On the unaltered and restored 1962 Rudolf von Beckerath organ of 97 ranks and four manuals at St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Russell Weismann plays a wide range of repertoire in demonstration of the versatile instrument. A Pittsburgh native, Weismann served as a cathedral musician for many years before taking a doctoral degree at George Mason University and writing a dissertation on Beckerath and the Hamburg organbuilder's instruments, of which the St. Paul Cathedral organ is the largest he built in the United States.
Franz Schmidt: Prelude & Fugue in D, Alleluja
Josef Rheinberger: Passacaglia from Sonata 8
Johannes Brahms: Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele, op. 122, no. 40
Brahms: Herzlich tut mich verlangen, op. 122, no. 9
Johann Ludwig Krebs: Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr, KrebsWV 526
Girolamo Frescobaldi: Toccata per l'elevatione from Messe degli Apostoli published in Fiori Musicali
François Couperin: Offertoire sur les Grands Jeux from Mass for the Parishes
Johann Caspar Kerll: Battaglia
Georg Böhm: Partita über Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele
J. S. Bach: Prelude in A Minor, BWV 551
Organ recordings are common and populous in the niche classical music world of the pipe organ. What makes this recording unique is that its repertoire was selected by the organ’s builder, Rudolf von Beckerath, to be played on dedication programs of his instruments (some pieces are similar to music that Beckerath recommended). Another intent is to represent the spectrum of the organ’s tonal resources.
The organ’s association with the Christian church dates as far back as the seventh century, and although its use is not officially recognized in Canon Law, the organ and the Roman Catholic Church have enjoyed a prosperous relationship over centuries and through schisms and wars. Today the organ remains an integral detail in the Church’s liturgical life.
On October 11, 1962, the Second Vatican Council, the first major ecumenical council of the Church in nearly a century, was opened by Pope John XXIII in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. The Council sought modernization of the Roman Church, and reconstruction of the Church’s liturgy was a major objective.
Sacrosanctum Concilium (the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy”) was the first document produced by the Council and it reshaped modern Roman Catholic worship into what we experience today. A detailed chapter on sacred music comprises a large portion of the document, adopted in 1963. In it, Article 120 reads:
"In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things."
On December 8, 1962, less than two months following the opening of Vatican II, the monumental organ built by Rudolf von Beckerath for Saint Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was dedicated. This instrument, fully embodying the term “wonderful splendor” in both sight and sound, was the first mechanical action organ built in an American Catholic Cathedral during the 20th century. With its construction coinciding with Vatican II, the St. Paul Beckerath organ is uniquely wedded to the Council. John Joseph Wright, who became Bishop of Pittsburgh in 1959, was a leading architect of Vatican II and held great interest in the cathedral’s organ project. He took a short leave from the Council in December of 1962 to be present at the organ’s dedication-week festivities, which opened with a Solemn Pontifical Mass and Blessing of the Organ on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (December 8), and included performances by Paul Koch, Fernando Germani, E. Power Biggs with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and Robert Noehren. The week concluded with a Solemn Mass celebrated on December 16 with the Choir of Men and Boys of Saint Paul Cathedral under the direction on Paul Koch, Organist and Choirmaster, and accompanied by Matthew Cvetic. The Mass was celebrated by the Right Reverend Monsignor Andrew J. Pauley, Rector of the Cathedral.
The organ’s inaugural week was dedicated to Pope John XXIII. In the dedication program, Bishop Wright wrote:
"Such a dedication to the Chief Shepherd of Universal Christendom is timely and worthy. The 'royal instrument' that is a mighty organ proclaims that majesty of God and of His Kingdom which the Church is the more prepared to preach, eloquently and confidently, as a result of the magnificent Council over which Pope John presides; the great organ is a striking symbol, as the council will be, of the harmony arising out of diversity by which the Church echoes God’s single truth with a resonance enriched by the myriad differences of temperament, opinions and talents among the men and nations comprising the world-wide Catholic flock. An organ… built by the renowned craftsmen of the von Beckerath Company… will refresh the souls of thousands for years to come. Its very building is a work of renewal on one level, and that far from the least important, which typifies the desired renewal on every level which the Ecumenical Council both seeks and represents; all excellence is encouraged by such pursuit of excellence as has prompted the planning of Saint Paul’s new organ."
Saint Paul’s organ, as the fourth and still the largest Beckerath imported to the United States, was preceded by the large and widely heralded, first Beckerath organ imported and installed in 1957 at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cleveland, Ohio. Trinity’s organ of 44 stops on four manuals resulted from the consultation of Robert Noehren, Professor of Organ at the University of Michigan. Noehren met Beckerath while on a study tour in Hamburg, Germany, and was particularly interested in Beckerath’s ability to build mechanical action organs based on principles and traditions of 17th- and 18th-century organ building in northern Germany. Following the success of Beckerath’s installation in Cleveland, Noehren again acted as a consultant for Saint Paul Cathedral and full-heartedly recommended Beckerath.
Rudolf von Beckerath and Organ Reform
During the 1960s, North America was at the apex of the Organ Reform Movement, a retrospective interest in historical 17th- and 18th-century organ building. The Organ Reform Movement was counterpart to a similar movement occurring at the same time in Germany, known as the Orgelbewegung. Both movements were a reaction against symphonic-style organs that sprouted during the Industrial Revolution, when electricity permitted a rapid enlargement of the organ with the assistance of powerful electric blowers and electric actions. A renewed interest in the performance practice of early music, particularly that of Johann Sebastian Bach, was the catalyst for a return to the style of instrument built with mechanical action that the music was conceived upon.
Rudolf von Beckerath, 1907-1976, was a pioneer of organ reform throughout north Germany and beyond. His early training was somewhat heuristic in that as a child his interest in organ building led him to independently discover the many historic organs in the countryside around Hamburg. With assistance from his organ building mentor, Hans Henny Jahnn (1894-1959, playwright, novelist, and organ theorist and builder), Beckerath built his first organ at the age of 18 in 1925 in the basement of his parent’s house.
Recognizing the need to formally study the art of organ building, Beckerath wrote to Louis Vierne, organist of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, for advice. Vierne enthusiastically recommended that Beckerath move to Paris and apprentice under Victor Gonzalez, whose company was still building mechanical action organs. Beckerath moved to Paris in 1929 and began working under Gonzales. In his letters home, he spoke of his aversion to the French style of pipe voicing, but was reconciled by the fact that many organs in France continued to utilize mechanical key action.
Beckerath remained in France (with a brief residency with Frobenius Organ Company in Denmark) until 1936, when increasing political tensions brought him back to his native Germany. After World War II, in 1949 he opened his own organ building firm in Hamburg. He arose as a greatly significant and much sought organ builder until his untimely death in 1976.
The tonal identity of Beckerath’s instruments was partially influenced by his close relationship with the French organist, Charles Letestu. Letestu was a monk and organist at the Benedictine monastery in Solesmes, France. He and Beckerath met while Beckerath was voicing a new organ at the monastery. When Letestu left the Benedictine order, he moved to Germany with Beckerath and the two became life-long friends and collaborators. Because of their mutual understanding of an organ’s tonal landscape, Beckerath preferred Letestu to inaugurate his new instruments in Germany. However, at the dedications of some of Beckerath’s larger and more notable installations, such as that at the Petrikirche in Hamburg, Letestu was forbidden to inaugurate the instrument because of his foreigner status. Noticeable in his recital programs was Letestu’s unapologetic affection toward the music of Bach as well as other early German and French composers.
Music on This Recording
Among the early organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), the Praeludium in A Minor, BWV 551, stands out for its clear resemblance to the music of Dietrich Buxtehude. Bach was known to have studied with Buxtehude in Lübeck for several months between the years 1705-06. BWV 551 mimics the form of similar Praeludia by Buxtehude by its continuous five- part form: toccata, fugue, toccata, fugue, toccata. In Bach’s work, the second fugue, a double Fugue, quotes a theme from Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck’s Fantasia in G. While the date of composition for BWV 551 remains unknown, it most likely stems from earlier in Bach’s career and proves him to be fluent in the musical language of Buxtehude.
Georg Böhm is known to be another early influence on the musical style of J. S. Bach. Bach’s son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, once wrote that his father “loved and studied the works of Georg Böhm.” Additionally, many scholars argue that Bach studied with Böhm while in his youth as a student at the Michaelisschule in Lüneburg. Bach was perhaps especially influenced by the examples of Böhm’s well-developed chorale partitas, such as Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele, (Rejoice greatly, O my soul). The chorale partita fuses the Italian partita tradition with the Lutheran chorale into a set of melodic variations that display a variety of manual technique and compositional creativity. While a majority of Böhm’s keyboard music is easily accessible on any keyboard instrument of the time (organ, harpsichord, clavichord), the inclusion of this work on this recording introduces a variety of sound colors of the organ. The partita consists of a chorale and eleven variations, or a total of 12 movements, each uniquely registered. The 11th movement is considered the apotheosis of the work, played on the full plenum of the Rückpositiv, but it is followed by a gentle 12th movement in trio form.
As the pipe organ spread throughout Europe, its character differed by region and by country. In Spain, impressive horizontal reed pipes appeared during the 17th century, thus this organ’s Trompette and Clarion en-chamade ranks render Spanish battle music, a Battaglia, in this program. Interestingly, Beckerath modeled these en-chamade ranks as Spanish Trumpets, typical of those found on Spanish baroque organs. The original specification of the St. Paul organ lists both ranks as “Spänische Trompete,” but Paul Koch, the cathedral organist at the time, requested the stop-knob nomenclature be printed “en-chamade” instead. A few years following the organ’s dedication, Koch wrote to Beckerath asking him to reverse his initial request and to send stop knobs saying “Spänische Trompete,” but Beckerath did not respond to the request.
The organ’s Spanish Trumpet ranks lend themselves to programmatic pieces entitled “Battaglia,” music meant to imitate the sounds of a battle. Scholars have long disagreed on the authorship of the “Battaglia” featured on this disc. While some attribute it to the Catalan composer, Juan Bautista José Cabanilles (1644-1712), most modern scholars hold that it was composed by the German, Johann Caspar Kerll (1627-1693). One might find it ironic that the German Kerll would write such a quintessentially sounding Spanish piece, but in fact the Battaglia genre was well known and parodied throughout Europe. (The Italian word battaglia is the universal term though the Spanish word is batalla.)
The Battaglia not only features the organ’s two ranks of horizontal Spanish Trumpets, but also showcases its Renaissance era-inspired reeds found on the Brustwerk division, the Cornet of the Swell, and the 8’ Trumpet on the Great. Although much of Kerll’s music is lost, his influence was far reaching; even J. S. Bach quoted in his Sanctus in D Major (BWV 241) the Sanctus of Kerll’s Missa superba, rearranging the instrumentation.
The two Brahms chorale preludes on this recording hold a pride of place. Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was a close friend of Beckerath’s grandfather, also named Rudolf, who was an amateur violinist. Beckerath’s father, Willy, an artist, also painted and sketched several prominent portraits of Brahms. The music of Brahms must have been so well favored in the Beckerath household that several of Beckerath’s apprentices attest to the organbuilder’s natural ability to improvise in the musical style of Brahms. In many written correspondences between Beckerath and his clients concerning dedication programs, Brahms’ chorale preludes are mentioned and subsequently programmed.
Although Brahms was baptized Lutheran, he was never a religious man. Yet, at the end of his life, he composed a set of eleven chorale preludes, showing an homage to J. S. Bach, who brought this genre of composition to full maturity. The eleven chorale preludes employ a combination of Bach-like baroque counterpoint with romantic-era elements including metrical dissonance, dynamic changes, rubato, and pervasive chromaticism. Herzlich tut mich verlangen (I do desire dearly) is a setting of the Passion Chorale and features the chorale melody in the Pedal, here played on the Rückpositiv division’s Cromorne and Principal coupled to the Pedal. (Though the organ omits a Rückpositiv-to-Pedal coupler, the Rückpositiv may be coupled to the Great manual with the Great-to-Pedal coupler engaged so as to couple the Rückpositiv to the Pedal.) Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele (Soul, adorn thyself with gladness) is performed on the gentle Koppelgedackt of the Great division.
Beckerath wrote that he had no intention of building “neo-Baroque” organs, but rather “modern” organs capable of a wide variety of repertoire. This statement proves true in the way this instrument handles post-18th-century repertoire. Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901), although born in Liechtenstein, is considered the preeminent composer of German romantic organ music. While his musical influences are closely identified with romantic-era composers who preceded him (particularly Brahms), J. S. Bach also had a profound impact on his compositional style as demonstrated by Rheinberger’s infusion into his music of elegant counterpoint and baroque compositional forms.
Of Josef Rheinberger's twenty organ sonatas, the eighth stands apart for its impressive final movement, the Passacaglia. Because of its stylistic achievement, contrapuntal development, and thematic transformations, this movement is a remarkable contender to Bach’s famous Passacaglia in C Minor, BWV 582. The work is at home on the St. Paul Beckerath because of its cohesive and clear chorus of principal ranks and its array of tonal colors. It is convenient to play because Beckerath championed the use of select modern elements in his organs, such as electric stop action that aids the performance of such works as this which require quick changes in registration.
Continuing with the chorale prelude genre, Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713-1780) was an 18th-century German organist who was known as one of the more favored students of J. S. Bach. Much of Krebs’ output is similar in style to Bach, which somewhat inhibited his success because musical ethos at the time was shifting from the baroque style to the newer galant trend, a trademark of the classical era. Krebs’ Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr (From my heart I hold you dear, O Lord) is a large-scale chorale prelude featuring an ornamented melody in the right hand (here played on the Rückpositiv Sesquialtera) and accompanied by the left hand and pedal.
The Offertoire sur les Grands Jeux from the Messe pour les Paroisses by François Couperin joins Kerll’s Battaglia on this recording as a means of showcasing Beckerath’s ability to build organs capable of a variety of musical styles. While the backbone of every Beckerath organ is rooted in the 17th- and 18th-century north German organ building tradition, in his larger instruments, Beckerath expanded the tonal palate to incorporate ranks of pipes designed to characterize other styles of European organ building as well. In St. Paul’s Beckerath, particularly French-sounding ranks include the Rückpositiv Cromorne (modeled after the French baroque organ builder, François-Henri Clicquot), and the grand five-rank mounted Cornet of the Swell division. Along with these, Beckerath additionally incorporated French-styled shallots into several ranks of reeds throughout the instrument, giving the organ a pan-European tonal quality.
François Couperin (1668-1733), one of the best-known composers of the French baroque era, composed two complete organ masses, Messe pour les Paroisses (Mass for the Parishes) and Messe pour les Couvents (Mass for the Convents), published together in 1690 as his Livre d’Orgue. These compositions were intended for use within the Mass following regulations set forth in the Parisian Ceremonial of 1662. The Ceremonial permitted the organ and choir to perform the Mass ordinary (texts of the Mass that do not vary, generally) antiphonally, and also allowed a more significant Offertory movement. The Offertoire from Messe pour les Paroisses is a mature, three-part work. It opens with a grand musical statement, reminiscent of a French overture, played on the organ’s Grands Jeux combinations of reed and mutation stops. The middle section employs an imitative and chromatic three-part texture whose final cadence is fastened to the beginning of the gigue-like third section, which features a series of dialogs between the Cornet of the Swell division, the Cromorne of the Rückpositiv division, and the Grands Jeux. Beckerath recommended movements from Couperin’s organ Masses on many of his instruments’ dedication programs as a means of demonstrating unique tonal varieties.
Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643) was an Italian composer and organist of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. His Fiori musicali (Musical Flowers) was published in 1635 and is comprised of three organ masses. A preface to the edition instructs the performer to play movements such as the Toccata per l’Elevazione (Elevation Toccata) with great improvisatory freedom. While ornamentation is strictly controlled, the beat is rather flexible and is determined by the building and release of contrapuntal dissonance. The uniqueness of the Elevation Toccata also stems from its traditional Italian registration requiring the use of a soft 8’ Principal rank combined with a Voce Umana, a celeste rank complimentary to the Principal. Together, the etherealness created by the undulating sound matches the sense of mystery that takes place during the elevation of the host by the priest during the Eucharistic portion of the Mass. Fiori musicali was studied and performed by many composers, most notably J. S. Bach. Frescobaldi’s contrapuntal technique can be linked to several of Bach’s early chorale preludes.
When building an organ for the concert hall at Pomona College in Claremont, California, detailed correspondence was exchanged between Beckerath and Richard Loucks, then Professor of Organ at Pomona. In these letters, Beckerath explained the tonal identity for nearly every one of the organ’s 36 stops. When speaking of the organ’s Gemshorn and Gemshorn Celeste ranks, Beckerath wrote that he intended his Gemshorn and corresponding Celeste ranks to replicate the “stringy” Italian Principal and Voce Umana combination.
The Austrian composer, Franz Schmidt (1874-1939), was a champion of the developing Orgelbewegung movement. He was an instructor of piano, cello, composition, and counterpoint at the music conservatory in Vienna (the Imperial Academy of Music and the Performing Arts). His tonal language shows a clear progression of Brahms-like Romanticism while his compositional forms and contrapuntal capabilities link him to the great master, J. S. Bach.
In the mid-1930s, Schmidt composed a monumental work, Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln (The Book with Seven Seals), an oratorio based on scripture from the Book of Revelation. With its apocalyptical theme, the work was arguably inspired by the increasing political tensions of the time that led to the outbreak of the Second World War. Unfortunately for Schmidt, Nazi Party leaders were drawn to the work and soon regarded him as a favored composer of the Reich, a distinction that Schmidt neither desired nor relished. Recent scholarship has cleared Schmidt’s name from any Nazi sympathy or antisemitism and, as a result, his music is regaining popularity.
Schmidt’s Praeludium und Fuge D-dur Alleluja comes from a collection of four Short Preludes and Fugues for organ. Composed in 1928, the Praeludium und Fuge D-dur is nicknamed Alleluja because Schmidt recycled the prelude material to form the basis for the final movement of The Book with Seven Seals, also titled Alleluja. The prelude is distinguished for its improvisatory arpeggios and dense homophonic chords, while the fugue is in ternary form with an elongated crescendo leading up to a grand conclusion on full organ. Beckerath’s fine instrument and this piece are at home in the sumptuous acoustics of St. Paul Cathedral.
Russell Weismann, a Pittsburgh native, knows intimately the Beckerath organ of St. Paul Cathedral, having played it for years as a cathedral musican. It inspired the subject of his doctoral dissertation on Rudolf von Beckerath and the organs he built, and his continuing research on the man and his much admired organs.
As this CD is released in 2021, Russell is Director of Chapel Music, University Organist, and Adjunct Professor of Music at Georgetown University. Earlier, he directed music and liturgy at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Parish in Bethesda, Maryland, was associate music director at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, and University Chapel Organist at Yale.
Russell performs across the United States, in Europe, Central America, Asia, and Africa. Having received First Place in the 2003 American Guild of Organists Mid-Atlantic Young Organists Competition, he performed at the 2004 AGO Convention in Los Angeles. He played for the 2010 Organ Historical Society Convention in Pittsburgh, the 2013 Conference of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians in Washington, DC, and the 2014 AGO Convention in Boston (as a finalist in the Schoenstein Organ Competition). Russell played a dedicatory concert in 2013-14 on the new organ at the Kennedy Center, Washington, DC. In 2020, Russell was the featured American organist during the annual Lebanese Organ Week in Beirut. In 2021, a trumpet and organ album was released (with William Gerlach, principal trumpet of the National Symphony).
Russell’s DMA degree was conferred by George Mason University and his master’s degree in music by Yale. His bachelor’s degree in music was received cum laude from Duquesne University. His primary organ instructors have been John Walker, Martin Jean, Ann Labounsky, and Donald Wilkins.
Active in the AGO, he has served as Dean of the District of Columbia Chapter and on national committees. In outreach, Russell is Artistic Director of Music@the Monastery, a thriving musical series at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, DC. He is director of the Capital Organ Studio, a regional initiative offering organ instruction to students of all ages and abilities.
As a scholar of sacred music, organ culture, and pedagogy, Russell received distinguished scholarships, among them the André Marchal award for study of sacred music and the Hugh Giles award for distinction in music and the arts. With several articles in print, his research focuses on Beckerath’s work, nationalistic expressions in 20th-century organ building, and South American Jesuit missionary musical traditions. Russell has held teaching positions at Yale, Georgetown, and George Mason Universities.
About the Organ
Saint Paul Cathedral was built in 1906 as the third cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, established in 1843. For the previous cathedral, Andrew Carnegie donated an organ built ca. 1895 by W. W. Kimball Co. of Chicago, then moved into the new (1906), current, building. By the 1940s, replacement of the Kimball was contemplated. A contract was signed in 1955 for a large Aeolian-Skinner. However, in 1956, upon the death of G. Donald Harrison, president and tonal director of Aeolian-Skinner, the contract was cancelled. New bids were solicited from several builders with the contract going to Rudolf von Beckerath in 1959.
The Beckerath organ received a minor restoration by the Beckerath firm in the 1980s. This project included cleaning the instrument and repair of the larger façade pipes made of zinc. European zinc alloy available at the time of construction proved overly purified, rendering it weaker than alloys used earlier and subsequently. In 2008, a more thorough restoration was accomplished by Taylor and Boody Organ Builders of Staunton, Virginia (George Taylor, one of the company’s founders, was an apprentice of Rudolf von Beckerath). This project replaced the collapsing pipes with new ones made of a predominatly tin alloy, thus ensuring their strength and longevity. As well, the instrument was cleaned, a new solid-state combination action was installed, and addition of the Great to Pedal coupler rounded out the project.
Saint Paul Cathedral, Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
1962 Rudolph von Beckerath Orgelbau GmbH, Hamburg, Germany, 97 ranks, 5010 pipes
Great 56 notes:
1-1/3’ Mixture V
2/3’ Scharf IV
Swell 56 notes:
8’ Gemshorn Celeste
V Cornet (tenor F)
1-1/3’ Mixture VI
Rückpositiv 56 notes:
2-2/3’ Sesquialtera II
1’ Scharf V
Brustwerk 56 notes:
1/2’ Zimbel III
8’ Vox Humana
Pedal 32 notes:
4’ Rauschpfeife III
2’ Mixture VI