Friday, March 2, 2018

1864 HOOK PIPE ORGAN - History & Specifications

From its beginnings as a civic auditorium instrument throughout its 150+ year celebrated history, the Hook Organ has been a staple of the Central Mass classical music community. Thousands of ogran concerts have been performed by international, and local artists, as well as budding young talent. In addition, the instrument is used for weddings, public functions, and in concert with orchestras. The hall’s acoustics and the Hook Organ sound are a match made in heaven. When orchestra is added, it's out of this universe!

Originally, this large instrument was "pumped" by at least two (strong!) people who crawled in the inner basement of the organ chambers and pulled and pushed long levers that forced air into large bellows the size of a double bed. Over its history, one, then recently a second, electric motor air blower (compressor) was added, altho it's still possible to supply the air manually. Otherwise, the instrument is completely mechanical (no electric parts), and the organist has to work hard to pull the stops and press the keys and pedal notes.

Commentary on the Hook Pipe Organ's history and usage with orchestras - Richard F Jones (former curator)

Since the restoration of the "Worcester Organ" was completed in 1982, there have been only six concerts [as of 2017] that have featured the instrument in a major orchestral role. The Poulenc Concerto for Organ and Orchestra has been performed three times by the former Worcester Orchestra with organ soloists Barclay Wood (1982), Catherine Crozier (1983); and Simon Preston (1985). James David Christie was soloist for the Poulenc with the Boston Artists Orchestra in 1989 in a concert celebrating the organ's 125th anniversary. Mr. Christie also performed Guilmant's Symphony I for Organ and Orchestra at that concert, the third performance at Mechanics Hall, the first being in 1882 when the work received it United States premiere. Stephen Pinel was at the organ for a 1987 performance of the Guilmant with the Bach Society of Worcester, Stephen Long, conductor. The most popular work for organ and orchestra, Saint-Saens "Organ Symphony," has been heard only once (in its entirety), in 1983 with Holyoke organist Gilles Hebert, soloist, and the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dr. Paul Shannon. The Worcester Organ has, of course, been used with smaller instrumental ensembles and in performances of major works requiring it, including the Brahms Requiem, Strauss Also Sprach Zarathrustra, and Holst's The Planets.

One additional note --- the bellows of the Worcester Organ can still be pumped by hand, as they were at the 1989 recreation of the original dedicatory recital, when football players from Worcester Academy, a school associated with organ benefactor Ichabod Washburn, were recruited for that task. Few know that the bellows-pumps were discretely employed at the 1983 performance of the Saint-Saens, because the wind supply at that time was inadequate for the final chord without assistance.

See the organ tonal specifications here:



Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasie

   Raw Emotion
      Organic Passion
          Romantic Fervor

Once you hear the famous melodies and striking harmonies you'll immediately re-connect with one of symphonic literature's most famous works.

Old presented anew
We present a world premiere arrangement for organ and orchestra, arranged especially for this concert to highlight the unique qualities of the 1864 Hook pipe organ, the 1870 inception for Tschaikovsky's orchestral work and the capabilities of today's WYO musicians. The organist's rear-view mirror helps communication between organist and conductor.

The romanticism of Romeo and Juliet may seem over the top for some listeners, but others will enjoy its sentimentality. There is more to this piece than its surface drama. There is a sophisticated sense of form, which is probably the underlying reason why listeners, whether or not they are drawn to obvious expressions of love and death, continually return to this music.

Shakespeare’s tragedy and Tchaikovsky’s tortured personal life collided to produce the first true expression of his genius as a composer, a tautly constructed masterpiece that boils Shakespeare’s narrative down to its essentials in 20 minutes of music that is, by turns, dramatic and beautiful. It is transfigured into music that is serene and chorale-like, ending the piece on a triumphant and otherworldly note.

The Overture adheres to the outlines of sonata form more than to the plot of Shakespeare’s play. Hence it is not very specific as program music. Nonetheless, certain themes do represent various characters and episodes in the drama.


Gordon Young (1919-1998) 
Prelude in the Classic Style

A native of Kansas, Gordon Young was an American church musician, recitalist, and composer of choral and organ music. He studied at Southwestern College, Curtis Institute, and later he received his Doctor of Sacred Music from Southwestern in 1964. Young received 18 consecutive composition annual awards from ASCAP. His published works total over 800, and a number of his church anthems and organ solos have become standard repertoire.

Today's organ solo is his most famous keyboard work and is written in the style of the 18th century classical period using a sprightly tune with rhythmic chordal accompaniment.

Rhapsody in Blue (1924)

Rhapsody in Blue occupies a special place in American music: it introduced jazz to classical concert audiences, and simultaneously made an instant star of its composer. From its instantly recognizable opening glissando by the clarinet through to its brilliant finale, Rhapsody in Blue epitomizes the Gershwin sound and instantly transformed the 25-year-old songwriter from Tin Pan Alley into a composer of “serious” music.

Rhapsody in Blue was commissioned in January of 1924 by Paul Whiteman, the best-known American bandleader at the time, for his concert titled, ‘An Experiment in Modern Music’, with the goal of alerting the public audience to the importance and influence of jazz music. It was premiered on February 12, 1924 at the Aeolian Theater in New York with Gershwin as the soloist and was orchestrated by Ferde Gorfé, Whiteman’s personal arranger.

The story of how Rhapsody in Blue came about is as captivating as the music itself. On January 4, 1924, Ira Gershwin showed George a news report in the New York Tribune about a concert put together by jazz bandleader Paul Whiteman that would endeavor to trace the history of jazz (Whiteman gave this concert a rather grandiose title, “An Experiment in Modern Music.”) The report concluded with a brief announcement: “George Gershwin is at work on a jazz concerto.” Gershwin completed Rhapsody in Blue in three weeks.

Gershwin’s phenomenal talent as a pianist wowed the audience as much as the novelty of jazz stylings in a “classical” piece of music. The original opening clarinet solo, written by Gershwin, got its trademark jazzy glissando from Whiteman’s clarinetist Ross Gorman. This opening unleashes a floodgate of colorful ideas, which blend seamlessly into one another. The pulsing syncopated rhythms and showy music later give way to a warm, expansive melody Sergei Rachmaninoff could have written.

The title itself was thought up by Ira Gershwin who was inspired by the abstract names of James Abbot McNeill Whistler’s paintings such as Arrangement in Gray and Black. This curious title piqued the interest of the Gershwin brothers and they then created a musically equivalent title with the word “blue” suggesting “the Blues” and in addition, jazz.

The premiere of this piece hit the public audience by storm which led to Ferde Gorfé eventually reworking the orchestration to fit the more commonly seen arrangement today with piano solo and symphony orchestra.

Our 9' Steinway Model D instrument was carefully tuned and prepared for this concert this morning starting at 7:30AM by our faithful and gifted technician Barbara Renner.


Louis Vierne (1870-1937 )

Carillon Op 31

   no seatbelts available ... for the organ bench - the organist must hang on with the left hand!

Titular organist of Notre-Dame de Paris from 1900 until his death in 1937, and master of its superb 1867 Cavaillé-Coll instrument, Louis Vierne wrote a set of 24 pieces in free style that were possible to play on a harmonium (reed organ/pump organ), even though the Carillon movement heard today far exceeds the modest capabilities of a harmonium. The collection of 24 runs the gamut of major and minor keys in order -- C major, C minor, D flat major, etc. -- in a salute to Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier.

The animated and jubilant Carillon is the most popular of all the 24 pieces. It is also one of three of the 24 that Vierne performed most frequently, including a performance of it in a 1927 tour in America.

Vierne's program note from his organ recital at Westminster Cathedral, states that "The Carillon was written on a theme of the chime rung on the bells of the Chapel attached to the Castle of Longpont (Aisne) that played this tune on the Patronal Festival of the Castle, the feast day of St. John of Montmorail." The organ pedals carry the theme repetitively throughout most of the piece with monumental chords tower above it. The center section develops the theme with some fun harmonic progressions. Because both hands and feet are just a little busy(!), an assistant helps pull stops near the end to create a roaring crescendo.

Camille Saint-Saëns  (1835-1921)

Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 78   (1886)

   BAM!    Full Organ (the electricity dims)
     POW!    C Major (a thrilling explosion)

    Two fists full of notes along with two feet marshal hundreds of pipes simultaneously to introduce the Finale of the "Organ" Symphony.

As an organist for some 30 years prior to this composition, Saint-Saens knew the capabilities of the pipe organ's resources and how to skillfully weave and contrast the mighty and sometimes sweet sounds with the textures of a symphonic orchestra.

We have chosen to highlight this work by presenting the symphony's most famous portion which begins with the grand C Major chord. Note especially that in tonight's performance, the organ's final resounding C Major chord does not go flat in pitch because Mechanics Hall installed a second air supply blower a few years ago in order to fully wind the instrument even with full chords being played. (Several commercial recordings in famous concert halls throughout the world suffer from pitch-sag due to inadequate winding in cases like these.)

This symphony was popular from the start. After Saint-Saëns conducted the Paris premiere, Charles Gounod remarked “There goes the French Beethoven!”—an indication of Saint-Saëns’s status at the time. Saint-Saëns himself recognized that his considerable gifts—including a genuine flair for sumptuous orchestral color, suave and unforgettable melody, and brilliant craftsmanship—while untouched by most of his contemporaries, were not those of a pioneer. “First among composers of the second rank,” was, reportedly, his own surprisingly honest and self-effacing, if offhand evaluation. Neither a conventional symphony nor a true tone poem, the Organ Symphony borrows elements from both traditions. Saint-Saens experiments with the traditional forms of symphony and sonata—with the fusing of movements and the blurring of dividing lines—of the sort begun earlier in the nineteenth century and vigorously pursued by Liszt in particular.

The Third Symphony (actually it was the composer’s fifth, since two youthful works were never numbered) is in many ways conservative. It looks backward to the heroic symphonies of Beethoven, and it all but ignores the new Wagnerian sounds that excited contemporaries Franck and d’Indy.

Having been first heard in England, it had been written for the London Philharmonic, which managed to get it without paying a commissioning fee. Saint-Saëns had been invited to appear as guest conductor and piano soloist. He asked for a stipend of 40 pounds. The Philharmonic responded that it was a non-profit organization with limited funds. Saint-Saëns was offered an honorarium of 30 pounds plus the honor of writing a symphony for the occasion. Knowing that the orchestra was prestigious and that it was large, he agreed.

The organ was masterfully prepared for this concert earlier this week by our fine organbuilder technician Stefan Meier. In addition to tuning and a keyboard alignment pin major adjustment, a pipe from the Cornopean rank of pipes had toppled from metal solder fatigue after all these years. See before and after pictures below. We are grateful to our piano and organ technicians for taking such good care of us here at Mechanics.

Images show the bottom portion of the broken pipe - the pipe along with its neighbors sits in the pipe chest that has air valves (palettes) that admit air into the bottom of the pipe.
Each palette in turn is connect thru a complex series of levers (called trackers) to each key of the organ console keyboard.