The World’s largest pipe organ, built 1929-1932 for the 17,000-seat Atlantic City Convention Hall by the Midmer-Losh firm and now silent, awaits restoration of more than 32,000 pipes and mechanism as the biggest and loudest musical instrument ever constructed. Also built in 1929 by Midmer-Losh is the organ now restored and heard on this CD, played by Anthony Burke in the symphonic style of the leading 20th-century organists who were predominated by Virgil Fox.
Organ Works by J. S. Bach:
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565
Air on the G String transcribed by Virgil Fox
Fugue in G Major, BWV 577 Gigue Fugue
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (”Wake, awake,
for night is flying”), BWV 645
Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott (”Have mercy, Lord,
my sin forgive”), BWV 721, arranged by Virgil Fox
O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (”O Sacred Head, now Wounded”), arranged by Virgil Fox & Robert Hebble
”Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring” arranged by Virgil Fox from the chorale in Cantata No. 147
Trio Sonata in E-flat, BWV 525
Prelude and Fugue in C Major, BWV 547
Prelude and Fugue in D Minor, Dorian, BWV 538
The large, granite structure of Church of the Assumption was designed by prolific architect Patrick Keeley and built in 1893. In 1929, Midmer-Losh Co. was awarded the contract to build the largest pipe organ in the world at the Atlantic City Convention Hall and at about the same time, the organ for Assumption Church. Although significantly smaller, the organ for Assumption shared space at the Midmer-Losh workshop with components of the Atlantic City organ and it reflects the same style of orchestral voicing as well as boasting many of the Midmer-Losh firm’s unique mid-twentieth century features. Among these are an 85-note choir manual, specialty couplers, and floating divisions playable from every manual. As seen by the specification, the complexity of the instrument contributes to its massive proportions. Including large pipe scales that climax in two unusually large and powerful ranks: a double-languid Great Diapason and a 16’ Tuba Profunda of 10" scale (the diameter of the longest pipe in the rank which speaks the low C note on the keyboard) and on 15 inches of wind pressure.
Proper reconditioning by Foley-Baker, Inc., of Tolland, Connecticut, required the total removal of the instrument from the building. Working with Anthony Burke, it was decided that all voicing would be restored to original concepts. The original appearance of the console was kept and included the reinstatement of all the original stop tablets, adapted to new magnetic actions.
The Midmer-Losh Organ Company
The last Midmer who was associated with this firm died in 1918, the firm having been operated in Brooklyn, New York, then Merrick, Long Island, New York, since 1860 by well respected organbuilders Reuben and Reed Midmer, father and son. Brothers George and Seibert Losh purchased the firm in 1924, renamed it Midmer-Losh, and became everlastingly famous for the organ at Atlantic City.
A native of Lackawanna, New York, Anthony Burke holds the Master of Music and Bachelor of Fine Arts in Organ Performance Degrees from the State University of New York at Buffalo. His teachers include David Fuller and Michael Burke of SUNY Buffalo, Robert Clark of Arizona State University, Elaine Gardner, and Cecelia Roy Kenny.
Mr. Burke is Music Director and Organist at The Church of the Assumption in Ansonia, Connecticut. He also teaches music appreciation to students in grades pre-kindergarten through eight. He has given concerts throughout the United States including St. Thomas Church and St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.
The selections here reveal, in part, the broad range of possibilities of interpreting Bach on a Romantic organ of strong orchestral nature.
Bach’s Popular Music on This Organ Recording
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565
The organ world arguably can boast of having the most popular, most famous, most recognizable musical composition of all time, ever. In short, Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is theatrical drama conceived for organ. There are as many interpretations as there are performers and organs upon which the work is played, and, in addition, a large variety of transcriptions for other instruments and symphony orchestras! A famous symphonic version set to a light show is found in the opening of Walt Disney's film, Fantasia. Leopold Stokowski is the conductor and arranger.
The Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is flashy and improvisational in character, and is a show piece for the organ virtuoso. As the term “toccata” implies, the Toccata is in a free compositional style; as well, it is relatively short but has strikingly strong minor and diminished chords on fff organ. Particularly interesting and curious are the significant tempo alternations. The Fugue is somewhat more formal yet shares similar characteristics of the Toccata with manual changes of single-note connecting material between subject and theme, as well as having a toccata-like ending, comparable to a long cadenza. My manner of playing during the Toccata and the free-style ending of the Fugue is inspired in part by Virgil Fox.
Despite any musical analysis, the world has claimed this piece as its own. Movies, television, amusement park haunted houses, organ and symphonic performances: you name it! While many musicians, organists in particular, may grunt at seeing this piece listed yet one more time in a concert program or compact disc, the general listening audience embraces it with wide open arms, receiving it enthusiastically and excitedly.
Air on the G String (arr. Virgil Fox)
Transcribed for organ by Virgil Fox, Air on the G String is the second movement of J. S. Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D, BWV 1068. The walking bass line provides a steady beat throughout most of this piece and is complimented with a beautiful melody familiar to many listeners. The use of crescendo and decrescendo is particularly effective in shaping the phrases.
Gigue Fugue (Fugue in G Major, BWV 577)
As in any fast dance, rhythm is everything. In the Gigue Fugue, the organist's hands and feet are like virtual dancing flames on the keyboards. Introduced in the left hand, the melody merrily skips along as the right hand is added, and then the feet play the pedals, combining into a fast-moving and complex trio. For my taste, the end arrives a bit too soon and suddenly; I could do with a few more pages of music. In a spirited performance (I suspect one of many) several years ago, Virgil Fox had a thoroughly engaged audience rhythmically clapping their way through nearly the entire Gigue Fugue. Bach’s music, admittedly organ music in general, is not known for being fun. This piece is truly an exception to that unfortunate and inaccurate reputation.
Four Chorales Translation of the first verse follows each.
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645
Wake, awake, for night is flying,
The watchmen on the heights are crying:
Awake, Jerusalem at last!
And at the thrilling cry rejoices:
Come forth, ye virgins, night is past!
The Bridegroom comes, awake.
Your lamps with gladness take: Alleluia!
And for his marriage feast prepare,
For ye must go to meet him there.
Transcribed for organ by J. S. Bach himself, this chorale is the fourth movement of Cantata No. 140, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme. This chorale, having the same name as the cantata itself, is an oft-performed work of Bach. The Biblical text upon which the chorale is based announces the coming of Christ and warns all believers to be prepared. As in many of Bach’s works, each musical theme has religious significance. The accompaniment calls for the bridegroom, announced on a solo reed stop.
The organ transcription of Wachet auf works remarkably well on this instrument. Registration is bright and the cantus firmus is stated proudly on the Tuba Mirabilis. It is clear, distinct, and strong.
Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott, BWV 721 (arr. Virgil Fox)
Have mercy. Lord, my sin forgive;
For Thy long-suffering is great!
O cleanse and make me fit to live.
My sore offense do thou abate
With shame do I my fault confess,
Against Thee alone, Lord, have I sinned.
Thou art the source of righteousness,
And I the sinner just condemned.
Erbarm dich mein speaks of man's pleading for God's mercy and forgiveness. With subtle dynamic and registration changes within and between phrases and strong feel for legato, this arrangement by Virgil Fox enables the listener to achieve greater depths of an already soul-searching melody. Performance directions call for the organist to play this composition “as if it were suspended – hanging in space.”
O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, from St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244 (arr. Virgil Fox and Robert Hebble)
O Sacred Head, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish.
With sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish,
Which once was bright as morn!
A familiar Lenten hymn tune to many Christians, this particular arrangement is seldom heard or played. Oddly, it seems to have escaped the repertoire of many church organists. Yet. the text is gloriously brought to life – or death, rather – in an unusual manner: the chorale melody is somewhat understated with soft strings, while an unimposing solo flute stop plays softly and high above the strings, offering a sort of melodic harmony. The registration calls for a very soft 32' stop in the pedal, unavailable on this 1929 Midmer-Losh instrument. I have substituted the 16' Lieblich Gedeckt, playing the pedal part an octave below. In only a few places pedal notes have been sacrificed.
Jesu, bleibet meine Freude (arr. Virgil Fox)
Jesu, joy of man 's desiring,
Holy Wisdom, Love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls, aspiring,
Soar to uncreated light.
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life Impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying, round Thy throne.
This chorale is the sixth and tenth (final) movement of the Cantata No. 147, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, and is one of Bach's most recognizable and popular melodies. Because of its popularity, the chorale is almost always played as a solo piece independent of the cantata. There are countless arrangements for many instruments. The original score, however, was considerably shorter and was intended to conclude previous sections of the cantata; the chorale was surely never meant to be performed by itself. Perhaps the popular intrigue of the chorale lies in its continuous pastoral melody over a steady bass line. Whatever the reason, audiences are usually left with a feeling of serenity, contentment, and joy. The chorale movement is one of Bach's most enduring works.
Trio Sonata in E-flat, BWV 525
The Trio Sonata in E-flat is the first of six trio sonatas for organ by Bach. For this performer, the Trio Sonatas rank among the most, if not the most, difficult organ pieces to play. True, they are soft and sweet to the ear, just as an award-winning rose might appeal to our sense of smell. But, watch out for the thorn! Bach's use of counterpoint proves masterfully difficult. With its simplicity of line and form, every bit of music is exposed; there is no thick musical texture to distract the listener, no break in rhythm. Registration is simple, each keyboard registration remains distinct, and the beat is steady. In essence, there is nothing to mask the inaccuracies of the performer!
The layout of the Trio Sonata in E flat is formal, in three movements: allegro moderato, adagio, allegro. The first movement is rather lively and bright. Almost fugal in style, the opening theme is built around motifs consisting of ascending triads. Thematic material ensues throughout the entirety of this movement in a relatively traditional Baroque manner.
Composed in C Minor, the relative minor key of E-flat, the middle movement nicely contrasts to the outer two in terms of tempo, registration, and mood. Its form is binary and there is an Italian flavor of melody and tempo. Bach's use of suspensions and ornamentation is simple and exquisite.
Also binary, the last movement returns to fast tempo and is somewhat fugal in its octave and scale-like theme. As in the slow movement, the second part inverts the theme (this time in the dominant key) while continuing the melody to its simple conclusion.
Of all pieces on this compact disc, the Trio Sonata in E flat comes close to a Baroque sound on the Midmer-Losh as does, perhaps, Wachet auf.
Prelude and Fugue in C Major, BWV 547
A grand recording of the Prelude and Fugue in C Major played by the famous French organist Pierre Cochereau at the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris is the inspiration for the registration of this recording. Cochereau compares the prelude to “great peals ringing in grand succession.” It is easy to hear what he means when listening to the subject introduced on the manuals with the counter-subject on the pedals.
The Prelude and Fugue in C Major is one of J. S. Bach’s later works and is a showcase for his creative brilliance. This is especially evident in the fugue, with thematic material intricately woven throughout its seventy-two measures. A Romantic interpretation heightens the crescendo near the end of the fugue as fff organ dramatically gives way to pp leading to ppp in the final six measures.
Prelude and Fugue in D Minor, Dorian, BWV 538
Perhaps an underrated work of J. S. Bach is this Prelude and Fugue in D Minor, known commonly as “the Dorian.” Not heard as often as, say, the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor or Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor, there are several characteristics of this piece making it, in my opinion, among the most compelling of Bach's major organ compositions.
First is the power of the D minor mode, firmly established in the prelude in the left hand opening theme, followed by the right hand and subsequently, pedals. After a lengthy fugue that follows, the listener is rewarded with a solid D major chord that ends this magnificent prelude.
Second, there is a marked difference in the feeling of tempo between the prelude and the fugue. Introduced in the manuals and then pedals, there are continuous sixteenth notes from start to finish in the prelude. At any given time, there is a line of sixteenth notes either in one hand or the other, the pedals, or all three. This adds excitement and generates energy to the performer and listener, adding to the allusion of speed. In contrast, the fugue is solemn, stately and grand. Its subject matter is deep and soul searching. There is not one single sixteenth note in the entire fugal movement!
Third, the connecting material between principal sections in the Prelude is worth noting. In some places there are opportunities for manual changes and imitation: in other places the pedals drop out or descend in scales. The point is that the secondary material is not simply filler, but is just as entertaining if not as relevant as the primary material and engages the listener.
Lastly, the fugal subject is one of Bach's longest: it is introduced on D in the left hand, ascending to the octave above by systematic steps and skips, and then descends to the original note, as it is taken over by the right hand in the dominant key. Each entry of the subject throughout the fugue is given importance and the final return in the pedals is majestic as the theme appears in stretto with the right hand.
Admittedly, I am partial to this piece as it appeared on my first senior concert program on the splendid 1876 Hook & Hastings organ at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Buffalo, New York. I believe that concluding this recording with the Prelude and Fugue in D Minor is a good way to round out this all-Bach program. We begin with D minor and end in D major.