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Ernest M. Skinner and the American symphonic organ

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The organ is in a continued state of evolution, tonally and mechanically, designed by the builder to meet certain expectations related to the musical aesthetics of the time. Organ building in the United States has been influenced by both European

The organ is in a continued state of evolution, tonally and mechanically, designed by the builder to meet certain expectations related to the musical aesthetics of the time. Organ building in the United States has been influenced by both European organ building traditions and American innovations. During the early twentieth century, Ernest M. Skinner emerged as one of the greatest organ builders in America. Throughout his life, Skinner's quest was to create an "ideal organ," capable of playing a variety of music. Skinner's vision was rooted in the Romantic Movement and influenced by the dynamic gradations and rich, colorful sonorities of orchestral and operatic music of the era. A number of technological developments were applied to the design of the organ which made the romantic organ possible. The prominent European organ builders of the nineteenth century created organs that defined the romantic-style instrument in their respective countries. By the end of the century, American organ builders were creating their own versions. Skinner traveled to Europe to learn what he could from the foreign builders. Skinner built organs that synthesized European and American elements, along with his own innovations, as continuation of nineteenth-century trends that brought the romantic-symphonic organ to its fullest realization. Additionally, Skinner developed many new organ timbres, including a number of stops that imitate various orchestral instruments. The result of Skinner's creative work is the the American symphonic organ. This paper attempts to illustrate how the tonal designs of organs built by Walcker, Cavaillé-Coll, and Willis influenced the work of Skinner and the American symphonic organ. The work of each builder is discussed with descriptions of their designs. The designs and innovations of Skinner are examined as related to these European builders. A number of organ specifications are provided to supplement the information presented here. Today, American symphonic organs, particularly those built by Skinner, are revered for their warmth and charm and are inspiring the work of present day organ builders who are incorporating elements of this style into their own designs.

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2012

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Toward a "green" organ: organ building and sustainability

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This study examines the effectiveness of various types of alternative resources in organ building in order to determine whether a change to more sustainable materials would benefit or hinder the overall sound production of the instrument. The qualities of the

This study examines the effectiveness of various types of alternative resources in organ building in order to determine whether a change to more sustainable materials would benefit or hinder the overall sound production of the instrument. The qualities of the metals and woods currently used in organ production (e.g. lead, walnut, etc.) have been prized for centuries, so the substitution of different, more sustainable materials must be considered with regards to the sonic alterations, as well as the financial implications, of using alternatives to make the organ more “green.”

Five organ builders were interviewed regarding their views on sustainable materials. In addition, the author consulted the websites of nine national and four international organ builders for information about sustainability, indicating that each organ builder defines the term somewhat differently. Decisions on the woods and metals to be used in building or refurbishing an existing organ are based more on the visual appearance, the sound desired, and the potential for reuse of existing materials. A number of sustainability practices are currently in use by organ builders in the United States and Europe. These include the reuse of transportation boxes, efforts towards recycled metal and wood pipework, and the use of high efficiency lighting.

The investigations into sustainable practice that are presented here document a variety of approaches to sustainability in organ building in the United States, Canada and Europe. This research should assist in the evaluation of further efforts to conserve valuable resources while ensuring the high quality of sound that has characterized the organ throughout its long history.

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2014

The Cavaillé-Coll organ and César Franck's Six pièces

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Nineteenth-century French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll and organist-composer César Franck established a foundation for the revival of organ music in France. Following the French Revolution, organ culture had degenerated because of the instrument's association with the church. Beginning with his

Nineteenth-century French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll and organist-composer César Franck established a foundation for the revival of organ music in France. Following the French Revolution, organ culture had degenerated because of the instrument's association with the church. Beginning with his instrument at St. Dénis, Cavaillé-Coll created a new symphonic organ that made it possible for composers to write organ music in the new Romantic aesthetic. In 1859, Franck received a new Cavaillé-Coll organ at the Parisian church where he served as organist, Sainte-Clotilde. He began experimenting with the innovations of this instrument: an expressive division, mechanical assists, new types of tone color, and an expanded pedal division. From about 1860, Franck began composing his first pieces for the Cavaillé-Coll organ; these were published in 1868 as the Six Pièces. With these compositions, Franck led the way in adapting the resources of the French symphonic organ to Romantic music. In this paper, I provide an analysis of the structure of each of the Six Pièces as a foundation for exploring ways in which Franck exploited the new features of his Cavaillé-Coll organ. I have made sound recordings to demonstrate specific examples of how the music fits the organ. Thanks to Cavaillé-Coll's innovations in organ building, Franck was able to write large-scale, multi-thematic works with the sonorous resources necessary to render them convincingly. The Six Pièces reveal a strong creative exchange between organist and organ builder, and they portend many of the subsequent developments of the French symphonic organ school.

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2012