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 On the Nature of the Beast That Does Not Breathe
A Few Words about Organ Actions
Some Basics of Notation
Extended Techniques
A Few Final Truths


Appendix 1: Organ and Other Instruments/Organ and Tape

There have been many fine works written for organ and other instruments, and the presence of another instrument can open up a huge variety of possibilities. There are a few considerations, however, that must be considered before writing a work for organ and other instruments. Of primary concern is the fact that organ pitch can range wildly from one instrument to another and even on a single instrument from empty room to full room (and even from one pitch to the next, depending on the temperament in use). While this isn't cause for concern with string instruments, it does become a potential problem for woodwind and brass instruments, and will be a major headache if tuned percussion is involved, as there is no "master tuning knob" to bring the organ into line with another instrument. This should not dissuade a composer from writing a work for organ and other instruments except where tuned percussion is involved.

There have also been many fine works written for organ and tape, which can open up even larger possibilities. However, the performance of organ and tape pieces is extremely problematic, due not only to the above-mentioned pitch headache but also the logistics of providing an acceptable playback system for the tape. Many church sound systems are designed for amplifying a spoken voice, not providing proper playback for a complex recording. If a composer desires to write a piece for organ and tape and is willing to accept the playback logistics, I suggest that he create the tape part such that precise (or even semi-precise) pitch coordination between the organ and tape is not a concern. If it has to be precise, plan on making a half dozen or more versions of the tape part to deal with various contingencies.

Appendix 2: "Portativ" and "Positiv" organs and "Regals"

According to traditional definitions, a portativ organ is an organ consisting of 20-30 wooden or metal pipes, a small keyboard to be played by one hand, and a bellows to be pumped by the other. These organs were designed to be carried around by the performer as the performance occurred. According to the same traditional definitions, a positiv organ was a small one manual organ of two to six stops without pedal that could be moved about from performance to performance, but not during the performance unless it had been set up on a cart or wheeled platform. A regal is traditionally considered an organ with a four octave or so keyboard, two bellows, and a single reed stop of the regal variety. In reality, even early regals were found with an additional flue stop of the mutation or zimbel variety. Nowadays, these terms have been blurred so that the both portativ and regal may be applied to what are more properly termed positiv organs, and that both have been applied to individual manual divisions of larger stationary organs. I even once saw a two-manual organ built on casters that some people have called a portativ organ.

In the traditional sense, a positiv organ has a range of four to four and one half octaves, and contains flute stops at 8' and 4' pitch, a 2' principal or flute, and occasionally 1 1/3', mixture, or 4' principal stops, sometimes even a regal or krummhorn. These stops may be divided, or not, depending upon the instrument. There also exist positiv organs with no 8' flute (if the organ has an 8' regal, the instrument may be termed a regal by some) and even positivs that consist of only a 4' flute. Typically, there is no pedalboard on such an instrument. These organs may either be in the traditional arrangement with the windchest near or above the keyboard level so that the organist sits facing the façade or they may be built with the windchest at the bottom of the instrument (below keyboard level) so that the organist sits behind the instrument and peers over it at other players. The advantage of the latter arrangement in performing with other performers should be obvious.

These instruments are becoming common again for performing continuo parts in 16th to 18th century music, and may be found in many concert halls or in churches. Some organists even own such instruments that they can transport to a venue that doesn't have an organ.

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]

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Copyright © 2000 David Bohn. All rights reserved.
Last updated 12 November 2000. Contact information.