The Mantón Memorial Organ at the Church of the Ascension is the first French-built organ ever to be installed in New York City. The 95-stop, Ill-rank instrument has been designed to play as large a part of the repertoire as possible. The core of the instrument is a three-manual classical (Baroque) organ played by a three-manual, mechanicalaction console. A second console - one with four manuals and electric action - controls that classical core as well as many other stops intended for symphonic and modern repertoire.
The instrument is situated in the front of the church on two sides of the chancel, flanking the famed 1888 mural The Ascension by John LaFarge. Four facades - two on each side - feature elaborate wood carvings of peacocks, inspired by those in the marble reredos, which also dates from the 1880s. The carvings are the work of Pascal Quoirin's wife, Babou Vauquois.
Mr. Quoirin has spent his career restoring and building organs throughout the world. Major restorations include many of the great historic instruments of France, such as the Dom Bédos masterpiece at Sainte-Croix in Bordeaux and the Cavaillé-Coll in SaintCloud. New organs include a recent instrument in the Gothic cathedral of Evreux, France, as well as organs in other European countries, Japan, and Mexico. The Church of the Ascension's instrument is his first organ in the United States.
The new organ was made possible by a grant from The Mantón Foundation to honor the memory of Sir Edwin and Lady Mantón, who were active members of the church for more than 50 years. The Mantons were avid lovers of music, particularly the music of Olivier Messiaen and other French composers.
The Church of die Ascension, the oldest church building on New York City's Fifth Avenue, has been known for its music program for more than 100 years. The church is the home of the Voices of Ascension Chorus and Orchestra. A Mass to formally dedicate the organ will take place on May 1 and will be followed by several inaugural events, including organ recitals, choral concerts, and the debut of the Ascension Organ Academy. For further information, see page 41 in this issue, or visit http://voicesofascension. org/home.aspx.
The Musical Goal
The design of this organ was conceived as a result of conversations with Dennis Keene, Ascension's organist-choirmaster since 1981, and Jon Gillock, organist of international renown and, most recently, author of a book on Olivier Messiaen's organ works. From the beginning, the instrument was not intended to respond to a specific stylistic period but rather to lead, in terms of organbuilding, to a profile that would allow for the performance of a large body of music in the best possible manner.
This concept was nourished by several visits to a number of instruments (Saint-Rémy de Provence, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame Evreux), in particular the organ of La Trinité in Paris, representing the musical universe of Olivier Messiaen. Jon Gillock suggested that we listen in detail to combinations that Messiaen used on this organ.
In effect, stylistic evolution is most often the result of a progressive adaptation of an original model. That model is transformed in step with the various styles of composition appropriate to each epoch: polyphonic, classical, romantic, symphonic, etc. Sometimes this evolution anticipates the imagination of musicians. That was the case with the instruments of Cavaillé-Coll, whose ideas preceded the compositions of César Franck, among others.
The organ, therefore, is in perpetual evolution. The history of the organ of Notre-Dame in Paris is a significant example: a Blockwerk from the Middle Ages was still present in the organ at the beginning of the 17th century. It was transformed by Cavaillé-Coll in the 19th century, and in its present state reflects the modern techniques of today. All the marks of its evolution are still present, and the history of the French organ is inscribed there. …