Organ Rededication: Breathing New Life into Those Old Pipes
Friday, October 11, the Rededication of the Curtis Organ will take
place in Irvine Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. The concert, dedicated to
the newly-restored Curtis Organ, will feature guest organist Walter
Strony, considered to be one of America's premier concert organists.
Mr. W.P. "Bill" Brown (WhG '55), who donated a new
console for the organ will be at the rededication.
Curtis Organ was built in 1926 by the Austin Organ Company of Hartford,
Connecticut for the Sesquicentennial Exposition in Philadelphia,
which commemorated the 150th anniversary of the signing of the United
States' Declaration of Independence. Austin's Opus
1416 was to be an ideal "organist's organ," with
Wesley S. Sears, Rollo Maitland, Frederick Maxon, and Henry S. Fry,
prominent local organists, as consultants for its design. Austin
completed the mammoth 162-rank organ in only six months, using assembly-line
techniques for its many thousands of mechanical parts, and it was
installed in time for the exposition's opening ceremony in
June of 1926. The organ is an American Symphonic organ, designed
during a period in American history when ordinary people had limited
opportunities to hear a real symphony orchestra, and when municipalities
considered it a duty to bring arts and music to their citizens.
The instrument can produce lush, varied orchestral tonal colors
for transcriptions, as well as all the majestic sounds of a great
cathedral or concert organ.
H. K. Curtis, publisher of the Saturday Evening Post, bought
the organ from the financially troubled fair, and in November of
1927 donated the instrument to Penn for the nascent Irvine Auditorium,
planned for construction. Irvine was built in 1928.
September of 1984, the University proposed a renovation plan for
Irvine Auditorium that considered eliminating the Curtis Organ.
Because the plan drew protest from alumni as well as members of
the University community who were involved with the organ's
restoration, it was eventually shelved, and the Curtis Organ remained
intact in the Great Hall of Irvine. In 1988, the Curtis Organ
was officially recognized by the Organ Historic Society of America
as an historically significant pipe organ for several unique features:
it was built within six months; it is the largest instrument of
its type to have been designed and executed within one contract;
and it is one of the first, and largest musical instruments built
during the Industrial Revolution using modular components made with
the summer of 1997, Irvine closed its doors for major renovations
that improved the acoustics while preserving the aesthetic character
of the historic building. During the renovation, Austin
Organs Inc.--the original manufacturer of the Curtis Organ--removed
the organ's pipes and console for storage at its factory. Subsequent
to the completion of renovation of Irvine by Venturi, Scott Brown
and Associates, Austin reinstalled the pipes and the new console
and tuned and regulated the organ, and repaired the few damaged
pipes. No tonal changes have been made.
restoration of the Curtis Organ was made possible
by generous contributions
from alumni and friends as well as fundraisers sponsored by the
Curtis Organ Restoration
new console (above) features a computer- based combination action
and switching system with a color LCD display and touch screen controller
and the ability to store up to 10,000 memory levels, a case of mahogany
with hand carvings and inlay; turned coco-bolo drawknob shanks and
eight cut ivory manual keys.
are some of the more than 10,000 pipes, the largest being 36 feet
Almanac, Vol. 49, No. 7, October 8, 2002
October 8, 2002
Volume 49 Number 7