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The selection of suitable stops with which to render an organ-composition deserves more than passing notice, and many compositions which seem uninteresting would prove quite effective if more attention were given to the choice of stops. The following suggestions are intended for young organists who, from whatever circumstances may exist, are unable to obtain regular instruction on the subject.

Before attempting to select any stops the composition should be examined to learn its character: whether the composition is polyphonic or consists of a melody and accompaniment; whether there are long progressions of large chords, a march-movement, or the harmony is open with few or no full chords; whether the general style is quiet and subdued or brilliant, heavy, and powerful; whether the prevailing feature is melody, harmony, rhythm, or coloring, and so on. Then the organist can easily point out which combinations of stops are most appropriate, and he is thereby better able to select registration which will be suitable and effective.

Mendelssohn’s Adagio from “First Sonata.”


As an illustration and to better understand these suggestions, look at the slow movement (“Adagio”) from Mendelssohn’s first organ sonata. No student, however stupid he may be, upon examining this movement, could say that the general character is that of a melody with accompaniment, or a march; neither would he call the harmony heavy and ponderous. The general character is seen at once to be quiet and subdued, therefore such stops as the Trumpet, Open Diapason, Mixtures, and two-feet stops would be out of place.

Having determined the general character, the next step is to point out the different phrases, thus showing where the registration may be changed without destroying the construction of the composition by dividing the phrases into fragments. (The term phrase is here used in its general sense, meaning a short passage, rather than in its technical sense, meaning always four measures.)

Upon a closer examination it will be seen that the first eight measures of this movement are complete in themselves, and should not be separated. The second eight measures (omitting the last count of the last measure) are also complete, presenting the same melody and partly the same harmony an octave higher. These two phrases, then, can well be played with different stops (or combinations), the second stop (or combination) forming a contrast to the first. The next four measures, beginning with the last count of the sixteenth measure and ending with the second count of the twentieth measure, form a distinct phrase, and can be played on the first stop (or combination) or on some combination different from that used in the previous phrase. The following four measures can be separated and played on the same stop as the second phrase. Then follows a phrase of two measures and one count which is imitated melodically a fifth higher in the next measures. The next eight measures are distinct, though a division could be made in the middle. The following four measures constitute a return to the first theme (forty-first measure), which now appears as a melody with accompaniment, proceeding eight measures, when the same theme appears in the left hand. The following four measures, commencing with the fifty-sixth measure, contain repetitions of a single motive and lead to the close (sixty-fourth measure), from which measure to the end could be considered as a coda, in which we find fragments of the first theme, first in the upper part (sixty-fifth measure) and later in the left-hand part (sixty-ninth measure).


From this partial analysis of the composition the organist is enabled to determine at which points the registration can be changed, either by playing on a different manual or by changing the combination of stops. The selection of suitable stops then becomes an easy matter.

The first phrase (or theme) of eight measures is in close harmony and is of low pitch, being centered around middle C. The character is very quiet and subdued. If we play the phrase on the Dulciana (Ch. or Gt.) the subdued effect is obtained.

The following phrase should be played on a stop (or combination) which presents a strong contrast to the preceding stop. The Salicional and Flute, four feet, in the Swell would form a contrast, as would the Oboe, or the Stopped Diapason and Violin; but, by using the Stopped Diapason alone, the desired contrast is obtained and the same quiet character of the movement is continued. Reversing the order of these stops would give the same contrast, but the emphasis of a repetition would be lost, and the first phrase would not sound as well on the Stopped Diapason, as the phrase is so low in pitch.

The following four bars can be played on the Gamba, or, if there is no Gamba, on the Melodia and Dulciana (Ch. or Gt.).

Returning to the Stopped Diapason on the last count of the twentieth measure is natural. The last count of the twenty-fourth measure, with the next two measures, should be played on the same combination as measures 16 to 20 (Melodia and Dulciana).

The following two measures can be played on the same combination, but a change is more satisfactory. The different combinations of stops should increase in power as the character of the movement grows stronger.

Returning to the Swell at the twenty-ninth measure, the Oboe can be added (adding the Flute, four feet, at the same time would brighten the combination).

At the thirty-sixth measure (last count) by playing on the Choir or Great with Melodia and Dulciana the return to the first theme (as a solo) is simple, putting off the Melodia at the end of the fortieth measure.

The following solo is effective on the Swell as already arranged (with or without Tremulant), the accompaniment being on the Dulciana.

At the forty-ninth measure the theme in the left hand will be prominent, as desired, if played on the Gamba, or, on a two-manual organ, the left-hand theme can be played on the Swell, with the right- hand part on the Dulciana. Still better is it to draw the Melodia. and play the left-hand theme on Melodia and Dulciana, the right hand remaining on the Swell.

From the fifty-sixth to the sixtieth measures the repetitions of the motive should alternate between the manuals, the last repetition, beginning with the third count of the fifty-ninth measure, being on the Swell.

At the sixty-fourth measure the Swell should be reduced by putting off the Oboe, on the second count, as the preceding phrase does not end until the first count.

At the sixty-ninth measure the theme appears again in the left hand and should be made prominent (adding the Melodia to the Dulciana, for instance).

The last five measures can be registered in several ways. The upper part (melody) can be played on the Stopped Diapason in the Swell, with the chords on the Dulciana; both parts can be played on the Salicional alone, though the crossing of the parts is lost; or the upper part can be played on the Flute, four feet (octave lower), of Great or Choir, with the chords on a soft stop in the Swell. It must not be understood that the above registration of this movement is the only one, but that it illustrates the principles of effective registration, and, while different people have different tastes with regard to the best registration, there are no two opinions of the poorest registration. —Everett E. Truette.

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