Parker Ramsay, the first American to serve as Organ Scholar at King’s College, Cambridge, records rarely heard organ works composed by George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931), the famed American known for his symphonic and chamber works and who led the New England Conservatory 1897-1930. Ramsay plays Aeolian-Skinner op. 1257 of 1955 at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, tonally finished by G. Donald Harrison 10 months before his death as the last large organ he completed. The organ was restored in 2009 without tonal changes by Orgues Létourneau. Fine acoustics!
Suite in Variation Form:
Pastorale on a Cipher
March in B-flat
In Tadaussac Church 1735
Pastorale in E-flat
Canzonetta in G
Elegy (in memoriam H. Parker)
Theme, Variations and Fugue (arr. by Wallace Goodrich)
Theme: Andantino con moto
Var. I: L’istesso tempo
Var. II: Più mosso brillante
Var. III: Alla pastorella
Var. IV: Allegro risoluto
Var. V: Andante sostenuto
Var. VI: Molto moderato
Finale: Introduction and Fugue
George Whitefield Chadwick 1854-1931
by Murray Forbes Somerville
Biographer Bill Faucett characterizes composer George W. Chadwick as “the Pride of New England.” By contrast, the official history of New England Conservatory, where Chadwick was President from 1897 to 1930, describes him as “a church organist, rather than a musician”! While indeed he was a church organist until into his fifties, he also wrote three symphonies, performed by the Boston Symphony and many other orchestras, as well as two operas, nearly 150 songs, six orchestral tone poems, chamber music, and as the present recording attests, several significant organ works.
Early years, education, professional organist and teacher
Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1854, into a musical family, Chadwick took his first organ lessons from his elder brother Fitts Henry. At the age of 16 he graduated from blowing the organ to playing it, at the Congregational Church in Lawrence; after finishing high school, he commenced study at the recently founded New England Conservatory, studying organ and piano.
But his father, despite having a fine voice and running his own singing school, was opposed to a musical career for his son, instead planning to take the young man into his flourishing insurance business. This was particularly necessary when the 1872 Great Fire of Boston gave the firm almost more business than it could handle.
In the summer of 1876, fate took a hand. Because of illness, Olivet College in Michigan suddenly needed a professor of music; after being recommended by his older NEC classmate Theodore Presser, Chadwick was appointed despite being only 22. He excelled there, but found little musical stimulation in the midwest; having saved all his salary, he chose not to return to Boston, but to travel to Germany for the musical study he craved.
This became the most formative musical experience in his career. He began in Leipzig in 1877, studying composition at the famous conservatory under Salomon Jadassohn. The two quickly developed a fine rapport, with the young professor proclaiming his student to have “a completely exceptional talent for composition.” After a year and a half, and a summer spent touring Germany, Chadwick moved to Munich, another great musical center, and enrolled in the composition class of noted organist Josef Rheinberger.
However, the money had run out: by this time his father had passed away, and the two never reconciled after Chadwick went to Europe. So, he returned to Boston after just three months in Munich, and resumed teaching. He also resumed his profession as organist, being appointed to St. John’s and St. James’s Episcopal Church in Roxbury; finding the position involved too many services for too little pay, he transferred to Clarendon Street Baptist Church in Boston. One of his first pupils on his return was Horatio Parker, who quickly became a friend as well as pupil.
In 1882, he was appointed organist at the Park Street Church in Boston; this position came with an apartment at the church. While the Appleton organ from 1838 was quite antiquated (although he found it “very sweet in tone”), the job gave him a place to teach and live right in the heart of downtown. In 1883, he returned to Germany for a visit, and in 1885 he married Ida May Crocker. The couple settled in Boston, taking an apartment on Boylston Street near Hollis Street Unitarian, where Chadwick had been appointed musician in 1884. His final church position, from 1893 to 1904, was at the Second Universalist Church in Boston.
Composer, conductor and NEC president
His first major orchestral work, completed in 1879 for an exam requirement in Leipzig, was an overture entitled Rip Van Winkle. This was an instant success; one German reviewer called it “uncontestably…the best of this year’s compositions.“ He also wrote two string quartets during his time in Leipzig, which were also well received.
Not least of the reasons for the overture’s success was the assurance of the composer’s conducting. On his return to Boston, he sought to further his conducting career, which received a boost when he was invited to conduct at Sanders Theatre the music for Oedipus Rex by Harvard’s John Knowles Paine. In 1887, he became conductor of the Boston Orchestral Club, a position he held till 1891. In 1889, he began conducting the Springfield Music Festivals each spring, continuing for the next ten years and leading a wide variety of choral and orchestral music; in 1898 he also took over the Worcester Music Festival, leading that until 1901. However, the establishment of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1881, with its exclusivity clause for its players and its string of German conductors personally selected by founder Colonel Higginson, sucked much of the air out of other orchestral endeavors in the area. Chadwick could make little inroad.
Between the time of his return to Boston and the turn of the century came a prolific period as an orchestral composer. He wrote three symphonies, following the example of Paine, as well as a set of Symphonic Sketches, a Sinfonietta, and a Suite Symphonique; a German review even hailed his Third Symphony as “the best of all that have been written since Brahms.” And he commenced a series of overtures and “poems” after the manner of the Rip Van Winkle overture, particularly a set “to the three Muses” Thalia, Melpomene, and Euterpe. His orchestral music is distinguished by its brilliant orchestration, and a certain lightness of touch that departs from his Germanic models.
All this time he continued to teach at New England Conservatory. Its mercurial founder, Eben Tourjee, had passed away in 1891; the torch was passed to a German-born member of the piano faculty, Carl Faelten. This proved an unwise choice; Faelten’s high-handed rigidity quickly antagonized faculty and trustees, and he was forced out in 1897. And so Chadwick, with his high musical visibility as composer and conductor, his early business background working for his father, his membership in all the right clubs such as the St. Botolph Club and the Tavern Club, his forthright personality and sense of humor, and not least his solid New England roots, was, despite his lack of higher degrees (in fact, degrees of any kind), the unanimous choice to take over the institution.
He set to with a will. He finished and published his Harmony textbook, which became an American staple for years; he appointed several new faculty members, including Wallace Goodrich as organ professor; he laid his steadying hand upon the Conservatory’s shaky finances; and he started laying the foundations for a full panoply of orchestral instrument study, with the goal of ultimately fielding a full orchestra from within. He oversaw the construction of a new facility on Huntingdon Avenue, having at its heart the acoustically perfect Jordan Hall, containing a fine Hutchings concert organ.
He set sail to Europe again to study conservatories there; but on the way over, slipped on deck and fractured his ankle. It could not be operated on till he reached Britain; by then the damage was done. He walked with a limp for the rest of his life and was no longer able to play the organ. In any case, his increasing duties at the Conservatory meant he no longer had time for outside activities such as conducting or church music.
A major professional disappointment came in 1912: his grand opera Il Padrone was rejected by the Metropolitan Opera. The problem was not the music but the libretto, which cast an unflattering light on the Italian immigrant experience in America. But he had much success with his overture Tam O’Shanter, premiered at the Norfolk, Connecticut, Festival in 1915, and quickly taken up by orchestras around the country.
Chadwick retired from the Conservatory in 1930, by that time much afflicted by heart disease and gout. His music, too, was no longer fashionable. He passed away just a year later, ironically on the day of the premiere of his last orchestra work, the Tre Pezzi, begun in 1916 and completed in 1925.
The Organ Music
Chadwick’s organ output falls chronologically into three segments. Until his appointment as NEC President in 1897, when he no longer had the time for a church position (also precluded by his ankle injury), he had composed a steady stream of smaller pieces for his instrument, starting mainly in 1876 with instructional material in the form of canons mostly in trio form, ten of which he produced in 1885. He also wrote a set of Pedal Etuden in 1890 from which he subsequently extracted the Prelude and Response, adding the March in B-flat, to form the Three Pieces, the earliest works here recorded. In 1896, a number of short character pieces were published, including the Pastorale, Canzonetta, and Requiem.
In 1908, he conducted the newly formed NEC orchestra in a substantial new work for organ and orchestra, the Theme, Variations and Fugue, in which the soloist on the Jordan Hall organ was his friend and faculty colleague Wallace Goodrich. Goodrich subsequently arranged this work for organ solo (the version here recorded).This remained the only organ work during his presidency until the sudden death in December, 1919, of his long-time friend, former pupil, now Yale professor, Horatio Parker, at the early age of 55. This prompted the deeply felt Elegy, which marked Chadwick’s return to organ composition in 1920 (the work was later orchestrated).
A new relationship with the H. W. Gray publishing firm yielded the Suite in Variation Form of 1921, as well as the “musical poem” of 1926, In Tadaussac Church 1735, portraying a historic little church in Quebec where the Chadwicks had vacationed. Chadwick writes, “The quaint little church. . . at the mouth of the Saguenay river. . . is surmounted by a belfry in which hangs a diminutive church bell, still used, as a call to worship. In the chancel is set a little figurine of the Holy Child which is an object of veneration to devout worshippers. The character of this piece was suggested by these features.“
The Marche Ecossaise seems to be a late work, but is full of the composer’s sense of light-hearted fun; it perhaps reflects the new-found interest in Celtic culture following the First World War.
Parker Ramsay is known in the United States, Europe and Asia as an accomplished soloist and accompanist, having been the first American to serve as Organ Scholar at King’s College, Cambridge University. Born to musician parents in Nashville, Tennessee, Parker maintains an active solo career on three instruments: harp, organ and harpsichord.
Hailed by BBC Music Magazine as a “model of intelligence” and the New York Times as “playing with verve,” Parker Ramsay has performed at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Royal Albert Hall (London), the Musée d’Orsay (Paris), the National Center for the Performing Arts (Beijing), Sejong Center for the Performing Arts (Seoul), Verizon Hall (Philadelphia), Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall (New York City). He has performed with conductors David Hill, Alan Gilbert, Jeff Milarsky, Pablo Heras-Casado and Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla. Festival appearances have included the Gergiev Festival in Rotterdam, the Dubrovnik Summer Music Festival, the Cambridge Summer Music Festival, the Cambridge New Music Project, the 800 Jahre Thomana Celebration in Leipzig, the Juilliard Focus! Festival, and the 2012 American Guild of Organists National Convention. As a continuo player, he has performed with the Academy of Ancient Music, the Academy of Sacred Drama, and the Shanghai Camerata. In 2014, he received First Prize at the Amsterdam International Organ Competition.
Parker’s tenure with the Choir of King’s College included accompanying the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in 2012, broadcast live world-wide, as well as six international tours and four recordings. Parker holds a master’s degree in historical performance from Oberlin Conservatory, where he studied with James David Christie, Webb Wiggins, and Lisa Crawford, as well as a master’s degree in harp from the Juilliard School, where he studied with Nancy Allen.
In addition to his work as a performer and as organist and choirmaster of Christ and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in New York, he works as a staff writer for VAN Magazine (Berlin) and runs a blog, Harping On: Thoughts from a Recovering Organist.
The D. B. Johnson Memorial Organ, James F. Byrnes Auditorium
Winthrop University, Rock Hill, South Carolina
Byrnes Auditorium seats 3,500 and was completed in 1939. It is named for U.S. Senator (later Secretary of State) James F. Byrnes, who secured funding for the building via the Works Progress Administration. After World War II, Dean of Music Walter Roberts was responsible for commissioning the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company to build the present four-manual instrument as a memorial to David Bancroft Johnson (1856-1928) who founded Winthrop University in 1886.
G. Donald Harrison, president and famed tonal director of Aeolian-Skinner, spent much of August 1955 in the hall, personally voicing the instrument in the hall’s remarkably favorable acoustic; it turned out to be his last completed organ, and bears an ivory nameplate with his signature. It has remained tonally untouched, except for a re-ordering of the Swell Plein Jeu by Aeolian-Skinner in 1965. In 2007-09, the instrument was restored by Orgues Létourneau of Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec. Under the supervision of Dr. David Lowry, now Professor Emeritus, nothing was altered tonally. The console gained a solid-state combination system with 256 levels of memory and a sequencer.
Aeolian-Skinner Op. 1257, 1955, Restored by Orgues Létourneau, 2009
Byrnes Auditorium, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, South Carolina
4 manuals, 3,820 pipes
GREAT Man. II unencl. 3¾" pressure
16' Contre Geigen
8' Spitz Principal
2' Super Octave
8' Trompette en Chamade POS
4' Clairon en Chamade POS
Chimes CH ‡
Sw/Gt 16 8 4
Ch/Gt 16 8 4
Pos/Gt 16 8
Manual Transfer (Gt-Ch)‡
‡These items added 2009
SWELL Man. III encl. 6” pressure
16' Flauto Dolce ext
8' Geigen Principal
8' Stopped Diapason
8' Viole de Gambe
8' Viole Celeste
8' Flauto Dolce
8' Flute Celeste TC
4' Flauto Traverso
III Plein Jeu*
8' Vox Humaine
Sw 16 8 4
All Swells to Swell
*Swell Plein Jeu altered by A-S voicer Arthur Birchall, 1965
CHOIR Man. I encl. 5” pressure
8' Viola Celeste
8' Concert Flute
4' Flûte Harmonique
16' English Horn
4' Rohr Schalmei
8' Trompette en Chamade POS
4' Clairon en Chamade POS
Chimes 25 tubes
Ch 16 8 4
Pos/Ch 16‡ 8
Sw/Ch 16 8 4
Pos/Ch 16 8
POSITIV Man. IV unencl. 3” press
8' Nason Flöte
8' Trompette en Chamade 8" pressure**
4' Clairon en Chamade EXT
PEDAL 5” pressure
32' Contre Basse ***
16' Contre Basse***
16' Geigen GT***
16' Flauto Dolce SW
4' Choral Bass
32' Fagot SW EXT
16' Bombarde 8" pressure
16' Fagot SW
8' Trompette BOMB
4' Clairon BOMB
8' Trompette en Chamade POS
Sw/Ped 8 4
Ch/Ped 8 4
Combination Action SSOS‡
256 levels, 8 Gen., 8 Ped
6 Pos, 8 Sw, 8 Gt, 8 Ch
Sequencer 7 + and 3 –
Trompette en Chamade unit, which has always been vertical, is on a
separate chest and was moved from the top of Great/Pedal chamber down
about three feet to the grillework for better projection of sound. The
middle 5 resonators, c25 to e28, were replaced with full length
resonators in 1975.
***The Pedal 32' Contre Basse is not an
extension of the Pedal 16' Contre Basse; it is the Gt/Ped 16' Geigen
with an extension of 12 pipes in the 32' octave on 6¼" pressure (the
same pressure as most of the independent 16’ Pedal Contre Basse) though
some pipes of the 16' octave of the Geigen are on 5" pressure.