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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: “Pedal Power”

February 3, 2010

Dear Michael,

When I view stop lists of French Symphonic style organs, it seems that the Pedal divisions have only two or three 16' flue stops, even on the large organs such as St. Sulpice or St. Eustache. These Pedal divisions sound impressive and powerful, but from the standpoint of an American Classic Organ for example, there could be a more varied selection of 16' Pedal stops. QUESTION: Do these French organs have a device which allows the organist to "borrow" selected 16' manual stops to the Pedal, when a heavier sound is not desired? Other styles of organs simply list the borrowed stops in the Pedal division, with appropriate notations. I don't recall seeing this type of notation in European built organs.




Keep in mind that French organs from the ‘classic’ period (16-18th century) had very few independent stops (some had none, simply couplers to the main manual)...ditto Spain, Italy, Austria and England), unlike Germanic/Dutch instruments, which tended to include a very complete pedal division. Remember, even when you have money, low pitches mean big pipes...which mean big money.
And do not be fooled by the specification of the American Classic organ (if you mean Aeolian-Skinner), as those pedal divisions often included stops electrically borrowed from manual divisions or unified/extended to be available at other pitches. Very often, 16’ manual stops would also be available as stops in the Pedal. And even some of today’s outstanding historically-informed tracker builders will use a degree of electric-action unification in pedal divisions.
Both St. Sulpice and St. Eustache, as essentially mechanical-action organs (though St. Eustache does have a remote, electric console), do not borrow in quite this way. If they want more or different sounds available in the pedal, with five manual divisions, there is plenty from which to couple.
Ultimately, the point is to design an instrument that allows for as much variety of sound, and balance of energy, as possible, within the limits of the specification (which, inevitably, is limited by finances, though also occasionally by physical space parameters). Always judge an organ by what you hear (when played by a capable musician), not by what you read on a spec sheet.




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