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MMD > Archives > September 2000 > 2000.09.25 > 04Prev  Next

Chromatic vs. Diatonic Organ Scales
By Russell Wattam

Whilst discussing the merits and downfalls of B.A.B. and Wurlitzer
music roll arrangements [000921 MMD], Bill Finch made an interesting
comment: "If you want to make music with a band organ then you need
a full chromatic scale as found in most European fairground organs."

Perhaps now would be an appropriate time to go off at a tangent from
the present discussion and disagree with this point.

Most European fairground organs have an anything but chromatic scale;
only the largest, such as the 110- and 112-key Gaviolis or model 39
Ruth, have chromatic scales.  A great myth seems to have been
perpetuated that an organ needs to have at least 12 bass notes and
a completely chromatic scale to give a good musical performance.

This is certainly not the case.  Take, for example, one of the most
popular "large" scales here in the UK, that of the 87-key Gavioli
and its derivatives (89-key Violin-Baritone, 89-key No. 4 and 98-key,
all of which have the same playing notes) which were used by Gavioli,
Marenghi, Limonaire and Gasparini.

This scale has 8 bass notes (the only sharp being A#) and 10 for
accompaniment (G# and D# are omitted), as well as only 3 D-sharp notes
throughout the compass.  These organs can successfully handle all that
would be asked of a fairground organ, from popular songs and marches to
operatic overtures and selections, with relative ease and little
noticeable deviation from the composer's intentions.

The same could be said of the Model 36 Ruth (78 keyless), which again
is not chromatic; and whose performances of serious music would be
difficult to fault.

Those who were fortunate enough to hear the concert repertoire played
on the Model 36 Ruth of Jan Hoefnagel's at the Arnhem and Waldkirch
festivals last year, or, say, the overture to Donna Juanita on
"White's" Gavioli or the "Anderton and Rowland" Marenghi, would hardly
deny the musicality of these performances.  Many smaller and more
restricted European scales such as the models 33, 34 and 35 Ruth and
even the 46/8 and 65-key Gavioli, to mention but a few, are still able
to give very convincing versions of concert music.

The key point, I think, with non-chromatic scales, is the careful
balance of the organ and the skill and artistry of the music marker
(noteur/arranger) and his/her ability to show off a scale's strong
points rather than dwell on its weaknesses.  The talents of Carl Frei,
Gustav Bruder and Louis Blache, among others, come to mind here.

I certainly agree that there is a charm about an organ playing music
for which it doesn't have all the notes; a Gavioli barrel organ with
a very simple 3-note bass scale conceived in the mid 19th century and
playing 1930's foxtrots is a delight to hear, especially in the hands
of a talented barrel marker such as James Holmes.

If we include dance and street organs under the umbrella of fairground
organs, the same would be true: generally only the larger models have
chromatic scales.

A completely chromatic scale is really a luxury, which is fine if
an instrument has been built with it, but a non-chromatic scale should
certainly not be seen as a detriment.  I'm sure that if we were
interested only in "harmonic correctness", we probably wouldn't have
become interested in mechanical music in the first place.

With regards from England,

Russell Wattam

(Message sent Sun 24 Sep 2000, 23:14:48 GMT, from time zone GMT+0100.)

Key Words in Subject:  Chromatic, Diatonic, Organ, Scales, vs

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