Well, ok, I’ll admit, I’m not quite sure how being capricious fits in with organ music, but I’m looking to attract your attention.
It’s my hope to transmit my love of the organ and its repertoire to you, with the idea that you will become so smitten you will try it, too! The mighty organ, often called the King of Instruments, has of late become associated with music that is out of date and no longer in the mainstream of church music. It’s also often associated with scary movies and Halloween, but that’s fun and who would discourage that? But, I’m hoping to present a balance of good organ music that will delight you as the player, and your congregation as the listener. So, let’s have some fun, shall we?
First, just look at this picture of Louis-Nicolas Clérambault (1676–1749). He’s looking at us with a bit of a smirk, and his nose is crooked. Too many fights as a child? Certainly his music would be interesting, yes? Plus, he was from Paris. Need I go on? Clérambault was an organist and composer who wrote an amazing amount of music for the church, remembered today mostly for his organ music. His first Livre d’orgue (Organ Book) contains two suites of multiple movements, and our piece of the day, the Caprice sur les Grands Jeux, is the last movement of the second suite.
The practice of the time was for the title of the movement to tell the performer about the texture and the registration of the piece, hence titles like Fugue, Duo, Trio, or Plein Jeu, Flutes, or our movement, Caprice sur les Grands Jeux. French organs of the Classical period were very ornate, and the organ stops were colorful and the way to combine them was prescribed quite exactly. Thus, the organist would see the movement title and know what to draw on their instrument. For the Caprice, the Grand Jeux would have called for just what it sounds like, a large, grand registration with specific stops drawn. Today’s organs are more eclectic and it’s not always possible to get the same kind of sounds that the French composers were asking for. Still, it’s helpful to know the basics so that you can interpret the piece more or less in the style.
It’s amazing to be able to find answers to questions on the internet, and here is a good explanation of the Plein Jeu and Grand Jeu, as well as the difference between a Plein Jeu and Grand Jeu registration combination.
It makes my job so much easier to give you these links, and especially to send you to performances like this one. This is an authentic French instrument, so the sound is what Clérambault would have been expecting, plus the video of the organ case itself is great to watch. It’s faster than I would play it for worship, but it gives you one interpretation. Here’s another, the tempo of which I prefer, and the video is great because you can watch the organists’ hands, which tells you a lot about the articulation to use when playing it (fairly detached throughout). And here is a third performance, which demonstrates the use of notes inégales (basically, the practice of playing notes slightly unevenly, to effect a more elegant interpretation).
So, now that you’ve learned a bit about authentic performance practice for this piece by Clérambault, what does this mean for you as a musician for a Catholic liturgy or Protestant service? Well, my advice is to use it as a postlude, and draw a fairly full registration on your instrument, something like this: on the Great manual, a 16′ Principal if you have one, a Principal 8′, 4′, 2 and 2/3, 2′, and any Great reeds you might have, and any other mutation stops to add color. But if you’re playing a small organ with limited color, just draw what sounds good to you, like Principal 8′, 4′, 2 2/3, 2′, Mixture and Great Trumpet (or couple in a reed or two from the Swell manual). And if that doesn’t give you good ideas, just open the crescendo pedal until it sounds good!
So, I hope you give this piece a try. I’ve done two editions for free download. One is the original for organ, the other eliminates the pedal and makes it playable on manuals only or the piano. And if you have questions, email me and ask, please! I hope you play this piece! (and….let me know if you do, okay?)