Harpsichord, anyone?

Discussion in 'Comedy & Tragedy' started by gallahadesquire, Sep 7, 2015.

  1. whipped guy

    whipped guy Regent

    There is an Archive recording of Trevor Pinnock performing Bach's Two and Three Part Inventions that was recorded at such a high level that it rivals any recording of the 1812 Overture in decibels! The microphones must have been placed inside the harpsichord.

    The MET Opera has been known to amplify the harpsichord used in recitatives. I'm not sure if they have ever admitted to doing it.
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  2. AdamSmith

    AdamSmith Count de Crisco

    The Flentrop organ in Harvard's Busch Hall sounds quite different in person, and to my ear a lot better, than on Biggs's Columbia recordings. I heard he pressed the engineers to place the mikes a good bit closer to the organ than they were inclined to do, in order to emphasize (over-emphasize) the clear articulation etc. of that instrument compared with older-style organs people were used to then (that instrument inaugurated 1959).
  3. whipped guy

    whipped guy Regent

    Microphone placement can make or break a recording, or possibly falsify what would normally be heard in concert setting. Years ago the Metropolitan Opera did a TV simulcast where the microphones were placed virtually in the brass section. A week later the same forces performed the same piece and with different microphone placement for their weekly radio broadcast that did not emphasize the brass section and it sounded as if it were performed by a totally different conductor and orchestra.

    Personally I like some space around the performers so as to replicate how the music might sound in actual space. Still recordings can give a front row center vs. balcony perspective and everything in between. What I don't like is when the microphones are virtually placed within the instrument. As an example there should really be no stereo separation of the treble and bass in a piano (or harpsichord) recording, but rather how the sound reverberates within a given space. In the Trevor Pinnock recording that I referenced above one could hear the mechanism of the instrument producing the sound. That's a bit way up too close and personal and is something that possibly not even the player would normally hear!
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  4. honcho

    honcho Protector of the Realm

    (TMI and somewhat off-topic. I record other people concerts for them and have been doing since 1986. I'm not an electrical nor acoustical engineer by training but the guys who are seem to think I haven't gotten it wrong by osmosis)

    It is true that air (especially humidity) tends to damp out higher frequencies more than lower ones, and the chaff
    in a tracker organ sound on the attack of notes will tend to be more obscured the further away from the instrument one listens, or records. I've never been in Busch hall, so I can't comment about the size, amount of reverberation, etc. there but it is certainly the case that standing next to musical instruments generally sounds different than being
    seated in the middle of even a moderate sized concert venue, so I understand why Biggs desire to have it recorded nearby to emphasize that difference.

    It is extremely easy to "amplify" a quiet recording digitally without having to resort to placing the microphones
    inside an instrument. When one does that, however, one is at risk for amplifying other sounds, like people talking outside in the hallway, planes passing overheard, subways passing a few stories underneath ... (as apparently
    happened when Sony engineers recorded a test run in carnegie hall to demonstrate to the Phillips folks, and
    they initially couldn't understand why there was very low-frequency noise present in the very first-ever compact
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  5. whipped guy

    whipped guy Regent

    Joan Sutherland's famous Art of the Prima Donna album recorded in Covent Garden infamously features rumblings from the London Tube. The engineers were not overly concerned as in 1960 the rumble of the needle passing through the grooves would mask the rumble from the subway. When the album was released on CD the extent of the rumbling was there in its full glory. In the recent remastering of the complete recordings of Maria Callas the sound of a motor cycle outside of La Scala was digitally excised from her 1960 recording of Bellini's Norma.
  6. AdamSmith

    AdamSmith Count de Crisco

    That was exactly Biggs's interest in having it miked that way. But Busch Hall, a stone interior with zero muffling, is plenty reverberant. But then it is also a fairly small or rather middle-sized space, without endless reverb like a large cathedral. The chiffs and other fine details of the speaking are plenty clear in person, but the organ sound also attains a unison and blending that doesn't really come through on the recordings, but could have, had it been miked more judiciously, I think.

    In fact Biggs's interest in emphasizing the chiff in the then-novel Flentrop sound (everything old is new again) veered toward the pathological. Dirk Flentrop told me one time (I had pressed him with my suspicions about this) that he gave in somewhat to Biggs leaning on him to voice some of the most susceptible ranks with an exaggerated, overstated chiff. In fact he said it had long been in the back of his mind to send someone to Cambridge to re-voice a few of those stops to take the edge off those chiffs!

    PS Just noticed this from Grove on the trend: "Why, for instance, did a well-preserved 17th- or 18th-century Principal pipe speak with a full ‘bloom’ and just the smallest amount of ‘chiff’ when its neo-Baroque counterpart coughed prominently before settling into a rather thin and sizzly tone?"
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2015
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  7. AdamSmith

    AdamSmith Count de Crisco

    Little bit of Couperin performed by Michel Chapuis on an exquisite old (1754) Riepp organ in the cathedral of Dole in the Jura. You can hear proper, subtly voiced chiffs on some ranks, and interestingly Chapuis had this miked so that you also hear the key drops and the mechanism operating, just as the performer would.


    Videos of more performances on this instrument: http://www.pleasuresofthepipes.info/Dole-NotreDame.html
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2015
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  8. whipped guy

    whipped guy Regent

    I think that many performers want their recordings to mirror what they themselves hear. This is especially true of conductors who are used to hearing the sound from the podium and not how the sound resonates in a hall. Of course the classic example is Toscanini who for better or worse insisted on being recorded so as to emphasize the brightness, clarity, and precision that he heard from the podium. Consequently the effects of how the sound would normally resonate and reverberate through a concert hall was totally eliminated in his recordings. It has been said that the infamous analytical sound of NBC's Studio 8H did him a disservice. Actually that is precisely the type of sound that Toscanini wanted in his recordings this being an Italian trait. Indeed Italian composers from Rossini, through Verdi, to Respighi indeed emphasized clarity in their orchestrations. This as opposed to the plush and expansive sound of a Brahms, Thciakovsky, or Wagner. Some have said that with Italian music the result was overly dry and analytical. With the other romantics the plush quality was replaced with a hardness that did the music a disservice by eliminating all warmth. However, this is precisely the sterile type of sound that for better or worse Toscanini wanted to achieve.

    What is most interesting concerns singers who are only hearing their voice as it resonates within their own being in addition to what they hear around them. More than one singer has complained that their recordings don't sound at all like what they are used to hearing.

    With an organ in a Cathedral the player certainly would not hear the same thing that that listeners in a vast space would hear. They certainly would not hear the mechanism as preserved in the above posted recording! Indeed the other recordings of the instrument give a different sound and perspective.
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  9. AdamSmith

    AdamSmith Count de Crisco

    WG, your notes made me remember that Chapuis wrote somewhere that he specifically wanted these videos he has been making over several recent years to give listeners/viewers a sense of what performance feels like to the organist. As opposed to the 'conventional' recorded sound on his many discs. On YouTube he has many other similar videos of himself performing, a lot of them in a series he titled 'Notes Personnelles.'

    P.S. I see they are available on CD: http://www.amazon.com/Notes-personnelles-vol-Michael-Chapuis/dp/B000NOK1K2
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2015
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  10. AdamSmith

    AdamSmith Count de Crisco

    P.P.S. He is my favorite organist of all of them. I love how these videos show that, for all his musicianship, he feels no need of typical organist body-language showmanship. But just focused on playing. (Such as frequently looking down to check positioning of his feet on these old, very non-AGO-conforming pedalboards! Flat, straight, narrow, the sharp keys with little overhanging hooks to get your toes caught under...!)
  11. AdamSmith

    AdamSmith Count de Crisco

    In the video, that shot of the lone person in back pumping the bellows, providing sufficient wind for this large organ, reminds how these old tracker instruments (also correct new ones) were voiced on very low wind pressure. Thus you can hear subtle variations in tone as the different ranks 'pull' against one another in the wind supply.

    The big Flentrop at Duke has a series of small intermediate bellows called winkers at each wind chest that can be unlocked (activated) to stabilize the wind supply and eliminate this pulling effect, for performance of the 19th-century French repertoire by Franck et al. that was written for the great organs of Cavaillé-Coll, and their rock-steady wind supplies.
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2015
  12. whipped guy

    whipped guy Regent

    This reminds me of a review of an organ recording that I read about 30 years ago when CD's were newly on the market. The review was demonstrating the clarity of the then new technology. It began with the reviewer saying that he heard a strange noise throughout the recording. After giving the CD a thumbs up review he ended the piece by saying something to the effect, "Oh yes! That strange noise! It was a buzzing vibration every time a certain F-sharp (or whatever pedal) was struck." I guess that was a quirk of that particular instrument that was captured in what was then called "Perfect Sound Forever"! Of course listening to some of those early digital recordings we now know that they were not exactly "perfect"! Hence the multiple remasterings of many recordings since!
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  13. AdamSmith

    AdamSmith Count de Crisco

    Of course it can go either way as you have pointed out before. My old vinyl Telefunken recordings of Chapuis' performance of the Bach repertoire have markedly clearer, better-fidelity sound than their transfer to CD, where a lot of sonic detail got lost: http://www.amazon.com/Bach-Organ-Complete-Michel-Chapuis/dp/B00004RJSX

    Besides which Telefunken included long program notes by Chapuis -- and the scores for all the pieces! -- in the big luxurious 2-disc boxes in which it issued those recordings.
  14. whipped guy

    whipped guy Regent

    You are indeed correct. A lot of vinyl sounded much better, except for the scratches, pops, and clicks that is! Some of those early CD's sounded beyond harsh. Of course the early CD players exaserbated that harsh sound, but most people have tin ears and could not tell the difference. I was an early adopter and the sound bothered me for years. It was funny how audiophiles developed all sorts of alchemy to try and correct the sound. For example, there was a period where green magic markers were in vogue. You used them to color the edge of the CD and the green reflection somehow made the CD sound better. Several players later and with corrective remasterings things sound better. Still, I think that there was a basic flaw in the original CD Red Book standard where higher frequencies were cut off because they were supposedly not in the realm of human hearing, among other parameters such as the sampling rate chosen, etc. I think a lot of overtones got lost in the conversion to CD and that made things sound not quite correct.

    Of course, I am sure that my hearing is not what it was 30 years ago so that's probably one reason why some things do sound better. However, if I listen to one of those original CD's they still sound like nails on a chalkboard.

    Plus, as you say, LP sets often did come with lavish annotations. I mentioned Sutherland's Art of the Prima Donna album above and that was a case in point. Both CD versions that I own (yes, that got a corrective remastering!) don't have nearly the documentation of the original LP box set.
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  15. AdamSmith

    AdamSmith Count de Crisco

    Looking again at that encyclopedia of organ stops, it has this funny (real) page:

    Vox Inaudita

    Blinder Zug German
    Ductus inutilis Latin
    Manum de tabula (unknown)
    Pro forma Latin
    Summer Zug German
    Vox Inaudita Latin
    Vox Ineffabilis Latin
    Exaudire (unknown)
    Nihil Latin
    Reliqua (unknown)
    Rest English?
    Swyger Dutch?
    Vacant Latin
    Vacat Latin

    These names have been used for “dummy” stop controls which do not operate any stop. While Wedgwood characterizes them as “A facetious pleasantry indulged in by some mediaeval organ builders”, Mahrenholz points out that they were often provided for future expansion or for physical symmetry. The names translate as follows:

    Blinder Zug “blind stop”
    Ductus inutilis “useless stop”
    Exaudire "to hear plainly"
    Manum de tabula "Enough!"
    Nihil “nothing”
    Pro forma “for appearance”
    Reliqua "leftover"
    Summer Zug “silent stop”
    Swyger “keep silent”
    Vacant “missing”
    Vacat “missing”
    Vox Inaudita “unheard voice”
    Vox Ineffabilis “unutterable voice”

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  16. gallahadesquire

    gallahadesquire Marquess

    In one of Kurt Vonnegut's novels [Slaughter House V, I do believe ...] the Army Chaplain had an instrument with two stops:
    Vox Humane and Vox Celeste.

    I was too young at the time to appreciate the joke.

    A magnificent Casavant is in Leominster, MA, in the largest Gothic church in New England. Apparently, a young fellow had decided to join the Clergy of the Church. He was buddies with the Casavant Freres.
    "I am going to be a priest," the fellow noted.
    "We will build you the best organ we can."

    Six second reverberation at the crossing. All the pipes are full length, including the Contra Bombarde at 32', and the 16' Trompette with full length resonators.


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  17. Battle

    Battle Master

    Thank you
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  18. AdamSmith

    AdamSmith Count de Crisco

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  19. AdamSmith

    AdamSmith Count de Crisco

    Pardon for putting this in this thread, but the readers herein may like it. Marchand is hard to find well performed, but this recording by my god Chapuis does the trick I think:

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  20. AdamSmith

    AdamSmith Count de Crisco

    Again for the 3 or 4 of us here who like this kind of thing, I just remembered a story by Fenner Douglass who together with Dirk Flentrop architected the Duke organ: Dirk's workshop had already fabricated the wind chest in the pure high North German style when Fenner swooped in with his new research into Cavaille-Coll and said, You have to completely re-drill the wind chests to accommodate all these French reeds that will let this organ perform the 19th-century French repertoire.

    Dirk grumbled, but saw the beauty and did it.