Magazine article The Tracker

IN THE TRACKER: 50 Years Ago

Magazine article The Tracker

IN THE TRACKER: 50 Years Ago

Article excerpt

VOL. XI, NO. 1, FALL, 1966

As announced in the previous two issues, the OHS sponsored a composition contest to foster new works for the organ, specifically suited to the resources and limitations of a small to modest-sized mechanical-action instrument of one or two manuals having keyboard compasses and specifications that would have been common mid-century. The winning compositions were announced and premiered at the summer convention held on Cape Cod. Eleven compositions by nine composers were submitted blindly to a fourjudge panel, which included noted composer Daniel Pinkham and which was chaired by Barbara Owen. The winning composition and second prize received $25 and $15 respectively.

First prize was for Passacaglia written by Norberto Guinaldo, then of Norwalk, Calif. Second prize was Three Preludes for Organ, by New England Conservatory student Henry Mollicone of Providence, R.I. (a composition student of Pinkham, with a double major in piano and composition). Both pieces were premiered by organist/organbuilder Philip Beaudry at an event that was neither listed in the convention program book nor the subsequent convention review. The winning compositions were submitted to E.C. Schirmer for publication, but that apparently was a dead end. A second composition contest would be announced in the spring of 1967.

I tried tracking down these compositions in hopes either could be played at this year's convention in celebration of the 50th anniversary of their creation, but neither composer nor the surviving member of the adjudication committee possessed a copy of either composition.

The record reviews singled out two landmark E. Power Biggs Columbia recordings: Mozart performed at St. Bavo, Haarlem, and the Festival Sonatas for organ and orchestra. How important Biggs's early recordings were for our understanding of the historic European organ: Alsace, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Luneburg, twelve historic Schnitger instruments, Handel concertos on a organ Handel designed, and even Colonial America. Even today, for many performers and builders alike, recorded sound is one's only experience with organ history. At the age of 13, the Bavo recording was only this author's second organ recording, and I played it repeatedly until it was literally worn out. That, along with other historic Biggs recordings, helped ignite a fire in me that will only burn out on my deathbed. I'm sure there is scarcely another OHS member of a certain age who doesn't share a similar formative experience.

The serial publication of the Casavant opus list continued with numbers 44-150 (1894-1902). Robert E. Coleberd had researched the organbuilder Joseph Gratian (1829-1897)-an English-born and trained builder who immigrated in 1857 and set up a shop in Alton, 111. The dynasty lasted through several reorganizations and descendants until its assets were sold in 1980. Coleberd conducted an extensive interview with Gratian's grandson Warren in hopes of assembling a work list, only to be disappointed with the refrain too often encountered by students of organbuilding history: "I have often regretted . . . destroying the factory records years ago." Based on the one familial recollection, Coleberd was able to locate an extant instrument in Griggsville, 111., completely intact but unplayable. The OHS Database reveals this instrument was relocated to New Mexico in 1977 and then to Montana in 1990, where it exists with one tonal alteration. The second instrument Coleberd found, purely by happenstance, at McKendree College Chapel in Lebanon, 111., was a disheveled wreck in 1966-this instrument is presumed no longer extant. Coleberd's research produced the most extensive body of information on this interesting regional builder. The OHS Database contains 58 entries for instruments attributable to the Gratian family, but based solely on these entries, the 1893 instrument now in Montana appears as the only known extant instrument of the Gratian patriarch. …

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