In concluding this series on the French Classical Suite, we come to one of the most impressive sounds of the French Classical organ, the ensemble of reeds. Virtually every time I sit down at a historic instrument and pull out the small number of stops required for the Grand Jeu, I am impressed by the volume of sound. Listen to Jean-Baptiste Robin play Louis Marchand’s Grand Dialogue at Poitiers to hear what 6-7 stops can produce!
The Pre-classical Grand Jeu registration consisted of:
- G.O.: Trompette, Clairon, Cromorne, Cornet, Tierce, Bourdon 8, Nazard, Quarte de Nazard
A distinction emerged in the Classical period between the Grand Jeu using the registration above and the Grand Dialogue which omitted the Jeu de Tierce:
- Pos: Montre 8′ or Prestant 4′, Bourdon 8′, Cromorne
- G.O.: Bourdon 8′, Prestant 4′, Trompette 8′, Clairon 4′, Cornet
As the organs grew larger and the Dialogue advanced, the registration expanded to:
- Pos: as above
- G.O.: as above
- Récit: Cornet
- Écho: Bourdon, Prestant, Doublette, Nazard, Tierce
Use of the pedal depended upon the organ, but was based on the Trompette, adding the Clairon and then Bombarde stops if available. Couperin and Boyvin specify the flute stop on the pedal when they include trio passages in their dialogues.
Multiple forms are used with this registration including Pedal points, Fugues, Dialogues, and Overtures. In an early suite, the Grand Jeu may only be 10-12 measures long and played entirely on one keyboard. Later composers created 10-12 minute Dialogues exploiting the varied palette of colors and demonstrating a variety of writing styles. For a short movement with a little variety, the overture provides an easy example for us to follow.
Start on the Grand Orgue in a slow tempo. Use dotted rhythms. Scales by either the right or left hand can provide movement while the other hand holds a static chord. This slow section is generally in a duple meter.
The second section is generally faster and in a triple meter. Voices could enter in a fugal style (one after the other in imitation). Typically this portion would start on the Positif and could have dialogue sections where the soprano or bass would be played on the Grand Orgue.
The final section would be a return to the material of the opening of the movement, but may be very short and serve more like a coda than a true repeat of the opening.
I hope you have enjoyed this series on the French Classical Suite. Please let me know if you have any questions or areas where I could offer further help as you improvise your suites. If you are able and willing to share recordings of your improvisations, feel free to include them in the comments section for this post.
Improvement comes not only through practice, but also feedback. This applies not just to improvising, but also to writing. If you have suggestions for the next series or ideas for how I can help you improvise better, I’d love to hear them.
May your improvisations continue to improve,
Newsletter Issue 49 – 2015 09 21
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