This search doesn't just happen by itself. We started to become fully aware of the realm of timbre via the organs by Cavaillé-Coll who was a genius when it came to experimenting with timbres. It is Aristide Cavaillé-Coll who was the father of the modern contemporary organ; it is he who grasped the primal role of specific timbre (that is the basic solo value of each register) for in former times - I am thinking about J.S.Bach and his contemporaries - the tone colors were interchangeable and one had no qualms about giving a violin solo to an oboe, transferring a chorus into a chorale setting for organ, having a soprano sing a solo line originally relegated to the flute, etc… At that time, there was a certain insouciance concerning timbre.
I asked Messiaen: might this reason be due to material or practical constraints ?
I don’t believe so. In the history of music there is after all an orderly succession of events. In Western civilization, in any case, melody came about first, then harmony and finally the concern for timbre, still later, the concern for rhythm, for which I hear some responsibility. Finally, there is a characteristic that has been known in the East for a long time but is quite recent in the West: that is the concern for dynamics and tempo – the opposition between and the alloy of dynamics and tempo. We need to take that into consideration and the organ must imperatively follow this evolution whether it wants to or not.
There’s no need to have 200 stops on an organ to create nuances, for often it’s enough to add or subtract that one stop especially appropriate to the atmosphere sought. Nuance is a concept which too many organ builders gorget, especially in America.
Its not right to be carried away by exaggeration either: no need for example to have five or six or eight Soubasse stops on the Pedal ; this is completely ridiculous. Just as there is no use having eight or ten Gamba stops in the tonal palette…
Where do you go? The mixtures should not resemble each other, indeed, there should be perceptible differences among them. It is quite possible to color a mixture with a tierce or septième (why not !) Hence, organ builders ought to be inventive people and not repetitive ones. Copying is only of minor significance !
I wondered whether music wouldn’t gain on one hand what it lost on the other. To this, Messiaen responded :
Perhaps it loses in simplicity but it gains in diversity of riches. We mustn’t always be looking for whatever may be reassuring to us. Neither should we use one stop or another because others do it that way or because it was well thought of to do it in order to reproduce what was one done. Bach’s works for example, seem rhythmical, precisely because they do not contain rhythm. Here is the explanation: in these works we hear an uninterrupted succession of equal note values that bathe the listener in a state of beautific satisfaction. Nothing intervenes to counter the pulse, breathing or heartbeat to the listener who therefore stays and receives no shock: the whole thing seems to him perfectly rhythmical. In the creation of new organs we ought not to seek to reassure, but rather, to forge on ahead: we need a shock, a reaction. Nonetheless, care is in order for it is not the composer. It is possible to improvise quite a colorful piece on a sole gedackt or harmonic flute alone.
On dismantling the instrument I was surprised to find that a good number of the conveyances suffered from lead decay, called ‘leprosy’ in France. Messiaen had guessed as much, since several 32’ pipes were no longer speaking which annoyed him considerably. There was a similar winding problem in the large wooden basses of the manuals. In order to enlarge the diameters of the windways, flexible tubing was installer. Now that this has been done, the important Cavaillé-Coll basses are more impressive than ever and the casework shakes all over when they come on.
The organ has been entirely cleaned and overhauled, the pipework having been temporarily stored in a room behind the organ loft and repaired. The entire wiring of the console has been re-done and the combination action adjusted. Wind leaks and case vibrations from the 32’ have been tracked down and eliminated and the casework had been refinished.
Rev 4/9/2000 by Timothy Patterson