The Eighteenth Century

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The Early Eighteenth Century: The Swell

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, English organs had achieved a sort of consistency of design, not to the same extent found in France, perhaps, but to such a degree that we can safely describe their general characteristics. The typical organ of the time was small by continental standards, but it was well-suited to its uses in the churches of moderate and even large size in which it was installed. Although the scheme admitted some variation, we can list these charactristics.

  • Three manual divisions.
    • Great: Principal chorus including two 8' Open Diapasons and a mixture, a trumpet, and a cornet.
      Compass CC, FF or GG to d'''.
    • Chair: Now sometimes called a "Choir" division and occasionally located in the main case.
      Secondary chorus, perhaps without a mixture, and a secondary reed.
      Compass matching that of the Great.
    • Echo: Occasionally placed below the Great chest, but more often mounted above it.
      Open and Stopped Diapasons, perhaps a 4' flute, and a small reed.
      Compass c or g - d'''.
  • No independent pedal division. Pedals, if present at all, were pull-downs only.

Early in the century, the English organ saw the first use and development of a Swell enclosure, a device that was to have long-lasting major effects on the nature of the English organ. Although details of its construction and functioning are vague, Abraham Jordan, a builder, claimed his swell box at St. Magnus, London Bridge, in 1712, was a new invention. It allowed the player to open or close a panel in the front of a box, or secondary case, that enclosed the pipes of the Echo division. 182 This innovation was quickly taken over by other builders, and "... by 1730 every average new organ in England had a swellbox;" 183

The result of this mechanical change was the development of a new division, the Swell, which soon had its own set of characteristics. By mid-century, its compass remained shorter than the Great and Choir, and its tonal characteristics included

  • Two 8' Diapasons, one open, the other stopped.
  • A single 4' stop, usually a Principal.
  • A Cornet, often of three ranks.
  • Two 8' reeds, a Trumpet and a Hautboy.

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Late Eighteenth-Century Dispositions

The English organ of the second half of the eighteenth century developed from the essential characteristics of the instrument of the first half. In general, builders sought a more refined tone in the principal chorus, and a general roundness of sound seems to have been a goal. On the other hand, John Snetzler (1710- ) built instruments that were distinguished by their brilliance, perhaps because of his German background and early experience in building organs on the continent. Snetzler's name is one that should be of particular interest to you, because some of his instruments were exported to the United States.

As an example of his work, consider the stoplist of the 1766 organ Snetzler built for the Halifax Parish Church in Yorkshire. Before you start reading it, I want to tell you that on a typical English organ of this period, the stop names did not include the numbers that designate pitch level. A Diapason was always an 8' stop, a Fifteenth a 2' stop, and so on, so the numbers weren't necessary. I've added them for the sake of consistency, and I hope it makes it easier for you to read them. I want you to remember, though, that I've changed the flavor of the stoplist a little in doing so.184

GG,AA - e'''
GG,AA - e'''
g - e'''
Open Diapason 8 Open Diapason 8 Open Diapason 8
Open Diapason 8 Stopt Diapason 8 Stopt Diapason 8
Stopt Diapason 8 Principal 4 Principal 4
Principal 4 Flute 4 Cornet III
Twelfth 2 2/3 Fifteenth 2 Trumpet 8
Fifteenth 2 Cremona 8 Hautboy 8
Furniture Bassoon 8
Sesquialtera Vox humana 8
Trumpet 8
Bass Clarion 4

You should notice several things about this organ. Some of its characteristics relate to its past, others were more recent innovations in organ-building.
  • First, notice that all three manual divisions have two diapasons, one open and one stopped, and that the Great has two open 8' Diapasons. The presence of two 8' open stops of principal tone is a characteristic that dates back to at least the early seventeenth century in England, and one that is commonly encountered only in England and in some Italian instruments.
  • Another characteristic that this instrument, older English organs, and Italian organs have in common is the practice of using intervals above the unison for naming higher-pitched stops in the principal chorus. The Great has both a Twelfth and a Fifteenth, and the Choir has a Fifteenth. 185
  • Contrary to what you would expect to see on a continental organ of this size, there is no 16' stop on any division. Much of the sound of 16' stops were produced by the lower range of the 8' stops, however, because the compass of both Great and Choir extended a fourth below the C commonly found on organs in France and Germany. This wide manual compass, along with the absence of a pedal division, is a characteristic of English organs from the early seventeenth century through the end of the eighteenth century.
  • The smaller compass of the Swell, however, is derived from French practice, where both the Récit and Echo divisions had short-compass keyboards. French practices influenced English organ building after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, when organ-building resumed in England after a hiatus of about twenty years.
  • The Great has a mixture called "Furniture," clearly an Anglicized version of "Fourniture," the important chorus mixture of French Classical organs. 186 Chorus mixtures appeared on English organs after the Restoration as a result of influences from both France and the Lowlands.
  • The many reeds on this instrument (seven stops of twenty-five on the entire organ) also continue a trend that dates from the Restoration, because reeds were not found on English organs before that time. The wide range of both chorus reeds (Trumpet and Bass Clarion) and solo reeds (Cremona, Vox Humana, Hautboy) was used by the many composers of Voluntaries during the eighteenth century.
  • The Swell division is a new characteristic that appeared on English organs only in the eighteenth century. It contains both the fundamental stops of the English organ (the two Diapasons) and several solo sounds (Cornet, Trumpet, Hautboy), enclosed here for expression while playing.

The basic stoplist and disposition of the Halifax organ is typical of many English instruments built during the second half of the eighteenth century. Only two additional features appeared later in the century. The first of these was a new stop: the Dulciana. In the middle of the eighteenth century, Snetzler brought new types of stops to England, particularly the strings like the ones being made in southern and central Germany. 187 The stop that found the most favor with the English was the Dulciana, a soft-toned cylindrical stop that soon became a standard element of English organ tonal design.

The degree to which it was adopted by the English can be seen in this organ, built in 1791 by Samuel Green.188

GG,AA - e'''
GG,AA - e'''
g - e'''
Open Diapason 8 Dulciana 8 Open Diapason 8
Open Diapason 8 Stop Diapason 8 Dulciana 8
Stop Diapason 8 Principal 4 Stop Diapason 8
Principal 4 Fifteenth 2 Principal 4
Great Twelfth 2 2/3 Bassoon 8 Dulciana Principal 4
Fifteenth 2 Sexquialtera
Sexquialtera III Trumpet 8
Mixture II Hautboy 8
Trumpet 8
Cornet IV

As you can see, not only does a Dulciana appear at the octave on the Swell and at unison pitch on two divisions, it has also displaced the Open Diapason on the Choir division. The relative size of Choir and Swell is the second thing to notice about the stoplist. The Chair organ had originally been the second most important division on an English organ, analagous to the Rückpositiv in Germany and the Positif in France. Even when builders physically moved the division into the main case, the Choir division retained pride of place over the smaller Swell division. This balance had changed by the end of the century, though, as you can see in the stoplist above. The Swell division now has more stops than the Choir, they are of greater variety, and the defining stop of any English division -- the Open Diapason -- is no longer present on the Choir at all.

The increased importance of the Swell, making it secondary only to the Great, is the last great development in English organ building in the eighteenth century, and it remains a characteristic of English organs from this date forward.

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Cambridge, Peterhouse College: Snetzler OrganThe photograph to the right is of the organ John Snetzler built for Peterhouse College Chapel, Cambridge, in 1765. The case is typical of organs from the second half of the eighteenth century built by Snetzler, John Pike England, Samuel Green, and others.189

  • The basic shape of the case is rectangular, with sides that are straight from the floor to the top of the case.
  • The façade has a tall central tower, with two-story flats separating it from smaller towers at the extremes of the façade.
  • The placement of pipes within each of the lower flats is internally symmetrical, and their symmetry is such that each flat recalls the receding perspective of older English organs.
  • The placement of pipes within the pair of upper flats is symmetrical, so that the two must be seen together in order to complete the symmetrical statement.
  • The top of the case is not flat, but follows the line created by pipes in the towers and upper flats.

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© 1999 James H. Cook