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By Adkins, Cecil | The Tracker, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Ohs Press


Adkins, Cecil, The Tracker


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Thayer, Eugene. The Organist's Journal & Review, Devoted to Organ Music for Church Service. With Occasional Pieces for the Concert Room (Boston, 1874), 242 pp. Facs. ed., with an introduction by Allison Alcorn-Oppedahl, published by The Organ Historical Society (Richmond, 2004), viii, 242 pages.

This facsimile of Thayer's Journal is the first volume in a new reprint series established by the OHS as a means of making important historical organ publications available to a broader audience. Later offerings will focus on American works in the OHS archives that first appeared in the 19th and early 20th centuries and may include such publications as the early monograph on the Newberry Memorial Organ at Yale as well as some 19th-century organ instruction manuals.

When Eugene Thayer (1838-1889) began his organ studies as a teenager, his dreams of becoming a master of the king of instruments perhaps also included a place for himself in the pantheon of the organist-composers. Musically self-taught until the age of twelve, he is said to have had his first organ tutoring at fourteen, but it was another decade before he began serious studies with John Knowles Paine in 1862. Just a year later he was sufficiently skilled to be among those selected to participate in the inaugural concert of the new 84-rank Boston Music Hall instrument, along with his teacher and four other organ notables: G. W. Morgan, B. J. Lang, S. P. Tuckerman, and J. H. Wilcox. Although Thayer was successful as a performer, his aspirations as a composer were hindered by his lack of early education. Seeking to strengthen his skills, he journeyed to Berlin in 1865 to study organ, counter-point, composition, and orchestration with Paine's teachers, Carl August Haupt and Wilhelm Friedrich Wieprecht. After completing a concert tour in Germany and England in 1866, he returned to Boston, solidly under the Germanic influence, to take up performing and teaching.

For fifteen years Thayer served a number of Boston churches, all the while teaching large numbers of students on the churches' instruments. During this time he also opened the first private organ studio in Boston, which he maintained through the years 1875 to 1878. His dedication to church music led to the directorships of the Boston Choral Union and the New England Church Music Association and to the publication of The Organist's* Quarterly Journal and Review (1874-77). In 1881 Thayer took up the organist's post at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York, where he was employed until 1885; in his last years he served several smaller Episcopal churches in the area, while concentrating on teaching and composition. He died by his own hand in June of 1889.

In addition to his extensive involvement as a church musician, Thayer was a successful recitalist, concertizing in Europe as well as in America, where he also accompanied the Norwegian violinist Ole Bull on some of his tours. In 1869 he began in Boston an extended series of free recitals that encompassed sixty-seven programs in six years. Though assisted by a few students, Thayer was the principal performer, and he presented almost exclusively the works of German composers, the only non-Germans being Cherubini, Rossini, and himself.

Thayer's most influential contribution was his publication of the Organist's Quarterly Journal, which he began in 1874 and saw through twelve, twenty-page editions, cumulated annually and then collectively in one volume.

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