There is a great diversity of opinions on what a composer needs to know and indicate on organ registrations. Rather than providing a history of organ registration and a complete dictionary of organ stop names, which may only serve to confuse a potential composer, the following is a brief classification of stop names and a short list of the more popular registration names.
The term foot is the way of indicating the pitch of a stop; it is used in conjunction with a stop name, or occasionally by itself as a sort of surrogate to 8va, 15va, 8vb, or 15vb. Typical foot indications are
Many others show up that are typically associated with mutation stops. They are rarely used alone except for special effects, such as the unusual tuning effects in John Lambert's Uccelli, where the just third of the tierce stop is used against tempered thirds (see "Mutation Stops"). Examples of these include the following (grouped according to simple intervals sounded):
Divided and Partial Compass Stops
A divided stop is a stop that is accentuated by two stop controls, one for the bass half of a keyboard, and one for the treble. The location of the dividing point has varied both by time and geography, and has ranged from the c below middle c to the g above. Two of the most typical dividing points are middle c (typical in 17th- and 18th-century English organs) and middle c# (typical in organs from the Iberian peninsula). Contemporary organs with divided stops frequently have the option of choosing either c or c# for the dividing point. A partial compass stop is one that exists for only part of the keyboard, typically the treble. As in divided stops, the starting point varies from the c below middle c to the g above. Typically, these are mutations or cornet/sesquialtera stops.
A Quick Guide to Organ Stop Names
This is only a general guide to the most common of organ stop names to briefly introduce each family of organ sound. Within each type listed there is great variance in both how the pipes are constructed and how they sound.
I: Flue Pipes
The Flue Pipes produce their sounds in a way akin to a recorder or pennywhistle and may be made of wood or metal. There are six basic types of flue pipe stops: Diapasons/Principals, Strings, Open Flutes, Stopped Flutes, Mutations, and Mixtures/Compound Stops. Within these groups, there are some subtypes.
Twelfth: Diapason toned 3rd harmonic.
II: Reed Pipes
Reed pipes operate like a duck call or a party horn and are generally made of metal. Reed pipes come in two basic types: chorus reeds and color/solo reeds. There are several subtypes.
III: Mechanical Stops
Mechanical stops do not produce sounds by themselves but affect other stops and keyboards when in operation.
IV: Toy Stops
A Brief Compendium of Relatively Standard Organ Registrations
The following is a brief collection of terms used with some regularity as a sort of shorthand by composers and organists to indicate certain stop combinations; while the specifics of what is drawn would vary from organ to organ, the desired sounds indicated by the term are fairly universal. Many massive texts exist on organ registrations, a continuously evolving subject of which many organists grasp only the basics.
Further Thoughts on Indicating Registrations
One option for composers in working out registrations for a piece is to collaborate with an organist on registering your piece. This is not a requirement for success (nor will it guarantee success), but neither should it be dismissed out of hand. Keep in mind that the simpler your terminology when describing your registrations, the happier future organists will be in trying to learn your piece. This is not to say that being precise in your registration is a bad thing, rather that it is easy to go overboard. It is one thing to say "Clarinet in A" in an orchestral score and another to specify "An Albert System Clarinet in A with an extra wide barrel and a #5 reed." So it is in organ registrations: "Flute" says much the same thing as "Gemsrohrpommer" and is nowhere near as prolix. In addition, a fair amount of the terminology used in stop names has more to do with the construction of the pipes than the actual timbre; the stop names Gamba, Spitzgamba, and Bell Gamba all refer to the same basic sort of sound, with the prefixes indicating construction characteristics of the pipes.
That said, it is also possible for a composer to provide a very clear idea of what is desired without relying on the opinions of a second person.
A composer might choose to work out the registrations in detail relative to a particular organ. In this case, the composer should also include some information about the organ in the preface to the score, such as location of organ, the name of the builder and the year it was built, and the stoplist of the organ. Such information can be very helpful in clearing up any potential confusion the detailed registrations may generate.
The composer may also be content to provide the organist with only a dynamic level and (perhaps) a brief verbal description of the timbre(s) desired, such as "ethereal," "lush," or "cold and dark," or a foot indication to indicate proper octaves.
Some composers have provided very detailed explanations of the registration scheme required for their compositions, without using specific stopnames. Here are some examples:
Christopher Bochmann's Essay II is conceived for a two-manual organ. The organist is asked to choose three registrations (approximately piano, mezzo, and forte) for the lower manual, five registrations (pianissimo, piano, mezzo-piano, mezzo-forte, and forte) for the upper manual, and two (mezzo and forte) in the pedal, the only additional comment being that the upper manual's forte should be slightly softer than the lower manual's forte. Thus the minimum requirements to play the piece are that the organ have three stops on the lower manual, five stops on the upper manual, and two in the pedal, while at the same time allowing the possibility of playing the work on a much larger organ. While this specific solution apparently ignores the option of timbral variation (in practice, there would certainly be a fair amount of timbral variation from one dynamic level to another), it certainly would be possible to construct such a structure that would include timbral variation; it would be quite simple to expand this to include verbal descriptions, such as "soft and ethereal" or "cold" or "lush" to a chart of registrations such as that in the Bochmann score.
James Bohn's Toccata, Passacaglia, and Fugue indicates registrations in a way similar to the Bochmann. Nine manual and three pedal registrations are defined in general terms and assigned to specific dynamic markings from pianississimo to fortississimo (two discrete but similar "piano" registrations are required). The performer can assign the registrations to whichever keyboards work best on that instrument. Bohn also notes that it is possible to use two slightly different sets of registrations, one in the toccata, the other in the fugue, still following the guidelines.
Christopher Fox's Straight Lines in Broken Times and 27 Fanfares (new heaven, new earth) are also conceived for a two-manual organ. In the former piece, there is no indication as to the use of manuals, although the description makes it clear that two manuals are required. The composer then states, "Registration for the two lines should make it possible to distinguish them as separate; however, the timbres chosen should have strong family resemblances. Discreet modifications in registration may be made during the course of the music, but these should not be apparent to the listener." In 27 Fanfares, each hand is specifically assigned a manual, and at points in the piece, the performer is instructed to add or subtract a set number of stops (although not which stops are to be added or removed). The composer also notes that "the desired effect is of audible change between related soundworlds rather than of a shift to a different sound world. The composer adds the following proviso regarding registrations in general: "The overall sound should be loud, timbrally complex, quite bright, rich in overtones; although the vertical harmonic relationships shown in the score should be audible, this need not preclude the use of extensive doublings to extend the frequency range of the music both up and down." It should be noted that as of 2000, Fox has written five pieces for organ totalling over an hour and a half of music, and that while each piece contains performance notes giving a very specific sense of the sorts of registrations to be used, none of the pieces contains anything that resembles a traditional registration indication.
John Cage's Some of the Harmony of Maine takes a related tack. Cage specifies a two-manual organ with 10 stops on one keyboard, 12 on the other, and 9 in the pedal and also requests the use of multiple console assistants for the manipulation of stops. The stops are numbered. At points in the music, the registrants are instructed to add and subtract stops (i.e., add stops 2, 3, and 5 of the pedal while subtracting stops 1 and 9). It is understood that stop 1 of the pedal remains stop 1 throughout the piece, but there is no indication whatsoever of what timbre or pitch level stop 1 is supposed to be.
These suggestions are a possible point of departure in providing registration indications. I would add that, even if the composer chooses to provide detailed registration instructions, provided that he has not written the work around an unusual feature of a specific organ, it is still quite likely that organists could perform the work regularly on a variety of organs.
Combination pistons are small buttons operated by the organist's thumbs, fingers, or toes to make registration changes. They come in many types and may or may not be adjustable. It is possible for the composer to assign combinations to piston numbers, which are typically notated in the score as numbers placed in triangles (or another geometric shape) and placed in the score at the points where the changes should be made--that is, where the pistons should be pushed. A chart indicating the registration to which each of these numbers refers should be included as a preface to the actual score. However, no two consoles are laid out identically, and in some cases the organist may have to relocate the pistons to suit the layout of a particular console. Further, Murphy's law frequently comes into play on pieces requiring large numbers of combination pistons: the number of adjustable combination pistons on a particular console will be at least two fewer than the number indicated in the score. In this instance, an organist will probably need to arrange for one or more console assistants.
Reversibles look like combination pistons, but they are not adjustable, and they alternately engage or disengage a particular coupler or, less frequently, a single stop. They are also styled as a "sforzando" pedal, alternately engaging and disengaging nearly everything on the organ, although one cannot effect a true sforzando unless one is very fast and limber. These are also termed (more accurately) "Tutti" or "Full Organ" pedals, and on larger instruments several different reversibles of this type are present. There is no need for a composer to worry about these things; the end result is the same whether the organist grabs the great to pedal coupler stop control or presses the great to pedal reversible piston or toe stud.
There are many ways of indicating which manials are to be played. One is to use the names of keyboards; the problem with this is that the names of keyboards can be confusing to an organist faced with an organ with a different set of names on their organ. In addition, just because the score says "Swell" doesn't mean that that passage will be played on the "Swell" if the required stops aren't there. I have occasionally ended up with the hand marked "swell" on the keyboard marked "great" and the hand marked "great" on the keyboard marked "swell." Most important, try to avoid mixing languages on manual indications. Another way to indicate manuals is to use Roman numerals; this method is clear and doesn't carry the baggage that names do. For that matter, there is no need to designate manuals, as it is possible to develop a very workable registrational scheme without accounting for which keyboard a particular registration may be assigned to. One final warning: most organists play organs with two or three manuals, and seeing registrations in terms of four or five manuals can be a big turn-off. Things registered to be played on two manuals can easily be played on a larger organ, whereas the reverse is much more difficult though not necessarily impossible.
On The Nature of the Beast That Does Not Breathe
[Introduction] [A Few Words about Organ Actions] [Some Basics of Notation]
[Registrations] [Extended Techniques] [A Few Final Truths] [Appendixes]
Copyright © 2000 David Bohn. All rights reserved.