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Organs in Bach's time had no C# note? Huh??

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  • Organs in Bach's time had no C# note? Huh??

    I was reading in Wikipedia about how Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in Dm" may not have actually been written by J.S. Bach. It's difficult enough to wrap my brain around that, but one of the arguments given was:

    In 1995, Rolf-Dietrich Claus decided against the authenticity of BWV 565, mainly based on the stylistic characteristics of the piece.[132] He named another problem—in its first measure the composition contains a C, a note organs in Bach's time rarely had, and which Bach almost never used in his organ compositions.
    So... HUH??? No C# note? Can someone explain that to me?

  • #2
    I am far from being an expert, but when visiting this musical instrument museum in Milan I think there were a few pieces «lacking» an accidental or two (lacking in respect to what we are used today, of course).

    Again I am not an expert, but I can take a guess:
    • musica ficta was of course already there in Bach’s time, but maybe some instruments were old (good luck retrofitting an organ with accidentals);
    • if you do not use equal temperament, some keys are less useful than others (though C♯ seems pretty useful, much music of the time written in D major…);
    • Maybe the instrument had its C♯ in all its octaves bar the short one.
    I am as curious as you are!

    Comment


    • #3
      Bach has a few compositions in C#. 4 or 5. Those certainly would have lots of C#'s
      It was common then as it is now for keyboardists avoiding keys with a high percentage of sharps. Likewise, not many compositions in F#. maybe 8-10.

      But.. Ive never heard of avoiding the note C# itself. THats kinda weird

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Bill in OKC View Post
        I was reading in Wikipedia about how Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in Dm" may not have actually been written by J.S. Bach. It's difficult enough to wrap my brain around that, but one of the arguments given was:
        In 1995, Rolf-Dietrich Claus decided against the authenticity of BWV 565, mainly based on the stylistic characteristics of the piece.[132] He named another problem—in its first measure the composition contains a C♯, a note organs in Bach's time rarely had, and which Bach almost never used in his organ compositions.
        So... HUH??? No C# note? Can someone explain that to me?
        Bill,

        Mr. Claus is not the first (and won't be the last) to question the authenticity of BWV-565. During my formal instruction, the discussion was that the piece wasn't written for organ, rather for the violin.... People will continue to challenge the authenticity of various compositions attributed to older composers, but it is not often such a claim is authenticated. Bach is arguably the most-targeted composer with these claims. Then again, others make credible cases, depending on their arguments.

        Regarding Bach & having C# on the organ manual, it depends on which organ, to which someone is referring. Generally, an historian would narrow down the possible date of composition by cross-referencing other works of the same period. Once the date of composition is authenticated as much as possible, the historian would then narrow down the organs Bach would have been playing during that time period. There is more information on the organs Bach had access to during various periods of his life, because many of the organs outlasted Bach. Then, once the organ(s) is/are narrowed down, possible registrations and notations can be ascertained based on what was available on that instrument before or after certain rebuilds of the instrument. I don't believe in the Baroque era there were as many people eager to re-build organs with a different temperament, different stops, or differing notes available.

        You can always check this reference for various Temperaments (https://www.eunomios.org/contrib/francis2/francis2.pdf). At this site (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Well-Tempered_Clavier) one finds that a clearly Bach-authored pair of books include pieces written in keys using C#. Why would the inclusion of a C# serve as a proof a composition was not composed by Bach?

        I'm sure there are shorter discussions on the topic, but with what I have learned so far, it leads me to believe Bach used a C# and the composition is his. Another trail you might pursue is the use of quarter tones on Medieval instruments.

        Hope that helps.

        Michael
        Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
        • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
        • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
        • 11 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 7 Pianos

        Comment


        • #5
          James Kibbie from Ann Arbor recorded all of Bach's works and he made mention of this issue. All the instruments on which he made his recordings (except one) were missing the low C# an the manuals and pedal.
          "Exactly which works should be recorded? More than 250 years after Bach's death, it is by no means certain exactly what he composed. The selection of works for this series draws on the Bach Werke Verzeichnis, Kleine Ausgabe (Breitkopf & Härtel, 1998), supplemented by other recent scholarship, including the work of Profs. Christoph Wolff, George Stauffer and Peter Williams, and the research of the Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Institut Göttingen. Bach's organ transcriptions of works by other composers have been included. For the "dubious" works which may or may not be by Bach, Dr. Kibbie has chosen which to record, including especially those long associated with the Bach canon, such as the Pedal-Exercitium and the Kleines harmonisches Labyrinth. On the other hand, some works long identified with Bach are now widely regarded as spurious, and so have not been included (for example, the Eight "Little" Preludes and Fugues)."
          You can see for yourself here: http://www.blockmrecords.org/bach/index.htm

          Comment


          • #6
            I think Sandstone gets it right. It’s not all the C#s, but certainly the bottom most one of the pedals and manuals on almost every organ in Baroque Germany. The reason was that note would have necessitated a big and expensive pipe, particularly in the pedal, and in meantone and related tunings that were popular at the time, that bottom C# didn’t sound very good in most keys, and would rarely be used in the most popular keys. The St. Georgenkirche Silbermann in Rotha doesn’t have bottom C#’s, but in the virtual organ for Hauptwerk, MDA added them.

            As for the C# in BWV 565, that one is in the middle of the keyboard, so I don’t think that is a reasonable argument. Most organs had C#’s in the other octaves since keyboard design stabilized in the middle ages, and because D major was a popular key in the baroque period, definitely by then. I think it is another example of a supposed expert assuming too much, or basing their opinion on partial knowledge.

            -Current Instruments: Allen Mos-2 225 RTC,1870's W. Bell Reed organ, 1890's Singer Chicago upright grand piano Former Instruments: Yamaha Electone E3R
            -Website: https://www.exercisesincatholicmythology.com

            Comment


            • #7
              There are different variations of the so-called "short octave" that existed not only in organs but also in other keyboard instruments.
              But I'm not sure how relevant this is for the question whether bwv 565 was written by him or not. So many organs haven't survived so we can't really know what kind of instrument someone played where and when, and several "new" tuning methods were being developed during Bach's time (by the way, it's Kirnberger's 300th birthday this year), so it's perfectly possible that the range of available keys was extended during Bach's lifetime and he always made good use of this.

              When looking at pieces from the 16th and 17th centuries, it's quite helpful to know about the short octave as the layout can give you an idea how a phrase in the pedals might have been played. But one doesn't necessarily have to be a scholar to enjoy music from those times.

              Comment


              • myorgan
                myorgan commented
                Editing a comment
                Andrea,

                Thank you so much for mentioning the "short octave." It's what I was trying to remember, but couldn't pull it up. There is an organ in the New York area built to play in various tunings, and incorporates a short octave as well. If you search the Forum, you should be able to find it here.

                Michael

            • #8
              There is a good article on BWV 565 beginning in the June, 2021, issue of The Diapason.

              Doug

              Comment


              • #9
                The reason was that note would have necessitated a big and expensive pipe, particularly in the pedal, and in meantone and related tunings that were popular at the time, that bottom C# didn’t sound very good in most keys, and would rarely be used in the most popular keys
                this actually makes lots of sense to me

                Comment


                • #10
                  Find a keyboard that allows for different temperaments to be played. You can play thirds fourths and fifths and discover why certain notes were not included and why certain keys were avoided. (it is well worth doing this.). Some period instruments may have the unused keys included for symmetry but have no action or pipes. Builders would not include pipes and action for notes that might be used in the future. They bid by price back then too.

                  Comment


                  • #11
                    I read that pedagogy’s that teach every key didn’t really exist until the baroque period, that Bach was trained with one of these pedagogy’s, but that still he was among the first to argue for them with his well tempered clavier. Still, Meantone based tunings were popular until the mid 1800’s, when orchestras started to migrate away from meantone. Even then, a lot of home keyboards were tuned to meantone even until the early 1900’s.

                    -Current Instruments: Allen Mos-2 225 RTC,1870's W. Bell Reed organ, 1890's Singer Chicago upright grand piano Former Instruments: Yamaha Electone E3R
                    -Website: https://www.exercisesincatholicmythology.com

                    Comment


                    • #12
                      Originally posted by Larason2 View Post
                      ...Still, Meantone based tunings were popular until the mid 1800’s, when orchestras started to migrate away from meantone.
                      Can you provide some evidence for this? I find it hard to believe that orchestras, which consists of non-keyboard instruments played in mean tone during the time of Beethoven, etc. String instruments and wind instruments can all bend a pitch to achieve perfect chords in all keys. Indeed, it seems as though it would be difficult to play "wolf" chords without wanting to fix it. Didn't keyboard composers avoid distant keys because they sounded bad? Why would they non-keyboard instruments play in mean tone?

                      I played in the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra at Lincoln Center in the early-mid 1980s and we had Christopher Hogwood as a guest conductor. Hogwood was a proponent of historical performance practice. During our rehearsals for a Mozart piece, he stressed bowings, phrasings, dynamics, etc. that purported to be correct practice, but never once mentioned playing in mean tone. Listen to the Netherlands Bach Society performances on Youtube. It doesn't sound like mean tone to me.

                      Comment


                      • #13
                        Take a look at this:

                        http://www.tonalsoft.com/enc/number/1-4cmt.aspx

                        I've seen it mentioned elsewhere, including the quote by Mahler (apparently to Schoenberg) that he lamented the loss of Meantone in the orchestra, which I had read happened around 1850's. Certainly during the baroque and classical period, at the very least instruments such as the woodwinds and brass would have been tuned to some kind of meantone, and orchestral changes such as adoption of pitch standards closer to A=440 didn't happen until the middle of the 1800's. I'm sure that string instruments started "improving" intervals long before meantone was abandoned though! There have been some experiments with Beethoven, etc. where the brass and woodwinds are used tuned to meantone, and the strings are trained how to tune to meantone as well, and I have heard the results are very interesting. Basically, it gives particular keys a certain character, which is why many Baroque and Classical composers favoured certain keys. These days however, practically no string players are taught how to tune to meantone. I believe Colin Pykett also talks about this, but I don't recall what article of his it was I read it in. Certainly you can do your own research as well!

                        I am a great fan of Christopher Hogwood, but in the mid 1980's, they didn't know as much about historical practice as we do now, and fresh evidence is always coming to light. Not as many baroque era woodwinds and brass/reeds survive as string instruments, and what I have seen most historical groups play are usually replicas. The Netherlands Bach society recordings (which I am also a big fan of!) are usually on organs that now are tuned to equal, or at least more equal than meantone. Most Baroque organs were tuned to equal during the romantic period, since that was a fashion. Since harpsichordists usually have to tune before a recording, they usually tune to whatever they want or whatever they think will go best with a piece. I understand that many harpsichordists do tune to other tuning systems for particular pieces and there are resources online to facilitate this.

                        -Current Instruments: Allen Mos-2 225 RTC,1870's W. Bell Reed organ, 1890's Singer Chicago upright grand piano Former Instruments: Yamaha Electone E3R
                        -Website: https://www.exercisesincatholicmythology.com

                        Comment


                        • tbeck
                          tbeck commented
                          Editing a comment
                          Larason2, it's not a contest. I think it's a fascinating topic. I wish more people would chime in. I would like to hear other thoughts.

                        • Larason2
                          Larason2 commented
                          Editing a comment
                          That's fair enough. I just didn't want it to devolve into an argument like I've seen so many online! In the middle ages, thirds were considered dissonant, and so many polyphonic pieces didn't incorporate them very much, a lot of music starting and ending in open fifths. This was in part because of the Pythagorean temperaments that were popular then, and partly because of a music theory that considered fifths dissonant. However, during the late middle ages, composers such as Josquin started incorporating more thirds, and teaching their singers to "purify" the thirds, so they didn't sound as dissonant. This caught on, and most a cappella choral groups started purifying the thirds and fifths so that the chord sounded better. In the renaissance, this probably reached its height, and the Tallis scholars tune their thirds and fifths perfectly as well.

                          However, the orchestra incorporates instruments where the pitch has to be set exactly. That doesn't mean that the other instruments, like the violin, didn't tune their intervals perfectly, but if they were tuning their chord against say a sackbut tuned in meantone, they would tune their note against whatever they heard the sackbut play.

                          As for how do you tune a woodwind to mean tone, it all has to do with where you drill the holes. Basically, for the relevant thirds, you would drill the holes closer (flatter) than you would in equal temperament. The relevant fifths would also be closer than equal. Sometimes the woodwinds and reeds have a funky sound for both Christopher Hogwood and All of Bach, so this may be why! If you wanted to prove me wrong (or right!), you could measure the frequencies of the different notes the woodwinds play say with an app like Audacity or Audition, and calculate if they follow equal temperament or meantone more closely.

                          Meantone was actually an attempt to approximate perfect thirds and fifths on a keyboard instrument. It could only do it in a few keys, but that was good enough for it to catch on almost throughout the world. During the renaissance, most German, French, Spanish, and English organs were tuned usually to fairly strict quarter comma meantone. The keys with wolf tones were usually considered unplayable, and chromaticism followed certain rules to avoid the wolf.

                          However, during the baroque, keyboard pedagogies started proliferating teaching every key, and musicians started to want to use some of these other keys. Kirnberger II, for instance was devised so that organs originally tuned to meantone could be tuned with a less bothersome wolf, so that more keys could be played (without having to retune too many pipes). Even when "equal temperament" became fashionable, it still was less equal and more "well tempered" than we think it would have been until very precise means of tuning equal temperament became available in the early 1900's.

                        • tbeck
                          tbeck commented
                          Editing a comment
                          Thanks for this Larason2. I've put out some inquiries and when I get some more information, I'll start a new thread. As I said, I think this is a fascinating topic.

                      • #14
                        Pipe organ music related discussion of low C# in pedal compass during the 16th and 17th centuries--see page 142, section 203 in https://www.orgelpark.nl/orr/5/1/pdf...T%20%235_1.pdf

                        Comment


                        • myorgan
                          myorgan commented
                          Editing a comment
                          Jeff,

                          Bach wasn't born until 1685, so he wouldn't have been 15 until 1700 (after the 17th century). Wouldn't that mean the organs were built far before his (performing/composition) time?

                          Michael

                        • myorgan
                          myorgan commented
                          Editing a comment
                          A follow-up to your post as well, Jeff. Nice article! I've downloaded it for later perusal when I have more time. Thank you for sharing the article!

                          Michael

                      • #15
                        From “The Organ” by WL Sumner (4th ed)

                        Page 190. The Compasses of Old English Organs

                        For at least one hundred and fifty years, up to the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, the manual range was usually four octaves from CC, the present bottom key. Often the lowest CC# was omitted, as such a bass note could only be used in the days of unequal temperament in tuning. After the Restoration there was a tendency to extend the manual compasses down wards, and in view of the fact that most English organists held out against the introduction of pedals, a sorely needed 16-ft bass could sometimes be supplied by the left hand, although as regards the proper spacing of notes in the other parts, the right hand was set an impossible task, and in the proper flow of independent parts in counterpoint was inhibited. In spite of the apparent downward extension of the manual compass, a number of pipes were sometimes omitted, as they would rarely be required in the restricted range of keys which would be tolerable on an instrument tuned to mean-tone temperament.

                        With short octaves only one extra pipe below CC was required. This additional key was placed immediately to the left of the CC key and had pipes sounding GG assigned to it. GG#, AA# BB and CC#, four notes not often required, were omitted, and the pipes sounding AA were assigned to the CC# key. The low thirteen notes of the keyboard would play as follows:

                        G C A D Eb E F F# G Ab A Bb B

                        With long octaves at least one of the notes omitted in the short octave system was included. The short-octave keyboard beginning on GG and ending with F had fifty-five pipes per rank, and if only the GG# were omitted with the long-octave keyboard there would be fifty-eight pipes in each rank. Short octaves were made in small European organs also.

                        And from the same book:

                        Click image for larger version

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                        Hammond M-102 #21000.
                        Leslie 147 #F7453.
                        Hammond S-6 #72421

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