Pipe Organs of the Rich and Famous Andrew Carnegie: The Organ's Great Philanthropist

By Smith, Rollin | The American Organist, March 2010 | Go to article overview
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Pipe Organs of the Rich and Famous Andrew Carnegie: The Organ's Great Philanthropist


Smith, Rollin, The American Organist


THE CARNEGIE family emigrated from Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1848. Andrew was twelve years old and immediately went to work as a bobbin boy in a local textile factory, and then as a telegram boy. He rose to be in charge of a private telegraph service for the Pennsylvania Railroad and by the age of 24 was superintendent of all the railroad's operations in western Pennsylvania. He invested his savings in the growing railroad and telegraph companies and, as his fortune grew, focused on the steel industry. Carnegie bought up steel mills around Pittsburgh, the mines that provided the iron ore, and the railroads that transported the ore and the finished steel. By the age of 60, in the mid-1890s, he was so wealthy that he decided to begin giving his money away, this after he had just broken the most famous strike in American history.1

Carnegie had been attracted to the organ from his childhood when he attended church with his parents. In 1873, he was approached for a contribution to a Swedenborg church that was being built. Saying that he would be less responsible for what the preacher might say than for the influence of music in a church,2 he donated an organ built by John Roberts of Philadelphia.3 When other congregations heard of his beneficence, he was overwhelmed with requests for organs, eventually as many as 2,250 a year. Soon it became necessary to standardize the organ gifts, requiring the congregation to raise half the cost of the organ with Carnegie providing matching grants. Eventually, the Carnegie Corporation of New York was set up to distribute funds. A frequently revised questionnaire was provided that sought to determine how large an instrument was actually needed, how much the church would be justified to spend, and whether a subsidy should be given. Thus, Carnegie provided 7,689 organs at a cost of more than $6.25 million: 4,092 in the United States, over 2,119 in England, 1,005 in Scotland, and hundreds more in other Englishspeaking nations and colonies.4 The accompanying graphic depicts organs donated by Carnegie in the state of Pennsylvania.

From the late 1860s, Andrew Carnegie, along with his mother, lived at the St. Nicholas Hotel in New York City. In 1874, he moved, again with his mother, to the more luxurious Windsor Hotel. When he married, in 1887, he purchased a house at 5 West 55th Street. In 1897, he purchased "Skibo," a Gothic mansion near Dornoch in the north of Scotland that contained an organ. The Carnegies moved into Skibo in the spring of 1898. 5 Carnegie's wife had hired an organist, and, without telling her husband, had arranged for him to play Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

The organist has now become a permanent institution. Every morning we come down to breakfast greeted by swelling tones, beginning with a hymn or chorale, and swelling into selections from the oratorios, etc. In the evening, our musician plays for us on our fine Bechstein piano, which we now are really enjoying for the first time. We are all delighted with our musical atmosphere.6

After Skibo had been transformed into a 200-room Gothic Revival castle, replete with battlements and towers (and electric lighting and modern plumbing), a visitor wrote of

The attractions of his wonderful domain, 40,000 acres, with every variety of scenery - ocean, forest, moor, and mountain - the household with its quaint Scotch usages - piper in full tartan solemnly going his rounds at dawn - and the music of the organ swelling, morning and evening, through the castle from the great hall...7

Carnegie had told a friend that "the organ performance in the morning at Skibo ... is my substitute for family prayers."8

At about the same time, Carnegie purchased two blocks on New York's Fifth Avenue and began construction of a mansion. Having already dealt with Edwin Votey in the 1890s when he purchased organs for the Pittsburgh Carnegie Music Hall (1895 Farrand & Votey) and for the music halls in the Homestead and Braddock libraries in 1899, he signed a contract on May 31, 1900, for a three-manual, 44-rank organ, the contract stipulating that "Every detail of the work to be subject to the supervision and approval of Frederic Archer," then organist of Pittsburgh's Carnegie Music Hall.

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