How Loud Should the Organ Be in the Saint-Saëns Third?

Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony Much Better on Second Night

This review is from earlier this month, but I haven’t seen much else written about it, so I am mentioning it here. I am a fan of Scott Cantrell, but in this case I’ll take issue with one of his points. With everything else, I am in huge agreement with him! We have only a few nationally-known music critics left, and even fewer who write about and encourage more organ and orchestra music and solo organ concerts. Here is my nit to pick in his review.

The symphony’s organ part isn’t a big solo affair, but Saint-Saëns was an organist himself, and here clearly he meant the instrument to be at least the orchestra’s equal.

John Apple made his points in 1996 on piporg-l and they’re illuminating today.

The premiere took place on May 19, 1886, at St James Hall, Piccadilly.
This was the home of the Royal Philharmonic Society that commissioned the
work. Instead of the 1858 Gray and Davidson organ (probably 1 manual with
19 stops and 4 pedal stops) which Saint-Saens knew, he found an 1882
Bryceson Brothers and Ellis organ with fewer stops over 2 manuals (both
enclosed). It had a 3 rank mixture on the Great and a 8′ Horn in place of
16-8-4 chorus reeds. The work was first performed in Paris on January 9, 1887.

So, neither of these organs for which Saint-Saëns wrote the work was the equivalent of the orchestra of the day. Of course today, everything is louder and bigger, orchestras, piano, and organs. The Victorians would run out of hall in terror at so much volume!

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The Organs Speak for Me and Will after I Am Gone

Music Makers: Kegg Pipe Organ Builders

Charles Kegg and his six employees have built 52 pipe organs that have been installed across the nation and has helped repair, restore and improve dozens of other organs. “We build them one at a time,” Kegg said. “It gets all of our attention until it gets done.”

Read this appreciative article by Gary Brown on a local perspective on this fine organ builder.

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Thanks for the Biggs Toccata

Richard Keys Biggs

Thanks for the Biggs Toccata

Thank you, and also thanks for keeping all this great music of do many outstanding 20th century American organist/composers alive. I found out about your music from a performance of Richard Keys Biggs’ Toccata on ‘Deo Gratias’ by Jelil Romano. Thank you so much! —California, USA

Thanks for the comment. Jelil’s video is below in case blog readers would like to hear it for themselves.

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A New, Younger Nevin

Nevin-old

A New, Younger Nevin

I got a much nicer photo of Nevin to replace this candid snapshot. This portrait below is from 1933 when he was aged 41 years. I’m working on restoring his Toccata in D Minor which is a nice one that’s not too hard.

Nevin-young

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An Elgar Celebration

An Elgar Celebration

For those of you who do not play Elgar, here is something that may change your minds. For two of the transcriptions by Herbert Brewer, I have added recordings on a fine Willis organ — which recording is still for sale! Even if you don’t think you’d like to play these, I invite you to visit the pages and at least have a listen to John Challenger’s outstanding performances.

The Coronation March (1911, Op 65)

Prelude and Angel’s Farewell (from The Dream of Gerontius, Op 38)

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Longwood Sketches, Longwood Competition

I was looking at the website about the Longwood Competition and found the link to the Sketches. I can’t wait to play them on Saturday and Sunday afternoons for the public here in New York. Your website is great. Thank you for making access to this wonderful music possible. —New York, USA

Thanks for the encouragement! You can see these pieces at Swinnen.LongwoodSketches.html.

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Autumn Is Coming Soon — Time to Prepare!

Autumn Is Coming Soon — Time to Prepare!

Tom Nichol reminded me that this year is the 100th Anniversary of Leo Sowerby’s 1916 program masterpiece, “Comes Autumn Time.” You can read the history of this piece in his article which is included in my restoration of it. This timeline of this piece is somewhat confusing in that the original publisher, Boston Music Company, first released it in 1927.

Sowerby.ComesAutumnTime.html

You may be wondering about the portrait of the gentleman to the left of Sowerby. It is of Edward F Johnston (1879-1919) who was born in Scotland and emigrated to the United States in 1907 where he lived thereafter. He became involved with Robert Hope-Jones and his Wurlitzer Unit Orchestra in 1912 and became an advocate for Hope-Jones as designer and builder. He played Wurlitzers in theatres and served in churches in New York City. “Autumn” uses the colorful stops of the Unit Orchestra, and there is a small part for bells, one of the always-included traps.

JohnstonE.Autumn.html

You could learn Johnston’s “Autumn” very quickly. But if you would like to learn Sowerby’s “Comes Autumn Time,” I suggest you start now! And, even if you don’t want to play it, visit my page to hear some others play it. Exciting!

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Memorial Day in the United States

Memorial Day in the United States

For this solemn holiday, I was thinking of the pieces that I had restored which fit the theme and mood of this day. The first one I thought of was Sowerby’s “Requiescat in Pace.” See and hear the music on my page.

The second one, “An Eton Memorial March” by C H Lloyd, is one that has never been recorded. I have tried to get someone associated with Eton to play it and record it there, but so far this has not happened. Like the Sowerby, there is a fascinating story about it, and you can read about it on my page.

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Garth Was Quite A Character

Garth Was Quite A Character

I got this great comment from an organist concerning Garth Edmundson.

I knew Garth Edmundson. He was a family friend, and my father and I studied voice with his wife, Anna. I used to quietly enter the Presbyterian church in New Castle, Pennsylvania, and listen to him compose and play. He had a sixth sense for someone being in the church and would stop playing and converse and tell jokes. He was quite a character and a brilliant organist.

The first piece of his that I have restored was “Vom Himmel Hoch.” Stay subscribed to the blog to find out which of his other pieces will come next.

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The Story of the Organ in the Trocadéro

The Story of the Organ in the Trocadéro


by Tom Nichol

Lyon, in east-central France, contains, among its many artistic treasures, an almost forgotten, yet quite significant, musical instrument—namely, the organ of the Maurice Ravel Auditorium. This article will give a brief history of this marvelous instrument, along with its current and original specifications.

For the Paris World Exposition of 1878, the renowned French organ builder, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, was commissioned to build a concert organ for the new Trocadéro concert hall, under the supervision of renowned organist and composer Alexandre Guilmant. Because he could not build the organ from scratch in the short time allowed by the contract, he was compelled to use an uncompleted three-manual organ originally intended for the Church of Notre Dame in Auteuil, a district in the northwestern area of Paris, as the basis for the new instrument. A fourth manual and more pedal stops were added. The now-completed instrument was enclosed in what by modern standards would be an incredibly ugly case in imitation Classical style, including towers and turrets. The new organ was inaugurated by a roster of France’s greatest organists, including not only Guilmant, but also César Franck, who wrote his “Three Pieces for Organ,” and particularly the “Pièce héroïque,” especially for the occasion. In addition, Guilmant performed a series of solo recitals on the Trocadéro organ, which brought his enormous talent to the notice of an international public.

Please read Tom’s entire article, complete with more history, photos, specifications, and links to online media. Get the PDF here.

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Fairview, Tennessee USA
Find Tom online:

I would like to express my respect and appreciation to Tom for this fine article. Should anyone else wish to contribute an article on an organ-related subject, please contact me. —Michael

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