Study of the
Aristide C

Laurent PLET


Version française

Note of the webmaster:

It is necessary to clarify here that the English version of this text results from a machine translation corrected by our care for the specific necessities of the comment relating to the organ. Either Laurent P
LET, or myself, let us be not enough English-speaking to supply to the public a version deserving of the Shakespeare's language; the reader will forgive us so for multiple faults, for as much grammar as for orthography, which don't have to miss to abound in the lines which follow but which, nevertheless, allow the not French readers to reach the contents of this text as long as we didn't find a translator worthy of this name.



I would first of all like to thank l'Association pour la Sauvegarde de Bâtiments et de Sites who honours me with asking me for a conference on the pipework and the measures used by Aristide CAVAILLÉ COLL. It is a vast subject approached partially with a certain number of works and articles, but ever still treated in a complete way in the same writing. Mister Pierre CHÉRON, that you already know and who intervened even here, some years ago on the voicing to CAVAILLÉ COLL, assured me to possess material for a very complete study of the subject but waits to find a French editor.

Installed for 10 years in your region Champagne-Ardenne, I had the chance to see confiding restoration by the Monuments Historiques of four Aristide CAVAILLÉ COLL's instruments.

If you allow me, I present them to you briefly in chronological order of construction.

At present, among others sites, we restore in studio the organ of the chapel of the Hotel de Région which is one MUTIN 1902, still very close to the construction of Aristide CAVAILLÉ COLL.

These restorations allowed me a little to know this organ building extraordinary stable and effective and it is this experiment that I am going to try to share with you.


Stops lists

You know all the existence of Aristide CAVAILLÉ COLL's catalog that proposing to his contemporaries a any range of instrument, of the smallest in the biggest, in a sense the organ "ready to play" or "clés en main" of time. Aristide CAVAILLÉ COLL was not moreover the only one to use this technique, because even a regional organbuilder as DEJARDIN of Reims had appeal to the same process of promotion. One was in the middle of the XIXth century, in full religious awakening and demand was very forte ! Happy time for the organ builders.

The reading of this catalog gives the impression of a fixed orgabuilding, an industrial production, serie's organs, without personality. CAVAILLÉ COLL even gives them numbers from 1 to 22, the last corresponding to an instrument of 20 stops without pedal - independent (4 stops derived of Grand Orgue). For the biggest he speaks about organ of 24 stops or organ of 30 stops.

Certainly, practice discovers to us almost industrial lumps, what returns sometimes the work of the restorer difficult because necessarily crafting.

But, there is also an adaptation of these sets ready-made, winding and windchests in the characteristics of the instrument, notably in those of cases. For example, the very classic CAVAILLÉ COLL's windchest of Récit includes eight stops, or in the order of upper boards :

  1. Flûte traversière 8',
  2. Flûte octaviante 4',
  3. Viole de Gambe 8',
  4. Octavin 2',
  5. Voix Céleste 8',
  6. Trompette 8',
  7. Basson-Hautbois 8',
  8. Voix Humaine 8'.

But to MARLE, he added a supplementary upper board to feed a Diapason, in front, while preserving the same accommodation of pallet box and action.

Whatever are stops lists proposed in this catalog, we find the complexes of foundation stops and reeds, the more or less important sound masses so appreciated at the time.

But the abundance of the stops of eight feets is not at all sign of musical poverty or synonym for boredom for the listener. On the contrary, there is a big harmonic wealth in these mixtures of rapport which ensues naturally from the variety and from the balance of chosen measures.



The desire for rationalization and for simplification would have been able to lead CAVAILLÉ COLL in certain excesses in the choice of measures. Contemporary organbuilders used unique measures, based on the progress 48Root 48th of8 between semitons, about is the instrument and volume to fill. Never CAVAILLÉ COLL so simplified the work. On the contrary, he established quickly various rules of scale according to each stops. But allow me at first to remind yourselves that one calls scale the ratio between the internal diameters of two notes.

How does the organbuilder establish his scales ?

Dom Bedos well describes what made anciens ; on a graph consisted in abcisse of theoretical lengthes pipes, in ordered with their diameters, he places the developed of the first and last notes and draws a right-hand side connecting these two points. One can so find easily the diameters of all the pipes of a stop.

At the time of CAVAILLÉ COLL, in full scientism, this process leaves place with the mathematical process ; one does then of the ratio between the first and the fifth C. For example, in them Montres diapason A, B or C he chooses to have the C of eight feets six times as big as the C of 1/2 foot. One obtains so the fifths C by dividing C1 by 6. One can obtain C3 by dividing C1 by the square root of 6. Either for semitons to obtain C#1 by dividing C1 by root 48th of 6.

CAVAILLÉ COLL establishes so diapason A of Montre, to find diapason B, he moves the series of a third minor premise, the diameter of the D#1 of the diapason A give the diameter of C1 of the diapason B and that of the F#1 of the diapason A give C1 of the diapason C, always for the Montre 8'.

He uses the same method for all the stops but with different scales.

According to VEERKAMP1 :

Square root of6   For them Montres, Salicionals, Gambes, Quintatons ;
Square root of5 For them Bourdons ;
Square root of4 For the basses of Flûtes Harmoniques ;
Square root of3 For harmonic pipes ;
Square root of22/3 For them Bassons and
Square root of2 For them Trompettes.

He chooses so at least six scales of Montre, five of Prestant, seven of Flûtes Harmonique, ten of Gambe, twenty one of Basson. But he uses so from time to time the same scale for several stops, for example Prestant D serves of Dulciane D (in the octave of 4 feet) and of Gambe number 10 in 8 feet.

I am not going to annoy you with figures, but you can find these scales in an article which I hold at your disposal and which should appear in the next number of the review Les Facteurs d'Orgues Français in which you are, I hope, every subscribers... Measures indicated in this article arise from personal documents corrected and completed by my surveys and those of Mister RENAUD of which we appreciate all work this weekend.

The study of these scales corrects slightly the assertions of VEERKAMP1 about which I have just spoken you. Indeed, it seems that CAVAILLÉ COLL chose the next scales :

Square root of 8   For them Montres 1, 2, 3 and Salicional 3.
Square root of7.5 For them Salicionals 4, 5 and 6.
Square root of7 For them Prestants A, B, C, Gambes 7, 8 and 9.
Square root of6.5 For them Prestants D, E, Dulcianes D, E, F
and Gambes 10, 11, 12.
Square root of6 For them Montres A, B, C, Doublettes A, B, C, Quintatons D, E, F and Dulciane C.
Square root of5 For them Bourdons.

For flutes and reeds, we well find what said VEERKAMP1 but CAVAILLÉ COLL differentiate slightly the scales of Bassons :

Square root of3   For the series G1 to G5.
Square root of22/3 For the series H1 to H6.
Square root of21/3 For the series K1 to K10.

All these figures to prove you that some writings which one possesses on the organbuilding of CAVAILLÉ COLL do not have to be always presented as obliged and absolute reference.

If one puts back these measures on a logarithmic graph, we obtain obviously a completed right-hand side, but on the same graph as Dom Bedos, with lengthes pipes in abscissa, we see although measures are inflated in the medium, what allows to strengthen a part of the keyboard which is not enriched any more as formerly by mixtures.

It would seem that CAVAILLÉ COLL arrested very early the measures of certain stops even though these are not explicitly engraved on the first C of each stop. Indeed, P. CHÉRON told to me to have measured two identical Flûtes Harmoniques, one dating of 1837, other one of the 1890.


Mouths widths

The mouths widths are always in 1/4 of the developed in theory. In practice, these widths vary from 1/3.8 until 1/4.3 circumferences. Violes de gambe often having the most narrow mouths.


Mouths heights

The mouths heights correspond to measures established by CAVAILLÉ COLL, that you can find on the page 137 of Pierre VEERKAMP's book1. But this is theory, in practice, every voicer had his own rules of heights as confirmed it to me recently P. CHÉRON .

The study of the measures of the LONG's organ, which is a pure, new product, allows to notice that the principal stops and Violes de gambe are opened appreciably according to the rule of VEERKAMP1 except facades slightly lower (always a third minor premise according to P. CHÉRON ) ; that Bourdons and Flûtes are opened higher, while Flûte Octaviante and Voix Céleste have mouth lower.

The harmonic parts of Flûtes Harmoniques, Flûte Octaviante and Octavin have naturally mouth height corresponding to the body's length and not in the emitted note.


Tuning slot

The tuning slot are generally in a diameter down from the pipe and their width varies from 1/3 until 1/5 of the diameter for a theoretical length twice width. (VEERKAMP 1 p. 133).

I did not regrettably always measure these tuning slot, but made measures gave me tuning slot in 1/4 in GIVET's organ of voicing voluntarily quiet while in LONG they are well in 1/3 of the diameter, giving to the pipe caustic necessary for the size of the building.



In his constructions, CAVAILLÉ COLL has always tried to maintain a quality while simplifying or organizing the spot of his workers. The measures of wooden pipes change only tone by tone and the four boards of every pipe are identical. One produces so eight boards of the same width for two successive pipes. But his searches and attempts varied him the hillside of the upper lips, the block's shape or the direction of windway.

Wooden pipes they can be completed, (LONG and GIVET) or realized with wood inferior as to SAINT DIZIER. Economic constraints were not certainly foreign to these defects and it is always good which that is organbuilder or time to consider a realization according to its cost.

The qualities of manufacture of metal pipes are always exceptional, that they go out of to CAVAILLÉ COLL himself or of a independent pipe maker as ZIMMERMANN, ROLIN or MAZURE. The used alloys are often 40 % and 72 % of tin, probably also the 50 % but planed. I do not know when exactly CAVAILLÉ COLL used for the first time of spotted not planed but everything Récit of MARLE (built in 1891) is so while the other pipes of the same organ are maked with tin.


Adaptation of ancient pipework

To decrease the cost price of his instruments CAVAILLÉ COLL kept sometimes the material of his predecessors, with or without modifications, as far as quality corresponds to its own criteria.

So, to MARLE, every Grand Orgue of DAUBLAINE was preserved, while the work of ZEIGER dating 18 years only, was not able to find due to the eyes of the Master ! For certainly economic reasons also, all the wooden pipework was transformed in this organ rather than replaced as expected in the estimate.

The study of the estimate is extremely precious for the restorer, but there also, it is necessary to keep of considering these documents as obliged references. Reality is sometimes different from forecasts.

When CAVAILLÉ COLL reused a base of former pipework, he could leave a stop such as it was, without trying to correspond it to his measures, as in most of the stops of Grand Orgue and Positif of SAINT DIZIER. He respected so the choice of a predecessor who was convenient for him but he could also add until 4 or 5 pipes of identical measures to get closer to the ideal as to MARLE for them Montres and Prestant of Grand Orgue where we find among a#2 and c#3 five pipes of 54mm. of diameter.

In every case it is evident that he took into account existing rests or even building and it is then impossible to require from all CAVAILLÉ COLL that they sound in the same way. Every instrument preserves its own peculiarities and even often some abnormalities. So, I found to GIVET an instrument which served certainly of ground of experiment.



We find in this organ of harmonic stops with tuning slot, now, VEERKAMP1 said that they must be cut to length. But the absence of Bourdon 8' requires from these pipes a double role of soloist and accompanying which explains certain peculiarities of timbre.

In the same organ, we have a mixture from II to IV ranks whom would have of the resources the following disposition, foreseen logically in the program of the restoration and already slightly different from customs of CAVAILLÉ COLL.


The rack board of origin was even drilled for this disposition.

But during the manufacture of a pipe, the maker writes the name's note on the foot and the body, and, if he has eight identical pipes to be made (C 1 / 2' for example), he will mark them C, C1 , C2, until C7, also by studying these marks, one can verify the disposition's mixture very exactly.

And so I proved that this mixture had been made for 56 notes (the organ has it only 54) according to an extraordinary enough disposition so that it is declared as not original by the Commission Supérieure...

Here was this disposition :

C3 1'1/32' 2'2/3    
C4    2'2/3 4'5'1/38' 
C5     4'5'1/38'10'2/3

That is with an enormous cut in C4 bringing in 3 grave ranks and to finish mixture on a resultant of 32' in a small organ of 12 stops.

This disposition can just be an attempt of CAVAILLÉ COLL attempt very remote from his classic dispositions but certainly not unique. All the pipes objects of searches or experiments of CAVAILLÉ COLL were certainly used in small instruments for evident economic reasons.

It is not necessary to approach so absolutely an organ of CAVAILLÉ COLL of 10 , 20 or 30 stops by thinking of finding the famous tones of SAINT-DENIS or SAINT-SULPICE of PARIS or SAINT-SERNIN of TOULOUSE etc....

Even stemming partially from a catalog, even made partially early on order, organs of CAVAILLÉ COLL are not organs of series but individuals whom it is necessary to learn to know, as to most of the other organ builders, and it is indeed there the first duty of the restorer.

  Laurent PLET,

Notes :

(1) : Pierre WEERKAMP, L'orgue à tuyaux, La flûte harmonique, Publication of the A. CAVAILLÉ COLL's Association.