Harold Friedell: A Hundredth Anniversary Retrospective

Friedell at St Bartholomew’s Church

The following article, condensed from my doctoral dissertation, appeared in the October 2005 issue of  The American Organist:

HAROLD FRIEDELL  (1905-1958):                                      

A Hundredth Anniversary Retrospective

         Copyright 2005 © Neal Campbell


Harold William Friedell was born on 11 May 1905 at the home of his parents in Jamaica, Queens, in the City of New York.  It seems likely that the young Harold inherited musical talent from the Welsh influence of his mother’s side of the family.  While still a teenager, he gained his first appointment as organist at his family church, First Methodist in Jamaica.

Local newspaper photo of HF in his early teens

A one-page résumé prepared by Friedell sometime after 1946 indicates that his early organ study was with Clement Gale and David McK. Williams.  Gale was an Englishman who served several New York City churches and was a founder of the AGO in 1896.

In the early twentieth century it was not common for church musicians to hold a college degree.  The successful completion of the AGO examinations was the practical equivalent of a graduate degree and much of Friedell’s early study was in preparation for the exams.  He earned the A.A.G.O. just prior to his appointment as organist of Calvary Church in New York, which he assumed in December 1928, succeeding Hugh Porter, who had been the organist for four years.  In addition to his duties at Calvary, HF also trained a choir of boys and girls at the Church of St. James the Less in Scarsdale, New York.  This position was a minor one, consisting of leading the choir for rehearsals on selected weekday afternoons and occasional appearances at Sunday afternoon services or events.  He continued his studies and gained the F.A.G.O. in the spring of 1929 and studied composition with Bernard Wagenaar and Roger Sessions.

Bernard Wagenaar (1894-1971), of Dutch origin, came to Americain 1920 to play violin in the New York Philharmonic.  He taught fugue, orchestration, and composition from 1925 to 1968 at the Institute of Musical Art, which later became the Juilliard School.  In addition to HF, his long list of pupils includes Norman Dello Joio and Ned Rorem.  His First Symphony was premiered by the New York Philharmonic in 1928, beginning a public career which included many awards and commissions.

HF’s recital programs show a definite catholicity of taste, including a lot of early music.  Alongside the standard repertoire of Bach and Franck, there are works by Pachelbel, Clérambault, Couperin, Scheidt, Muffat, LeBègue, Titelouze, and du Mage.  At the other end of the spectrum, he played regularly works by many lesser-knowns of the era, such as Karg-Elert, Rheinberger, Mulet, Guilmant, Lemmens, Parry, Bairstow, and West, and, of course, much from the repertoire of  Widor, Vierne, and Dupré.  He also programmed works of his colleagues Seth Bingham, T. Tertius Noble, Eric DeLamarter, Philip James, Carl McKinley, and T. Frederick H. Candlyn.  It is also fun to see lighter works crop up in the orders of service, such as an occasional transcription of works by Debussy or Wagner, a prelude by Scriabin, adapted works of Honegger and Stravinsky, as well as popular works by Chadwick and Borowski.  In fact, for the remainder of his career, he usually played a transcription of the Prelude to Parsifal at some point on Palm Sunday.  During his first tenure at Calvary, he also listed for the first time works by Vaughan Williams and Howells.  The works of these two English contemporaries held a special interest to him, and people close to him have remarked on the stylistic compositional influences each of these composers had on Friedell’s own works.[1]

Two months shy of his third anniversary at Calvary notice was made that Friedell “accepted a call to become Choirmaster and Organist of St. John’s Church, Jersey City.  We follow him with our interest and good wishes.”[2]  The following week the order of service listed William R. Strickland, Jr., as the organist.  This is the first recorded association between HF and Strickland.  It is not known exactly when they met, but their lives were closely linked throughout HF’s life, both professionally and personally.


At St. John’s Church in Jersey City, New Jersey, Friedell had, for the first time, charge of an entire music program, including the direction of the choir. St. John’swas a prosperous parish with over one thousand communicants and was the largest of the eleven Episcopal churches in Jersey City.  In the area locally known as Jersey City Heights, or simply “the Heights,” St. John’s edifice has a commanding location high on a bluff overlooking lower Manhattan.  Designed in the Gothic Revival style, it sat approximately four hundred persons, with a high ceiling, shallow chancel, and excellent acoustics.    Following a serious fire in 1914, the entire chancel was renovated and a new Austin organ was installed, under the direction of Philip James.

St John’s Church, Jersey City, New Jersey

When Harold arrived at St. John’s, one of the sopranos in the choir was Amy Valleau McGown, the daughter of prominent members of the parish with strong family ties to Jersey City and the Episcopal Church.   They were married in St. John’s Churchon 22 October 1934.  William Strickland[3] played the organ and Paul Callaway was one of the witnesses.[4]

Amy and Harold Friedell on their wedding trip to Atlantic City

A period of youthful activity followed.  Amy, a graduate of New York University, taught music at Stevens Hoboken Academy and directed the glee club of the Jersey City Women’s Club, and pursued a career as a singer, in addition to her position in the choir of St. John’s Church.  In addition to his work at the church, Harold had by now developed a teaching studio, primarily in coaching students preparing to take the AGO examinations.  He was also the accompanist for the 200-voice Downtown Glee Club in New York, a group comprised primarily of businessmen.  He also played regular noonday recitals at Trinity Church, Wall Street, for a fee of twenty-five dollars each, and sang tenor in a group known as the Organists’ Quartet of New York,[5] a group previously unknown to this writer.

Friedell played many recitals but he rarely left New York in so doing.  However, in August 1936, he did make a recital appearance before a convention of the Canadian Collegeof Organists[6] inLondon, Ontario, at the Dundas United Church, which received the following review:

To members of the Canadian College, in attendance at the convention, and to London music lovers generally, last night’s program afforded opportunity of hearing one of the most interesting of the younger organists of the day.  Mr. Friedell plays with brilliance, with style and with authority.  He built up a distinctive program with distinctive skill.  He is a master of the richer, fuller tones of the organ and by the vigor and fluency of his playing adds a certain zest to the performance of even the most severe works.  All these interesting and vital qualities make Mr. Friedell a recitalist worth hearing and his choice of organ literature last evening, including two Bach preludes and closing on the rich dramatic music of the Cesar Franck Final in B flat, demonstrated the judgment and power of his interpretation and his assured ability as an interpreter.[7]

These remarks hint at his playing style, particularly about his being “master of the richer tones” (presumably a positive remark about his use of the organ), and his playing having “a certain zest.”  Each of these echo similar descriptions from those who describe HF’s playing later in his career.[8]

The years in Jersey City were also the most productive years for composition for Friedell, strictly in terms of quantity.  He composed anthems in a youthful style, but belonging

. . . by affinity of artistic temperament to the school of English composers who are writing a new chapter in music on the ancient “modes” as opposed to the schools which are evolving through tonality or atonality.[9]

Several of these early works were submitted under a nom de plume for competitions. By 1936 HF had composed what was to be his largest work, a Symphony for Organ in four movements, which received its first and only known performance by William Strickland, to whom it is dedicated.[10]  In 1937, also under a nom de plume, he composed his only orchestral work, Pavane, which has never been performed.


In the fall of 1939 Vernon de Tar resigned as organist and choirmaster of Calvary Church, where he had followed Strickland, to take the position at the Church of the Ascension.  There he succeeded Jessie Craig Adam, one of several women organists who held positions at prominent churches in the New York area at the time.

A major achievement at Calvary during de Tar’s tenure was the rebuilding of the organ.  Calvary’s organ dated from the late nineteenth century and was built by Roosevelt.  The work was undertaken by Aeolian-Skinner, which kept some of the Roosevelt pipework, and one rank of Cavaillé-Coll reeds from the old organ. Otherwise, it provided an essentially new organ reflecting many of G. Donald Harrison’s early concepts of what soon came to be known as the American Classic Organ.

The printed order of service at Calvary indicates that HF had added the Fellowship from Trinity College of Music in London, England, to his F.A.G.O.  The F.T.C.L. examination was similar in content to the F.A.G.O. and was undertaken by many organists at the time.

In his music lists modern composers of the day were well represented in the services.  Works by Amy Beach, Seth Bingham, Warner Hawkins, Leo Sowerby, Herbert Howells, Healey Willan, and David McK. Williams find their place along side the masterpieces of Brahms, Mendelssohn, and a fairly large dose of Bach.  Several of Friedell’s own works began to appear in the rotation as well, including settings of the communion service, King of Glory, and When Christ Was Born of Mary Free.

In addition to a traditional performance of Bach’s St. John Passion on Palm Sunday, the choir presented three or four major choral works each season for the evening service.  At these services, works such as portions of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Mozart’s Requiem, Gounod’s Gallia, or Horatio Parker’s Hora Novissima would be sung in the context of a service.  With the coming of the new Aeolian-Skinner organ, recitals began to be part of the weekly life of music at Calvary and mid-week recitals were played after the noon service by HF, and guests.

The Friedells’ apartment was in the church house directly behind the church

In addition to the regular yearly cycle of church services, there were frequent special services.  There were many “St. George’s Societies” throughout Manhattan, gatherings of Episcopal lay people who organized themselves at their places of work.  There were St. George’s Societies within the Consolidated Edison Company, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, the telephone workers, the police department—even a St. George’s Society within the transit workers.   Each of these St. George’s Societies had annual services at one of the major Episcopal churches in the city, and Calvary got its share. Calvary’s choir also regularly sang for the annual American Guild of Organists’ service, held on Ascension Day in St. Bartholomew’s Church.  At that time St. Bartholomew’s was a sort of unofficial chapel for the AGO.  The church was located near AGO headquarters, and the annual meeting was always held in St. Bartholomew’s choir room, before the service. These services usually combined several choirs, of differing denominations, to sing Evensong together with a major choral work, or group of shorter works. By 1945, Friedell also taught on the faculty of the School of Sacred Music of Union Theological Seminary, teaching composition and improvisation.  Later, he joined the faculty of the Guilmant Organ School, as well.

As the effects of the Great Depression wore on, the fact that the position of organist at Calvarycame with an apartment was a significant benefit to a young man, now with a family.  Calvary House, as the church’s parish house was known, is an eight-story apartment house situated on the north side of Gramercy Park.  The lower floors of the building contain parish offices and common rooms typical of any church facility.  The upper floors contain apartments where the clergy and some of the lay staff, including the Friedells, lived.  There is every indication that HF always got along with everyone and enjoyed cordial and friendly relationships with everyone at Calvary, and especially so with the rector, the Rev. Samuel Shoemaker.  In his weekly announcements in the orders of service and in the annual year books, the rector spoke warmly about Friedell and the choir and reveled in  their accomplishments.

Likewise, in his Friedell paid homage to his rector, dedicating to him one of his recent anthems for Christmas, When Christ was born of Mary free.  HF continued to compose as much as he could, given the growing demands that the church job and family made on his time.  His anthem King of glory, King of peace, to a text by George Herbert, won the annual AGO anthem prize in 1941 and, although it was not his first published composition, it was his first to be published by H. W. Gray, was a very popular, and brought Friedell’s name to an even wider public.

By 1946 Friedell had established himself as one of the foremost church musicians, organists, and teachers in New York.  In addition to his teaching he had been the national treasurer of the American Guild of Organists since 1934, and was by now the chairman of the committee on examinations of the AGO.  He was also increasingly in demand as a summer workshop teacher.  In the summer of 1946, he was on the faculty of the Wellesley Conference School of Music, a noted ten-day summer conference held on the campus of Wellesley College in Massachusetts.  In June and July 1946, he shared faculty positions with his old friends William Strickland and Paul Callaway.

It was a complete shock when, early in November 1946, the rector of St. Bartholomew’s, the Reverend George Paull Torrence Sargent called, asking Friedell to stop by his office, telling that David McK. Williams would be leaving St. Bartholomew’s, and asking Friedell to be his successor.


The Choir of St Bartholomew’s Church. David McK Williams is on the right side toward the back

It is difficult to adequately describe the singular significance of St. Bartholomew’s Church, and its music, as it evolved through the first half of the twentieth century to the point where Friedell found it at mid-century.  The church’s dramatic architecture and location, its social history and noted clergy, the large double organ and professional choir, and impressive heritage (including Leopold Stokowski) all set the stage for a superlative program.  Added to this was the dynamic, charismatic personality and creative musicianship of David McK. Williams, organist and choirmaster since 1920.

David McK. Williams was the stuff of legends.  To say he was colorful is a serious understatement.  Much of Virgil Fox’s playing style[11] and flamboyance, including his wearing of a cape,[12] were directly influenced by David McK.Williams.   DMcKW was well-known and liked, was a leader in AGO activities, and had many pupils and friends all over the country.  He also led a very public gay lifestyle, which, even for New York City in the 1940s, was cause for comment.[13]   By all accounts, his service playing—improvisations, hymns, and oratorio accompaniments—were brilliant.  People flocked to his musical services.  It is not an overstatement to say that by 1946 he was a legend.

St Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue in the 1950s

David McK. Williams’ leave taking from St. Bartholomew’s created a frenzy in the church music community.  In reality, he was terminated for an undisclosed indiscretion of some sort, which the church took significant pains to cover up.  The rector said in the weekly announcement sheet “The Message” that St. Bartholomew’s beloved Dr. Williams was taking a leave of absence because a hearing loss adversely affected his work, that he was seeking treatment, and that it was fervently hoped that he could return to his duties.  Vestry minutes contain elaborate, solicitous descriptions of DMcKW seeking treatments, together with discussions of favorable financial arrangements for both his temporary leave and, ultimately, his permanent retirement.  In an astonishing scenario, the rector even asks DMcKW on who ought to follow him.  The rector vetoed Vernon de Tar.  Paul Callaway and William Strickland were considered.  Strickland had just been appointed conductor of the Nashville Symphony and Callaway had just returned to Washington Cathedral following military service, so neither of them was interested.  So it was that David McK. Williams recommended his former student to succeed him.  Friedell was initially appointed as interim just before Advent 1946, his permanent appointment withheld until the following spring.  Stories, gossip, and innuendo were rampant.  Announcements in the magazines gave conflicting stories.  T. Scott Buhrman, writing in The American Organist of January 1947 said

I consider Dr. Williams the world’s greatest exponent of the beautiful and forceful in Episcopal music and it is not at all necessary to hear every other Episcopal church service in order to make such a statement.  It’s not necessary to be bitten by every rattlesnake in order to state without question that such an experience is painful. . . . Will Dr. Williams return?  I fervently hope so. . . . And now, temporarily at least, the music of St. Bartholomew’s drops back to ordinary excellence.  Its superexcellence will never return in this generation unless Dr. Williams comes back.[14]

This vein of thought was typical of many whose loyalty to Williams bordered on fanaticism.  Buhrman, to his credit, does finish his editorial acquiescing that, indeed, Friedell was the logical successor to Williams, and cited his good work at Calvary Church.  The Diapason of the same month reported the same story by simply stating the facts, quoting largely from the rector’s letter in “The Message.”

The only reason any of this is important (other than to provide an interesting social commentary on the era) is to observe the very visible nature of the job and to impart something of the scrutiny under which Harold Friedell began his work at St. Bartholomew’s.  All the more so in that Williams remained very much on the scene, traveling, leading workshops, and collaborating at friends’ churches around the country.  He did not lead the life of an ill man and lived into his 90s, although the talk of his hearing loss never dissipated.  I was among a large number present at a reception in the Community House auditorium of St. Bartholomew’s Church on his 90th birthday, following Evensong.  We had a brief, but very specific conversation about people we knew in common and he had no difficulty hearing me in the crowded room.


The appointment of Harold Friedell to St. Bartholomew’s Church in the City of New York was duly noted on page six of the April 1947 issue of The Diapason, complete with a recent portrait.  The news release gave the facts, citing Dr. Sargent’s letter to the congregation from the most recent issue of “The Message.”  In essence, Sargent’s letter (portions of which also appeared in The Diapason) told the church music world that David McK. Williams had submitted his resignation a second time, and that despite rest since December 1946, he felt that he could not resume his work.  His resignation was accepted with regret.  There followed the customary good wishes both for Friedell and Williams, with the particular hope that Dr. Williams’ hearing might eventually be restored.  Potential controversy was carefully averted, and a new day began.  In the elegant printed booklet containing the monthly order of service HF’s name and certification initials are listed with those of the parish clergy; his title was “Organist and Master of the Choir.”  Previously, Williams’ name was not listed on the printed order of service.

At the time HF moved to St. Bartholomew’s, he began to relinquish some of his other peripheral activities, including his two volunteer positions in the AGO.  He, of course, kept up cordial relations with the Guild, as it continued to hold their annual meeting and Ascension Day service at St. Bartholomew’s.  Later in his tenure, he again held national office as auditor.

HF seems to have weathered the transition at St. Bartholomew’s well.  He was highly respected as an organist, composer, and teacher.  He had an easy-going personality, good sense of humor, and a high degree of competence, all of which aided him in his ability to easily fit into his new position.  Dr. Sargent made considerable effort to support and accommodate Friedell, knowing full well the load that inevitably would fall to anyone following in the footsteps of DMcKW.  It must be said that Dr. Sargent was good for his word, and remained steadfast in his support.  This good will notwithstanding, there were echoes of jealousy and bitterness regarding his appointment which continued for the rest of his life.  Such was the nature of the much coveted position of organist of St. Bartholomew’s Church.  If there was any worry in Friedell’s mind pertaining to the circumstances of his appointment, there is no indication of it.  He appears to have assumed his tasks with a forthright confidence that comes from competence in one’s craft and security in knowing of the boss’s approval.  HF did cancel his advertisement in The American Organist at about this time.  For some time he felt that Buhrman’s style presented the profession in an undignified light.  For many years, it was Buhrman’s custom to attend church services throughout New York and review them in his magazine, dissecting every nuance of the service, its music, preachers, ushers, ladies apparel, etc. in a chatty style, in every way similar to that of a restaurant reviewer or gossip columnist.  In this practice, Buhrman had his favorites, and St. Bartholomew’s under David McK. was at the top of the list.  His accounts in hindsight are embarrassing in their obsequious superlatives.  Buhrman never reviewed any of Friedell’s services at St. Bartholomew’s, but he did review many of his compositions in The American Organist.

During his first season at St. Bartholomew’s, Friedell programmed much in the manner he did at Calvary.   There was an occasional anthem, or piece of service music of his own composing, but it could never be said that he used his position to promote his own works.  The compositions of his predecessors did get a significant hearing, particularly the works of Williams, but also incidental pieces of Arthur Hyde, and Stokowski’s setting of the Benedicite, which it appears tradition dictated be kept in the rotation.

There were more services at St. Bartholomew’s than at Calvary.  Evensong was sung every Sunday afternoon, together with a cantata or oratorio.  In addition to Sunday duties, there were many occasions for weekday services at which music was expected.  Even though the churchmanship at St. Bartholomew’s was militantly low (there was lively discussion, for example, in 1943, when it was first decided to use a processional cross)[15] the complete liturgical calendar was observed, and days such as Ash Wednesday were kept with services using organ and choir in the morning, afternoon, and evening.  During Lent, there were daily services of preaching, featuring well-known local and national clergy and lay speakers.  On Wednesday evenings in Lent and, sometimes in Advent as well, there were evenings of special music appropriate to the season.  Typically, the six Wednesday evenings in Lent would begin with the annual performance of the Verdi Requiem on Ash Wednesday, one or two organ recitals, a program with organ and other instruments, frequently featuring violinist Eugenie Limberg, (who frequently played major concertos for the violin, such as those of Beethoven, Saint-Saëns, or Bruch, with organ accompaniment), perhaps another choral work, or pageant prepared in conjunction with the choir of the community house.  The Lenten series always culminated with the singing of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion on Wednesday evening in Holy Week.

The Choir of St Bartholomew’s singing carols at a bank near the church at Christmas

On the staff of musicians at St. Bartholomew’s was always an assistant organist who played the early chapel service, and turned pages, and sometime accompanied the choir at the main services.  HF’s assistants, in succession, were, briefly John Morton, whom he inherited, Owen Brady, Lillian Clark, John Rodgers, Frederick Swann, George Powers, and Allen Sever.  Rodgers also worked as an editor at the H. W. Gray Company and edited many of Friedell’s compositions published by Gray.  Since Gray was also the American agent for Novello, Rodgers had access to many of the latest compositions by English composers and passed them along to Friedell.   Typically, Friedell played the entire service, including the prelude, which was usually improvised, and a postlude.  Friedell’s style of service playing was a continuation of what he assimilated from Williams.  It was essentially colorful and musical, with a fluid, legato style.  He used the organ well, soloing out melodies and counter melodies on distinctive stops.  He also improvised well and often, both as voluntaries before and after the service, and in the accompaniments to the hymns.

For his first Lenten series of Wednesday evening programs, Friedell maintained the traditional places of honor for the Verdi Requiem and Bach St. Matthew Passion.  He also played a recital the second week of Lent, consisting of the Prelude and Fugue in B minor of Bach, a chorale prelude on the hymn tune St. Flavian by Seth Bingham, and the three chorales of Franck.  The following week at an organ recital, Searle Wright included Ecologue, the only piece for organ written by Friedell’s old teacher, Bernard Wagenaar.  The fourth Wednesday evening, Ruth Diehl sang a program with organ accompaniment which included Weinberger’s solo cantata The Way to Emmaus.  Ruth Diehl had sung this work in previous years during Lent and it was something of a tradition.[16]  The fifth Wednesday evening featured a performance of Sowerby’s recently-composed Passiontide oratorio, Forsaken of Man.  This work, too, became a staple of the Lenten repertoire at St. Bartholomew’s.

In the 1930s St. Bartholomew’s organ received some significant additions to the 1918 Skinner.  When the dome over the crossing was completed in 1930, Skinner added a Celestial division in it, containing some very soft ethereal stops, as well as a commanding battery of chorus reeds on high pressure.  A fifth manual[17] was added to the existing four-manual console to control the dome division.  In 1936, an essentially new three-manual organ designed along classic lines by G. Donald Harrison, was placed in the gallery of the church.  The pipework formerly occupying that location was redistributed among the chancel divisions of the organ.

Shortly after Friedell’s arrival, discussions arose focusing on the deficiencies in the organ.  Finally, in November 1952, a contract was signed with Aeolian-Skinner for what was essentially a new organ in the chancel and a reconditioning of the other parts of the organ, together with a new five-manual console.  The general character of the organ remained the same, but from a mechanical standpoint it was much improved.

HF at the new Aeolian-Skinner console, ca 1953

Some of Friedell’s best-known compositions date from the mid 1950s and were sung for the first time by St. Bartholomew’s Choir from manuscript copies.  The Te Deum in B-flat was written for the service instituting the Reverend Anson Phelps Stokes as rector in 1950.  This Is the Day and Song of Mary  were composed to texts written or compiled by Leonard Young.  Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether was set in anthem form with an organ accompaniment from a hymn tune he had composed for use as an orison while at Calvary Church.  For This Cause was composed for the service instituting the Reverend Terence J. Finlay as rector in October 1955.

In the tradition of the collaboration between David McK. Williams and Leonard Young, Friedell wrote a pageant, The Feast of the Star, with Lee Hastings Bristol, Jr.,[18] which was produced first in 1956.  Friedell and Bristol had previously collaborated in Hymns for Children and Grownups, an ecumenical hymnal with texts and tunes appropriate for young people, for which they each wrote new tunes to several hymns.

With the advent of the new organ came increasingly more organ recitals.  Noonday programs on Wednesday, and later Friday, were added to the regular musical calendar of the church.  Friedell played many of these, taking turns with his assistants, students, and visiting organists traveling through New York.  In addition to the standard repertoire, Friedell occasionally planned programs entirely of early music, as well.  In June 1954, Friedell and assistant Frederick Swann played four successive programs devoted to the works of du Mage, Frescobaldi, Hanff, Mufatt, Titelouze, Clérambault, Krebs, Buxtehude, Purcell, Zipoli, Couperin, Böhm, Sweelinck, Vogler, Stanley, and Mozart.  It does appear that they were trying to make a point; such extensive forays into the pre-Bach literature were rare at St. Bartholomew’s.  The following fall saw the opening recital on more familiar ground, with works by Bach, Franck, and Percy Whitlock.

Local paper in Marshall, Missouri, announcing honorary degree candidates at Missouri Valley College

In June 1957 Missouri Valley College awarded Harold Friedell the honorary degree Doctor of Music.  Lee Hastings Bristol, Jr. was on the board of trustees and had an honorary degree from the college, and it is likely that he nominated Friedell for this honor. Friedell played a recital in the college chapel as part of the commencement weekend activities and took part in the degree ceremony.  From Missouri, Friedell flew alone to Houston, where he had been engaged to direct the annual diocesan choir festival at Christ Church Cathedral where Jack Ossewaarde, his former pupil, and successor at Calvary Church in New York, was now the organist and choirmaster.  The trip to the mid-west and Texas was more traveling than any of the Friedells had ever before undertaken.  It was, therefore, all the more unusual that the family traveled to Europe that summer, taking a six-week tour of England and France.   The impetus for the trip was the first International Congress of Organists, which was to take place in London in late July and early August, and which was a collaboration between the AGO and the Royal Canadian College of Organists and the Royal College of Organists.  Ralph Vaughan Williams was the honorary chairman of the congress, and Sir William McKie, the organist and master of the choristers of Westminster Abbey, was the chairman of the RCO planning group.  Friedell did not participate in the music making, and none of his music was heard,[19] but he attended many of the congress events and met both Vaughan Williams and Howells, whose music had influenced him since his youth.  In addition to the events surrounding the congress, the Friedell family toured France, where they spent a lot of time hearing services and recitals on the famous French organs.  HF was very interested in hearing for himself French organ playing, and he showed a special interest in hearing as much improvisation as he could, calling at the organ lofts of both St. Sulpice and Notre-Dame, where he spent time with Dupré and Cochereau, respectively.

HF and some relatives in England, summer 1957

Harold Friedell was never more confident and secure in his own work than in the opening weeks of the 1957 season as he experienced a rejuvenation from the summer’s trip, and from the acclaim his work received.[20]  In January 1958 a program devoted entirely to his compositions was given by the newly-formed New York City chapter of the AGO.  It is evident that he was at last gaining recognition for the merit of his own work, not simply as the one who followed David McK. Williams.

The last Sunday before Lent, 16 February 1958, was like most others for the Friedells—the early drive into the city from their home in Hastings-on-Hudson, Amy going to the Church of the Resurrection, where she was the soprano soloist, for the morning service, then joining Harold for Evensong at four o’clock at St. Bartholomew’s.

On the drive home to Hastings that evening it started to snow.   The following morning, Harold had to be in the city as usual, for a lesson.  By then it had snowed so much that Amy couldn’t get the car out of the garage to take Harold to the train, as was their normal routine, so he started to walk to the station.  Under normal conditions it would have been a leisurely walk, less than a mile down the hill toward the Hudson River.  By the time he crossed Broadway, the main thoroughfare through the towns along the Hudson, he started to feel badly.  When he reached the center of town, he stopped in a coffee shop, got on a stool, ordered a cup of coffee, and fell to the floor.  He had died of a heart attack, which came without warning.

Friedell in the classroom

On Thursday morning, following his death there was a simple, but impressive funeral in St. Bartholomew’s Church.  The church was full.  The choir and clergy processed silently into the church, before the coffin, on top of which was placed his doctoral hood.  Allen Sever, the assistant organist played the service.  Following the opening sentences, Psalms 23 and 121 were sung to Anglican chant.  Lessons were read, followed by hymns, “O what their joy and their glory must be,” and “Jerusalem! high tower thy glorious walls.”  Prayers followed, after which was sung one of Friedell’s most popular kneeling orisons “Day by day, dear Lord of thee three things I pray.”  Following Cardinal Newman’s prayer “O Lord support us all the day long” was sung verse five from Cecil Frances Alexander’s familiar hymn,

And our eyes at last shall see him,

Through his own redeeming love;

For that child so dear and gentle

Is our Lord in heav’n above.

And he leads his children on

To the place where he is gone.

Following the blessing and seven-fold Amen, the choir sang a setting of the Nunc dimittis by David McK. Williams, as it processed down the center aisle of the church, the coffin and family following.  On the steps and sidewalk in front of the church, the choir formed a double line, as the coffin and family walked between to the waiting hearse and funeral cars.  The funeral procession then made its way to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown, just a few miles north of the Friedells’ home.  There Harold William Friedell is buried in a handsome plot along side many of his wife’s family.  Amy Valleau McGown, Mrs. Harold Friedell, died on 3 February 1994, and was buried there on 13 February 1994.


Harold Friedell’s death was duly announced in The Diapason on page one of the March 1958 issue, and in The American Organist with a recent photograph.  At St. Bartholomew’s, “The Message” the following week contained a tribute, and at the vestry meeting of 10 March 1958 the rector noted his passing and thanked the members of the vestry who had attended the funeral.  A motion made by Walter Hoving, president of Tiffany’s, was passed, which called for an amount equal to Friedell’s salary to be sent to Mrs. Friedell through October.  A memorial account was also set up to channel contributions toward an education fund for the Friedell children.  The rector also noted that he had received several nominations and applications for the position.  In fact, there was a large list of people who wanted the job badly, including Virgil Fox, organist of the Riverside Church, who made quite a campaign to Dr. Finlay in the time before Friedell’s successor was announced.[21]

The musical activities of the Lenten season progressed as usual and the music of Friedell was especially prominent in on the music list during the months following his death.  In the meantime, Dr. Finlay consulted about the matter of a successor with David McK. Williams and Lee Bristol who each vetoed several names.  Before presenting the name of his choice to the vestry, Dr. Finlay spoke with Mrs. Friedell, asking her opinion of two or three leading candidates, including Vernon de Tar, which pleased her—both the gesture of his asking and his choice of Jack Ossewaarde.

Continuing the legacy and memory of Friedell’s life most of all, however, is his music, which has continued to be used throughout the country and recently in England.  Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether is the best-known, selling as many as 20,000 copies in a given year.  Its appearance in hymn-tune form in several hymnals has enhanced its appeal and renown even more.    Newly-published manuscripts and reprints of older works also have begun to appear in recent catalogs.



Neal Campbell is the organist and choirmaster of St. Stephen’s Church, Richmond, Virginia, and is a member of the adjunct faculty of the University of Richmond.  For his DMA degree in 1996 from the Manhattan School of Music his dissertation dealt with the life and works of Harold Friedell and is available as UMI #9703850 from www.umi.com.  Most of Friedell’s music is available from Pine Hill Press at www.pinehillmusic.com.  A chronology, opus list, and discography of Friedell’s music is available from the author at nealcampbell@ymail.com

[1]Eugenie Limberg Dengel, New York; interview by author, Feb. 1996.

[2]Order of service, Calvary Church, New York, 11 October 1931.

[3]Strickland and Friedell were close friends; at one point prior to Friedell’s marriage, they roomed together.  Several of Friedell’s organ works are dedicated to him, and he played the first (sometimes, only) performances. Always passionately involved in contemporary music, he initiated and edited a series published by the H. W. Gray Co., which commissioned organ works from well-known composers who typically did not write for the organ.  The result was a collection, still in print, of original works for organ by such composers as Henry Cowell, Aaron Copland, Ernst Krenek, Darius Milhaud, Walter Piston, Douglas Moore, Virgil Thomson, Roger Sessions, and Arnold Schoenberg.

[4]Callaway was a pupil of T. Tertius Noble of St. Thomas Church. From 1939 to 1977 he was the organist and choirmaster of Washington Cathedral.  During his student days inNew York he was the organist and choirmaster of St. Thomas Chapel, now All Saints’ Church, on E. 60th St., where Sunday evening services were held late enough that he first attended Evensong at St. Bartholomew’s at four o’clock, often turning pages for Williams. It is likely that he knew Friedell from this association.

[5]Hudson Dispatch, 16 Sept. 1936.

[6]Now the Royal Canadian College of Organists.

[7]Hudson Dispatch, 16 Sept. 1936.

[8]Thomas Atkin, Jack Ossewaarde, Frederick Swann, and others; interviews with the author, 1985-96.

[9]Hudson Dispatch, 16 Sept. 1936.  Probably a reference to Vaughan Williams and Howells. Although this is not identified as a quotation of Friedell’s, it seems likely that the unidentified writer was using his language to describe his compositions. It is an articulate and accurately succinct description of his works.

[10]The slow movement, Cantabile, was published posthumously, and has  been performed and recorded.

[11] Tapes of Fox masterclasses at http://www.virgilfox.com

[12] Richard Torrence & Marshall Yaeger. Virgil Fox (The Dish): An Irreverent Biography of the Great American Organist.  New York: Circles International, 2001.  85.

[13] Anthony Tommassini. Virgil Thomson: Composer on the Aisle. New York, Norton, 1997.

14 T. Scott Buhrman, editorial in The American Organist, 30:1 (Jan. 1947).  At the time The Diapason was the official journal of the AGO and TAO was a separate, independent magazine reflecting to a large degree Burnham’s personal views.  It had no relation to the present-day TAO.

[15]Minutes of the vestry of St. Bartholomew’s Church, 3 May 1943.

[16]Frederick Swann later introduced this same work to a younger generation, creating a tradition at The Riverside Church, performing it yearly on the afternoon of Easter Day, with soprano Louise Natalie.

[17]This fifth manual stayed until the arrival of the new five-manual console in 1953, at which time this single, additional keyboard became the property of Aeolian-Skinner, and saw use as a tuning and finishing keyboard–literally traveling around the country on installation jobs.   When Aeolian-Skinner closed for business in 1973, this same keyboard was procured by Anthony Bufano, then curator of the organ at St. Bartholomew’s, who placed it in the Celestial organ in the dome as a tuning keyboard, where it exists today.

[18]Bristol, heir to the pharmaceutical company, and his family, were prominent members of St. Bartholomew’s. Bristol later made significant contributions to church music as a member of the Joint Commission on Church Music of the Episcopal Church, and as president of Westminster Choir College.

[19]Friedell had recently composed a particularly effective setting of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in F, at the request of Searle Wright.  Wright was the program chairman of the American wing of the ICO, and there was some discussion as to the possibility of using Friedell’s canticles for the opening Evensong at Westminster Abbey.  Instead, Howells’ recently completed Westminster Service was sung.

[20]Searle Wright; interview by author, February 1996.

[21]The Rev. Terence J. Finlay; interview by author, Washington, DC, March 1985.


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5 responses to “Harold Friedell: A Hundredth Anniversary Retrospective

  1. I am then one who took the photos of Friedell at the console of St. B’s and also in our classroom at UTS. I was in his composition class in the 1950s My first year was hectic as a “newbie” who knew little about composing as I did not understand his sense of humor. But by the second year I had absorbed his styles and had matured to where I felt at ease asking him if one had to be “inspired” to write sacred music. He said, “No, it is a skill.” In fact, he became a true mentor and helped me in developing my own talents, giving me personal tutoring in composition at St. Barth’s. I treasure his memory.

  2. RD

    Somewhere I have some old sheet music my late father wrote around 1955 and had copyrighted, I am pretty sure at least one also had Harold Freidell’s name on it with the copyright, I’ll have to look for it.

  3. Pingback: New York Organists from the Past | Neal Campbell--Words and Pictures.

  4. Adamm Ferrier

    Thank you for this illuminating work of a composer I have much admired for many years. Friedell’s “Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in F” is a joy to sing, and remains in the repertoire of St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Melbourne Australia (which is understood to be the only Anglican cathedral in the Southern Hemisphere to maintain a daily choral Evensong). The tragedy of Friedell’s comparatively early death is profound: the world is poorer for his loss.

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