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St Ignatius Loyola - The Petit Recit


Malcolm Farr
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Dear John

 

Just a quick question about the Petit Recit at St Ignatius Loyola. In your description, you say that "[t]he important requirements of a Franck-style Recit, which could not have been realized in a large department, were satisfied by the Petit Recit on the fourth manual ...". Sure, at a very basic level, its specification is quite similar to that of the Recit of Franck's organ at Ste Clotilde - just swap the Cor Anglais for a Clairon - but what did you do in trying to capture the "mystery and poetry", as Dufourq called it, of Franck's Recit? Durufle described it in the following terms (from L'Orgue no 162, trans Rollin Smith): "The quality of the Recit was something of a miracle. Undoubtedly, a number of technical reasons contributed to this: the dimensions of the swell box, the responsiveness of the shutters, its location at the back of the organ case, the large sonorous space surrounding the box on all sides giving it an extraordinary resonance, the acoustics of the church and, above all, the genius of the builder. All these factors produced a miracle.". Your comments please.

 

Malcolm F

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That post reads as a leading question, if not a trap.

 

Perhaps the key to the answer is in the phrase Franck-style rather than suggesting a direct copy of Ste. Clothilde...

 

or maybe organ builders can no longer be artists in their own right - only copy older styles .

 

What an awful thought.

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My question certainly wasn't meant as a trap; and, although in retrospect I can see how it could be taken negatively, it wasn't intended in this way either. Nor, despite the quote, was I implying that Mander Organs isn't, one way or another, capable of producing something that could, in the right organ, be described as a miracle.

 

However, I remain intrigued as to what was meant by the original idea - to produce a Franck-style Recit Expressif in an organ that, while based around the mid-19th century French organ, is not one that can be compared directly with Franck's instrument at Ste Clotilde. (Indeed, how could it be? The organ that Franck knew has, for better or worse, been altered irretrievably.)

 

The organ at St Ignatius Loyola is a much larger instrument than that at Ste Clotilde and I think it is probably fair to say that it is rather different overall (despite its basis). For example, the Positif at St Ignatius Loyola is a Positif de Dos, and its resources are in some ways abbreviated with respect to that at Ste Clotilde, while in other ways they are expanded. The relationship between the Petit Recit Expressif and the Positif at St Ignatius Loyola in particular would seem to be quite different from the relationship between Franck's Positif and Recit Expressif.

 

Nevertheless, the team at Mander Organs were obviously aiming towards something with the Petit Recit Expressif at St Ignatius Loyola that had at least the spirit of Franck's Recit Expressif. I expect that this may have been rather more than the obvious similarities in their specifications, and my question was directed towards this. Was it perhaps in the solo qualities of the Trompette and Basson-Hautbois? Or was it in the general dynamic qualities of the division, perhaps trying to seek something that may colour strongly the fonds of the Grand-Orgue when the box is open, but disappear behind them when it is closed? Was the box perhaps placed and / or constructed so as to accentuate this? Or was it perhaps a combination of these (and maybe other) qualities?

 

Personally, I am against direct historical copying other than for research purposes. However, I do not see anything wrong at all in taking the mid-19th century French organ as a basis for development (whether of a particular instrument or of a "house style"). On the contrary, I view both the goal and the achievement at St Ignatius Loyola as worthy - and, I believe, intrinsically artistic. The keys, I think, are what the organ builder does with the source material, what discoveries he makes (to misuse Widor somewhat), and the musical integrity and beauty of the whole. But surely that should not stop us asking what the organ builder's intentions were regarding any particular feature?

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The Récit at St-Clothilde had little in common with the huge late-romantic Swell division with reed chorus. It was a rather little box, in which delicate solo stops such as ACC's Hautbois thrived. In a late-romantic Swell, such delicacies are completely lost.

 

As was the case later at....St-Clothilde, when Tournemire had a late-romantic Swell build by Convers. The Petit Récit at NY is an excellent idea I would be glad to hear. As an alternative, one may have an expressive choir as a second expressive division; in the Mander organ you have both the two expressive divisions plus a detached "Positif de dos".

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Yes, but still I wonder. What about CC's 1890 Recit Expressif at St Ouen? It is very big - 20 stops - and hence must necessarily be accommodated in a large box; and it includes three (relatively) delicate solo reeds in addition to the more powerful Tuba Magna, Trompette Harmonique and Clairon Harmonique. Although I now have to reach quite a long way back in my memory, I recall the Clarinette and Basson-Hautbois as being very effective, and by no means entirely lost despite the size of the church.

 

After all is said and done, maybe the answer is a matter of individual perception. To me, the St Ouen solo reeds had the effect that I expected of them in the space. However, perhaps it may be that someone else would find them a little lacking in presence or immediacy. I was going to say that this might particularly be the case in the playing of Franck, although he seldom calls specifically for the Basson-Hautbois, but more often for the Trompette. Here is the modern organist's problem: the Swell / Recit chorus reed is generally a much heavier, thicker-toned stop than Franck was apparently blessed with at Ste Clotilde.

 

As to your second point, I agree entirely that St Ignatius Loyola's having both the "Grand" Recit Expressif and the Petit Recit Expressif is an excellent feature, and must surely give the organist great flexibility - and whether or not he / she is playing Franck!

 

Regards

Malcolm F

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I don't know the organ at Ste Clothilde, either in its present form, or what it was like in Fanck's day, so I can't do a comparison.

 

All I can say is that at St Ignatius, you are right in that the solo qualities of the Bassoon-Hautbois/Trompette combination are certainly exploited, especially with a foundation. And the reeds of the Petit Récit do also work well with the foundations on the Grande Orgue. The Director of Music, Kent Tritle, makes reference to using the combination of Hautbois/Trompette on this division in a recording that features Frank, among other composers.

 

Of course, that begs the question as to why that might not have been incorporated in the larger Récit division, and I'm not sure I am qualified to answer that question. But having a second division under expression also enabled a lot of the organ's solo elements to be placed in this division. All I can say is that it works very effectively.

 

The box that houses the Petit Récit is high up in the organ above the Grande Orgue division and at the top of the central tower. Looking at the main case, immediately above the console is the main Récit, above that is the Grande Orgue and above that is the Petit Récit. The shutters are on both sides of the box, rather than the front, and are vertical, opening out towards the nave.

 

With both of the divisions that are under expression, the effect is big in the church. It seems like the further you are from the instrument, the more effective the swell effect is on both of these divisions. Part of the reason is the organ being above the main door and speaking down the entire length of the church. John Mander once explained (if I understood him correctly) that part of the reason is also down to the amount of pipework inside the box, which forces the sound out when it is opened. There is nowhere inside the box for sound to get trapped.

 

I think the three divisions that are under expression in Westminster Cathedral have as strong a swell effect as at St Ignatius. Again, this organ is above the main door, Continental style, but we are talking about two entirely different instruments.

 

Sorry that doesn't answer your specific question about what the aims of the Petit Récit division at St Ignatius are. Hopefully, John Mander will be able to reply before long.

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The original Récit at St-Clothilde (1859) was:

 

Gambe 8'

Voix céleste 8'

Flûte harmonique 8'

Bourdon 8'

Flûte octaviante 4'

Octavin 2'

Trompette 8'

Basson-Hautbois 8'

Voix humaine 8'

Clairon 4'

 

The Convers Récit in 1933 was:

 

Quintaton 16'

Gambe 8'

Voix céleste 8'

Flûte harmonique 8'

Bourdon 8'

Flûte 4'

Nazard 2 2/3'

Octavin 2'

Tierce 1 3/5'

Plein-jeu 4 ranks

Bombarde 16'

Trompette 8'

Basson-Hautbois 8'

Clarinette 8'

Voix humaine 8'

Clairon 4'

 

The Basson-Hautbois was of course still Franck's, ditto the Trompette, but in a box about two times bigger. So the "presence" of these stops isn't the same, as well as their "response" to the shutter's moves. In fact there are two kinds of Swell divisions: the romantic french, above all solistic. And then the "symphonic", late-romantic big division, with an accent on the ensemble. This ensemble is not a "classic" one, but it is a whole in a classic way: Full-lenght or double lenght reeds 16-8-4 plus a mixture. And who invented that?

A belgian beer (Duvel) for the first who finds out!

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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  • 3 weeks later...
Guest Geoff McMahon

The Petit Récit at St. Ignatius was never meant to be a copy of any specific ACC one, but to recreate the essence of some of them. The Grande Récit is large and includes the 16ft flue element a large Récit or Swell Organ demands. The whole department is pretty grand in itself and this element would have precluded the more gentle effect that one might expect of the smaller Récit. So the aim was not to try and compromise the Récit in any way, but to create a department which went some way towards that whilst also allowing the introduction of some solo elements which would have been out of place in the Récit. As Anthony Pool mentioned, the Petit Récit has swell shutters on the sides of the box, but it also has them on the front in fact. This was done to mitigate the fear that being placed up high and at the back of the organ (behind the Bombarde Reeds) it would not be lost. Some people have commented on the lack of a Basson-Hautbois in the (Grande) Récit, but the whole Basson-Hautbois/Trompette combination would have been lost if the only Basson-Hautbois had been in the (Grande) Récit. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and I think it works well as the organists have the choice of the really bold Récit and the more gentle Petit Récit. You can't combine the two. You could only compromise and I think that would not have worked well in either rôle.

 

The Positif de Dos is of course not what ACC would have done in any new organ, but a necessity if the organ was to be as versatile as possible. In that respect the Petit Récit also fulfils some of the rôle of a Positif Expressif as well.

 

The whole organ was never meant to be a copy and is not a copy. The specification is in fact remarkably similar to the ACC for the Cathédrale de Carcassonne in some respects which also has a Petit Récit, but it is in no way a copy of that as we discovered the similarity only after the St. Ignatius organ was half competed.

 

John Pike Mander

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Thanks John. I think I have a better appreciation now of why you took the Grand Recit / Petit Recit course that you did. Indeed, if you don't mind me saying so, I think that it could be helpful if comments along these lines were to be included if and when there is a revision of the portfolio section on St Ignatius, as I think they give a very good feel both to purpose and achievement. Others may of course disagree ...

 

Regards

Malcolm F

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I fully agree with Malcolm.

If all organ-builders laid a kind of "owner's manual" with every innovative organ they build, maybe some destructions would not have happened. I am busy with an excellent example: an organ Walcker (the german, not Walker) built in Namur in 1907. This was a two-manual organ with:

 

Manual I

Manual II

 

the second being a soft division, according to the "Abschwächungsprinzip". Halas Walcker, in an attempt to be "customer-friendly", called this second, and moreover expressive, division "Récit expressif". Of course the french-speaking belgians compared it with french and belgian "Récits expressifs".....crammed with powerful, free-toned Trompettes!

 

As a result this organ was judged a failure because the "Récit", which had only a free-reed Clarinette as reed stops (the rest was splendid, delicate flue stops like Eoline etc), was "not powerfull enough". The Pedal Posaune was called "Bombarde", which it of course was not, so the regulating screws and the leathering of the shallots were removed... Now, many many years later, we are beginning a time-consuming project to put this organ back in order -I mean in its 1907 state-.

 

I believe the builders should write and explain their design somewhere inside the organ-case. And deliver a brochure to the organist: "Guidelines to the registration of the St-XYZ organ".

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What happened to your poor instrument at Namur is a very sad case of misunderstanding based on false expectations and assumptions. In such a case as this, what you suggest makes a lot of sense. So too, in basic guidelines as to registration combinations. (How many times have we heard poor registrations drawn, and thought to ourselves, "Doesn't this organist know what stops just shouldn't be drawn together?")

 

However, I'd hesitate to go much further than that. How many times have we seen cases where a new organist comes to a church, and finds registrations in the organ that come off really well, but were never contemplated by the previous incumbent? (Come to think of it, didn't a certain JS Bach do this on a well recorded occasion?)

 

But we could risk going too far if guidelines are thought of as limitations rather than "the basics", at least in some areas. I would certainly not like some overly pedantic teacher thrusting a set of guidelines at a new student and saying, "This is how you shall register pieces on my organ!" (None of us would ever be like that, would we?)

 

As with all things, there's a balance that should be struck. Basic guidelines - yes I agree that they could well be helpful in some ways. But they would also have to be thoughtfully applied.

 

Regards

Malcolm F

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This makes sense, of course, Malcolm,

 

But I actually believe the builder does some choices, and he has to if he wants to avoid a dead, flat "multi-purpose" voicing style. Of course there are baroque german organs that offer an immense versatility, but the differences of strenght between their stops is limited. But take the french "classic" organ; if you drawn the Tierce, you must mandatorily add the Bourdon 8', Flûte 4', Nazard and Quarte (or Doublette if there is no Quarte de Nazard); you may not drawn any Principal stop with it and any "Plein-jeu", "Fourniture" or "Cymbale" are forbidded... Take a belgian romantic organ: if you draw a mixture, the reeds are mandatory because they are intended for this use only.

So I agree too many "guidelines" could be a bad idea, but some are needed, tough. Walcker should have written all names on the console in german -an english builder should do it in english, etc- and have explained the second division is not a "Récit" (nor a "Swell" by the way), but a kind of "secondary", soft division with delicately voiced stops. He could have tell "My reeds have nothing in common with the other ones you already have in Namur", and show how a Pedal 16' Posaune is more versatile by far as a Van Bever Bombarde, which needs absolutely all the pedal couplers drawn with it so it is powerfull!

As of today we all know perfectly well the quite severe french baroque registration rules, but near to nothing about the others. Let's imagine an english builder builds a Cathedral organ in Belgium with a tipycal english Swell. He'd write on the console: "Basson, Trompette, Clairon, Mixture", period. What do you think will happen? Not even a month after the english team will have left, a belgian teacher will tell us all here "the Swell mixture you use with Diapason 8', Octave 4' and Fifteenth, nothing else".

In Brussels, the former organist of St-Boniface (a 1871 Schyven organ, thus from the Merklin school) never drawn more than one 8' flue at a time...

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Guest Geoff McMahon

As an organ builder, I am not entirely for the idea of giving the organists instructions or even guidance as to how the organ should be registered. We really ought to be able to rely on the organist using his ears to tell him if the registration he is using works or not and if he has good ears, he will probably break the rules we might give to very good effect. A good organ can quite happily be made to make bad sounds under the hands of an unsympathetic or cloth-eared organist. That is the price we pay for making an organ which under the right hands can make all sorts of sounds that we, the organ builders, didn't even think of.

 

One respected organist playing at St. Ignatius used a registration which had the resident organists open mouthed. The G.O. sounded as they had never heard it before and in the context they were mightily impressed. It turned out that he had registered just the Montre 16 and Fourniture V and that is now used occasionally by the resident organists themselves. As the organ builder, such a registration would never have crossed my mind as an option.

 

It is a bit different when one is playing French classical repertoire of course where the rules are clearly defined, but when an organist approaches such an instrument with repertoire other than French classical, he must be allowed to break the rules to achieve the result he wants, subject to that result being musical of course.

 

John Pike Mander

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