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All The Stops: The Glorious Pipe Organ And Its American Masters Paperback
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From Publishers Weekly
In this lively history of the pipe organ in America, Whitney, assistant managing editor of the New York Times and an amateur organist, weaves a tale of opposing ideas and colorful personalities. Pipe organs in this country were built much as they had been for centuries in Europe until the early 20th century, when Ernest Skinner electrified their mechanical parts, thus enabling them to produce massive sound that could fill theaters and concert halls. In the 1930s, Skinner's ideas were challenged by one of his associates, G. Donald Harrison, who advocated a return to organs built with mechanical action. Harrison prevailed, and eventually Skinner was driven out of the company he had founded. Mirroring the story of the contest between Skinner and Harrison is Whitney's account of the rivalry between two of the best-known organists of the mid- 20th century Virgil Fox, the flamboyant showman who developed a cult following with performances on electronic organs (without pipes) in rock concert halls, and the more reserved but equally popular E. Power Biggs, who agreed with Harrison's philosophy. In the 1960s and '70s, Charles B. Fisk devised a way to build mechanical-action organs that could produce rich, full-bodied sounds as well as the bright, crisp sounds appropriate for German baroque music. Whitney (Spy Trader) admits that many important American organ builders and performers are left out of his history. But by concentrating on a few outstanding personalities and the organs they built or played on, he presents an engrossing story that should help fuel the resurgence of interest in the organ in this country. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From The New Yorker
In the nineteen-twenties, the pipe organ proliferated in churches, concert halls, theatres, and department stores, and no mansion was complete without one. But today the King of Instruments is a monarch that few people ever see or hear and even most musicians know little about. Whitney, a Times editor and amateur organist, deftly chronicles the twentieth-century battle for the "soul" of this most complex of musical beasts, fought among great American manufacturers like Ernest M. Skinner, a scrappy New Englander who perfected the big "orchestral" organ of the late Romantics, and G. Donald Harrison, whose American Classic model became a force in the back-to-the-Baroque movement. These divergent styles were reflected in the playing of virtuosos such as Virgil Fox, whose flamboyant "Heavy Organ" tours in the seventies were sold-out, marijuana-filled follies, and the dapper, straitlaced E. Power Biggs. Whitney extolls the organ's eclectic heritage at a time when the instrument seems poised for a return to the mainstream, and his glossary of its colorful terminology will help novices tell a windchest from a bombarde.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Whitney has done a remarkable service to the world of pipe organs. For those of us who play the organ "All the Stops" contains a rich history of the instrument over the past one hundred years and it is told by an author who is an unabashed organ fan and player himself. Reading this book is like witnessing a tug of war on several levels. There is a battle of organ builders about whether or not to use tracker or electropneumatic action. Wars rage with regard to pipe vs. electric organs. How good are European organs when compared to organs in America? How much input should an organist have with regard to a particular organ being built? As Whitney underscores, the organ world is a rather elite one with egos and tempers as big as the instruments on which organists play. And all of this takes place under the shadow of two men....E.M. Skinner, one of the most successful organ builders of all time and the larger shadow of Johann Sebastian Bach.
The most enticing chapters of "All the Stops" contain the mini-biographies of and the rivalry between the two best-known organists of the twentieth century...E. Power Biggs and Virgil Fox. The playing styles and personalities of the two couldn't have been more different and Whitney does a nice job in setting the two up in conflict. Biggs and Fox represented two different likes and dislikes of organs as well with Biggs preferring the European sound and tracker action and Fox opting for a larger, more romantic style. One of the key points that Whintey makes is that earlier in this century organists promoted the bigger, romantic organs only to have that phase pass as a generation ago the smaller, brighter tracker organs became more favorable. That tide has turned yet again.
It is hard to believe that not too long ago thousands of people turned out for organ concerts....numbers that today would not be seen. But if Craig Whitney is correct, that tide is also turning. The pipe organ has no instrumental rival and its modern story is well-told in this book.
Whitney manages to combine a history of the pipe organ in America, especially its flourishing from about 1925 to 1975 with the personalities of the builders (Skinner, Harrison and Fisk) and two performers who defined the age. Patrician, starchy E. Power Biggs (b. 1906) who came to represent the "back to basics" German school of playing, and the flamboyant Virgil Fox (b. 1912) who promoted the romantic orchestral sound of the organ.
There's just enough background to understand the different schools of organ building (North German, English, French and American Eclectic) without getting bogged down in stoplists. Whitney is a keen observer of the instruments and the politics, so this book ends up being a combination of artistic testament, business history and social commentary. Quite an achievement and nicely readable too!
This would make a fine gift for any young organ player, and should be read by every church musician. It belongs in every school library too.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone even remotely interested in the pipe organ. Whitney has a very easy writing style to read, often incorporating definitions of the organ terms he uses as he goes along. He also includes a glossary of other terms at the end for further clarification. I thoroughly enjoyed this book!
And just as an end note, I believe that those who review books online (such as Bob Myers, July 14 2003, below) should remember that this is a chance to voice OPINIONS. Nobody can judge an opinion, such as his statement that this book is "boring." But it would be much more accurate for him to state that this book is, in HIS opinion, boring... rather than possibly giving someone who would very much enjoy this book the wrong idea before they even read it.