History of St. Mary’s Nave Pipe Organ
- Dedication of small organ on January 13.
- Built by the Marshall-Bennett Company of Moline, Illinois
- Reportedly included a large number of 8’ foundation stops to “produce the full rich diapason tone so necessary for reverent playing, and so often sacrificed to mere brilliance.”
- Marshall-Bennett organ severely damaged by lightning and rain.
- Large new instrument built by Kilgen Company of St. Louis.
- Three manuals-27 ranks
- Built into chamber on Gospel side, and Echo over the west doors.
- Reportedly included much of the previous instrument’s pipework
- Dedicated by the eminent English organist Arthur Davis, who served as organist/choirmaster at St. Mary’s
- Review in the Commercial Appeal of November 6, 1927 stated, “From popluar melodies of the better class like the Nevin ‘Sketches of the City’ and ‘Aloha Oe’…through novelty numbers displaying varied instrumentation of the organ, into stately minuet, other dance tempos, to a powerful, yet plaintive conclusion March Slav of Tchaikovsky…Dr. Davis explains…that he will choose…only those selections consonant with the spirit of the day and nothing that would in any way be out of keeping with the spirit of the day, dignity of the surroundings, and consonant at all times with the feeling of reverence.”
- 1930: E. Power Biggs applied for the organist/choirmaster position of St. Mary’s, but was rejected by the Chapter as being ‘too young.’ He went to become one of the greatest organists of the 20th century!!!
- New instrument contracted with the Schantz Organ Company of Orville, OH, in 1954
- Echo division and a few other ranks from the Kilgen were retained.
- New Positiv division
- Exposed caseless layout of pipes was a relatively new concept
- 1959 Joe Morrow appointed Organist/Choirmaster
- Addition of Krummhorn, Larigot, and other colorful stops
- Addition of Trompette en Chamade on west wall
- New console
- Reworking/replacement of multiple ranks
- 32’ Contra Bombarde extension in pedal
The Organ of St. Mary’s Cathedral
For many centuries the pipe organ has been the characteristic musical instrument of the Christian church. St. Mary’s Cathedral is especially fortunate in having a magnificent example of the organ builder’s art to enhance the dignity of its services and the beauty of its edifice.
This organ is an instrument of history, having reached its present form through an evolutionary process lasting over one hundred years, and having responded in the forms which it has assumed to the changing musical tastes of the 20th century. Those responsible for the Cathedral organ have realized that the old is not without value, but that it must often be reevaluated in the light of new developments in the worlds of music and organ design. This recognition, and the realization that a church organ must serve several functions and perform diverse styles of music, have resulted in the development of the Cathedral organ as it is heard today.
Shortly after the present Cathedral structure was begun in 1898, a memorial gift made possible the purchase of a small organ constructed by the Marshall-Bennett Company of Moline, Illinois. Though little is known of this organ, an account in the Diocese of Tennessee of its dedication on January 13, 1907, suggests something of its character:
The lover of ecclesiastical music admires this organ because it is so evidently built not for concert use, but for services of the church. The large number of 8’ foundation stops, the beautiful voicing of the pipes and the absence of bizarre features combine to produce the full rich diapason tone so necessary for reverent playing, and so often sacrificed to mere brilliance. (quoted in John H. Davis, St. Mary’s Cathedral, p. 122)
Evidently this organ was a good example of the thick, tonally dark, romantic organ so popular at the turn of the century, and was eminently suitable for the melodic, sentimental, often melodramatic late Victorian music performed in Cathedral services at the time.
The Marshall-Bennett organ was severely damaged by lightning and rain in 1927, thus providing the occasion for its replacement with a larger instrument, made possible by a gift from P. Stenning Coate. This organ, constructed by the George Kilgen Company of St. Louis, was installed in the fall, 1927. As was the fashion of the time, the three-manual instrument of twenty-seven ranks was disposed in two areas of the church: the main organ was concealed behind a screen on the gospel side of the chancel, and a small ‘echo’ organ was located at the apex of the ceiling over the great west door. The Kilgen organ retained much of the character of the Marshall-Bennett, for an article in Diapason (June, 1927) announced that “Many of the pipes of the old organ will be incorporated in the new scheme, that the memory of the original donor may be preserved.” An examination of the specifications of the organ and of the recital music performed by Arthur Davis, the eminent English organist employed as Cathedral organist/choirmaster at the time of installation, shows this organ to have been another typically romantic instrument, but one possessing greater variety and more tonal possibilities than its predecessor. It was richly endowed with ranks of pipes imitating the various string and reed sounds of the orchestra, making it suitable for the performance of transcriptions of orchestral and instrumental music, which dominated the organ literature of the day as well as Dr. Davis’ weekly recitals. A review in the Commercial Appeal (November 6, 1927) reveals much when it noted that the music of an early recital ranged
From popular melodies of the better class like the Nevin “Sketches of the City” and “Aloa Oe”…through novelty numbers displaying varied instrumentation of the organ, into stately minuet, other dance tempos, to a powerful, yet plaintive conclusion Marche Slave of Tschaikowsky…Dr. Davis explains…that he will choose…only those selections consonant with the spirit of the day and nothing that would in any way be out of keeping with the spirit of the day, dignity of the surroundings, and consonant at all times with the feeling of reverence.
Even while the Kilgen organ was new, tastes in liturgical and organ music in this country began to change. A number of prominent European and American church musicians reawakened a great interest in the organ compositions of J.S. Bach and his baroque contemporaries, considering music such as that performed by Dr. Davis to be tasteless and unsuitable to the “King of Instruments.” Likewise, they considered archaic the romantic orchestral organ created for its performance. It is interesting to note that the man often considered most responsible for popularizing this “baroque revival” in America, the transplanted Englishman E. Power Biggs, applied for the position of organist/choirmaster at St. Mary’s in 1930, but was rejected by the Chapter as being “too young.” One may but speculate as to the role St. Mary’s might have assumed in American organ music had Mr. Biggs been employed. In any event, the post-war years saw American churches discarding their romantic instruments and replacing them with new organs recreating the character of the German and Dutch organs on which Bach and his contemporaries played in the eighteenth century.
By the 1950’s, this growing interest in early music, a corresponding revolution in organ building, and the needs of a more sophisticated Cathedral music program had rendered the Kilgen organ obsolete. Its fate was sealed not by changing tastes, however, but by water damage to the Cathedral roof. In 1954, it was decided to commemorate the centenary of St. Mary’s, to be celebrated in 1957, with the installation of a new organ.
This new instrument, constructed by the Schantz Company of Orville, Ohio, long one of the foremost American builders, was designed by Alfred Lunsford of the Schantz Company and William C. Brice, Cathedral organist/choirmaster. The designers wisely elected to create a compromise instrument, one that incorporated the best of the romantic and baroque schools of organ design. To this end, some of the best ranks of pipes from the Kilgen organ were retained and reworked to accord with the tonal concept of the new instrument. Notable among these were such fine orchestral voices as the clarinet and splendid strings. These voices provided variety and made the new organ well-suited to the performance of much of the serious organ literature of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries produced by such composers as César Franck, Louis Vierne, and Max Reger. At the same time, one entire new division, the Positiv, and a number of new voices in other divisions were added to make the organ suitable for the idiomatic performance of the compositions of Bach, Buxtehude, and their contemporaries. In addition, consistent with baroque traditions, it was decided to expose part of the organ to view. This, with the new voices, afforded the organ a newfound brilliance, clarity, and power. Not only did the eclectic design make the organ suitable for the performance of a wide range of concert literature, but also more valuable for the effective accompaniment of choir and congregation in Cathedral services, its primary function. Through this marriage of the old and new, the Schantz organ became a fine example of what has become known as the “American Classic Organ.”
Since 1956, the Cathedral organ continued to evolve under the guidance of Joe A. Morrow, appointed organist/choirmaster in 1959. Several ranks of pipes, such as the Krummhorn, a baroque reed, and the high-pitched Larigot, have been added to increase further the effectiveness and versatility of the instrument. Another source of variety, and sometimes amusement, is the Zimbelstern, a small set of windchimes located in front of the Positiv division on the epistle side of the chancel. The most spectacular addition is the Trompette-en-chamade, installed in the spring of 1975. Mounted horizontally over the great door and speaking directly into the nave with power and brilliance, this set of brass trumpets, voiced in the English style, is designed to announce the festival of the church, to accompany processionals, and to speak both antiphonally and in concert with the full chancel organ. The Trompette-en-chamade is unique in Memphis and is one of the few in the southeast. The organ was not yet complete, for further additions have been made, most notably the 32’ Contra-bombarde to strengthen the Pedal division and the powerful 8’ Tuba Mirabilis in the Choir division.
On November 22, 1991, a great storm blew through Memphis and the Cathedral and its organ sustained considerable water damage. Due to the severity of damage to pipework and mechanical and electrical components (in particular to the Great, Pedal, and Choir divisions), and coupled with an aging organ console, the Cathedral decided to completely rebuild the Schantz organ. Longtime organ curator Gregory Koziel was entrusted with this work, which included new and refurbished chests, a new four-manual R.A. Colby console, new swell engines, and new pipework in the Choir (4’ Nachthorn, 2’ Blockflöte), Pedal (Mixture V, located in the Positiv), and Positiv (2’ Principal) divisions.
In 2012, Cathedral parishioner Mark Henderson built and installed a second Zimbelstern in the Great division and a Glockenspiel in the Echo division, allowing for “surround sound” bells in the nave of the Cathedral. Both were given in honor of the Canon Organist/Choirmaster’s baby daughter Clarabella Magdalena Elsholz.
Since its installation in 1956, the Schantz organ has been used to equal effect in Cathedral services and for public recitals. Among the organists of national reputation who have been guest recitalists are Clyde Holloway, Will Headlee, William Teague, Ronald Arnatt, William Weaver, Katherine Eskey, Charles Heaton, Edward Mandello, Marilyn Keiser, Bruce Neswick, and Marilyn Mason, who has also made a commercial recording on the St. Mary’s organ. In addition, the organ is often used for local recitals and for student practice. This fine instrument, set in an acoustically ideal English Gothic structure, in in a real way symbolic of the vitality and aesthetic sensibility of the clergy, musicians, and congregation of St. Mary’s Cathedral.
As currently constituted, the Cathedral organ is composed of six groupings (divisions) of pipes, each serving a distinct function. These are located on either side of the chancel and in the rear of the nave. The Positiv division, exposed to view on the epistle side of the chancel, is characteristically baroque, being bright, clear and penetrating in sound. To the rear of the Positiv, behind large mechanical shutters which open and close in response to the foot of the organist to provide varied gradations of sound, is the Swell. French romantic in character, this division contains some of the most important reed voices of the organ, the Trompette, Clairon, and Basson, as well as certain special effect voices, such as the string Celeste. Across the chancel, also behind shutters, is the Choir division, composed largely of voices from the Kilgen organ, and especially valuable for choral accompaniment. Exposed to view on the gospel side is the Great, the fundamental division of the organ, dominated by the typical organ sound of the Principal family and by the German reeds. Housed with the Great is the Pedal division, possessing a variety of sounds to complement all manual divisions, but speaking at lower pitch to provide a foundation for the entire organ. The Echo division, unchanged from the Kilgen, is located in the rear ceiling of the nave, and the Trompette-en-chamade is mounted on the west all.
The air which activated the 3173 pipes in these six divisions is generated by a 4.5 horsepower blower located in the crypt, and is conducted to the pipes through an extensive system of metal conduits. Equally important to the operation of the organ is the vast array of mechanical and electrical devices found in various parts of the building which are connected by some thirty miles of wiring. All of these complex components are controlled from a console having four manuals (keyboards) of sixty-one notes, and a pedal clavier of thirty-two notes. This console, housed in an oak case carved in the style of the chancel furniture, is located beneath the Swell division on the epistle side.
(adapted and updated by Dr. Scott Elsholz, April 2013)