Full organ has rarely, if ever, denoted that the composer has required the organist to draw every stop; since c1850 most composers other than French have left it to the organist’s discretion and the organ-bellows’ capacity.
Before that, both the term itself and the registration it indicated varied according to period and area. The 15th-century Blockwerk was itself the plenum of larger organs, from Spain to the Baltic, from Italy to the North Sea; if it were referred to in a document such as a contract, it would be called ‘Principal’. When or where this Diapason chorus was separated into several single or multiple ranks, a term such as grant jeu would indicate the total or full organ (St Michel, Bordeaux, 1510), perhaps without flutes, like the ‘compimento de l’organo’ at S Martino, Bologna (1556). (SeeGrand jeu.)
Plenum and the German terms volles Werk and zum gantzen Werck are chiefly 17th-century terms, referring to the Diapason chorus codified in many 16th-century sources; the last phrase, however, often means that a stop runs ‘through the whole compass’, not that it joins ‘the total chorus’. In Italy ripieno was based on single ranks excluding Flutes (Antegnati, 1608), but later examples are known to have included a Tierce rank (Trent Cathedral, 1687), as sometimes happened with the Plein jeu in France (c1620). In Spain, plé (16th century) indicated the chorus in general, lleno (17th century) the main Mixture.
From das Werck at Hagenau in 1491, which was the total chorus Mixture excluding Diapason and Zimbel, to Mattheson’s treatises of 1721, the German organ progressed towards heavier and thicker plena, including all stops except reeds, and used not so much for particular colour, like the French grands and pleins jeux, as for massive effects in preludes, toccatas, etc. Some writers, like Praetorius and Werckmeister, insisted that ‘families’ of stops should not be mixed. It is unlikely that J. S. Bach had a specific combination in mind when he asked for organum plenum, whether in 1715 or 1745; however, a contemporary organ builder, Gottfried Silbermann, directed organists to use the manual coupler but no manual reeds or Tierces in the plenum (Fraureuth, 1739).
See also Full organ and Grand choeur.
An ambiguous term in English, owing its existence to the fact that it is the literal equivalent of the Latin punctus organi or organicus punctus, the German Orgelpunkt, and the French point d'orgue. Although listed in all musical dictionaries, the English term is usually avoided in practical situations in favour of the more precise ‘pedal’ or Pedal point and Pause or Fermata. Organicus punctus is found as early as Franco of Cologne (Ars cantus mensurabilis, c1260), who used it for the penultimate note of a tenor at which the regular measure is suspended. Tinctoris (Terminorum musicae diffinitorium, c1472–3) applied it to the sign of the corona, which by that time was used in various situations where it was necessary for one part to pay attention to the other parts instead of to the beat: on final notes which must be prolonged and released together, in canons, where one part might have to prolong a final note until the other parts have caught up, and in passages of block chords where each note was to be prolonged for effect (e.g. Dufay's Supremum est mortalibus).
In French, point d'orgue was applied in the 17th century to both the corona and the harmonic pedal. The latter meaning, though rare, is found in Furetière's Dictionnaire universel, which was published in 1690 (though the reference is to the usage of the mid-17th century): ‘Le point d’orgue est proprement une tenuë en Musique, et est en usage en plusieurs parties quand on veut que l'une continuë long-tems sur un même ton, tandis que les autres font différents accords'.
In the 18th century the term began to take on the additional meaning of the ornamental cadenza often demanded by the point d’orgue, whereas the meaning of harmonic pedal gradually dropped away. Cohen (JAMS, xxiv, 1971, 63–84, esp. 76) cited Etienne Loulié's use of the curious term ostinatione for pedal point in a manuscript composition treatise (before 1703). In 1844 the Escudier brothers (Dictionnaire de musique théorique et historique) defined point d'orgue simply as ‘passage brillant que fait la partie principale dans un solo’, while 19th-century treatises on fugue (Cherubini, Fétis) introduced the term pédale, which they had doubtless imported from Italy, where it is found with its modern meaning as early as 1802 (Sabbatini). 20th-century French dictionaries distinguish sharply between point d'orgue and pédale; the former never means the latter.
Orgelpunkt seems to have entered German terminology by way of French usage rather than of Latin. Early German usage prefers ‘Pausa generalis’ or ‘Corona’ for the fermata, and it is under ‘Corona’ that Walther (Musikalisches Lexikon, 1732) gave his main definition – adding, however, that ‘die Franzosen nennen es point d'orgue’. The other meaning of the French term crops up in Heinichen's explanation of a prolonged tasto solo note in figured bass (Der General-Bass, 1728), where he wrote that the French called it point d'orgue because one could hold a note with the pedals and play all sorts of ‘variations and foreign syncopations’ with both hands. By the mid-18th century the corona had come to be called Fermate (C.P.E. Bach and Quantz), and Marpurg was using point d'orgue for the pedal near the end of a fugue. By the end of the century point d'orgue had been taken over as Orgelpunkt, in which form it was defined by Sulzer (Allgemeine Theorie, 1771–4) and Koch (Musikalisches Lexikon, 1802) as a harmonic pedal, with no mention of the sign of the corona. Unfortunately, however, Koch gave point d'orgue as the French equivalent for Orgelpunkt – just when the French themselves had managed to differentiate it clearly from pédale. Thus began the confusion, which was made worse by English writers seizing upon the cognate without specifying which meaning they attached to it.
Modern French and German usage is clear: French point d'orgue means German Fermate; German Orgelpunkt means French pédale. English usage avoids ‘organ point’; ‘pause’, ‘fermata’ and ‘pedal’ are preferred.