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Organ Works of John Cook
". . . an admirable introduction to these works . . . splendid, with lots of audience appeal . . . polished performances" reviews The AAM Journal - [OAR-150]

Englishman John Cook (1918-1984) worked in the church and in the theatre, relocating to Canada in 1954 as organist-choirmaster at St. Paul's Cathedral, London, Ontario and musical director of the Stratford, Ontario, Shakespeare Festival. He was organist-choirmaster at Church of the Advent, Boston, Massachusetts, 1962-68, where this CD is recorded on the famous 1935 Aeolian-Skinner organ. Soprano Sandra Stuart sings The Carols.

Improvisation on Veni Creator Spiritus
Invocation and Allegro Giojoso
The Carols: A Babe is Born, Gabriel's Message, God is Ascended (Sandra Stuart, Soprano)
Paean on Divinum Mysterium
Five Studies in the Form of a Sonata

Some Personal Reflections on John Cook and His Organ Music
by Marian Ruhl Metson

Except for his remaining friends and family, few people know the organ works of John Cook. Not avant garde in any way; his music is "usable" in the manner of Paul Hindemith, whom John admired greatly. Most of it is ideal church service music, though he also composed the concert works Five Studies in the Form of a Sonata and Passacharlia (a pun on the name of his friend, the Toronto organist, Charles Peaker). A masterful improvisor, John was well-grounded in harmony and counterpoint—knowledge that can be attributed to his English schooling.

This recording is made as a tribute to my friend and colleague, who, like the best musicians I know, was so busy making music that he didn't advertise his achievements, most of which remain unknown.

I had known John for at least fifteen years before I "discovered" his organ music. We had both come to Boston in 1962, he as the organist/choirmaster at Church of the Advent and I as a graduate student at Boston University. We slowly came to know and appreciate each other through our mutual friend, Sandra Stuart, who later married him. Sandy and I performed many two-soprano concerts together with John accompanying in the chapels at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I gradually became aware that John was not just another organist but an experienced and talented theater musician.

He encouraged me as a singer and, in 1972, talked me into making my opera "debut" at a bird sanctuary in Belmont, Massachusetts, where I sang Dido in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, outdoors just as Purcell originally had done. About a year later, I participated in a production of Mozart's Magic Flute he produced, staged, and conducted at M. I. T. Both of these performances were just for fun: there was no budget or box office, but fine singers in Boston donated their time because they knew John and his certain ability to assemble a production of professional quality, which he did. The successful performance revealed a side of John's talent and energy of which very few musicians in Boston were ever aware.

Though I knew that John was highly regarded as a composer, had recently composed incidental music for a theater production in Minneapolis and had published organ music, I never got around to asking about what he had composed or to looking at any of his music.

In 1976, I left Boston for Washington, D. C., to marry Graham Metson, a Foreign Service officer. About five years later, I overheard a colleague practicing the organ at my church, Lutheran Church of the Reformation. It sounded like a wonderful improvisation using the Great Trumpet most effectively. I was amazed to discover that the piece was Fanfare by my good friend John Cook in Boston!

I was inspired to leam Fanfare and other pieces, and I programmed the Veni Creator and Alles ist an Gottes Segen at Methuen Memorial Music Hall in 1983. Although John's vision was failing and he was quite frail from his diabetes, he came to a rehearsal and attended the concert.

John had abandoned hope that younger American organists would ever take an interest in his music, but he knew that I was planning to record these works on the newly-installed Bozeman organ at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Brookline. Unfortunately, he never even heard the unedited tape. We recorded the last week in July of 1984 and he died on Sunday, August 12.

At a wonderful memorial concert held at Church of the Advent in October, 1984, John's very close friend and colleague, Barrie Cabena, played Five Studies in Form of a Sonata. It was the first time I had heard this work which John had repeatedly told me was his best composition. I played several pieces and a choir sang Byrd and Cook, including Author of Light, one of the most astonishingly beautiful a capella pieces I have ever heard.

Playing and hearing John's organ works at this concert seemed to demand that I devote a complete recording to his organ works, and to record them at Church of the Advent. Though he had not composed any of these works with that organ in mind, his influence was at work in voicing portions of it to its current state. It seems to be the perfect instrument placed in the best acoustics to hear his music.

The Music

Barrie Cabena, John's gifted friend who is an organist and composer in Waterloo, Ontario, related some special insights in a letter to me of March, 1988, which I share in my comments below:

Improvisation on 'Veni Creator Spiritus' (published in Festal Voluntaries: Ascension, Whitsun and Trinity; Novello, 1956). This work goes well on two entirely different kinds of organs: I have also recorded it on the splendid Bozeman-Gibson tracker at St. Paul's in Brookline (Raven OAR-210). It is in John's "improvisational" style.        The middle section, andante moderato, is cleverly worked out contrapuntally. John once mentioned how pleased he was to have worked the cantus into the soprano, tenor and bass (pedal) parts in three different note values at the same time. Barrie Cabena relates, "John played the Veni Creator at a recital in Stratford, Ontario, in the summer of 1958 or '59.I turned pages, and I remember him standing up before the audience and waving the copy in front of them saying, 'This is to show you that this piece has been composed, and that I am not making it up as I go along!' "

Invocation and allegro giojoso (published by Novello, 1956). According to Barrie Cabena, "John felt that the first piece was very much modelled after Hindemith. The Allegro is very much influenced by Hindemith but, like the sonata movements, is pure John as well. I think he was very proud of it, but he was much more proud of the clever counterpoint in the Invocation." In his "composer's notes" in the Novello publication, John wrote, "Invocation is founded on Webbes' tune to 'Come Thou Holy Paraclete.' This may seem to be an unexpected treatment of one of the strongest tunes in the hymn book, but it is intended for Communion on Whitsunday, when an extended piece of quiet organ music is often required ... giojoso means 'joyful' and the piece is an attempt to convey joyfulness in terms of an instrument that is not popularly supposed to be jubilant by nature."

Passacharlia on a sort of 12-note theme First version composed for Charles Peaker, 1963; this version, in his memory, July 1980, (published by Gordon V. Thompson, Lmt. Canada, 1981). Barrie Cabena writes, 'This was John's last organ piece. In fact, I made the fair copy for him while staying with him in Georgetown [Massachusetts] one summer, it being beyond his failing sight to do it himself. It is selected (easy) variations from his much bigger Variations which Charlie asked him to write not long after he [John] moved to Boston."

The Carols Unpublished. Sandra Stuart comments on these charming works: "John wrote these carols in the late summer and early fall of 1977. They were first performed on October 23, 1977 in Christ Church, Hamilton, Massachusetts, by myself and James Higbe, organist. "God is Ascended is a re-working of a piece John composed for choirboys when he was at a summer choir camp in Port Hope, Ontario. Healey Willan thought it most effective, and I have used it successfully with junior choirs. In the set of carols he was writing, John combined the new version of the Ascension carol with other texts he chose from the Oxford Book of Carols: a Christmas-Epiphany one which became A Babe is Bom and one for Easter which became Gabriel's Message."The organ part was somewhat revised during the course of rehearsals for the October concert and again that December before a concert at the Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard. That is its final form."

Paean on 'Divinum Mysterium' (published in Festal Voluntaries Christmas and Epiphany by Novello, London, 1956). This is another improvisatory work, not difficult to play, but so imaginative in the treatment of the plainsong hymn, from the dancelike middle section to the French style toccata at the end, with the cantus booming in the Pedal. This is the perfect Christmas Eve organ piece (I should think most organists would agree).

Five Studies in Form of a Sonata Dedicated to Healy Willan. (published 1955). An intriguing use of a "leitmotif" occurs in various guises in each movement and it has a striking similarity to the opening four-note figure of the third movement of Hindemith's First Sonata. Other variations an be found, as well. I believe we will never know whether this was intentional. In response to my query, Barrie Cabena wrote a most interesting paragraph on this piece:

"John wanted to call it 'Sonata' but Novello would not hear of it. They claimed it would not sell with that title! Of course, it did not sell anyway. I do not understand why. I find it to be an absolutely first-rate work, in a form rarely enough used by organ composers. There is much of Hindemith here—John was addicted: the recurring three-note cadence, for example, and some of the quartal harmony and melodic shape with fourths. The slow movement and the scherzo seem to me to be less so. The use of the leitmotif has no significance, as far as John ever told me. It may have a lot of Hindemith in it, but it is pure John in many ways—the general joyousness, the playfulness of the scherzo, and the bounce of the finale. I vaguely remember John commenting, proudly, about the slow movement—its economy, and its Franckishness. I gave the first known performance of this work, in the old Aeolian Hall in London, Ontario, with John turning pages, and in spite of this fact I really know no more than anybody else. I think the first movement is a masterpiece in mood and construction, but I love the whole work."

Fanfare (published by Novello, 1952). This, John's first and probably best-known organ work, he excerpted from a score he composed in 1951 for a pageant at Warwick Castle for the Festival of Britain. In conversations we had, John was disgruntled that this was the only organ piece of his to have achieved popular success. He told me that he composed it in an afternoon, whereas he had "slaved away on" Five Studies and hardly anyone knew it existed. Nevertheless, it is the piece that got this whole project started and it excites me now just as much as it did the first time I heard it drifting down the stairwell of my church in Washington, D. C.

A Biography of John Cook
by Sandra Cook Stuart

John Cook was born in Maldon, Essex, England, on October 11, 1918. His father was a clergyman and John, at an early age, frequently played for services in his father's church. He attended St. John's School, Leatherhead, and went on to become Organ Scholar at Christ's College, Cambridge. He also attended the Royal College of Music in London where he worked with Ralph Vaughan Williams. As a conscientious objector, he spent the war doing farm work in Lincolnshire and then driving an ambulance during the blitz in London.

His career reflected his immense talents as conductor, composer, and church musician. He worked with the Ballets Joos as accompanist, conductor and arranger and orchestrated the score for The Green Table. He was composer and conductor at the Old Vic Theatre in London for the Laurence Olivier/Ralph Richardson season in 1946.

He later became organist at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon and conducted the Stratford Choral Society. In 1954, he moved with his family to Canada where he took the position of organist-choirmaster at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, Ontario. He also taught at the University of Western Ontario and re-established his theatrical bonds by conducting and composing for the Stratford, Ontario, Shakespeare Festival. He composed music for thirteen Stratford productions.

From 1962 to 1968, John was organist at the Church of the Advent in Boston, a position that fulfilled his musical and theatrical aspirations. In 1965, he joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and taught courses in music history, theory, orchestration, and opera. He was also Institute Organist until his retirement in 1984 due to failing health.

While associated with MIT, he composed incidental music for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie on Broadway and for two Shakespeare productions at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. His list of other compositions is considerable and many have been published. It includes at least a dozen organ works, an organ concerto, choral and orchestral works, chamber music, music for theatre, and solo songs. John Cook died in Boston on August 12, 1984, after a 22-year battle with diabetes.

Marian Ruhl Metson

Marian Ruhl Metson is a resident of Auburn, California, where she engages in various church music activities for several parishes and denominations and plays occasional organ recitals. Before relocating to California, she resided in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and was a Teaching Associate in Organ at Boston University. She formerly held positions as organist and director of music at Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington, D. C., and as assistant organist at Memorial Church, Harvard University. A former student of Anton Heiller at the Academy of Music in Vienna, she holds a Master of Music degree from Boston University and an undergraduate degree from Baldwin-Wallace College. She has taught at the Longy School of Music and Bradford College and is highly regarded as a singer and as a teacher of organ and voice. She has concertized extensively throughout the eastern United States during the past 40 years including numerous recitals at Harvard's Memorial Church and the Busch-Reisinger Museum, M. I. T., Boston's Old West Church, and the Methuen Memorial Music Hall. She has played recitals for several national conventions of the Organ Historical Society since 1987 and was the recipient of a Massachusetts Arts Lottery Council grant to record the historic organs of Newburyport. Stephen Pinel wrote of her recent Raven recording of Spirits and Places by Ernst Bacon and other works by John Cook, "Organists . . . rarely venture into the realm of contemporary composers. An exception is . . . Marian Ruhl Metson. A superb new release (is) . . . one of the nicest recordings to come across this reviewer's desk in some time."


Sandra Stuart

Sandra Stuart was born in Connecticut in 1940. She attended the Conservatoire Americaine in Fontainebleau, France, where she studied with Nadia Boulanger. Mlle. Boulanger encouraged her to perform early music, which she has continued to do. Ms. Stuart graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music where she studied with Uta Graf. She did post-graduate work in vocal pedagogy and voice therapy. She has performed as soloist with the Boston Camarata, the Cambridge Consort, the Old North Singers, and Schola Cantorum. She has also given many solo recitals in the United States and abroad, and has performed in operas by Purcell, Monteverdi, Mozart, and Gluck. She has recorded works by Bach for Cambridge Records and Mediaeval and Renaissance music for Vox-Tumabout with Joel Cohen and the Cambridge Consort. She has taught Voice Production for Actors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Organ

The contract was signed in 1935 for Aeolian-Skinner Op. 940 to replace a water-damaged Hutchings-Plaisted instrument of 1883 which had been electrified in 1912. The organ was installed in the Spring of 1936; the price was $24,000. Reused from the Hutchings-Plaisted were the facade and part of the 16' Open Diapason of wood for the 16' Bourdon. With other instruments of the period, notably Op. 936 for the Groton School, the Advent organ became famous as a progenitor of G. Donald Harrison's American Classic design. In 1964, when Aeolian-Skinner releathered the organ, tonal and voicing amendments were made by Donald Gillette under the direction of John Cook. Replaced and relocated ranks are noted in the stoplist.. Voicing and regulation updatings before 1964 followed trends of the day, and occurred several times.

1935 Aeolian-Skinner Op. 940, G. Donald Harrison

1964 Aeolian-Skinner revisions, Donald Gillette

Church of the Advent, Boston, Massachusetts


16' Diapason

8' Principal (loudened 1964)

8' Diapason

8' Flûte Harmonique

8' Cor de Nuit (stopped metal, replaced 5-1/3' Grosse Quinte, 1964)

4' Principal (loudened 1964)

4' Octave

4' Rohrflöte (replaced 2-2/3' Quint, 1964)

II Rauschquinte (combined old 2-2/3' Quint and 2' Super Octave on 2' toeboard 1964, 2-2/3' now silent)

IV-V Sesquialtera (from MC, other composition below MC)

IV Foumiture (loudened pre-1964 & '64)

III Cymbel (pitch raised 1964)

CHOIR enclosed

8' Orchestral Flute (open wood, metal lips, harmonic from MC, revoiced 1964)

8' Dolcan

8' Dolcan Celeste

4' Zauberflöte (stopped metal harmonic flute, revoiced 1964)

8' Clarinet

4' Krummhom (replaced 8' Viola, '64)

8' Unenclosed Trumpet (antiphonal, horizontal*)


Choir 16', 4'

POSITIV all stops revoiced 1964

8' Nason Flöte (small scale wooden stopped flute replaced 8' Rohrflote of tin, 1964)

4' Principal

4' Koppelflote

2-2/3' Nazard

V Blockflöte

1-3/5' Tierce

1' Sifflöte

IV Scharf (moved to higher pitch with many new pipes, 1964)

SWELL enclosed

16' Quintaton replaced 16' Bourdon from TC, 1-12 original

8' Geigen (revoiced 1964)

8' Viol de Gambe

8' Viol Celeste

8' Stopped Diapason

4' Octave Geigen (revoiced 1964)

4' Fugara

4' Flauto Traverso

2-2/3' Rohr Nasat (old Positiv 8' Rohrflöte, replaced 8' Æoline, 1964)

2' Fifteenth

III Grave Mixture

III Plein Jeu

16' Bombarde (revoiced 1964)

8' Trompette I (revoiced 1964)

8' Trompette II (revoiced 1964)

8' Vox Humana

4' Clairon (revoiced 1964)


Swell 16'


32'        Sub Bass

16'        Principal

16'        Contre Bass

16'        Bourdon

16'        Sw. Quintaton

8'          Principal

8'          Flûte Ouverte

8' Sw. Quintaton

5-1/3' Quinte

4' Principal

4' Flûte Harmonique

III Mixture

II Foumiture (was III, Tierce deleted)

16' Bombarde

8' Trompette

4' Clairon


Great to Pedal

Swell to Pedal 8', 4'

Choir to Pedal 8', 4'

Positiv to Pedal

Swell to Great 16', 8', 4'

Choir to Great 16', 8', 4'

Positiv on Great

Positiv Only

Positiv to Great 16'

Great on Choir

Choir Only

Swell to Choir 16', 8', 4'


Great to Pedal Rev. & Toe Piston

Swell to Pedal Rev. & Toe Piston

Choir to Pedal Reversible

Positiv to Pedal Rev. & Toe Piston

Manual 16' off Reversible

Swell to Choir

Swell to Great & Toe Piston

Choir to Great

Positiv on Great & Toe piston

Great on Choir, Choir Only


Full Pistons: Sw & Ped, Gr. & Ped

General 1-8 & Toe Pistons, Swell 0-8

Great 0-8, Choir/Positiv 0-8

Pedal 1-8 & Toe Pistons, Cancel

Sforzando Toe Piston

Keycheek Controls: 1-2 buttons/cheek


Left: Cancel General Cancel

Right: Sw. Comb. to Ped. toe Pistons


Left: Pedal Combo, to Manual - Gt.

Right: Gt. Comb. to Ped. Toe Pistons


Left: Ped. Comb. to Ped. Toe Pistons

Right: Ch. Comb. to Ped. Toe Pistons

Organ Works of John Cook<BR><font color = red>\". . . an admirable introduction to these works . . . splendid, with lots of audience appeal . . . polished performances\" reviews <I>The AAM Journal</I></font>
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