This amazing collection of major works superbly played by Mother Church
associate organist John R. Near (Widor’s biographer, editor of the
definitive edition of Widor’s organ works, and professor at Principia
College, Elsah, Illinois) documents in excellent sound on two CDs the
237-rank Aeolian-Skinner op. 1203 before more than 2,000 of its 13,389
original Aeolian-Skinner pipes (including 35 ranks of principals,
mixtures, and chorus reeds) were discarded, along with several ranks of
subsequent additions by others, during the renovation completed in
1999. Substantial CD booklet notes relate the unfinished condition in
which the organ was left in 1952 and the subsequent tonal finishing and
additions undertaken by Jack Steinkampf, Jr., and Jason McKown during
the period of Near’s tenure with colleague Thomas Richner, organist of
The Mother Church.
DURUFLÉ: Prélude and Sicilienne from Suite, op. 5
DURUFLÉ: Fugue sur le thème du carillon de Soissons
MESSIAEN: Dieu Parmi Nous
GIGOUT: Toccata in b
WIDOR: Choral (Symphonie Romane)
WIDOR: Finale (Symphony 8)
DUPRÉ: Prélude & Fugue in B
DUPRÉ: Berceuse (Suite Bretonne)
DALE WOOD: Prelude on New Britain (Amazing Grace)
BÖHM: Prelude & Fugue in C
FRANCK: Choral No. 1 in E
VIERNE: Adagio (Symphony 3)
VIERNE: Carillon de Westminster
BOYCE/FOX: Ye Sweet Retreat
BACH/FOX: Come Sweetest Death
MACDERMID: Behold What Manner of Love
KODÁLY: Praeludium in D-flat
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Old Hundredth
Below: Notes and Stoplist from the CD Booklet
John Near — The Boston Years 1970-1985
The pipe organ has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. As a young Sunday School pupil in First Church of Christ, Scientist, Galesburg, Illinois, I eagerly anticipated the closing words: “Sunday School is dismissed.” I would race upstairs to the church auditorium to hear the organ postlude. Before Sunday School, I loved to camp out in the church basement next to the organ blower, waiting for the organist to push the button that started the machine in motion. The ensuing roar was quite thrilling to me as a six-year-old kid. During the postlude, I watched in awe as the organist manipulated the multiple buttons, pedals and keyboards. Never having seen another pipe organ, I thought that that 1928 two-manual, thirteen-rank Austin organ must be the ultimate. When after the service one Sunday the organist allowed me to press a key, I was hooked; I knew that somehow, someday, I had to play the pipe organ.
My older brother, Bruce, was studying piano, so naturally I wanted to do that too. One day he and I discovered Dad’s key to the church, and I had the idea that we might slip in and play the organ. My brother had more courage than I, and he was just tall enough to reach the place where the key to the console was hidden—so I needed him. I have no idea what I played when my turn came, but I was on cloud nine. My ecstasy turned out to be short-lived, however, because as fate would have it, Mom just happened to drive by the church and see our bikes outside. Bruce and I soon learned that we had transgressed!
Upon entering high school my interest in the organ intensified. The Galesburg Orpheum Theater had a three-manual, eleven-rank Barton theater pipe organ. It hadn’t been played since the early 1930s, but when I saw the hulk of the console, covered and sleeping in the orchestra pit, I dreamed of putting that organ in our home. I don’t think my folks really knew what they were getting into when they said I could have an organ. They had just built a French provincial style home in the country. Coincidentally, the high roofline provided 16’ at the peak of the attic; it seemed designed to house a pipe organ. The Orpheum Theater was tied up in an estate, and the lawyers said it would be impossible to obtain the organ. After some persistence, however, my father eventually negotiated the purchase of the instrument. Since we had only thirty days to remove it, I enlisted the help of my brother and the guidance of a local organ technician. We worked all through the night, after the closing show, and a month later thousands of parts filled our basement and a nearby farm implement building. Because I was only fifteen years old, my parents’ friends thought I would never be able to restore and reassemble that organ. But I never lacked determination, and over the course of three years the Orpheum Barton came back to life magnificently in our home. It was a sad day for me when I had to leave that organ to go away to college.
During that time, I began my first serious organ study with Mark Holmberg, a fine teacher and organist of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Galesburg. (Dr. Holmberg is currently Professor of Music at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.) Trinity had the best instrument in town, a relatively new three-manual Möller. I am ever grateful for the generosity of Mark and the Trinity Lutheran Church; they gave me a key and allowed me to practice as much as I liked. Mark was a great inspiration to me because he recognized my love for the organ, and he did all he could to encourage me. He took me to hear numerous organ recitals in our area, and I learned a lot when I turned pages for him at his recitals. In the summer of 1964, Mark organized a two-week organ tour to the East Coast. Because he had received his Master’s degree at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City, he wanted me to hear some of New York’s famous organs. I also wanted to go to Boston to hear the colossal Aeolian-Skinner organ in The Mother Church Extension, so our trip took in both cities and several organ companies along the way. We visited Schantz, Hillgreen-Lane, Holtkamp, Möller, Schlicker, Austin, and Aeolian-Skinner.
It was nearly impossible to gain access to the organ in The Mother Church in those days. A close family friend working at the Christian Science Church Headquarters in Boston had set up an appointment for us. I recall very well that the organist, Ralph Jerles, was on summer vacation, so the substitute was assigned to take us into the church before it opened for tours. Having just come from New York City where we had been given gracious access to several major instruments, Mark and I were surprised to find out that we could see the organ, but not play it. I remarked about the draw knob engraved “Blower” just under the pedal division—a disposition that I later learned caused many embarrassing moments of silence when it would accidentally get “cancelled.” Our host pulled the knob, and the organ filled with air. I remember playing low C on the Swell 32’ Kontrafagott, but that was the end of it. We had to wait until Sunday morning to hear the instrument played.
During my undergraduate years at Principia College, I furthered my organ study with the college organist, Wilhelmina Nordman. I also became closely acquainted with the famous organist Virgil Fox, of whom my mother was a real fan. He happened to be giving a concert in Milwaukee when she was visiting my brother, who was in school there. When she went back to meet him after the concert, she told him about my interest in the organ. Virgil asked her to bring me to one of his upcoming concerts. It was on June 15, 1967 that I first met him. My mother, my brother and I went to Rockford, Illinois, where Virgil was to give a concert. We happened to have dinner beforehand at the same restaurant where he was dining; when he saw my mother, he greeted her like a long lost cousin—I don’t believe Virgil ever forgot anyone’s name. After the concert he invited us to join him, his Aunt Etna Nichols (who lived in nearby Princeton) and a local organist, who took us to a church where there was a fine Skinner organ. We spent until the wee hours of the morning listening to Virgil tell stories and play the organ. It was an exciting experience for me, and I treasure several photographs taken that evening. A new pipe organ (since removed) had just been installed in Cox Auditorium at Principia College, and my family sponsored Virgil to play the dedicatory concert on November 10, 1967. As all those who heard him know, Virgil had tremendous energy and flair as a performer; at the program’s conclusion the Dean of Men commented, “We now have a used organ!” In December, Virgil invited my mother and me to accompany him on an East Coast concert tour, which I will mention again later in conjunction with my recording of his arrangement of Bach’s “Come Sweetest Death.”
Principia College’s location near Saint Louis afforded me the opportunity to hear many organ concerts; I especially recall those given by E. Power Biggs, Pierre Cochereau, Marie-Claire Alain, and Arno Schoenstedt. I also got involved in a theater organ project. The Ambassador Theater in Saint Louis had a magnificent but badly neglected twenty-seven-rank Wurlitzer. The owners of the theater gave me permission to work on it, and for a couple of years I entertained myself on weekends coaxing it back into semi-playable condition. At the end of my senior year, I was surprised one day to receive a letter from the Christian Science Board of Directors of The Mother Church, inviting me to audition to be a substitute organist. To this day I do not know how they knew about me. In January 1970, I went to Boston for the audition, and was thrilled finally to play The Mother Church organ. I also auditioned for the Master’s Degree program in organ at the New England Conservatory of Music. Having succeeded at both auditions, I moved to Boston at the end of the summer. Mireille Lagacé began teaching organ at the New England Conservatory that fall, and I credit my study with her as pivotal to my development as an organist. A couple of years later I also had the benefit of private study with her husband, Bernard Lagacé, in Montreal. Boston provided frequent opportunities to hear fine organists. Anton Heiller, Harold Vogel, Maurice Duruflé, Marie-Madeleine Duruflé-Chevalier, André Isoir, and Jean Langlais were among the European artists I especially recall. I also met Olivier Messiaen when he visited in 1975 for the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s performances of his Turangalîla-Symphonie. He had a desire to see The Mother Church organ, but his schedule ended up being too tight.
Between 1970 and 1972, my position at The Mother Church took on an increasingly substantial role. I was organ accompanist for about fifteen recording projects, organist for the 1971 Biennial College Organization Meetings, and organist for the new I. M. Pei Sunday School of The Mother Church. In May 1972, I was given permission to perform my Master’s degree recital on The Mother Church Extension organ. The following month, I became Associate Organist at the same time Dr. Thomas Richner, with whom I developed a wonderful friendship, was appointed Organist. During my nine years in that position, I played for lectures, meetings, workshops, recordings, organ demonstrations, and hundreds of services — including weekly Spanish Services held in the Original Edifice of The Mother Church, which had a three manual, forty-four rank Aeolian-Skinner. Between November 1977 and April 1979, I also gave a series of seventeen monthly recitals in the Extension. I had begun my doctoral work at Boston University in 1974, with organ study under George Faxon, and I had my lessons either at Trinity Church on Copley Square, where Faxon was organist, or at The Mother Church. My three doctoral recitals in 1978 and 1979 were given on the Extension organ. As part of the Boston “First Night” New Year’s celebrations in 1979, Tom Richner and I had the idea of performing as a duo—four hands and pedals. Since Tom was an authority on Mozart, we chose the two F-minor Fantasies, K. 594 and 608. We gave two performances that night to delighted audiences.
With my background in organ building, one of my duties as Associate Organist was to oversee the maintenance program for The Mother Church’s two Aeolian-Skinner organs. The Mother Church had always been conscientious in matters of organ maintenance. Around 1961, when Aeolian-Skinner no longer wanted maintenance responsibilities, the church employed Jason McKown, a skilled organ technician and tuner who had worked for Aeolian-Skinner and been in the maintenance business a long time. Simply stated, Jason was the finest organ tuner I have ever known. He had the unrivalled knack of knowing just how to keep the 237 ranks of the Extension organ in perfect tune; and with over 100 ranks in compound stops, many with pitch doublings, that was quite a feat. Nonetheless, there were never tuning problems while the instrument was under Jason’s experienced care. In fact, it was sometimes said that the tuning was too perfect!
When Tom Richner and I began in June 1972, Jason informed us that when he took over the care of the organ, he found it had never really been completely finished by Aeolian-Skinner. Some ranks of mixture pipes were silent—taped off at the foot of the pipe. Upon researching the situation, I found that Aeolian-Skinner had some $50,000 of cost overrun on the original contract. Although The Mother Church graciously divided that cost with them, Aeolian-Skinner was obviously anxious to get off the job in 1952. Consequently, in 1972, twenty years after the organ had been in use, the fastidious work of completing the tonal finishing was begun. Over a period of many months the muted mixture pipes were opened up—some had not even been cut to the proper pitch—and a few mechanical features that had never been functional were made so. As we lived with the instrument over a period of four or five years, Tom and I felt that a few judicious tonal improvements would increase the flexibility and overall tone quality. Jason McKown continued to refine and balance the flue pipes, and Jack H. Steinkampf, Jr. was engaged to improve some of the reeds—work that included the addition of five reed stops. By 1979, the Extension organ had been brought to a state of tonal perfection.
Between 1972 and . . . 1985, when I played my last services in The Mother Church, . . . I made dozens of recordings . . .
In 1999, I realized I had not listened to these recordings for many years, and it occurred to me that if I wanted to preserve them I had better act soon, as the age of some tapes exceeded twenty-five years. . . . During the transfers [to digital media], I was sometimes surprised to find recordings of works that I had totally forgotten I had put on tape; but I realized that many of them were nearly flawless. Not only did they form a retrospective of my playing, but they also demonstrated the rich, singing quality of the Mother Church organ, as it existed before it was rebuilt under the direction of Lawrence I. Phelps and the Austin Organ Co. between 1995 and 1999.
Larry Phelps, with whom I worked closely as co-consultant on an organ project in St. Louis during the two years prior to his passing, had been responsible for the original tonal design of the Extension organ. Previously a technician, voicer and tonal finisher for Aeolian-Skinner, Larry was employed by The Mother Church for more than two and a half years (1949-1952) to direct the reconstruction of its two organs. The Mother Church engaged him again in the mid-1990s as organ curator.
Although the recent work to the organ was touted as a “restoration,” the tonal modifications effected have rendered the overall character of the instrument quite unlike the original. According to recent brochures, the revised tonal design not only eliminated four of the five Steinkampf reeds, but it also discarded at least 2,162 Aeolian-Skinner pipes, constituting 35 ranks — ranks of principals, mixtures and chorus reeds that formed the very heart of the organ’s tonal identity. Other work included revising existing mixture compositions, revoicing the reeds, and adding two digital (electronic) voices. Once the most monumental of all Aeolian-Skinners, The Mother Church organ can no longer be considered fully representative of that renowned builder. For this reason, these recordings are an invaluable testament to the instrument's former splendor.
All the masterworks presented on these CDs were performed at Mother Church services. During my years as Associate Organist (1972-1981), Gillian Gill, in her widely acclaimed biography of Mary Baker Eddy, would not have been able to write, “The organ [in The Mother Church Extension] . . . is limited mainly to the role of accompanying the singing: Bach and Handel and Messiaen are allowed no place in the service” (Gillian Gill, Mary Baker Eddy, Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Books, 1998, xii). Although I performed organ literature from all nationalities and musical style periods, when choosing the selections for these CDs I was guided by the desire to include works which best demonstrate the instrument's tonal palette.
Prelude and Fugue in C major,
Georg Böhm (1661-1733)
Recorded: January 1973
Böhm filled the post of organist of the Johanniskirche at Lüneburg, Germany, from 1698 until his death. C. P. E. Bach stated that his father (Johann Sebastian) “loved and studied the works of the Lüneburg organist Georg Böhm.” It is not clear that J. S. Bach actually studied with Böhm, but he was certainly influenced by the elder composer. The virtuoso pedal solo, ostinato rhythmic patterns, alternating passages of arpeggios, echo effects and embellished homophony are typical characteristics of the free-style North German praeludium. The fugue subject is neatly constructed of two statements of an angular three-note motive followed by a conjunct five-note motive extended through three sequential repetitions. The strictly contrapuntal development of the fugue concludes on a deceptive cadence, which is followed by a rhapsodic coda of rapid scales and arpeggios.
I have included this work to demonstrate the Baroque side of The Mother Church organ. The registration was limited to the Hauptwerk, Positiv and Swell (registered like a Brustwerk) for the Prelude, and the Hauptwerk and Positiv for the Fugue.
Choral No. 1 in E major,
César Franck (1822-1890)
Recorded: January 1973
Organist of Sainte-Clotilde in Paris from 1859 until his death, Franck left only twelve major works for his favorite instrument. The Trois Chorals date from the last four months of his life. Each is based on a hymn-like choral of the composer’s own design. Franck told his students, “The choral creates itself during the course of the prelude.” This is borne out in this work when, after an extended introduction, the choral quietly appears on the Solo Vox Humana stop. Elements of variation and fantasia alternate as the work spins out to the magnificent peroration of the choral theme on full organ.
With the present day interest in hearing unaltered Aeolian-Skinners, I have chosen this recording to represent The Mother Church organ before any alterations were effected. Also, for me this Franck Choral brings the special recollection of having performed it in two master classes, one conducted by Arthur Poister and the other by Maurice Duruflé.
Adagio (from Symphony No. 3, opus 28),
Louis Vierne (1870-1937)
Recorded: April 1979
Louis Vierne began his serious music study at the Paris Conservatory in the class of César Franck. When Franck died in 1890, the class was entrusted to Charles-Marie Widor who soon made Vierne his assistant at Saint-Sulpice, which had the largest and most beautiful organ in France. Following in the footsteps of Widor, Vierne composed several multi-movement organ works that he titled “Symphony,” the first of which was composed under his master’s watchful eye in 1899. The following year, Vierne won the coveted post of organist at Notre Dame Cathedral where he would preside over a Cavaillé-Coll organ at least as magnificent, though not quite as large, as that of Saint-Sulpice. During the next thirty-seven years Vierne wrote a substantial body of organ music. Composed in 1911, the third of his six symphonies contains five movements. Bernard Gavoty, Vierne’s early biographer, praised the Adagio as one of the most perfect pieces Vierne composed.
Carillon de Westminster (from Pièces de Fantaisie, Troisième suite, opus 54),
Recorded: November 1981
Perhaps the most performed of Vierne’s works, the Carillon de Westminster was dedicated in 1927 to the renowned London organ builder Henry Willis. The central theme of the work is the most famous of all clock chimes, known as the Westminster Quarters. This tune was derived by a late eighteenth-century English composer, William Crotch, who wrote four variations on a short phrase in “I know that my Redeemer liveth” from Handel’s Messiah. These variations soon became the standard when they were adopted in 1860 for the large quarter-hour bells in the tower clock of the new Houses of Parliament of Westminster, from which the tune takes its name. Vierne presents the theme four times in different arrangements during the course of the piece, with the accompanying figuration sometimes simulating the jingle of small bells.
Ye Sweet Retreat,
William Boyce (1710-1779),
arranged by Virgil Fox (1912-1980)
Recorded: June 1981
Virgil Fox based this arrangement, with the assistance of Robert Hebble, on the Harold Bauer arrangement for piano. As a budding organist, I believe I purchased every record album the legendary Virgil Fox recorded. “Ye Sweet Retreat" appears on Virgil Fox Encores, recorded at the Riverside Church in New York City where Fox presided over a monumental 1955 Aeolian-Skinner organ. This sumptuous arrange-ment is stylistically removed by generations from the eighteenth-century original composition, but it serves beautifully to demonstrate a kaleidoscope of Aeolian-Skinner tone color. The melodic line is taken variously by the Swell Strings (played in the pedals), Choir Flutes, Solo English Horn and French Horn.
Come Sweetest Death, Come, Blessed Rest,
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750),
arranged by Virgil Fox
Recorded: January 1980
In 1939 Virgil Fox was invited to perform on the famous John Wanamaker Grand Court Organ . . . in Philadelphia for the national convention of the American Guild of Organists. It had been suggested that he include a Bach chorale during his program. Realizing that a miniature piece would hardly make any effect on an instrument of such vast resources as the Wanamaker organ—with its six manuals, 451 stops and 30,067 pipes—Fox took as his inspiration Leopold Stokowski’s orchestral transcription of a song (Komm, süsser Tod, Komm, sel’ge Ruh’) which Bach composed for Schemelli’s Musikalisches Gesangbuch, published in 1736. With the largest string division in the world, the Wanamaker organ is a veritable orchestra, and Fox’s arrangement transforms Bach’s simple song, only a melody with figured bass accompaniment, into a full-fledged symphonic poem. After experiencing this piece at Wanamaker’s, one shrinks at the idea of playing it elsewhere. Yet, The Mother Church organ proved to be ideal for the task, and I can’t resist including it here.
As mentioned earlier, I first met Virgil in 1967, and he became a close family friend. In December 1967, my mother and I accompanied him on a concert tour to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and New York City. I had a great aunt who lived on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, and whenever we visited her I went to hear the Wanamaker organ. Mary Vogt was the resident organist in those days; she had played there since the organ’s installation in 1911! A woman of small stature, she could not reach all the stops, and I remember she always kept beside her a rolled-up newspaper with which she would register the organ by sweeping on rows of stops at a time. Virgil was to play a Christmas concert at Wanamaker’s on December 15, so my mother and I arrived in Philadelphia a few days earlier to meet him. Miss Vogt had retired the year before and the new resident organist, Keith Chapman, was unavailable to help. To my delight, Virgil asked me to assist with the stops on the right side of the mammoth console. We spent a couple of all-night sessions rehearsing, and I still have the hand-scrawled notes that he made for me to follow. I think Virgil would be very pleased with my recording of his arrangement of “Come Sweetest Death.”
Behold What Manner of Love,
James G. MacDermid (1875-1960),
with Esperanza Ismann, soprano
Recorded: November 7, 1981
Accompanying vocal solos was one of the great joys of playing The Mother Church organ. It provided an endless pallet of voices with which to “orchestrate” the piano accompaniments. In this recording, the Choir Bassoon is the featured melody stop, and the fanfares in the middle organ section begin on the Solo Trumpet and then shift to the Choir Tuba Major. “Behold What Manner of Love,” composed in 1913, is one of the most popular of MacDermid’s forty-nine scriptural songs. Esperanza Ismann served as soloist of The Mother Church from 1980 until 1984. She was certainly the finest soloist with whom I have ever had the privilege of working. We always recorded our Saturday evening rehearsals, and this rehearsal recording exemplifies the inspirational tone that the vocal solo regularly provided.
Praeludium in D-flat major,
Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967)
Recorded: June 1977
The Hungarian composer’s setting of Pange lingua for chorus has a prominent organ part, and the Praeludium is drawn from it. Kodály’s important work with Hungarian folksong appears to have influenced some of the melodic shapes in this work. The Solo Corno di Bassetto is heard for one of the principal melodic lines.
The Old Hundredth Psalm Tune,
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Recorded: July 1981
Traditionally, the congregation did not participate in the singing at coronations, so Vaughan Williams offered to “make a mess-up of Old Hundredth” if the Archbishop would agree to have a hymn included in the ceremony. Using the original long-note version of the hymn, with alternating measures of whole and half notes, Vaughan Williams composed this anthem for choir, congregation, orchestra and organ for the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey on Tuesday, 2 June 1953. The idea of playing it as an organ solo came from Virgil Fox. Preceding the first verse of the hymn tune is a fanfare on the Bombarde Trompette and Choir Tuba Major; the second verse is played on foundation stops; the third verse is played on the full Swell with trumpet descant played on the Solo Cor des Anges; the fourth verse uses string stops, with the hymn tune sounding in the tenor voice; and the final verse returns to the initial registration, with a crescendo to full organ on the final “Amen."
Dieu Parmi Nous [God Among Us] (from La Nativité, nine meditations for organ),
Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)
Recorded: July 1978
Declaring that he was “born believing,” Messiaen exalted his profound faith in his compositional art. “I am, above all, a catholic musician. All my works, religious or not, are an act of faith and glorify the mystery of Christ.” And elsewhere he wrote, “God for me is manifest, and my conception of sacred music derives from this conviction. . . . I have therefore . . . tried to produce ‘music that touches all things without ceasing to touch God.’”
Dieu Parmi Nous, the ninth meditation of La Nativité (1936), has become one of Messiaen’s most popular works. It carries a textual heading from Ecclesiasticus, “Words from the communicant, the Virgin, the entire Church: the One who has created me has rested in my tent, the Word is made flesh and it has lived in me. My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit has thrilled from gladness in God my Savior.” This huge movement commences with the principal theme, “the incarnation;” marked ffff, this theme audibly represents the “glorious and indescribable” (Messiaen’s words) descent of the Son from heaven to earth. Following is “the theme of love,” which exemplifies the “communion,” the “sweetness of [our] union with Jesus Christ.” The third theme is marked “lively and joyous;” in the manner of a birdsong, it is “the magnificat,” the “exaltation of the soul.” Following this brief exposition, sections of development lead to the climactic concluding toccata which features the principal idea repeated several times in the pedals.
Prélude (from Suite, opus 5),
Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986)
Recorded: November 1981
Maurice Duruflé counts among a handful of composers whose reputation rests largely on one work. Listening to his magnificent Requiem, it is easy to understand why he can be considered one of the immortals of twentieth-century French music. Duruflé found his true voice in religious music. It seems entirely fitting that he was a professor of harmony at the Paris Conservatory and organist at perhaps the most beautiful church in Paris, Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, for his works express harmony and beauty to the utmost degree. The sinuous melodic lines and haunting modality of Gregorian chant combine with a Ravelian sense of coloration and rigorous structural concern to inform his musical style. The three-movement Suite, published in 1934, represents the summit of Duruflé’s six organ works.
Duruflé described the Prélude, cast in the dark key of e-flat minor, as “sad and melancholy.” After a few introductory measures, in which fragments of the principal theme are sounded in the bass under a dominant pedal, the full statement of the theme enters “tristamente” (sadly). The development alternates passages based on either the fragmented entrance motive or the principal theme itself. Following a section marked “quasi recitativo,” in which the Choir Clarinet takes up an arabesque based on the principal theme, the movement draws to a close in the same somber manner with which it began.
Sicilienne (from Suite, opus 5),
Recorded: July 1978
The Sicilienne offers a sharply contrasting mood to that of the Prélude. Over a gently flowing broken-chord accompaniment and pizzicato-like bass, the opening lyrical melody, played on the Swell Oboe, evokes the typical pastoral character of a siciliana. The following development owes much to Debussy and Ravel with its impressionistic tints of harmonically enriched chords, whole-tone constructs and colorful registrations, one of which features the Solo Vox Humana with a theme played in the pedals.
Fugue sur le thème du carillon des heures de la Cathédrale de Soissons [Fugue on the theme of the hourly carillon peal of Soissons Cathedral],
Recorded: June 1981
Originally part of a volume of organ works commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of Louis Vierne (2 June 1937), this work takes an innovative approach to “fugue.” It commences with three voices, although the lower voice initially provides only a tonic pedal. The fugue’s theme, of which the first eight notes quote the borrowed carillon peal, appears in the upper voice. Eventually expanding to four voices, the strict contrapuntal style begins to break down as a few statements of the carillon theme appear in inversion. Proceeding with unrelenting momentum and a gradual crescendo that culminates in the full power of the organ, further statements of the theme are given in augmentation, at first in free imitation and subsequently in inverted imitation between the upper and lower voices.
Toccata in B minor (from Dix Pièces),
Eugène Gigout (1844-1925)
Recorded: August 1979
A brilliant virtuoso and born improviser, Gigout was appointed organist of Saint-Augustin in Paris in 1863, a post he held for sixty-two years (second only to Widor’s sixty-four years at Saint-Sulpice). He succeeded to the professorship of organ at the Paris Conservatory in 1911, thus perpetuating the long line of important organist/composers to hold that post: Benoist, Franck, Widor, Guilmant, Gigout. It is unfortunate that of Gigout’s organ music, only the Toccata and two other works receive regular performances. One of my most treasured scores is an autographed copy of the Dix Pièces; it is inscribed “A Monsieur Clarence Eddy/ Cordial souvenir/Eugène Gigout/Avril 1890."
Choral (from Symphonie romane, opus 73),
Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937)
In 1870, a little over a month before his twenty-sixth birthday, Widor was appointed “provisional organist” of Saint-Sulpice in Paris; he held the position until 1934! Entrusted with the greatest organ in France, an instrument of five manuals and 100 stops, Widor experienced an exhilarating burst of creativity. Searching for a new style that would exploit fully the potential of the Cavaillé-Coll organ, Widor seized upon the character and multi-movement plan of the orchestral symphony; by adapting it to the sonorities of the organ, he fathered a new genre and a new mode of expression. His first four Symphonies pour Orgue, opus 13, were published in 1872. The Symphonie romane, completed in 1899, is his tenth and last organ symphony. Five years earlier Widor had begun to explore the use of plainsong for the melodic material in two movements of his ninth symphony, the Symphonie gothique. The romane is largely given over to the plainsong melody for the first four words of text of the Easter gradual: “Haec dies, quam fecit” (This is the day which the Lord hath made).
The Choral, the second movement of the symphony, opens quietly and conservatively with a four-part harmonization of the “Haec dies, quam fecit” theme; this and an ensuing chant-like counter-theme provide the melodic materials to be developed, at times in a manner showing that Widor was well aware of impressionistic tendencies. Of equal interest are certain chromatic turns, harmonic constructs, and melodic gestures that betray his assimilation of Wagner’s musical language, especially that of Tristan und Isolde.
Finale (from Symphony No. 8, opus 42),
Recorded: June 1985
In scale and design the expansive Symphony No. 8 is fully on a par with many late-Romantic orchestral symphonies. Certainly, no more monumental organ composition had previously been conceived; the seven movements of the original edition fill sixty-seven pages of score and require about one hour to perform. Camille Saint-Saëns once wrote to Widor, “the great majority of organists . . . are not of your powers and . . . recoil, terrified, before your works.” With this symphony, published in 1887, Widor must have felt that he had pushed organ technique to the limit and exhausted the tonal possibilities of the instrument; the great master of the organ symphony declared that he had no intention of composing any more organ music. Had Widor carried through with this intention, the immense Finale to this symphony would have provided a fitting capstone to his organ symphonies.
Characterized by insistent rhythm, angular leaps, and strong-beat appoggiaturas, the austere main theme, with its spare, sharp staccato accompaniment, immediately presents the listener with music of imposing power and gravity.
Berceuse [Lullaby] (from Suite Bretonne, opus 21),
Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)
Recorded: June 1980
Marcel Dupré may well be considered the greatest French organist of the twentieth century. He was the first organist to perform the complete works of Bach from memory; he became Widor’s assistant at Saint-Sulpice in 1906 and eventually succeeded him in 1934; he succeeded Gigout as professor of organ at the Paris Conservatory in 1926; and after seventy-six years of concert performing, he closed his concert career with his 2,178th recital—more than 800 of them were in the United States.
Dupré premiered the three-movement Suite Bretonne during his 1923 American tour. The “Berceuse” opens restfully with a gently swaying ostinato, suggestive of a rocking cradle, which pervades the entire movement. The simple melody alternates between the Great Holzflöte and Choir Clarinet. Eventually a registration including both the Swell and Solo Vox Humanas takes up the melody in the upper voice while Pedal 4’ Flutes follow in canon an octave below.
As a young organ student, I revered Dupré above all other organists. The recordings he made at Saint-Sulpice, plus the ones at Saint-Thomas Church in New York City, were very inspiring to me. I even had to buy a second copy of a couple of them, having worn out the first. Dupré’s interpretations became my model, so much so that once I was reprimanded by Madame Lagacé for invoking his name too often at lessons. In October 1969, I arrived in Paris on the very day Dupré gave his last organ concert at Notre Dame Cathedral. One of the greatest regrets of my life is that I didn’t realize it until the next morning when I saw posters advertising the previous evening’s concert. Nonetheless, while in Paris I did hear him at Saint-Sulpice on two occasions. The second time, I arrived early and waited at the door to the organ gallery. He and Madame Dupré arrived and invited me to join them in the organ tribune for the early mass. I can still vividly see his slow, purposeful gait as the three of us ascended the sixty-seven steps of the narrow winding stairway. After he was seated at the organ, he motioned for me to sit next to him. Although he spoke little, watching and hearing him play during the service was an emotional experience I will never forget. I had brought with me a recent recording he had made of some of his works at Saint-Ouen in Rouen, and he autographed it for me. Later, as he was leaving Saint-Sulpice, I snapped his photo, which now hangs in a prominent place in my office.
Prélude and Fugue in B major, (from Trois Préludes et Fugues, opus 7),
Recorded: July 13, 1980 on the Aeolian-Skinner organ at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco
Although I played this work numerous times at The Mother Church, I have taken the liberty here to include the live recording of it from my Grace Cathedral recital in 1980. There is something quite remarkable about hearing this music in a magnificent cathedral acoustic.
Dupré’s first set of Three Préludes and Fugues, composed in 1912, are his first organ works, and they are masterpieces. The Prélude might more accurately be termed a toccata, “an explosion of cheerfulness, a joyous carillon.” The principal theme first sounds in the pedals, but during the course of the piece it transfers to the manuals as well; it is eventually treated in canon between the manuals and pedals, all the time against the toccata-like figuration. The subject of the Fugue, presaged in the Prélude, is constructed of three phrases, each separated by a sixteenth-rest. It is not at all comfortable to play when taken up by the pedals. Other challenges arise from offbeat chords that yield five accents in four-beat measures, rapid manual changes, and fussy articulations. The return of the subject for the brilliant peroration is given simultaneously at the normal speed and in augmentation. Few are the works that provide the visceral impact of Dupré’s Prélude and Fugue in B major.
Graham Steed, Dupré’s recent biographer, states, “This is a dangerous piece to play in concert. It is consistantly [sic] loud and fast; one has to be careful to match speed and touch with the acoustics of the building. Played too fast in a resonant room it is impossible to preserve clarity.” For me, this performance achieves just the right balance.
Prelude on New Britain (Amazing Grace),
Dale Wood (b. 1934)
Recorded: July 1981
Returning to The Mother Church organ, I have included American organist Dale Wood’s setting of Amazing Grace to provide a sort of encore to this two-CD set. Featured are the Solo Vibraphone along with the Solo Klein Erzähler and Choir Dulciana, Unda Maris and Klein Erzähler. The hymn tune is played the first time two octaves down on the Positiv 2’ Waldflöte, and the second time one octave down on the Positiv 4’ Koppelflöte.
The Aeolian-Skinner organ in the Extension of The Mother Church
I gratefully acknowledge The Christian Science Board of Directors of The Mother Church for their permission to issue these historic recordings of the Aeolian-Skinner organ in the Extension of The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, Boston, Massachusetts.
Of the seven manual divisions, the Swell, Choir and Solo are enclosed. Except for the Solo division, the organ is installed in one large loft across the front of the auditorium. This loft is approximately seventy-five feet wide, ten feet deep and almost sixty feet high. Although the average height of the main part of the organ is about twenty-five feet, the façade towers about fifty feet above the organ loft floor. The Solo, located in a special chamber high in the northeast tower of the building, is heard through a circular opening in the center of the pendentive area to the left of and above the main organ. The building of the organ, Aeolian-Skinner’s opus 1203, began in January 1951, the installation in April 1951, and the instrument was completed September 1952. Following is the specification reflecting the modifications effected in 1978 and 1979. The organ had 237 ranks, 13,588 pipes.
(24 ranks, 1468 pipes; 4" wind)
32 Quintade, 61 pipes
16 Geigend Prinzipal, 61 pipes
16 Bourdon, 61 pipes
8 Principal, 61 pipes
8 Holzflöte, 61 pipes
4 Prestant, 61 pipes
4 Flute Ouverte, 61 pipes
5-1/3 Gross Sesquialtera II, 122 pipes
2-2/3 Cornet IV-VI, 309 pipes
2-2/3 Full Mixture IV, 244 pipes
1-1/3 Scharf IV, 244 pipes
8 Trompette, 61 pipes
4 Clairon, 61 pipes
(25 ranks, 1520 pipes; 3” wind)
16 Quintaden, 61 pipes
8 Prinzipal, 61 pipes
8 Bordun, 61 pipes
8 Spitzflöte, 61 pipes
4 Oktave, 61 pipes
4 Kleingedackt, 61 pipes
4 Spitzflöte, 61 pipes
2-2/3 Quinte, 61 pipes
2 Superoktave, 61 pipes
2 Blockflöte, 61 pipes
1-1/3 Quinte, 61 pipes
2-2/3 Sesquialtera II, 122 pipes
2 Mixtur IV-VI, 287 pipes
1 Scharf IV-VII, 318 pipes
16 Contra Fagotto, 61 pipes
8 Trompete, 61 pipes
(39 ranks, 2519 pipes; 5” wind)
16 Gemshorn, 68 pipes
8 Diapason, 68 pipes
8 Rohrflöte, 68 pipes
8 Flute Harmonique, 68 pipes
8 Viole de Gambe, 68 pipes
8 Viole Celeste, 68 pipes
8 Echo Viole, 68 pipes
8 Echo Viole Celeste, 68 pipes
8 Flute Dolce, 68 pipes
8 Flute Celeste, 68 pipes
4 Octave, 68 pipes
4 Nachthorn, 68 pipes
4 Gemshorn, 68 pipes
2-2/3 Nazard, 61 pipes
2 Doublette, 61 pipes
2 Spillflöte, 61 pipes
2-2/3 Sesquialtera III, 183 pipes
2-2/3 Plein Jeu VI, 366 pipes
1-1/3 Fourniture III, 183 pipes
2/3 Cymbale IV, 244 pipes
32 Kontrafagott, 68 pipes
16 Bombarde, 68 pipes
8 Trompette, 68 pipes
8 Oboe, 68 pipes
8 Vox Humana, 68 pipes
5-1/3 Quinte Trompette, 68 pipes
4 Clairon, 68 pipes
(28 ranks, 1679 pipes; 21/2” wind)
8 Viola de Gamba, 61 pipes
8 Quintadena, 61 pipes
8 Gedackt, 61 pipes
4 Prinzipal, 61 pipes
4 Koppelflöte, 61 pipes
2-2/3 Nasat, 61 pipes
2 Oktave, 61 pipes
2 Waldflöte, 61 pipes
1-3/5 Terz, 61 pipes
1-1/3 Larigot, 61 pipes
1 Oktave, 61 pipes
8 Cornet V, 305 pipes
1 Scharf IV-VII, 337 pipes
1/4 Zimbel III, 183 pipes
16 Dulzian, 61 pipes
8 Krummhorn, 61 pipes
4 Schalmei, 61 pipes
(22 ranks, 1444 pipes; 4” wind)
16 Dulciana, 68 pipes
8 Viola, 68 pipes
8 Viola Celeste, 68 pipes
8 Gemshorn Celeste II (celeste tc), 124 pipes
8 Concert Flute, 68 pipes
8 Lieblich Gedeckt, 68 pipes
8 Dulciana, 68 pipes
8 Unda Maris (tc), 56 pipes
4 Viola, 68 pipes
4 Flauto Traverso, 68 pipes
4 Lieblich Flöte, 68 pipes
4 Klein Erzähler II, 136 pipes
2 Zauberflöte, 61 pipes
2-2/3 Sesquialtera II, 122 pipes
16 Bassoon, 68 pipes
16 Rankett, 61 pipes (unenclosed)
8 Clarinet, 68 pipes
8 Tuba Major, 68 pipes (15” wind)
4 Trompette, 68 pipes
Tremulant (Choir and Positiv)
8 French Horn (Solo)
8 Corno di Bassetto (Solo)
8 English Horn (Solo)
8 Cor des Anges (Solo)
Reed Tremulant (Solo)
(27 ranks, 1637 pipes; 4” wind)
8+4 Principal II, 122 pipes
8 Cornet V, 305 pipes
2-2/3 Grand Fourniture VI, 366 pipes
2 Harmonics VIII, 478 pipes
1/2 Scharf III, 183 pipes
16 Bombarde, 61 pipes (6” wind)
8 Trompette, 61 pipes (6” wind)
4 Clairon, 61 pipes (6” wind)
(29 ranks, 1921 pipes; 5” wind)
16 Viola, 12 pipes (ext. Viola)
8 Principal, 68 pipes (4” wind)
8 Viola, 68 pipes
8 Gedeckt, 68 pipes
8 Doppelflöte, 68 pipes
8 Orchestral Strings II, 136 pipes
8 Dolcan Celeste II, 136 pipes
8 Klein Erzähler II, 136 pipes
4 Prestant, 68 pipes (4” wind)
4 Zauberflöte, 68 pipes
4 Orchestral Flute, 68 pipes
4 Viole Celeste II, 136 pipes
2-2/3 Rohr Nasat, 61 pipes
2 Flautino, 61 pipes
2 Plein Jeu IV, 244 pipes (4” wind)
2/5 Jeu de Clochette II, 122 pipes
8 Trompette, 68 pipes
8 French Horn, 68 pipes (10” wind)
8 Corno di Bassetto, 68 pipes (10” wind)
8 English Horn, 68 pipes (10” wind)
8 Vox Humana, 68 pipes
8 Cor des Anges, 61 pipes (unenclosed; 20” wind)
Chimes (25 tubes)
Harp/Vibraphone (37 bars)
Zimbelstern (6 bells)
(43 ranks, 1400 pipes; 4” wind)
32 Contre Basse, 12 pipes (ext.; 5” wind)
32 Untersatz (1-12 Gt. Quintade; 13-32 Lieblich Bourdon)
16 Principal, 32 pipes (5” wind)
16 Contre Basse, 32 pipes (5” wind)
16 Violon, 32 pipes
16 Bourdon, 32 pipes (5” wind)
16 Geigend Prinzipal (Great)
16 Quintaden (Hauptwerk)
16 Lieblich Bourdon (1-12 Gt. Bourdon), 20 pipes
16 Gemshorn (Swell)
16 Dulciana (Choir)
10-2/3 Grossquinte, 32 pipes
8 Principal, 32 pipes
8 Spitzprincipal, 32 pipes
8 Viole de Gambe, 32 pipes
8 Gedecktpommer, 32 pipes
8 Lieblich Bourdon, 12 pipes (ext.)
8 Gemshorn (Swell)
8 Dulciana (Choir)
6-2/5 Grossterz, 32 pipes
5-1/3 Quinte, 32 pipes
4 Choralbass, 32 pipes
4 Spitzflöte, 32 pipes
4 Koppelflöte, 32 pipes
4 Gemshorn (Swell)
2 Nachthorn, 32 pipes
10-2/3 Gross Cornet V, 96 pipes (draws 10-2/3 and 6-2/5)
5-1/3 Fourniture IV, 128 pipes
4 Mixture III, 96 pipes
3-1/5 Cornet IV, 128 pipes
1-1/3 Scharf IV, 128 pipes
32 Contre Bombarde, 12 pipes (ext. Ophecleide; 14” wind)
32 Kontrafagott (Swell)
16 Ophecleide, 32 pipes (12” wind)
16 Bombarde, 32 pipes (7” wind)
16 Fagott (Swell)
16 Contra Fagotto (Hauptwerk)
16 Bassoon (Choir)
8 Trompette, 32 pipes (6” wind)
8 Trumpet, 32 pipes (6” wind)
8 Fagott (Swell)
8 Chalumeau, 32 pipes
4 Clairon, 32 pipes (6” wind)
4 Octave Trumpet, 32 pipes (6” wind)
4 Oboe (Swell Fagott)
4 Rohr Schalmei, 32 pipes
2 Kornett, 32 pipes
John Near is Professor of Music and College Organist at Principia College, Elsah, Illinois. Joining the faculty in 1985, he teaches music history, pipe organ, and has directed seven Principia Abroad study programs to England, France, Holland, Italy, Germany (including the former East Germany), Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic. He has a B.A. from Principia College, an M.Mus. with honors from the New England Conservatory of Music, and a D.M.A. from Boston University.
Dr. Near was Associate Organist of The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, Boston, from 1972 until 1981, where he played for services and gave a series of monthly noon recitals; he is organ accompanist on several recordings issued by The Mother Church. A vocal setting by Dr. Near of Mary Baker Eddy's poem, Christmas Morn, is published by The Christian Science Publishing Society and recorded on the album “Exalt the Lord.”
His 1984 doctoral dissertation, The Life and Work of Charles-Marie Widor, is the first complete posthumous biography in any language of this important French musician. Dr. Near's publications include a ten-volume critical edition, published by A-R Editions, of the Symphonies for Organ by Charles-Marie Widor. The American Organist has called it “the definitive edition . . . a must for every music library” and “one of the most significant contributions to the scholarship of organ music of the 1990s.”
Most recently, he has edited for A-R Editions the first publication of Widor's Symphonie pour orgue et orchestre, opus 42 [bis] (1882). He has written on Widor for The American Organist, and has presented scholarly papers at Göteborg, Sweden, University of Iowa, Yale University, the New England Conservatory of Music, and Rice University; Princeton University, the Oberlin Conservatory of Music (in conjunction with the Westfield Center), and the 2002 National Convention of the American Guild of Organists in Philadelphia. He has also performed Widor's music at Saint-Sulpice, Paris.
Dr. Near contributed the chapter on Widor in Le Grand Orgue de Saint-Sulpice et ses Organistes, an article in the Dictionnaire de la musique en France au XIXème siècle, and he is an occasional book and music reviewer for Notes, the quarterly journal of the Music Library Association.
As an organ consultant, he has been responsible for the design of new organs as well as the rebuilding of fine historic instruments. An active member of the American Guild of Organists, the Organ Historical Society, the American Theater Organ Society, and the Guild of Carillonneurs of North America, Dr. Near also served on the executive board of the Boston chapter of the AGO.