THE SYMPHONIC ORGAN
The symphonic organ is a product of many influences. Beginning in the second half of the 19th Century, influences in the church in France, saw to the building of several great pipe organs in the cathedrals of Paris and the surrounding area. The firm of Aristide Cavaille Coll produced massive cathedral organs with tonal coloring previously unavailable to composers of organ literature. The great French organs contained exciting reed stops, large string ensembles, and resources unheard of in the era of Bach.
At the same time, Opera had become fashionable in many European countries, and grand opera houses were being constructed all over the world, including cities in the U.S. In preceding times, music was mostly religious in nature, and public performances almost always were associated with religious services or church functions. By the late 1800's, however, it had become an accepted practice for France's great organists of the time to out-do each other with presentations of spectacular secular symphonies presented in the cathedrals and churches. By the turn-of-the-century, the emergence of composers such as Louie Vierne, Guilmant,Widor and Dupre, had given organ music an entirely new direction, and the influences of Grand Opera could be heard in the music being performed in the churches of Europe, and in the emerging United States.
In Great Britain, similar trends toward secular music were emerging. The era saw the construction of several great church and concert hall instruments by the Willis firm, and organ music found its way into the public halls and auditoriums. The value of the organ, as a performance instrument, had been realized, and Pipe organs were now finding their way into town halls, opera houses and even public eating and drinking establishments.
In the United States, the birth of the Industrial Age gave even further rise to the organ as a means of entertainment and secular music performance. As wealthy industrialists rose to power, stately homes and estates were being constructed to accommodate the lifestyles of the newly rich. Biltmore, The DuPont home in Philadelphia, and many lesser residences of wealthy commodity brokers and manufacturers were built to house pipe organs which were intended to be lavish home entertainment devices. At the same time, the proliferation of corporations and wealth created a need for large scale meeting places such as convention halls and public gathering auditoriums. Municipal halls took on the role of opera house, convention center, and symphony auditorium in may major cities across the landscape as Americans demanded cultural and musical programs as a part of their way of life in cities across the land.
As the municipal or public hall emerged in its role, beside the Church, as as the secular cultural hub and gathering place for many American and European cities, large, often extravagant pipe organs soon found their way into these facilities. Organ builders of the day, such as E.M. Skinner, W.W. Kimball, Aeolian and others were influenced by the ideas of a British engineer who had come to the United States to build revolutionary new organs with electric action controls. Robert Hope-Jones, while credited mainly with the development of the theatre organ, was mainly responsible for giving us the technology to detach consoles from pipe work, thereby making the organ console movable for use in these large auditoriums. With Hope-Jones' technology, massive organs could be embedded in the framework of buildings, and the artist could control hundreds or thousands of pipes from a single point on the stage in view of the audience. One such installation, The Ocean Grove Auditorium in New Jersey, stands today as a monument to the ideas of Hope-Jones and the instruments he created.
The evolution of the symphonic or classical "entertainment" organ brought on a new dimension in music. Popular songs of the day were performed on these giants, and the world soon fell in love with the sounds of these behemoths. No longer did music conjure thoughts of church and salvation. Love, war, the seasons, and even the moon became the focus of the music that filled the air in the 1890's. Even in its present deteriorated state, the great organ of the Atlantic City Convention Center, with its six-thousand sting pipes playing the time-honored melodies of the Miss America theme song, conjure up memories of a more civil time in the history of America, and tens of thousands of pilgrims descend on Biltmore and the DuPont mansions each year to hear the sounds of the great music machines that once entertained the world's richest men.
It has often been said that there are few musical developments that can be attributed to America. Although it had its roots in the cathedrals of Paris and England, the Symphonic Organ is one such development that is uniquely American, and its literature, likewise, is a reflection of life in America in a more gentile and civilized time.