Author Topic: Composing for organ?  (Read 6226 times)

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eyeresist

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Composing for organ?
« on: May 18, 2011, 05:40:20 PM »
Over the last couple of days, I've had an idea for a piece for choir and organ. My orchestration book doesn't deal with either. There seem to be several books available on choral composition, but none on writing for organ. Is this subject really so obscure? Organs are quite complex beasts - I don't know how I could write for one without a comprehensive guide.
 

Scarpia

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Re: Composing for organ?
« Reply #1 on: May 18, 2011, 05:42:26 PM »
Over the last couple of days, I've had an idea for a piece for choir and organ. My orchestration book doesn't deal with either. There seem to be several books available on choral composition, but none on writing for organ. Is this subject really so obscure? Organs are quite complex beasts - I don't know how I could write for one without a comprehensive guide.

I've never heard of someone who was not an organist writing extensively for organ. 

eyeresist

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Re: Composing for organ?
« Reply #2 on: May 18, 2011, 07:06:16 PM »
I'm not planning on writing "extensively", and I'm sure others have written for it without composing a large oeuvre. It just seems to me there should be an easier way than becoming a professional organist, or getting one as an advisor. There are a lot of issues which could be well covered by a book, e.g. working with the varying number of keyboards, scoring for the bass pedals, the different registers and combinations thereof, differences between electronic and natural instruments, the issue of volume control. Surely this is all written down somewhere!

Scarpia

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Re: Composing for organ?
« Reply #3 on: May 18, 2011, 07:51:21 PM »
I'm not planning on writing "extensively", and I'm sure others have written for it without composing a large oeuvre. It just seems to me there should be an easier way than becoming a professional organist, or getting one as an advisor. There are a lot of issues which could be well covered by a book, e.g. working with the varying number of keyboards, scoring for the bass pedals, the different registers and combinations thereof, differences between electronic and natural instruments, the issue of volume control. Surely this is all written down somewhere!

That's the point, restrictions are very soft, if at all, I would imagine.  Just that only two hands at once (and feet).  Each hand is on a different keyboard so they can cross at will, each keyboard can be coupled to ranks of enormous variation of size, simultaneously if you want, every organ is different.   Usually it is left up to the organist to decide on the registration. 

Anyway, obviously I have no specific knowledge, I suppose there must be books about it.  I wonder if someone makes a keyboard synthesizer that sounds like you are playing the great organ at Notre Dame. 
 

eyeresist

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Re: Composing for organ?
« Reply #4 on: May 18, 2011, 07:57:02 PM »
I finally managed to find a few things on Amazon, after locating some titles elsewhere. There are no books on composing, but there are teaching books which look useful, plus a couple of things on the diverse history of the instrument.

TEACHING:

Complete Organ Method: A Classic Text on Organ Technique
by John Stainer

The Organists' Manual: Technical Studies & Selecte​d Compositions for the Organ
by Roger E. Davis

Method of Organ Playing (8th Edition)
by Harold Gleason

An Introduction to Organ Registration (Church Music Pamphlet Series)
by James Engel

Little Organ Book (Summy-Birchard​ Edition)
by Flor Peeters

HISTORICAL/TECHNICAL:

All The Stops: The Glorious Pipe Organ And Its American Masters
by Craig R. Whitney

Understanding The Pipe Organ: A Guide for Students, Teachers and Lovers of the Instrument
by John R. Shannon


I also found a couple of older books available online:

A primer of organ registration (1920)
Nevin, Gordon Balch
http://www.archive.org/details/primeroforganreg00nevi

Organ-stops and their artistic registration; names, forms, construction, tonalities, and offices in scientific combination (1921)
Audsley, George Ashdown
http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924086010331

Offline Luke

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Re: Composing for organ?
« Reply #5 on: May 18, 2011, 09:40:30 PM »
With nothing else to go on other than those names, I would verge towards the Flor Peeters, as he was not just an organist but also a composer of some renown, who I would expect to be interesting and imaginative on the subject. But I may be miles off!

eyeresist

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Re: Composing for organ?
« Reply #6 on: May 18, 2011, 09:56:47 PM »
In the end, I will probably go for what's cheapest - as usual!
 

Offline Cato

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Re: Composing for organ?
« Reply #7 on: May 19, 2011, 03:48:29 PM »
In the end, I will probably go for what's cheapest - as usual!

How many organ works have you studied?  That would be perhaps another way to determine what kind of music your inspiration should be geared for.

Besides Bach, Franck, and Reger, check out other great classics like the six organ symphonies of Louis Vierne and Julius Reubke's  Sonata on the 94th Psalm.

Visit: http://imslp.org/wiki/Psalm_94_%28Reubke,_Julius%29

And: http://imslp.org/wiki/Category:Vierne,_Louis
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karlhenning

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Re: Composing for organ?
« Reply #8 on: May 19, 2011, 03:51:31 PM »
Part of the challenge (of a branch of composition perhaps not all that easy to explain/codify for us non-organists) is awareness that you can have the two hands on different manuals, and therefore commanding entirely different dynamics & timbres (&c.) . . . and that it is helpful for the organist if there is some indication what octave(s) you want added (if any) and where.  Chances are, too, that only one of the manuals will have a Swell — i.e., capacity for a genuine crescendo, where as a rule dynamic changes are a matter of adding or subtracting stops (a bit of choreography for which you may wish to allow a rest, or 'caesura'.
 
Chances are the best way to learn how to do it, is write something, and sit with a organist while he goes through it.

karlhenning

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Re: Composing for organ?
« Reply #9 on: May 19, 2011, 03:55:24 PM »
Per Cato's post . . . Bach may or may not be a great help ; ) On one hand, his notation is minimal, there isn't a lot in the score that reflects why it works at the console. On the other, following the score while listening to what an organist does to voice the score, and articulate different sections, should be illuminative.

eyeresist

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Re: Composing for organ?
« Reply #10 on: May 19, 2011, 05:57:55 PM »
Part of the challenge (of a branch of composition perhaps not all that easy to explain/codify for us non-organists) is awareness that you can have the two hands on different manuals, and therefore commanding entirely different dynamics & timbres (&c.) . . . and that it is helpful for the organist if there is some indication what octave(s) you want added (if any) and where.  Chances are, too, that only one of the manuals will have a Swell — i.e., capacity for a genuine crescendo, where as a rule dynamic changes are a matter of adding or subtracting stops (a bit of choreography for which you may wish to allow a rest, or 'caesura'.
 
Chances are the best way to learn how to do it, is write something, and sit with a organist while he goes through it.

Thanks, Karl. From what I've read, organ playing is a bit of a cult, and remains unsystematised, largely due to lack of standarisation of the instrument. The books I have my eye on include scores for reference and playing, so that should give me some idea of how it works on paper. I still haven't got my head around the use of the registers, which seem to combine tone quality and volume adjustment in one knob, or complex combination thereof. I think (hope) a lot of that can probably be left to the taste of the player.

Re caesura, yes, the "breathing" of any instrument is something to always bear in mind.
« Last Edit: May 19, 2011, 06:02:45 PM by eyeresist »

karlhenning

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Re: Composing for organ?
« Reply #11 on: May 20, 2011, 01:23:57 AM »
Thanks, Karl. From what I've read, organ playing is a bit of a cult, and remains unsystematised, largely due to lack of standarisation of the instrument.

Then again, that's the beauty of the milieu!  The different characters of the organ bulit at different times, by different organ builders here or there, the fact that even the same builder probably did not ever repeat himself exactly (but waxed in his craft and art), and of course the phenomenon that the space is part of the instrument.