Hilborne Roosevelt and the Two May Music Festivals

By Lewis, James | The Tracker, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview
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Hilborne Roosevelt and the Two May Music Festivals

Lewis, James, The Tracker


EARLY IN 1881, workers from Hilborne L. Roosevelt's organ company began removing the large threemanual organ the firm built in 1874 for the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer in New York City. There was nothing wrong with the instrument that would cause church authorities to want ittaken down. In fact, Roosevelt considered it the most successful organ he had built up to that time, and the congregation was very pleased with it. The organ was being removed so it could to be transported to the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue, where it would be reassembled and used for the 1881 May Music Festival.

The festival was one of those larger-than-life events. There was an orchestra of 250 players and a choir of 1,200 that held forth in the immense Drill Hall of the Armory. With an So-foot-high ceiling supported by an elaborate steel-truss system, the Drill Hall embraced a total of 55,000 square feet of floor space and could accommodate up to 8,000 people. The music director for the festival was Leopold Damrosch; Walter Damrosch and Samuel P. Warren were the organists.

Hilborne Roosevelt was a member of the Festival Committee, a subscriber to the Festival Guarantee Fund, and a moving force in New York society and business matters. It seems incredible that church authorities would allow themselves to be parted from the large instrument for several months, but their respect for Roosevelt and the organ, not to mention Roosevelt's persuasive personality, won the day. The Music Trade Journal reported:

Everything connected with the musical festival that is to take place in the spring of 1881 will be of interest, particularly to New Yorkers who have a local pride in making the series of concerts worthy of the reputation of the Metropolis. For the proper production of the choral works, the question of how to provide an adequate organ has been a most difficult problem. The solution, however, it is a pleasant duty to state, has been made and the Committee have secured the organ of the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer. This instrument was built in 1874 byMr. H.L. Roosevelt, who considers it the best that has been produced from his factory.

Its scheme is elaborate. The Double Open Diapason (32 feet) of the pedal organ is a remarkable feature of the instrument. The measurements for it were furnished by Herr Haas, the celebrated organ builder of Switzerland; his organs in Bern and Lucerne contain the finest stops of this size in Europe. The interior of the organ is so arranged that all parts of the mechanism are easy of access. The space occupied is 32 feet across the front, 18 feet deep and nearly 40 feet high; these dimensions give some idea of the size of the instrument. The pneumatic lever is applied to the great organ and its couplers, rendering the touch, even with all the couplers on, as light as that of a piano. The full organ is powerful and brilliant, but not harsh, and each register maintains a decided character of tone.

On the application of the committee, the fathers of the church have loaned this organ, which will be taken down and set up again in the armory. It will be placed at a considerable elevation from the floor, and directly in the center of the chorus, where it will give a strong foundation tone. Those who have heard this superb organ will welcome this announcement and will rejoice at the success of the managers of the festival in securing a satisfactory instrument.1

The organ, Roosevelt's Opus 7, had three manuals and 47 ranks. The Great and Choir divisions used mechanical action, with pneumatic assists applied to the Great and its couplers, while the Swell had tubular-pneumatic action. A tall threesectional case front contained 16' speaking pipes taken from the Great Double Open Diapason.

Because the console was attached to the case, the organist sat with his back to the conductor. This was not a problem when the choir conductor was in the gallery of the church, but when he was some ioo feet away and viewed through a mirror, as was the case at the Festival, the distance became considerable.

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