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Colin Pykett

Mutations - pitches and timbres

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Can anyone enlighten me as to the logic behind the choice of pitches and timbres (tone colours) for mutation stops please? I admit to defeat in some cases. Two examples:

 

The first is a 1960s attempt at an eclectic organ by a well-known British builder of the day (no longer with us). The swell has a Fifteenth (2'), Tierce and Larigot. The first of these is of principal tone whereas the other two are flutes. There is no Twelfth or Nazard at 2 2/3', perhaps because the division is built on a 4 foot Geigen (there is no 8 foot Principal of any sort). Therefore the Larigot is correctly pitched to do duty as a twelfth with respect to 4 foot, but its flute tonality does not match that of either the Principal or the Fifteenth. And why, then, is there a flute Tierce, whose pitch and tonality do not fit at all with the Principal? (I should have expected it to serve as the fifth harmonic of the foundation stop, but when that stop is of 4 foot pitch its meaning and purpose seem diluted).

 

The second example is a neo-Baroque organ of the same vintage (1960s). On the swell much the same remarks apply - the foundation stop is a 4 foot Principal, there is no Twelfth, the 2 foot stop is a flute this time but the Tierce is a principal, and there is a Nasat at 1 1/3' of flute tone. Oh, and there's also a flute Septima at 1 1/7', but let's not go there.

 

On neither of these organs can one develop a conventional principal chorus at 4 foot pitch from the available material because not all of the constituents are of principal tone, and in the case of the Tierce the pitch is wrong also. It all seems rather odd.

 

CEP

 

 

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So many organs like this with a token smattering of mutations from that era. Seems to be just an attempt at that time to "baroque-acise" organs with no real understanding of chorus building and tone synthesis. The orgelbewegung movement was rather slow I think reaching these shores for some builders so their answer seemed to be to just add what they thought was suitable to the old Victorian & Edwardian 'war horses' in an attempt to enable them to perform music from all ages.

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Can anyone enlighten me as to the logic behind the choice of pitches and timbres (tone colours) for mutation stops please? I admit to defeat in some cases. Two examples:

 

The first is a 1960s attempt at an eclectic organ by a well-known British builder of the day (no longer with us). The swell has a Fifteenth (2'), Tierce and Larigot. The first of these is of principal tone whereas the other two are flutes. There is no Twelfth or Nazard at 2 2/3', perhaps because the division is built on a 4 foot Geigen (there is no 8 foot Principal of any sort). Therefore the Larigot is correctly pitched to do duty as a twelfth with respect to 4 foot, but its flute tonality does not match that of either the Principal or the Fifteenth. And why, then, is there a flute Tierce, whose pitch and tonality do not fit at all with the Principal? (I should have expected it to serve as the fifth harmonic of the foundation stop, but when that stop is of 4 foot pitch its meaning and purpose seem diluted).

 

The second example is a neo-Baroque organ of the same vintage (1960s). On the swell much the same remarks apply - the foundation stop is a 4 foot Principal, there is no Twelfth, the 2 foot stop is a flute this time but the Tierce is a principal, and there is a Nasat at 1 1/3' of flute tone. Oh, and there's also a flute Septima at 1 1/7', but let's not go there.

 

On neither of these organs can one develop a conventional principal chorus at 4 foot pitch from the available material because not all of the constituents are of principal tone, and in the case of the Tierce the pitch is wrong also. It all seems rather odd.

 

CEP

I am a bit confused here – are there no 8-foot stops of any kind present? I’d expect them to stand in for the chorus fundamental. What about 4-foot flutes or reeds?

 

As to the first example, wasn’t the ideology of the day that everything goes with everything else if only the pressure was gentle and the voicing was open-toe? The pair of flutey Tierce and Larigot might be able to work well together if there is a well-blending foundation of 8- and 4-foot flutes, but of course one wonders where the Nazard got lost. If the Geigen and Fifteenth are capped by a mixture, then the mutations might not have been meant to be a part of the chorus at all.

 

As to the second, same question: What else is there in terms of foundations? No 8- and 4-foot flutes? What kind of mixture is there – perhaps the Tierce was planned as part of it rather than as a solo mutation, in order to add pungency to the chorus? Again, a flutey trio of 2-foot, Larigot and Septima might work well in several combinations if scaled and voiced appropriately – and if you forget that there is no literature that calls for that kind of combinations.

 

All best wishes

Friedrich

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Thank you Friedrich for your considered response. I really ought to have given the entire stop lists of these organs, but did not have not the time to type them out. Apologies for this, as I realise it will have added to the confusion.

 

Briefly, there are 8 and 4 foot flutes on both instruments together with a mixture in both cases whose compositions I know. I must also admit to being rather a devil's advocate here and was writing somewhat with tongue in cheek, because both organs are really quite acceptable most of the time. There are some oddities in blend though owing to the apparently random tonalities (principal and flute), and the lack of a 2 2/3 stop is rather silly. It limits the opportunities for synthetic tone-building, and prevents a Cornet from being built as well.

 

I will try to find the time to give you complete stop lists. I am sure there is logic in there somewhere, though if so, I cannot see the complete canvas myself. In my more gloomy moments I have wondered whether the organ builders had ranks lying around which they simply incorporated to get them out of the way!

 

In my mind I was comparing these instruments to those built by Gottfried Silbermann, for instance his two manual organ at Fraureuth which is one I have studied in some detail as far as I am able. There are no missing pitches (footages) there, and the tonalities seem reasonably logical to my simple mind. The range of mixtures (four in all) is also luxurious. But maybe the comparison to such a master is unfair ...

 

Thanks again.

 

CEP

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Here are the full stop lists of the swell divisions of these organs which I was talking about in my original post. Apologies for not including them at the outset. The two issues I raised were the lack of a 2 2/3 foot rank and the apparently random flute or principal tonalities of the mutations.

 

Forgive the imperfect formatting and lack of accented characters.

 

Organ number 1 (British):

Viola da Gamba 8
Viola Celeste 8
Hohl Flute 8
Geigen Octave 4
Lieblich Flute 4
Fifteenth 2 (principal)
Tierce 1 3/5 (flute)
Larigot 1 1/3 (flute)
Mixture III
Contra Oboe 16
Cornopean 8
Krumhorn 8


Organ number 2 (Swedish):

Rohr Flute 8
Salicional 8
Principal 4
Hohl Flute 4
Wald Flute 2
Tierce 1 3/5 (principal)
Nasat 1 1/3 (flute)
Septima 1 1/7 (flute)
Scharf III
Schalmei 8

 

These are both 1960s organs but I have observed similar things in more recent ones. I just don't get a complete picture of the tonal strategy in both cases. To my ears, it does matter because one gets some rather strange effects sometimes when trying to develop choruses, and as I said in #4, the lack of the 2 2/3 rank limits synthetic tone-building flexibility.

 

CEP

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Here are the full stop lists of the swell divisions of these organs which I was talking about in my original post. Apologies for not including them at the outset. The two issues I raised were the lack of a 2 2/3 foot rank and the apparently random flute or principal tonalities of the mutations.

 

Forgive the imperfect formatting and lack of accented characters.

 

Organ number 1 (British):

 

Viola da Gamba 8

Viola Celeste 8

Hohl Flute 8

Geigen Octave 4

Lieblich Flute 4

Fifteenth 2 (principal)

Tierce 1 3/5 (flute)

Larigot 1 1/3 (flute)

Mixture III

Contra Oboe 16

Cornopean 8

Krumhorn 8

 

 

Organ number 2 (Swedish):

 

Rohr Flute 8

Salicional 8

Principal 4

Hohl Flute 4

Wald Flute 2

Tierce 1 3/5 (principal)

Nasat 1 1/3 (flute)

Septima 1 1/7 (flute)

Scharf III

Schalmei 8

 

These are both 1960s organs but I have observed similar things in more recent ones. I just don't get a complete picture of the tonal strategy in both cases. To my ears, it does matter because one gets some rather strange effects sometimes when trying to develop choruses, and as I said in #4, the lack of the 2 2/3 rank limits synthetic tone-building flexibility.

 

CEP

 

You are certainly right when saying that both are pretty typical for Swell organs from that era. Both have a positive-ish ring about them, the second one more than the first, and both appear a little unpredictable as to the mutations included.

 

Of course what follows is all in theory. But from what I have experienced in well-voiced and well-scaled organs from good builders, at least the second one seems to be pretty obvious. For chorus building, I would expect that both 8-foot stops, the Principal, the Tierce and Scharf will provide body as well as variety. For a flute chorus, the Rohrflöte, as I would expect it in a Swell of this kind, should be able to swallow whole whatever is going on above it – all the more if the Hohl flute and/or the tremulant are involved. Back then as well as today, Rohrflöten were often thought of as bigger than Gedackts and including a well-developed 2 2/3 ingredient of their own. Add to this the delicate speech and stationary-sound effect of the chimney, and the stop should connect well to mutations above 2-foot, all the more if there is a full flute chorus 8-4-2-mutations. The combination of Nasat 1 1/3' and Septima may have been thought of as modern-man’s sesquialtera – again, the tremulant might be considered essential. The Schalmei should be an all-purpose rank, as pungent as a cromorne but without the latter’s nasal quality, which brings it closer to a small trumpet. Together with the Principal and Tierce, it might even come close to one, if everything blends as well as I would expect it from an organ of some of the best Swedish builders.

 

The first Swell seems to carry a larger burden – wanting to be a classical Oberwerk as well as an English Swell. Much would depend on what kind of stop the Hohl Flute was. In this style, I would expect a big metal Gedeckt, maybe even a variety of Rohrflöte, rather than the Schulze-type open wood rank. If so, it should blend well with the lieblich Flute, which I expect to be stopped; and both together should, for solo use, connect well to the Tierce and/or Larigot (for the reasons given above), a blend which again might be enhanced by the tremulant. As for the chorus, I would expect to try out the Hohlflute (with or without the Gamba), Geigen, Fifteenth and Mixture – the latter I would expect to start 1 1/3 + 1 + 2/3 and arrive at 2 2/3 + 2 + 1 1/3 around middle-C, thus corroborating the makeshift 8-foot base. This chorus, together with the Contra Oboe and Cornopean and perhaps even without the Hohl Flute, should at least point to an English full-swell sound.

 

I find it quite interesting how the best builders of this era developed concepts that broke down the solid-brick walls (literally) which over time had developed between traditional, more or less single-purpose divisions. The outcome may have varied in quality, but it certainly opened up many more possibilities of music-making. A traditional Evensong is a beautiful thing – but hey, so is a Buxtehude prelude or a Messiaen trio.

 

Best wishes

Friedrich

 

P. S.

I wonder: In both instances, might there be a Nazard on the Great, rather than a Twelfth?

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On the subject of 'missing mutations', I have often wondered about the logic applied in this manual department in Cologne Cathedral. It has, of course, been altered since (in 2002) and the mutations seem more logical now, but I assume there must have been some purpose in creating this list. I should add that there is no sign of a 2 2/3' in either the Tertian (1 3/5' + 1 1/3') or the Aliquot (1' + ?).

 

IV OBERWERK

Quintade 16'

Principal 8'

Grossgedackt 8'

Viol di Gamba 8'

Octave 4'

Koppelflöte 4'

Hohlflöte 2'

Octävchen 1'

None 8/9'

Grosse Septime 8/15'

Tertian II

Aliquot II-III

Mixtur V-VI

Quintcymbel III

Bombarde 16'

Trompett Harm. 8'

Rohrschalmei 8'

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On the subject of 'missing mutations', I have often wondered about the logic applied in this manual department in Cologne Cathedral.

 

At those very high pitches I'm not sure that harmonic logic is particularly relevant. Insofar as I have seen stops like this being used, I think they are mainly improvisors' toys and valued for their piquant, tinkly effects - but that may be just my ignorance and/or inexperience.

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On the subject of 'missing mutations', I have often wondered about the logic applied in this manual department in Cologne Cathedral. It has, of course, been altered since (in 2002) and the mutations seem more logical now, but I assume there must have been some purpose in creating this list. I should add that there is no sign of a 2 2/3' in either the Tertian (1 3/5' + 1 1/3') or the Aliquot (1' + ?).

 

IV OBERWERK

Quintade 16'

Principal 8'

Grossgedackt 8'

Viol di Gamba 8'

Octave 4'

Koppelflöte 4'

Hohlflöte 2'

Octävchen 1'

None 8/9'

Grosse Septime 8/15'

Tertian II

Aliquot II-III

Mixtur V-VI

Quintcymbel III

Bombarde 16'

Trompett Harm. 8'

Rohrschalmei 8'

 

The Cologne Oberwerk, as this organ in total, is and was a special case.

 

The original instrument was constructed by Hans Klais (grandfather to Philipp, who leads the firm today) in 1948/49 and had to be ready for the re-opening of the cathedral in 1949. The nave, however, was still in the process of reconstruction, and was cut off the crossing by a high brick wall. The new instrument had only to fill the – still vast – space of the crossing and chancel.

 

The next stage arrived in 1956, when the nave had been completed and the brick wall removed. Additionally, the German Catholic Congress took place in Cologne, with the cathedral serving as its symbolic centre. The existing instrument needed substantial repair and rebuilding. The Oberwerk was part of the plan to tackle the challenge of a space more than double the size of the one the organ had been planned for originally. The 16-8 pair of French trumpets, as well as the rich chorus, pay tribute to this challenge.

 

Add to this the ambition of the Klais family to be on the cutting edge of things: The new division was on electric slider chests, other than the rest of the instrument, which was on Klais’ previously traditional and extremely reliable electric cone-valve chests. The exotic mutations may reflect the idea that blend of any kind of timbres and mutations would be possible on slider chests; it certainly reflects the acoustical problem that harmonics tend to get lost in vast spaces. In Cologne cathedral, a normal Sesquialtera is a comparably dull and lonely thing. You want more, and here was an attempt to provide that. Twelth-sounding flutes were present already on manuals I and IV (Swell) of this incarnation of this instrument, so the Nazard might have been considered redundant on III.

 

The Oberwerk turned out never to really work well with the rest of the organ, and was re-arranged in 2002, forming a new Positiv on two cone-valve chests which sit behind the façade looking south over the organ loft. The Positiv shares manual I with the – quite energetic – Rückpositiv, also facing south. The new Positiv shares one chest with the newly-conceived solo organ on manual IV. Today you find your 2 2/3-foot flute in both divisions, with the more exotic mutations re-arranged on manual IV.

 

The problem of filling the space has been overcome – or rather valiantly tackled – by a new winding system with voluminous reservoirs, as well as a high-pressure chest complete with solo flute, string and Tubas 16-8-8, also playable from manual IV. (There are two sets of party horns on the triforiums close to the western entrance, but they are, in my ears, just plain silly.)

 

All best wishes

Friedrich

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Thank you for the replies to my original questions. They suggest that today's tonal strategies applied to the design of mutation work sometimes appear idiosyncratic to others besides myself. Maybe I am perhaps naive in expecting a continuing adherence to the stricter design disciplines of the 17th and 18th centuries in Germany and the Netherlands, as well as the classical (pre-Revolutionary) French organ. With most of those instruments it is not difficult to discern an overarching logic, and I still remain disappointed that it is not more apparent today.

 

I hope I will not be regarded as patronising if I mention the professionalism which comes out in this thread. I do not for a moment agree that Vox Humana is ignorant and inexperienced as he himself suggested, and Friedrich's command of English makes my rudimentary linguistic skills look all the more pitiful!

 

Thanks again.

 

CEP

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Thank you for your reassurance, Colin.

Another anecdote, although I am not sure that it adds much, if anything.

 

Many years ago I bought a dual-spec Wyvern toaster. The Great included both a twelfth and a Tierce. In the "Romantic" voicing the twelfth was of diapason tone and the Tierce was flute-toned. I thought it odd, but the spec wasn't supposed to be negotiable. When the instrument was delivered Arthur Lord, who I believe then had charge of the company, came along to test it in situ. He improvised for a while and at one point he drew the great flutes and the Tierce without the Twelfth. For him it was fairly clearly just a pleasant colour effect - exactly similar to the German improvisors I mentioned above. Some time afterwards I commented about this to someone - I'm fairly sure it was someone who was then within the company - and was told that it stemmed from Mr Lord's theatre organ background and was "a Compton thing" (Mr Lord had previously been Compton's general manager). I have to say I have played very few Compton pipe organs, but I hadn't associated them with this approach. Was/is there a tradition of theatre organists using mutations in unconventional combinations for effect?

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The Cologne Oberwerk, as this organ in total, is and was a special case.

 

The original instrument was constructed by Hans Klais (grandfather to Philipp, who leads the firm today) in 1948/49 and had to be ready for the re-opening of the cathedral in 1949. The nave, however, was still in the process of reconstruction, and was cut off the crossing by a high brick wall. The new instrument had only to fill the – still vast – space of the crossing and chancel.

 

The next stage arrived in 1956, when the nave had been completed and the brick wall removed. Additionally, the German Catholic Congress took place in Cologne, with the cathedral serving as its symbolic centre. The existing instrument needed substantial repair and rebuilding. The Oberwerk was part of the plan to tackle the challenge of a space more than double the size of the one the organ had been planned for originally. The 16-8 pair of French trumpets, as well as the rich chorus, pay tribute to this challenge.

 

Add to this the ambition of the Klais family to be on the cutting edge of things: The new division was on electric slider chests, other than the rest of the instrument, which was on Klais’ previously traditional and extremely reliable electric cone-valve chests. The exotic mutations may reflect the idea that blend of any kind of timbres and mutations would be possible on slider chests; it certainly reflects the acoustical problem that harmonics tend to get lost in vast spaces. In Cologne cathedral, a normal Sesquialtera is a comparably dull and lonely thing. You want more, and here was an attempt to provide that. Twelth-sounding flutes were present already on manuals I and IV (Swell) of this incarnation of this instrument, so the Nazard might have been considered redundant on III.

 

The Oberwerk turned out never to really work well with the rest of the organ, and was re-arranged in 2002, forming a new Positiv on two cone-valve chests which sit behind the façade looking south over the organ loft. The Positiv shares manual I with the – quite energetic – Rückpositiv, also facing south. The new Positiv shares one chest with the newly-conceived solo organ on manual IV. Today you find your 2 2/3-foot flute in both divisions, with the more exotic mutations re-arranged on manual IV.

 

The problem of filling the space has been overcome – or rather valiantly tackled – by a new winding system with voluminous reservoirs, as well as a high-pressure chest complete with solo flute, string and Tubas 16-8-8, also playable from manual IV. (There are two sets of party horns on the triforiums close to the western entrance, but they are, in my ears, just plain silly.)

 

All best wishes

Friedrich

Thanks, Friedrich, for this very informative response.

 

Of course, the main organ now also has the help of the 'new' (well, 18 year-old now) nave organ in filling the large space with sound.

 

I do agree with you about the west end tubas. Although I have only heard them on recordings, I feel they are not a patch on traditional Willis tubas or, indeed, those at Münster Cathedral which I have heard in 'real life'.

 

Regarding the Cologne mutations, do you happen to know the composition of the Aliquot II-III which I believe is still present?

 

At the risk of overdoing my questions(!), my wife and I are going to the Black Forest on Friday for a few days. Do you happen to know of any particularly good organs to have a look at (and listen) in that region? We shall be staying in Offenburg and visiting as many places as we can manage; certainly Freiburg.

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… I should add that there is no sign of a 2 2/3' in either the Tertian (1 3/5' + 1 1/3') or the Aliquot (1' + ?).

Your remark made me curious, and I inquired with the cathedral organist about the Aliquot. His answer was that he didn’t know the composition, but that it was “exotic and sounds somewhat odd … I do like the peculiar sound of the stop when being played together with other stops.”

 

I then turned to the Klais firm and received an answer right away. The composition is as follows:

 

C = 1' + 8/11' (flat tritonus)

f = 8/9' (ninth) + 1 5/11' (same flat tritonus, 16-foot based) + 1 3/13' (must be some kind of sixth, again 16-foot based)

cis''' = 3 5/9' (ninth, 32-foot based) + 1 5/11' + 1 3/13'

 

I daresay it was worth the inquiry!

And I really want to go and hear it in the flesh.

 

All best wishes,

Friedrich

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Thanks for that, Friedrich. I'm very grateful for your going to all the trouble to find that information, something that I have been searching for for some time. In fact I'd almost given up.

I, too, would like to hear it. Perhaps one day. Herr Boenig's (presumably) description of it sounding 'exotic and somewhat odd' is particularly intriguing.

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