Edward A. Moore and Marvin Mills in performance at National City Christian Church, Washington, DC

On Friday, September 29 at 8 p.m., Dr. Edward A. Moore, the new minister of music at National City Christian Church, will present his DC debut organ recital, teaming up with the church’s new associate minister of music, Marvin Mills.


National City Fanfare is a new work commissioned from composer Aaron David Miller. It was written for Dr. Edward A. Moore to commemorate his appointment as Minister of Music at National City Christian Church in Washington, DC. Aaron David Miller is presently Associate Organist and Assistant Director of Music at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Illinois. A graduate of the Eastman School of Music and the Manhattan School of Music, Dr. Miller is in great demand as a performer, improviser and composer. In 1996, he won the top prize at the AGO National Improvisation Competition, and in 1998, he earned the Bach and Improvisation prizes at the Calgary International Organ Festival Competition. In 1999, his Concerto for Two Organists was premiered and recorded by the Zurich Symphony for Ethereal Records. Later this year, six of Aaron’s chorale preludes will be published by Augsburg/Fortress.


Edward Alan Moore, a native of Girard, OH, is currently serving as Minister of Music at National City Christian Church in Washington, DC. Previously he was Director of Music for Saint Andrew Presbyterian Church in Iowa City, Iowa, where he oversaw a music ministry of nine choral and instrumental ensembles. Before his position in Iowa, he served as Director of Music Ministries at Twelve Corners Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York. He received his Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Organ Performance in October 1999 from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, where he was a student of Michael Farris. Edward was the 1995-1996 Russell Saunders Organ Scholar at the Eastman School, the first recipient of this award. He has studied organ improvisation at Eastman with Gerre Hancock and Richard Erickson and was a research assistant for Professor Wm. A. Little. He worked closely with Dr. Little on his Doctoral project, in which he researched the organ works of German Composer Heinrich Reimann (1850-1906). Edward received his Master of Music degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1993 as a student of Michael Farris. While in Illinois, he was organist and handbell choir director at the First Presbyterian Church in Urbana. He served as consultant for a new pipe organ built for the church by the Martin Ott Company of St. Louis, working with the builder to design the specifications for the instrument. Edward performed the dedication recital on the new instrument in 1998. For this recital, he premiered Preces for a New Instrument, a new organ composition written for and dedicated to him by then New York composer Aaron David Miller, now Associate Organist at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. The church produced a compact disc recording of the dedication recital.

He received his Bachelor of Music degree in music and religion from Grove City College in Western Pennsylvania in 1991, where he studied with the late Robert Cornelison. Edward’s choral conducting training has been with Fred Stoltzfus and Chester Alwes at the University of Illinois and Douglas Browne at Grove City College. During the fall semester 1998 Dr. Moore was a visiting faculty member at the University of Iowa School of Music while Professor Delbert Disselhorst was on sabbatical.

Concerts presented at academic institutions include recent recital performances at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Iowa. He has also performed at the State University of New York, Buffalo, the Eastman School of Music, the University of Illinois, Grove City College and Westminster College. Solo concerts presented for churches have included recitals in Iowa City, Iowa; Rochester, New York; Greenville, Pennsylvania; Scottsville, New York; Champaign, Illinois; Urbana, Illinois; Warren, Ohio; and Youngstown, Ohio.

Dr. Moore is a member of the American Guild of Organists, the American Choral Directors Association, the Association of Disciple Musicians and the Choristers Guild.


Marvin Mills, a native of Philadelphia, PA, is Associate Minister of Music at National City Christian Church. Previously he was Director of Music/Organist at All Souls Church, Unitarian, Washington, DC. Early music studies were with violin and piano. Further studies were done at Westminster Choir College as a prizewinner in the Alexander McCurdy Organ Competition.

He is a member of the National Association of Negro Musicians, former board member of the Unitarian/ Universalist Musician’s Network, and past dean of the District of Columbia Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

He has performed throughout the eastern United States in such places as the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Barns of Wolf Trap Farm Park, and historic churches in Krakow, Poland, and appeared as guest artist with the Washington Male Choral, the Concert Artists of Baltimore, the Washington Bach Consort, the Cathedral Choral Society, and the Folger Consort.

Mr. Mills has performed for numerous chapters of the American Guild of Organists and was the featured recitalist in the Guild’s 1992 and 1996 Centennial national conventions. He opened the 1989 Wendell P. Whalum Concert Series at Morehouse College, performing for the entire student body. He was presented in recital by the Washington National Cathedral in observance of Black History Month 1989 and returned to appear on its 1995 Summer Festival Series.

Mr. Mills has recorded for PBS television the Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani by Francis Poulenc and a digital recording titled Organ Music from All Souls Church. A compact disk of music by Marcel Dupré is in production. Mr. Mills can be heard as arranger and accompanist on a disc of spirituals with mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, Angels Watching Over Me.

Other accomplishments include a 1986 fellowship from the District of Columbia Commission on the Arts, and selection as featured recitalist at the Organ Historical Society 1991 and 1992 Conventions, as well as the American Guild of Organists 1992 National Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. In the spring of 1992 he performed the complete organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach in a weekly series of fourteen programs on the 96 rank Rieger organ at All Souls Church.

Mr. Mills made his West coast debut in July 1992 at the Spreckles Organ Pavilion International Organ Summer Concert Series in Balboa Park, San Diego, his New York City recital debut in July 1993 at the Riverside Church and his orchestra debut with the Jacksonville Symphony in June 1995.

J. S. Bach and the Organ – Some Neglected Threads

Lecture read at the International Organ Festival at St. Albans 2nd December 2000 By Stephen Bicknell

To use imagination in any area of serious study is a difficult business.There are no facts to be found in imaginary exercises. There may be insight of a kind, but that insight is deeply compromised by being at one stage removed from reality.

Even with this cautionary note an imaginary exercise can sometimes be useful, and I am going to start by inviting you to consider just such a speculation in the hope that it may generate some tiny fragment of concrete information.

Imagine that there was once a celebrated Thüringian organist and composer named Bach, widely respected for his ability as a performer, for his genius as a composer, and for his understanding of the art of organ building. Suppose further that Herr Bach had had the opportunity, at the height of his career, to commission a completely new organ that exactly represented his wishes as regards a really fine instrument. Imagine that negotiations with a leading organ builder led to a scheme for a substantial three manual organ of, say, about fifty stops; that a contract was signed, and that in due course the instrument was completed and delivered. Imagine that this instrument exhibited many innovative features which reflected not just the precise areas of development and interest that preoccupied musicians and craftsmen of the day, but also the specific inspirations and insights of the great man himself.

If such an instrument had existed in respect of J. S. Bach himself we would have a far greater understanding of the man and his music. In truth the historical record conspicuously lacks any such instrument. There is no identifiable Bach organ, and despite the hopes of many researchers the possible connection between J. S. Bach and the design of any particular instrument – whether the Trost organ at Altenburg or the Hildebrandt at Naumburg – is at best treacherously tenuous.

The study of Bach and the organ is very like the study of Stonehenge. At Stonehenge we have a leviathan monument of palpable importance. It has been studied extensively and with modern methods it is possible to trace with some accuracy the various stages of construction and use over a period of fifteen hundred years. Yet the archaeological record is infuriatingly slight. Apart from the stones themselves, the various filled holes suggesting previous states, and the earthworks which complete the site, there are virtually no artefacts or other evidence that might help to complete the picture. It is as though a Neolithic sanitation team had deliberately scoured the entire area removing every item which might conceivably give any clue as to the true purpose of the structure.

There is an exceptionally fine book about Stonehenge by the archaeologist Christopher Chippindale, entitled ‘Stonehenge Complete’. Far more than describing in readily accessible terms what modern archaeology has discovered about Stonehenge, a job which can be satisfactorily completed in remarkably few pages, he presents a complete modern history of the monument, describing its rediscovery in the seventeenth century and explaining without fear or favour every single one of the sometimes mad theories which have been applied to it over the last four hundred years: that it was a temple at which Druids performed human sacrifices; that it was a giant astronomical observatory; that it was a landing site for flying saucers; and so-on.

Chippindale makes several points from this study, especially that in the absence of any more coherent understanding based on fact these flights of the imagination are the very stuff of which Stonehenge history is made. They may not be true but they are worthy of study in their own right and in a very real sense they are the intellectual context of the monument. He goes on to say that each theory is in turn a reflection not of the factual history of Stonehenge – there are precious few facts to be had – but a reflection on the life and concerns of its own period and its own social context. Through studying Stonehenge we learn not about our Neolithic forebears, but about ourselves. The situation with the study of J. S. Bach and the organ is delightfully comparable. The historical record contains none of the information that we seek. The manuscripts of Bach’s organ music are virtually without rubric. Where there is an instruction for registration – such as in the Vivaldi Concerto in d minor – it serves only to tantalise. From the mouth or pen of the man himself we have nothing concerning organs, their disposition, their manufacture, their use, or their sound. From his friends, relatives and pupils we have only the most slender indications of his preferences and these are couched in terms of impenetrable ambiguity. From Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and from Bach’s pupil Johann Friedrich Agricola, and from the early biographer Johann Nikolaus Forkel, we have only a handful of oft-repeated chestnuts about Bach and the organ: that he required an ample winding system and would test a new instrument by drawing all the stops; that he could play on the pedals passages which other masters would fear to play with their fingers; that his manner of registering was original to the point of daring. From the record of surviving instruments we have none at which he presided. There are several which he played, even a few where he made a formal inspection at the time of their completion. All have suffered from the vicissitudes of time and, even where they have been conscientiously restored, the sounds that can be heard today give only a partial insight into the instrumental world that the great man inhabited.

In the relative absence of any coherent archaeological record the study of the relationship between J. S. Bach and the organ occupies exactly the same imaginary world as the study of Stonehenge, and the results of that study are witness not to Bach’s own genius but to the affairs and concerns of those who have made the various studies. Take, for example, the furious advocacy of Bach’s organ music which gripped London in the mid-nineteenth century and the effect this had on the organs of the day. An example of an organ of this period survives at St. Mary-at-Hill in the City of London.

Built by Hill in 1848, this instrument is currently undergoing restoration by N. P. Mander Ltd after serious damage by fire some years ago. It is a large two manual with up-to-date C-compass manuals and pedals replacing the familiar GG-compass of the old insular English school. A substantial sixteen-foot chorus on the Great organ is answered by an equally well developed Swell Organ, and here the Swell is constructed as an Oberwerk above the Great Organ, not behind it, and thus is balanced on terms of virtual equality with the main manual. The Pedal division is reasonably independent, and the whole scheme is superficially very similar to a large two-manual organ by Bach’s Saxon contemporary, Gottfried Silbermann. However, the tone is light years removed from the German model which Hill’s organ follows on paper. British organ building was emerging from a period of intense refinement and delicacy and Hill’s organ is above all rather soft. The only way to imagine some connection between the sounds this organ makes and the sounds of an organ Bach might have known is to shut your eyes and pretend the building is enormous and the organ two hundred feet away – only then does it begin to make sense.

The Bach organ of 1848 tells us about 1848, not about Bach. Of course the same is true for Bach organs of 1950 – if indeed there were any such in the early heat of the modern movement Organ Revival of that generation – and the same is true of Bach organs today. There is a finite limit to what we can find out from the past; in the case of Bach and the organ that limit is very quickly reached and beyond it lies only speculation.

With this in mind I prefer to see the connection often made between Bach and the organ building of late seventeenth century Hamburg – instruments by Arp Schnitger and his immediate predecessors – as being a story of twentieth century preoccupations. First and foremost it is a story of political upheaval. In the division of Germany after the Second World War the Bach homelands of Thüringia and Saxony became relatively inaccessible, their organs and organ culture obviously so. The instruments of Gottfried Silbermann retained their specific cachet, but that widely acknowledged award of distinction was a matter of survival, not of revival. The remarkable craftsmanship in Silbermann’s instruments led them to be revered not only in his own time but in following generations too. I would go as far as to say that in the nineteenth century he was the only organ builder of the past whose name was widely known in the international organ world.

When the Iron Curtain came down across Europe even Silbermann’s instruments fell for a time into shadow, and the idea of them belonging to an indigenous and varied local organ culture passed completely into oblivion. Attention was naturally diverted for a time to the other great area of importance to Bach’s understanding of the organ – Hamburg and the North. This removal of focus from central Germany to the North was also propelled by the engine of twentieth century musicology, which saw Bach not as a romantic genius (surely the Nineteenth Century assessment) but as a single piece in a scholarly jigsaw puzzle. That puzzle could most easily be completed with reference to Bach’s most prominent precursors as gifted Lutheran organ composer-performers, men such as Böhm and Buxtehude. The arrival of Bach on the musical scene was sometimes seen almost as a continuation of that school, and the new organs which emerged in the late twentieth century were a witness to the total concentration of interest on the organs of the North, but revisited by twentieth century craftsmen in new guise, with Modern Movement austerity in design and decoration, too-light mechanical actions, equal temperament, steady wind and every other kind of pseudo-technical pseudo-improvement.

The problem with the musicologist’s view is one of cart and horse, or one of telescopes and wrong ends. Study concentrating on the surviving works of great composers gives a very one-sided view of the musical culture of the past. An organ culture is not remotely dependent on good composed or written music. It may reach a pinnacle of excellence with only the most modest or basic creative musical input, as happened in Catholic South Germany in the eighteenth century, or in Spain in the eighteenth century, or in England in the eighteenth century, or even, dare I say it, in the Netherlands in the twentieth century. To view Bach’s position largely in terms of structured links with his predecessors is justified only in terms of musicological scholarship; to elevate those predecessors to the position of precursors may even be misleading; in the case of Buxtehude, as Christoph Wolff has so ably pointed out, it has almost denied Buxtehude himself of his proper status as an composer in his own right and has caused the finest section of his oeuvre – the choral music – to be sadly neglected. Who is Buxtehude to us today? All too often I am afraid he is merely the name of the composer immediately preceding Bach on the recital programme of the modern eclectic virtuoso.

That is not to say that the North was without influence upon Bach and his view of the organ. But perhaps we have been looking in the wrong places for the effect the experience had on him. In my imagination I see his experience of Lübeck and Hamburg leading naturally to an appreciation of large organs but not necessarily to an appreciation of the specific layout fashionable in that part of the world. I do not think he would necessarily have found a Rückpositve advantageous, nor a Brustwerk, nor detached pedal towers. He would not have heard the word ‘werkprinzip’ which is of twentieth century coinage, invented to explain seventeenth century organ building in terms of a Modern Movement design philosophy of ‘form follows function’.

It takes a certain leap of the imagination to understand how the spatially separated parts of a North German organ are intended to work together, and though that leap is certainly well within the intellectual grasp of a man as intelligent as Bach, so is the other side of the coin: why should an organ not be made as one single entity, homogenous and integrated, built in one case, not in several and, most important of all, leaving room on the same gallery for instrumentalists and singers? Bach played on the four manual Schnitger at the Jacobikirche in Hamburg in 1720, and of course the experience would have been fascinating. But would he not have been surprised to find the main chorus of the organ divided over two manuals, Hauptwerk and Oberwerk? Would it not have seemed odd to him that the sixteen foot manual plenum could only be obtained by coupling two manuals together, with a corresponding deterioration in the quality of the touch? And whereas an organ by Schnitger was built with a certain economy of wind distribution, so that only certain stops sounded well together and even then in combinations of only a few at a time, would not the exploring fingers and improvisatory mind of Bach the player quickly have discovered exactly where those limits lay and have been led to wonder with automatic inevitability what might lie beyond them?

Posing rhetorical questions does not necessarily mean that one should be tempted to answer them. I do not propose to take the dangerous step of filling in the gaps and telling you what I think Bach might actually have thought. To understand the true position of the North in Bach’s mind we need a gentle reminder that he would have met people there as well as organs, and that there is no reason why his concentration might not have been devoted more towards the successful creative careers of Böhm, Buxtehude and Reincken and less towards the specific details of instruments of that area, where he never held an appointment.

We need to remember that J. S. Bach was not a citizen of modern greater Germany and that Hamburg was foreign territory. Germany would not become a single entity until after 1848; until then there were separate independent states, duchies and principalities. Thüringia was one of these, as important in its way as any other, and there several generations of the Bach family made their home and devoted themselves to careers in music. The strongest line of communication was between Thüringia and Saxony, its neighbour to the east. The two states co-existed in happy cultural rivalry: Saxony boasting the great court city of Dresden and the intellectual strength of Leipzig, and Thüringia competing with rather more centres of cultural activity, but each one much smaller than the two major cities of Saxony.

Saxony and Thüringia had flourishing organ cultures of their own, as distinct as any other national or regional school at the turn of the eighteenth century. These schools depended on no single great artist, for even Gottfried Silbermann himself was a parvenu, the local lad who went away to France and returned in 1710 with some new ideas and scored a popular success. The wide spread of local activity is well revealed by the names of organ builders whose work Bach encountered during his career, men such as Wender, Scheibe, Stertzing, Trost and Trebs. That no one of these can be identified as a great star in the firmament of organ building tells us not that they were less able, but informs us intead about the social structure of the area in which they plied their trade. For example, Tobias Heinrich Gottfried Trost was indeed a major figure in the craft, but because of his position as organ builder to the Court at Altenburg and the structure of Thüringian society he was only able to undertake two major projects in his lifetime, and even then his organ at Waltershausen had to be finished by others. The position of Arp Schnitger, for example, is quite different: the model of Hamburg mercantile society allowed him to sense the possibilities of being an autonomous tradesman and manufacturer building standardised instruments, managing a workforce of collaborators, selling his work to clients rather than waiting for instructions from his Lord and Master in a nearby castle, and ultimately exporting a product to all parts of the known world. Similarly with Gottfried Silbermann in Saxony, able to score a double success by working for both Lutheran and Catholic patrons, using standardised formulae for the rapid execution and prompt delivery of a relatively large number of surprisingly self-similar organs, and allowing his popular reputation to rest on the luxurious excellence of materials and craftsmanship he had surely learnt in Paris, and on his organs being extremely loud.

To me Gottfried Silbermann is the Saxon equivalent of Father Willis. The instruments are impressive for their technical excellence and for delivering power with sophistication and refinement. Both builders were outside tradition in seeking brilliance through a certain manner of voicing rather than through the use of high pitches. Both builders incorporated a modicum of French influence in the form of powerful reeds and special solo colours. Both built organs to standard recipes with a narrow tonal palette and with little variation from one organ to the next. Both were stubborn and stuck with meantone tuning at precisely the time it had gone out of fashion. Silbermann’s organs are loud to the point of being problematic. They put all other instruments in the shade, unjustly making the work of others appear dull and even lacklustre. In the context of the accompaniment of the eighteenth century chorale and cantata based liturgy their loudness must surely be a difficulty: individual stops are sensuous enough but in combination there is a telling forcefulness which does not blend well with other performers.

You will by now detect that I am proposing that J. S. Bach was brought up in the distinctive organ culture of his native Thüringia and that his foreign travels may only have added to his family-based experience. If this is the case, then the Thüringian organ needs to be defined so that we can learn from it. I have already hinted that the social structure of Thüringia and the system of patronage applied to organ building leads not to one consistent style but to a variety of styles going on concurrently, each individual artist seeking his own solutions and his own particular answers to the needs of the day. The organs of neighbouring Saxony provide another source of alternative recipes. Thus, a visitor to central Germany around 1730 might find organs that sounded quite different from each other, in the same way that an organ by Father Willis sounds quite different from an organ by Hill or Lewis. Silbermann’s forthright voicing, his frenchified mutations and reeds, and his taste for brilliant tone would have represented one end of the spectrum. At the other end of the scale were dark, fluty toned organs, such as those made by Herbst, where the chorus has a distinct cornetty twang and a thicker, heavier character. On a separate branch line altogether is Trost, with his love of delicate intonation and edgy tone, his repeated experiments with new kinds of string stops and fancy flutes, and his plenum delivered in a spine tingling crash by means of one big multi-ranked tierce mixture.

All three builders were concerned with the trends of their time, and the very departures from common seventeenth century practice are the stuff of our enquiry. Keyboards now had more notes, the introduction of the accidentals in the bass octave firmly implying the use of new key signatures and more extensive modulation, and thus opening the way for mildly unequal or circulating temperaments replacing the old meantone system. Organs were now often housed in one single case, allowing more extensive use of the gallery area round the console and tending to homogenise and blend the sound. This new kind of organ structure – the instrument built in one lump – seems to me to mirror the difference between the major solo works of Buxtehude – many sub-sections used to throw the separate parts of the Northern organ into distinct relief – and the later major works of Bach, in which single massive movements explore a self-contained spectrum of tonality through the medium of structured schemes of modulation. At this time also new stops appeared to delight the ear: in Silbermann’s work they are reeds and mutations; in Trost’s work they are strings and flutes. Above all this period seems to be one in which there is a new found interest in grandeur or gravity of effect, reflected in Bach’s own instructions regarding the rebuilding of the organ at Mühlhausen, with its new thirty two foot bass and rebuilt pedal reed for added ‘gravität’ and the telling reference to the sixteen-foot manual Bassoon introduced for its delicacy in concerted music.

In the light of these new trends in early eighteenth century organ building I would like to draw attention to three organs which can still be heard today. The organ in the castle church at Lahm-in-Itzgrund, in Franconia neighbouring Thüringia to the west, where Johann Lorenz Bach was organist, built by Heinrich Herbst in 1732 and surviving virtually unaltered. Then, the organ in St. Peter’s Church in Freiberg, Saxony, completed in 1735 by Gottfried Silbermann, surviving in fair condition despite some nineteenth century revoicing . Finally, the Tobias Trost organ in the castle chapel at Altenburg in Thüringia, completed in 1739 and inspected and approved in fairly glowing terms by J. S. Bach in September of that year.

These three organs are of a type quite new. All are only two manual instruments, and yet all three attempt a sixteen foot chorus on the Hauptwerk and a thirty two foot stop on the pedal. This is a radical departure from normal practice, for almost all organ builders of any period, given a space sufficient for an organ of this type, would sooner offer their client or patron an instrument at the same price but with a greater number of rather smaller stops spread over three manuals and pedal. Each of these instruments occupies the amount of space in which Schnitger – or for that matter Rudolph von Beckerath – would have built a three manual organ based on an eight-foot Hauptwerk.

Here is the true impact of the new desire for ‘gravität’ – schemes where the myriad possibilities of dialogue and interplay between three manual divisions are exchanged willingly for a smaller two manual organ offering a more homogenised, but more massive, overall effect. To detect the hand of Bach in the invention of these schemes would going too far, but the coincidence of their appearance in the right place and at the right time, and two of them with distinct Bach connections, is both delightful and intriguing.

Each builder tackles the problems of such a scheme in a different way. Note, for example, how the Pedal is disposed in each. Herbst builds two separate pedal organs, one department of big basses behind the organ and a separate one devoted to chorus work disposed in the northern manner in towers on the gallery front. Trost achieves a pedal chorus by a technically adventurous method – he arranges for several ranks to be shared between the Hauptwerk and Pedal, with a complex soundboard design including non-return valves under each pipe. Silbermann, true to form, plays safe, and would doubtless have argued that the provision of pedal upperwork was catered for in his design by means of a pedal coupler that operated separate pallets in the Hauptwerk soundboard. Note also the provision of the new narrow scale registers alongside the traditional quintatons: in the Silbermann organ a single mild Viola da Gamba; in the Herbst instrument Viola da Gamba and Gemshorn; in Trost’s organ at Altenburg a whole collection of experimental tonalities, including both strings and unusual flutes on both manuals and pedal.

Which of these three organs would Bach have preferred and why? There is no answer to this question, but there is a non-answer that has a distinct appeal: that Bach might have enjoyed all three equally and have relished their differences. Among the mere handful of comments handed down to us about his organ playing is this famous passage from Forkel’s biography:“To all this was added the peculiar manner in which he combined the different stops of the organ with each other, or his mode of registration. It was so uncommon that many organ builders and organists were frightened when they saw him draw the stops. They believed that such a combination of stops could never sound well, but were much surprised when they afterwards perceived that the organ sounded best just so, and had now something peculiar and uncommon, which could never be produced by their mode of registration.”
“This peculiar manner of using the stops was a consequence of his minute knowledge of the construction of the organ and of all the single stops. He had early accustomed himself to give to each and every stop a melody suited to its qualities, and this led him to new combinations which, otherwise, would never have occurred to him.”
I think that this passage contains a most important clue. To a player whose grasp was as complete as Bach’s, able to improvise fully structured works in five and six parts with obligato pedal lines, the different quality of sounds emerging from organs by different builders would have been a never ending source of delight and pleasure. His music making would instinctively have been altered to suit. No one instrument – provided it obeyed his commands that the right notes should be played at the right time – would then be in any way preferable to another. Thus there is no ‘Bach organ’ – rather many Bach organs, or a pool of Bach organs, all of them belonging to the varied schools of central German organ building at the beginning of the ‘galant’ period. However there is one instrument which has long been regarded as the strongest candidate for a tonal scheme devised by Bach, the Hildebrandt organ in St. Wenceslas Naumburg, completed in 1746, and examined and approved by J.S. Bach and Gottfried Silbermann in September of that year.

Bach had known of Hildebrandt’s work since at least 1723, when he examined the one-manual organ by him at Störmthal. Hildebrandt was a pupil of Gottfried Silbermann. When Silbermann died in 1754, mid-way through the construction of the large three manual organ for the Hofkirche in Dresden, it was completed and voiced by Hildebrandt. Yet Hildebrandt’s style at Naumburg is noticeably divergent. Other builders were content to follow Silbermann’s footsteps more closely : in Berlin Joachim Wagner was happily building near replicas of the master’s work, if anything showing even more caution by providing fewer manual reed stops. What is the new influence that sets Hildebrandt’s work at Naumburg apart from his teacher’s instruments?

The most satisfactory answer is that the influence is Thüringian, and that is part of the argument for the connection with Bach. The string stops are the first vital clue: on the Rückpositiv there are both a Viola da Gamba 8 and a Fugara 4 – the latter being one of Trost’s inventions, and used by him in his substantial three-manual organ at Waltershausen dedicated in 1741. Also Trost-like is the provision of string basses in the Pedal, and the large multi ranked mixture on the Hauptwerk. From Silbermann come the Cornets both composé and décomposé, and the undulating Unda Maris. Common to the period, but bearing a particular connection with Bach’s own instructions regarding the rebuilding of the organ at Mühlhausen, are the Fagot 16′ on the Rückpositiv and the thirty two foot in the Pedal. Although the provision of a complete pedal chorus might be regarded as showing northern influence, one other distinctive feature is in contradiction with northern practice. Note that the flute stops are arranged in families: a choir of Spillflöten on the Hauptwerk; Gemshorn and Waldflöte, both tapered, on the Oberwerk; a pair of Rohrflöten on the Rückpositiv. This is not the northern way, where adjacent flutes on the same manual were always constructed differently and in contrast to each other.

The Naumburg organ is currently being restored to something near its original state, and the world waits with baited breath to see what further insights it may bring. This cannot quite be described as being “J. S. Bach’s Ideal Organ”, as has been claimed by Ulrich Dähnert and others, but it certainly demands our close attention.

I started this talk by inviting you to imagine that a composer named Bach had commissioned a large new organ for his personal use. I am delighted to finish by telling you that this was not in fact a flight of imagination, but an attestable fact. The Bach concerned was not Johann Sebastian, but his older cousin, the highly regarded performer and composer Johann Christoph Bach, and the organ in question was that at St. George’s in Eisenach, planned in the 1690s, built by the local builder Sterzting, and completed in 1707. As a young boy J. S. Bach would have known of the scheme; construction of the instrument started at about the time his father died and he was removed to stay with his brother at Ohrdruf. The story of this important instrument was uncovered by Claus Oefner and more work is now being done by the American musicologist Lynn Edwards. The technical details of this organ are both startling and significant: in a recent lecture Ms. Edwards showed that the organ had three manuals and fifty three stops, full chromatic compasses with fifty three notes in the manuals and twenty nine in the pedals, a separate wind supply to each department of the organ, a case concave in plan with no Rückpositiv so as to leave ample room on the gallery for other performers, and that the completed organ was visited and sketched by none other than Gottfried Silbermann’s nephew Johann Andreas.

As you can see, the true story of the Thüringian organ is unfolding only gradually. As it does so, we become painfully aware of just how short the neo-classical organs of the late twentieth century fell in their attempts to emulate the sounds that Bach knew, and how much they reflect instead the tastes and concerns of the twentieth century. In the twenty-first century it is too much to hope that we will actually recover some of the understanding that Bach brought to the instrument – the archaeological evidence simply is not adequate to the task. However, I am sure we all welcome the opening of a new chapter, bringing with it fresh insights and new discoveries touching on the intellectual world of the great man.

© Stephen Bicknell  http://www.users.dircon.co.uk/~oneskull/

Some further links:
1. A recording of music on the Herbst organ in Lahm-in-Itzgrund
2. Disposition of the Silbermann organ in St. Peter’s Church, Freiberg
3. Recording made at the Trost organ in Altenburg castle, from OHS website
4. Site dedicated to the Trost Organ in Waltershausen , Thüringia
5. International Pipe Organ Discography

Walter Hilse plays Bach’s The Art of Fugue at St Peter’s Lutheran Church, NYC

Review of Dr Walter Hilse’s performance of Bach’s The Art of Fugue, played on 9/24/2000 at St Peter’s Lutheran Church, NYC

Today at 4 o’clock, at St Peter’s Lutheran Church in NYC, Walter Hilse gave a splendid performance of the Art of Fugue. The Klais organ sang, whispered, and trumpeted under Dr Hilse’s imaginative registration. Each fugue and canon possessed its own distinctive character, and like pieces of a puzzle they fit together perfectly. Dr Hilse interspersed the fugues with the canons, to “welcome contrast”, as he wrote in the program notes. The program was as follows:

Fugue Ihilse
Fugue II
Fugue III
Fugue IV
Canon II at the Octave
Canon IV at the Twelfth
Fugue VI
Canon I in Augmentation and Contrary Motion
Fugue VII
Fugue VIII
Fugue IX
Fugue X
Canon III at the Tenth
Fugue XI
Mirror Fugue in 4 Voices (Normal, then inverted)
Mirror Fugue in 3 Voices (Normal then inverted)
Fugue XII (Unfinished)
Chorale Prelude Vor deinen Thron


The intensity of the performance grew as time went on. The canons were a pleasant variation to the complexity of the fugues. They also provided the opportunity to exploit the organ’s color to the fullest. The canon in Augmentation and Contrary Motion was, I think, a bit too fast and aggressive. I hear it as having a more composed, meditative character. In the context of the rest of the performance, though, Dr Hilse’s interpretation of the canon was a logical interlude between fugues VI and VII and made perfect sense that way.

The fugues nrs. X and XI were particularly spellbinding. Dr Hilse unleashed the sheer power of those pieces and brought it thundering down into the sanctuary. It was simply thrilling, this windstorm of sound and logic, bound by deeply felt emotion.

As the last, unfinished, fugue started, I was filled with apprehension, waiting for the moment when the B-A-C-H would sound. I’d like to think that I wasn’t the only one in the audience who wondered—just what sound will Dr Hilse choose to represent Bach’s name? It was a flute-like 8′. How fitting. After the last notes of the fugue hung in the air, clean and pure, it was also the sound that started the sublimely beautiful chorale, Vor deinen Thron.

st_peter_extThe minimalist modern architecture of St Peter’s was a perfect background for the highly spiritual music of Bach. Having never visited St Peter before, I was struck with it’s architect’s flight of imagination. I certainly have never seen a church where the sanctuary was below ground level, with ceiling windows facing the street. Several people were glued to the glass during the performance, and that created a feeling that the organ was speaking not only to us, sitting below, but also to the people outside, and to the sky, and to the entire city.

While much bitter discussion is being centered on organists playing recitals for organists, Walter Hilse has performed Bach for the people. I believe musicians and non-musicians alike went home with a memory of something special today.

Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church is located at
619 Lexington Avenue at 54 St
New York, NY 10022
(212) 935-2200

©2000 Lana Krakovskiy

Andrew Nethsingha plays at St George’s Cathedral, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

We were delighted to have Andrew Nethsingha, the Organist and Master of the Choristers at Truro Cathedral, UK, here in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, to give a recital at St. George’s Cathedral, on Tuesday 10th October 2000.

The programme was as follows:

Grand Choeur in D minor
Folk Tune
J. S. Bach
Trio super “Herr Jesus Christ
Fantasia and Fugue in C minor Hollins
Allegretto Grazioso
Adagio and March from the “Occasional Oratorio”


Chorale-Improvisation “Nun danket alle Gott”
Samuel Wesley
Air and Gavotte
Howells     Psalm Prelude (Set 1, No 1)
“Lo, the poor crieth and the Lord heareth him, yea, and saveth him out of all his troubles.” (Psalm 34.6)
March on a Theme of Handel

Andrew Nethsinga introduced the pieces at the beginning of each half, and then went on to play them as though he had played the organ at St. George’s Cathedral all his life! In fact, he was here some years ago when he gave a recital, which was as enjoyable as the one we heard this week.

The organ has never sounded better!

Mr. Nethsingha also conducted the Diocesan Choral Festival Service, Sunday October 15, 2000, at 4.00 pm.

©2000 Bob Conway

Jürgen Rodeland plays at St. Aureus Church in Büdesheim, Germany

Music from Three Centuries

“Unspectacular” organ recital delighted the audience in the church

November 11th, 2000
by Werner Brandt, Mainz Allgemeine Zeitung
translated by John H. Nisbet

juergenBINGEN – It’s almost unbelievable: In spite of little advertising, even “unspectacular” organ concerts find their audience. Indeed, the listeners in the well-attended Catholic Church in Büdesheim were more than rewarded.

Jürgen Rodeland arranged an interesting program, spanning the period from 1637 to 1992, accentuating the versatile sound of the Oberlinger organ, and fulfilling all expectations, both technically and artistically.

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s 6th Organ Sonata began with chorale variations, which ornamented the melody, or treated it with toccata-like, brilliant scales, and arpeggios. The chorale theme was also hidden in the Fugue, but accentuated clearly, and the final movement exuded composure, and sensitivity, thanks to the soft registration of the performer.

In the Passacaglia D minor of Dietrich Buxtehude, Jürgen Rodeland spread out the variety of registration possibilities: the continuing bass theme was clothed attractively by very versatile, bell-like stops, silvery mixtures, and organo pleno. Only the conclusion turned out somewhat too modestly.

With Johann Sebastian Bach’s renowned Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, the artist could prove his enormous virtuosity. He played particularly the “Kaffeewasser” Fugue in a conception like an unbroken thread, held the tempo excellently, articulated very sophisticatedly, and registered transparently, so that the theme always remained clearly audible. He refrained from a grandiose ending.

Olivier Messiaen’s “Apparition de l’Eglise éternelle” began like clusters, using the swell box extensively, and contained sound expanses and rows of chords that could be suggestive of church windows flooded through by sunrays, but the composition revealed little structure, and too much emotion.

Max Reger’s Fantasia on “Ein feste Burg” turned out to be a masterpiece of the performer. If it would have been possible to sing the Chorale before, the appreciation of this piece would have been even greater. However, the information printed in the program, the very clear registrations, the well- played portato choral melody, the large contrasts of dynamics, the mastery of the difficult pedal part, and the great climax to the end: by all of these, a breathtaking interpretation was accomplished by being clear-cut, with a transparent sound despite the complicated chromatic harmony.

The enthusiastic audience demanded by much applause a well-known, exceptionally charming encore: Vierne’s “Carillon de Westminster” honored the listeners with a bell-like, playful sound.

©2000 Werner Brandt, reprinted in translation with author’s permission
For original article: click here

Fred Swann plays last Advent concert at the church before retiring, First Congregational Church, LA

Los Angeles, CA, December 3, 2000
This past Sunday, I had the great pleasure of attending Fred Swann’s annual Christmas concert at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. This would be his last regular Christmas concert at the church inasmuch as he has announced his retirement from the church organ bench after 60 years of service as a church organist, to be effective in May 2001.

(Incidentally, the program notes indicated that Dr. Somerville, Minister of Music, will also be retiring at that time, along with soprano Kathie Freeman.)

Although Dr. Swann has only been at First Congregational about three years, he obviously is already greatly loved and admired, as evidenced by the near-capacity audience who turned out for his concert: Most of the folks in attendance looked more like “church folk” than “organ folk,” so this clearly was a great display of support and respect for him. The announcement of his retirement, although already generally known, was met with many sighs of sadness and shaking of heads, even a few daubing at teary eyes with hankies. (A nice church-like couple sitting in front of me were very unabashed FRED FANS, and showed their adoration for him throughout the concert.)

The program began with a prelude by the Master Ringers, a very fine handbell choir from Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena. (Despite a printed request in the program to “please listen in silence,” not everyone was doing so. Most notably certain inattentive ushers who were escorting people to their seats with audibly barked seating indications. To their credit, the handbelliers’ attention and focus were not diverted despite the insensitive distractions.)

Dr. Swann then laid out an excellent, varied program including some “new fare” along with just enough “old chestnuts” to keep the purple-haired little old ladies (of both genders) content.

Of course, every piece was excellently played. And the seemingly limitless diversity of the Great Organs of the church was marvelously and ingeniously displayed.

We heard quaint touches of “klein-tinkelen und Farten-regalen” in Buxtehude’s choral fantasia on “Wie schön der Morgenstern.” (I heard a teenage kid behind me ask his mom if that was “a song about Rhoda Morgenstern!”)

The organ’s many ranks of lovely, lovely strings were slushed out in full force for Stanley Roper’s arrangement of the original orchestral version of Vaughan Williams’ “Greensleeves.” Absolutely blissful sounds here, layer upon layer of Shimmering Strings and Velvety Voxes. (Who was it who quipped, “More souls are saved with Chimes and Vox Humanas than any other stops in the organ!”)

The full force of the organ was called upon several times to thrilling, thunderous climaxes: Dr. Swann brilliantly played Simon Preston’s hair-raising “Alleluyas” and the captivatingly joyous “Grand Fantasia on ‘Joy to the World'” by Marc Cheban, a young organist from Philadelphia.

There were also the expected rooty-toots on the heart-stopping Holzgraf Memorial Trumpet, but it did appear to me that these trumpets have been reined in a bit as they did not seem as overbearing (indeed, nearly unbearable!) as they originally were.

Dr. Swann concluded the concert with Henri Büsser’s “The Sleep of the Infant Jesus.” My, my, my, my, MY. How can I begin to relate the sweet beauty of this work! Dr. Swann told about how during his tenure at Riverside Church, this piece always took a special and cherished place at the end of each annual Christmas Eve Candlelight service. He then gently requested that there be no applause at the end, “and you will see why.”

At the conclusion of the sublime work, a beautiful soprano voice eerily floated out into the nave seemingly out of nowhere–at once softly emanating from every pore of that sanctuary— singing, a cappela, “Silent Night.”

As the voice grew in intensity, we realized it was coming from a resonant hallway or stairwell behind the altar. The ethereal voice continued to grow in strength as the soprano, Kathie Freeman, slowly made her way out into the sanctuary. What a sweet, tender, peaceful moment. This brilliantly thoughtful treatment perfectly rendered the aural fragrance of the lovely, simple carol. Time seemed to stand still, and we very much felt the gentle presence of Our Creator there with us.

Finally Dr. Swann led us in rousing congregational singing of favorite Christmas carols, led by Kathie Freeman; although she had some stiff competition against the hundreds of ranks of organ and the sanctuary filled with concertgoers!

The concert was then over and done with, seemingly far too soon; and we reluctantly filed out of the gorgeous sanctuary to go back to our “regular lives.” However, even two days after the concert I am still blessed with a quiet peacefulness that has brought into my heart the true spirit of Christmas.

Afterward, Dr. Swann’s many admirers lined up in the cheerfully elegant, tastefully appointed fellowship hall (incongruously christened “The Barnum Room”) below the sanctuary to express their greetings, well wishes, and accolades for the concert, which easily was the best and most enjoyable in recent memory.

– – – – – – –

Here is the complete program:

3:45 Gathering Music
The Master Ringers, Handbell Choir
Lake Avenue Congregational Church
Pasadena – Jeremy Langill, director

4:00 Welcome
Thomas Hunter Russell, Assistant Organist,
Organ Concert Series Chair

Two Settings of the Advent Hymn “Veni, Veni Emmanuel”
Toccata – Andrew Carter
Meditation – Sir Edward C. Bairstow

Choral Fantasia – “Wie schön der [Rhoda] Morgenstern” – D.Buxtehude

Christmas, Op. 80 – Arthur Foote

Two Carol Variations – Max Drischner
“Lo, How a Rose ‘ere Blooming”
“In dulci jubilo”

Alleluyas – Simon Preston

Pastorale on “Forest Green” – Dale Wood
(Harp, Handbells, Organ)
(Jo Ann Turovsky, harp)

Grand Fantasia on “Joy to the World” – Marc Cheban

I n t e r m i s s i o n

Two Spanish Carols for Organ – Norberto Guinaldo
“¿Què li darem a n’el Noi de la mare?”
“El desembre congelat”

Greensleeves – R. Vaughan Williams

Variations on a French Carol – “Il est né le divin enfant” – Henri Büsser

The Sleep of the Infant Jesus – Henri Büsser
(Violin, Harp, Organ)
(Jo Ann Turovsky, harp)
(Steve Scharf, violin)

Silent Night – Kathie Freeman, soprano

Congregational Carol Singing, led by Dr. Swann and Kathie Freeman

Reception in the Barnum Room

©2000 Charlie Lester   http://www.137.com

The Guilmant Organ School at First Presbyterian Church, NYC

In 1846, when First Presbyterian Church moved from Wall Street to its current location on Fifth Avenue, sacred music in the worship service was very different from what we know today. First Presbyterian, like many 19th-century Presbyterian churches, was a conservative congregation, and no musical instruments were allowed in the sanctuary except for the human voice. At this time, choral music in most American churches was provided by a solo quartet, as was the case at First Presbyterian. In the conservative tradition of First Presbyterian, the quartet was only allowed to sing unaccompanied metrical settings of the Psalms from the musicians’ gallery in the back of the church. Since instruments were not permitted in the sanctuary, the quartet had to retire to a room in the belfry to get pitches from a pitch pipe. However, the quartet was allowed to sing the works of Palestrina, Vittoria and Orlando di Lassus in the chapel, but only as entertainments and never at worship services. In general, there were many rules on how Presbyterians were to conduct themselves, and it was considered a sin to speak in the sanctuary after the service.

As early as 1855, the session wanted to install an organ in the sanctuary to attract younger worshippers, but James Lenox, ruling elder and controlling financial supporter opposed the idea of a musical instrument in the church. James Lenox reasoned that since his father, Robert Lenox, who had given the land on Fifth Avenue, had not worshipped with an organ, the congregation did not need one. In 1887, seven years after James’ death, the session finally voted to purchase an instrument from the premier organ builder, Hilborne Roosevelt, at the cost of $12,000. The organ was installed in the rear gallery in 1888, and was considered the finest in the city and received wide attention. The first men to play the organ were Mr. Henry Belden and Mr. Sumner Slater. Little is known about their training or what they played. Dr. Harlan, pastor at that time (1886-1890), writes…”As long as this [organ] had taken place it was now time to take off the brakes, and that instead of having the same as formerly, they would now put on some trills and frills which they otherwise previously had not had.” The congregation was divided over the trends that were taking place.

Major changes began to take place when, on December 1, 1891, Dr. Duffield, a strong visionary leader with progressive ideas and a lover of music, was installed as pastor. In March of the following year, William C. Carl at age 27 was employed as the first Organist and Choirmaster. Duffield and Carl had met a few months earlier onboard a ship returning from Europe. Carl had just completed an extended stay in Paris, studying with the world famous organist, Alexandre Guilmant. Born in Bloomfield, New Jersey, in 1865, Carl had already established himself as an organist before going to Paris, and in 1882, had been appointed organist at First Presbyterian Church in Newark, New Jersey.

Immediately after his appointment in March of 1892, Carl began a series of organ recitals that were so successful, the church was filled to capacity at most concerts and the police had to control the crowds on Fifth Avenue. During this era, Dr. Duffield and Carl presented concert versions of Parsifal to overflowing crowds at the church, since copyright law prevented production of the opera at the Metropolitan Opera. Full production of Parsifal was allowed only at Bayreuth.

As more churches were built in the latter part of the 19th century, the number of organ builders in America increased to meet the need for musical instruments, and many fine instruments like the Roosevelt Organ at First Church, were built. However, there was a lack of well-trained organists to play these new, impressive looking and sounding instruments. While recently established music conservatories and schools in America taught some organ, the serious student traveled to France and Germany for training.

William C. Carl, like many American students, went to Paris to study with Alexandre Guilmant and the two became life-long friends. Guilmant (1837-1911) came from a long line of organists and was not only known as a great teacher, but as an organ virtuoso and church musician. Guilmant toured America three times, performing in major churches and concert halls, and played forty recitals at the St. Louis 1904 Exposition. Since the American public had never heard or seen organ playing like this, Guilmant immediately became a celebrity. He performed several times at First Presbyterian, and Walter Damrosch referred to him as “a wizard of the organ.” When a passage was played with his feet alone, the audience was wild with excitement.

Guilmant was organist at La Trinité, Paris (a position Messiaen held later), and taught at the Paris Conservatory. In 1894, he founded, along with other colleagues, the Schola Cantorum in Paris, a school for training church musicians. Guilmant’s stylized playing is best described as having a singing, clean, legato line. His method of teaching was revered, and he paid close attention not only to organ playing technique but to the poetry of the music, as well. He was married, with two daughters and a son, who was a painter. The whereabouts of a portrait of Dr. Carl by his son is unknown today. Guilmant was a prolific composer, and his wife ran the family publishing business. He is characterized as a tireless worker.

In 1898, during Guilmant’s second American tour, Carl and Guilmant decided to open a school for organ instruction in New York based on the master’s method of teaching. In 1899, Dr. Duffield invited the Guilmant Organ School to open at First Presbyterian Church with the magnificent Roosevelt Organ as the centerpiece for lessons and recitals. The first class was held on October 9, 1899, in the chapel. Guilmant was the President, Carl was the Director and Instructor of Organ, and Dr. Duffield was the Chaplain and Instructor in Theology. The following excerpt from the initial announcement gives a clear idea of the purposes of the school.

William C. Carl having been authorized by Alexandre Guilmant to open an organ school under his patronage begs to announce the Guilmant Organ School, in which the method as set forth by the great French organist, will be taught. Since the phenomenal success of M. Guilmant in America, a new impetus has been given to the organ as a solo instrument and in its relation to the church service. Organists in all parts of the country are giving more attention to its study and in the preparation of their work. Organ concerts are in demand with a growing success. Church committees are exacting a higher degree of ability from their organists and the press is giving it attention. 

These facts have demonstrated to Mr. Carl the necessity of such a school, where the organist will receive a practical training for the church service and a more thorough understanding of the ecclesiastical music.

The Guilmant Organ School at First Presbyterian Church quickly became one of the leading institutions for the study of organ and church music in America. The school awarded a diploma after two years of study, and courses were offered in private organ instruction, general music studies, and theology. A silver and gold medal designed by Tiffany was awarded to the graduate of each class with top honors. In addition to Dr. Carl and Dr. Duffield, local organists and other musicians served as faculty members. Two notable men associated with the school were Robert Hope-Jones, an American organ builder, and Dr. Clarence Dickinson of the School of Sacred Music at Union Seminary, who served as an examiner. In 1915, six scholarships were established, so that students from across America could study at the school.

Through the years, Dr. Carl and the Guilmant Organ School gained international recognition. The French government bestowed on him the Officer de l’Instruction Publique, and he was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in recognition for his work in promoting the works of Guilmant and other French composers. New York University conferred on him an honorary Music Doctorate Degree.

guilmant_organThe impressive Roosevelt Organ was used until 1918, when it was replaced with an E. M. Skinner Organ located in the newly constructed choir loft in the front of the church. The Skinner, which was rebuilt in 1928, was eventually replaced in 1964 with the current Austin Organ, which incorporates some pipework from the Roosevelt and Skinner instruments. This past year, this instrument was cleaned and tonally regulated by the firm of Glück Orgelbau, Inc.

The 25th anniversary of the Guilmant School was celebrated in 1924. 150 Students had graduated from the school, and 26 of them were in responsible positions in the greater New York area.

To celebrate Dr. Carl’s 40th anniversary as Organist at First Presbyterian in 1932, the church installed a bronze plaque in the choir. In 1935, Dr. Carl was granted a leave of absence from his duties at the school for health reasons, and Willard Irving Nevins, Carl’s first student and associate, became director of the school. On December 8, 1936, Dr. Carl died and in January 1937, Mr. Nevins was appointed Organist and Choirmaster of First Presbyterian Church.

Under Mr. Nevins, the school continued its fine service in the field of church music. With a view toward solidifying the position of the school in the education scene, Mr. Nevins arranged for incorporation of the institution, in 1940, under the laws of the State of New York. The school was later approved under the regulations of the University of the State of New York, in order that colleges could give credit for work done in the school.

In 1956, Willard Nevins retired as Organist and Choirmaster at First Presbyterian, but remained director of the school until his death in 1962. On January 18, 1960, the school celebrated its 60th anniversary, and a gala dinner was held in the newly built Church House (now the Mellin-Macnab Building). In March 1963, Dr. George Markey, Organist and Choirmaster of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, became the third director. At this time, the school left First Presbyterian. Dr. Markey’s dream was to recast and update the school in order to compete with major American music conservatories. The school continued to receive much attention, when in 1965, the Guilmant Organ Festival was held on the new Aeolian-Skinner Organ in Philharmonic Hall (Avery Fisher Hall), Lincoln Center. However, after leaving First Presbyterian, the school never found a permanent home, and closed in the early 1970s.

The Guilmant Organ School was an institution with high standards that successfully trained young organists to go forth and serve congregations throughout America. One hundred years ago, the congregation of First Presbyterian Church made a commitment to the educational development of church musicians in America, and many students learned to play and refine the art of organ performance in the church’s sanctuary. Today, graduates of the school speak fondly of the time they spent studying at the school and First Presbyterian. As we enter the 21st century, it is important to remember and give thanks for the strong witness of the forebears of this congregation, a congregation that began nearly 300 years ago. To commemorate the hundredth anniversary of The Guilmant Organ School, a series of three organ recitals has been presented in 2000.

© 2000 William F. Entriken

The organ in St. Stephen-in-the-Fields, Toronto, Canada

As is often the case, the story of the pipe organ at St. Stephen-in-the-Fields Church in Toronto is very much tied in with the story of the building itself. The ups and downs of the instrument certainly coincide with those of the parish. The Church is located in the West – Central part of Toronto’s inner city. The address is 103 Bellevue Avenue, but the entrance currently in use is on College Street, a major thoroughfare that runs east and west. If you are looking for the building, it is located on the south side of College Street, between Spadina Avenue and Bathurst Street. It is easily reached by public transportation, with the College streetcar close by.

St. Stephen’s was built by the Dennison family, wealthy landowners whose home, Bellevue House, was near the site of the Church. Constructed of brick, the building was designed by the well-known ecclesiastical architect, Thomas Fuller who later moved to Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, known, when the Church was built in 1858 as Bytown. The original building consisted of just the nave of the present structure. So far I have been unable to get any information about the organ then installed, except that it stood on a small gallery over the West door.

Less than ten years after it was built, the Church was gutted by fire. The Dennison family as patrons of St. Stephen’s had the building reconstructed. As much as possible of the original became the Nave, and a large Chancel and Sanctuary, with a Lady Chapel were added to the East end of the building. The Chapel was (and is) located on the North side of the Chancel, and a spacious organ chamber was built opposite. The chamber was designed well, and is entirely within the building. There is a large opening into the Chancel, and another was provided into the South aisle, the display pipes forming a rerados for the Altar in another chapel located in the aisle.

Architecturally the Church has a very ‘English’ look, although as one who lived for a time in England, I never saw a Church, urban or rural, that quite matched St. Stephen’s. While it has been described as a Gothic Revival structure, that is not entirely accurate, and, in fact, it shows some of the attributes of an ‘A” frame building. The walls of the Nave are low, with the windows set into dormers while the roof rises to a ridge far higher than the walls. After the fire, the broad Nave seated some 900 people until recent changes. There was a spacious aisle on each side separated from the central Nave by rows of pillars and Gothic arches. The ‘new’ Chancel and Sanctuary are lofty, and a display of 16′ organ pipes is easily accommodated in the case. The acoustics were excellent, and are still very good, even though drastic changes have been made to the structure. More about that later. Still, the exterior has been preserved, and the structure declared of historic and architectural importance.

Again no information is currently available about an organ in the Church until the present one was installed in 1906. There was a large harmonium in the Chapel on the South side of the Nave, and this did have enough power to accompany hymns when the pipe organ failed to function. That instrument has since disappeared.

The Church’s location today is highly urban and inner city by nature. When the Dennison family built it, St. Stephen’s was in the country, and thus St. Stephen-in-the-Fields. The fields were real. While the Church did have a few wealthy parishioners, it was never a wealthy parish, the building being rather grand for its congregation. The implications as the city grew and changed were obvious for the future. A large and expensive building to be maintained without a large budget to support it. Thus as time went on, the congregation found it necessary to cut financial corners when it came to furnishing and maintaining the building. This restraint applied to the pipe organ.

In 1888, George Ryder, organ builder from Reading, Massachusetts, was contracted to build a new instrument for New Richmond Methodist Church on McCaul Street, less than a mile east of St. Stephen’s. It was a fairly large instrument for its day, two manuals and some 27 ranks of pipes. The action, of course, was tracker (mechanical) with Barker lever (pneumatic) action for the larger pedal stops. The organ was Ryder’s Opus # 149. While romantic in nature, the Ryder organ did have some nicely developed harmonics, and was much brighter and fiery in sound than many other North American instruments of the time. Rather than following the French or English tonal pattern Ryder based his work on the German model.

In 1906, the New Richmond Methodist Church, due to a major change in demographics, was sold to a Jewish congregation to be used as a synagogue. The new owners had no need of the organ, and it was put up for sale. The people of St. Stephen’s purchased it from the Methodists. Just before it was to be moved, a dispute over the ownership of the instrument arose between the Methodists and the new owners of the building. Worried that the fine instrument they had purchased might not come to them after all, many of the men from the congregation spent the night outside the former Methodist Church, to ensure that it was not touched by anyone else. It was not. In the morning the men from Breckels and Mathews, a highly reputable firm of organ builders, arrived, the organ was dismantled and removed.

Breckels and Mathews made some fairly major changes in order to suit the instrument to its new home, providing a new key desk and key action, adding a couple of ranks and rearranging the pedal pipes and some of the Great Organ. A display of 16′ Open Diapason pipes, painted and decorated in rather Victorian fashion formed the façade which can still be seen. Other decorated pipes from the 8′ pedal stop which had been on display in the former Church were installed inside the chamber. The disposition was Great 10, Swell 11 and Pedal 3. The façade contained pipes from the Pedal Open Diapason 16′ and the bottom octave of the Great Open Diapason 8′, with the unenclosed Great immediately behind, and behind that the Swell, with a walkway between the two divisions. The Pedal Bourdon 16′ and Violin ‘Cello were located to the west of the manual chests. The organ remained much the same as this until 1942.

When first installed in St. Stephen’s, the organ, now bearing the name-plate of Breckels and Mathews, was hand pumped, and the indicator lines and instructions are still to be seen. At some point, however modern technology caught up with the instrument and a hydraulic blowing system was installed. The remains of this are still in the basement under the Chancel. The water-powered blowing system seemed to work quite well in the warmer weather, but it had a tendency to freeze in winter, rendering the organ speechless.

In the 1920’s a major advance was made under the leadership of the Rev’d. Canon James Ward, a priest who was also an accomplished musician, writer and pioneer in may fields. At Canon Ward’s insistence the hydraulic blowing system was retired and the first electric blower installed. The feeders were removed, but the main bellows, 7-feet square, was retained as the reservoir, and is still in use today.

Meanwhile the musical life of the parish thrived. St. Stephen’s became known for its fine choir and the distinguished musicians who sought and held the position of Organist and Choir Master. The organ itself became well known, and its unique sound was thrilling. Powerful reeds with lots of fire, assertive yet not muddy diapasons, romantic strings and clear flutes all blended into a bright chorus. A joy to hear and to play, at least when not plagued by mechanical problems. Outstanding organists were willing to put up with its idiosyncrasies, for the sake of its glorious sound.

The year 1942 brought the first major change in the organ since the days of Breckels and Mathews. In that year the mechanical action was electrified. The Ryder chests were becoming unreliable…(they still are!) and the heavy tracker action and long draws on the stop knobs had little appeal to the organists who had learned their art on instruments by Warren and Casavant, and the more recent work of Breckels and Mathews, to name a few builders. It was the modern age, and new technology must be applied to the organ. After all, this was a Church of the Twentieth Century — Canon Ward had pioneered Church radio broadcasting from St. Stephen’s. This medium made the voice of the priest and that of the organ familiar to many thousands across the country and into the United States. In keeping with the times, the organ was electrified.

Sadly the parish did not have the funds to have the work done by one of the leading builders, and the Franklin Legge Organ Company was called in. The original Ryder chests, pull downs and pallets were retained, in spite of growing unreliability due to wear and splits occurring in the sound boards, exacerbated by dryness during the heating season. The sliders were also kept.

Mr. Legge installed electropneumatic stacks under the chests to operate the pulldowns and pallets. These were quite efficient, and of his own design, but they had one problem. They needed higher wind pressure for proper operation. Similar devices were attached to the sliders, and these remain in use today.

A new and rather impressive draw-knob console was installed under the façade, facing West. This part of the organ was definitely a relief for the organist with its light touch and adjustable pistons. Now, too, the organist could keep his eye on the choir without relying on a mirror and a twisted neck.

When the conversion was complete, a new 49-note Celeste had been added to the Swell, with its own electropneumatic wind chest. That chest still functions reliably…sometimes the only stop on the organ that can be caused to function!

Back to the wind pressure problem. In order to operate his electropneumatic action, Franklin Legge raised the wind pressure noticeably, resulting in a slightly forced tone, and a rise in pitch of almost a semitone. This situation continued until 1971.

In spite of the problems mentioned, the St. Stephen’s organ continued to be a favourite among musicians and the musical tradition continued. The organ was in this state when I began taking lessons on it with Ian Galliford and later George Coutts. It was a truly thrilling instrument to play, and one could become lost in its majesty. Hours at the console passed like minutes. It always seemed that I had just got there to practise when it would be time to go home. Hours would have passed, unnoticed. That, of course, applied only when it worked.

During the 1960’s, the organist was the very talented Peter Roe, who is not only an accomplished church musician and recitalist, but also a talented organ builder and technician. During his tenure, Peter made a number of tonal improvements and enlarged the organ to three manuals, moving the console across the Chancel at the time. When Peter left, the organ had the following specifications:

Great Swell Pedal Couplers
*Open Diapason 8′ *Bourdon 16′ *Open Diapason 16′ Great to Pedal
*Dulciana 8′ *Open Diapason 8′ *Bourdon 16′ Swell to Pedal
*Hohl Flute 8′ *Stopped Diapason 8′ *Violin ‘Cello 8’ Choir to Pedal
*Principal 4′ *Salicional 8′ +Trombone 16′ Swell Super to Pedal
*Harm. Flute 4′ **Voix Celeste 8′
*Twelfth 2 2/3′ *Octave 4′ Choir Swell Sub to Great
*Fifteenth 2′ *Piccolo 2′ Swell to Great
*Clarinet 8′ *Mixture II rks +Stopped Flute 8′ Swell Super to Great
Trumpet 8′ *Oboe 8′ +Piccolo 2′ Choir to Great
*Cornopean 8′ Great Super Octave
*Tremulant Swell Sub to Choir
Swell to Choir
Swell Super to Choir
Draw-knob console with couplers on tablets above Swell
Manuals 61 notes Pedals 30
Action: Mechanical pull downs with ep stacks. Slider stop action
Balanced Swell Pedal – 5 stage motor
Balanced Crescendo Pedal
6 adjustable thumb pistons
3 reversible thumb pistons
Great to Pedal toe reversible
Full Organ reversible (toe)
*Original pipes from 1906. Mainly Ryder, but some possibly Breckels and Mathews.
**Added by Franklin Legge in 1942
+donated and installed by Peter Roe

Peter Roe used the 1942 Franklin Legge console, adding the Choir manual and controls.

It is interesting to note that the Clarinet on the Great is a rather powerful stop, not noted for the mellowness normally associated with the name. There are some Krumhorn characteristics. It is a useful Great reed, and does not suffer from not being under expression as one might expect.

In 1971 an attempt was made to improve the reliability of the organ, and it was overhauled by John Fyall and Son. But once again cost was a factor, and the old Ryder chests and action remained. The organ was dismantled, the pipes removed and complete cleaning was done. The Legge electropneumatic stacks were replaced by Kimber-Allen pull-down magnets. (The Legge action to run the sliders was retained.) All the metal pipes were sleeved for easier tuning, affecting the tone to some degree, but not too seriously. The big tonal change came when it was possible to reduce the wind pressure. Pitch has been restored to normal A=440, and the sound seems less forced then before.

About this time the Franklin Legge console was replaced by a 1928 Casavant one, removed from St. Jude’s when that Church was closed. It is interesting to note that when this was done the stop names were not changed on the draw-knobs, and these were hooked up to stops with the closest sound. Thus the Great Dulciana now plays when the Gemshorn is drawn, Swell Open Diapason is now a Violin Diapason, the Piccolo has become a Flautino, and the Mixture II masquerades as a Mixture III (an effect that is achieved when the ‘Flautino’ is drawn with it.) The Swell Octave 4′ is now known as the Spitzprincipal 4′.

The last time I heard the organ and played it was in 1970, when it could still be described as magnificent, although many stops were slow to act, and runnings occurred among the Swell ranks on occasion, caused by the deteriorating Swell soundboard. That situation remains as I write.

Back in 1947, organist Ian Galliford described the instrument as ‘An atrocious organ. Wonderful sound, but atrocious!’ The notorious unreliability of the old Ryder chests was the motivation for this description. Some of Franklin Legge’s work added to this situation.

Time has passed. Back when I was a child Canon Ward, a family friend and godfather, would sometimes refer to his Church as, “Not St. Stephen-in-the-Fields, but St. Stephen-in-the-Red.” At times I wonder if it might not also be called, “St. Stephen-on-the Rocks.” That suits both my sailing hobby and predilection for a certain Scottish beverage served over ice…

In June of this year I was invited to examine the organ and make recommendations for its future, as well as undertaking some urgent repairs to make it usable, at least. Although thinking of retiring from active organ repair and maintenance to concentrate on my writing and the Tall Ship Canada magazine of which I am executive editor, the prospect of returning to St. Stephen’s held great allure. Because of Canon “Uncle Jim” Ward, I had been attending the Church off and on since I was a very small child. Here was the pipe organ that I had first played, and the Church I had attended after returning from England. It is the one in which my wife and I were married. Of course I went! The project is now under way.

My return to St. Stephen-in-the-Fields after thirty years was a shock. The Parish Hall and Rectory were gone, replaced with an apartment building. The Convent and Church Home for the Aged closed, the nuns having fled the inner city to open a new facility called Cana Place in newer part of the city. Still, one of the former Church buildings, now involved with social services is called St. Stephen’s House. What I saw inside the Church itself was hard to believe.

In the middle of the Nave a complete building has been constructed, at one time housing a clinic and providing some rental income for the parish. Its tenants have long since departed. In addition to this structure, a wall now divides the Nave in half, and the Gothic arches of the aisles have been walled up, creating offices and classroom space.

The traditional furniture has gone from what is left of Nave, Chancel and Sanctuary. A few stacking chairs near the Chancel steps replace the pews for almost a thousand people. The choir stalls are gone, as are the sedilia. The High Altar is now on wheels, and moved forward, its former place of honour an empty space. The rerados is gone. The organ case remains…but not the same! The 16′ Open Diapason still stands proudly in place, pipe tops reaching toward the roof beams. But there is something new! Beneath the mighty Diapason is a smaller front of painted eight-foot pipes. Reminiscent of a Continental Positive, or perhaps an English Choir or Chair, but that is not the case. I know those pipes of old. The pedal eight-foot stop has moved outside the chamber, and now is silent. I shake my head in dismay.

To the console. I turn the key and the organ wheezes into life. The Casavant console is new to me. I draw two stops on the Choir, and touch the keys. Nothing. No sound. I try the other knobs to see if they control the pipes my friend Peter had installed. The same. No sound at all.

Next, the Swell. I draw the strings and promptly there is a squeal as many pipes sound forth. Runnings. The old Ryder chest has not improved with passing years! The Great has runnings too, and ciphers. With caution some ranks can be persuaded to behave. The remnants of past glory sound forth. Briefly. Time to step inside the chamber. I do that.

A horror! Dust and dirt on every surface, in some places inches deep. Some pipes are partly filled and cannot speak. Stepping in front of the Great chest to where the Choir once stood, I find the space is empty. Chest and pipes are gone! Nobody can tell me when or where. Then around behind the Swell…the old opening arch into the Nave has been walled up. The eight-foot pedal stop is gone, chest and all. A few pipes form that front I’d seen, the rest have disappeared. And everywhere the dirt. Such terrible neglect. On one wall there is a wind chest mounted, one of Franklin Legge’s, and it was not there before. The inscription on the wood suggests a string, ‘Salic.’ I read, a Salicional. But the pipes are of a principal. What’s this? And then I see. The wind trunk has been disconnected and the wires pulled away. There’ll be no sound from this, I think.

Further examination shows more dirt, loose, hanging wires. Dirt-filled pipes. Dirt everywhere. We set to work.

Cleaning first. We uncover hidden wires buried in the dust of decades. We fill a 10-gallon shop vac many times. But let’s try to make it sound. The blower works and the rectifier produces DC current. Some pipes can speak. We manage to use the Swell Bourdon 16′ to draw off unwanted wind, and the Swell Can play! At last the grandeur I recall comes back, as the Cornopean caps the chorus…but all is out of tune. Oh well! The Mixture is missing! We find it later and bring it back to life. Most of the Bourdon pipes are gone. No great loss…a muddy stop as I recall, and we have enough left to relieve the runnings. Back to the console. Coupling, with octaves up and down, to Great and Choir we can achieve some nice effects. Play a solo against the Swell itself, or build another chorus.

The Great is temperamental. At times for no apparent reason the pull down magnets come to life and wrong notes sound. Close the Swell box, and the Great responds with discord. Sometimes. The trick is to know just when.

And so it goes. The Pedal Bourdon has most strange behaviour! At times when on, more discords from un-drawn reeds. I shudder, and decide, “Swell to Pedal” and those few Bourdon pipes are a help.

Yes…in moments of good fortune, the sound is there. The majesty has not fled, at least not entirely.

We continue trying to make this organ usable at least. A friend who once designed nasty things for Litton Industries, guidance systems and internal missile circuits, has offered some electrical help. He is a wizard. And I form a plan.

At first the thought is to replace the entire thing, buy a used organ in good repair and place it here in St. Stephen’s. Yet that’s not what we want. Can we save the wondrous sound of old and bring the machinery back to life? So let it be.

The answer is new chests and action. The Ryder chests must go. The console will serve for now, the blower is old but fine and the rectifier can still be used. The swell box is effective and in good shape. The Casavant chest where the Trombone stands is good.

A friend from Temple Organs in Missouri offers hope…a price the Church can possibly afford. We’ll work toward that. We’ll continue striving to keep the poor old beast alive for now, a year or two or maybe three, and then!

The Ryder’s glorious sound will one day return. Modern pitman chests and action. New wiring throughout. It will be a new organ, good for another hundred years or more, with proper care. And the sound that George Ryder, Breckels and Mathews and Peter Roe developed over years will be back. Best of all, perhaps, will be the chance to play it without fear of what may be going to happen next! This time St. Stephen’s has the chance to do it right, and win! The future looks bright.

I’d love to play it and trust it before I die. Let’s dream the possibledream!

Addendum: While working at St. Stephen’s on Friday (10/22/2000), I discovered an additional disaster:

The Franklin Legge organ company added electropneumatic stop action in order to operate the sliders. This consists of a large unit fastened to the end of the chest, and made up of two sections. The lower section contains the action which is much the same as that in a ventil chest. This is connected via wires from the pneumatics to the upper, larger box which contains the complex system of levers which actually move the sliders in and out. Between the upper and lower boxes is a space of about half an inch. The stop action box for the Swell is just outside the door into a vestry… Someone had decided the narrow space between the two parts of the action was ideal for holding a wire coat hanger. Yes! They had straightened out the hook at the top to go into the space between the two sections of the action, and managed to find the tiny hole above a pneumatic pouch. As a result, the Swell 8′ Diapason no longer sounds. Because of the installation and complexity, we are looking at about 8 hours’ work to dismantle, re-leather the pouch and reassemble the stop action. Whew! I have put warning signs in the area, now, but I guess that really means locking the stable door after the horse was stolen! It seems that most people, even organists in many cases, are unaware of the complexity of the instrument…in fact to many the inside of a pipe organ looks much more like a collection of junk than the interior of a musical instrument!

Notes on the Casavant Console

The 1928 Casavant console at St. Stephen’s Church felt very familiar when I sat down to play. At first that seemed not at all unusual, since I have always found the consoles by that builder very comfortable to use, regardless of the design period. As mentioned in my article previously, a very reliable source had informed me that this console had come from St. Jude’s Church, Roncesvelles, Toronto. That building had become redundant, and was closed by Diocesan authority. At one time I had tried to acquire the console for the organ I was playing at the time, but was told it had already been sold when the organ was broken up for parts. I settled for a 3-manual Austin console for my Church, and thought no more about it until recently.

While playing at St. Stephen’s, I did notice that the console had provision for forty stops, while the instrument at St. Jude’s had been a smaller one, about 20-25 stops total. Still, memory fades!

Shortly after becoming a member of the Organ Focus site and publishing my first two articles, I received an email response from Andrew Mead, a talented organ builder who lives not far from my home, with further details on St. James’ Cathedral and a note about St. Stephen’s. Andrew identified the console at the latter as coming from St. Clement’s Church, Eglinton, (North Toronto.) This made a lot of sense. It also opened up more vistas, both for this site and in my memory.

While the organ in St. Stephen’s was the first I ever played, that at St. Clement’s was the second, and the first on which, as a teenager, I ever played for a service. This all reminds me of another instrument that may well be described here. The St. Clement’s organ, a Casavant, had major work done in the seventies, including a new console and a powerful unenclosed positiv division in the Chancel. The organ is being totally rebuilt this year by Casavant, and should prove interesting.

Anyway, no wonder the console felt so familiar to me! Many thanks to Andrew Mead for his interest and very useful information. Andrew also added to my knowledge of the St. James Cathedral organ, one which he is now maintaining.

© 2000 Ross Trant

Toronto and the Pipe Organ

Cathedral Church of St James | St Paul’s Church | Church of St Mary Magdalene | Church of the Advent

With its population of almost three million people, Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is surprisingly little-known as a truly great tourist centre in other countries. However, it has much to offer, and for the visiting organist it can be a goldmine of wonderful sights and sounds, especially sounds. There are giants like the four manual, 137-rank Casavant in St. Paul’s Church, Bloor Street, and the even larger five-manual instrument in Metropolitan United Church and tiny instruments such as the ten – rank Casavant pneumatic in the Church of the Advent. And the whole gamut in between. Some of the instruments in this large city are fascinating because of their musical merit, others have interesting historical connections, especially with outstanding musicians. There are those whose visual effect give an outward sign of the art of organ building. Then there are the instruments with all these attributes.

One thing that most visiting organists will discover is the ubiquity of the name Casavant, probably the best-known organ builder in the country. Consoles bearing the name of this internationally known firm abound. However, in many cases the curious student of pipe organs will discover that the instrument may have begun its life at the hands of another builder.

While the name Casavant certainly dominates the scene, there are other names to watch for as well. Casavant instruments demonstrate the many different design periods in the company’s history. Among the outstanding builders represented in Toronto is Samuel Warren and his descendants and off-shoots, such as Karn-Warren and Woodstock. The names of Morel, Jacques, and Canadian Pipe Organs will be found on instruments built by entrepreneurs who began their careers with Casavant. Another prominent organ builder once located in Toronto, was Breckels and Mathews, a firm which for a time was simply known as Mathews Pipe Organs.

Two rather prolific organ builders in the Toronto area, but definitely not in the same league as the above, were Franklin Legge and Edward Lye and Sons. Both of these concerns, sadly, built often strictly to price, leaving much to be desired, especially in the area of tonal design, voicing and scaling. The Lye firm did, in its early years, produce some quite good tracker instruments, but went downhill when they began to use electro-pneumatic action. There are some fine instruments bearing the names of Lye and Legge, but research always shows these were electrified examples of other builders’ work, notably Warren and Breckels and Mathews. The Legge firm was taken over by the Eaton department stores, and under that name did some quite good work. One former employee is the area representative for Casavant, Alan Jackson who has produced some excellent instruments.

With such a large population, Toronto has many churches and other buildings with pipe organs. Two more builders whose work may be experienced here are Gabriel Kney (formerly Kney and Bright,) and Schlicker. This gives some idea of what to expect when an organist visits Toronto. The dominance of Casavant in larger churches and institutions may be surprising, but understandable. Other more recent builders include Gibault-Therien, Keats-Geissler, Hallman, Gober and Helmut Wolfe. Yes, lots to see and hear! Now to some interesting specifics, as we consider some of my favourites.

The Cathedral Church of St. James

[http://www.orgalt.com/organs.html] ; [http://www.stjamescathedral.on.ca/]

A quiet oasis in downtown Toronto, St. James Cathedral stands within its wall, surrounded by green grass, amid the bustle of traffic and the hype of commerce. If you seek this place, you will be looking for the corner of King and Church Streets. You will have no trouble locating it. As you enter the main doors into the Nave, you will pass under an organ case, turn and look. A 19th Century case stands above the doorway, containing the pipes of the Auxiliary Division of the instrument, along with its one pedal stop. Protruding proudly from the foot of the case, pointing down the centre passage of the Nave, the pipes of a powerful trumpet en chamade. Continue walking toward the Chancel and the High Altar, and four more cases are seen, perhaps the finest examples of organ cases in the English tradition to be found in Canada. On the North and South sides of the Chancel or Choir are two spacious chambers, and here reside the pipes of the main organ, speaking clearly into both Nave and Choir. In the Choir itself you’ll see the tall English console with its rows of draw-knobs in pairs, as British tradition dictates. “Ah! A Walker organ!” you say, but no.

stjames_consoleThe ‘voice’ of the Cathedral Church of St. James was built in 1888 by Samuel Warren and Sons. The four-manual Walker console arrived in 1979, when the 97-rank instrument was already almost a century old. Extensive rebuilds were undertaken in 1916, 1936 and 1967 by Casavant. In more recent years further upgrades were accomplished, including the addition of a 32-foot reed on the large pedal organ. This is, perhaps, my favourite Toronto pipe organ. Rather romantic in nature, it has the characteristics of an English Cathedral organ, yet with something of a French touch in the voicing of many of the reeds. It handles well the works of Franck, Vierne, and other French composers, as well as the works of Bach and the music associated with the English Cathedral. How do you describe just how an organ sounds? I am not really sure. I hope these few remarks will give you some idea of the majesty of this one. If you are lucky, you will arrive when the organ is in use. If you are very lucky you may have the good fortune of playing. Powerful and exciting, yet capable of soft whispers, too. A wondrous sound in friendly acoustics. The spirit of Samuel Warren lives on, along with touch of the Casavant brothers, and Stephen Stoote tonal director in the thirties and beyond.

Console photo courtesy of Clyde Dollimount

St. Paul’s Church, Bloor Street


Travel north from St. James, on Church, past St. Michael’s Cathedral with its Warren tracker, rebuilt by Gabriel Kney, and Metropolitan United Church, with its huge five manual Casavant, largest Church organ in Canada, (more about these later,) to Bloor Street, the city’s main east-west artery. Turn east a short distance, and there it stands. Gray stone, rising toward the sky, St. Paul’s is impressive. Walk up the steps from the street to the main entrance, and step inside. Enter the Nave which seats 3,000 people, and look about you. High in the gallery over the West doors in the gallery is a large organ chamber with a display front of unadorned zinc pipes. This is the Gallery organ, a complete two manual and pedal instrument, controlled by the large four-manual console in the Chancel up ahead. Take the long walk to the Chancel steps, and look above once more. High above the floor of Chancel and Nave are two spacious chambers, opening into both Nave and Chancel. Again a façade of unpainted zinc pipes. In their austerity, they rather match the plain Gothic of the Church itself. Beauty in simplicity. The Casavant console resides on the north side of the Chancel. Here in St. Paul’s, much larger than the Cathedral, we find the four manual, 137 rank Casavant, built in 1914. The instrument has seven manual divisions, and two pedal divisions. The usual, Great, Swell and Choir, an Orchestral Division and a Tuba Division, along with the Pedal, complete the main organ, with the Gallery Great, Swell and Pedal speaking from the West end of the large Church.

The reeds for which St. Paul’s is famous were created by W.G. Jones, Frank Wesson and Harrison and Harrison, of England. Incredible fire, yet bell-like describes the mighty Tuba Division, capable of playing a solo over the entire rest of the organ! This is a truly exciting organ to hear from the Nave. However, due to the great distances between divisions, the effect from the console can be a bit confusing with delayed sounds heard in the vast space with an echo approaching ten seconds under some conditions. The first organist to preside over this great instrument was the late Dr. Healey Willan who came form England to Canada for this purpose, spending the balance of his life in the country, and becoming arguably the foremost musician the land has known. Like the organ in St. James Cathedral, the effect of this instrument is magnificent, but on an even grander scale than that in the Cathedral. Frequently used for recitals, it is also heard on many festive occasions, when St. Paul’s takes on the role of the Cathedral, due to its greater size.

The Church of St. Mary Magdalene

[http://www.interlog.com/~csmm/guide.html] ; [http://www.musiccentre.ca/ds/CDs/WillanOrgan.html]

magdaleneConsidered by many to be the key parish in the Anglo-Catholic movement within the Anglican Diocese of Toronto, the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, in the West-central area of the city, has a powerful musical tradition. Many important names have been attached to its musical leadership, but perhaps the greatest of these was Healey Willan, composer, conductor, organist and choir director. When Dr. Willan left his post at St. Paul’s, Bloor Street, he began his career at St. Mary Magdalene’s in 1921 and continued there until his death in 1968. Under Dr. Willan’s direction a new organ was built for the Church by the highly reputable firm of Breckels and Mathews. A good sized three manual instrument, it is located in a spacious chamber on the North side of the Chancel/Sanctuary area. The console is located in the gallery above the West entrance. Tired of sticking roll-tops on large consoles, Willan insisted on this one being equipped with doors, in the English tradition. As a memorial to Dr. Willan, the organ has been rebuilt in recent years. Work on this project was begun by David Legge, son of the late Franklin Legge, mentioned near the beginning of this article. When this did not work out successfully, the work was completed by Alan Jackson, Toronto representative of Casavant Freres. The rebuilt and enlarged organ contains some pipes from St. James Cathedral, which were found to be redundant when a major overhaul of that instrument took place. The Breckels and Mathews console, with additional matching draw-knobs, pistons and rockers has been retained. Tonally the instrument is in the tradition of English organ building of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A magnificent Tuba crowns the chorus, and performs well both as a chorus reed and solo stop. Dr. Willan and his successors have made good use of this rank as well as the rest of the instrument in improvisation, service accompaniment and in the performance of countless organ works. The St. Mary Magdalene’s organ raises goose bumps as the organist plays Willan’s glorious tune for ‘Hail Thee Festival Day,’ improvising between verses during a procession. If you have a chance to visit St. Mary Magdalene’s Church on a major Festival, don’t miss it!

Note: An archival CD recording of Healey Willan, playing the organ and directing the choirs, (Gallery and Ritual) has been produced by EMI Canada, and is available through the Royal Canadian College of Organists. That CD is playing as I type these words.)

The Church of the Advent

RossAdventbThis little parish Church is located in a rather down at heel neighbourhood in the West end of Toronto, not far from the old stockyards on Pritchard Avenue. An unpretentious Church in an unpretentious setting, it contains a pleasant little organ. This seems to be an appropriate place at which to conclude this article, which hopefully is the beginning of a series on interesting pipe organs in Toronto.

The organ in the Church of the Advent is a ten rank, ten stop two manual Casavant, with pneumatic action. It was originally built as a practice and teaching instrument for the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto. When the Conservatory moved to a new site, the little instrument was acquired by the Church and with volunteer assistance, installed there in the Chancel. It was later overhauled by Dubay Organs of Burlington, Ontario. The instrument dates from c.1911. Although not built and specifically scaled for the building, it is certainly adequate, and contains all of the four major families of organ sound. No, not spectacular, but it does have one thing in common with those already mentioned. One of its frequent and illustrious players was the late Healey Willan who was for many years on the faculty of the Royal Conservatory and served as its Principal at one time.

So there you have it. Four interesting pipe organs out of the hundreds to be found in Toronto, a city that most certainly deserves the attention of lovers of the pipe organ. Drop by the City some time, and enjoy a fascinating organ crawl!

© 2000 Ross Trant

The Future of the Pipe Organ

During the year 1999 and on into the beginning of the new century, the question about the future of the pipe organ was the subject of lively discussions at various organ gatherings throughout Europe, as well as the United States. Probably the turn of the century provided the right occasion for bringing up this debate. I was invited to speak at one of these events in Switzerland, along with 3 other well- known organ-builders.

When I prepared for this occasion I realized that there is really no clear answer to the question. Then, after listening to the statements by my colleagues, my assumption was confirmed. One can say that a little of everything is being built these days: from style copies to historical imitations, to contemporary design. Furthermore, all systems, such as mechanical, electric, pneumatic or others are being used. All different musical styles from French, to German or baroque are evident. Obviously, each of these different types of organ has its admirers; otherwise there would be no demand for them.

Our concern is that not enough wholly contemporary organs are being built these days. Where is the creativity for organ cases of stunning contemporary design? Such designs are not easy to realize, for it is in fact very difficult to fit an organ into the various styles of architecture organ-builders are confronted with.

disney_model_03Since most of us have been trained as organ-builders and not as designers or architects, this creates a problem in the profession, but one with a relatively simple solution. Why not use the professionals who do indeed have the required knowledge about architecture and style as well as the skills needed to carry out good design? The organ-builder can supply the architect or designer with the parameters he has to consider. We have been doing this for several years now and are very pleased with the results of this co-operation. Of course, organs do not have to look like the Walt Disney Concert Organ designed by Frank O. Gehry in order to be labeled contemporary. There are unlimited possibilities for designs and detail. Although we are a relatively young company, we do have a few interesting examples of contemporary organ design to show. You are welcome to look at our web-site. ( http://www.gg-organs.com )

We are also attempting to spark interest in sculpture- like organs for public buildings or other large spaces. Such instruments could be used as decorative eye-catchers, but still serve the more conventional function of an organ – mainly to make music. Many people do not realize that an organ does not only play Bach or accompany weddings, funerals and the like, but can also be used for jazz or other forms of more contemporary music.

Pipe-organs are usually associated with church by the majority of people, but there is a welcome trend these days to put organs into new concert halls and conservatories. I just wish they would be more visually spectacular. But I think there is hope that in the future more interesting looking and beautifully sounding organs will be built !

picture of the Disney Hall organ taken from Glatter-Götz website. Organ design by Frank O. Gehry.

© 2000 Caspar von Glatter-Götz