In the manual-naming system that uses Choir, Great, Swell, and Solo, for the first four manuals (bottom to top) of an organ with four or more manuals, what is the usual name for the fifth manual on a five manual or more organ. Google gives so many answers that it confuses more than helps, and Wikipedia seems unsure. To make sure I'm making myself clear, let me ask the same question a slightly different way.

What indication would an American or British organist expect to see as the name in an organ score for a fifth manual, when such is to be used?

7 Answers 7


For the very few organs of that size, usually the number of manual divisions of the instrument is bigger than the number of manual keyboards, and most if not all of the divisions can be assigned to any keyboard. So the "traditional" concept of naming each keyboard according to which group of pipes it controls doesn't really mean anything.

Also, even in a list of the 20 largest pipe organs ever built that are still fully operational, several only have 4 manuals.

But with those caveats, "echo" would be as good a name as any. On a large 4-manual instrument, the fourth manual may provide both "solo" and "echo" stops - i.e. two separate divisions on one keyboard, since there would be no practical purpose in using the loudest and softest stops of the instrument at the same time.

If a piece was written that absolutely requires an instrument of that size (and such pieces are very rare), most likely it would have been written for one specific instrument (since no two are alike!) and in that case, the most sensible naming system would be whatever the organ builder had used.


Organs with 5+ manuals are very rare, very expensive and virtually always unique creations planned from scratch. People and institutions who build or commission one usually want to get something unique and disringuished.

So for several reasons, there is no such standard: the set of relevant examples is too small and the people who could establish one aren't exactly keen on being conformist as opposed to original. The result of your searches just confirms this.


Of those organs I have seen up close, the fifth manual is often assigned for orchestral and antiphonal stops.

I agree that the larger organs are often custom built, and therefore vary in purpose between manufacturers and builders. I am familiar with two such organs, both located in Salt Lake City, Utah. The famous Tabernacle Organ (which I have played once), and the newer organ built for their Conference Center. Both have FIVE manuals.

LDS Tabernacle Organ : Choir (I), Great (II), Swell (III), Solo/Bombarde (IV), Antiphonal (V)

LDS Conference Center Organ : Choir (I), Great (II), Swell (III), Solo (IV), Orchestral (V)

One of purposes of building an organ with multiple manuals is to provide the organist greater flexibility in the variety and richness of sounds, and to be able to quickly switch between stop combinations. Couplers are provided that combine the manuals and ranks together, as well as mixing various instruments, percussion, and other sounds.

So the naming of the manuals often identifies the general ranks they are associated with.

  • 1
    If a single organization has commissioned two similar-sized organs in the same geographical location, there are obvious practical reasons for building the second one with a similar disposition to the first (e.g. one assumes their "staff" organist(s) will regularly play both instruments). I would be cautious of drawing a general conclusion from that specific example.
    – user19146
    Feb 8, 2017 at 2:29
  • Michael, I really appreciate the LDS organ details. I was not even aware that the Conference Center organ HAD five manuals! (Having never seen or heard it.) Thanks. --L3B
    – L3B
    Feb 8, 2017 at 21:59

The only one I have ever seen called it an Echo. It had not occurred to me that this was not the standard term.


Depends on both the "regional flavor" and to some extent the whim of the designers. The large 19th century Cavaille-Coll instrument in Saint Sulpice Paris has 5 keyboards, and these are used in a somewhat unusual way, but quite logical given the time and the region. Most C-C organs separated each division into "foundations" (Fonds -- flutes, diapasons, strings, and soft reeds) and "loudations" (Anches -- loud reeds, mixtures, mutations, etc.) and these were on separate chests with separate wind supplies. There would be a foot lever that could turn on or off the wind -- called a "ventil" -- in the Anches chest. This would allow a loud-adjunct combination to be set up on the Anches chest and brought on by turning on the wind.

The organs from that period did have touch assists (done by pneumatic amplifiers called "Barker Levers") but they didn't have stop combination memories or crescendo pedals, etc. So the ventil levers were useful.

Also, the Barker levers made coupling really useful. The order of manuals in these organs from the bottom is Grand-Orgue (Great), Positive (Choir), Recit (Swell), and they are often played all coupled together -- and this allows going from loud to softer to softer by moving up the manuals, and vice versa.

A fourth manual is usually call "solo" and it is usually the topmost.

"Full Organ" is called "Grand-Choeur" and it is most everything with everything coupled.

Cavaille Coll got the idea for this large organ of its time (100 stops, now 102), to have two keyboards for the Great manual, and at the bottom of the stack: have the "Anches" for the Great be on the bottom manual, and the Fonds for the Great be on the second manual, and have them usually coupled together. This is very handy, and allows rapid easy contrasts. The bottom keyboard is called the Grand-Choeur not just because it is loud, but because it is often the case that all 5 keyboards are coupled together, so that one gets both different colors and loudness on each, but so that one can move down to get full organ.

To make this work, one still needs to control the pedal loudness and timbres, and again a lot is done with both coupling and ventils.

The order from the bottom is Pedal, Grand-Choeur, Grand Orgue, Postive, Recit, Solo.

The other important detail about this large organ is that it uses quite a few ranks of pipes from the previous baroque organ, and these are generally softer. So the build up of sound on the Saint Sulpice instrument is done by using a lot of stops, and the voicing is quite marvelous to allow a very clear sound rather than just mud. One of the most thrilling sounds on any organ is "all the flutes" on all the manuals coupled together and played separately and together.

The current main organist at Saint Sulpice is Daniel Roth, and besides pieces played by him on YouTube, you can also find "Daniel Roth demo" clips of him showing how the instrument is organized.


I was looking into this exact question, even though 5 manual organs are rare beasts, and almost non-existent as far as I know for European organs before the 19th century. To identify the 5th manual (topmost), it can be helpful to apply a few very general rules:

  • Choir (from the word 'Chair') is the lowest manual
  • Swell is the topmost for 2 and 3 manual organs
  • Great is in the middle of a >2 manual organ, or at least one up from Choir.
  • Solo is generally the topmost manual in a 4 manual organ
  • This leaves the topmost manual in a 5 manual organ being either an Echo or Antiphonal.
  • Echo may be more common than Antiphonal in 5 manual organs

After a bit of research, here's my summary of the manuals - from 2 to 5 manual organs. Big rider though: we know there's variability in the manual designs across different organs, and across English/German/French/Dutch organs etc.

FWIW, here's a quick reference table I made:

(From bottom manual to top, excluding pedal)

  • 2 manual: Great - Swell
  • 3 manual: Great - Swell - Solo OR Choir - Great - Swell
  • 4 manual: Choir - Great - Swell - Solo
  • 5 manual: Choir - Great - Swell - Solo - Echo or Antiphonal

Regarding 3 manual organs, I'm not sure which is the more common variant of the two above: a Solo manual at the 'top', or a Choir at the bottom and no Solo

I'm by no means an expert in organ design, so any corrections gratefully accepted!

  • One small update - after doing some organ work lately, I realised the order of my manuals is not quite right (for the Engish organ layout). In the '3 manual' organ, the order from bottom to top should be Choir - Great - Swell. This applies to all 3 and 3+ manual organs, with the main rules being 'Choir' is at the bottom of the console manuals. 'Solo' is unusual in a 3 manual organ (if not 'never happens' - I'm not 100% sure!).
    – Pete855217
    Jul 13, 2019 at 7:37

You've answered your own question. There is no standard name for a 5th manual, though 'Echo' may be as common as anything else. You obviously wouldn't write a piece requiring 5 manuals unless you had a particular performance on a particular instrument in mind. Use the name THAT one uses.

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