervously expecting the rogue pitch to come round again.

 

Having said all this, this week I have been enjoying (for the most part) the 5-CD reissue Orgues et Organistes Francais du XXieme Siecle which includes first-rate musical performances by players whom we usually only know as composers. Two or three are a revelation - for musicality on this showing IMHO there is nobody to better Andre Marchal, and for virtuosity - would you believe Viscomte Leonce de Saint-Martin?

 

Now....organ after organ, on these CDs the tuning can best be described as a caricature of approximate pitch. The fluework is usually respectable, but reeds sound as if they haven't been touched in decades, let alone during the week of the (expensive and rare) recording session. Considering that it need not take more than 10 minutes to check through a reed stop in a well-laid out instrument, this makes me wonder - why didn't these performers seem to mind? How come these sounds didn't set their teeth on edge as much as they did mine?

 

I'd better not name the place, but this week I also attended a live recital on a famous U.K. organ. The recital was superb - musical to a degree, exciting and (much rarer) the choice of music was exactly right from every standpoint. There were things I had not heard, coupled with pieces that this instrument does to perfection. Why do I bring this up? Stop after stop, there would be rogue notes - at first, I thought the performer had chosen his stops poorly, but then it became apparent that he was using different combinations and equivalent notes were still well adrift everywhere (mostly near the top of the compass).

 

Fluework does not randomly go well out-of-tune. In very dry weather, stopped flutes sometimes slip a bit, but otherwise, even with major changes of atmospheric conditions/temeratures, a decently tuned organ will not have odd notes, scattered about randomly between the various stops, that are unbearably 'out'.

 

Not even acute laziness on the tuner's part will explain this -

and in this case I am sure we can rule out sniffer dogs patrolling before a security-critical visit.....

 

 

Your opinions/hypotheses are invited!

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As I already said, mentionning Mr Grenzing's writings, a french ear isn't

a british one.

French reeds are very idiosyncratic, something you cannot appreciate

really if your mothertongue wasn't the french; and this kind of reeds

go off tune should a fly fall dead in a resonator, or the door behind

the organ be left open while the temperature in the tower straircase is 5° C

lower than round the organ.

And I often noted french ears are more tolerant to off-tune chorus reeds

than others: Trompettes, Clairons......But at the same time a french organist

will take care to tune himself a Cromorne or a Voix humaine if off-tuning.

So solo stops will be cared, Trompettes, bôf, c'est pas grave....

 

Pierre

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Guest Cynic
As I already said, mentionning Mr Grenzing's writings, a french ear isn't

a british one.

French reeds are very idiosyncratic, something you cannot appreciate

really if your mothertongue wasn't the french; and this kind of reeds

go off tune should a fly fall dead in a resonator, or the door behind

the organ be left open while the temperature in the tower straircase is 5° C

lower than round the organ.

And I often noted french ears are more tolerant to off-tune chorus reeds

than others: Trompettes, Clairons......But at the same time a french organist

will take care to tune himself a Cromorne or a Voix humaine if off-tuning.

So solo stops will be cared, Trompettes, bôf, c'est pas grave....

 

Pierre

 

 

Thanks for this non-English view. 'Autre pays......'

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Guest Barry Oakley
As I already said, mentionning Mr Grenzing's writings, a french ear isn't

a british one.

French reeds are very idiosyncratic, something you cannot appreciate

really if your mothertongue wasn't the french; and this kind of reeds

go off tune should a fly fall dead in a resonator, or the door behind

the organ be left open while the temperature in the tower straircase is 5° C

lower than round the organ.

And I often noted french ears are more tolerant to off-tune chorus reeds

than others: Trompettes, Clairons......But at the same time a french organist

will take care to tune himself a Cromorne or a Voix humaine if off-tuning.

So solo stops will be cared, Trompettes, bôf, c'est pas grave....

 

Pierre

 

And I suspect Spanish ears are even more tolerant than their French neighbours.

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And I suspect Spanish ears are even more tolerant than their French neighbours.

 

After Mr Grenzing, in Castille (centrum of the iberic peninsulae), it goes up

to the Mixtures. They do not hear when they are off-tune.

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Guest Barry Williams

I never cease to be disappointed at the number of tuners who either cannot, or will not, be bothered to lay a proper scale. Tuning at the octave is relatively easy; setting a scale requires skill, though there are machines that take the slog out of the job.

 

Barry Williams

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Guest Barry Oakley
I never cease to be disappointed at the number of tuners who either cannot, or will be bothered, to lay a proper scale. Tuning at the octave is relatively easy; setting a scale requires skill, though there are machines that take the slog out of the job.

 

Barry Williams

I would agree, but whilst it's OK to lay a scale using one of the very sophisticated electronic devices such as the Reyburn, I would not be a slave to the electronic method. In the end it comes down to ear perception and that's where the art of tuning lies.

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... French reeds are very idiosyncratic, something you cannot appreciate

really if your mothertongue wasn't the french; and this kind of reeds

go off tune should a fly fall dead in a resonator, or the door behind

the organ be left open while the temperature in the tower straircase is 5° C

lower than round the organ.

And I often noted french ears are more tolerant to off-tune chorus reeds

than others: Trompettes, Clairons......But at the same time a french organist

will take care to tune himself a Cromorne or a Voix humaine if off-tuning.

So solo stops will be cared, Trompettes, bôf, c'est pas grave....

 

Pierre

 

Not necessarily, Pierre - I am more than happy to appreciate French reeds (French is not my mother-tongue, incidentally).

 

English reeds will also be put off speech if a fly were to fall into a resonator (if the pipe is not mitred), or if there is a slight change in the micro-climate in the organ loft.

 

Now I hope that no-one is going to be silly and mention tubas again....

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You really appreciate french reeds?

 

Here are some (St-Gervais, Paris, before 1972):

 

http://perso.orange.fr/organ-au-logis/Musi...inorgueseul.mp3

 

That is "the real thing".....Want some more ? Let me know.

 

There is nothing more reliable as reed tuning as a Tuba or Tromba. Really.

(This said, baroque french reeds are as precious, and we need to take all means

to protect historical examples. In french, not british organs).

 

Pierre

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You really appreciate french reeds?

 

Here are some (St-Gervais, Paris, before 1972):

 

http://perso.orange.fr/organ-au-logis/Musi...inorgueseul.mp3

 

That is "the real thing".....Want some more ? Let me know.

 

There is nothing more reliable as reed tuning as a Tuba or Tromba. Really.

(This said, baroque french reeds are as precious, and we need to take all means

to protect historical examples. In french, not british organs).

 

Pierre

 

Pierre - thank you for the clip.

 

Yes - why would I not appreciate this sound? It is more vital, more full of life and interest than any Tuba or Tromba which I have ever heard. The majority of my CD collection consists of French organs (ranging from the Baroque period through to present-day instruments) - I am quite familiar with the sounds of French reeds and I like them very much! I also have the great pleasure of playing French instruments from time to time (together with those in other European countries). Two of my favourite organs are the superb Cavaillé-Coll instrument in S. Etienne, Caen and the modern two-clavier instrument in the church of S. Malo, Valognes, Manche. However, I have enjoyed playing many other French organs - except the Orgue du Choeur in Chartres cathedral. I am quite certain that even you, Pierre, would not wish simply to restore this organ; it is, without doubt, the worst instrument which I have ever played.

 

Tuning: yes, of course a high-pressure, thick-tongued reed will be stable in speech and tuning. However, most British organs do not have Tubas and Trombas. There are plenty of examples around - but they are not exactly the first reeds to be included in a particular instrument.*

 

Ordinary chorus reeds (trumpets, horns, cornopeans, posaunes, etc) often on pressures ranging from around 82mm to 125mm or so can just as easily be put off speech as ordinary French bombardes, trompettes, clairons and cromornes.

 

 

 

* Actually, I possess a few examples (on both LP and CD) of British instruments in which the tuning of high-pressure reeds is fairly unpleasant. One of the most notable is an old recording of Christopher Gower playing Bossi's Entrée Pontificale - the top E on the Tuba (coupled to everything else) is horribly out of tune. I cannot imagine why someone did not just re-tune the note - and then re-record the ending of the piece and edit it in. I would not have been happy with leaving such a discordant sound on a commercial recording.

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" It is more vital, more full of life and interest than any Tuba or Tromba which I have ever heard. The majority of my CD collection consists of French organs "

(Quote)

 

......And you may copy/paste this sentence, but reversed, for me! :)

French isn't my mothertongue, indeed. And I shall never like very much

these.....Rattling tongues.

But in the meantime, I won't tell they are "worse" than any other....See the difference?

 

The "normal" chorus reed is the Willis one, and I think you mind that one as

the most represented.

But it stays in tune far better than any french model.

 

Pierre

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" It is more vital, more full of life and interest than any Tuba or Tromba which I have ever heard. The majority of my CD collection consists of French organs "

(Quote)

 

......And you may copy/paste this sentence, but reversed, for me! :)

French isn't my mothertongue, indeed. And I shall never like very much

these.....Rattling tongues.

But in the meantime, I won't tell they are "worse" than any other....See the difference?

 

The "normal" chorus reed is the Willis one, and I think you mind that one as

the most represented.

But it stays in tune far better than any french model.

 

Pierre

 

This may be so - but since you or another contributor once wrote that French organists (like their Dutch counterparts) are often adept at tuning their own reeds, this is not necessarily a problem. However, I have never personally heard an English Tromba that is either full of life - or which has vitality. They tend to have an opaque, harmonically-dead obliterating sound. If you like this, then fair enough - but I would not call it a 'lively' or 'vital' sound!

 

For all that some criticise the tuning of French reeds, I have many recordings of the great organ at Nôtre-Dame Cathedral, Paris, and it is almost always in excellent tune; rarely is there an out of tune note to be heard. S. Sulpice is another good example. For that matter, the times which I have played at S. Etienne, Caen, the organ has always been in excellent tune. However, I do agree that 'Willis' reeds (for example) stay in tune well. I have played the Truro organ on a few summer evenings to know that this is the case. However, I would rather have a good French Bombarde that the Pedal Ophicleide at Truro - at least they can generally be used with registrations other than full organ, without fear of over-balancing the ensemble.

 

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I noted the french organists will tune their Solo reeds, but tolerate more from the chorus

reeds than the average european organist.

This is one symptom among many, many others which demonstrate the intimate relations

between styles, languages -a whole cultural environment-.

 

What is "Life" in a Trumpet stop?

Do you mean the many irregularities in strenght, tone and rattle?

This is indeed typical of french Trompettes, and a drawback it is not,

since the "Grand-jeu" registration compensate for just that.

We must leave them alone as they are, as a part of an organ concept

that gives fine musical results.

Minute regulated and voiced Tromba deserve the same respect as well.

Even this side of the Channel, in the Middle of nowhere also, we know

Arthur Harrison spent nearly all his time voicing with a maniac search

for perfection.

We can guess the time spent on a Tromba by A.H. or W.C. Jones to be at least

10 times more than with any french Trompette.

So should we despise the foie gras because we momentarily prefer a crispy salad ?

 

Pierre

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What is "Life" in a Trumpet stop?

Harmonics

 

Minute regulated and voiced Tromba deserve the same respect as well.

Even this side of the Channel, in the Middle of nowhere also, we know

Arthur Harrison spent nearly all his time voicing with a maniac search

for perfection.

We can guess the time spent on a Tromba by A.H. or W.C. Jones to be at least

10 times more than with any french Trompette.

So should we despise the foie gras because we momentarily prefer a crispy salad ?

Just because they are well made, it doesn't follow that they are musical. Craft and art are two different things.

 

Which is better for your health - a protein-rich diet or a fat-rich one? :)

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Harmonics

.

 

Which is better for your health - a protein-rich diet or a fat-rich one? :)

 

So why not introduce "life" in a Stopped Diapason then ? You need a Viole d'orchestre instead....There are bright stops, and dark ones.

Would we tell a painter he must avoid the dark colors, and restrict himself to the bright ones, comparing

the latter with "good" diet, and the former with a "bad" diet ?

 

One of the failures of the Neo-baroque fashion was indeed just there: the absence of soft stops rich

in harmonics let us with cloying Gedackts (with "TSCHACK-TSCHACK" voicing as well) as sole "soft"

possibility, while all the rest was bright, Mixtures, Reeds.....As a result you have absolutely no more

control on the palette, it is either too dark (the few foundations that are there are all dark) or

screaming-bright.

 

We need to reappropriate the complete range, the complete palette of organ color. Not "only for romantics", it is badly needed for Bach as well.

Too many modern organs walk but on one foot.

 

Pierre

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So why not introduce "life" in a Stopped Diapason then ?
But a good Stopped Diapason will have an interesting harmonic structure, as you will appreciate if you compare it with a typical Hohl Flute. Ditto decent neo-Baroque flute stops, so I don't accept your argument.
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But a good Stopped Diapason will have an interesting harmonic structure, as you will appreciate if you compare it with a typical Hohl Flute. Ditto decent neo-Baroque flute stops, so I don't accept your argument.

 

 

Well, Vox,

 

I do not think we have the same palette in mind.

Here is mine, from the darkest to the brighter; it is of course approximative in its order since

it is subject to change from one voicer to another.

I shall restrict it to 8' flues:

 

Tibia clausa- Cor de nuit- Coppelflöte- Hohlflöte-Stopped Diapason- Bourdon- Flute (wood)-Zauberflöte- Diapason phonon-Lieblich Gedackt- Flûte harmonique-Doppelflöte- Open Diapason I (unleathered)-II- III- Dulciana- Prinzipal (north. German)- Prinzipal (south. German)-Montre (unslotted)-Gemshorn- Montre (slotted)-Geigenprinzipal or Violin Diapason- Salicional-Gamba-Aeoline-Viole d'orchestre.

 

(Yes I forgot a dozen...)

 

So, even if we agree upon the interesting harmonic menu Stopped Diapasons and Flutes may offer,

we still compare the Fish & chips with the "Comme chez soi" restaurant in Brussels.

 

Pierre

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