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Cavaille Coll Soubasses!


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Can knowledgeable members tell me what it is about Cavaille-Coll soubasse 16ft pedale stops that is so extraordinary? (I've played quite a few in France and Holland)


There seems to be a harmonic development and accurate speech that put almost all English bourdons to shame.


The C-C ones seem to be capable of sustaining soft and quite loud combinations equally well (Gerard Brooks commented on this quite recently in "Organist's Review) ,and they don't cough or ooze into speech,having a sort of pervasive quality.


I seem to remember W L Sumner saying years ago that the replacement of the English bourdon by a C-C soubasse was the single thing that would most render English organs infinitely more musical.


Was it sheer quality of construction? ...I know that C-C used very good timber and that money was no object when it came to artistic value

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One of the first things that surprises any continental

traveller while hearing english organs for the first

time are the strong basses. They seem overwhelming

in comparison.

I mean of course the famous "Open wood", but the stopped

stops are rather powerfull too.

I believe there are two reasons for this:

1)- The size of churches is generally less important, which

can impair the development of the basses, and therefore

the builders push them;


2)-For the accompaniment of a choir these strong, "rolling"

basses are an asset. It's beautiful.


So it's probable ACC used smaller scales for his stopped Pedal

basses than many a british builder.


The german romantic builders used both powerfull and soft basses,

and when you try these very quiet ones, you get the surprise they

stay effective even in combination with higher pitched, even if louder

stops. It's as if the louder stop did "take it with them". Indeed, this is

very useful, especially in solo organ music.


Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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M. Lauweres raises some interesting points.


Certainly, C-C used only the best materials. Secondly, his chests were not winded by means of 'Kopex', or any other flexible trunking!


With reference to the points raised by M. Lauwers - another reason that English organs generally possess such strong basses may be due to the acoustic absorption and lack of resonance in many churches in this country. This is usually manifest in the acoustic phenomenon known as 'standing waves' - wherein a given fundamental pitch can apparently be virtually inaudible in some parts of the building but seem two or three times its actual strength in others.


In addition, for his larger instruments, C-C often relied upon separate ranks of the 32p harmonic series (consisting of blandly-voiced pipes with virtually no harmonic development), in order to strengthen the fundamental. Such stops may be heard at Nôtre-Dame and Sacré-Coeur, for example and are pitched at 10 2/3, 6 2/5, 5 1/3 and 4 4/7 pieds. In fact, Vierne once commented that the [Grosse Tierce and] Septième on the Pedale at N.-D. was like 'a muster of double-basses'. Certainly at Nôtre-Dame, there is no sense whatsoever of inadequacy of the Pedal foundations, even though there is but a Contre-Basse and a Soubasse at 16p pitch.


Furthermore, the expedient of 'acoustic coupling' to which Pierre alludes, is well-known. It is not uncommon, I believe, for some (continental) builders to place a rank of 'helpers' (usually of octave pitch to the fundamental) next to a 16p rank, in order to amplify the unison. Although not quite the same, at Exeter Cathedral (at the time of the latest restoration) the GO Dulciana was removed in favour of a large Octave 4p, which helps to strengthen the unison ranks and carry more effectively down the nave. This was something which I had suggested to Paul Morgan several years ago - along with converting the Solo Viole Octaviante into a Violes Célestes to contrast with the very quiet Swell Angelica. It is always nice when things work out!


I know that some of the above does not exactly answer your original question. However, I hope that it may serve to provide some related thoughts.


Я играю в органе

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In case of Cavaillé-Coll organs, the Soubasse 16' was only an expedient for small organs.


In many organs, the pedal do not have any other 16' stop than a Flute 16', or a Contrebasse 16'


These open stops, rather soft and transparent in the french organ are much clearer than a Soubasse. One of their characteristics is that the more stop you put with them, the louder the 16' stop sounds.


This makes a quite clear an definite bass, which is never opaque.


The question of the Soubasse 32' is of course different, and has been chosen where room and/or funds were lacking


Best regards


PF Baron

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