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How to organise a general crescendo?

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How to organise a general crescendo?

Postby ludu » Sun Nov 26, 2017 12:56 pm

I would like to share my questions, experience and tips regarding to the general crescendo in the context of different literatures, hoping new suggestions, and perhaps conflicting opinions opening the door to new solutions.

On the one hand, the general crescendo is possible in 3 ways: by expression pedals, by ‘Rollschweller’ (in Germany), or by a combination stepper. On the other hand, the romantic literature needs 3 different behaviours for the crescendo: the German music using very slow and long crescendos from the pianissimo to the fortissimo, the Anglo-Saxon music going faster between the extremes, and the French music going generally from the forte (demi-grand-chœur) to the fortissimo.

Let's begin with the German music. The Rollerschweller is more adapted for a huge number of steps rather an expression pedal. However, the enormous disadvantage of this system is the high difficulty for a quick change between the fortissimo to the pianissimo or the opposite. In this kind of music (Max Reger for instance) I prefer the stepper, but only if the console has pistons available from 'x0x' to 'x9x', because the repetitive use of the '-10' and '+10' buttons is not practicable, when we need a quick change between the extremes. If the sample set has an internal crescendo, I use 2 expression pedals: one for the Hauptwerk crescendo (32 steps) from piano to mezzo-forte and one for the crescendo system of the organ itself from the mezzo-forte to the fortissimo.

In the Anglo-Saxon music, an expression pedal is perhaps the best way to manage a crescendo.

In the French music, Cavaillé-Coll offers the system of double ventil-boxes (Appels d'anches) and the sub-octaves for a crescendo in 2, 3 or 4 steps. For a more gradual crescendo, I organise it from the forte (demi-grand-chœur) to the fortissimo, because it rarely begins from the pianissimo in this literature.

Any comments?
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Re: How to organise a general crescendo?

Postby flydeltajets » Sun Nov 26, 2017 9:41 pm


Having played solely on American-style instruments, I’ve never had the opportunity to use a Rollerschweller. In my experience though, I typically find the Crescendo pedal to be a little clumsy. On small instruments, differences between various ranks are often not fine enough in volume to allow for smooth transitions between steps, and there are audible steps as each stage cycles on. On larger instruments, the Crescendo pedal is more “seamless” but can still have big jumps when first opened and towards the end when transitioning between the softest stops and adding the final big stops. In addition, the couplers coming on at the very beginning of pedal movement can cause unintentional “nasty” registrations if any solo stops/choruses are pulled.

Just like you mentioned, I was taught and prefer to make crescendos via the combination action. It takes a bit more practice to figure out when/where a hand or toe is free to cycle through the pistons (or stepper if available), but the results are very controlled and precise. The stepper system is easier than a set of generals, but you have to be very careful to keep track of the frame number.

As for your comment about using 2 crescendo shoes, that is an interesting way to control the “fineness” for stops to be added, and I’m sure it is very useful in certain scenarios. I believe the Riverside Church Console in NYC had 2 crescendo pedals in order to switch between orchestral and standard crescendo. On most instruments with a modern control system (as well as HW), you can cycle between crescendos on the fly, and I do have alternate versions programmed for different pieces I play. At the church I used to play for, Crescendo I was set as a standard crescendo, but I programmed Crescendo II to end at a m-f principal chorus...this was useful for certain hymns or anthems where I needed more volume but didn’t want to risk bringing on any of the mixtures or reeds.
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Re: How to organise a general crescendo?

Postby mnailor » Mon Nov 27, 2017 2:27 pm

For French romantics I've been using master reversibles on toe studs to do the jumps from fonds 8 up to full. This isn't as flexible as C-C ventils, but works on any organ. Current reversibles: GO fonds 16, R Tr 8, R 8+, Pos 8+, manuals 8+, manuals 8+ Ped 16 8, GO 16 Ped 16 8 4, Tutti. A pitch without "fonds" includes chorus reeds. The last 4 pistons add multiple divisions for my convenience, unlike ventils would. Easier to make consistent reversibles when there's a reedless Great or some such unFrench thing. The Positif step is replaced by Great full flues when there's a Choir that isn't normally part of the buildup.

I experimented with the HW master crescendo, but have been stumped by two things. First, I can't remember to move the cresc shoe back when I hit a piston, so the next time I move it, there's a big jump to somewhere in the cresc range. This is a personal stupidity problem... a real crescendo would persist its added stops through a piston change, so I couldn't possibly forget.

Second, I don't really know, for a given organ, what a reasonable progression of stop families and pitches should be on a crescendo pedal, assuming the sampleset has one.

I'd appreciate seeing the cresc order in outline form for specific organs, if anyone is willing to share what works for them. Especially American organs, where a cresc pedal isn't unusual. I know that could be too much typing. Thanks!
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Re: How to organise a general crescendo?

Postby josq » Mon Nov 27, 2017 4:12 pm

mnailor wrote:, for a given organ, what a reasonable progression of stop families and pitches should be on a crescendo pedal, assuming the sampleset has one.

Each individual organ will have its specific demands, but as a general rule, I think the following can work quite well on most larger organs (using the crescendo pedal, stepper, or manual registrations):

* 8' Soft string(s) (optionally including celeste(s)), Pedal Subbas/Bourdon 16, manuals coupled to Great, Great coupled to Pedal
* + 8' Flute(s)
* + 8' Principal(s), + Pedal Octave 8', remove celestes
* + 4' Flute / 4' strings
* + 4' Principal(s), + Pedal Octave 4'
* + soft reed 8' (Basson-Hautbois, possibly Clarinette, or similar), + Pedal Principal 16'
* + Bourdon 16' or Quintadena 16' or similar
* + 2' flue, e.g. Piccolo, Octavin, Fifteenth. Consider removing the strings.
* + medium strength reed, e.g. Cornopean or 8' Trumpet on Swell.
* + Cornet, +16' Principal / soft 16' reed (Basson/Fagot), add a Pedal reed.
* + 8' and 4' Trumpets, add remaining Pedal reeds. Consider removing some 8, 4, 2, flutes.
* + Mixture(s). Consider removing the Cornet.
* + High-pitched mixture(s) (Scharff, Cymbale), +16' Trumpets, add 32' flue to Pedal
* + (sub)octave couplers
* + Tuba(s)/Chamade(s), add 32' reed to pedal.
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Re: How to organise a general crescendo?

Postby mnailor » Mon Nov 27, 2017 7:48 pm

Thank you for taking the time to share that. I'll try it out!
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