Organ news (two items, really) from St. Louis

  • A TRADITIONAL ORGAN FOR TOMORROW

    St. Francis de Sales Oratory Announces Purchase of World-Class Pipe Organ Built by Karl Wilhelm



    St. Francis de Sales Oratory, an apostolate of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, with the blessing of the Archbishop of St. Louis, is pleased to announce the signing of the contract for Karl Wilhelm Opus 123, a three-manual and pedal, 58-rank freestanding mechanical action organ. Signed May 1, 2019, the contract includes the cost of transportation, installation, and tonal finishing at the Oratory. To finance the purchase and necessary updates to the existing infrastructure, the Oratory has established an Organ Committee and launched a fundraising campaign for $400,000.


    Previously installed in a church in Pittsburgh, the organ contains 2,670 pipes in five white oak freestanding cases. Thus the instrument is more than double the size of the Oratory’s existing three-manual and pedal, 22-rank gallery organ from 1924 by the Wicks Organ Company of Highland, IL. The Wicks instrument replaced an even smaller two-manual and pedal, 15-rank instrument by J.G. Pfeffer & Sons of St. Louis from 1897 which was subsequently rebuilt and enlarged by Gustav Treu in 1909 upon relocation and installation into the current church. This earlier instrument survives today and continues to serve St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church of Altus, AR, where it was installed in 1925. Like the original instrument by Pfeffer & Sons, the new Wilhelm organ contains entirely mechanical key-and-stop action and is hand built using the most traditional construction techniques so that it can withstand centuries of use.


    Although the existing Wicks organ is an historic instrument and an important example of the American Romantic movement of organ building from the first quarter of the 20th century, it lacks substantial historical integrity as several original components, including the console and some important ranks of original pipework, are missing. Even when new, the Wicks organ was inadequate to fill the soaring Gothic Revival church. Built at tremendous cost and dedicated in 1908, the church was recently voted the most beautiful in the nation. It is not impossible that the modest size and quality of the 1924 instrument was due to outstanding mortgage payments for the church. There is evidence that the instrument was re-voiced in the 1930s and the pressures raised to attempt to compensate for its size.


    The fundamental problem of restoring the 1924 organ is not only that several aspects of the original design must be recreated to replace missing original components, but that the instrument is inadequate both musically and mechanically for the demands placed upon it by the Oratory. With the projected costs of a full restoration or rebuild approaching a half-million dollars, a feasibility study was conducted in late 2018 to determine if there could be a more efficient use of funds. This study concluded that the best path would be to secure a second-hand instrument which would simultaneously solve the many engineering problems of the existing design and provide adequate musical scope. The challenge would be in locating one of appropriate size, scale, and visual design to complement the dramatic and visually complex interior and superb acoustics of the church.


    Director of Sacred Music Steven Ball, an experienced organ consultant, led the search for the right instrument throughout North America and Europe. After studying dozens of possible transplant organs that might be appropriate, four were selected as finalists. Several considerations led the investigation in the direction of the Wilhelm instrument, including the exquisite detail of the casework, extremely traditional methods of construction and voicing, and the overall tonal design which hearkens back to the original German ancestry of the parish. The instrument is well suited, in particular, for Baroque music, the accurate performance of which is central to the musical needs of the Oratory.


    Finally, the fact that master organ builder Karl Wilhelm has agreed to come out of retirement to oversee the installation and voicing of this instrument personally as his last major project has played a tremendously important role in the decision to proceed with the purchase of this particular instrument. Raised in Weikersheim, Germany, he apprenticed with August Laukhuff of Weikersheim, Germany, and with W.E. Renkeutz of Nehren bei Tübingen, Germany. After briefly working with Metzler & Söhne of Dietikon, Switzerland, and later with North America’s oldest organ-building firm, Casavant Frères of St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, he founded Karl Wilhelm, Inc. of St. Hyacinthe. In 1966 he relocated the firm to Mont St.-Hilaire, Quebec, and the shop remained active building organs until the early 2000s. The firm has built hundreds of organs, not only across the United States, but also in Europe and Asia.



    The Oratory has launched a fundraising effort for $400,000. In addition to the actual purchase of the instrument, there are additional costs associated with the infrastructure to correct substantial existing problems. This fundraising effort includes the necessary updates to the electrical and lighting in the gallery, restoration and extensive repairs to the original 1908 choir loft floor, and improvements to the existing infrastructure which the removal of the existing organ will make possible. Important sponsorship opportunities will be announced soon.

  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,482
    FWIW, this has been a controversial decision among friends of mine who know the Wicks, and Wilhelm instruments.
    Thanked by 2BruceL Ryan Murphy
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,860
    Wilhelm organs are well built and the two in my city can do much more than German Baroque - and don't we all give thanks for that. I have heard some really beautiful Franck and Mendelssohn played on them. They really are decent instruments.

    Mechanical action? Whatever. An organist acquaintance notes a friend who had two digital ranks put on his tracker organ. This acquaintance kids him constantly about the nuances of touch he experiences on those fake stops.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,860
    FWIW, this has been a controversial decision among friends of mine who know the Wicks, and Wilhelm instruments.


    Could you tell us more on this? I know I am too far away to have heard the Wicks.
  • Gamba
    Posts: 132
    The Wicks is a veritable gold mine of unison tone and orchestral colors, and much of it is under expression. And it was built for the church.

    https://pipeorgandatabase.org/Stoplist.Display01.php?path=MO/StLouis.StFrancisdeS.1924WicksOrgan.Stoplist.074818.txt


    The Wilhelm has only five 8’ flues across 3 manuals, and only one enclosed division, a rather small Swell, which lacks an 8’ diapason and a trumpet, among other things.

    https://pipeorgandatabase.org/Stoplist.Display01.php?path=NY/Syracuse.FirstPres.1991.Wilhelm.stoplist.txt

    Perhaps others accompany the sacred liturgy more “chastely” than I do, but for me, I’d rather have a warm, broad jeux des fonds than all the mixtures and mutations in Christendom.

    Perhaps the Wicks cannot play Böhm perfectly authentically, but the Wilhelm is structurally incapable of producing the glow of sub-and-super-coupled full strings that converts hardened sinners at Vespers and Benediction.

    Additionally, the firm chosen for the rebuild is not necessarily renowned for craftsmanship and artistry.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,860
    Thanks, Gamba. The Wilhelms in my town are large and have plenty of resources. I heard a Wicks recently and I understand what you are saying about those lovely strings.

    I’d rather have a warm, broad jeux des fonds than all the mixtures and mutations in Christendom.


    I'm with you on that one.
  • Let us rejoice that a pipe organ wasn't replaced by a simulacrum.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 990
    I knew the organ (Wicks) when it was in a much-worse state. It was not pleasant to play, but mainly because of the state of disrepair. You could hear glimpses of beauty, especially in the lovely foundations. It was on the way to repair, and eventually would be expanded to more or less what a larger organ of that vintage would be, albeit with fuller choruses, etc.

    The notion that the current instrument does not have enough sound to fill the room is utter hogwash. The Wicks has a gigantic pedal open wood, and in general is only weak in the sense that it lacks upperwork (something the ongoing improvements were addressing).

    I think this is most galling to many of us who know the instrument: it is being presented as a fait accompli. As someone who spent a good 3-4 years putting together all the data for an organ rebuild...that became a replacement...then switched builders, I think it's a little irresponsible. Plus, there are some untruths being circulated and I'm almost convinced the photoshop montage of the Wilhelm in SFdS is not corrected for perspective. The pedal towers look much larger than they should in that room, and the positiv appears to be much larger than a 4' facade...which it is, since, as many have already pointed out, the KW instrument has few foundation stops. Calling this a "Baroque tonal design" is a stretch: it is very much a neo-baroque specification. Plus, the oratory is not climate controlled...so good luck with the tuning. Humidity issues, which are much bigger in St. Louis than Rochester, are also a concern with sliders, action, etc.

    Finally, there are some odd design choices with the Wilhelm. The Swell is on a separate chest behind the great. No, it does not speak through the great...it is literally in a separate case behind the great, speaking into the back of the great case. Just very odd. I hope to be proven wrong, but wish that this was happening (if it must be so) in a way that doesn't insult the intelligence of the parishioners.
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,513
    An organist acquaintance notes a friend who had two digital ranks put on his tracker organ. This acquaintance kids him constantly about the nuances of touch he experiences on those fake stops.


    The joke is on him because digital ranks today include the nuances of touch.

    Nuances of touch in a tracker occur due to the speed of the opening of the pallet. Multiple recordings of individual notes are stored when sampling pipework and triggered by the speed of the fall of the key.
    Thanked by 1Ralph Bednarz
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,860
    My acquaintance is having a bit of fun at the expense of one of the "tracker only" extremists. Nuances of touch in digital ranks? What's the point? It is still artificial, or so the extremists would say. What does Jackson call them, simulacra? Keep in mind I have a digital organ at home for practice.

    I have heard a number of organists say they can't play Bach on an EP instrument. I have been tempted to say, you couldn't play Bach on a kazoo. However, occasionally old age and a desire to get into heaven prevail and I keep the snark to myself. ;-)
    Thanked by 2Carol StimsonInRehab
  • NihilNominis
    Posts: 364
    BruceL,

    We (pastor, facilities manager, and I) are exploring the possibility, should it be available, of incorporating the Wicks, and its casework, into our very sympathetic, contemporary instrument, also largely Wicks, at our parish in Sleepy Eye. There is a great deal of community support,-- a bass in the choir has offered a semi to use, and we have parish men who can retrieve it. We've moved an instrument before, on a smaller scale, tho.

    If you would be willing, I'd love to get some input from you, familiar as you are with the instrument, on the quality of individual ranks, and of how this might be done lovingly, with integrity. Unless, of course, you have another home in mind for the Wicks.
  • As a former organ technician, I learned all I needed to know about the Wicks organ company when I sat down at the console of an instrument and looked to the Great's principal chorus, which featured an 8' Prestant, 4'octave, 2' super octave, and a 1' superduper octave.
  • Palestrina
    Posts: 305
    This thread raises some serious issues, not least of all about respect for historic instruments.

    If the liturgy can develop organically, so can organs. I’m not a fan of the idea that we just throw things away and start again.

    If, as BruceL suggests, the 8’ tone of the organ is good and solid, I’d be most reluctant to do away with it because that suggests the scales are more than adequate for the building.

    Historic instruments can grow and develop over time: Notre Dame Paris still has some of its medieval pipework, Schnitger organs also incorporate earlier material.

    Basic principle: if you wouldn’t treat the objects at opposite end of the church like that, you probably shouldn’t do it to the organ either!

    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • redsox1
    Posts: 191
    Some years ago, there was a plan to scrap the 1935 Casavant in our chapel and replace it with a tracker. It would have been a shame. The organ was limited but had warm, rich foundation stops and interesting color stops. In 2014, we restored the mechanism and judiciously added several vintage ranks from the period. The results are stunning. The organ’s sound is reminiscent of a small English collegiate chapel instrument and fits the 1931 Norman Gothic building like a glove. It’s now quite effective for liturgy, choral accompaniment and organ literature. I think it’s important to respect those who had the vision and resources to build such an edifice (and instrument) and to honor their legacy. Admittedly, I don’t know the aforementioned instrument and it’s condition or limitations, but I do think it’s too bad to simply discard it. I think of all the E.M. Skinner organs that were thrown out because they weren’t “current” enough. Quite honestly, I find much work from Wilhelm, and others, during the 80’s and early 90’s to be pretty raw in their voicing and lacking warmth. Now, if the organ replacing the Wicks were a Hook, Johnson, etc., I might think differently!
  • BruceL
    Posts: 990
    @NihilNominis, the person you'd want to contact would be Nick Botkins at the basilica in Stamford. He lived with the instrument for quite some time. I was just an occasional visitor, and more often as a singer. The organ is, in any case, in dramatically better shape than it ever was during my time in St. Louis, but it's still a work in progress.

    Also, a +1 to the comments on rebuilding. Here in Birmingham, we are getting a new instrument, but this is because the pipework in the current Moller is (quite literally) falling (and sagging!) apart. It's not pretty. We have tried to sell the organ intact, and the rebuild proposals (which were from firms chosen for their sensitive rebuilding of instruments in the general "American Classic" style) were not enthusiastic vis-a-vis a new organ. At that point, it just became a judgment call as to whether those firms would build a new instrument, or we'd look elsewhere. Our loft layout is convenient for mechanical action, so we went that direction.

    But really, we are the 1/10th of situations where you should NOT rebuild. If the instrument is cohesive and well-built, it's just a matter of having a good plan and a willing voicer. These organs from the 20's have great materials, build quality, etc. Some of the Roosevelts and Johnsons you see from time to time on OCH are even better.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,860
    I normally want to preserve every organ but I have seen one that was falling apart. Some of the pipes were warped out of vertical and sagging. The wood in the chests was dry and cracking and who even had any idea what the leathers looked like. That organ needed replacing, not rebuilding. It happens.
    Thanked by 1Ryan Murphy
  • NihilNominis
    Posts: 364
    I will add this:

    Glad as we would be to have the case, I would be heartbroken to see this instrument leave SFDSO. I fell in love with recordings of Nick's work there years ago, and I found the more Romantic tones of that instrument, sweet, rich, and full, essential to what I have lovingly asked from my choirs as the "St Louis Sound," which was some of the best sacred music being made in North America.

    To me, the warmth and comforting sounds of that instrument, combined with and contextualized by the rich, magnificently overdone but very deep and warm space, vestute, and liturgy, was a magical aesthetic triumph.

    For that space to lose such a characteristic piece of its color and vintage, for something of deeply contrasting quality, is heartbreaking to me, at least.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW Ryan Murphy
  • Arthur Connick
    Posts: 431
    The Wicks restoration was more expensive and on a less certain timeline. The Oratory is now looking forward to having a working organ in just a few months.

    For all I know, you guys are right, and the Wilhelm organ is not the ideal instrument for SFdS. Even so, it's better than the Wicks in its present state - or its projected state over the next couple of years.

    The Oratory is a living Catholic apostolate, not a museum and not a musical showcase. It should have a fully functional organ.
    Thanked by 1Jim_Goeddel58
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,860
    Of course, you are correct that a working organ is needed. I wish you all the best with the Wilhelm.
    Thanked by 1Jim_Goeddel58
  • AndrewK
    Posts: 39
    The sudden urgency that is motivating this project is disturbing on several levels. Firstly, the Wilhelm has been in storage for over a year and it is ill-advisable to buy a used instrument without testing it. You certainly wouldn’t do this with a car. Secondly, the notion that the Wicks was not able to fill the space is inaccurate; especially since the Wilhelm has fewer 8’ stops than the Wicks. Lastly, $400K is more than the estimated cost to restore and complete the Wicks.

    Regarding the quality of the Wicks. The diapasons in their current state sing as beautifully as some of the finest in Europe. When I visited the Willis organ at Hereford Cathedral in 2018, I was immediately struck by the similarity in sound to the Wicks. But it is more than the diapasons, the other 8’ stops contribute to a truly noble ensemble. The addition of an 8’ Cornopean in the SW added a welcome character to the instrument. This small addition was what inspired the renovation/rebuild project.

    The state of the Wicks pipework should also be an indication of the instrument’s lasting merit. With the exception of a trumpet that was improperly racked, all the pipework is intact. This all the more impressive since it has been in a non-climate controlled building for nearly 100 years.

    While I agree with Mr. Connick that the Oratory deserves a fully functional instrument, the Neo-Baroque design of the Wilhelm (truly a museum piece) is not the right answer. It is easy to be deceived into thinking that its 58 ranks will fill the space, but 25 of those ranks are mixtures. Additionally, it only has five 8’ flues. It is a basic tenet of organ construction that 8’ stops are designed to fill the space. The Wicks has three times as many as the Wilhelm.

    Musical showcases aside, the Oratory would be better served with the Wicks completed than buying a used instrument with no guarantee for success. The Oratory faithful deserve to be well informed as to what they are paying for. Has anyone else noticed the Presbyterian cross carving on the Ruckpositiv?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,860
    Interesting. Twenty five ranks of mixtures? Good grief!
    Thanked by 2cesarfranck eft94530
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,545

    Plus, there are some untruths being circulated and I'm almost convinced the photoshop montage of the Wilhelm in SFdS is not corrected for perspective.


    Assuming the rail is at least waist-high, the ruckpositiv is most certainly larger than 6’ tall in the photoshop mockup. It is presented largely above scale. I wouldn’t be surprised if 1/4-1/2 of the window peeks awkwardly over the case at its actual size.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • LGnodde
    Posts: 1
    Can't be twenty-five. Maybe all the mutations and two foot stops and higher combined.

    Both organs are at opposite sides of the tonal spectrum. I have seen both Wicks and Wilhelm pipework and would rather restore/rebuild a Wilhelm organ than a Wicks, because the Wilhelm pipes are of much better quality.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,616
    Mutations and 'upper work' are essential for a well-developed organ, even one that is 'for church and not concert use'. The lack of them is the great weakness of too many late XIXth and early XXth century 'church' organs. Upper work and mutations are not only for playing de Grigny and Buxtehude (not to mention Frescobaldi et al.). Try playing Alain, Langlais, Messiaen, or Tournemire et al. with nothing but 8s and 4s, with an occasional 2 and an even more occasional nazard thrown in. I can almost hear it now - 'but this is a church organ, for the liturgy, we don't care about a "concert organ"'. Nonsense, and terribly ignorant of what a church organ is needed to do - much more than try to lead a congregation with 8' and 4' diapasons which have all the beauty of a ship's stentorian whistle. The music of the composers named above was written for church. It can hardly be tossed off as 'concert music'. The liturgy, properly graced, requires an abundance of colour and variety. The relative absence of 'upper work' in an organ is equal to the relative degree of its inaptness for liturgy - its inappropriateness as a 'church organ' that is 'just for liturgy'.
  • Let us be grateful that an organ builder is coming out of retirement.
    Let us be grateful that an organ (the Wilhelm) is being moved, rather than scrapped.
    Let us be grateful that the Wicks organ will now be available for someone else.
    Let us be grateful that no simulacra are involved in this transaction.

    I don't know the details beyond what's in the announcement, but is it just possible that Steven Ball, who is new there, wants the Wilhelm for some good reason we've not grasped? How many of us, for example, given the option of repairing an old instrument in the longer term or installing a well-functioning organ in the much nearer term, would choose differently from what Mr. Ball has chosen?
  • NihilNominis
    Posts: 364
    Just to be clear, at least for my part, I am not saying that it's the wrong choice for them.

    I don't have all the details, nor am privy to their post-Botkins vision. I am still sad if it is the right choice for them, as I *love* the sound of the old Wicks in that room, and Romantic organs generally in sympathetic, historic, and original spaces. That tone color is, generally speaking, the sound of the times in which the Oratory was built. I just think that's amazing, when paired with the liturgy that goes on there.

    To wit, one of my favorite recordings ever, period: O Salutaris Delibes
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,583
    Oh, a group of organists on the interwebs are divided on an issue and have very strong opinions on it? I am shocked.
  • Palestrina
    Posts: 305
    Well, I suppose the $400 000 question is...

    What are the scales and wind pressures of the 8’ ranks of the Wilhelm and what are the scales and pressures of the same ranks on the Wicks?
    Thanked by 2BruceL eft94530
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,860

    I don't know the details beyond what's in the announcement, but is it just possible that Steven Ball, who is new there, wants the Wilhelm for some good reason we've not grasped?


    I don't know, either. I am too far away to know from any experience. The Wicks could be in terrible shape and something more reliable is needed. Or, it could be a case of a neo-baroque organist wanting to inflict North German Baroque music on the ears of the congregation. I haven't heard that Wicks although I have heard functioning Wicks from that time period and they are lovely. However, the two Wilhelms here, especially the larger of the two, is quite a nice instrument in its own right. Hard to say. I have said before and will say again, however, it is cheaper to replace an organist than an organ.
    Thanked by 2cesarfranck eft94530
  • BruceL
    Posts: 990
    At least three people in here (myself included) have had substantial experience with the instrument (I had a couple lovely ciphers once when playing for a low Mass with organ back in the day there c. 2010 or so). The Wicks is not a masterpiece of an organ, but there are plenty of Cavaille-Colls that are lovely organs but would not be considered "a masterpiece". That's not the point. The point is, with an organ project, if you are truly invested in that parish, in those people, in that particular liturgical charism of the place...you realize you have ONE SHOT to get it right. If you aren't fairly certain that it's a home run replacement, you need to hold your cards and wait for the best play. This is my concern in this case.

    There are also some canards in this letter that are really frustrating. Raising the wind pressure of an organ is not necessarily catastrophic, and is often an improvement (within reason). The same cannot be said for LOWERING pressures. Case in point, another St. Louis organ, namely that of St. Gabriel Church, which I played for almost 5 years every day. Unbeknownst to me until work was done after I'd left, someone had put the pressure about .5" low at some point. The organ was always sluggish, frustratingly slow, and something unusual for a Wicks on direct-electric chests (they have a tendency to "bark" because of their design, so they need a good voicer). After I left, my successor had this looked into (since the funds became available), and it was corrected. The organ sounds dramatically better now (at the higher pressure) and is very pleasant. I was so happy to hear this on a visit back! It's still a hodgepodge organ, but does what it needs to do and everyone is pleased because it was done in a very transparent way in the parish, respecting budgets, addressing real needs, etc.

    The concern I have when bogus "evidence" is given is that it degrades our profession, makes us appear opportunistic, and generally shows that we are more interested in a "disposable culture" than addressing things completely and in God's time.

    MJO and others have pointed out, rightly, that upperwork is important. Absolutely...although organs like our current Moller with overscaled mixtures really just have a "grey noise" in the upperwork. So, it has to work in the organ and in the room. Furthermore, the restoration and expansion plan of the Wicks had this very thing in mind, replete with a nice V rank chorus mixture in the Swell ala Skinner and many other things that would help address these ideas and help the instrument to render repertoire better. One recalls the anecdote of the Muellers in North Carolina, who asked Dirk Flentrop to add a big mixture to the great of the famous Skinner at St. Paul's in Winston-Salem. Flentrop said, in a gentle way, that that would be a little nutty...the organ's mixtures worked just fine, and it would not complement that style of building. Even though we are in the process of getting a wonderful new Noack here in French Classical/Romantic style, with plenty of upperwork, in a different place, I would be happy to have Skinner ala St. Paul's or Toledo or...

    Some of the Wilhelm's other issues, in no order of importance:
    1) It will be difficult to execute the orchestral Masses the Institute prefers in the new arrangement because a) there isn't a lot of room between cases, b) the choir will have to be split (or else sing into the back of the positiv), c) the director will be in a compromised location, d) there is no assistant there, so presumably the organist will have to find another conductor, or organist.
    2) The drawings and photos I've seen show the swell on a separate chest, in a separate case, speaking into the BACK OF THE GREAT! This is foolishness in the extreme, and has no historical antecedents in good organbuilding.
    3) There is a vast room, basically, behind the organ under the tower. An organ with deficiency of unison and suboctave ranks like the Wilhelm needs solid walls behind it to focus the sound and increase bass response (the oratory is a very treble-heavy building).
    4) The stop action is mechanical. This is, of course, historical, but is a bit challenging, so a registrant might be needed for a great deal of repertoire. This is just a pain, but not necessarily an obstacle.
    5) Children's music often needs accompaniment, even things from the chant and polyphonic repertoire. How will the director conduct his schola when he is playing an organ with an en fenetre console (where the singers would be behind you!) It is true that a number of fine recent instruments in parishes and cathedrals in this country of historical model have such a layout...but all have assistant organists who can play while the director conducts. Again, this can be overcome, but that money might be better spent on other aspects of the oratory music program...
  • NihilNominis
    Posts: 364
    They are retaining the antiphonal instrument. Interesting. Perhaps the idea is a great organ / choir organ arrangement?
  • Palestrina
    Posts: 305
    NihilNominis, I’m not sure why anyone would do that: the Wilhelm is a mechanical action instrument of a very particular type; nobody would think of making an antiphonal organ playable from this kind of console.
  • JaredOstermann
    Posts: 386
    I don't have a dog in the St. Louis fight, but I am interested to see a number of people advocating a couple of things:

    Never tearing down an instrument, if at all possible
    Needing a Romantic organ conception for congregational support

    While we shouldn't be careless with resources, I think we have to be honest and admit that there have been a lot of sub-par builders running around America over the last century. The fact that they built something and it is now 'x' number of years old (and failing) doesn't make the instrument historically or musically valuable. Too many American builders are/were little more than hobbyists, ordering all the parts from various firms and factories, and assembling a Frankenstein instrument. In addition, the way pipes are voiced usually results in permanent alterations to the structure of the pipework. So it's not necessarily possible simply to re-voice an amateurish attempt. It's one thing to reverence venerable pipework centuries old when expanding an organ (as at Notre-Dame cathedral). It's another thing to put more money and work into expanding or renovating a poorly-conceived and constructed attempt by a poor builder. You end up throwing good money after bad. If the Church and the liturgy deserve the best, sometimes a tear-down is the most reasonable thing. Again, I don't have the St. Louis situation particularly in mind when saying this - I'm not privy to details there. I'm more concerned that members of my profession would have a categorical aversion to removing and replacing sub-par instruments. Similarly, some altars, sanctuaries, and liturgical trappings are best torn down and replaced completely by something worthy!

    As far as hymn-playing, I've always thought that clarity, not rich orchestral fundamentals, is especially important - especially in a live acoustic. I prefer to be able to give a clear sense of the beat and beat hierarchy when hymn playing - so the same organ that works well for Bach tends to work well for hymn playing in my mind. BUT, the variety of foundations and more Romantic conception tends to work better for choral accompanying (and more variety in prelude/postlude/improvisation). That's why I have a hard time envisioning a Catholic church organ that is not at least somewhat eclectic. FWIW, I have never been that enamored of the American Romantic organ; my personal taste is for color, clarity, brilliance of historical German/Dutch instruments, OR the fire and monumental quality of the French instruments. So I'm sure that affects my approach.
  • NihilNominis
    Posts: 364
    Palestrina,

    I doubt it would be playable from the Wilhelm console. KW's condition was that it remain entirely unaltered. But there is likewise a console and ranks of pipes in the sanctuary. I just wonder what they have in mind, or whether they are excluding them to make it easier to find a buyer to remove the portions of the instrument they need gone to install the Wilhelm.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,860
    I have heard some most excellent hymn playing and singing with Aeolian-Skinners and other American instruments.
  • AndrewK
    Posts: 39
    Jared et all,

    Much of the St. Louis project is shrouded in mystery and has left the few of us who are aware of the organ situation bewildered. As myself and others have pointed out, the virtues of the Wilhelm as the suitable replacement for the Wicks is distressing in matters both practical and musical. Knowing the physical layout of the gallery and the musical needs of the Oratory, the Wicks is still the better instrument despite its current disrepair. Granted, insisting that the Wicks remain untouched or restored "as is" is foolish. But that has never been the plan. Indeed, if the Oratory were to announce tomorrow that a new organ by a top-tier firm were to replace the Wicks, this comment would have a different message.

    Much of the Wicks' musical merit is the pipework and the effect is has in the church. Let's not be so hasty to assume every organ is going to sound as its name suggests. A good organ is a good organ despite its name. I don't doubt that the Wilhelm will sound good in the space. But to fill the space as the Wicks currently does, I have strong misgivings. I fear the Wilhelm, despite having twice as many ranks as the Wicks, will sound like a much smaller instrument. As BruceL pointed out, the Wilhelm will be dwarfed by the dimensions of the loft and the fact that the SW speaks directly into the back of the GT. As NihilNominis has pointed out, the Wilhelm is going to remain unaltered. What does that mean in regards to voicing? Certainly First Presbyterian, Syracuse (the Wilhelm's original home) and SFdSO are not similar buildings.

    Lastly, for those who know, the last time hymnody was a staple at the Oratory, it wasn't an Oratory of the Institute. Hymn singing has never been a tradition of the Oratory in St. Louis.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW BruceL
  • BruceL
    Posts: 990
    Here, here.

    And yes, pre-WWII Wicks are a different ball of wax than the later instruments. Also, those who know the Wicks firm timeline can have a chuckle at the oratory letter, since it's very likely that any 1930's adjustments/loudening would have been done by some hack named...

    ...Henry Vincent Willis III!

    And yes, the issue here is being sure that what replaces the Wicks (if that's the course of action taken) is a good fit. Would that we had back many of the EM Skinners and the like which were unceremoniously tossed for organs of insipid tone that were a caricature of their Baroque forebears. There's actually another infamous St. Louis story in that regard: that of St. Francis Xavier (the Jesuit church), whose Kilgen (the largest in town, and played in recital by Vierne, Dupre, and many others) was thrown into a dumpster in just decades ago. So, those associated with St. Louis are right to be a little wary, I think!
  • Palestrina
    Posts: 305
    My main reservation remains the scaling...

    It is absolutely possible to dispense with half your 8' ranks if you have proper scaling in what remains. But these MUST be scaled perfectly. And the scaling of 8' ranks was a common problem among Baroque revival instruments in the 20th century (along with misunderstandings about the principal basis for each division and the tonal structure of each chorus).
    Thanked by 2BruceL CharlesW
  • Bruce,

    St. Louis is the home of

    - the St. Louis Jesuits
    - The National Catholic Reporter


    and, on the other side,

    St. Francis de Sales Oratory
    the former home of Patrick Buchanan, journalist (if I recall correctly)




  • BruceL
    Posts: 990
    CGZ, I'm not clear on your point here. Could you clarify?

    Also, I'm fairly certain NCR is in Kansas City. But maybe it has moved in the six years I've been gone from the Rome of the West. You seem to have things clearly understood, so I am happy to bow to your superior knowledge.

    Also, I was not aware that Pat Buchanan was experienced in our field. I am happy to hear this news, as a fan of his incisive political commentary! The wonders never cease!
  • BruceL
    Posts: 990
    Palestrina is correct. I mailed a letter to the rector of the oratory, who is a fine priest and gentleman. This makes the circumstance all the more perplexing.

    The issue with organs such as this is that our idea of the "Baroque sound" in 1991 was shockingly different than our idea of that today. Why? Because most of 1991 was conjecture. Since then, we've discovered a great deal. Even amateurs like Colin Pykett have done some fascinating work.

    I recently had occasion to hear a Rieger that Martin Pasi voiced (while with that firm at the beginning of his career) that he had recently bought back after the church which held the organ closed. He admitted that it was very much a product of the times, and there was little of the gentleness and vocale sound that one hears in his more recent instruments (at least once one gets into the upperwork). We just know more now. I'm happy KW is coming out of retirement to do this. We very nearly bought a Juget-Sinclair organ, and of course they learned a great deal of their craft from Wilhelm and Wolff.

    But, the proof will be in the pudding. And the way this has been presented is not in the clearly-disclosed way I like to see an organ project happen. The oratory is a fantastic place, so I want to see what is best for them...not just in 2019, but for the next 100 years. Cheers!
  • JaredOstermann
    Posts: 386
    And I don't know any details about St. Louis - all of the negative feelings expressed here may very well be well-founded and legitimate. I was commenting more on the general principle of preserving rather than replacing.

    And yes, the first (often less successful) attempts to recreate historical sounds provide another example of cases where an organ might be better replaced entirely. I would hold that the best organs in the world (new builds) are being built in north america right now, but that is partly a result of trial and error over the last century. We shouldn't be shy about noting the error and moving forward to the most worthy models.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 990
    JO, I didn't take your comments in a poor way. I am absolutely of the same mind as you on these sort of conundrums, although I'll admit I'd prefer Southern German to your Dutch.

    That said, I would not have sent a letter to the rector if this was a new instrument by a North American builder of repute. KW does not have a bad reputation, but the lack of 8' color, 16' manual and 32' pedal stops (and, as the "father of us all" would say, gravitas) is surely a liability in an instrument going in a huge Catholic place with a treble-happy acoustic that has a decidedly French liturgical bent. Just my $0.02.
  • advocatusadvocatus
    Posts: 82
    I don't have a "dog' in this either, but my hunch is that this is a good move. Wilhelm organs are well-made and durable. This is not on old organ (early 1990's). Jacques Italien did the original voicing. The style of this instrument is somewhat eclectic and will play most inherited music well. The price at which they likely got it probably makes it the deal of the century. While it may be "of its time," the uncompromising economy of its design will also make it timeless. Is it going to be as a good a fit as a new similar instrument for $2 million? Maybe not. But it will certainly make a cultural contribution to greater St. Louis, and will serve admirably in a traditional liturgical context that embraces the fullness of the corresponding musical tradition. (Kevin Vogt)
    Thanked by 1Jim_Goeddel58
  • advocatusadvocatus
    Posts: 82
    I'm almost convinced the photoshop montage of the Wilhelm in SFdS is not corrected for perspective. The pedal towers look much larger than they should in that room, and the positiv appears to be much larger than a 4' facade
    OK...Bruce L., I found the photo on the Oratory website to which you were referring. Yes, the perspective and proportions do seem wrong. The impost and the pedal towers looked higher in Syracuse, as did the bottom of the Rueckpositiv. The pedal towers appear to be pulled in toward the main case, which may have been necessary in any future installation (and easily accomplished by shortening trackers.) And you're right, in the case of a new-build, the building would have suggested a higher case, and if there is a desire for and tradition of concerted music and adequate depth in the gallery, an instrument without a Rueckpositiv may have been the way to go. At least the pedal towers are set back in line with the Swell and Great. I wonder if the space between the Rueckpositiv and main case could be maximized.

    If you're suggesting they should have shot the moon, I probably would have lobbied for that as well. On the other hand, I'm happy to see the organ going to a worthy ecclesiastical home. As interesting as the Erie Canal barge is in one of the pipe shades, perhaps some of those pipe shades can be replaced (such as the Presbyterian Cross!) As for the musical success of the instrument at the Oratory, I hope and pray for the best.

    Thanked by 2BruceL Jim_Goeddel58
  • BruceL
    Posts: 990
    @advocatus I do not know the current director of music. But an instrument that has been in storage for almost seven years seems a poor choice.

    I know you are quite expert on this sort of situation, and certainly shot the moon when you had a chance in Omaha (for which we should all be thankful)! I've tried to do the same here in a much less pioneering way (thought I hope it will be likewise successful).

    But, there are concerns, namely: the oratory does not climate-control the room. I've been there for Mass many times when the downstairs temp is over 80 in the summer, and upstairs...let's not talk about it. You can imagine the humidity...St. Louis is the only place I've lived where a mold allergy was an issue (and I'm in Birmingham now...) In the winter, it's not unusual for the room to be in the low 60's and humidity to be bone dry.

    The question here is really suitability. Has the current director of music informed the rector of the need for climate control in this situation? I hope he has. If not, this will be a very unpleasant surprise to them. Or perhaps it will provide a new opportunity for exotic liturgical drones!

    Anyhow, many unanswered questions. I almost always prefer mechanical action, etc., but in this case, I just worry the oratory is biting off something it cannot chew...let's not even talk about the taste of the fare.
    Thanked by 1Ryan Murphy
  • vansensei
    Posts: 83
    In other St. Louis organ news, the organist for the Blues could potentially be playing if they win the Stanley Cup at home AND at Pentecost on the same weekend.

    Pray for his sleeping schedule.
  • As a chorister and member of St. Francis de Sales Oratory for the past 12 years, the discussion of our current Wicks organ and its proposed replacement by the Wilhelm instrument is naturally of great interest to me. While I am not qualified to weigh in on the merits of organ builders/restorers or the aesthetic advantages of different organs, I would like to point out some things to consider.

    1. The Wicks organ is simply not in "dramatically better shape" than it was ten years ago. The "restoration project" was moribund, and the completion date was on a distant horizon, ever receding. As far as I know, Arthur Connick is absolutely correct on the cost savings SFdS will realize by terminating the restoration of the Wicks and purchasing and installing the Wilhelm.

    2. The Wilhelm organ does, indeed, appear to be the deal of the century. The price of the Wilhelm organ is $300K, with an additional $100K budgeted for the necessary work of de-installing the Wicks and installing the Wilhelm.

    3. The purchase of the Wilhelm organ is not "shrouded in mystery". Anyone interested in the details of the purchase should do SFdS the courtesy of reaching out to Dr. Steven Ball, who will be happy to share his thinking on the matter. Be prepared for a long conversation, as he is certainly as opinionated and as knowledgeable as his fellow organists here at MusicaSacra.

    4. Finally, I note with interest and great amazement that Palestrina himself is among the commenters here at MusicaSacra! Marvelous! Hey, good sir, write more motets!

    P.S., As for the "liturgical bent" of SFdS Oratory, I don't think it is accurate to describe it as "decidedly French".
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,573
    Twenty five ranks of mixtures?

    Can't be twenty-five. Maybe all the mutations and two foot stops and higher combined.

    The fifth post to this Discussion contains the specifications of both instruments.

    HAUPTWERK (II)
    8' Cornet V (c25-d51) 135
    1 1/3' Mixtur V 280
    RÜCKPOSITIV (I)
    1' Scharf IV 224
    SWELL ORGAN (III)
    2 2/3' Cornet III (f18-d51) 102
    2' Mixtur IV 224
    PEDAL
    2 2/3' Rauschpfeife IV 120


    .. so yes twenty-five ranks of mixtures
    .. plus six mutation stops
    .. plus four two foot stops
  • BruceL
    Posts: 990
    I guess we could quibble and say that the Cornets aren't *really* mixtures. The Rauschpfeife is, but probably doesn't break in its compass.

    But still!