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Pitch Notation


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I feel embarrassed at having to ask this, but I'm a bit out of touch and not a little confused.

 

When I was a kid the system used almost universally in Britain to describe the pitch of organ pipes was a variant of the one used by Robert Smith in his Harmonics (1748). The lowest note of a 16' open pipe was CCC, an 8' pipe CC and the subsequent octaves were C, c, c' c'' etc. And I seem to remember that when the system was used to describe manual and pedal compasses, the bottom key on the manuals was CC called, but the lowest pedal key was CCC.

 

These days I get the impression that this has been superseded by a variant of the Helmholtz system which effectively moves everything up an octave so that a 16' pipe is now CC. And there is no longer any octave difference between the manuals and pedals: the lowest key of each is C.

 

But am I right in thinking that this latter system (which has been endorsed by some influential people including Peter Williams, Stephen Bicknell and NPOR) is now usual? Which system do you use? And do you recognise an octave differential between the manuals and pedals?

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I feel embarrassed at having to ask this, but I'm a bit out of touch and not a little confused.

 

When I was a kid the system used almost universally in Britain to describe the pitch of organ pipes was a variant of the one used by Robert Smith in his Harmonics (1748). The lowest note of a 16' open pipe was CCC, an 8' pipe CC and the subsequent octaves were C, c, c' c'' etc. And I seem to remember that when the system was used to describe manual and pedal compasses, the bottom key on the manuals was CC called, but the lowest pedal key was CCC.

 

These days I get the impression that this has been superseded by a variant of the Helmholtz system which effectively moves everything up an octave so that a 16' pipe is now CC. And there is no longer any octave difference between the manuals and pedals: the lowest key of each is C.

 

But am I right in thinking that this latter system (which has been endorsed by some influential people including Peter Williams, Stephen Bicknell and NPOR) is now usual? Which system do you use? And do you recognise an octave differential between the manuals and pedals?

 

Hi

 

for obvious reasons I now use the same system as NPOR, where the lowest note of both manuals and pedals (assuming normal modern compass) is C. If you think about it, there is no pitch difference between manual and pedal keys - the low C on the pedals, when coupled, takes down the low C of the manual. The former difference I think arises from the assumption that you always play the pedals with a 16ft stop drawn.

 

Having been used to the "old" system, it took me a while to get used to the current practice when I started working on NPOR - these days I don't even think about it.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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... If you think about it, there is no pitch difference between manual and pedal keys - the low C on the pedals, when coupled, takes down the low C of the manual.  The former difference I think arises from the assumption that you always play the pedals with a 16ft stop drawn.

 

In Germany, the Helmholtz system is used. What is also generally accepted is that, as you have pointed out, the lowest keys of the manual and pedal keyboards are always C, thus the "normal" pitch of both is 8-foot pitch.

 

I remember discussions with some organists and/or builders from the USA who claimed that the pedal starts always with CC (16-foot pitch); consequently, every pedal part in a organ score should be read like a doube-bass part in an orchestral score, i. e. as sounding all'ottava bassa.

 

This is obviously a habit coming from the age of thorough bass playing, and it is everyone's implicit knowledge that the voice leading in a Bach prelude only works if the pedal line is based on 16-foot tone. But then, even Bach allowed for 8-foot pedal playing -- so to speak non-transposed --, e. g. in his trio sonatas and some of the chorale preludes. This again enhances the assumption that for him, too, the pedal keyboard was starting with a C, and that it was the character and texture of the actual music that indicated the pitch required.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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If you think about it, there is no pitch difference between manual and pedal keys - the low C on the pedals, when coupled, takes down the low C of the manual.  The former difference I think arises from the assumption that you always play the pedals with a 16ft stop drawn.

Ah, my memory wasn't entirely faulty then!

 

Yes, I agree, though I come at it from a slightly different angle. I don't think it's unreasonable to think of the pedals as essentially a suboctave department. You could argue (and I would) that a manual to pedal coupler tells you only about the pitch of the manual, not the pedal. The fact that you might sometimes not use a 16' doesn't alter the department's fundamental pitch any more than playing a manual on only a 4' stop would.

 

In the old days when Romantic organs were all we knew and cared about the octave difference in nomenclature hardly mattered, but in these more enlightened times it won't do. If you base the letter names on each department's fundamental pitch, what are you going to do when confronted with a 4-manual Werkprinzip instrument? If you call the bottom key CCC on the pedals and CC on the Haupwerk, then logically you'd need to assign the other manuals to C, c and c' - a recipe for confusion!

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk

If you're trying to communicate with an organ builder via a console faults book, I strongly recommend you give the note name (N.B. no flats! organbuilders much prefer to think in sharps) and count the note from the bass. Bottom C, thus being C1. Tenor C becomes C13 etc.

 

'Cipher middle A' might get through, but 'Cipher A34' will. Mind you, they find ciphers quickly enough, it's ithe irritating intermittent things that need nailing down.

 

There is a problem in referring to notes as Treble, Tenor etc. You start to run out of words - Treble C to me is the octave above middle C, but then there are frequently two more C's to go. The top one is obviously C61, so what is C49 called? Sorry if this sounds stupid, but I'd rather like to know.

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I would call C49 "C in alt". In practice, though, I just draw a stave + clef + the note in the notebook. Could be problematical if the tuner can't read musical notation, but I assume they all can?

 

But that isn't the reason I'm asking. I should have explained. I've inherited the job of editing our local organists' association's magazine and just want to make sure I'm following current good practice.

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