Comparison between Palma and Santanyí Organs

All of the Spanish organ music from the Baroque and Classical periods can be played perfectly on both instruments (with the exception of a few Soler pieces that have such a large keyboard range that they cannot be played on any historical Spanish organ). But the most striking characteristic of these two instruments is how different they are from each other. Every player who has written about Spanish organs has mentioned that the organs are all very different. In the case of these two Catalan organs, some of the differences are systematic, having to do with the era in which they were built, and some are the idiosyncratic differences which are characteristic of Spanish organs. Serious players will need both in order to explore the acoustic world of Spanish composers.
The Palma organ is typical of 17th-century Catalan organs in having several manuals and no reeds. The large-scale trompetarias that mesmerize us today were not found on Catalan organs until the 1720s and were not common there before the 1740s. One author suggests that they may have been associated with Castille, and that the Catalan reluctance to include them on their organs may have been partly nationalistic.

The Palma organ may be the earliest large church organ surviving intact from anywhere in Spain. The fact that this lavish organ did not originally have reeds invites the modern player to explore the rich and intricate world of Catalan flues and mixtures. It is a perfect instrument for the music of Cabanilles. (Valencia was culturally and linguistically Catalan.) The earliest reeds on Catalan instruments (except for a few curiosities from the 16th century) were an interior trompeta real  and a treble clarín 8' installed in Valencia in 1693, when Cabanilles was 49 years old. So, for most of  Cabanilles' lifetime, his home organ had no reeds; and when his music was played on other Catalan organs, no reeds were used.

Instead of (original) reeds, the Palma organ offers many other resources to the performer. It has 3 manuals with several plena on each. It has numerous cornet-type mixtures, and a wide variety of other mixtures which can be combined in numerous ways for both solo and choral work. Overall, it is a more flexible instrument than that at Santanyí. And, of course, there is the trompeteria which was added in the mid-18th century. It can be used for solo work (in medio registro pieces), but is most exciting in homophonic choruses and the like, typical of the mid-18th century and later.

The Santanyí organ was built at a time when the differences between Catalan and Castillian organs had vanished (and Catalonia had been absorbed politically into Castille). The trompeteria there is original, not an add-on, and there are other important reeds as well—the interior trompeta real and the short-resonator regalies, which the Palma instrument does not have. There is much less flexibility in the disposition of the mixtures, however. The organ can make a very impressive sound with its gigantic ple, but there are no separate aliquot stops. This fits the music of its period very well; also, the contents of archives and manuscript collections makes it clear that earlier music was also played, or at least studied, and it is interesting to think about how this was done.

Both organs are excellent for playing earlier Castillian music. The Palma organ has a wonderfully varied array of flues and mixtures, and the Santanyí organ has a wonderful array of  soloistic reeds. This is one reason that modern players will want both—not because one is lacking, but rather because both are complete in themselves (with the exception of the Santanyí's organ eco which was destroyed), and it is worth exploring how historical players must have used two such very different instruments to play much of the same repertoire.



Orgue Major

Teclat d'alt (echo)


(all stops divided) (undivided) (undivided)
Flautat de cara (façade principal) 8' Flautat de fusta (wood) 8' Flautat 4'
Flautat doble 8' Octava 4' Flautat tapat (stopped) 4'
Octava de cara (façade octave) 4' Octava tapada (stopped) 4' Octava 2'
Octava 4' Quinzena II 2' Quinzena II 1'
Dotzena 2 2/3' Tapadet (stopped) 2' Simbalet III
Quinzena III 2' Plens (mixture) III Nazart 19ª 1 1/3'
Alemanya (mixture) V Tolosana (cornet, divided) II
Simbalet (with thirds) III Cromorn (divided) 8'
Nasart 19ª 1 1/3'
Nazarts (cornet) III-V
Tolosana (l.h.) / Cornetillo (r.h.) (cornets) III
Trompa ae batalla 8'
Clarins 15ª (l.h.) 2'
Baixons (l.h.) 4'
Baixons (l.h.) 4'
Clarins d'octava (r.h.) 4'
Clarins (r.h.) 8'
Trompa magna (r.h.)

Pedal (8 notes coupled to orgue major)

Contras (always on) 16'
Contrabaixons 8'


The Orgue Major has doubled Flautat 8' and Octava 4'. A similar arrangement can be found on other Spanish organs, but there are no extant registration directons for them. There are many directions, however, for two 8' or two 4' flues which are of different quality—one of metal, the other of wood, for example, or one open and one stopped. These seem to correspond musically to the Palma organ's doubled stops (which are on opposite side of the façade and give a "stereo" effect). For example two 8' stops may be used together for "solemn" pieces. The 8' principals, 4' principals, and 2' can be used alone or in any combination (including 8' + 2'). Any of these can be combined with the dotzena (although the combination of dotzena and quinzena is very strange to my ears), with the alemanya, with the simbalet, with the nazart 19ª, or with any combination of these. (The singular "nazart" indicates a single aliquot stop, in this case a fifth. The plural "nazarts" indicates a mixutre of some kind.) All of these together make the equivalent of a plenum (which the Spanish writers call a "mistura" or a "lleno"). Spanish writers use terms like "silvery" and "shining" to describe the plenum: mere weight was not the only object. The plenum can be varied by, among other things, varying the number of 8' or 4' stops. If the plenum is based on the 4' stop, rather than the 8, than the very highest stop (the nazart 19ª) would not be used because the plenum has to balance high and low. Similarly, if it is based on the 2' stop, the simbalet would not be used. Plenum registrations could be used for undivided pieces or for the solo part of a medio registro piece. Typically, a solo right-hand piece would be based on an 8' registration, and a solo left-hand piece on a 4' or 2' registration. The accompaniment to a solo piece was always an 8' principal or, at most, 8' + 4'.

The cornets were mostly solo stops. An important use was in medio registro pieces. They could be combined with 8', 4', or 2' principals or any combination of these. The nazarts require a principal as foundation, but this is optional for the tolosana/cornetillo. As with the plenum registrations, a solo right-hand piece would be based on an 8' registration, and a solo left-hand piece on a 4- or 2' registration, and these would be accompanied by a 8' principal. An important non-solo use of the cornets was in an undivided registration where there were 4 moving voices. For all of their uses, the cornets could be combined with the simbalet or the dotzena.

The reeds could be used en masse for batallas and noisy 18th-century pieces, in which case a chorus would be built based on the trompa batalla 8', including up to all the reeds together (to my ears, the two baixons 4' in the left hand are a little too strong, but this may depend on the piece). The reeds could also be used for solo parts in medio registro pieces. As with the flues, it was usual to play a r.h. solo at 8' pitch (the trompa magna 16' was another possibility), and a l.h. solo at 4' or 2' pitch, and the accompaniment should be a 8' principal (perhaps two, if needed for balance), or at most 8' + 4'. Another possibility, mentioned in the 1770s, was to play a l.h. solo on the 2' clarín against a r.h. accompaniment on the 8' clarín. One interesting use of the reed chorus was a dialogue against a plenum, either on divided manuals, or on two different manuals. All of this refers to 18th-century performance of earlier music, which has its own historical validity. Some earlier composers, such as Correa, sometimes specified "clarines," but these referred to interior reeds, what were later called trompetas reales, which are very different from the chamades of the Palma organ. No doubt a Catalan contemporary of Correa would have played on a reedless instrument, using his stupendous choice of plena or cornets for the solo part.

On the Tecla d'alt, the Flautat de fusta 8, the two 4' stops, and the two 2' stops could be used solo or in any combination. The tecla d'alt has its own plenum which consisted of all the stops except the cromorn and tolosana. Either one or both of the 4' stops could be used, and either one or both of the 2' stops could be used. The tolosana or cromorn could be used as solo stops, exactly as on the orgue major (the cromorn is most useful for r.h. solos, because it's at 8' pitch). The cromorn, in 18th-century usage, could also be combined with the plenum, especially for dialoging with the plenum or reed chorus of another manual.

The Cadireta also has a plenum, at 4' pitch, which consists of all the stops. The 4' stops, which can be used alone or in combination, are extremely attractive, and entire pieces could be played on them. This was not a manual only for solos or for contrast effects!

Organs with multiple keyboards were much more common in Catalonia than in Castille, and pieces we now think of as "medio registro" were often played on multiple keyboards. An examination of each piece is necessary to gauge the layout of the parts. Pieces of this type played on multiple keyboards were registered the same as medio registro pieces, namely the accompaniment was at 8' or 8'+4' pitch, and the solo part (typically a small plenum or cornet) at 4' or 2' pitch in the left hand or 8' pitch in the right hand. For lighter pieces the (r.h.) accompaniment would be 8' or 8'+4' and the (r.h.) solo would be either based on 4'+2' with optional dotzena, or 8'+2' with optional dozena. "Gaytillas" (light dance pieces, where the sound is supposed to resemble bagpipes) would have a r.h. solo based on 4', with cornet, dotzena, simbalet, or some combination of these.

I hope that other beginning organists find this page useful. Please send corrections, complaints, queries, and the like to me at <>. —Stuart Frankel