First Baptist Church, Longview, Texas

FBC interior front

Aeolian-Skinner Organ, Opus 1174    1951

The Rodgers Lacy Memorial Organ

GREAT598365_3997052807096_2102010609_n

16        Quintaten

8          Principal

8         Flûte Harmonïque

8         Spitzflöte

4          Octave

4           Flûte Couverte

2 2/3  Twelfth

2           Fifteenth

VI         Fourniture

IV         Cymbel

               Chimes

               Harp

               Celesta

T. J. Williams tuning Opus 1174

T J Williams tuning 1174

SWELL

16          Gedackt

8             Geigen Prinzipal

8             Gedackt

8             Viole de Gambe

8              Viole Celeste

8              Flute Celeste II

4             Principal

4              Flûte Triangulaire

2 2/3     Nazard

2             Octavin

III          Plein Jeu

III           Scharf

16            Bombarde

8              Trompette

8              Hautbois

8             Vox Humana

4            Clairon

                Tremulant

CHOIR

Nora Williams during the installation of 1174

Nora Williams during the installation of 1174

8           Concert Flute

8           Viola

8           Viola Celeste

8           Gamba Celeste II

8           Dolcan

8           Dolcan Celeste

4           Spitzprinzipal

III        Kleinmixtur

16         Fagot

8           Trompette

8           English Horn

4          Cromorne

             Tremulant

             Harp

             Celesta

POSITIV

8             Cor de Nuit

4             Nachthorn

2 2/3     Nasat

2             Blockflöte

1   3/5    Tierce

1             Sifflöte

BOMBARDE

1174 Bombarde

1174 Bombarde division

8           Trompette Harmonïque

4           Clairon Harmonïque

VI          Cornet

GALLERY

8           Bourdon

4           Principal

IV         Fourniture

              Chimes

PEDAL

32         Bourdon

16          Contrebasse

16          Bourdon

16          Contra Viola

16         Gedackt (Sw.)

16         Quintaten (Gr.)

8           Principal

8           Bourdon

8          Spitzflöte

8           Viola

8           Gedackt (Sw.)

4           Choral Bass

4            Nachthorn

Pipework (3), 1950 Aeolian-Skinner, Opus 1174, First Baptist Church, Longview, Texas

1174 Great division

III          Fourniture

32           Bombarde

16           Ophicleide

16            Bombarde (Sw.)

8               Posaune

4              Clairon

16             Gallery Bourdon

8                Gallery Bourdon

It has been remarked that the famous European organs owe a good part of their success to the vast and resonant Gothic buildings in which they stand free and open.  Present day building costs have put great Gothic churches out of reach, but in Longview’s First Baptist Church the architectural firm of Wilson, Morris & Crain has preserved the Gothic spirit in line and proportion within the comparatively moderate cost levels of contemporary style.  They have created a lofty and spacious church of real architectural distinction; and they offered the organ builder an ideal set of conditions, most of which he himself was allowed to specify.  All matters of acoustics were put into the hands of Messrs. Boldt, Beranek & Newman at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with the requirement that the finished building must be entirely satisfactory both for speech and music, with Mr. Harrison to have the final say on the latter.  This difficult aim has been perfectly realized.  Furthermore, the organ was given a commanding open location, with the organ builder’s wishes followed to the letter.  Under these conditions Mr. Harrison has created a truly great organ in the French Cathedral style, but with a refinement and finish the French builders never dreamed of.

 There being three reed choruses, the full organ has the fiery brilliance one associates with French organs, but the reeds in no way outshine the splendor of the flue work.  The great Principal, for instance, has a lovely singing quality which this remarkable room preserves and delivers to the ear even at the back wall 220 feet away.  This quality is present in all the stops singly and in any combination, so that the tone is fresh and vital to a superlative degree.  Even the mouth characteristic of the pipes is clearly audible (this made extra careful regulation mandatory) so there is no question of anything less than complete clarity.

 The lavish provision of mixtures and mutations yields a tone of fascinating complexity, in which every sound interlocks without confusing pitch lines.  An additional small flue chorus is located in the gallery, not as an echo organ, but to bolster congregational singing.

 Although this organ leans toward the Classic side, it affords five pairs of strings and quasi-strings, a vox humana, and percussions, not to mention the wonderful flutes and small reeds.  It will do full justice to any music, even the humblest; in grandeur it holds its own with the great organs of the world.

–Roy Perry, from a pamphlet he wrote describing the organ, together with those of First Presbyterian, Kilgore, and St. Luke’s Methodist, Kilgore, when the organs were new.           

Roy Perry at the console during the tonal finishing.

Roy Perry at the console during the tonal finishing.

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St. Luke’s United Methodist Church Kilgore, Texas

67610020
Aeolian-Skinner Organ, Opus 1175

1952, revised 1977-78 by Roy Perry and J. C. Williams

GREAT

16       Quintaten

8          Principal

4          Octave

2 2/3  Twelfth

2            Fifteenth

IV         Fourniture

IV         Cornet

ENCLOSED GREAT

8      Concert Flute

8      Flauto Dolce

8      Flute Celeste

4      Koppelflöte

8      Cromorne

         Tremulant

SWELL

8          Gedackt

8          Viola

8          Viola Celeste

4          Principal

4          Rohrflöte

2 2/3  Nazard

2           Blockflöte

III-V   Plein Jeu

16         Bassoon

8            Trompette

4            Clairon

                Tremulant

8             Trompette-en-Chamade (Unenclosed)

PEDAL

16          Contre Basse

16          Gedackt (Sw.)

16          Quintaten (Gr.)

8            Spitz Principal

8            Gedackt (Sw.)

4           Choral Bass

III        Mixture

16          Bassoon (Sw.)

St. Luke’s Church presents an exactly opposite set of conditions to those at First Baptist in Longview.  Of a type all too common in the United States, the church is cozy and small, with a low pitched and padded roof, and a complete absence of “live” acoustical characteristics.  The architect provided no organ space at all.  The organ builder’s problems were manifold but not insurmountable, and, with the cooperation of a sympathetic and realistic committee, they have been solved with notable success.

The committee rejected a rather skimpy three-manual plan in favor of a very comprehensive two-manual.  This wise choice put the maximum of available funds into pipes rather than mechanism, and gave the church the distinction of having one of the largest two manual organs in the world.

The usual snag in designing a two-manual organ for church use is in the matter of swell boxes.  The great chorus suffers from enclosure as a rule, or else service playing is handicapped by the limitation of a single enclosed division.  At St. Luke’s this difficulty is solved by a split great.  The chorus is in the open as it should be, and visible; and the secondary Great voices, including a soft celeste and a color reed, are in a box.

The tonal aim was to produce a thoroughbred “Grand Orgue” effect, but on a miniature scale in keeping with the intimate character of the church.  To avoid excessive loudness on the one hand and a tonal dryness on the other, with all elements in balance, is a severe test of an organ builder’s skill.  By the use of moderate scales, low wind pressures, and very careful voicing techniques St. Luke’s organ has come off very well indeed.  It is possible to use the full organ for hymns without complaints from the congregation; the organ is smooth and flexible for choral accompaniment; and there is hardly anything in organ literature that cannot be played with complete satisfaction.

The reed chorus is exceptionally good.  A half-length Bassoon, a small scale Trompette, and an octave Hautbois provide three distinctive solo voices which unite into the intense band of tone essential to a proper Swell organ.  A little gem of a mixture goes equally well with these and with the flue chorus on a broad Viola-Gedeckt base.  An equally distinguished tone quality is present throughout the entire organ.   

–Roy Perry, from a pamphlet he wrote describing the organ, together with those of First Presbyterian, Kilgore, and First Baptist, Longview, when the organs were new.

67610015

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First Baptist Church Nacogdoches, Texas

Aeolian-Skinner Organ, Opus 1153-A        1953

GREAT67590014

8   Principal

8    Orchestral Flute

8    Gemshorn

8    Gemshorn Celeste

4    Principal

4    Harmonic Flute

IV  Fourniture

        Chimes

SWELL

8     Gedackt

8     Viola

8     Viola Celeste

4     Montre

III  Plein Jeu

16   Bassoon

8      Trompette

4      Hautbois

        Tremulant

PEDAL

16    Contre Basse

16    Bourdon (Gr.)

16    Contra Viola (Sw.)

8      Principal

8      Flute

8      Viola (Sw.)

4      Choral Bass

16    Bassoon

8      Bassoon

4      Bassoon67590011

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Honoring Judith Hancock: 2004 and 2012

In the spring of 2004 two of the happiest events of my professional career occurred within about six weeks of each other–the second a direct result of the first.

To celebrate the completion of a two-year restoration of the fine Aeolian-Skinner organ in St. Stephen’s Church in Richmond, Va., where I served from 1985-2006, we organized a weekend of events featuring Judith and Gerre Hancock, Charles Callahan, and Steve Emery.  On Friday evening Judith was presented in a full length recital  which was co-sponsored by the local chapter of the A.G.O.  Saturday was given over to masterclasses and workshops led by Judith and Gerre on pieces and improvisation topics relevent to the current A.G.O. examinations.  Charlie Callahan  talked about G. Donald Harrison and Aeolian-Skinner, and Steve spoke about the organ’s restoration and took workshop registrants through the organ.

Gerre Hancock, Richard Newman (who played in the masterclass), and Charles Callahan at St. Stephen’s, Richmond, Va., March 2004

On Sunday morning, Gerre directed the choir and played the organ, and Steve led interested parishioners on tours through the organ between services.  In the afternoon, an open rehearsal was followed by a big Evensong, for which Gerre directed and Charlie accompanied, which combined St. Stephen’s Choir, and  the choirs of St. Catherine’s and St. Christopher’s Schools–two diocesan schools whose campuses are adjacent to the church which were led by my colleagues Greg Vick and Nick Stephenson.  The repertoire included Gerre’s Responses, Charlie’s Harvard Service, and concluded with all of the choirs singing Parry’s cantata-length anthem Hear my words, ye people.  Folk in my choir were excited to be singing music by living composers in their presence! The afternoon concluded with one of Gerre’s signature symphony improvisations, the themes for each of the movements drawn from prominent themes  from the service.

A month or so before these events, at Charlie Callahan’s instigation, I had been added to the board of trustees of St. Dunstan’s College of Sacred Music in Providence, Rhode Island.  And so it was that late that Sunday evening after we had all been to dinner, Charlie said to me that he thought it would be fitting if the College awarded an honorary doctorate to Judith.  The Hancocks were soon to be leaving New York where they had served at St. Thomas Church since 1971, and Gerre already had several honorary degrees, and Charlie and I thought this was a fitting climax to our celebratory weekend.  But we kept these thoughts to ourselves for a few days.

Later that following week, I called Gerre and laid our plan out to him and he thought it was “just WON-derful!  Judith will be so pleased.”  I then suggested that I knew the ideal time to do this: the first Sunday in May.   The recital following Evensong that day was to be the Hancocks farewell recital at St. Thomas Church.   It was also the opening event of the church’s annual choirmasters’ conference and was to be followed by a gala reception sponsored by the American Guild of Organists honoring Gerre, and many from the A.G.O. national council and other visitors were to be present.  So it was agreed that at an appropriate interval during the recital I would make the presentation.  But Gerre insisted that it be kept a secret from Judy.  He wanted it to be a surprise for dramatic effect; I had practical reasons in mind!  Since this scheme was cooked up in haste, I couldn’t arrange to be away from Richmond for the Sunday morning service and Charlie was not available to be in New York that afternoon.  In short order Charlie had the diploma made up and I ordered a doctoral hood from Collegiate Cap and Gown.  Not knowing whether or not St. Dunstan’s College had a color scheme for academic regalia, I just ordered the colors of Manhattan School of Music, which they had on file.

Now, in order for me to make it up to New York following my own morning service in time for the Evensong recital-presentation, I had to make some intricate logistical arrangements at each end of the trip, and Gerre and I knew that the success of the endeavor was predicated on each piece of my travel puzzle flowing seamlessly without snags.  So we had the understanding that if I showed up in New York that afternoon, we would proceed with the plan; if not, we would do it another time.

Over the years I have made the trip between Richmond and New York many times, in all modes of transportation, land and air, and the time taken for the journey ranged from a low of a couple of hours to a 24-hour-overnight trek.  I gave this enterprise about a 50-50 chance.  But fate was on my side that day, and I knocked on the door of Gerre’s office after Evensong, collected the academic hood Collegiate Cap and Gown had drop shipped to the church, and took my place in the chancel with my other colleagues on the council.  Someone observed me toting this hood and  I simply said “don’t ask.”

There were other speeches and presentations made at the mid-point interval in the recital, of which mine was last.  As Judy told me the story later, she said she was at the console preparing for the next number and was only slightly aware of these speakers droning on, and she assumed that Gerre was receiving yet another honorary degree, and only when she began to be aware of feminine pronouns in my citation did she catch on to what was happening!  Following is the complete citation:

Photo by Tony Thurman, Development Director of the A.G.O. who organized the gala reception following the recital.

I am here this afternoon in my capacity as a trustee of Saint Dunstan’s College of Sacred Music in Providence, Rhode Island.

The college was founded in 1928 and chartered by the legislature of the State of Rhode Island in 1930 as a degree granting institution for the study of sacred music operating under the “rules of the Episcopal Church” to quote the first catalog.  Among its initial leadership was John Nicholas Brown whose idea it was for the college to function in connection with Brown University in providing courses of study leading to undergraduate and graduate degrees in sacred music studies.  It was housed in property on Benefit Street adjacent to the Cathedral Church of St. John, and its initial faculty and board was made up of leading musicians and clergy, some of whose names are still familiar today: Canon Winfred Douglas, David McK. Williams, Hugh Ross, Wallace Goodrich, Hollis Grant, and E. Power Biggs.

The vicissitudes of the Depression and World War II altered the scope of the college’s fortunes and function over the years and for many years it served as an east coast counterpart to the Evergreen conference in Colorado, with which Canon Douglas was also affiliated, and offered a certificate granting summer course of study in Providence and, later, Newport.  It also continued to publish books and music for the church, and served in an advisory capacity to churches and dioceses throughout the church.

Its activities over the years also included honoring outstanding musicians in the service of the church with the honorary degree, Doctor of Sacred Music.

This afternoon the trustees are proud to recognize a colleague who has served this parish church, the greater church, and the entire sacred music profession through her outstanding achievement as a complete church musician, especially in her role as a master accompanist to the comprehensive choral repertoire offered by the St. Thomas Choir, and through her untiring devotion to and love of the organ repertoire, and especially for her offerings of the great literature for the organ within the liturgies of the church.

Therefore, at the most recent meeting of the trustees of St. Dunstan’s College of Sacred Music, it was resolved to confer the degree Doctor of Sacred Music, honoris causa, to Judith Hancock, and we offer to her this diploma and hood as symbols of that degree, and as tokens of our affection and esteem.


Given the second day of May 2004, being the
Fourth Sunday of Easter, and the eve of
The Feast of Saints Philip and James
in Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York

Dr. Judith Hancock and her husband, Dr. Gerre Hancock, at the reception in Andrew Hall, St. Thomas Church, following their farewell recital, May 2, 2004.

Fast forward to 2012: Gerre Hancock, one of the founders of the Association of Anglican Musicians, died on January 21.  For the AAM annual conference in Philadelphia in June it was decided to honor his memory by including many of his compositions in the conference programs, and by asking Judith to play and to be present for the conference.  I was honored to be invited to introduce her at the opening banquet before she made her own remarks, and this is what I said:

The invitation to say a few words about the Hancocks this evening sent me to my files, where I found the printed order for the first service I attended at St. Thomas Church:

I was in college and it was over Christmas/semester break during the Hancocks’ first season at St. Thomas.  It was a weekday Evensong right after Epiphany, and the anthem was Sowerby’s Now there lightens upon us a holy daybreak.

Remembering from the distance of forty years, two things are still vivid:

1) The choir sounded very good—much the same in style and sound as it always has sounded and still does—obviously inspired by and molded in the English Cathedral tradition.

and . . .

2) . . . the choir was directed by Judith Hancock, the associate organist of St. Thomas Church, and wife of the new organist and master of choristers, Gerre Hancock.

Gerre was off concertizing someplace and Judith was left in command.  So my first fan letter to St. Thomas was to Mrs. Hancock, and I still cherish her written reply, which I also found in my file.

It is this pattern of family collaboration, yet individual artistry and professionalism established at the outset of their careers, that I want to recall and honor tonight.

St. Thomas being the obvious centerpiece of the Hancocks’ careers, it is easy to forget that they had a life before New York—but they did, and it was a good life!

Gerre was in charge of the music at Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati—the cathedral church of the Diocese of Southern Ohio—was on the artist faculty of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music—and had already established himself as a successful concert organist, touring under the auspices of the Lilian Murtagh concert management since 1964.

In Cincinnati Judith directed the music and played the organ at her own church and they had two very young children—Deborah and Lisa.  They were not all that eager to move.  And, to be honest, St. Thomas at that time was not the obvious career move one would assume today.

But . . . once in New York it was a partnership of shared work right from the start, as evidenced by the weekday Evensong I attended that first visit.  And . . . while there was no doubt that Gerre was in charge, Judith was apt to often be at the helm in this, their highly visible position at the crossroads of the world, at Fifth Avenue and Fifth-third Street.

And . . . not just at the church.  I had just moved to Philadelphia and was present for Evensong and a concert by the St. Thomas Choir during the Third International Congress of Organists in the summer of 1977, right over at the Church of St. Francis de Sales in West Philadelphia (and at Girard College)—on that occasion Judith lead the choir and Wes McAfee played the organ.  It was immediately after Gerre’s first heart by-pass surgery, and he was in the congregation, but had not fully recovered to be able to conduct.  It was the first time I had ever heard of this medical procedure, and it seemed to me at the time that it was experimental surgery.  And Father John Andrew, in announcing Gerre’s presence, made it sound as if he’d been brought back from the dead, and we all clapped and cheered!  But it was Judith who led the music, as she would after his second similar operation many years later.

Judith’s own concert and teaching career also began to blossom: she also concertized under the banner of Karen McFarlane’s newly minted Murtagh-McFarlane management, and we all became accustomed to seeing both Gerre’s and Judith’s pictures on the back of The Diapason and The American Organist each month.

While she did all this with lots of grace and loving, wifely support, she was not incapable of sustaining her own pride of place while she was at it.  I’m sure I’m not the only one here to have heard her say in his presence:

“but Gerre, I have to practice; I play real music!”

As if to corroborate this, the Rector in his sermon at Gerre’s Requiem even said

you know, although Father Andrew and I certainly remember Judith at the console practicing, we can’t recall [ever] seeing Gerre there for that purpose!   

And I’ll never forget a scene at one of the early Choirmasters’ Conferences—back in the days when Judith was the sole associate organist and did all of the accompanying.

Other than emcee the event and visit with all of us, there really wasn’t a whole lot for Gerre to actually do, and during the rehearsal for some lengthy psalm or anthem, Judith was playing and Gerre was hovering.  The 32’ Bourdon was on and Gerre must have thought it was too much, so he reached over and took it off—while Judith continued to play!  Well—within the time span of a sixteenth rest Judy had that 32 back on, and it stayed on until she took it off!

(And, by the way, how many of us could have withstood the scrutiny of not only our musical programs, but our domestic lives played out to human view displayed the way the Hancocks did at these annual events!)

In 2004 as the Hancocks were leaving New York for the University of Texas, Judith was awarded the honorary degree Doctor of Sacred Music, the citation of which reads in part, that she is recognized as

a colleague who has served the entire sacred music profession through her outstanding achievement as a complete church musician:

. . . especially in her role as a master accompanist . . . her untiring devotion to and love of the organ repertoire . . . and . . . for her offerings of the great literature for the organ within the liturgies of the church.

          That’s as true now as then, and to it I can only add that I know there are students at the University of Texas who salute her for her continuing work as an inspiring teacher and mentor.

There is another female organ personality out there who is unofficially styled as “The First Lady of the Organ,” but—Judith, to me you will always be the First Lady of the Organ, and you are the undisputed First Lady of this Association, and it gladdens our hearts to have you here with us as we give thanks .  .  .  for your rich career as artist and teacher,  for your extraordinary role as wife and colleague of our beloved Uncle Gerre,  and especially as a cherished friend to all of us!

Judith Hancock address the AAM conference opening banquet, Philadelphia, June 18, 2012.

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Aeolian-Skinner Organs in Morningside Heights, New York City

This article, originally titled Regal Instruments in the Neighborhood, was published in Poco a Poco, the Manhattan School of Music bi-weekly student newsletter, on September 2, 1992.  At the time it was the custom for doctoral students to write feature articles each week.

Copyright  © 1992 Neal Campbell

As with other facets of our culture, a rather complete history of the art and science of organ-building in American can be traced by studying the organs placed in auditoriums and houses of worship in New York City. Virtually every style and era of organ-building, both foreign and domestic, can be found in our city, dating back to the earliest time of the new colony, when an organ from England was placed in Trinity Church at Wall Street, to elaborate electronic substitutes such as the one installed in Carnegie Hall several years ago, to the retrospective baroque replica in Alice Tully Hall.  One important and uniquely American style of organ-building began to emerge in the early 20th century, and this style is also well represented in New York City, and specifically so in our neighborhood here in Morningside Heights.

Ernest M. Skinner

Ernest M. Skinner (1866-1960) established his own organ-building firm in Boston in 1901, after serving an apprenticeship in several other New England firms.  In the early days of electricity, Skinner developed a new type of electric action that was reliable and allowed divisions of the organ to be placed at distant parts of the room.  These divisions were connected to a console by means of various electronic linkages.  (Keep in mind  that before the advent of electricity, keyboards were connected to the pipe chests mechanically.  This type of playing action is known as tracker action, or mechanical action.)  Skinner, who loved the symphonic and operatic literature, also developed several imitative and evocative stops which yielded beautiful special effects that were popular with the public.  Such voices as the English horn, French horn, flauto mirabilis, corno di bassetto, and Erzähler became standard in the Skinner tonal palette.  Skinner’s early success in securing large contracts for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue assured him a commercial success from the start.  From this point onward, the firm built organs for the most prominent churches, cathedrals, concerts halls, and educational institutions.  A look at the Skinner opus list reads like a Who’s Who of important institutions in this country, and this near monopoly continued until the company went out of business in 1973.

G. Donald Harrison in an Aeolian-Skinner brochure.

In late 1927 the Skinner Organ Company took into its organization a young man from England named G. Donald Harrison (1889-1956).  Harrison had been a director of the venerable English organ-building firm of Willis and Sons.  In reaction to the orchestral organs popular at the time, with their collections of soft color stops and predominance of heavy fundamental tone (all of which were characteristic of the standard Skinner ensemble), Harrison soon became interested in building organs along more classical lines.  Scholarship had increased between the two world wars, and several leading American organists had traveled to Europe to see and hear the organs of the historic French and German schools.  This had a tremendous impact on Harrison in his desire to produce a unique American organ that would combine elements of the important historical periods with existing Skinner trademarks, such as the beautiful imitative sounds and the reliable electro-pneumatic action.  By the 1930s Harrison’s eclectic organs were gaining favor, and many important contracts came to the Skinner Company with specific instructions that the organs be designed by Harrison.  Naturally, friction developed between Skinner, who had never altered his ideas of tone, and the progressive Harrison.  Ultimately Skinner left the firm and, with varying degrees of success, tried to operate from other headquarters.  In the mid-1930s the Skinner Company purchased the residence organ division of the Aeolian Company, and the firm was known afterward as the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company until it ceased operation in 1973.[1]  During its history the company produced about 1,400 organs—not so many when compared with some of the more commercial builders.  Continuing interest in these American organs and their prominent locations attest to their superior artistic and technical properties.

St. Paul’s Chapel, Columbia University

In our immediate neighborhood, there exist four rather important organs designed by Harrison at different periods of his work.  The oldest of these four is in St. Paul’s Chapel of Columbia University.  This organ, Opus 985, dates from 1938 and was among the first of Harrison’s organs to take on the new classic style.  It contains two unenclosed baroque divisions on either side of the wide chancel, together with an appropriately developed pedal division to match—essential to playing trio sonatas in particular and contrapuntal music in general.  The organ has remained virtually unchanged except for some additions in the dome of the chapel, which Aeolian-Skinner added in the 1960s.[2]  Many of the leading organists of the world, including E. Power Biggs, played and recorded on the Chapel organ, and the instrument represented a turning point in the visibility of the new type of “American Classic” organ, as this style had by then come to be known.  Before the student riots in the late 1960s, there was an elaborate chapel music program, led by Searle Wright, that featured a large choir of students, faculty, staff, and community members, and their performances of innovative repertoire included many premieres.  Today there are frequent recitals in the chapel by students and visiting artists and a variety of concerts and symposia, even though the university no longer sponsors an active chapel music program.

The organ in our own Hubbard Hall[3] is Aeolian-Skinner’s opus 1272, from 1952.  At that time, of course, our building was the home of the Juilliard School of Music.  The Hubbard Hall organ was obviously designed with studio teaching and practice in mind.  The forward location across the front of the stage insures a clear line of sound, and the three manual and pedal divisions contain appropriate stops and ensembles for the convincing performance of a wide range of literature.  This organ has gone through several stages of damage and repair, but as it stands it is essentially the same as it was conceived, and it represents a continuation of the Aeolian-Skinner tradition of placing instruments in major American conservatories.  Aeolian-Skinner organs are also located in the Curtis Institute, Peabody Conservatory, the Eastman School of Music, and Westminster Choir College.

Aeolian-Skinner Organ, opus 1272, in Hubbard Hall, Manhattan School of Music (formerly Juilliard School of Music)

The organ in the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is truly one of the great organs of the world.  As opus 150, it was one of Ernest Skinner’s early successes dating from 1910, and much of what he did there, particularly the mechanism, remains unchanged to this day. In 1953 the organ was rebuilt by G. Donald Harrison as opus 150-A, and much of the old pipework was replaced.

At the time of the original organ, the nave had not yet been constructed.  The vast space facilitated by the new nave, which opened in 1941, together with changing musical tastes necessitated a complete rethinking of the needs of the Cathedral organ.  Its main function, in accordance with the purpose of English cathedral organs, was to accompany daily choral services, an activity requiring great flexibility and range of tone.  It also had to have sufficient power to lead the occasional singing of a vast throng and to provide ceremonial effects inherent in the liturgy of so great a space.

The State Trumpet under the west rose window, Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Harrison drew on his past experience, repeating features from the design of the Liverpool Cathedral organ, which Willis had completed in 1924.  Liverpool Cathedral is almost as large as St. John the Divine, and many unique techniques in scaling and voicing were used in both places.  For example, the ranks of pipes are sometimes doubled or even tripled in the upper octaves to create a solid, even tone as the scale ascends.  One of the most dramatic innovations is the installation of the State Trumpet on the west wall under the great rose window, some 500-plus feet from the main organ.  This stop is voiced on extremely high wind pressure and it provides a telling presence for ceremonial occasions.  The organ, although awaiting a major restoration[4], remains in its 1953 state, and it is a lasting monument to American organ-building at its best in the first half of the 20th century.

St. John the Divine has been the scene of many important events—religious, civic, and musical.  Much of the organ music of Olivier Messiaen was heard there in its first American performances, and within a week of Messiaen’s death last May, Jon Gillock of the Juilliard faculty, who had been a student of Messiaen, played the complete Livre du Saint Sacrement as a memorial.  There are weekly organ meditations /recitals on Sunday evening following Vespers at 7:00 p.m.

Console of the new Aeolian-Skinner Organ, in the chancel of The Riverside Church, 1955.

The organ in The Riverside Church is another story completely.  It stands as one of the largest ever built by Aeolian-Skinner and is one of only four built by the company containing five manuals.  (The other three are in the Mormon Tabernacle, St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue, and the Curtis Institute of Music.)  the original organ for the new Rockefeller Church in 1930 was built by Hook & Hastings, a well-respected firm in the late 19th century.  By all accounts, however, the organ was never a success, either tonally or mechanically.  Virgil Fox, the popular, flamboyant virtuoso, was organist from 1946 to 1965, and he frequently fielded mechanical mishaps in imaginative ways which ensured that the full congregation of worshippers was made well aware of the organ’s inadequacies.  The new five-manual console was built first in 1948 as opus 1118, and a complete new organ was finished in 1955 as opus 1118-B.  Much of the design was dictated by Fox.  As a result, the organ was not so much a monument to Harrison’s current thinking as it was to Fox’s lavish sense of the grand symphonic style, accented by his particular flair for the dramatic.  The organ is unusually large and has gallery as well as chancel divisions.  It also used portions of the old organ.  While the Riverside organ incorporated Harrison’s basic concepts of the American Classic style throughout its divisions, it was first and foremost a “deluxe” church organ tailor-made to suit Fox’s dramatic style of service playing.  Through his concerts, oratorio accompaniments, and recordings, the organ became famous.

A publicity photograph of Virgil Fox at the console of the Riverside organ.

In 1967 the organ received a major renovation, and several stops have been added since then, including visible pipework in the gallery.  (Initially, church architects and officials had decreed that no pipework be visible in the church.)  There are frequent recitals and musical events at the church throughout the year, and many of the world’s best-known organists have performed there.  The past two organists of the church have been faculty members at MSM, and many of our students play their degree recitals there.

The chancel and a portion of the nave of The Riverside Church from an article in Life magazine, December 20, 1937.

It would be a mistake to suggest that these four organs are the most important in the city, but they do represent high watermarks in the history of a company that at one time was preeminent in the history of American organ-building.

For the intrepid organ-crawler, there are other interesting organs nearby.  James Chapel of Union Theological Seminary houses a fairly new tracker action organ built by Holtkamp.  An older Holtkamp is in Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church on 121st Street.  Also at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine are two two-manual Aeolian-Skinner organs in the side chapels, and there is a three-manual Ernest Skinner organ in the Synod Hall at 110th Street and Amsterdam Avenue (across from V & T Pizza).  The organs in St. Michael’s Church at 99th Street and Amsterdam Avenue are arguably the best mechanical action organs in the city.  A rather complete three-manual organ is located in the gallery and a small one-manual instrument is in the chapel.  Both organs were built in the mid-1960s by Rudolf von Beckerath of Hamburg, Germany.

Incidentally, the chancel and chapel of St. Michael’s contain the most extensive array of appointments by Louis Tiffany in existence.  Decorating schemes, windows, and mosaics throughout are executed by this renowned artist.


[1] In an email message to me dated April 14, 2012,  Allen Kinzey, who worked for Aeolian-Skinner for many years, tells the exact scenario:

On January 2, 1932 the Aeolian Company and the Skinner Organ Company formed a new, third company called the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company.  Aeolian owned 40% of the stock in Aeolian-Skinner, and the Skinner Organ Company owned 60%.

Aeolian closed its operations in Garwood, New Jersey, and sent uncompleted contracts, the glue press, some material, and one employee (Frances Brown, who was a young lady then, and she worked for A-S to the end, or almost the end) to Aeolian-Skinner.  The Skinner Organ Company deeded its property and turned over contracts, employees, materials, machinery, etc. to Aeolian-Skinner.

I assume Aeolian was hurt more by the depression as much of their work was residential. Therefore, they owned a lesser percent of Aeolian-Skinner.  Skinner Organ Company continued on.  Its sole purpose would have been as a holding company.

In Callahan’s The American Classic Organ [Richmond: OHS, 1990] on page 233 is a letter from GDH to Willis. I have always assumed that the third paragraph referred to buying out Aeolian’s stock. The $110,000 was about the value Aeolian put in its financial statement of its Aeolian-Skinner stock. “During the war —” would coincide with the 1943-44 ending of Aeolian’s listing of Aeolian-Skinner stock in its financial report and the end of Skinner Organ Company appearing in Moody’s. When Aeolian’s stock was purchased, there was no longer any purpose for Skinner Organ Company.

[2]  An email from Allen Kinzey to me dated April 15, 2012, tells the exact work that was done on the organ as opus 985-B under the direction of Searle Wright:

Choir Organ

new 8 Flauto Dolce in place of 8 Dulciana

new 8 Flute Celeste tc in place of 8 Unda Maris

new 8 Viola from 4’C up with existing basses rescaled

revoice 8 Concert Flute 2’C up

new 4 Prestant in place of 4 Fugara

4 Musette = old Orchestral Oboe moved down an octave

Swell Organ

8 Aeoline = old Choir Dulciana in place of 8 Diapason

4 Fugara          } = old Choir Fugara on new chest

2 2/3 Nazard   }    [tuned as a Nazard]

revoice 8 Hautbois

add 8 Vox Humana (Dome)

Brustwerk

new 8 Spitzgeigen in place of 8 Muted Viol

new 4 Montre on new chest

Pedal Organ

16 Montre        }  extension of Brustwerk 4 Montre

8 Montre        }  low 18 from existing facade pipes, rest new on new chest

add 16 Bombarde (Sw)

add   8 Solo Trumpet (Dome)

add 32 Bombarde        } low 12 notes electronic

add 32 Bourdon           } speakers located in the dome

Dome Organ – on Manual IV, enclosed (shades coupable to Swell and Choir shoes)

16 Solo Trumpet  tc     }

8 Solo Trumpet         }  new pipes on new chest

4 Solo Trumpet         }

8 Vox Humana new pipes on new chest

Robert Turner built a new four-manual console which was installed in 1997.

[3] Now Greenfield Hall; the organ no longer exists.

[4] Quimby Pipe Organs of Warrensburg, Missouri, completed a major restoration in 2009.

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Beethoven: The First Romantic Pianist

This article was published in the Musical Heritage Review, a booklet accompanying Musical Heritage Society’s Release 308 (Beethoven’s piano concertos) in 1983.  I wrote it while I was a student at Manhattan School of Music. 

Copyright © 1983 Musical Heritage Society

MHS Beethoven coverLudwig van Beethoven was the foremost piano virtuoso of his time, a virtuoso who captured the attention of the Viennese public like no other pianist before him, and like no pianist would until Franz Liszt.

Beethoven’s playing was so revolutionary that accounts of his improvisations are almost embarrassing in their superlative language with talk of audible gasps, weeping, and sobbing throughout the performance.  Beethoven generally was unimpressed with such profound emoting, and scolded his audience for letting their feeling take hold so easily.  He often would take advantage of their vulnerability by intentionally juxtaposing quiet, sensitive moments with startling passages of savage power that obliterated the preceding tranquil section.

So many surviving accounts of his playing tell of broken hammers and snapped strings as a result of his overwhelming power and intensity that we must assume that most of it is true, particularly in light of the rather fragile nature of the instruments when compared to the modern piano.

It is impossible to describe what a Beethoven improvisation was like, but the opening of the Choral Fantasy and several of the cadenzas that he wrote for his own concerti can serve as reasonable clues.  J. B. Cramer told his pupils that nobody could say  he had ever heard improvisation if he had not heard Beethoven.  Czerny said “apart from the beauty and originality of his ideas, and his ingenious manner of expressing them, there was something magical about his playing.”  To Ignaz von Seyfried they were “a cataract, elemental, a force of nature.”

In almost all writings about Beethoven’s improvisation, the term “fiery” is used.  Many stories abound, but to put it most succinctly, in the words of Harold C. Schoenberg, “In many things, Beethoven was ahead of his time, and so was his piano playing.  It had unprecedented power, personality, and emotional appeal.  In many respects he can be considered the first romantic pianist: the one who broke all of the laws in the name of expression; the one who thought orchestrally and achieved orchestral effects on the piano.”

As a pianist, Beethoven was largely self-taught.  As a child, his teachers were not professional pianists who would instill in him an extreme reverence for the instrument itself.  His principal teacher in Bonn was Christian Gottlob Neefe, the court organist, who as it tuned out, was to have more influence on Beethoven than any of his other teachers.  Neefe insisted that the study of harmony, counterpoint, and composition be combined with the study of the organ.  His chief textbook was the Well-Tempered Clavier by J. S. Bach.  Keeping in mind that Bach had been dead just over a quarter of a century when young Beethoven began his study with Neefe, it should be remembered that the study of Bach was by no means the staple of the piano teachers’ sources that it is today.

Beethoven’s early mastery of the 48 preludes and fugues in all of the keys explains in part his readiness to utilize keys and key relationships that were unfamiliar (or downright revolutionary) to the classical audience.  In addition he was a formidable sight reader and transposer.  In actuality, he was a true musician first, and a pianist second, although it was as a pianist that he gained an entrée into the musical life of Vienna.

In this milieu the stage is set for the composition of the piano concerti, which were essentially vehicles for Beethoven to use his already well-known abilities as virtuoso to stimulate interest in his compositions.  Taken as a whole the five concerti form an interesting stylistic asymmetry.  The first two exhibit the obvious influence of Haydn and Mozart, although it should never be suggested that Beethoven at any time–early, middle, or late–sounded like anything but Beethoven.  From his earliest works, his individuality was clearly evident.  However, the interest in the classical forms indicate his reluctance to make the complete break with convention.

It is by now a well-known fact that the Concerto in B-flat, published as Op. 19, actually was written before the Concerto in C major, Op. 15.  It was at the rehearsal of the B-flat Concerto that the famous story is told of Beethoven, suffering with colic, barely finishing the score in time, arriving a the rehearsal room to find the piano a half tone lower than the instruments.  Without any hesitation, Beethoven transposed his part into the correctly sounding key.

The Third Concerto in C minor stands alone in the symmetry, being much more individualistic than the two preceding ones, but not so prophetic and forward-looking as the last two.  While the same general forms were used in the C minor, they are laced with innovations, such as the use of the piano along with the orchestra following the cadenza in the first movement, and the unexpected key of E major for the slow movement.

Concerning this slow movement, a further query regarding Beethoven’s pianistic playing is raised by Czerny, who states that in 1803 (when Beethoven could still hear and was in practice) he held the sustain pedal through the entire slow movement of the C minor Concerto.  Schoenberg comments, “Granted that Beethoven was using a light Viennese piano, in which the sustaining tones dissipated quickly, this still sounds like an incredible statement.  Could Beethoven have forgotten his pianistic ABCs under the stress of public performance and left his foot on the pedal.  But we do know that he was lavish in the use of it, as witness his own pedal markings at the opening of the D minor Sonata (Op. 31, No. 2).  Czerny says that Beethoven used the pedal ‘far more than is indicated in his works.’ ”

In the last two concerti (No. 4 in G, Op. 58, and No. 5 in E-flat, Op. 73) are forward-looking and firmly lay the foundation for the great tradition of the romantic piano concerti by Liszt, Chopin, and Brahms.  The music explores the limits of tonality as they were understood and the contrast of many contradictory keys is prominent.

In the second movement of the G major Concerto there occurs a dialogue between piano and orchestra made famous by Liszt’s fanciful description comparing it to Orpheus taming the beasts of the underworld.  Whether or not Beethoven had any literary inspiration is doubtful, although we are certain that Beethoven was well read, as evidenced by a request of his publishers for, in addition to music, complete editions fo Goethe and Schiller, adding that “these two poets are my favorites, as are also Ossian and Homer, though unfortunately I can read the latter only in translations.”  The interest of the romantics with literature as basis for musical thought is one of the identifying traits of the romantic era, and Beethoven clearly can be seen as working on the  threshold of this concept, particularly through his use of chorus in the Ninth Symphony.

Two of the most obvious characteristics of the last two piano concerti concern the elision of the slow movement with the last movement.  In the case of the G major, this is implied; in the E-flat it is written out clearly.  The gradual reducing of the strictures of the movement barriers also can be clearly chronicled in Beethoven’s works for other mediums as well.  The most curious and unique point in all of the concerti occurs with the cadenza at the end of the first movement of the E-flat Concerto where Beethoven has written following the orchestral fermata on the usual second inversion chord: “Do not play a cadenza, but immediately proceed to the following.”  What follows begins like a coda and gradually increases to a final glorified recapitulation for piano and orchestra.  It is curious to surmise what prompted Beethoven to include this innovation here, knowing of his own extraordinary talent as an improviser.

We also know that he encouraged his students to improvise or compose their own cadenzas, with only a few suggestions from him.  The whole purpose of a cadenza was to provide the soloist with an opportunity to show his prowess unhindered by the orchestra.  It was expected that the cadenzas would vary in style, quality, and virtuosity according to the player.  Its is to be assumed that Beethoven was aiming for the ultimate goal of creating a vehicle for expression that emphasized the wholeness of piano and orchestra, as opposed to soloist-virtuoso versus orchestra.  As Marx wrote in his biography of Beethoven: “It is the composer’s secret task to overcome the ‘difficulty’ of the concerto form in the form itself through importance of the content.  The difficulty is that the task–to treat one instrument and its performance as the main issue and the incomparably richer and more important orchestra as a mere auxiliary–is really an artistic anomaly.”

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Obituary: Edouard Nies-Berger

One of the great correlative benefits of my 21 years in Richmond, Va., was getting to know Edouard Nies-Berger.  He was in his early 80s when I arrived and I maintained a close friendship with him until the end of his life.  I attended his 85th birthday party, he played a recital at St. Stephen’s Church consisting entirely of the music of Marco Enrico Bossi, one of his teachers, and I was in the audience when he played a recital on his 90th birthday at St. Paul’s Church where he was organist emeritus.  I even called on him at his apartment in Colmar in the summer of 1990, and I attended his funeral in early 2002.  I prepared the following obituary for The American Organist:

Schweitzer and Nies-Berger at the organ in St. Thomas Church in Strasbourg, 1959.

Edouard Nies-Berger, sometime organist of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and protegé of and collaborator with Albert Schweitzer, died at his home in Richmond, Virginia, January 17, 2002, at age 98 following a brief illness.

He was born in Strasbourg in 1903 when that region was still part of the German empire.  At 15 he saw the French army reclaim the city and the surrounding provinces of Alsace and Lorraine.  In 1922 he came to New York at the age of 19 and remained in the United States professionally for the rest of his life, although for many years he maintained an apartment in Colmar.

He played in various churches and synagogues in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.  During his Los Angeles years he found work in the movie studios and recorded the organ music for “The Bride of Frankenstein” and “Border Town.”  “They had me play Bach’s great Toccata in D minor while Karloff carried Elsa Lancaster to her execution” Nies-Berger told an interviewer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1991.  “It was not my proudest moment artistically.”

Nies-Berger aspired to be a conductor, so in 1937 he left the United States for Salzburg where he studied with Bruno Walter and Rudolf Baumgartner.  He was preparing for his European conducting debut when the Nazis took over Salzburg.  He moved to Riga, Latvia, and from there to Brussels conducting opera and summer concerts.  Shortly after Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, Nies-Berger caught the last boat out of Rotterdam and returned to New York.

He kept his conducting dream alive for a few years in New York where he founded an orchestra comprised mainly of free-lance musicians.  These concerts were characterized by progressive programming, often featuring Nies-Berger conducting works for organ and orchestra from the console in Town Hall.  He earned the respect of Olin Downes writing in the New York Times.  T. Scott Buhrman, writing in The American Organist (no relation to the present day journal of the same name), was particularly effusive in his praise of Nies-Berger’s offerings. “But after renting the halls and paying the stagehands and hiring the musicians, there was no money left.  I had married and had a son.  It was time to be a responsible father” Nies-Berger acknowledged in the aforementioned interview.  In 1940 he moved to Richmond, Virginia, and to relative stability as the organist of Centenary Methodist Church.  Attempts to start a symphony orchestra in Richmond had recently failed, and Nies-Berger was frustrated in his attempts to organize musical groups in the city.  After only two years, he again returned to New York and began what turned out to be the most fruitful years of his career.

Arthur Rodzinski, the new conductor of the New York Philharmonic, tapped Nies-Berger to be the orchestra’s organist, a position he held for several years playing under such conductors as Walter, Szell, Reiner, Stokowski, and a young Leonard Bernstein.

Albert Schweitzer was a family friend when Edouard was growing up in Strasbourg.  His father and Schweitzer had been students together at Strasbourg University where they were each disciples of Professor Ernst Munch, leader of the Bach circle, and father of the conductor Charles Munch.  By the time Edouard moved to New York in 1942 , Schweitzer was established in his missionary work in Africa.  However, Schweitzer made a trip to the United States in 1949 where he and Nies-Berger were reunited.  “To meet Schweitzer again after so many years was a wonderful event for me” Nies-Berger recalled.

During his 1949 visit to America, Schweitzer visited the Aeolian-Skinner factory in Boston where he signed the console of the organ being built for Symphony Hall.

Their rekindled friendship culminated in a project that cemented Nies-Berger’s and Schweitzer’s association.  Schweitzer had collaborated with Widor in a new edition of Bach’s organ works, the first five volumes of which were published by Schirmer before Widor died and before the outbreak of World War II interrupted the project.  Schweitzer asked Nies-Berger to be his collaborator in the remaining three volumes which contained the chorale preludes.

“For the next six years, three or four months each summer, I went to Alsace or Africa to work with Schweitzer.  He made a little time every day for Bach.  It wasn’t easy–he’d won the [Nobel] Peace Prize already, and everybody in the world was after him for one thing or another.  He was too kind to say no.  To work with Schweitzer was almost like working with Bach.  To know him at such close range was the great spiritual experience of my life.  I have never thought the same, or made music the same way, after Schweitzer” said Nies-Berger.  For the rest of his life, he kept a plaster cast of Schweitzer’s hand on his piano.  By the time the project was finished in the 1960s, the Schirmer Widor-Schweitzer / Nies-Berger edition of Bach’s organ works represented the most current scholarship and was widely used by students and performers.

The demands of professional life in New York became more pressing and Nies-Berger left New York for the last time, as he moved again to Richmond to be the organist and choirmaster of St. Paul’s Church, where he served from 1960 until he retired in 1968.  In his retirement he continued to live in Richmond, but he usually spent at least half of the year in Colmar.  Much of his retirement time was spent writing treatises on music and philosophy, as well as a memoir about his time with Schweitzer.  After multiple rejections from American publishers the memoir (written in English, which by now Nies-Berger considered his primary language) was published in 1995 in a French translation titled Albert Schweitzer m’a dit as part of a series Memoire d’Alsace by the small French firm Editions La Nuee Bleue.  Rollin Smith has since prepared an English translation published by Pendragon Press.  Nies-Berger was also a composer with several published compositions to his credit, one of which, Resurrection: An Easter Fantasy, is still in print in an anthology published by H. W. Gray.

A memorial service, led by the Rev. Canon Robert G. Hetherington, Rector, was held on January 23, 2002, at St. Paul’s Church in Richmond.  Grant Hellmers was the organist, playing selections by Widor, Franck, and Bach.

Photograph of Nies-Berger which appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on May 13, 2001, showing him with the plaster cast of Schweitzer’s hands.

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