Giving them names
The English organ builders were fond of using stops that didn't go the whole compass; but the Diapason was different. David Bridgeman-Sutton explains.
“Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in man.”
The diapason closing full in man.”
Dryden, in his Ode to St Cecilia, uses diapason in its original meaning “throughout the full compass”. Singers familiar with Handel's setting will recall how this is illustrated with a series of running scale passages passing from voice to voice, between them exploring just about the full vocal range.
Stops of incomplete compass – finishing at tenor c or even above – were a feature of English organ building for centuries. This was in marked contrast to many instruments built elsewhere in Europe. Hopkins and Rimbault, in the 1877 edition of their landmark book find it remarkable that all except two of the 60 stops on the instrument at St Bavo, Haarlem “are whole ones”. When that organ was completed – 1738 – there were no English organs of comparable size and stops of incomplete compass were found even in the most important of them.
The term “diapason” was applied, logically, to stops that did indeed run “throughout the compass of the notes.” It thus made a word derived from Greek the usual term for stops and the tone of the principal choruses in the English organ. Open diapasons almost invariably appear as case pipes of organs in English speaking countries. (Leeds parish church is one of the exceptions, having no visible pipes) Picture 1 shows the painted and elegantly gilded pipes in the 1873 Hill organ (IIIP/39) of Arundel Catholic Cathedral, England. Horizontal trumpet pipes peep shyly over the top.
As organ lovers know, the chief foundation stop on French organs is usually termed “montre” - of 8' and sometimes also of 16' pitch on manuals and of 16' and sometimes 32' pitch on the pedal. The largest pipes of these registers are placed in the towers and flats of the case and thus contribute to the instrument's appearance. “Montre” in fact means show or even ostentation: something done “pour la montre” is done for the sake of appearance.
The principal 4' stop in the chorus is named “Prestant” and in large cases, its basses appear in compartments and sometimes in smaller towers. The name seems seems to refer to this. “Prestance” is a noun (f) denoting a striking or arresting appearance; it is clearly related to the English term “presence”, said to be possessed by those of commanding aspect. It is interesting that these terms, montre and prestant, long-established names for specific registers, are not usually applied to stops whose pipes are enclosed in a swell box. Picture 2 shows the organ of Ste-Eustache (VP/101) with a glorious facade of polished montres.
Praestant is a variation found in many Dutch organs, applied to the 32', 16' and 8 stops of foundation tone whose basses are "in prospect". Higher pitched stops are termed “Octaav” and sometimes “Superoctaav”. Praestant is also found in Germany, though “Principal” is used much more widely.
A Dutch organ that ought to be better known is at St Laurens, Alkmaar (IIIP/56). Originally built by Jacobus Van Hagerbeer and added to by Frans Caspar Schnitger, this occupies a case designed by Jacob van Campen, architect of the Royal palace at Amsterdam. Picture 3 gives a rare view of this case. Normally, the great chandelier - a feature of many Dutch churches - prevents an uninterrupted perspective. Photographer Jan Zwart took advantage of an opportunity presented by cleaning and restoration to take this picture. More information at www.alkmaarorgelstad.nl