Oakeley, Sir Herbert (Stanley)


The new potential of the 16th century



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4. The new potential of the 16th century.

Soon after 1500 organs could produce a greater variety of colour and tonal effects than ever before because they had separate stops or several keyboards, or both. Many new stops (above all flutes and reeds) were invented, and one or two extant documents of the period indicate how they were used. About 1510 in both the Rhineland (Worms) and southern France (Bordeaux), such documents contained advice (perhaps from the builder) about registration. Plena were mentioned, of course, but more interesting in view of Baroque registration were the two- or three-stop combinations; the list inTable 5 can be inferred from the instruction pour le jeu d’orgue appended to the contract for an organ built by Loys Gaudet for St Michel, Bordeaux. This organ was a southern-style instrument of nine separate single-rank stops, and within a small spectrum such ranks would yield many combinations. More instructive still are the German registrations (St Andreas, Worms; Table 6), since they concern an organ with pedal and multi-rank stops. Schlick too wanted stops drawn in different combinations, and registrations changed.


Particularly important in the documents concerning such new organs as that of Daniel Van der Distelen in Antwerp Cathedral (1505) was the implied distribution of sounds into distinct groups: principals, flutes, reeds and mixtures. From then on, such families were to be paramount. Single-rank mutations, whether scaled as principals or flutes, belonged more to southern organs at that period; but at Antwerp there were at least four reeds, all for specific colour imitations (Cornett, Bagpipe-Regal, Trumpet and Krummhorn/Dulzian). Such imitations became so important during the 16th century that both reed pipes and combinations of flue stops were used to give the desired effects; often it is not clear from a document which of the two a certain Zink, Cornet, Nachthorn or Rauschpipe was. Trumpets and Krummhorns, however, were always imitated by reed stops. It is also unclear from the documents of about 1510 whether the many kinds of flute pipes mentioned were open or stopped. In most cases it could well be that they were open and that stopped pipes were reserved for special colour stops like the Quintadena or perhaps for the second ranks backing the Open Diapasons of the case front. In 1518 Sager promised in his contract with St Mary Magdalene, Basle, that ‘the stopped pipes shall be bold and sweet [tapferer und liblich] so that they are not too puerile [nit zu kindlich] but audible throughout the church’.

During the period from 1500 to 1550 Flemish, north German, north French and Spanish organs had much in common. The Netherlanders in particular developed a mature organ of archaic features, described in Vente’s Die Brabanter Orgel (D(xxi)1958). In 1510, however, the organ of the Upper Rhineland may have been the most advanced of Europe, having (in addition to principal and mixture stops) wide flutes, narrow stopped pipes, several reeds and smaller Brustwerk chests as at Bozen (1495). As so often, very little real connection between this type of organ and the music supposedly written for it can be demonstrated; it is even difficult to understand the relation between Schlick’s own music and the organ he prescribed. The connections seen by many modern writers between a south German organ of about 1520 and the group of south German tablature sources of the same period are only speculative. In fact there was in about 1510 so much international activity between builders that national types are difficult to distinguish. Flemish builders in particular could be found working throughout Europe during the 16th century.

The early 16th-century organ was full of colour: manual reeds, regals in the Positive departments (Rückpositiv, Brustwerk), pedal reeds; Gedackt, Quintadena, Rohrflöte stops (Alkmaar, Laurenskerk, small organ, 1511); Gemshorn and Hohlflöte; Sifflöte, Schwegel 11/3' and other flute mutations. The last are very significant, often uncertain in documents but usually associated with some special colour effect and even special etymology (‘Nasard’, ‘Larigot’). Tremulants, toy stops (drums, bird calls, bells) and moving statuary were known by the end of the 15th century. The structural developments were very important, particularly the Netherlands builders’ division of the Great organ into two departments (each often with its own manual): Principal chorus and trumpets on the Hauptwerk, or main manual, and flutes, Gedackts and mutations on the Oberwerk, or upper chest. This separation ensured good wind supply, greater freedom of registration, safer chest construction and better acoustical dispersal from shallower cases. The Oberwerk was to influence, even create, the special potential in the next century of the north German Werkprinzip organ, in which each ‘department’, or Werk (i.e. a keyboard with its chest or chests), had a separate structure. Some examples typifying the schemes of about 1550 at their best, organs to which the previous developments were leading, are given inTables 7, 8, 9 and10.









In the Iberian Peninsula, organs were generally built by Italians (e.g. Évora Cathedral, 1562) or Netherlanders (El Escorial, c1580); there were scarcely distinct Iberian characteristics. Yet Évora had more Mixtures than an Italian organ, and El Escorial had its secondary manual in the form of an internal Positive (Cadireta interior) rather than a Dutch-Flemish Rückpositiv. In England organs appear to have remained single-manual instruments until the late 16th or early 17th century, although some of these, particularly in large monastic foundations, may have reached a fairly good size before the Reformation. While early 17th-century English organs had the southern characteristic of single, individually available ranks at unison and quint pitches, early 16th-century organs were more Flemish in style and appear to have had the partly divided Blockwerk scheme of north-west continental organs of about 1500. Wooden pipes, and even organs with wooden pipes only, were known in the 16th century, but there is no evidence of reed pipes having been incorporated into large church organs until the late 17th century, although small regals containing both reed (short-length) and flue pipes were much in evidence and are described in some detail in an inventory of Henry VIII’s household furnishings (see §8 below). Early in the 16th century the English organ acquired a slightly larger key compass than the organs of northern Europe, a characteristic maintained into the 18th century. The double organ with Great and Chair (Rückpositiv) division is documented from the beginning of the 17th century, and inspired the writing of a type of voluntary in which solo passages were played by the left hand on the Great against an accompaniment on the Chair, both hands usually going to the Great in the final section – the so-called ‘double voluntary’.



As the 16th-century Italian organs in Innsbruck and Brescia still exist, various subjective descriptions of their tone have been made. At Brescia (see Table 9) the average to narrow scalings (apparently untransposed) and the low pressure give a mild tone, round, rich and singing. Low pressure may also explain the absence of reed stops in such organs, or vice versa. The downward compass of Italian organs varied with the size of the church: the larger the church, the lower the compass. The top note was almost always a'', the bottom c, G or F (positives), C, G', F' or even C' (full-size organs). The 15th-century organ at S Petronio, Bologna, went to F' or G' at 16' pitch (i.e. into the 32' octave). When pedal-boards were added later to such organs, they were thought of as mechanical conveniences for pulling down the bass keys; pedal parts (beyond pedal points and cadential chord roots) do not appear in Italian or Iberian music until the 19th century. As for the pipework, only open metal pipes were included. The ranks of the separated high stops break back no higher than the pipe sounding c'''''; that is the top treble of the compass has an accumulation of ranks usually no higher than Principale 2', resulting in a kind of circumscribed, if fully divided, Blockwerk. The lower ranks are sometimes divided between b and c'. Musically, such organs had a distinct function and character. Costanzo Antegnati’s rules for registration (1608) show timbre, musical style and liturgical function to have been intimately connected; for example, the ripieno or tutti was drawn for sustained music of the durezze e ligature style, which was itself applied to such pieces as toccatas at the end of the ‘Deo gratias’. Flute stops of all pitches were da concerto (i.e. ‘for solo use’), not for accompanying motets or filling out the ripieno. The undulating Fiffaro (or Voce umana), a principal-toned rank, was drawn with the Principale alone and played slow music ‘as smoothly and legato as possible’, often with melodic snatches in the right hand (as in Frescobaldi’s toccatas), and is frequently recommended for playing in the Elevation. Some useful combinations were those shown inTable 11. At the same time, as Diruta showed, some keys (i.e. ecclesiastical tones) were associated with particular moods and hence particular registrations. He recommended 16' with Flauto 8' for the mournfulness of E minor (Phrygian); but for D minor (Dorian, full and grave) he added as alternative suggestions 16.8 and 16.16. For F major (Lydian, moderately gay) he recommended 8.4 with Flauto 4; but for G major (Mixolydian, mild and lively), 8.4.2. Equally important is that three is the largest number of stops drawn in many such lists of registrations, apart from the various big ripieni used only once or twice in a service. It is never certain how far or wide such rules apply, but much Italian music of about 1620 can be seen in terms of the older Antegnati organ, more modest though the organs of Rome, Naples and elsewhere seem to have been. The greatest developments in Italian organ building between 1475 and 1575 were rather in the design of the cases (Gothic to Renaissance; see fig.33) than in the technical or musical sphere, where there is an unusual conformity.

The 1551–61 Ebert organ at Innsbruck (see Table 8 and fig.34) is very strong in tone, neither manual proving useful for accompanying a choir. The cases are shallow (Rückpositiv less than 50 cm), the chests spacious, the organs contained in resonant wooden boxes. Since all the Chair organ (Rückpositiv) stops have close equivalents in the Great organ (Hauptwerk), yet at only 4' pitch (as so often during the 16th century and the late 15th), the two manuals can be regarded partly as extensions of each other in different directions. Indeed, the Innsbruck organ puts in a new light the perennial question of the purpose of second manuals (a question rarely admitting of any obvious answer, despite common assumptions). The stopped pipes at Innsbruck are very strong in tone, with a big mouth and a tone-colour ranging from wide, vague flute sound in the bass to strong, breathy treble colour. The two Hörnli stops are very keen, repeating Terzzimbeln. Throughout the organ there is a distinct change of tone-quality from bass to treble, enabling the Hauptwerk bass keys to produce a different quality of sound from right-hand solo lines in the treble.

The organ of the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam (see Table 7) was that known to Sweelinck and shows the ‘Brabant organ’ at its most characteristic: big Principal chorus, large flute stops on an Oberwerk chest, smaller stops but yet greater variety in the Rückpositiv, and the pedals playing the Hauptwerk chorus for plenum registrations and also having a pair of high-pitched, strong-toned solo stops for (presumably) cantus firmus music. The sheer variety in the manuals would alone have encouraged variations on psalm tunes and folk melodies over the next century or so, even had there been no tradition for weekday organ recitals occasioned by the prohibition of the use of the organ in the Reformed liturgy until after the middle of the 17th century. From surviving examples of Niehoff pipework, it seems that the inner parts were of thick, hammered lead of good quality; the principals were narrow in the bass, wider in the treble; and the whole had a mild-voiced, singing quality quite different from the organ of the later Baroque period. Flutes were wide to very wide; reeds penetrating, particularly in the bass. The spring-chests were considered an advance on the slider-chests already known for smaller organs (Alkmaar small organ, extant slider-chest of 1511) or for the Chair organs of larger instruments; and in some areas (north Italy, Westphalia) spring-chests of different types remained popular for well-spaced, large-scaled organs after they had fallen out of fashion in the north. The Amsterdam organ was evidently of a very high class, and its concept and musical repertory were known in Brabant, the Netherlands, Cologne, Würzburg, Lüneburg and much further east. Some examples had big Pedal divisions, resulting during the period 1575–1600 in an organ type known from Groningen to Danzig, Frederiksborg to Prague, and passed on by a group of composers directly or indirectly under Sweelinck’s influence.

The musical position of the 1580 Barbier organ at Gisors (see Table 10) is less certain, as indeed is that of all French organs before about 1660. The French organ of 1520–75 often had a wide array of colour, whether of the Bordeaux-Italian type in the south, or the southern Flemish variety of reeds and compound stops in the north. Reeds of 16', 8' and 4' could be expected in a larger organ of about 1575; so could one or more Quint mutations; 8', 4' and possibly 16' ranks of stopped (often wooden) pipes; a few ‘obsolescent’ stops like the 1' Principal; and even a mounted Cornet, often called ‘Flemish horn’ (see Organ stop, under ‘Cornet’). In many respects the Gisors organ was Flemish: the Positiv construction (in French instruments the Chair organ had become temporarily uncommon), the spring-chests, the CD–c''' compass, the Quint flutes of 11/3', the 8' pedal stops, and the grand ravalement for the pedal reed. In sound, no doubt the instrument was nearer to the Netherlands organs of Niehoff than to the late classical French organs of F.-H. Clicquot.



Organ, §V: 1450–1800



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