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Cesar Franck Chorales

PostPosted: Mon Aug 03, 2020 9:34 am
by JulianMoney-Kyrle
One of the first samplesets I bought was Metz, which I never found entirely satisfactory. Recently I bit the bullet and stumped up the cost of Caen, which has reignited my interest in French organ music, particularly Cesar Franck, and so I have decided to learn the second Chorale.

Although he never lived to perform the Chorales, I understand that after writing them he returned to St. Clotilde, where he was the titular organist, to determine the registration. His instructions in the score are quite detailed in this regard, and are clearly an important starting point, but at times I find the sound a bit muddy, and there must have been differences between Caen as it is now and St. Clotilde as it was then (it has been rebuilt so many times since then that recordings of it probably don't bear much ressemblance to how it was in Franck's day). In any case there are several places where I am not entirely clear about his intent.

For a start he never specifies the use of any 4 foot stops. Whichever division is being played it is always either "fonds 8" or "fonds 8 et 16", with or without the anches. It seems to me that a chorus consisting of 8 (and 16) foot foundation stops plus anches (consisting of all the upperwork and reeds) would be incomplete without any 4 foot flues, but the foundation stops on their own would sound different with the addition of 4 foot prestants and flutes and I am not sure quite what he had in mind here.

When it comes to the anches, he is much less specific. Is the intent simply to draw all of them? There was originally no 16 foot reed on the recit at St. Clotilde, so should that be left off, or drawn along with the others because Cavaille-Coll voiced the chorus that way? Personally I think it sounds better without most of the time. So to my mind the full Recit chorus is all the 8 foot flues (except the celeste) the basson-hautboy, flute octaviante 4, octavin 2, trompette 8, clairon 4 and cornet, but perhaps not the plein jeu and the nazard, which seem to reduce the clarity rather than increase it. I am also assuming that the clarinette and voix humaine are solo stops that aren't intended to reinforce the chorus, and I am not sure about the quintaton, which I suppose is there to add weight at the bottom.

When it comes to the Positif and Grande Orgue anches I would think that Franck's intent is to draw all of them in order to achieve an appropriate crescendo.

There is a section in the middle where the Recit anches have already be muted and he specifies that the hautboy and gambe should be taken off and the voix humaine drawn, along with the tremblant. Does that mean that he is expecting the bourdon, the flute harmonique and the flute octaviante to remain? This gives a very different sound from the voix humaine on its own, which is very quiet and to some extent drowned out by the pedal. At this point the pedal is specified as bourdon 32, which I think works by itself without any 16 or 8 foot stops to reinforce it.

It is clear that his instructions are written with the Cavaille-Coll ventil system, operated by the feet along with the couplers, as the main registration aid, though there are places where 16 foot foundation stops have to be drawn manually. Of course the Hauptwerk stepper and piston systems allow a great deal more flexibility but I am trying to stick to the sort of sounds that Franck would have had in mind, though I am sure that if he had additional stops available (e.g. a 32 foot reed) he would have made use of them.

I have found a link to an article about the St. Clotilde organ listing its original and current disposition ... ilde-paris

My last organ lesson was over 40 years ago when I was at school, learning the third Chorale in A minor on the beautiful Hill organ in Eton College Chapel. I came back to the organ a few years ago when I discovered Hauptwerk and since then I have been trying to puzzle things out for myself. Being able to play such a variety of instruments in my own home has been a revelation, and it is quite clear that the whole concept of a Cavaille-Coll organ, as well as the sound, is quite different from an English romantic instrument. It seems to me that the art of registration involves adapting the music to fit the organ one is playing, but when Hauptwerk allows the use of an organ that at least somewhat resembles the instruments that a composer had available I want if possible to recreate the sounds that he had in mind.

Re: Cesar Franck Chorales

PostPosted: Mon Aug 03, 2020 11:01 am
by larason2
Not an expert here, but I have a few suggestions. St. Clotilde was very much a transitional organ, which does not have all of the characteristics of a late Cavaillé-Coll, of which both St. Etienne in Caen, and Notre Dame de Metz are examples. In earlier Cavaillé-Coll's, like St. Clotilde, he had not yet achieved the harmonic development of the 8 foot stops we see in the later examples, so it wouldn't be surprising to find a piece written with specific stop suggestions in the transitional period to sound muddy on a late Cavaillé-Coll, which would have far more harmonics in the 8 foot stops. To deal with muddiness, the general advice is to thin out the registration, even if it doesn't necessarily fit with the composer's directions.

For the 4 foot stop, transitional Cavaillé-Coll had brighter and louder 4 foot Prestants and other 4 foot stops than in late examples, so you may be able to get away with a 4 foot stop on registrations with the fonds at St. Etienne.

For the Grand Jeu, a Classic French registration would only be the 8 foot Bourdon, 4 foot Prestant, 2 foot Doublette, Cornet and 8 foot Trompette. In Late Cavaillé-Coll, you get a pretty convincing Grand Jeu with only the 16 foot, 8 foot, and 4 foot reed on any manual (They were voiced very loud, so they almost drowned out the other stops). For a transitional Grand Jeu played on St. Etienne, I would consider the Bourdon 16, Montre 8, Bourdon 8, Prestant 4, and the three reeds on the GO, or an equivalent registration on other manuals. If it is still too muddy, I would leave out the Bourdon 16, and maybe even the Montre 8 (Late Cavaillé-Coll principal ranks had quite a few more harmonics in the sound). On the Recit, I would draw the Diapason 8, Flute octaviante 4, Octavin 2, Bombarde 16, Trompette 8, and Clairon 4 for the full Recit chorus (Grand-Jeu). If you consider the Recit chorus to be a Plein Jeu (without reeds), I would draw Diapason 8, Flute octaviante 4, Nasard 2 2/3, Octavin 2, and the Plein Jeu. I wouldn't draw the Nasard/Plein Jeu and the reeds at the same time on a late Cavaillé-Coll, as they don't quite go together. I also wouldn't draw any of his other reeds on a late instrument with the Trompette 8, as you are right that they are more colour stops. I would draw the 16 foot Quintaton with a fonds 8 + 4 registration, but I wouldn't add it to a Grand Jeu (it would make it too heavy, I think).

For the Voix Humaine, on the St. Etienne I would draw it only with the flutes (Flute Traversiere 8 and Flute Octaviante 4), but not much else. In general, towards the end of his life, Cavaillé-Coll voiced the colour reeds a lot quieter than in the transitional period. For instance, even the Basson-Hautbois 8 at St. Etienne is much louder than the one at St. Eucaire Metz (The first one is probably reused from the prior organ). Some pieces call for the Voix Humaine alone for effect, but in general colour reeds like that one sound better with some flute support. If the pedal is drowning out the Voix humane with the 2 flutes, I would back off on the pedal. Late Cavaillé-Coll pedals can be much louder and more powerful than in the transitional period. I would consider the Soubasse 16 and Bourdon Doux 8 or Gross Flute 8 (or Violoncello 8 if you need a bit more power) as a suitable pedal registration to balance the Voix humane with 2 flutes.

To get a better sense of how St. Clotilde may have sounded in 1859, I would try the St. Omer demo, particularly on the Positif. I think you will find that the 8 foot stops go together with a bit less muddiness, the 4 foot Prestant is voiced quite loud and bright. I wouldn't draw the Cromorne 8 and Trompette 8 at the same time, but they would probably go together better than the Trompette 8 and Basson-Hautbois 8 on St. Etienne's Récit. For a Grand Jeu on that manual, I would draw the Bourdon 8, Prestant 4, Doublette 2, Cornet V, and Trompette 8 (just as on a French Baroque instrument). Like St. Etienne, the Nasard and Plein Jeu are voiced more to go with the fonds. If you look at St. Omer's pedal, there are much less options, and at this time, there wouldn't have been as many options to balance out a Voix Humaine chorus. I have only heard the demo, but I would assume St. Omer's Voix Humaine is a bit louder than St. Etienne's.

Hopefully this helps!

Re: Cesar Franck Chorales

PostPosted: Mon Aug 03, 2020 12:41 pm
by johnstump_organist
I think the standard meaning of "Fonds 8" is to include all 8, 4, 2 that aren't on the reed/mixture ventil. At St. Clotilde that includes the Hautbois in the Swell since he lacked a complete flue quartet, he used the Hautbois to fill out the foundation sound.
"Fonds 16, 8" would include all 16, 8 4 and 2 stops that aren't on the reed/mixture ventil.

Re: Cesar Franck Chorales

PostPosted: Mon Aug 03, 2020 12:45 pm
by JulianMoney-Kyrle
Thank-you. You have given me a few things to think about.

Just at the moment I am in the middle of watching Gerard Brooks's fascinating 5-disc documentary "The Genius of Cavaille-Coll", which covers his life, his instruments and what came after him on three DVD's together with two CD's of fine performances of music he inspired played on a number of his organs (I can strongly recommend it). I seem to remember from the second episode that St. Clotilde and St. Omer were both built around 1855, so it makes sense that one could be used as a guide to the other.

I already have four CC organs (Caen, Notre Dame du Metz, St. Eucaire du Metz and Oloron St. Marie, as well as the Aristide No. 1 St. Ouen Rouen composite (which I haven't really explored yet), so I don't think I can justify the cost of another (particularly with St Martinikerk, Rotterdam, St. Bavo and some of the historic organs from OAM on my wish list). Looking at the specifications the demo does include the whole Positif, but it is fairly limited with regard to the other divisions and it seems a lot to download with my very slow 4 MBS Internet connection. Nevertheless if it helps me to understand the music better I might give it a go.

As an aside, it seems to me that members of this forum must have a lot to discuss about organ performance and playing, and it is a pity that this section is relatively neglected.

Re: Cesar Franck Chorales

PostPosted: Mon Aug 03, 2020 12:57 pm
by JulianMoney-Kyrle

Thank-you, that makes sense. Though there are places where Franck specifies that the hautboy should or should not be drawn.

In the third chorale, where the chorale theme returns after the cantabile trumpet solo the score suggests that Franck intends the hautboy to remain drawn, but without it the result is ethereal and to my mind quite effective as a lead-in to the gradual crescendo over the next couple of pages, at least on Caen. So perhaps I shouldn't be too rigid in my authenticity. Nevertheless I would like to get as close as possible to what Franck had in mind before departing from it.

Re: Cesar Franck Chorales

PostPosted: Mon Aug 03, 2020 1:52 pm
by micdev
"Fonds 16, 8" would include all 16, 8 4 and 2 stops that aren't on the reed/mixture ventil.

Fonds 16, 8 means... well... 16 and 8 (no 4 or 2).

The beauty of French Romantic/Symphonic music is that the registrations are included and when playing on a Cavaillé-Coll set the registrations as is.

Registration suggested for Choral#3 (to start with)

- Jeux de fond et Jeux d'anches de 8 pieds à tous les claviers
- Claviers accouplés
- Pédale Jeux de fonds et Jeux d'anches de 8 et 16 pieds. Tirage G.O.


- Foundation stops and reeds of 8 ft on all keyboards
- All keyboards coupled
- Pedals Foundation stops and reeds 8 & 16 ft. Great to Pedal

Measure #26
- Ajouter Jeux de fond de 16 pieds. ôtez Anches G.O
Add foundation stops 16ft, remove Reeds from the Great

Measure #28
- ôtez Anches Positif
- Remove Reeds Positif etc...

The St-Clotilde organ was inaugurated in 1859 by Franck. At that time it had 46 stops (similar to Metz and Caen).His Chorals and other pieces were composed on this organ (not the actual one who was modified and increased a few times up to 71 stops - 1933, 1966, 1983, 2005) The last restauration (2005) brought back the romantic sound of the original organ luckily..

Here is the original organ disposition, so you know the stops Franck had for his registrations making your stops selection easier on your Metz/Caen (note that the stops with an * are part of the "reeds/jeux de combinaisons")

stclothilde 1859.JPG
Orgue St-Clotilde 1859 - 46 Jeux

Re: Cesar Franck Chorales

PostPosted: Mon Aug 03, 2020 2:35 pm
by robsig
I am not a romantic specialist, but in the baroque world in which I spent my career the desire to discover and apply authenticity in sounds, touch and other matters became a trap and a burden over the years. My belief is that we should inform ourselves thoroughly with the available evidence, but then not be bound by it. The composers of the time were constantly experimenting and evolving. By the way, that is what the great Gustave Leonhardt taught.

The important thing is to find what we want the music to sound like, to express the messages that we have to offer to the world. In some cases, (for example for Franck, who was quite a gloomy personality), we may choose to interpret the music in a different cast altogether. That goes for registration, tempo, articulation, etc.

We have a duty to offer our own gifts! And when we do, we play with much more confidence and conviction and obtain more favour with listeners.

Also, any thoughts on registration have to take into account the acoustics of our specific situation. French organs sitting high up in a very large space are quite tolerable downstairs in the church, but with headphones or two speakers right in front of us, can not be registered at all the same way.

By the way, I agree with you that there is not enough discussion about music and interpretation in the forum.

Re: Cesar Franck Chorales

PostPosted: Mon Aug 03, 2020 2:41 pm
by robsig
By the way, authenticically speaking, a classic French registration for the Grand Jeux did not include the 2' doublette.


Re: Cesar Franck Chorales

PostPosted: Mon Aug 03, 2020 7:02 pm
by mnailor
There is a section in the middle where the Recit anches have already be muted and he specifies that the hautboy and gambe should be taken off and the voix humaine drawn, along with the tremblant. Does that mean that he is expecting the bourdon, the flute harmonique and the flute octaviante to remain?

The 8' flutes would remain, but when the anches ventil was turned off, the 4' flute (if drawn - not sure it should be unless as part of anches 8 and 4 or anches with no pitch restriction) went away because it was on the anches windchest at St. Clotilde. Also, there were no 16' Recit stops at all, referring to original post.

About muddiness of 8' or 16 and 8' fonds on Caen, I only get that if my subwoofer's low pass is set too high so it's doubling the 16' octave and reinforcing part of the 8' octave. Otherwise Caen fonds seem pretty clear without any 4' drawn. I have to put the filter at 31 Hz to sound good, with main speaker groups that have 10" and 8" woofers, respectively. Maybe your sub is too loud or overlapping your main speaker range too much.

Great questions!

Re: Cesar Franck Chorales

PostPosted: Mon Aug 03, 2020 7:11 pm
by mnailor
It seems to me that a chorus consisting of 8 (and 16) foot foundation stops plus anches (consisting of all the upperwork and reeds) would be incomplete without any 4 foot flues, but the foundation stops on their own would sound different with the addition of 4 foot prestants and flutes and I am not sure quite what he had in mind here.

Since there was a 4' flue on the anches windchest on every manual in St. Clotilde, there was no gap in flue pitches involved -- when adding the 4' clairon and/or upperwork, include the 4' flue and it comes on with the ventil. However, C-C wasn't consistent about what went on the anches windchest on other organs, so this isn't always going to work.

Not that Franck called for *all* the upperwork and chorus reeds every time he wanted anches prepared...

Re: Cesar Franck Chorales

PostPosted: Mon Aug 03, 2020 9:51 pm
by johnstump_organist
This is a little long, but I’ll go through this with some detail to show you my reasoning. Feel free to disregard.
Yes, at St. Clotilde all 2's were on the Reed ventil, but there were two 4's - on the G.O a Prestant and an Octave, one on the Foundation chest, the other on the reed chest. In the Positiff the 4 Prestant is on the Fonds Chest and the 4' Flute on the reed chest. If you never drew the 4 Prestant when it says Pos Fonds de 8pd, you would never have the 4 Prestant in the full registration, surely not what was intended. Other CC organs had 4 & 2 flutes in some divisions on the Fonds chest.
You do have to use some common sense given the context of the music. But in general, I still think Fonds 8 and Jeux de Fonds 8, was short hand for all the registers that were on the Foundation chest, otherwise when adding the Reed ventil with the reeds and mixtures, you'd have all 8's then 2's and Mixtures and reeds, leaving a hole at the 4' line.
Likewise Juex de Anches meant everything on the Reed chest - 2-2/3, 2 Mixture (Cornets - a carry over from French Classical registration of Grand Jeux?) and Reeds.
Going through the Franck works, there are very few mentions of 4' stops (usually the 4' flute when he wants Bourdon 8 and Flute 4 - with the Hautbois in the Pastorale). There are couple of mentions of the Recit Clarion 4 when he wants it without the Trompette i.e. the Scherzo of the Grand Piece Symphonique - a very colorful and unusual registration.. There is never a mention of a 2' or Mixture, yet surely Franck used all those stops. The Final is an interesting curiosity, all fonds and anches of 16, 8, 4 but in the G.O. and Pos Sans Prestant. With all the 16, 8, 4 reeds going, I don’t know how much difference it made to leave out two 4 Prestants.
One of the biggest tells for me is the Cantable when he specifies the G.O. as: Jeux de Flute, Bourdon, Gambe et Montre de 8 pds. That is all the 8's on the G.O. So why not just say “Fonds de 8"? I think it is because specifying Fonds de 8 would have included the Prestant 4 to anyone familiar with the conventions of registering a CC organ.
The end of the third choral is surely full organ, with all reeds and mixtures and 16, 8. 4, 2 foundation stops that were available. If you followed the directions in the score literally, i.e. Start with Fonds 8 having only 8's on and then successively added Recit, Positiff, and Grand Orgue and Pedal Reeds with only reeds on the ventils, you would get to the end of the piece with no 4's 2's or mixtures on.
I believe the “performance practice” or conventional understanding was that "anches preparees”" meant to have everything on the reed chest prepared and adding Grand Orgue reeds would bring on the Quint and 2' and mixture as well as the Reeds. Likewise convention meant that Fonds de 8'pd meant everything on the Fond’s chest except the 16. Fonds de 16, 8 essentially meant everything on the fonds chest.

Of course you must always use your ears, judgement and good taste (informed by knowledge of the period’s practice- just don’t become obsessed) In a piece such as Priere, you could very well leave off the 4's and maybe even one of the Montre’s depending on how quiet a piece you wanted to make it. There is no mention of the Reeds at first, but throughout the piece the Recit Trompette is added or retired, which you could do that with the ventil with nothing but the Trompette drawn or leaving the ventil on and drawing the Trompette by hand.
Another thing to think about, the ventils were not like hitting a piston, They took some muscle and some time to push down and slide over into lock position. In a spot that calls for adding the G.O and Pedal reeds, that could take a little bit of time in relation to the flow of the music. Do you take a ritard and break to get it done? Or just get them on as fast as you can without interrupting the flow of the music, maybe not getting them on right on the beat, but a little late? With modern pistons it is easier, but something to consider in your interpretation.
As Robsig mentioned, concerns about performance practice like this can become quite the rabbit hole. You do want to make informed decisions, but you must also make music which means using your ears and knowledge to make a leap-of-faith to get the result you want. Fortunately these days, we have plenty of examples to listen to to get a good sound in our ears to aim for. But you must be the final judge of what you want. If you find it muddy and unclear, then do whatever it takes to clean it up. Leave out one 8', add another 4', maybe even pop in a quiet 2' flute to brighten it up just a bit. If it calls for 16's and you're in a small space, then 16's probably aren't necessary to get the weight and gravitas they would provide in a large cathedral.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that there is NO “definitive performance” of any piece. I say that after hearing composers perform their work in totally different ways. So not even the composer playing his own work is necessarily a “Definitive Performance”.
One question for you, in the CC video series, do they mention what tuning system he used? I’ve never heard anything definitive about that. I know Equal was not in use yet. I doubt he carried over the Classical Ordinaire, that would make some of the remoter keys too unpleasant. I think it must have been something like Young or Vallotti, but I've never heard if he left any information about how he tuned.


Re: Cesar Franck Chorales

PostPosted: Tue Aug 04, 2020 3:47 am
by marcus.reeves
JulianMoney-Kyrle wrote:One of the first samplesets I bought was Metz, which I never found entirely satisfactory.

Can I ask in what way you find Metz unsatisfactory? I was recently thinking that the limited Positif was restrictive, but the extended version goes some way to rectify that. The tutti is quite thrilling! Are there any other limitations or issues which make it unsatisfactory for you?

Re: Cesar Franck Chorales

PostPosted: Tue Aug 04, 2020 6:30 am
by JulianMoney-Kyrle

Thank-you for such a detailed and carefully thought-out reply.

I agree with you that a composer's wishes (or intentions or expectations) are only a starting point, not a goal, and this must surely be particularly true of organ music, which is subject to the vagaries and ideosyncrasies of individual instruments, not to mention the effect of the acoustic. On the other hand, I do think that it is important to understand the context of a piece in order to play it well. But when I listen to a performance, I judge it by whether it is convincing, not correct, whatever that might mean.

With regard to tuning, there is one reference, about half-way through, where they mention Cavaille-Coll changing to equal temperament as part of his move towards the concept of the organ as an orchestra, a single block of sound rather than contrasting divisions. What temperament(s) he was using originally was not specified.

It is hard to put my finger on what it is about Caen that I prefer to Metz. I think perhaps it is a matter clarity. Metz gives a rich orchestral sound, but I find it easier to hear the details with Caen. Perhaps that is a matter of how it works with my sound system (6 stereo channels with Behringer monitors at the front, one surround channel with Spirit by Soundcraft monitors and a large SVS sub-woofer). I remember somebody in the forum once stating that Metz was the only organ they would ever need, but I have never been able to play Bach on it to my satisfaction (interestingly, according to the DVD documentary, in Cavaille-Coll's time the Catholic Church frowned on the use of Bach's music in their services and organists used to perform it on his salon organs instead).

mnailor (is it Mike?),
I will look into your suggestion that the cross-over frequency of my sub-woofer may be set too high. I have certainly found with some organs that the upper notes of the lowest octave in the pedal seem too loud, though this seems to be more the case with romantic rather than Baroque instruments and I thought that was possibly the way they were voiced. I think there is also some resonance in the room favouring a low G and probably I should go to the trouble of voicing some of the notes. I have to keep the level of the sub fairly low otherwise the windows start to rattle, which isn't really the effect I am after.


Re: Cesar Franck Chorales

PostPosted: Tue Aug 04, 2020 9:38 am
by johnstump_organist
If you have any phase control on your sub, you might want to play with that as well. Sometimes it can make big difference, sometimes it's impercibtble

Re: Cesar Franck Chorales

PostPosted: Sat Aug 08, 2020 5:38 pm
A few thoughts on registering Franck.

It would have long been a tradition in France that stops were used in particular combinations, but not all at once. Fonds and mixtures or reeds and cornet, for example. Through the Romantic period the favoured combinations change, but quite possibly there persists the idea that one doesn't have to use every stop just because it exists, even in the full organ.

The 19th century saw a general trend in organ building towards more foundational and orchestral colours at the expense of classical organ sounds. Undoubtedly this was partly a response to contemporary views on registration as demonstrated on previous generation instruments. In other words organists in Franck's era were already neglecting the higher pitched ranks, and it may very well be that he doesn't ask for them because he doesn't want them. It's the same with Widor and Vierne - mixtures are hardly mentioned, but they are occasionally in the context of a pastiche, Eg the Fugue in Vierne's 1st Symphonie. I think this is revealing and suggests mixtures in later Cavaille-coll organs were primarily intended for the performance of 'old fashioned' music.

It is wrong of course to regard any composer's registration as definitive. I have no doubt Franck adapted or elaborated his own instructions as he saw fit. He may well have, on occasion, added 4ft stops to the Fonds, or mixtures to the tutti for particular instruments or pieces.

To understand Franck's registration we have to understand both the resources he had available and his aspirations. As mentioned, his instrument at the time was an early example of its type, and his instructions are with that instrument in mind. But it seems likely his aspirations were more towards the mature Cavaille-coll sound.

The way I see it, Fonds 8 means either 'exactly that' or 'something that sounds like that.' Depending on the organ we might add some 4ft, but it should still give the effect of massed 8ft. Likewise in louder passages we might add some upperwork, clarion or cornet beyond what Franck asks for, but always aiming for a sonorous quasi-orchestral sound. The more different our instrument is from Franck's the more creative we have to be...