For the fourth tutorial in our 2019 series, Francis Rumsey discusses the registration of Franck’s organ works with Jonathan Kingston. They decided to use his Chorale in A minor as an example, because it typifies a number of the challenges faced by organists who need to create sounds similar to those Franck might have expected.
Franck’s music was written mostly in the late 1800s and the sound world he was used to would have been heavily inspired by the Cavaillé-Coll instrument at Ste. Clotilde, where he played. There are some combinations of stops and sounds that are rather particular to Franck, but knowing about these might also help in registering other French music of the period.
Jonathan demonstrates fonds (foundations) registration
At the start of their journey into Franck, Francis asks Jonathan to explain the indications jeux de fonds and jeux d’anches, and in particular what one should do at the start of the chorale where the composer indicates the fonds and anches, but only at eight foot pitch on the manuals.
On the organs of the time the fonds or foundations (typically flues up to four foot pitch) would have been on a separate windchest from the anches (usually consisting of the reeds, as well as flue-based upper work of two foot pitch and above). Importantly, though, the oboe (hautbois) was usually included on the fonds chest of the Swell or Recit division. Jonathan demonstrates here the difference between a fonds registration that includes the oboe and one that doesn’t, for one of the central chorale statements.
The stops on the fonds and anches windchests could be separately “switched on” using a ventil pedal, so the organist could prepare stops on say the anches chest without them actually sounding, until the relevant ventil pedal was engaged. That’s the reason you often see indications in Franck’s music to prepare certain registrations at a particular point in the music.
It doesn’t mean those stops should actually be sounded there — it’s just a convenient point in the music to do some messing around with stops that can be brought into play later with a simple pedal press. Before the days of alterable combination pistons, it was the closest you could get to setting up something in advance.
Here you can see some good photos of a typical Cavaillé-Coll console, this being one of the few in the UK, at Farnborough Abbey. The ventil pedals are clearly visible.
A classic Franck registration
In the central adagio section of this Chorale we hear a classic Franck registration, the oboe and the trumpet together playing a solo line. That’s accompanied by gentle eight foot stops and pedals, so the manuals need to be uncoupled here.
If you’re lucky and have some general pistons, this juncture is a good point to program a substantial registration change, otherwise you have to do it all manually in as short a gap as possible after the pause. Towards the end of the adagio we move to the big D flat major tune on the Great, played on the eight foot foundations, which Franck suggests to prepare earlier. During this section Jonathan gets to use some of the crescendo ideas we discussed in the previous tutorial, as the volume and excitement builds.
Although we don’t go right to the end of the work, the tutorial gives you some ideas about the main principles of registration for different sections. If you’re planning to play this piece it might help to listen to a few recordings of the sound of Cavaillé Coll organs playing Franck, in order to get the “sound world” firmly embedded in your mind.
It’s quite instructive to listen to the complete performance of the A minor Chorale, played on the very organ Franck knew at St. Clotilde.