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Looking at the discussion about the new American RC cathedral organ raised a few comments about stops with limited purpose. That got me thinking, what would be either the most pointless stops on an organ, or the stops that you would least ever need to use? I'll kick off with a pedal Septime 4-4/7 and a manual QUint 5 1/3, though I expect there will be a few unison suggestions too!

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Looking at the discussion about the new American RC cathedral organ raised a few comments about stops with limited purpose. That got me thinking, what would be either the most pointless stops on an organ, or the stops that you would least ever need to use?

 

In many organs, its the pedal 32-foot. Any 32-foot. It often is squeezed in even before there is a complete chorus to mixture or reeds at 16-8-4, or even well-scaled 16' and 8' open ranks, which would make the stupid and expensive thing redundant.

 

For much the same reasons -- too small rooms, gaping holes in the stoplist, no musically meaningful use possible -- the Tuba often is a close second.

 

But keep those mutations, by all means! Organ sound without them, in my ears, is in immediate danger of boring its listeners to death.

 

Best

Friedrich

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Since Quints have been mentioned, although I have never heard heard one, I find it difficult to imagine what use I would ever have made of the Horn Quint 5 1/3 that used to be on the Swell of the previous H&H at Ely Cathedral.

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It depends partly on what else there is, as it's probably not a question that can be answered in isolation. For example, a 5 1/3 quint makes sense if there is a 16 foot stop there already because the quint is the 3rd harmonic of the 16 foot. But if there isn't a 16 foot, the quint no longer coincides with a harmonic of anything else - it sticks out on its own, and it doesn't provide much of an approximation to a (synthetic) 16 foot either by adding it to an 8 foot. It then becomes an extreme example of what so irritated Berlioz about mixtures and mutations - that they distort the harmony by adding a continuous sequence of consecutive fifths. And with a 5 1/3 quint against the unisons it is indeed a fifth, not 'diluted' as in most other mixtures and mutations in the form of a twelfth, nineteenth, etc, which blend anyway with the corresponding harmonics already present from other stops. This blending cannot occur with a 5 1/3 quint without a 16 foot. Organists seem to be able to get used to this type of sound, but some other musicians do not.

 

Another example concerns how many unison (8 foot) stops make sense on a single division. Of course, if the money is there you can put in what you like, but otherwise it pays to apply more logic to the situation. If there is already a dulciana and a gamba, for instance, would one go further and add a salicional as well?

 

I mentioned the little 'Bach organ' at Arnstadt yesterday in the context of the discussion about quints. Besides having the dreaded 5 1/3 quint on the Oberwerk, there is also the following range of unison stops:

 

Principal, Viol di Gamba, Gemshorn, Quintadena, Grob Gedackt and Trompet.

 

That's a pretty complete line up for a small two manual organ and one could do a lot of colour-mixing just within this unison palette alone. (This also begs the question of how Bach might have registered on this organ, but that's a discussion way beyond my fully-acknowledged limitations).

 

So the question here is - what else could or should have been added? On this instrument it could be argued that one would be entering the realm of diminishing returns and the additions might well be judged to be of limited value or even useless. Whereas if there were fewer stops to start with, then that would not necessarily be so.

 

But putting all this to one side and answering the exam question as set, what about an Erzahler for the sake of argument?

 

CEP

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A parameter I would want to chuck into this discussion would be how often the instrument is tuned. I have known two or three large organs where tuning is infrequent because of cost, where the 4ft swell clarion has been unusable for much of the year, and may as well be removed.

 

My regular instrument is a large 4 manual digital instrument which I designed and we all know that adding stops is a relatively inexpensive on such instruments. We have a west end division with some large reeds, and an enclosed diapason chorus topped off with 16' and 8' reeds - (there is also a small west pedal division). Then there are flutes 8' and 4', a clarinet, and... (and here I am finally getting to my point!)... a chorus of violes - 16, 8, 8, 4 and III. It is this last stop, the cornet de violes, which is probably the least used stop on the instrument even though it is perfectly effective.

 

Another 'luxury' stop is on the chancel solo division and is the French horn. These are hardly two a penny on pipe organs but are they of much use when they are present?

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Apart from the obvious solo uses, the amount of which would depend on repertoire and preference, there's a lot of combinational potential in a French Horn. It can be almost like a tibia in the way it blends other stops together. St. John the Divine, New York has an absolutely wonderful example.

 

In a big organ, there are likely to be stops which hardly get used, whereas in a smaller instrument they could get more of an airing. I hardly ever use the Great 4' Flute here, and when I do use it, it's more often than not as a solo and possibly not at that pitch. On a smaller instrument, I would use it more.

 

One sometimes encounters the most surprising things on very small organs, wondering (as BBE used to say) 'Why this thusness?'. Harkstead,in Suffolk, has (or had) a one-manual Bryceson consisting of Open, Viola, Dulciana, Stopped Bass, Principal and Pedal Bourdon. The Viola is a fierce, scratchy sort of thing. In effect, the only combination of stops which works is Open and Principal. If there was a Stopped Diapason instead of the Viola, the whole picture would be different. (I have an idea that such a swap has been made, but I haven't been back there to look). I thought at first that the Viola had been a substitution made after organ was built, but I subsequently learned of similar Bryceson elsewhere (I can't remember where).

 

Then there was another example in East Anglia of a village organ consisting of Open Diapason 8 and Flute 4. The Flute was useless because it made no impression on the Open. In recent years, a Dulciana has been substituted, which at least allows the organ to make two different sounds.

 

Sutton-in-the-Isle, Cambridgeshire, has a magnificent church which used to have a 1912 two-manual by Miller of Cambridge. They went in for a certain amount of Hope-Jonesery at that time and the Great upperwork consisted of a Flute 4' and an Harmonic Flute 4'. I could never work that one out! That apart, it was rather an impressive sounding job in its own way. I think it was killed off by a failed pneumatic action and supplanted by a toaster. It had one of Miller's dark green painted cases with stencilled decoration, including a positive trellis of west-facing open woods. BBE called it 'an exceedingly ugly excresence' but I liked it.

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I used to think that, but I now value a Dulciana to warm up the 8' flute occasionally and, of course, a really good one is a treasure in itself. Not wild about Great Gambas - I'd rather have a Geigen. Dulciana and 4' Flute is quite often nice for occasional use.

 

Dulciana with octave and sub couplers is likewise handy sometimes, but unlike we colonials, you lot probably don't have octave couplers on the Great....

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I'm a fan of Great Gambas; I'd certainly rather have a Gamba than a Dulciana. Most useless stop: any second 2' in a division. On the Swell at St James, Muswell Hill there’s a Flautina 2' and a Harmonic Piccolo 2'. The difference is minimal to my hearing.

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... you lot probably don't have octave couplers on the Great....

 

VERY Hope-Jonesy! So yes, we do, occasionally! There's one on his instruments at St Mary's, Pilton, Devon (1898) and St Dyfnog's, Llanrhaeadr (1899) for example. (If looking it up on NPOR, make sure to ignore the subsequent excrescences at Pilton - though fortunately the great octave wasn't removed).

 

And how useful they are on the few occasions one comes across them. I've never understood why, in this country, the swell often has its sub and supers (and unison offs) when the other divisions often do not. But then, I'm only a mere physicist ... Seriously though, if there is a musical reason, I'd be interested to learn of it.

 

CEP

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I thought the armchair wisdom was that sub-octave couplers were supposed to compensate for a lack of low-frequency reverberation in the room. That would certainly account for their preponderance in the US and Downes putting one on the great in the RFH.

 

I think there’s a logic in *not* having them anywhere if the organ is built on well-scaled principal choruses, and that logic still holds true for the Great division (as the most ancient division, historically) even when octave couplers are everywhere else.

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A stop is only useless according to how it is positioned, voiced, regulated, what else is on the organ and of course the acoustic!

I too used to think that the Dulciana was a waste of space but not any more!

We have rescued a superb two - manual Rushworth & Dreaper and rebuilt it in the rear gallery of our church (St Wulsatan's RC, Wolstanton). In the process we have added new material and a Choir Organ. The Choir Organ is positioned on the left hand side of the gallery with the Great on the other. The pedal is divided either side. However, the Swell is tucked away in the original organ chamber behind the choir divsion. The softer sounds of the Swell make an excellent echo effect. To bring the sound "forward" I often play via the Choir Keyboard with the Choir Dulciana coupled. It is also possible to use the Dulciana as a solo stop, accompanied by the gentle Bourdon on the Swell (played at 8 foot pitch with Octave and Unison - off couplers drawn. I should add that the Swell makes itself heard when the full reed chorus is drawn! We also have a lovely Gamba on the Great. I would always specify a Gamba before a second Open Diapason. On our organ it is possible to synthesize a resonable second open using the Clarabella, Gamba and Harmonic Flute. Since our Choir organ is a four - foot division supported by a Stopped Diapason, it is also useful to couple the Choir four - foot Principal through to the Great at eight - foot pitch using the Choir to Great 16' coupler. Another useful addition to the instrument. As we sing alot of plainchant, together with polyphonic choral music at Mass this variety of eight - foot sound is most valuable in accompanying.

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Subs are more dangerous than supers. Casson said that, while super couplers expanded the harmonic structure, subs played no such role and muddied the texture. This is certainly true if they are used without discretion. The church up the road from mine in Colchester had a fairly undistinguished Binns, Fitton and Hayley, with, as usual with Binns, a full set of octave couplers operated by draw-stops above the top manual. By the end of the opening voluntary, from a leather-bound volume entitled "1000 Melodious Voluntaries" (or some such) by Caleb Simper, all the couplers would be on, and they would remain on throughout the service. Registration without using the ears.

 

However! Cavaille-Coll often provided a sub on the Great and this is worth bearing in mind when registering French toccatas which so often spend large periods of time in the upper octaves. A sub is valuable to get a double in a tone which is not otherwise available, but one needs to be careful to cancel anything which isn't essential to the exercise, e.g. a 16' reed effect in French music is spoiled if the 8' flue work is also on.

 

Manual 32' - one wouldn't use such stops too much, but with a very broad tonal spectrum, a manual 32' can add a valuable extra dimension. The Violone at Liverpool is possibly more effective than the bourdons elsewhere, but the expense is only justified if it is also part of the arsenal on the Pedal. I used to like the effect, pre-Harrison rebuild at Peterborough, where there used to be a 32' bourdon, 16' diapason, flute and dulciana and 8' Phonon, three opens, geigen, two flutes, stopped diapason and dulciana. Naughty, but nice, very occasionally, perhaps when there was no one else around....

 

I wonder how many manual 32' stops there are in the UK. There are probably a few on organs which are not particularly well-known (like the Walker at Melton Mowbray PC). I think a 32' reed in a really big Swell might be useful, but I don't know of any British examples.

 

Any use of octave couplers, needs to take account of limits of compass. Upwards, a 61 note range allows quite a lot of freedom, but the North American custom of providing extra top notes to accommodate the octave coupler is even better. (I am quite sure that a lot of schemes over here, especially with regard to the Swell, are drawn up assuming the octave coupler as part of the ensemble and not as a 'special'). With subs, one can lose the bottom of the music, but there are generally ways round this for those who take the trouble to explore.

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Hope-Jones, whose novel form of electric action enabled a plethora of couplers to be provided economically for the first time, scattered subs and supers liberally over all his stop lists. In his larger organs he sometimes only applied the suboctaves to the light wind stops and the supers to the heavy winded ones. He did this at Worcester cathedral (1896) on the great organ for example. On this organ there were subs and supers to all four manual divisions, as well as to the inter-divisional couplers.

 

Another interesting feature on this instrument was that three of the four keyboards were fitted with second touch, which actuated the unison inter-divisional couplers only. Therefore to get unison coupling one had to press the keys harder. (This feature could be enabled or disabled for certain of the couplers by means of a double touch stop key).

 

Returning to the topic title, whether any of these stops or features were "pointless" is a matter of individual armchair judgement - it's a pity one cannot form an opinion today by trying them out for real.

 

CEP

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With sub and super couplers, scaling plays a major role. If the scaling leaves the usual 17th-halving ratio, you have to take into account that the respective progression is pulled up or down to the unison (not to mention mixture compositions, divided pressures etc). It’s much more complicated and incalculable than one would think if one reads the term “Super Octave Great”, at least in my opinion.

 

E. g., the muddying effect of a Cavaillé-Coll sub coupler is relatively small because generally the treble ascendancy is so strong (sometimes beyond 20th, if I recall correctly) that the basic, treble-heavy structure is not disturbed, especially since the pedal departments usually are well-equipped to carry the resulting grand sound. There are few original super octave couplers to be found in C-C’s organs (one of them in the Récit at Saint-Ouen, one of the most complete divisions of its kind). With that much treble ascendancy, the sound would probably end up a general screech if they were applied to other departments.

 

If the progression is more level than with C-C, the screeching effect would be easier contained, but the danger of muddying the structure by adding the sub couplers would increase. If the progression is bass-heavy, I don’t see the use of any intra-divisional sub coupler.

 

But finally, it all depended on the music you play on the thing. I can imagine that, for accompanimental purposes, it might be quite nice to generate a string chorus that encompasses the choir in a 16-8-4 cloud of shimmering sound. There is still the bass line to define the harmonic progression, and with a good choir, you would not neccessarily have to provide proper voice-leading at all moments. Voice-leading, on the other hand, will always be impaired by subs and supers. Not to mention their availability on tracker action. (Which makes me notice that we are talking about at least three different types on instrument here – English cathedral, French cathedral, classical.)

 

Best

Friedrich

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Having played a couple of monster American organs with both a Great 32 flue and Swell 32 reed I can testify that whilst the flue was barely noticable and just muddied the waters, the Swell reed was surprisingly useful in the climax to big French music - I guess replicating the effect, without resorting to suboctave couples and a tenor-C 64 foot manual reed effect(!), of a suboctave coupler to a full Swell that already had a 16 foot reed drawn. When you think of it, many Swells have both a suboctave coupler AND a 16 foot reed so the Swell 32 foot manual reed effect is commoner then we might think.

 

Back to really useless stops - a variant of the original question would be stops that are useful, but please not there! I had the great pleasure fairly recently of being able to play the organ in Liverpool (Anglican) cathedral. Whilst an instrument of immense power but great beauty, I couldn't fathom why the Choir should have a Vox Humana but the Swell didn't (yet the Swell has no fewer than three 8 foot trumpets). How was I to play any of that French romantic repertoire that demands a Swell Vox H when the wretched thing is on the Choir?

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Yes, it's daft to have the Vox elsewhere than in the Swell, where it can be matched with the flutes, used as an extra string, used in the chorus and used to rough up the Oboe.

 

I've just remembered what must really be the most useless stop ever provided. Years ago, Arthur Lord (whom older forumites may remember ran a toaster emporium in the UK for many years) contributed two articles to "The Organ" about pipe organs he had built. One was a minimum sized two-rank, two manual extension job, but the second was a very large residence organ, largely extended and combining concert and theatre schemes in one. In the process of wiring up the console, a flute was accidentally connected the wrong way round, so that the top note on the keys played the bottom note of the rank, and so on. It was left that way as an amusement. Apparently, not one player was able to play a few bars without mistakes.

 

Then again, though, there were such things as "Fuchsschwanz" or "Noli me tangere" on certain old German organs where, if the stop was drawn, it came out of the jamb completely and had a fox's tail attached to it. Very easy to pull out, but very difficult to put back. I suppose it passed the time during long sermons.

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I was assistant at St Mary's Melton Mowbray sometime ago, and I never touched the 32' flue on the Great (well that's not quite true - I did try it the first time I played the organ out of curiosity)! I was there for just over three years. If my memory serves me correctly, neither did the DoM nor the Sub organist......

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I have a 16' Dulciana in the Choir Organ. I occasionally couple it at sub octave pitch to a string registration (incidentally, such was the extravagance in 1927 that the 16' enclosed Dulciana in the Choir box is less than six feet behind the 16' unenclosed Dulciana in the case!).

 

Martin mentioned earlier that some Clarions are useless because they go out of tune so easily. As a long-time Organist of Remote Cathedrals, I know it to be a Law of Organ Tuning that certain pipes will slip as soon as the tuner sets foot on the plane. One gets adept at tapping recalcitrant notes back to the true path. Here is a warning, though:

 

DO NOT TUNE ORGAN PIPES WITH A CELL PHONE IN YOUR BREAST POCKET!

 

I forgot about this the other day and was lucky to escape with one slightly dented Vox, easily put right. It could just as easily have landed on the four-rank mixture...

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I mentioned earlier in this thread our (digital) Violes family - it's 16, 8, 8, 4 and III, and they speak from speakers mounted on the west wall, so have a nice distant effect at the front of the chapel, though you have to watch the volume (as with all 'remote' sections, digital or pipe) for those sitting nearer. Can anyone suggest passages of music where the full Violes chorus might be aired? They tend to get used most in improvisation, though rarely involving the 16 or the Cornet. The two 8fts are just right for the closing bars of Greater Love. I suppose I am looking for suggestions for where a good wash of string tone would be effective, especially if this could contrast in an antiphonal way with the chancel section. The (beautiful) third of the Trois Meditations of Ropartz is one such piece, but I would need more courage to add the 16 and III. If you don't know this piece - it's on IMSLP - a real gem. Any suggestions?

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Not legally downloadable here, of course.

 

Ah! Thank you, Stephen, of course. I play from a very tatty copy I purchased while at school in the 70's and only happened to look on IMSLP recently when I was wondering what else of his I might like.

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