Cover feature

October 1, 2014

An historic idyll

The hamlet of Lattingtown, a sub-enclave of Locust Valley on New York’s Long Island, is named for the locust trees that forest the terminal moraines left by receding glaciers. The land was purchased from the Algonquin-speaking tribe of the Lenape nation in 1667, and during the late nineteenth century, the region became known for its quiet serenity while enjoying proximity to New York City, where many of the area residents also kept city homes and offices for their business interests.

By the 1920s, society architects such as Delano and Aldrich; Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue; McKim, Mead, and White; Cass Gilbert; and Carrère and Hastings designed resplendent residences for privacy-seeking industrialists and financiers in the Glen Cove region, whose names may still be unfamiliar to most. The imposing estate houses were (and are) known by name rather than by street address, including attorney William Dameron Guthrie’s vast property, “Meudon,” named for Château de Meudon in the Parisian suburb where Marcel Dupré kept a house fitted up with a Mutin-Cavaillé-Coll organ.

In the bucolic Locust Valley–Glen Cove region, about a dozen houses in the “neighborhood” were furnished with pipe organs by the Aeolian Company, including the II/27 in Louis Comfort Tiffany’s “Laurelton Hall,” the IV/63 in Nicholas F. Brady’s “Inisfada,” and the colossal IV/107 in Frank W. Woolworth’s “Winfield Hall.” Yet it was the wife of sulfur baron Henry Devereux Whiton who is listed as the client for the II/13 Ernest M. Skinner organ of 1919 for their house “up the road” from St. John’s. It was this little organ, with roll-playing mechanism, which appears to have influenced the church’s choice of Skinner to build his Opus 447 when the church was reconfigured for its reopening in 1924. The church organ was a smaller affair of eleven ranks, built in Skinner’s Westfield shop. 

Neither of the small Skinner organs remains intact. Frieda Frasch Whiton divorced Henry in 1921, married Count David Augustus Constantini the following year, and upon the count’s death in 1937, married Baron Carl Gottlieb von Seidlitz, to whom she remained married until her death in 1951. The fate of the house organ appears lost to history.


The commission

Ten years ago, Eric Milnes, director of music, approached me about building a new organ for St. John’s, which I assumed would be a mechanical-action organ in historic style and temperament, as Mr. Milnes has earned an internationally celebrated reputation as a conductor and historical keyboard artist specializing in the historically informed performance of Baroque keyboard, instrumental, and choral music with period instruments. Yet to my delight, he envisioned a powerful, multifaceted, colorful adjunct to the Episcopal liturgy that could authentically interpret the concert repertoire. The use of electropneumatic action opened the door to a world of tonal possibilities in which the two of us could scratch our academic itches free from the strangulation of purist dogma. The challenge was not to acquiesce to bland “eclecticism,” but to devise an enchanting chameleon without spawning a generic creature devoid of character and personality.


The musical formula

The Latin multum in parvo, or “much in little,” often is used to assess the useful content-to-thickness ratio of short, highly informative books, whether technical or historical. It was co-opted by the speculative and operative arms of organbuilding to describe service-playing instruments of small scope and grand effect, most associated with English builders of the past 150 years, although the French have been parallel adepts. The criteria for this appellation remain nebulous, and the label has been adhered to organs of between 18 and 40 ranks, two or three manuals, French, English, or American, with mechanical or assisted action. 

In designing this 20-rank instrument for St. John’s, I chose to focus upon what the substantive literature demands of the organ. Thousands of American instruments have harbored lovely stops, but could never honor the wishes of the composers who wrote organ music. Since concert literature was written by church organists for the instruments they played in church, I always choose to work backwards from the score to create instruments with the required voices at the right pitches, properly grouped and usefully juxtaposed. Desirable elements in an organ of this limited size are an anchoring principal chorus, warmly and elegantly voiced with a clear, silvery mixture of sensible composition; a collection of flutes of diverse structure and material; a tierce combination for solo work; a pair of vibrant strings of authentically cutting, exceptional character; the three primary reed colors (Trumpet, Oboe, and Clarinet, the last of which must play in dialogue with the cornet); and a pedal division producing a very clean pitch line that can be heard moving clearly beneath and through the manual textures. No wasted space, no wasted metal.

By good fortune, the Skinner Salicional and Voix Céleste, as well as the Pedal 16 Bourdon, survived the onslaught of the Orgelbewegung, so some heritage pipework, renamed, lives on in the organ. The new metal pipes are built of a spotted alloy of 50% tin (including the hefty resonators of the Swell 16 Basset Horn). New timber pipes are poplar with walnut caps. Because this is a two-manual instrument, some solo stops are duplexed between the manuals, and some extension work is included. Of note are the variably scaled 16 Pedal extension of the Skinner string and the 24-pipe downward extension of the Great 2 Gemshorn as the Pedal 8 Spitzflöte and 4 Choral Bass. Although it is my policy to avoid unification of any manual rank at adjacent pitches, opting for a two-octave separation, the Chimney Flute appears twice in the Great department, charming at the unison, beguiling at the octave. The short-but-useful-compass 8 Herald Trumpet is voiced on the same pressure as the rest of the organ. Its distinction comes from its scaling, shallot style, and voicing, its tone warmer and rounder than its name implies.


Expression: upstairs, downstairs

The Great and some of the Pedal fluework are unenclosed above the impost, and the remainder of the organ’s resources are under expression, including the Herald Trumpet and four of the five 16 stops: the Violone, a downward extrapolation with a broadening scale of the 8 Viole de Gambe, with Haskell re-entrant tubes; the Bourdon, extended from the 8 Stopt Diapason; the Bombarde, an extension of the Trumpet; and the Basset Horn. This is accommodated by a two-story expression enclosure, with upper and lower banks of shutter blades. The knob engraved “Lower Shutters Off” disables and closes the shutters at the choir-loft level while permitting the entirety of the enclosed organ to speak through the controllable upper set behind the Great, using the nave’s ceiling as a sounding board. The Great 16 Double Diapason is also enclosed, yet has no pipes of its own, being derived from the Swell 4 Principal from C25 to G56, and the bass taken from the 16 Bourdon/8 Stopt Diapason unit. The addition to the ensemble is one of nobility and gravity without muddiness. The Pedal 16 Subbass provides significant punch, never shared by, or extended from, its manual brethren.


The organ case

The remarkable oak casework was carved by William and Alexander Clow of Edinburgh to the designs of Sir Robert Stodart Lorimer, and was the gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Pierpont Morgan. The Clow brothers had completed the carved figures in the Chapel of the Knights of the Order of the Thistle at St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, in 1911 and were a perfect team to work on a small summer church of this stature. The organ case was part of a much larger decorative program by Sir Robert and financed by Morgan; the entirety of St. John’s is pavé with exuberant carving in this style. 

The case was altered to accommodate the Skinner instrument, and again in the 1970s. In the course of decades, carved panels were discarded, crockets cut down, and a brash horizontal trumpet stop installed. Carvings were desiccated and cracked, and the case had settled after structural elements were removed during the last campaign of alterations. Our mission was to structurally stabilize and restore the case to the spirit of the Skinner era, with new components respecting the aesthetic sensibility of Morgan’s gift. There could be no stylistic infelicities.

For the first time since the church was built, the organ chamber is thermally insulated, and the façade bears speaking pipes of the Great 8 Open Diapason. The original façade was composed of dumb pipes without winded toeboards, so the new façade pipes are given breath through the back of the foot via a tube of pipe metal.


The console

The elaborately inlaid and carved keydesk was inspired by the South German rococo work of Joseph Gabler from the second quarter of the 18th century. The morphology is his, but the console is dressed in Tudor clothing to match the exceptional work of the Clow brothers. Linenfold panels surround the entire console, including the back, and the astonishingly detailed corbels that support the key bed are just as intricately carved on their inside surfaces as they are where visible. As with all of our consoles, contrasting species of wood are used for everything from “skunktailing” the key cheeks to differentiating toe studs by function. Keyboard compasses are 56/30, accommodating the majority of the repertoire, anthem accompaniments, and robust hymnody. All measurements and relationships comply with AGO standards, and the organ is tuned in equal temperament.

The organ was dedicated and blessed during the morning service on September 7, and the inaugural recital performed by Eric Milnes on September 28.

The family of artisans at Glück Pipe Organs is grateful to have been invited to design and build this jewel in a jewel box. We appreciate the trust of the parish and their patience during the decade of study, design, construction, and finishing. Our longstanding accomplices in engineering and craftsmanship—OSI, A. R. Schopp’s Sons, Peterson Electro-Musical Products, and Harris Precision Products—continue to work with the dedicated members of the Glück team: General Manager Albert Jensen-Moulton, Joseph DiSalle, Dominic Inferrera, Peter Jensen-Moulton, Daniel Perina, and Robert Rast.

—Sebastian M. Glück

President and Artistic & Tonal Director


For more information about Glück pipe organs, video presentations, compact discs, workshops, and lectures, please visit 

Photo credit: All photos by Albert Jensen-Moulton


Regarding Sebastian Glück’s Opus 18

Upon my return from conducting Bach at the Tage für Alte Musik early music festival in Regensburg, Germany, I made the decision about a new organ for St. John’s, where I have been director of music and organist for 34 years. My career outside of the church has resided mainly in the period-instrument realm, conducting productions of Monteverdi through Mozart, and performing on historical 17th- and 18th-century keyboards and modern replicas. It was perhaps a paradoxical realization, when imagining a dream instrument for my church, that I longed for the more eclectic instruments of my youth, when I was a student of Gerre Hancock, John Weaver, and Vernon de Tar. What would make that dream a reality would be an electropneumatic instrument through which I could luxuriate in the French and German Romantic legacies, the great post-Victorian Anglican tradition, and the magnificent repertoire that has followed.

Sebastian Glück’s tonal and architectural insights and Albert Jensen-Moulton’s technical capabilities combined to fully divine my desire to return to those musical roots, and to conceive a plan that would ultimately satisfy completely. Their ability to express poetically, as well as in succinct and accessible technical terms the mysteries of concept, design, construction, and installation made the leap from imagination to implementation feel attainable. They equipped me well with the descriptive tools to guide a searching congregation through the process with assurance and anticipatory exhilaration. Their excitement about a freshly conceived instrument, their commitment to historical fealty and tonal integrity, and their respect for the mission of music in worship make for a wonderfully responsive and interactive collaboration with the church musician and the worshipers. We at St. John’s felt shepherded and fully participatory at all stages of the process as our musical dream became the longed-for voice of praise in our parish.

St. John’s chancel is a marvel of intricately embellished woodcarving in a heritage edifice preserving the extravagant preferences enjoyed by the privileged of the Gilded Age. The organ case in particular is a splendor to behold, and required the most loving care in its conservation and adaptation to a new instrument. Sebastian Glück’s distinction in the field of architectural restoration was of no small interest to the stewards of St. John’s legacy. His workshop’s treatment of the organ case, and his design of a complementary, luxurious console, have brought us transcendent joy. Albert Jensen-Moulton’s exquisite lighting plan has revealed to us the grandeur of the reimagined organ case, and we believe that the organ had not been fully illuminated since the Skinner organ was installed almost 100 years ago. Every craftsman member of the firm brought uncommon care to protect and restore the beauty for all to appreciate, present and future.

Having just celebrated the dedication and blessing of the new organ at St. John’s, the glorious sounds (first heard at this occasion) have filled us with inspiration and delight. We perceive the individual character of each exquisitely voiced rank, the kaleidoscope of a multitude of ensembles, blended, rich, warm, full, and thrilling in the unique acoustic of the sanctuary. A twenty-rank organ, conceived, built, and voiced by the caring (and compulsive!) hands of master builders, has been richly appointed to express the enormous range of a broad and diverse repertoire. Our church has received the gifts of exhilaration, inspiration, wonder, and mystery in support of praise and prayer.

Our deepest gratitude is expressed to Sebastian, Albert, and all the artisans of Glück Pipe Organs.

—Eric Milnes
Director of Music & Organist

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