So my digital organ at home offers the opportunity to have multiple types of organs available at the press of a button. It changes the sounds of the stops to either reflect a more romantic organ, symphonic or a baroque organ. And even within those options there are options to change things further. OF course my brain always likes to play the game of “what if…?”. So here it is: What if you could have a digital organ that could – and the press of a button – be identical in sound and stop list of any organ in the world? What organs would you choose? And Why?

Well for me, I’d be hard pressed to choose between just a few but for the sake of actually trying to make up my mind I’ll give what currently would be my top three. (and then maybe a list of runner ups!) First and foremost, I would want an instrument that properly embodies the quintessential French Romantic sound. Second, an organ that would contrast with the first and be ideal for baroque music. Third, an organ that would be a bit different from my usual likings (as to offer the chance to explore something new).

#1  The 1890 Cavaillé-Coll at St. Ouen, Rouen, France

This should come as absolutely NO surprise to anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time. It is by far one of my favorite of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll’s instruments. One of the last instruments to leave the master organ builders shop during his lifetime I think this organ is the pinnacle of his achievements. I invite you to click on the link above or the picture on the right to learn more about this instrument. (no use hashing it all out here again.)

I have to note that a BIG reason that makes this my first choice is also the acoustics. I don’t think there is any organ I have in my CD collection that is a most perfect marriage of acoustics and instrument. So if I had this on a Digital Instrument it would have to come with the acoustics built in…

What are some of my favorite aspects of this instrument?

  • The large Récit (swell) division that is under expression (shutters that open and close). This division is capable of – on its own – sounding large and grand with all it’s flue and reed stops, almost a complete organ within itself. But also appealing is the gentle-amazing soft sounds that can be made with just a few stops and the shutters closed.
  • The bombastic 32′ Contre-Bombarde in the pedal. One of the strongest of the 32′ reed that Cavaillé-Coll made… You know me, I like my reeds!
  • The string stops (gambes and viole de gambes etc.). They form a magnificently rich sound, both on their own and in chorus with each other.
  • The 8′ Flûte harmonique on the main division – it’s sound is heavenly!
  • The fonds d’orgue 8′. (The 8′ foundation stops) My favorite sound on French romantic instruments and this one is no exception. All the foundations blend so well together on this instrument that it produces one noble sound.
  • The acoustics. Wow.

#2 The Christian Müller Organ of the Grote of Jacobijnerkerk in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands

Without a doubt this organ would contrast nicely with my first choice as this instrument is purely a classical baroque instrument at heart. I’ve discovered this organ mainly through a recording by Dutch organist Sietze de Vries, in which de Vries improvises on Genevan Psalms. Though this organ is smaller than its significantly larger big brother in Haarlem, I actually prefer this instrument. The 38 stops of this organ are spread over three manuals and pedal.

But more significant to me is that this instrument while being a very old instrument does not have that incredibly shrill sound that sometimes happens with some of those old instruments. The stops on this organ are bright and crisp without being obnoxious! And the flutes on this instrument are just to die for. And the organ is capable of a very Large sound with its “modest” 38 stops. Of course the other attractive thing about this instrument is the acoustics as well. Very reverberant but still allowing notes (even in rapid succession) to be heard clearly!

And although this instrument is missing any sort of swell chamber (chamber of pipes in which shades can be opened and closed to control the volume of the pipes) as the recording I have of Sietze de Vries demonstrates, this instrument can be used quite expressively.

One of these days I’ll write a post about this beautiful instrument. Someday I hope to hear this instrument in person!

#3  The Great Organ at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine

Located here in New York City, this organ was built in 1911 by Ernest M. Skinner, and enlarged and rebuilt in 1954 by G. Donald Harrison of The Aeolian Skinner Organ Company. This organ I think kind of represents the golden age of the symphonic organ in the US. As such the sound is unique from what I typically like. Also its large size of 141 ranks, and 8,514 pipes is quite appealing. So is the State Trumpet on the west end of the cathedral that is over 500 feet from the rest of the organ, and operates on fifty inches of wind pressure, it ranks as one of the most powerful organ stops in the world!

Again, it’s through a recording that I have become familiar with the sound of this instrument. And it has grown on me over time. This instrument processes quite a unique sound that I think would be a lot of fun to explore. One thing I’m that intrigues me are the string stops on this instrument – being so very different from french strings in sound.

This organ really embodies the idea of an organ as a “symphony” of colors. And it has its own unique sounds that Skinner organs possess…

Watch this video of Ken Cowan playing and talking about an album he recorded on this instrument…

SO there you have it. My top three. After that… Oh, I could keep on listing…

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