A Few Final Truths About Writing for Organ
- The sound stops when the organist takes their hands (and feet)
off the keyboards. This makes the legato performance of large
parallel intervals unlikely.
- One needs to have a foot free to effect a crescendo or
- Big fast crescendi/diminuendi (pianississimo to fortississimo)
can't be done smoothly; while they are possible slowly, it does
generally involve a major change in timbre. Crescendi and diminuendi
are most effective with in a dynamic range of three or so dynamic
marks, such as pianississimo to piano, or mezzo-piano to forte.
- One needs a hand or foot (or a least a finger) free to effect a
registration change unless one wishes to specifically require an
assistant. The amount of time required is generally minimal (one
second to grab one to four stops if they can be added or subtracted in
a single motion). While one may specify the use of an assistant (or
even two), it is probably better to leave this up to the organist. It
should also be noted that the addition of an assistant requires
additional rehearsal time.
- If one wishes, one may work out all the registrations in advance,
utilizing numbers to stand for predetermined combinations; if one
chooses to do this, one should indicate the desired registrations only
when they change, and not every time one changes keyboards. A
frequently encountered way of marking such changes is to enclose the
number(s) in triangles or another geometric shape and place them in
the score at the points where the changes should be made. A chart
indicating the registration to which each number refers should be
included as a preface to the score.
- Beware of excessive use of the upper range of both the keyboards
and the pedalboard; these are not as standard as some people claim!
While c to c (five octaves) [see chart 2 above] has long
been claimed the standard range, one commonly finds instruments with
keyboards that end at a, g, or even f. Likewise for the
pedal: while c to g (two octaves and a fifth) is claimed
to be standard, pedal boards that end at f or d are
- Writing the exact pitches one desires is a perfectly acceptable
way of notating a piece. If you choose to notate a piece in this
manner, you must include a note to that effect in the performance
instructions. One should keep in mind, however, the basic range of the
pedalboard, and not expect the organist to execute pedal passages
spanning more than two octaves without some sort of break to make a
A Few Final Truths About Writing for Pedals
- The pedal division, contrary to the fact that it is written in
bass clef, is not just a "bass division"; there are several examples
of organ music where the pedal is used to play a melodic line that
sounds above the manual material.
- If you write only one note at a time, chances are that whatever
you write will be possible.
- If you write two notes at a time, chances are that whatever you
write will be possible as long as you keep in mind that legato moves
of more than a third are highly unlikely.
- See rule 2 of a few basic truths of organ writing (above).
- If you write three notes at a time, chances are much greater that
what you write may not be possible; if you must, two of the notes must
be either a second apart, or a minor third apart where one of the
notes is a black key, and the chord should be either located in the
middle of the pedalboard or rather openly spaced. If in doubt, consult
- If you write four or more notes at a time, first consult an
organist to see if the passage is possible. Based on the response you
receive, you may wish to consult with a private psychologist.
- Suggested examples of good pedal writing involving two or more
notes at a time include N. Bruhns, Prelude in G Major;
G. Crumb, Pastoral Drone (two notes at a time throughout, some
four notes at a time); M. Feldman, Principal Sound (two notes
at a time, frequently to be taken with one foot); J. Langlais,
Hommage a Frescobaldi (Epilogue) (very difficult solo pedal
work); V. Persichetti, Sonatina, Do Not Go Gentle;
I. Yun, Fragment.
On The Nature of the Beast That Does Not Breathe
[A Few Words about Organ Actions]
[Some Basics of Notation]
[A Few Final Truths]
[WAC Main Page]
[Newsletter Front Page]
Copyright © 2000 David Bohn. All rights reserved.
Last updated 12 November 2000. Contact information.