Cavaillé-Coll Nameplate

Aristide Cavaillé-Coll
Disposition I: Stoplists and Ventils

Grand Orgue | Positif | Récit | Pédale
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In the French Classical Organ, each manual division had a specific musical use related to the stops it contained. Of course, you might look at from the organ-builder's standpoint, and say that stylistic elements in the music and in the way people improvised meant that each division had to have certain stops in order to meet the needs of organists of the day. Either way you look at it, the music and the instrument worked together to such a degree that the character of the music and the character of the instrument are inseparable. The essential nature of each division of the French Classical Organ was retained in Cavaillé-Coll's instruments, but that character was interpreted within the context of a new vision of what an organ should be.

When you look at the stoplist of a Cavaillé-Coll organ, you can find the links between it and its predecessors, especially in the Grand Orgue. But if you look at the stoplist of the Récit on Thierry's organ for St. Gervais and compare it to that division on any Cavaillé-Coll, you will notice the differences first. In any French organ, though, from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, the stoplist of any one division is designed to fill certain musical roles. It is the different nature of these musical roles that determines the need for different stoplists on instruments of different periods.

As you read the descriptions below, it will be helpful for you to have the stoplist of one of Cavaillé-Coll's organs in mind. At times you will need to remember the stoplist of a typical French Classical organ as well. In order to make sure you can apply the general descriptions below to actual organs, you might want to exit this page now and review some stoplists. Alternately, you can just open a new browser window and have a real stoplist handy. I suggest that you look at the organs (as Cavaillé-Coll originally built them) in Ste. Clothilde or La Trinité.

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Grand Orgue | Positif | Récit | Pédale
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The Grand Orgue

The Grand Orgue of the French Classical Organ was the primary manual division with regard to

  • the strength of its sound,
  • its pride of position in the main case,
  • and the frequency of its use in the music of the day.
Specifically, the Grand Orgue was home to several stops or groups of stops.
  • The Plein jeu was the basic principal chorus, consisting of the Montres, Prestant, Doublette and two chorus mixtures (Fourniture and Cymbale). This was the fundamental sound of the French Classical Organ, and it remained its most important group of stops throughout the period 1650-1800.
  • The Trompette, Clairon, and Cornet V formed the Grand jeu, an ensemble that stood in contrast to the Plein jeu by virtue of its color and impact on the listener.
  • The Bourdons and Flûtes had several uses.
    • They combined with the Montres and Prestants to form the Fonds d'orgue, a third ensemble color.
    • They combined with the wide-scale mutations (Nazard, Quarte de Nazard, Tierce) to form the Grand jeu de tierce, a solo color.
    • They were used alone to accompany solo lines played on either of the other manual divisions.
When you look at the stops on a typical Grand Orgue by Cavaillé-Coll, you will see these features that are retained from the older Grand Orgue.
  • Principal Chorus. The procedure Cavaillé-Coll followed most often was to replace the two mixtures with a single one he called a Plein jeu. It had a different arrangement of breaks, but it basically combined the two chorus mixtures of the earlier tradition.
  • The Bourdons and Flûtes are still there, with the Bourdons at 16' pitch and a 4' Flûte.
  • In the eighteenth century larger instruments of the French Classical tradition had Trompette stops at 16', 8' and 4' pitches, and they are also present in Cavaillé-Coll's stoplists. These are usually distinguished from earlier examples not only by being played at higher pressures, but by being of harmonic length, giving them a darker, smoother, less brilliant, more powerful sound.
  • The Cornet is ocassionally omitted in Cavaillé-Coll's organs, but it is sometimes included.
On the other hand, some of the traditional French Classic stops are seldom if ever found on the Grand Orgue of a Cavaillé-Coll organ.
  • The flute mutations (Grosse Tierce, Nazard, Tierce, etc.) are rare on the Grand Orgue.
  • The Voix humaine is almost never found in its traditional place on the Grand Orgue.
In addition to these links to the past, you can also find new stops on the Grand Orgue of a Cavaillé-Coll organ.
  • The Flûte harmonique - a descendant of the Dessus de Flûte that appeared in the eighteenth century. These flutes were derived from older examples of over-blowing pipes, but they are distinguished by the presence of a small hole in the body of the pipe approximately halfway along the length.191 The lower octaves of his harmonic flutes were built as open flutes, the harmonic length beginning at 1' c.
  • The Viole de gambe is another new sound. Usually of narrow-scale the gambe had a much more penetrating sound (rich in harmonics with very little fundamental) than was found on earlier stops with the same name. A Viola da gamba by Silbermann is similar to one of these stops in name only. Different scaling, different voicing at the mouth, and higher pressures give the Cavaillé-Coll examples an identifiably new sound.
The addition of the two new 8' stops meant that one of the traditional registrations had changed. The Jeu de fonds had expanded so that it now included all four 8' stops, and they were often used without any stops at 16' or 4' pitch. Additionally, the new term Grand Choeur was coined to refer to a grand ensemble that included both reeds and mixtures - - a combination of the earlier Plein jeu and Grand jeu registrations.

Just in case all of these words have obscured a major point, here's a summary of the comparison of a traditional French Classical Grand Orgue to a Cavaillé-Coll Grand Orgue.

  • The Grand Orgue of an organ by Cavaillé-Coll maintains its traditional functions, in that it contains the principal chorus, the trumpet-type reeds, and the stopped and open flutes that allow it to fill the role of the primary manual division.
  • Its new colors (the string and harmonic flute) set it apart from older instruments.

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Grand Orgue | Positif | Récit | Pédale
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The Positif

On a French Classical Organ, the Positif was designed to complement the Grand Orgue, not to compete with it or substitute for it. It was traditionally the second most important division of the organ, of much greater power, flexibility, and use in the repertory than either the Récit or the Pédale. In essence, it contained many of the same types of stops and ensembles as the Grand Orgue, but there were specific and intentional differences.

  • Its fundamental purpose was to serve as the home of the Petit plein jeu, a secondary principal chorus complete with two mixtures. This ensemble was designed to be used along with the Grand plein jeu of the Grand Orgue, being played either in alternation as a contrast or coupled as an addition to it. Normally it was based on a principal stop that was one octave higher than the stop that formed the basis of the principal chorus on the Grand Orgue, and it was less powerful.
  • It had a short-resonator cylindrical reed (Cromorne) that served both in the Grand jeu and as a solo stop. In either role it was a complement to the Trompette of the Grand Orgue.
  • It had Bourdons and Flûtes, which had several purposes.
    • They were used alone to accompany solo lines played on one of the other manual divisions.
    • They combined with wide-scale mutations to form the Jeu de tierce du Positif, a complement to the Cornet V or the Jeu de tierce of the Grand Orgue.
The contrast between the chorus of the Grand Orgue and that of the Positif was enhanced by the different position occupied by the two divisions. In particular, the placement of the Positif closer to the listener gave its solo stops an immediacy not found in other divisions.

The typical Cavaillé-Coll Positif was quite different in its stoplist, but its musical function was in some ways unchanged.

  • Its role as a complement to the principal stops of the Grand Orgue was maintained, but in some instruments Cavaillé-Coll omitted the mixtures.
  • The reed was sometimes a Clarinet in the newer instruments, but that stop had pipes that were made as modified Cromorne pipes. The Clarinet found more use as a solo stop than in an ensemble, but Cavaillé-Coll usually added a Trompette to the division, giving it a second 8' reed that was more useful in ensembles than as a solo stop.
  • The stopped and open flutes were still present in a Cavaillé-Coll Positif, but some changes were apparent.
    • The flute mutations were often omitted.
    • A Flûte harmonique was added at 8' pitch.
    • On smaller instruments the 16' Bourdon was omitted, as it would have been on smaller organs in the French Classical tradition.
  • A Gambe was added to the 8' foundations, just as one was added to the Grand Orgue.
In summary, the Cavaillé-Coll changed the stoplist of the Positif in many of the same ways he changed the Grand Orgue. In his instruments, the Positif retained it function as a secondary manual division, even though its brilliance was reduced with the omission of the mixtures on occasion. The addition of a string and a harmonic flute paralleled those changes in the Grand Orgue, and the addition of an 8' Trompette stregthened the Grand choeur of the Positif. With the change to a Clarinet and the omission of the mutations, the new reed was necessary to prevent the overall body of sound from the Positif from becoming too weak to stand up to that of the Grand Orgue.

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Grand Orgue | Positif | Récit | Pédale
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The Récit

The Récit of the French Classical organ was small, often containing a single stop, a Cornet V, with perhaps the addition of reed - - a Trompette or Hautbois. Its placement above the chest of the Grand Orgue, often on the same level as the mounted Cornet of that division, made it an equal partner with that stop. The Récit Cornet found its most frequent use either as a solo stop or in dialogue with the Grand jeu, where it provided the third dynamic level in those longer works of the repertory called - - appropriately enough - - Dialogues. A reed might be used in conjunction with the Cornet of the Récit or alone in a solo role.

In essence, the Cavaillé-Coll Récit has the same functions, because its stops also fill solo roles. However, in addition to the traditional functions, the same division at the hand of Cavaillé-Coll took on new characteristics and new musical functions. Although the specific stops may vary from one instrument to the next, several different features of the Cavaillé-Coll Récit appear consistently from one instrument to the next.

  • It was enclosed in a Swell box, a characteristic of English organs of the eighteenth century that became a hallmark of the French organ in the nineteenth century.
  • Its placement was altered so that it was normally placed above the Grand orgue or behind it, depending on the space available or the necessity of working within a pre-existing case.
  • It had a basic core of stops that were, with the exception of the reeds, new to the French organ.
    • One of the new sounds in French organs was found in the strings that appear in the Récit. The presence of a second rank that was tuned sharp (the Voix céleste) also sets Cavaillé-Coll's strings apart from eighteenth-century predecessors, while it simultaneously recalls practices from even earlier Italian organs.190
    • Another distinctive sound in Cavaillé-Coll's Récit division is found in his incorporation of harmonic flutes at 8', 4' and 2' pitches. He normally called the 4' harmonic flute a Flûte octaviante and the 2' stop an Octavin.
    • Perhaps the most interesting stop that appears on the Récit division of a Cavaillé-Coll organ is a Diapason, which he included in large instruments. The presence of a stop of principal timbre is not so ususual, given that his Récits were developing into full-compass divisions with a variety of stops not known before.192
  • The traditional Récit occasionally had reed stops, usually a Trompette or an Hautbois, and some older instruments even had both these stops. The typical Cavaillé-Coll Récit always included reed stops.
    • The Voix humaine had been a part of the Grand Orgue of the French Classical organ. In Cavaillé-Coll's organs it was moved to the Récit, where it could be played in the the expressive swell enclosure.
    • An Hautbois was common.
    • A Trompette was always part of the Récit, and, like those of the Grand Orgue and Positif, it was now made as a Trompette harmonique. Its resonator was double length, emphasizing the fundamental in the sound of the reed, which was made wider and played with more wind than was common before.

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Grand Orgue | Positif | Récit | Pédale
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The French Classical Pédale was small in comparison to the same division on German instruments of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was based on the inclusion of two stops, each of which had very specific and limited use.
  • An 8' Flûte served to provide the occasional bass line in compositions in which a solo melody line was played in the tenor register, usually on a Cromorne or Jeu de Tierce combination.
  • An 8' Trompette provided a means of playing a cantus firmus against the sound of the Plein jeu in other compositions.
During the eighteenth century the Pédale expanded, first through the inclusion of a 4' Clairon, and by the end of the century both flues and reeds at 16', 8' and 4' pitches were not uncommon.

Cavaillé-Coll in effect continued the expansion, but he never took his pedal divisions to the point where they included a full chorus of anything but the trumpet-type reeds. In a large organ his pedal divisions had this basic set of stops.

  • Bourdons at 32' and 16' pitches
  • Principals and open flutes
    • 16' Contrebasse
    • 8' Principal OR 8' Violoncelle
    • 8' Flûte
    • 4' Flûte
  • Reeds
    • 32' Bombarde and 16' Bombarde
    • 16' Basson
    • 8' Trompette
    • 4' Clairon

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Grand Orgue | Positif | Récit | Pédale
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Cavaillé-Coll normally built the chest for each division in two parts, each with its own pallet box, topboard, and sliders. In effect, there were two chests for each division, even though they might be installed next to each other and actually look like a single chest. In referring to these divided chests, two terms are normally used.

  • Laye des fonds
  • Laye des anches
The laye des fonds was that part of the chest that served the foundation stops: the Montres, Bourdons, Prestants, 8' Flûte and Gambe that constituted the new Jeu de fonds. The laye des anches contained the reeds (anches), mixtures and mutations.

The wind to the laye des anches could be shut off by moving a lever at the keydesk. A mechanism of this sort was not new. Instruments in northern Europe from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had incorporated a Sperrventil that allowed the player to do the same thing: shut off the wind to a chest. The difference here is Cavaillé-Coll's recognition of the division of the stops of a single division into two groups.

  • The foundations.
  • The "reeds" - - which in the newer registration practice included mixtures and mutations as well.
The older division into Plein jeu and Grand jeu was hereby modified forever.

In practice ventils were used to add the power and brilliance of reeds and upperwork to an ensemble while the organist was playing. Reeds stops, for example, could be drawn - - i.e., the knobs pulled out - - but the ventil could shut off wind to the chest. During the course of a composition or an improvisation the organist could then move a simple lever to admit wind to the chest so that the reeds would sound. The lever itself was usually a hook-down pedal placed above the pedalboard. It looked very similar to the levers you have seen that control couplers on mechanical-action instruments.

In stoplists of Cavaillé-Coll's organs, including the ones in this tutorial, you will see the controls for ventils listed under the general term Pédale de combinaison - - Combination Pedal. Several of these were provided on his organs, and stoplists normally include them. Some were inter-manual couplers (Copula Positif sur Grand Orgue, for example), others were manual to pedal couplers (e.g., Tirasse Grand Orgue), and others controlled the Barker machine (Grand orgue sur machine). The controls for ventils were labeled in one of two ways, as these examples show.

  • Appel des jeux Pédale. This pedal would allow stops of the pedal division (usually the flues) to speak. Without it, the pedal could play stops coupled from the manuals, then when this was engaged, the pedal flues whose stop knobs were drawn would be added.
  • Anches Grand Orgue. The pedal would control access of wind to the laye des anches. of the Grand Orgue. Reeds and Mixtures could be drawn, but they wouldn't speak until this pedal was engaged.

When you see registration instructions that say "Reeds prepared," or "Mixtures prepared," the composer is using terminology that developed with the use of the ventil system. The instruction means to draw the stop knobs but shut off the wind. The stops are "prepared," but not speaking. At the point indicated in the score, you are to move the lever and let the stops speak. Today the same purpose is served when we use a combination action and either thumb pistons or toe studs. We now "prepare" our pistons. This was a new concept in Cavaille´-Coll's time, and his provision of ventils made it possible for composers to write with this flexible approach to registration in mind. Composers were no longer limited to a single registration throughout a piece, but could ask a player to change stops without the aid of an assistant.

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Grand Orgue | Positif | Récit | Pédale
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© 1999 James H. Cook