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Tonal Architecture V

By Charles Hendrickson
Copyright 2000 The American Guild of Organists. Used with permission.

The Fonds of the organ have recently been resurrected from decades of neglect.  Being considered déclassé has been tough on the foundations, but their survival has been rewarded with a new appreciation and affection.  What are the Fonds, you ask? Well, we must tread into the realm of multiple unison stops and find an old, forgotten path.  The path was broken in mid-20th century when organ designs were purified by reducing the number of 8' stops.  Scaling and voicing were directed toward polyphonic clarity, vertical (8-4-2) tonal design and registration were taught, and an avoidance of the use of multiple unison stops in registrations was the norm.

The Fonds (foundations) are the ancient footings of the sound and function of the pipe organ.  Centuries of tonal and musical development never turned the organ from its use of 8' pitch as the norm.  Organists around the world recognize 8' pitch as the foundation and beginning of all registrations, regardless of language.  

The French Classic period of the 17th century was the first to specify registrations of multiple foundations on the organ, though their actual use certainly predates registrational rules.  The "Fonds d'Orgue" simply meant most of the 8' (and some 16' and 4') stops.  This is not generally taught as a French Classic registration, and many assume that the Fonds d'Orgue was a Romantic registrational invention.  Not so.  The special and wonderful sound of massed 8' stops was discovered long before it could be preached against.  Some recent organ playing has avoided using more than one 8' stop per manual at a time.  This is unhistoric.  When ancient instruments had the winding capabilities to support massed 8' sound, it was used, specified, and reveled in.  Many less capable instruments could not keep massed stops in tune, so vertical registrations were used to achieve maximum projection of sound with a minimum of wind robbing and pitch sag.  But the beauties of the Fonds d'Orgue were so enticing that builders and organists worked to make the effect possible.  Some authorities have claimed that ancient instruments could not have been registered with multiple 8' stops, but this assumption is based on a modem interpretation of some instruments and their use.  

As the Romantic organ movement gained favor, the Fonds were expanded to give even greater warmth, breadth, blend, phase interruption, and power.  The peak of Fonds development occurred late in the 19th century, though it continues to this day in several different forms.  

The basis upon which musical taste has alternately accepted and rejected Foundation tone is varied.  The four aspects that are part of its profound effect are: phase interruption.  the mixing of different voices, lowering the "Q' of instrument pitch, and the disappearance of temperament.  The relationship can be heard in the difference between mono and stereo audio reproduction, the difference between single and massed orchestral instruments, and pipe organs with emphasis either toward or away from Fonds registrations and tonal design.  There is also a similarity with the vast tonal and ideological differences as represented by a small original instrument ensemble and a large modern orchestra.  How are these differences explained? 

Phase interruption is generated when two or more instruments of similar tonal character play the same pitch or related pitches.  Massed orchestral string sections and the string and celeste of the organ are the most obvious generators of phase interruptions- the uneven rise and fall of normally regular wave patterns.  Very reverberant acoustics also generate phase interruptions for single instruments heard beyond the "critical distance" where the direct sound from the instrument is equal or less than the reverberated sound.  Mixing in-phase and out-of-phase sounds of nearly the same pitch creates phase interruptions.  

The mixing of different colors is also essential for a Fonds registration, though these must be of nearly equal power to succeed.  One big diapason and many lesser voices will not make a good Fonds sound.  The French Romantic Fonds succeeded because the design and voicing of the montre (diapason), gamba, harmonic flute, oboe, and bourdon were accomplished with a final 8' ensemble in mind.  Something of a luxury.  

"Q" is a measure of breadth of pitch.  An instrument with a high "Q" has a narrow, precise, and unwavering pitch.  Some electronic sounds have the narrowest pitch width (high "Q").  When multiple instruments play the same note, the pitch is broadened and the "Q" lowered.  The performer also has the means to change the "Q" by various manipulations of the instrument and playing technique.  Most tremolos also produce a lower "Q." 

Disappearance of temperament is somewhat antithetical to the modern trend of trying to make organ temperaments prominent and obvious.  Cavaillé-Coll designed and built his instruments with the pipes placed far apart, and voiced multiple unison ranks for use together in a rich ensemble.  The tuning temperament was completely undetectable in such a situation.  

A Fonda d'Orgue registration is a method of achieving a maximum of phase interruptions, a warm mix of different colors, a low "Q," and a disappearance of temperament.  The organ reform movement attempted to eliminate these effects by removing the sources of phase interruptions of low "Q".  Single voice registrational methods, the dropping of the celeste, highly focused voicing, and obvious temperaments through pipe arrangements and tuning provided the desired results.  As did their forbears, many modem builders "discovered" the musical necessity of using flexible wind to lower the "Q" and relieve the purity of such sounds.  

It is in the Romantic period that we find the most elaborate and large scale Fonds registrations.  It is difficult for the modern student to understand how César Franck could pull on more than 20 16' and 8' stops, a couple of 4' flutes, and absolutely no upperwork or mixtures, and then bring all manuals together with both 8' and 16' couplers.  Such sounds are the antithesis of the modern revival of polyphonic performance and registration.  Still, they are old, historic, valid, and absolutely fundamental to the understanding of the organ.  The results of such registrations do not work well on all instruments and thus a confusion has resulted from trying to reproduce them when the instrument was not suitable or the musical climate unfriendly.  Our fear of our peers is powerful.  

It takes certain types of organ voices as well as a performer's mind set to bring off a Fonds registration.  Some organs are provided with the appropriate 8' stops to make a full Fonds effect.  Other instruments can supply no more than a few lightly voiced 8' stops that give none of the true Fonds sound.  

In the world of the organ, creativity in registration to achieve musical success depends on knowledge, taste, and the instrument's capability.  Not every organ can be made to perform every style of music.  What always amazes me is that many ordinary organs achieve wonderful musical success by the abilities of talented organists capable of going beyond the limitations. 

The Baroque revival organ stressed the removal of phase interruptions by eliminating multiple unison registrations.  The original Baroque instruments had few such restraints.  There is also a "personality" associated with our preferences for sound that is not so much learned as acquired or inherited.  There is no way that certain people will be able to appreciate a Fonds sound.  Our artistic likes and dislikes are the products of internal forces not always within our control or appreciation.  The disappearance of the Fonds from organ design was a part of the Zeitgeist of the period from 1940 to 1985.  The return of the Fonds signals a new tolerance and a broadening of a view of the organ that is healthy and rewarding.  It may take several decades before the beauties of such registrations and their effective musical use are widespread, understood, and appreciated.



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