Plein Jeu French

The term Plein Jeu (“full chorus”) originated in the classical French organ (c1650-1790), and at that time was not a stop but a registration consisting of principals, flutes, Fournitures, and Cymbales, rarely containing any 3rd-sounding ranks. Douglass calls it “sine qua non of the instrument”. Here is what Dom Bedos has to say about it:

The Cymbale always accompanies the Fourniture: these two stops are never separated, and together they are called the Plein-Jeu. In a 16' organ, the smallest possible Plein-jeu is nine ranks: the upper five ranks of the Fourniture, and the upper four ranks of the Cymbale. An 8' organ requires a Plein-jeu of seven ranks: four and three, respectively. An organ with 32' open and stopped ranks takes a full Fourniture and Cymbale. An 8' Positif takes a seven-rank Plein-jeu; if there be no 8' open stop, the Plein-jeu will have five ranks; the upper three from the Fourniture, and the upper two from the Cymbale. A four- or three-rank Plein-jeu is drawn from the Cymbale only; an eight- or six-rank stop is taken half from each.

Not all builders follow these methods and progressions exactly. Some do not begin the first rank of a nine-rank Plein-jeu with a 4' pipe, but rather with a 2-2/3'. Some do not make all the ranks of a full compass, but they omit an octave or more in the treble, so that their Plein-jeu may have nine ranks in the bass, but only seven, six, or five in the treble, etc. ... all builders agree that fifths and octaves only should be used, and never thirds.

The richest tone in the organ, according to experts and connoisseurs of real tone, is the Plein-jeu blended with the foundation stops which support it in the correct proportion.

The mixture called Plein Jeu was not introduced until the end of the French classical period; the earliest examples we know of are by Francois-Henri Cliquot in the early 1780's. It consists of two or more octave and fifth sounding ranks; Irwin claims as many as XIV or more, but we know of no examples beyond IX ranks. The highest two octaves often contain sub-unison pitches.


The earliest examples for which we have compositions are:
Plein-Jeu V (Grand Orgue; l'Eglise de le Trinite, Paris France; Cavaillé-Coll 1868)
f#' 1 5 8 12 15
f#0 8 12 15 19 22
C 15 19 22 26 29

Plein-Jeu IV (Pedale; l'Eglise de le Trinite, Paris France; Cavaillé-Coll 1868)
C 12 22 26 29
CC 22 26 29 33
CCC 26 29 33 36 (1')

Audsley gives the following example:
Plein Jeu VII (Town Hall, Manchester, England; Cavaillé-Coll)
f#3 to c4 - 8- 51581215
c3 to f3 - 8 158121519
f2 to b2 15812151922
f1 to e2 1 81215192226
F to e1 8121519222629
CC to E 15192226293336

Skinner gives this example:
Plein Jeu VII
Scales: 4446444644464446444644
c'' to c'''-8-5 1 5 81215
c'' to b''' -5 1 5 8121519
c' to b' 1 5 812151922
C to B 5 81215192226
CC to BB 8121519222629

See also Fourniture Cymbalisée.


Plein Jeu Harmonique


Osiris lists over 250 organs containing one or more Plein Jeu, ranging from II to IX ranks. The earliest examples are by Clicquot.

Plein-Jeu IV, Grand Choeur; St. Sulpice, Paris, France; Clicquot 1781.

Plein-Jeu VI, Grand Orgue; Plein-Jeu V, Positif; St. Pierre et Paul, Souvigny, Allier, France; Clicquot 1782.

Plein Jeu VII, Positif; Cathedral, Poitiers, France; Clicquot 1790.

Sound Clips

Plein Jeu IV, Récit Expressive St. Bernhard, Mainz, Germany Cavaillé-Coll, 1872-1892 arpeggio St. Anne
Plein Jeu IV, Swell Culver Academies, Indiana, USA Fabry 1982-85; Möller pipes arpeggio St. Anne


Audsley[1]: Plein Jeu. Audsley[2]: I.XIII Plein Jeu. Bedos[1]: § 176-178, 256, 266. Douglass[1]: 73-82, 98, 107, 114. Irwin[1]: Plein Jeu. Maclean[1]: Plein Jeu. Skinner[1]: 44; XII Plein Jeu. Sumner[1]: Plein Jeu. Wedgwood[1]: Plein Jeu. Williams[1]: Glossary: Plein Jeu.
Copyright © 2001 Edward L. Stauff, all rights reserved.
PleinJeu.html - Last updated 13 February 2009.
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