The Emergence of Organ Tutors in 19th- Century England

By Little, Wm A. | The American Organist, October 2017 | Go to article overview

The Emergence of Organ Tutors in 19th- Century England


Little, Wm A., The American Organist


As C pedalboards gradually gained popularity in the late 1830s ana 1840s, English organists were given a new and unique incentive to press for their universal adoption: the bulk of Bach's free organ works suddenly became generally available domestically. In the final days of 1835, the London publisher Charles Coventry began publication of the most comprehensive collection of Bach's organ music ever assembled anywhere.1 Although it was quite simply a compilation of several smaller collections already in print on the continent, having them freshly engraved (without change or emendation) and printed, all between two covers (or separately), constituted a monumental achievement. Now, with these works published in England for the first time, organists could realistically contemplate bringing all of Bach's known free organ works to performance.

Throughout the late 1830s and into the early 1840s, Rinck's and Schneider's tutors were the pedagogical mainstay of English organ students. Schneider's tutor went into a second edition in 1840, and by the end of the same year the Rinck-Wesley tutor had already reached an astonishing ninth edition. The next year, Cocks engaged the Cheltenham organist John Bishop (1818- 1890) to edit and revise it, and it appeared as the tenth edition in 1841. Bishop added "a short history of the instrument, a description of the various stops and the best manner of using them,"2 but made no changes to Rinck's musical scores, and Cocks continued to use his original 1838 plates.

From about 1842 onward, the number of organ tutors grew at an astonishing rate. One of the most popular authors to appear on the scene was James Alexander Hamilton (1785-1845), a prodigious writer of musical manuals or tutors (entitled "Catechisms") in vade mecum format. In 1841 the first edition of his Catechism of the Organ was published by Cocks. The practical purpose of Hamilton's Catechism is not entirely clear, since its miniscule size-roughly 544" high by 344" wide-makes it virtually impossible to set up on the music rack of an organ. Exceptionally concise, yet thorough within a severely compressed framework, the Catechism nonetheless covers the most essential matters for a beginning student, including 24 pages of exercises for pedal alone, and manuals with pedal. The tutor was an immediate success, and a year later Cocks engaged Joseph Warren (1804-1881), organist and choirmaster of St. Mary's Chapel, Chelsea, to prepare a second edition, "revised, corrected, and enlarged, with an Historical Introduction..." Over the following years the Hamilton-Warren Catechism was regularly revised, updated, and expanded. By 1851 it was in its third edition, and by 1865 in its fourth.

Warren was also an author in his own right and had composed A Very Easy Instruction Book for the Organ, first published by Cocks ca. 1837,5 and ca. 1841 he brought out A Few Hints to Young Organists, published by Novello, a potpourri of practical instruction and professional advice.4

At about the same time that Hamilton was preparing the first edition of his Catechism, probably in 1840 or 1841, another German tutor appeared in English translation, Carl Geissler's Exercise School for Organists. Apparently, the original German edition, Ubungsschule flir Organisten (Op. 65) had originally begun to appear in fascicles, published by G. Schubert in Leipzig, sometime prior to 1842, the year that it was completed. Early that same year it was favorably reviewed in Germany5 and subsequently brought out in English translation, published in London by Cramer & Beale. Although the initial date of the English publication cannot be precisely determined, it was still in print in 1855. According to a German review, Geissler's tutor- a hefty tome of 199 pages-had a strong liturgical orientation. Geissler also provided numerous preludes, interludes, and postludes for the most common chorales, as well as short works by several contemporary German composers, that would be particularly useful "to the country organist, who is always in search of such pieces. …

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