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The Language of the Classical French Organ

The Language of the Classical French Organ: A Musical Tradition Before 1800, New and Expanded Edition

Copyright Date: 1969
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 266
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  • Book Info
    The Language of the Classical French Organ
    Book Description:

    The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witnessed the growth of a unique relationship between the French organ and the music written for it. Until recently, however, the roots of this precise musical tradition lay hidden in the sixteenth century. Illuminating these mysteries for the modern audience, Mr. Douglass has traced the development of the French organ from the sixteenth century through the Classical Period (1655-1770).

    For the first time in English, an explanation is given of the role of mixtures in theplenumof the French instrument of the Classical Period. Because theplenumdetermines the very character of the organ, and because the mixtures exert the strongest influence upon its sonority, the reader will be able to understand why French composers were writing music for theplenumsharply different from that of their contemporaries in northern Europe. Especially useful is the first complete compilation of known sources of information about French classical organ restriction. Having assimilated the historical facts about the instrument, the reader will be ready to interpret the music of this period on a modern organ.

    Mr. Douglass is professor organ at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music.

    This authoritative study of the French classical organ is a major source for the interpretation of early French organ music. For this new edition, the author has added a chapter on touch in early French organs and its importance for practice. The bibliography has also been extensively revised.

    Reviews of the previous edition:

    "The extensive and valuable materials assembled in this study will make it indispensable to both the performer and the scholar of French organ literature."-Almonte C. Howell, Jr.,Notes

    "The only work of its kind in English. . . . Bringing together all of the sources into one volume was alone a task of considerable proportions, and the many conclusions drawn from a careful study of the sources make it a necessary reference for any further study. It should be not only on the shelves but also in the mind of every organ devotee."-Rudolph Kremer,Journal of the American Musicological Society

    "Douglass has shown us the way that organ studies ought to develop over the next few decades."-Music and Letters

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18573-7
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. Errata
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    The organ, more than any other musical instrument, has assimilated numerous changes and experiments. Even at the point of its purest development, at a time when its musical potential attracted the interest of almost every important composer, a number of distinct national styles had evolved. Thus, when we study the instrument of the Baroque era in Italy, France, England, or northern Europe, we are confronted with a complicated pattern of mutual influence, parallel activity, independent achievement, and persistent national characteristics.

    It is not surprising to discover that from time to time organ builders and composers handed down directions about the...

  7. 1. The French Organ in the Sixteenth Century
    (pp. 6-16)

    It is not too much to suggest that the refined taste of the classical French organ builders and composers was the consequence of a long maturing process, which had gone on since the beginning of the sixteenth century. In contrast to the relative stability of the classical period,¹ the Renaissance was an epoch of change and evolution in the history of organ building. It was an era of intense activity, in which mechanical and tonal improvements opened up new possibilities for design and color. The spacious churches in France and the Low Countries were often furnished with several organs, placed...

  8. 2. Toward Understanding the Language of the “Jeux”
    (pp. 17-44)

    It would be incorrect to say that before 1600 there was any real style of French registration, though several kinds of treatment may have developed for handling certain instruments or kinds of instruments. And very short is the supply of French organ music before Jean Titelouze’s first publication, in 1623, ofLes Hymnes de l’église pour toucher sur l’orgue.¹ Howell suggests that since only one copy of the celebrated Attaingnant publications (1531) has survived, possibly other examples of sixteenth-century French organ composition (masses) have been lost.² It is even more likely that organ contracts, lying unnoticed in departmental archives, contain...

  9. 3. Registration in the Pre-Classical Period (1531–1636)
    (pp. 45-69)

    The Bordeaux and Toulouse instruments of the early sixteenth century, so closely related in structure, have provided verification of the existence of a codified style of registration, which was in use for three decades and more in southern France. But we are left with the realization that the application of this plan of registration, however interpreted, is hardly more suitable to the performance of the French pieces published in Paris by Attaingnant than to the music of the Venetian organ composers during the same years. Although organists in Bordeaux and Toulouse may well have played the anonymous pieces published by...

  10. 4. The Classical French Organ
    (pp. 70-92)

    To picture the established pattern of French organ building from about 1650 to 1790 as being fixed inflexibly within rigid concepts would be misleading. Still, fixed it was from several points of view. We can observe that there was general acceptance of, and apparent satisfaction with, the basic structural aspects of the instrument as it had evolved through the sixteenth century and into the post-Titelouze era.¹ This atmosphere of stability, to which Titelouze himself had made significant contributions, prevailed during the entire period of flowering in French organ composition. Without this, it is doubtful that composers would have been able...

  11. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  12. 5. Registration in the Classical Period (1665–1770)
    (pp. 93-125)

    In order to gain a thorough understanding of the practical aspects of registration among French organists during the classical period we rely heavily on the prefaces which some composers included in their collections of organ music. These prefaces often give helpful instructions to the organist concerning the registration and stylistic performance of the pieces. In addition, several theoretical treatises written in this period give similar instructions for organists.

    These two kinds of sources will provide our chief information about the registration of French organ music after Mersenne (1636) and before the Revolution (1789).¹ Listed together, the sources are these:


  13. 6. Toward the Restoration of Grace in Early French Organ Ornamentation
    (pp. 126-142)

    One antique organ, played with the grace and delicacy the music invites, can teach us more than a dozen treatises on registration, on ornaments, or even on fine points of organ building. The theoretical comments out of their proper contexts remain at best a dangerous asset. Unfortunately, most ancient organs have been so relentlessly modernized that it is impossible today to recognize or even to piece together their original musical function. For centuries the temptation to restore by enlargement or interior reshuffling has resulted in “sleekly modern” instruments housed within old shells—that is, behind elegantly redecorated antique façades. Meanwhile,...

  14. Appendix A. Texts of Sixteenth-Century Organ Contracts
    (pp. 143-159)
  15. Appendix B. Instructions for Registration (1504–1636), in English Translation
    (pp. 160-193)
  16. Appendix C. Instructions for Registration (1636–1770), in English Translation
    (pp. 194-232)
  17. Glossary
    (pp. 233-238)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 239-246)
  19. Index
    (pp. 247-251)