Tag Archives: Blockwerk

3d Sunday in Lent ~ Oculi mei – 11 Mar 02

Opening Voluntary: Toccata Cromatica per l’Elevazione – Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643)

At the Communion: “O Domine Jesu Christe” – Lodovico Grossi da Viadana (1560-1627)

Closing Voluntary: Suonata Prima – Adriano Banchieri (1568-1634)

In our ongoing Lenten series of exploration of early organ music, our next stop is Italy of the 16th century.  It was in the late 16th century that organ building reached a high level of maturity in the Italian peninsula, and its shape was crystalized into a form that was to remain largely unchanged for the next two centuries. Although the details are too great to review in detail here, one of the features of Italian building was to create organs that were capable of creating very different types of sounds.  The earliest organs throughout Europe were often formed on a principle of Blockwerk (to use the German terminology), in which each note sounded a group of pipes of different type and pitch that could not be changed or altered.  The later introduction of “stops” allowed the organist to “stop” the sound of one or more groups of pipes to vary the tone.  It was in Italy where this practice reached its highest level and it was of the character of Italian organ building that each “stop,” now more properly a “start,” would, when drawn, activate a single set of pipes (known in organ terminology as a “rank’) assigning only one pipe to speak for each note of the keyboard. (Other countries would retain, to a greater or lesser degree the ongoing construction of compound or “mixture” stops activating multiple ranks of pipes of varying pitches in partial imitation of the old Blockwerk.) These stops could be used both individually and in varying combinations at the discretion of the organist. One of the off-shoots of this principle in organ construction in Italy was known as the piffaro stop.  This was a “special effect” set of pipes tuned slightly sharp (or off-key) to others and meant to be used only in combination with another pipe of the same fundamental pitch.  The “off-key” character produced an “undulating” effect that was the precursor of our modern “celeste” stop.  This effect is heard in the opening voluntary today by Frescobaldi.  According to Antegnati (1549-1624), this special effect was intended to be played “adagio (i.e. ‘at ease’) with slow movements and as legato as possible.”

About “O Domine Jesu Christe” by da Viadana

The vocal piece sung at the communion today is by early Baroque, Italian composer Lodovico da Viadana and is from his collection of 1602 published under the title of Cento concerti con il basso continuo. “Basso continuo” known in English as “figured bass” was an early Baroque technique for notation of music that specified the bass line with additional markings to denote the harmonic development or “realization” of the musical piece.  Although da Viadana did not invent the technique, he was the first to publish a large collection of works using this device.  Today, as this skill is no longer a common musical ability, the “realization” is often written out beforehand.  The version we hear performed was “realized” by modern Milanese organist, Gianfranco Spinelli.

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