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History of the Tremulant

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"There was a contrivance to give a tremulous motion to the bellows, which stop is, I believe, called a 'tremulant,' but I did not like the unsteady effect it produced."

 

So, Vincent Novello had not seen a tremulant until 1829, when he visited the Heilig Geist Kirche in Heidelberg. (A Mozart Pilgrimage, 1975 London edition, p. 296)

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Hi

I think I read a quote from Dom Bedos suggesting using a tremulant to hide out of tune reeds!  If that's correct, then it's a relatively early device.

Every Blessing

Tony

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There's a quotation about tremulants from a French organ builder working in Dublin at the end of the 17th century in Bicknell's The History of the English Organ (p. 189):-

Quote

"No organ in England can show the like, for they have not found how to make the tramblen [sic] stop; and for want of that stop all their vox humanas are deficient, whereas I have made this stop ... as perfect as any organ beyond the sea."

 

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Thomas Dallam’s famous organ for Sultan Mehmet III included a ‘shaking stop’ in 1599. Later on, Christopher Simpson, in ‘The Division Viol’ (1659 if my memory is correct..?) described a ‘shake or tremble with the [viol] bow’ that resembled the ‘shaking stop of an organ’. Thomas Mace (1676) and Roger North (1724) also likened this bowing technique (which I imagine is the ‘tremolo con l’arco’ technique of varying the pressure of a single bow stroke) to shaking organ stops. Organs used with viols would have been chamber consort organs, but I’m not aware of any survivals of tremulant mechanisms on the extant instruments. Would these writers have known tremulants from contemporary church organs? 

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The earliest tremulants were to be found in the area of Europe that now occupies north-eastern France and Flemish Belgium, in fact the same area where the pipe organ as we know it today was first developed during the mid 15th century. The first examples were built into the main windtrunk(s) which meant that it normally affected the entire pipework. It was during the 17th-18th centuries that this effect was more gradually refined, enabling the effect to be confined to the secondary departments, although many organs built late in the 18th century would usually contain at least two tremulants: one in the main windtrunk affecting the entire instrument and the other only on the second and/or third manual.

The Vox Humana reed stop was first invented and employed in the Netherlands between 1580 and 1600 so anyone wondering which had come first (a sort of chicken and egg conundrum) will know now that it was the Tremulant that was employed first by almost 150 years. Fan Tremulants were a 19th century invention, first used in the USA and obviously developed from the American reed organ. However, their use has always been somewhat limited, only being capable of working efficiently within a swell box or another enclosed department.     

With best wishes

Ian.

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