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Vibrato, the Orchestral Organ and the ‘Prevailing Aesthetic’ in Nineteenth-Century Symphonic Music

  • David Hurwitz (a1)
Abstract

The issue of vibrato's presence in the nineteenth-century orchestral string section has become controversial, with musicians often asked to accept the proposition that vibrato existed rarely, if at all. Fortunately an extensive, hitherto overlooked, body of primary source material exists that goes straight to the heart of the matter, offering a definitive answer to the question of whether or not vibrato was an intrinsic component of period orchestral string sonority. It comes from the organ literature and from the history of the instrument's evolution over the course of the long nineteenth century. A group of artists and artisans, working from approximately 1830 to 1930, documented the importance of vibrato to any attempt at reproducing, or at least approximating, the authentic timbre of the orchestral string section. Organ builders and performers noted vibrato's use both as an intrinsic constituent of string tone and as an actively applied expressive device. They discussed it extensively in their literature, gave their instruments the capacity to simulate its effects, and specifically notated its presence in their transcriptions of orchestral music. The information they have left behind dispels the modern myth of ‘pure’, vibratoless orchestral string tone as a timbral norm, and provides a truer sense of the era's prevailing aesthetic.

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References
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1 Hirn, G.-A., La musique et l'acoustique: Aperçu général sur leurs rapports et sur leurs dissemblances (Paris: Gauthier-Villars, 1878): 23. Translation mine.

2 See Brown, Clive, Classical and Romantic Performance Practice, 1750–1900 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999): 555557.

3 Millington, Barry and Spencer, Stewart, Wagner in Performance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992): 106110.

4 Millington, and Spencer, , Wagner in Performance, 106107.

5 Cited in Hurwitz, David, ‘So Klingt Wien: Conductors, Orchestras, and Vibrato in the 19th and Early 20th Century’, Music & Letters, 93/1 (2012): 29.

6 See Venzago's comments in the booklet notes to his recording of Bruckner's Symphony No. 2 with the Northern Sinfonia on cpo 777 735–2 (2011).

7 Owen, Barbara, The Registration of Baroque Organ Music (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997): 3.

8 Owen, , The Registration of Baroque Organ Music, 54, 166.

9 See Wolff, Christoph and Zepf, Markus, The Organs of J.S. Bach: A Handbook, translated by Lynn Edwards Butler (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2012).

10 Smith, Rollin, Saint-Saëns and the Organ (Stuyvesant: Pendragon Press, 1992): 75.

11 Eschbach, Jesse, Aristide Cavallé-Coll (Berlin: Verlag Peter Ewers, 2012): 11. Cavaillé-Coll also used the singular, ‘Voix Céleste’.

12 Douglas, Fenner, Cavaillé-Coll and the Musicians (Raleigh: Sudbury Press, 1980): 53.

13 Douglas, , Cavaillé-Coll and the Musicians, 54.

14 Cited in Ply, H.-J., La facture moderne étudiée à l'orgue de St.-Eustache (Lyon: Perrin et Marinet, 1880): 25. Translation mine.

15 Ply, , La facture modern, 25.

16 Published in 1862 in the collection A Travers Chants; see Berlioz, Hector, The Art of Music and Other Essays, translated by Elizabeth Csicsery-Rónay (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994): 111.

17 Gluck, Christoph Willibald, Alceste, ed. F. Pelletan and B. Damke (Paris: Richault, 1874): xvii.

18 Dandelot, Arthur, La Société des concerts du Conservatoire de 1828 à 1897 (Paris: G. Havard Fils, 1898): 32.

19 For a comprehensive modern scholarly view, see Schenk, Erich, ‘Zur Auffuhrungspraxis des Tremolo bei Gluck’, Anthony van Hoboken: Festschrift zum 75. Geburtstag, ed. Joseph Schmidt-Görg (Mainz: B. Schotts Söhne, 1962): 137–145.

20 For simplicity's sake, Skinner's spelling of ‘Voix Celeste’ will be used henceforth throughout this essay except where quoted sources specify otherwise.

21 Skinner, Ernest M., The Modern Organ (New York: H.W. Gray, 1917): 29–30.

22 Cellier, Alexandre, L'orgue modern (Paris: Delagrave, 1913): 28. Translation mine.

23 Cellier, , L'orgue modern, 2829.

24 Lemare, Edwin, The Organ Music of Edwin Lemare, Series II, Vol. I (Colfax: Wayne Leupold Editions, 1990): 94.

25 Grieg, Edvard, First Peer Gynt Suite, transcribed by Harvey Gaul (Boston: Boston Music, 1914): 9.

26 Lemare, Edwin, The Organ Music of Edwin Lemare, Series II Vol. XII (Colfax: Wayne Leupold Editions, 1994): 24.

27 Transcribed by Lemare in 1901 and 1909, respectively.

28 Lemare, Edwin, ‘The Art of Organ Playing’, The World's Best Music, Vol. X (New York: The University Society, 1913): 315.

29 Truette, Everett Ellsworth, Organ Registration (Boston: C.W. Thompson, 1919): 47.

30 Truette, , Organ Registration, 60.

31 Nevin, Gordon Balch, A Primer of Organ Registration (Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1920): 59.

32 Fox, David, Robert Hope-Jones (Richmond: Organ Historical Society, 1992): 86.

33 Miller, George Laing, The Recent Revolution in Organ Building (New York: Charles Francis Press, 1909/13): 94.

34 See Roger Norrington's comments in Haddon, Elizabeth, Making Music in Britain: Interviews with Those Behind the Notes (Burlington: Ashgate, 2006): 169.

35 Wedgewood, James Ingal: A Comprehensive Dictionary of Organ Stops (London: Vincent Music, 1905): 158.

36 For a typical formulation, see Lawson, Colin and Stowell, Robin, The Historical Performance of Music: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010): 55.

37 Examples are too numerous to list, but from the orchestral literature include such works as Raff's Fifth Symphony, Mahler's Third Symphony, Sibelius’ Valse triste, Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, Debussy's La Mer, and Elgar's Second Symphony.

38 ‘… the spirits of trees and rocks and streams, singing each its life-melody, seem to weave dreams of beauty and wonder and mystery that are half tone, half perfume’, etc.

39 Latham True, ‘Gaston M. Dethier Nocturne’, The American Organist 1/6 (1918): 304–5.

40 Millington, and Spencer, , Wagner in Performance, 109.

41 See Smith, Rollin, The Aeolian Pipe Organ and its Music (Richmond: Organ Historical Society, 1998): 244256.

42 Audsley, George Ashdown, The Art of Organ-Building (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1905): 573.

43 See Wagner, Richard, Lohengrin (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1887; rep. New York: Dover Editions, 1982).

44 See Eddy, Clarence, Eddy's Concert Pieces for Organ (Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1896): 95.

45 Siegfried Karg-Elert, Richard Wagner Album, nos. 6 and 7 (Munich: Leuckart (rep. Thomi-Berg), 1913): 30.

46 Lemare, Edwin H., Organs I Have Met (Los Angeles: Schoolcraft, 1956): 23.

47 Lemare, , Organs I Have Met, 23.

48 Engelbert Humperdinck, Prelude to Hansel und Gretel, arranged by Edwin H. Lemare (Mainz: B. Schotts Söhne 1903 rep. Kalbe, 2010).

49 The American Organist 1/5 (1918): 290.

50 Stravinsky, Igor, ‘Ronde des princesses’ from The Firebird, transcribed by Clarence Dickenson (New York: H.W. Gray, 1917)

51 Compare Alexander Guilmant, Adagio con affetto from Symphony No. 2 (London: Schott, 1911) to the same movement in Organ Sonata No. 8 (Mainz: Schott's Söhne, 1907).

52 Widor, Charles-Marie, Symphonie pour orgue et orchestra opus 42[bis], ed John R. Near (Middleton: A-R Editions, 2002): 51.

53 Charles-Marie Widor (John R. Near, ed.), Symphonie II in D major (Middleton: A-R Editions, 2008): 15.

54 Saint-Saëns, Camille, Symphony No. 3 in C minor “Organ” (Mineola: Dover, 1994): 64.

55 Edouard Batiste, Fragments des Neuf Symphonies de Beethoven, No. 6 (Paris: Richault, n.d.): 14. Translation mine.

56 Batiste, Edouard, Compositions and Transcriptions pour orgue (Le Vallier: Delatour, 2004): 19–26.

57 Nevin, Balch, A Primer of Organ Registration, 92.

58 Locher, Carl, Dictionary of the Organ, translated by Claude P. Landi (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1914): 183.

59 Wedgewood, , A Comprehensive Dictionary, 157.

60 Owen, , The Registration of Baroque Organ Music, 222.

61 Thistlethwaite, Nicholas, The Making of the Victorian Organ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990): 278.

62 See Berlioz, Hector and Strauss, Richard, Treatise on Instrumentation, translated by Theodore Front (New York: Dover, 1991): 19.

63 Gluck, , Alceste, xvii.

64 O'Donnelly, Terrence Joseph, The Academy of Elementary Music (London: Novello, 1841): 170.

65 O'Donnelly, , The Academy of Elementary Music, 171.

66 As Brown theorizes in Classical and Romantic Performance Practice, 527–9.

67 See, for example, Rousseau, Jean-Jacque, ‘Tremblement’, Dictionaire de Musique, II (Paris: Duchesne, 1767): 287.

68 Regnier, Joseph, L'orgue, sa connaissance, son administration et son jeu (Nancy: Vagner, 1850): 179180. Translation mine.

69 Gevaert, François-Auguste, Nouveau traité d'instrumentation (Paris: Lemoine and Fils, 1885): 33.

70 Such claims always tend to be relative; Emil von Reznicek specifically asks for true bow vibrato (‘tremolo ondulé’) as a special effect in his tone poem Schlemihl of 1912, ten bars before Figure 3 in the E.N. von Reznicek Edition (Berlin, 1913).

71 George Ashdown Audsley, ‘Notes on the Concert-Room Organ—VII’, English Mechanic and World of Science (28 Sept. 1888): 85.

72 Jones, Helen Lukens, ‘The Greatest of Pipe Organs’, Scientific American 90/17 (23 April 1904): 329.

73 See Biswanger, Ray, Music in the Marketplace: The Story of Philadelphia's Historic Wanamaker Organ (Bryn Mawr: Friends of the Wanamaker Organ, 1999): 33.

74 George Ashdown Audsley, The Largest Organ in the World (Los Angeles: Los Angeles Art Organ, n.d.): 4.

75 Audsley, , The Largest Organ in the World, 12.

76 Fox, , Robert Hope-Jones, 129180.

77 Cited in Ochse, Orpha, The History of the Organ in the United States (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975): 336.

78 Ochse, , The History of the Organ in the United States, 336.

79 Landon, John W., Behold the Mighty Wurlitzer (Westport: Greenwood, 1983): 67.

80 Ochse, , The History of the Organ in the United States, 338.

81 ‘Fine Aeolian House Organ’, The Music Trades (23 April 1904), cited in Smith, The Aeolian Pipe Organ, 325.

82 Smith, , The Aeolian Pipe Organ, 29.

83 Smith, , The Aeolian Pipe Organ, 34.

84 The author wishes to acknowledge very gratefully the assistance of Nelson Barden, organ restorer and historian, for his invaluable insights into the history and technical details of Aeolian residence organs, and Robert W. Taylor, owner of Roll No. 51038, for making available photographs of the label information and stop-list.

85 Damrosch, Leopold, Symphony in A Major, ed. Kati Agócs (Middleton: A-R Editions, 2005): X.

86 Walker, Alan, Franz Liszt: The Weimar Years, 1848–1861 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989): 286–295.

87 Walker, , Franz Liszt: The Weimar Years, 484.

88 Damrosch, Walter, My Musical Life (New York: Scribner's, 1926): 57.

89 Damrosch, , My Musical Life, 60.

90 Walker, , Franz Liszt: The Weimar Years, 286295. Liszt's tone poem Orpheus premiered in 1854 as the prelude to Gluck's opera on the same subject, and his Tasso was dedicated to Leopold Damrosch.

91 Dandelot, , La Société des concerts du Conservatoire, 3132.

92 Walker, , Franz Liszt: The Weimar Years, 292.

93 Smith, , The Aeolian Pipe Organ, 41.

94 Severn, Edmund, ‘The Vibrato’, The Etude, 27/5 (1909): 347.

95 Cited in Hurwitz, David, Wien’, ‘So Klingt, 47.

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Nineteenth-Century Music Review
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  • EISSN: 2044-8414
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