The Fisk Opus 97 at St. John’s is the church’s third pipe organ. As such, it is part of a distinguished legacy of organs and music in this church, which recently celebrated the 150th anniversary of it’s founding.
Last year we discovered in the Boston Evening Transcript of September 9, 1864 an article with a photo of the organ that was built when the church was new in 1864. The article says that the organ cost $1,000 and was created in Boston. From the photo, the organ appears to have a wooden screen with no pipes visible, clearly one manual, with 5-6 stops.
The second organ was made by the Estey Organ Company in 1907, Opus 434. Based in Brattleboro, VT, Estey made over 3,000 pipe organs between 1901 and 1950.
On January 25, 1984, Senior Warden Susan Richardson, Frances Fitch (then music director), Joan Hunter, organ committee chair and the Rev. Robert Bela, interim priest, gathered at the workshop of C. B. Fisk, Inc. to sign the contract for Opus 97.
Charles Fisk had met with the committee the previous year to make plans for the instrument. It was one of his fondest wishes to build a new organ for his own community. He died only five weeks before the signing. Mark Nelson, St. John’s current director of music, was a member of the Fisk workshop at the time the contract for the Opus 97 was signed. He remembers what a significant event this was, as it proved that the Fisk workshop would continue to flourish, even without its founder.
OPUS 97 was built in 1989, with additions completed in 1997. It consists of 18 voices, 23 ranks, and 1,044 pipes. Of that number, 398 have been retained, rebuilt and revoiced from the Estey organ installed at the turn of the previous century. Opus 97 is not considered a large organ. It was built on the same site as the previous two pipe organs, in the space laid out for it when the church was built.
More than half of the pipework is contained in the Swell division at floor level, with wooden vertical shades that open and close to allow for gradations in volume. This makes the organ especially adept at accompanying voices and playing the Anglian service. Opus 97 has been featured in a number of programs over the years, from Evensong to concerts to accompanying silent movies!
Fisk began initial discussions with Frances Conover Fitch, Director of Music, in 1983. He wrote: “The side position for an organ is seldom thought of as ideal, yet St. John’s is so narrow and so moderate in cubic volume that a well built and well voiced organ should carry easily to the extremities of the building, particularly if an effort is made to get the organ unobtrusively ‘out of the hole’ it now occupies.” The contract was signed in 1984, shortly after his death, and the organ, completed in 1989, exists much as he originally envisioned.
The lofty and overhanging Oberwerk is the primary hymn playing division and contains the Principal chorus and the colorful Sesquialtera. The comparatively large Swell is behind the reversed detached console in a heavily constructed box capable of wide dynamic effects. The lush unison stops and colorful reed stops contribute subtle effects, making this an ideal division for accompanying choirs and instruments. The Pedal contains an independent wooden 16′ Bourdon, which forms the façade of the lower case and a full-length 16′ Posaune standing just behind the Swell.
Charles Nazarian’s white oak case, containing details from the original Estey organ, is designed to complement the nearby reredos, designed by Gothic revival architect Ralph Adams Cram.
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