Albert Benzler Plays Abide With Me

Abide With Me

Frederick W Ecke was an arranger for band, but he also made organ compositions. In 1909, he arranged one of my favorite hymns, “Abide With Me” by William Henry Monk. Organs were difficult to record in those wax cylinder days and consequently not many were except as background accompaniment for soloists or quartets. Also, nearly all of the recordings that prominently show the organ were of religious music, mostly the then-popular gospel titles because that’s what was selling well.

When you listen to Albert Benzler play this arrangement by Ecke, you will hear surface noise and distortion in tone and pitch, so try to listen through this for the music itself. The registration was necessarily limited so as to record well and therefore produce the best possible playback effect. This was not a 78 rpm flat disc as were so many of the old organ recordings we’re used to hearing but an Edison wax cylinder, the first medium for audio recording. You may remember that Thomas Edison had an organ in his laboratory and he loved the sound; he lived long enough to see the improvements in sound recording make it possible to produce a more credible organ recording, but alas his hearing loss prevented him from enjoying it fully.

Note the subtle use of altered harmony and the pedal solo. Yes, that’s right; there is a pedal solo in “Abide With Me”!

www.library.ucsb.edu/OBJID/Cylinder3622

Much later than this, organ music was still a popular instrument for recordings. I recommend you read this excellent article by Richard Densmore from which this is taken:

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June 29, 1926.

Mr. Thomas A. Edison:

SUBJECT: We need Organ Records

I am receiving a tremendous number of requests for Organ Records of popular selections to be sold at $1.00. This demand has been so persistent and widespread that I am firmly convinced that I could do nothing more important to our record business than to issue such records, particularly as Victor is making a big hit with such records at 75 cents.

I am informed by Walter Miller that you told him to cut out Organ Records for this year. I should like to ask you to reconsider this matter.

First, bear in mind that I am never going to let my enthusiasm carry me away to a point where I ask for extravagant expenditures.

We can have a splendid Organ put in the Columbia Street Studio for thirty days at a cost of $1,000. If it works out alright we can buy this Organ for $6,500, and have the $1,000 installation charge credited.

Now that is a lot of money, but it is really only the cost of twenty double-faced Fox Trot Records, and in about a year and a half, at most, we could issue that many popular Organ Records and give the Trade what they want and what they can sell.

I don’t care about making up a lot of Organ Records in one month because I want to make, on the Organ, red hot selections while they are popular, and I see no way to do this unless we have an Organ at our disposal at all times.

We can make these records so that they will not blast, when played with the Dance Reproducer, if we just eliminate that very heavy bass pipe which really does not add anything to the performance but only clutters it up.

Furthermore, think of the use I can make of this Organ for Long Playing Records. Nothing is more popular over the Radio than Organ-recitals, and we can do some slick work in this respect for Organ enthusiasts.

A. L. Walsh

ALW:MM

As a result of this request, a “specially built” three manual, seven rank Midmer-Losh organ was installed in the Edison Columbia Street recording studio in the first week of November 1926. This organ was a conservatively voiced theatre organ that could also be used to play “classical” and church music. Starting in December 1926 through March 1928 Kinsley recorded for Edison on a more frequent and regular basis.

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Prior to the Midmer-Losh mentioned above and shown in the photo at top in a dismantled state, the Edison music studio appeared as below.

Now, look closely at the photo from around 1930 of the Midmer-Losh organ seen at the top of my post and find the following:

  • Console
  • Overhead light for organist
  • Microphone had replaced the acoustic horn
  • Manual chimes
  • Swell shades
  • Diapasons in back
  • Wind line under Swell

See more photos and read the full text in Pipe Organ Artists and Recordings
on the Edison Label by Robert Densmore.

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4 Responses to Albert Benzler Plays Abide With Me

  1. Thanks for this very interesting posting! What a beautiful arrangement and a credit to many that this recording, made 106 years ago, can be enjoyed today.

  2. Lawrence Keesler says:

    Amazing how much made it into the recording considering the limitations of the time. This sounds like it’s played on a reed organ, not the Midmer-Losh pipe instrument. Is this so? I can’t find any confirmation in what I’ve read.

  3. The old music room with the organ against the wall represents the period of 1890 to 1893. The Midmer-Losh hadn’t been built in 1909. I don’t know which organ was used, but it was not owned by Edison; see the letter above requesting that Edison buy an organ. It’s hard to tell whether a harmonium was used because of the horn making everything sound, well, horny. http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/search.php?queryType=%40attr+1%3D21&query=Organ%20music.+ will let you listen to many other recordings with “organ” listed and you can try to figure out which is which.

  4. Lawrence Keesler says:

    Admittedly horny, but the “wheezy” attack seems to indicate free reeds.

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