C. B. Fisk, Inc., Gloucester,
Massachusetts, Opus 148
Centennial Chapel at
Christ Church Cathedral,
From the Builder
There are precious few places anywhere in the world that offer the splendor of San Petronio, Bologna. From the instant one walks through the West End Porta Magna—adorned with bas-relief sculptures by Jacopo della Quercia—this is overwhelmingly evident. After traversing 132 meters of marble paving under a 45-meter-high vault, arriving finally at the East End of the basilica one observes on the chancel south side the magnificent and venerable organo Epistola. With its original 24′ façade pipes still standing, it was completed by Lorenzo da Prato in 1475. Opposite, facing this instrument from the north chancel, stands the much younger yet still impressive organo Evangelii, built by Baldassarre Malamini in 1596. Together, these two organs speak to the excellence and grandeur that defined San Petronio’s sacred instrumental and choral music in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. That these two organs still exist in playable condition is remarkable, some would say miraculous.
Equally astounding as a small-scale, related instance is the 1588 organ by Costanzo Antegnati found at the Chiesa di San Nicola in the remote village of Almenno San Salvatore, tucked into the foothills of the Alps north of Bergamo. There, perched up high in a side gallery of an exquisite stone chapel that dates from 1488, stands an impossibly beautiful instrument that was built by perhaps the most talented member of the Antegnati dynasty of organ builders. This organ, restored by Marco Fratti in the early 1990s, is in perfect playing condition and opens a wonder-filled window to the long ago past for the sympathetic visitor.
As one would expect, all three of these organs have but one manual, all feature a ripieno whose individual ranks are drawn independently of one another, and all are winded on what we organbuilders today think of as extremely low pressures—from a high of 52 mm water column (da Prato) to a low of 45 mm (Malamini, Antegnati). To play on them and to hear their voices is an experience like no other. Numinous, reposeful, transparent, ageless yet full of youthful exuberance are all apt descriptors of their sounds. The da Prato and the Antegnati especially respond to the acoustics of their respective spaces in marvelous fashion, enveloping anyone present in a gently penetrating, breathtaking embrace of pure organ tone.
It is precisely these elusive qualities that we sought to bring to the chapel organ at Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati. Stephan Casurella, canon precentor and director of music, wrote to me in March 2014 inquiring whether C. B. Fisk would be interested in submitting a proposal for an organ in the about to be renovated Centennial Chapel. While visiting Casurella and his associate Shiloh Roby a few weeks later, I discovered the chapel to be a very fine lofty neo-Gothic structure seating one hundred people and with an attractively warm, clear acoustic. Casurella introduced me to Harold Byers, chairman of the cathedral’s music committee and a violinist in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, who offered to perform on his Amati violin. While listening to Byers play, accompanied by Casurella on a portative, the idea of an Italian-based instrument took root. Acoustical consultant Dana Kirkegaard, also present, and I agreed that this concept had merit—the space, with its limited floor dimensions and intimate acoustical properties, was in fact impelling us in this direction. Michael Unger, professor of organ at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, enthusiastically supported the Italian-based concept, opining that such an instrument would offer students opportunities heretofore unavailable in the United States. Another vital aspect of a new chapel organ came to light at this time—that it must have the ability to be used uninhibitedly in collaboration with other instruments and musicians.
Visits to relevant Fisk organs in New England followed in early June. These included our Opus 107 (1993) in the Dover Church, Dover, Massachusetts, a small two-manual in a classic colonial meeting house; Opus 72 (1981) in Houghton Chapel, Wellesley College, where Charles Fisk had built his first human-powered wind system; and Opus 84 (1985) in Abbey Chapel at Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts, where, at the urging of then organ professor Margaret Irwin-Brandon, Fisk experimented with the late sixteenth-century Italian style in several stops of the Great division. There the wind pressure, chosen with some trepidation by Charles Fisk, was 45 mm, and many of the pipe scalings were after those found in Gratiadio Antegnati’s 1581 instrument at the Chiesa di San Giuseppe in Brescia.
Following our submittal of a proposal for a two-manual organ of twenty stops, Italian-based and including a human-powered wind system, C. B. Fisk was chosen in August 2014 to build the Centennial Chapel organ. It became our Opus 148. Soon after, acoustical studies of the chapel space, involving Mr. Kirkegaard, were undertaken. And what turned out to be a crucial research trip to northern Italy took place in November of the same year, with Fisk voicers accompanied by Messrs. Casurella and Byers. Our guide for the tour was Francesco Cera, pre-eminent Italian organist, harpsichordist, conductor, and scholar. Francesco arranged visits to various instruments by the Antegnati and Serassi clans, an important organ by Giuseppe Bonatti, and other less frequently encountered builders including Meiarini, Bossi, and Tonoli. We heard and played organs in Milano, Almenno San Salvatore, Bergamo, Urgnano, Brescia, Rezzato, Desenzano, Mantova, Casatico, and Bologna.
A handful of the organs we studied had substantial impact on the final specifications for Opus 148. The Antegnati in the afore-mentioned Almenno San Salvatore seemed so fitting acoustically to its space and so effortlessly in balance with Byers’s Amati violin that we, in the end, modeled our Manual I, including pipe scales and alloys, after it. The Antegnati at San Giuseppe in Brescia, which had been so central to the Mount Holyoke instrument, also proved influential to our project. Its unforgettable ripieno, all high tin, sounded as a blaze of light in the Chiesa’s barrel-vaulted nave. This organ stands in its own gallery on the north side of the chancel, facing a musicians’ gallery opposite. Opus 148 is placed in a similar location in the Centennial Chapel and, inspired by our observations in Brescia and other locales, looks across the chancel at a newly constructed gallery for collaborating musicians. At the Basilica of Santa Barbara in Mantova we played another organ by Gratiadio Antegnati, this one dating from 1565. It was restored by Giorgio Carli between 1995 and 2006, and to it Carli had added a computer-controlled system of automatically inflating bellows. (Visit https://www.carliorgani.it/alzamantici-wedge-bellows-inflating.asp). This made an impression, and Opus 148 is, as a consequence, empowered with a similar self-inflating wind system; ours, by contrast, is mechanically controlled—to our knowledge a first in the organbuilding world. It is also possible, instead, to make use of the integral calcant pedals and wind the organ via human power rather than the electric blower.
The 1713 organ by Giuseppe Bonatti at Santuario Santa Maria in Rezzato we found fascinating for a number of reasons. Bonatti was the most important builder of the Schola Gardesana, or Garda Lake School, and he played a significant role in the development of the northern Italian organ in the time period between the Antegnati and Serassi lines. His Rezzato instrument caught our attention due to its strong, intense, almost German sound, partially due, no doubt, to the full semi-circular, barrel-vaulted ceiling, but also due to the style of voicing, which seemed to have had its origins north of the Alps. It was the modified meantone temperament, however, that really piqued our curiosity and which we liked to the point of attempting to decipher. Giorgio Carli, who restored the organ in 2001, graciously sent me detailed temperament information, and this is the temperament we have chosen for the Centennial Chapel organ.
The Serassi instruments we visited in Bergamo and Brescia provided inspiration for several of the voices on Manual II of Opus 148. The organ in the Duomo Vecchio, Brescia, was originally built in 1536 by yet another Antegnati—Giovanni Giacomo. In 1826, while preserving the original pipework and retaining the single manual and 45 mm
wind pressure, Giuseppe Serassi enlarged the organ to include voices that were more in keeping with the times. It was both informative and encouraging to hear how the two styles of pipe construction and voicing, separated by 300 years, knit together so persuasively. This was an important consideration for us, as our Manual II was conceived to add appropriate eighteenth- and nineteenth-century tone colors to a purely sixteenth-century Manual I. These sounds will enable Opus 148 to more fully accompany the Episcopal liturgy and will to a great extent enlarge its potential for repertoire. For a similar reason we decided not to include in the Pedal a wooden Contrabassi 16′—a seemingly ubiquitous stop in the late sixteenth-/early seventeenth-century north Italian organs. In its stead we opted for two mild 16′ voices of diverse timbres, both of wood—a Violini Bassi and a Bassi Stoppi.
Back at the Fisk workshop, visual designer Charles Nazarian and project manager Andrew Gingery, with input from acoustical consultant Dana Kirke-gaard, worked in tandem to accomplish case and mechanical designs, including interior layouts. Meanwhile, my former colleague Nami Hamada and I, together with Stephan Casurella, Harold Byers, and Michael Unger, brainstormed the final version of the stoplist and, gradually, the tonal design. The case is built of quarter-sawn white oak darkened to match the chancel furnishings, while Morgan Faulds Pike’s carvings, also of oak, are oil-finished to provide a contrasting appearance. The façade pipes, taken from the Manual I Principale and appearing from 8′ CC, are constructed of 95% pure tin, hammered. It was decided early on to implement the Italian horizontal hook-down stop lever system, and, late in the construction phase, to adopt all Italian stop names. The elegant boxwood stop labels were hand-calligraphed at the Fisk workshop where, as usual, were made the music rack, veneered with a handsome quarter-matched black walnut burl, and the keyboards, here clad in boxwood naturals and rosewood sharps.
Opus 148 was installed in the Centennial Chapel in April 2018, and finish voicing will take place throughout the summer and fall months. The instrument will be dedicated October 17–19, with festivities to include a solo recital by Francesco Cera, performances by student musicians from the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and a masterclass given by Mr. Cera.
—David C. Pike, Executive Vice-President & Tonal Director
C. B. Fisk, Inc.
From the Director of Music
In 2013 Christ Church Cathedral embarked upon several initiatives to mark its bicentennial and to set the course for a third century of ministry. One of the initiatives included renovation of Centennial Chapel, a beautiful neo-Gothic structure used for Daily Office liturgies, weekday Eucharists, small weddings and funerals, weekly noontime concerts, and other performances. The renovation project was to involve infrastructure updates and cleaning that would be sufficiently invasive to require removal of the existing organ, a 1967 installation crammed into two small overhead chambers in the arches on either side of the chancel.
Removal of the existing instrument raised a stewardship question. Given the organ’s failing electronics, deteriorating leathers, and inaccessibility for regular tuning, would rebuilding and reinstalling the organ be wise—especially since its shrill tonal character was in such sharp contrast to the chapel’s lovely intimacy? Under the leadership of chairperson Harold Byers, the cathedral’s music committee accelerated its study of the matter, concluding that reinstallation of the existing organ would be poor stewardship.
The committee then began exploring the possibility of a new organ for Centennial Chapel. We invited three of today’s finest builders to visit the cathedral and submit proposals. In our request for proposals, we gave minimal parameters so as not to limit the builders’ creativity, indicating only that we sought a mechanical-action instrument that would respond to the warmth and intimacy of the chapel, play the Episcopal liturgy well, and be a superb asset to the greater Cincinnati area for performances of repertoire suitable to its size and specification.
Any of the three builders we approached would have created a beautiful instrument of the highest quality. We were, however, quite taken with the proposal submitted by David Pike of
C. B. Fisk, Inc. It was clear that David had understood Centennial Chapel’s significance to the cathedral’s worship life and to performers and audiences in the community. It was also clear that Fisk would not be building a typical small organ such as those found in countless chapels across the United States, worthy though some of them may be. The Fisk proposal, rather, envisioned a tonal design seldom heard in this country: foundations that offer a “warm, gentle, vocal embrace,” with choruses and a range of color stops to support the Episcopal liturgy and a varied recital repertoire in a similarly intimate fashion. While not a period piece, the proposed instrument would respond to the chapel’s architectural and acoustical environment using very low wind pressure and other tenets of late sixteenth-century Italian organbuilding.
We were delighted when in 2014 the cathedral’s Vestry accepted the music committee recommendation to commission a new organ from C. B. Fisk. Working with the Fisk shop through each stage of the process—research, design, building, installation, and voicing—has been deeply rewarding. The artistry and professionalism of each member of the team is inspiring. Opus 148 is an achievement beyond what I had imagined possible, a work of art whose beauty will inspire worshipers, performers, audiences, and students throughout the region and beyond for generations to come.
Canon Precentor & Director of Music
Decima nona *
Vigesima seconda *
Vigesima sesta *
Cornetto III (a0–d3)
Flauto in Ottava
Flauto in XII
Voce Umana (c0)
Viola da Gamba
Flauto Traverso †
Flauto in Selva
Principale (Man. I)
Ottava (Man. I)
* Stops that are brought on by depressing the Ripieno pedal
† CC–BB from Flutta Camino
Couplers and accessories
Manual II to Manual I
Manual I to Pedal
Manual II to Pedal
Mechanical key action
Mechanical stop action—Italian lever system
Casework: a single cabinet of wood, designed to harmonize with and adorn the chapel
Hand carved decoration.
Front pipes of polished hammered tin.
Two manuals and pedal, 56/30
Wind system: In addition to an electric blower, a manually operated system of 3 single-rise cuneiform bellows, based on historic examples, is included. Also included is a mechanically controlled automatic bellows lifting system.
22 stops, 20 independent voices
22 ranks, 1,078 total pipes
Builder website: www.cbfisk.com