Organ Music for February 13

by Dr. Dennis Keene

At the Prelude (10:45am)


During the past few weeks, Pascal Quoirin and his head voicing assistant, Frédéric Potier, have turned their attention to one of the two main families of pipes: reeds. (The other main family is foundation pipes, which includes principals, flutes and strings.) Reeds stops include trumpets (trompettes, in French), bombardes, clairons, oboes (hautbois), bassoons, cromornes, voix humaine, and others. Our organ has an absolutely astonishing richness of reed tone, some Baroque in style, some in 19th Century style, some very delicate, some very, very loud. It will take me many Sundays to demonstrate all the various reed stops. Today I will start by playing reeds which were intended for French Baroque music. There is not one other organ in the United States that has these sounds. To hear this music with the sounds that Couperin and Raison had in mind is quite something!


Messe pour les Couvents                  François Couperin (1668-1733)

(Mass for Convents)

Fugue sur la trompette; Récit de Cromorne; Basse de Trompette; Cromorne sur la Taille; Dialogue sur la Voix Humaine; Dialogue sur les Grands Jeux

In the French Baroque, the names of the movements are the names of the stops you are supposed to use. And the organs in France between 1650 and 1800, for the most part, all had basically the same stops – some organs had more, some less – but the general design of organs in France varied little during this century and a half.


The Fugue sur la Trompette is just what it says: a four-part contrapuntal piece played on the Trompette stop of the Grand Orgue (bottom keyboard). According to French Baroque practice, one has the option of adding other stops; and I am adding the Trompette from the Positif division as well to give a bit more body of sound. These trompettes, and indeed all of the reed sounds you hear today in the Couperin and Raison pieces, are built exactly according to the dimensions used by the great French 18th Century organ builder, Dom Bédos de Celles. These trompettes have a brilliant quality. And they have an amazing combination of  1) a certain unfiltered, almost wild quality, and  2) complete refinement, regulation, balance  –  this combination is not unlike a great Burgundy wine!


The Récit de Cromorne shows the most poetic side of the Cromorne stop. Here the left hand plays the accompaniment on flute stops, and the Cromorne sings in the treble register where it is more delicate than in its lower registers. A Cromorne is something like a Baroque version of a clarinette, except, of course, it pre-dated the orchestral instrument by centuries. This particular aria, or Récit, for cromorne is one of the most beautiful ever composed.


Basse de trompette movements are very common in French Baroque suites. The accompaniment is in the right hand, and the melody is played on the trompette stop in its bass register. Most of the time, the honky character of the stop is portrayed in these movements. This particular basse de trompette – also one of the best ever written – is rather atypical. It is more singing, more lyric than most, and more substantial.


A few weeks ago I played one of the most profound movements of the French Baroque, a tierce en taille, which is a cornet in the tenor (taille) register. The Cromorne sur la Taille is the same thing, but played on the tenor register of the cromorne, a register where it is fuller than the treble. The depth of expression in this short work place it among the masterpieces of the repertory.


The term Voix humaine could be literally translated as “human voice,” but, in organ terms, it is a very particular, thin reed stop. Our organ actually has two of these stops, one in a Baroque style and the other in a 19th Century style. Obviously, today I use the Baroque one which is exceedingly delicate, sweet and tender. I combine it with a Bourdon (flute) and the Tremblant (a device that disrupts the air flow, causing a lovely undulation of tone.) The accompaniment is played on the Flûte conique of the Positif, also with Tremblant. The word Dialogue refers to a dialogue going on between the treble and bass registers of the Voix humaine, almost as if they were two different stops.


The Dialogue sur les Grands Jeux displays perhaps the single most impressive sound of the French Baroque: the Grands Jeux. This is all the reed stops and all the cornets played together to create an amazing blaze of tone. Our organ has so many cornets and many reed stops that an organist can choose how big a Grand Jeux he wants. For this movement, I have chosen a medium sized Grand Jeux, consisting of the Positif Cornet, Trompette, and Cromorne, and the Grand Orgue Cornet, Bombarde, Trompette, Clairon, as well as the Montre and Prestant. The sound is amazing. (I will use even more for the Postlude!)

At the Postlude:

Offerte du 5em ton: Vive le Roi
André Raison (ca. 1640-1719)

This piece was composed to celebrate the return to health – and the return to Paris – of the King of France, Louis XIV, January 30, 1687. It is an extravagant, ceremonial piece, calling for the Grands Jeux for the beginning and ending of the piece (as well as certain internal parts). It also has small sections where the trompette is accompanied by foundation stops; other sections with the cornet and cromorne, and marvelous echo effects. At the beginning and end, I use all the cornets and Baroque reeds, including the south, horizontal trompettes-en-chamade, and also the full batterie of Pedal reeds, including the Bombardes 16’ and 32’. I think Louis XIV would be impressed!