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
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
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.
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
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."
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
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
"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."
(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,
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
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,
Festival. He composed music for thirteen Stratford
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
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
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 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 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
In 1964, when Aeolian-Skinner releathered the organ, tonal and voicing
amendments were made by Donald Gillette under the direction of John
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,
8' Principal (loudened 1964)
8' Flûte Harmonique
8' Cor de Nuit (stopped metal, replaced 5-1/3' Grosse Quinte, 1964)
4' Principal (loudened 1964)
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)
(from MC, other composition below MC)
IV Foumiture (loudened pre-1964 & '64)
III Cymbel (pitch raised 1964)
Flute (open wood, metal lips, harmonic from MC, revoiced 1964)
8' Dolcan Celeste
4' Zauberflöte (stopped metal harmonic flute, revoiced 1964)
4' Krummhom (replaced 8' Viola, '64)
8' Unenclosed Trumpet (antiphonal, horizontal*)
Choir 16', 4'
all stops revoiced 1964
Flöte (small scale wooden stopped flute replaced 8' Rohrflote of tin, 1964)
4' Koppelflote2-2/3' Nazard
IV Scharf (moved to higher pitch with many new pipes, 1964)
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' Flauto Traverso
2-2/3' Rohr Nasat (old
Positiv 8' Rohrflöte, replaced 8' Æoline, 1964)
III Grave Mixture
III Plein Jeu16' Bombarde (revoiced 1964)
I (revoiced 1964)
8' Trompette II (revoiced 1964)
8' Vox Humana
4' Clairon (revoiced 1964)Tremolo
16' Contre Bass
16' Sw. Quintaton
8' Flûte Ouverte
8' Sw. Quintaton
4' Flûte Harmonique
II Foumiture (was III, Tierce deleted)
COUPLERS BY DRAWKNOB
Great to Pedal
to Pedal 8', 4'
to Pedal 8', 4'
to Great 16', 8', 4'
Choir to Great 16', 8', 4'
Positiv on Great
to Great 16'
to Choir 16', 8', 4'
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
COMBINATIONS BY PISTON
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
Ped. Comb. to Ped. Toe Pistons
Right: Ch. Comb. to Ped. Toe Pistons