About the Organ

About The Organ

The organ at the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Aeolian-Skinner Opus 891, was installed in January 1933, and the dedicatory recital was played by Professor Palmer Christian of the University of Michigan on January 11th of that year. The organ, designed by organbuilder G. Donald Harrison, is widely considered a forerunner of the “American Classic” school. The program notes for the dedicatory recital include the following: “The new organ . . . is something of an innovation, if one may call a return to ancient principles an innovation, a return to the principles of the ‘classic’ organ, the organ of the Thomas-Kirche and of the older French and German builders.” The new organ, though incomplete, certainly attracted quite a stir, with numerous articles being devoted to it, and all appreciative of its place as a revolutionary instrument.


One of the main goals in American Classic organ building was for a satisfactory organ ensemble sound, rather than an emphasis on solo voices, and an ability to play organ music of all styles and periods. The organ, when first installed and today, however, certainly bears a strong French influence, and has always been appreciated for its ability to render French organ music appropriately. The organ was revised, with substantial changes in a number of divisions, by G. Donald Harrison in 1942 and renamed Opus 891-A. Nevertheless, the organ was still not complete. A number of small changes occurred over the next 40 years. Finally, in 1988, the completion of the organ was begun by Mann & Trupiano Organbuilders of Brooklyn. A number of ranks were added, including the planned Bombarde division, and the organ was brought very close to Harrison’s original design, although the intended case has never been built.


The most recent enhancements include a 16-foot Bourdon in the pedal, and a floating chorus trumpet. This trumpet stop has a particularly interesting history – it was installed in 1956 by G. Donald Harrison for the organ at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue (and used in Marcel Dupré’s famous recording on that instrument). Not long after that, however, it was discarded during revisions of their organ. At the instigation of McNeil Robinson (then organist at Saint Mary’s), it found its way over here, where it has been stored in the basement for 38 years. Lawrence Trupiano, Curator of Organs, restored and installed the trumpet for use in our organ. It seems appropriate that this trumpet, one of the last reed stops designed by Harrison, has found a new home in one of his first instruments with the Aeolian-Skinner Company. Great organ works may be heard on a weekly basis at Solemn Mass and in our recital series.


For detailed information from the New York Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, please visit:

Last Published: July 2, 2013 5:20 PM
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