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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: Biggs plays Ives

March 15, 2006


Dear Michael,
I have a suggestion for a program. It would be titled ‘cast against type’ and would feature outstanding performances on instruments which you would think were unsuitable because of being too large, too small, too Romantic, too classical etc.

Here are two examples:

You have a recording of Anthony Newman playing the Reubke sonata on a modest sized Schantz organ in the dry acoustic of a Lutheran church in central Florida.
The only manual reed was a loud shalmei.

E Power Biggs has recorded the Ives America variations on an 1830s organ of perhaps 8 stops in a museum. I think the organ it was composed for was a big tubby Austin.

Both performances are excellent and made more so because the pianistic style of the writing is very difficult to pull off on a small instrument in a dead room.

Thank you for your time and keep up the good work.

Phil Lackland
Prospect Heights, Illinois

Dear Phil,

Yours is an interesting suggestion, though I’m not sure I’ll devote an entire program to it, as I do try to program ‘against type’ now and then. Doing a back-to-back comparison of how the type/size/quality of an instrument affects our appreciation of a piece of music might be another way of going about this.

Just for ‘the record’, I’m not aware that Mr. Newman has recorded Reubke on an organ with only a single buzzy reed stop. He did record the piece on a 33-stop Rieger instrument with a total of 10 reed stops in its specification (Newport Classic CD-60050).

Mr. Biggs recorded the Ives Variations on ‘America’ twice in his career, the first time on the 1875 Hutchings-Plaisted organ at First Universalist Church in Woodstock, Vermont (an instrument of more than 8 stops, I believe). Ives wrote the piece in 1891 as a teenager (17), while living in Danbury, CT (Columbia LP album MS-6161), and likely the instrument upon which he first played it was quite like the Woodstock organ. The Austin Organ Company of Hartford, Connecticut, was not founded until 1899.

Biggs’second recording of the Ives Variations was done on the C.B. Fisk organ at Memorial Church, Harvard.

Thanks for the good words!




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