1929 E. M. Skinner Pipe Organ, Opus 769


Cyrus Hermann Kotzschmar Curtis

Cyrus Hermann Kotzschmar Curtis (1850-1933), publishing magnate, who was known for The Ladies’ Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post, grew up in Portland, Maine. At the age of 12, by becoming a newsboy, he began a career in the publishing business and would later build one of the most successful publishing companies in the United States. For decades, The Ladies’ Home Journal was the most widely circulating women’s magazine in the U.S., and the Saturday Evening Post had the largest circulation of any weekly magazine in the world. He also founded a separate company, Curtis-Martin Newspapers, which at one time controlled The Public Ledger, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The New York Evening Post.

After the financial failure of Barker Brothers & Company in 1890, a financial firm in Philadelphia, Abraham Barker (1821-1906) sold his estate, “Lyndon,” to Cyrus Curtis, and Curtis moved his family from Camden, New Jersey, to Wyncote, Pennsylvania in 1891. In June of 1895, the original Barker home was demolished, and Curtis hired William Lloyd Baily (1861-1947) to build a new stone mansion in the Renaissance Revival style. The cost was $2 million, and the property was graced with gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903).

For his new dwelling, Curtis purchased the third residence pipe organ built by the Aeolian Company of New York (Opus 784), and in 1903 added a large music room to his home along with the addition of several ranks to the organ (Opus 943). Later, in 1917, the organ was enlarged to a gigantic 104 ranks, making it the largest residence organ in the world at the time (Opus 1374). The following year, this title would be taken by George Eastman (1854-1932), of Eastman-Kodak, who installed a 132-rank pipe organ in his estate in Rochester, New York. Topping both, in 1929, was Pierre S. du Pont’s (1870-1954) 146-rank organ in the ballroom at Longwood Gardens.

In 1935, two years after Mr. Curtis’ death, his only daughter, Mary Louise (1876-1970), had the family home razed, leaving only a potting shed and the music room. She gave the property to Cheltenham Township, creating the Curtis Hall Arboretum. The Arboretum remained so until her death when the land was returned to the Curtis family. It was later sold back to Cheltenham Township, and today functions as Mary Louise intended, boasting an array of native and foreign trees spread over 45 acres of land.

Cyrus H. K. Curtis was known for being quite generous with his fortunes by giving to hospitals, universities, and museums. He was considered the 20th wealthiest person in the United States. Though the Curtis name is well recognized nationally, much of Cyrus’ philanthropy started right here in Wyncote.

Hermann Kotzschmar (1829-1908), the “H. K.” in Cyrus Curtis’ name, and a friend of Cyrus’ father, was a famous conductor and organist in Maine. From a young age, Curtis loved the pipe organ and its music, and though not musical himself, he was determined to leave his mark in that part of our world.

Around the time Mr. Curtis signed the contract for his own residence organ, he signed another with the Farrand & Votey Organ Company of Detroit, Michigan, to build a moderately-sized electro-pneumatic pipe organ for All Hallows Church. It was installed in 1896 and was the first of many pipe organs to carry the Curtis name in the greater Philadelphia region and beyond. Other installations attesting to Curtis’ generosity include: the Kotzschmar Organ, Portland, Maine (1912); the organs at Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine (1927) and the Unitarian Society of Germantown (1927); the “Curtis Organ,” University of Pennsylvania (1928), Drexel University (1928), and the Curtis Institute of Music (1928). In addition to these instruments, the Curtis family gave greatly to All Hallows as aforementioned. Until the end of his life, Curtis provided thousands of dollars for a quartet of the best singers, an adult choir of about 25, and a boys’ choir as well as an organist and choir director. This made All Hallows famous for notable music in this little corner of the Diocese. The church archives show that those “thousands” were around $2,000 per year, or about $25,000 in today’s currency—far more than most any church would have been paying for music in the early 1900s. During the Great Depression, Cyrus even paid off the remaining $35,000 mortgage on the parish house.

Mr. Curtis’ benevolence was carried on by his daughter, Mary Louise Curtis Bok Zimbalist. After she married Edward W. Bok (1863-1930) in 1896, the editor who succeeded her mother, Louisa Knapp Curtis, as author of the Ladies Home Journal, the Boks gave regularly to musical institutions in and around Philadelphia. The Boks also had Aeolian pipe organs in their homes in Merion, Pennsylvania, and in Florida (Bok Tower Gardens), where they summered. In 1917, Mrs. Curtis Bok gave $150,000 to house the Settlement Music School. After purchasing three mansions in center city, one formerly the Drexels’ on Locust Street, she founded the renowned Curtis Institute of Music, honoring her father. Later, she and her husband would donate several pipe organs to the Curtis Institute and the Academy of Music. The original Curtis residence organ was removed from the Wyncote home in 1935 and given as a memorial to Christ Church, Philadelphia, being installed by E.M. Skinner as one of his last projects with the Aeolian-Skinner firm. It was extensively altered over the following decades, and parted out in 2017.

Starting with Cyrus, the Curtises and Boks also had a close relationship with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Henry Gordon Thunder, Jr. (1865-1958), a local conductor and founder of the Choral Society of Philadelphia, conducted the Thunder Orchestra, most of whose members began playing in the newly organized Philadelphia Orchestra in 1900. His brother, William Sylvano Thunder (1876-1954), was organist at the Cathedral (Roman Catholic) in Philadelphia through much of the early 20th century and was Cyrus Curtis’ residence organist in Wyncote during the 1920s. Much of Henry’s work started the Philadelphia Orchestra in its early days, and William was the orchestra’s organist and accompanist under Leopold Stokowski from 1916 to 1928.

Today, the Curtis-Bok legacy lives on through not only the Curtis Institute, but also through myriad other musical and philanthropic gifts, bestowed by the Curtises and Boks over a span of nearly 50 years. All Hallows is grateful to have benefitted from this legacy, though it is a small detail in this part of Philadelphian history.

Farrand & Votey, Opus 803 (1896)

As plans were underway in 1895 to build a stone church for the Wyncote mission, Cyrus Curtis signed a contract with the Farrand & Votey Organ Company of Detroit, Michigan, for a pipe organ of 2 manuals and 25 stops to be installed upon completion of the church. The organ was the firm’s Opus 803, installed in 1896, costing $5,500. Upon the consecration of the church in February of 1897, The Churchman, an ecclesial magazine from the turn of the last century, stated, “The large organ…has an unusual richness and variety of tone combinations, stops, and electric action.”

The Farrand & Votey Organ Company started as the Detroit Organ Company in 1881, manufacturing reed organs. It was later purchased by Edwin S. Votey (1856-1931), a former employee of the Estey Organ Company of Brattleboro, Vermont, together with William R. Farrand (1853-1930). They started building pipe organs in 1888. In 1889, the company acquired the patents and business of Hilborne L. Roosevelt (1849-1886) in New York, as well as the Granville Wood Pipe Organ Company in 1890.

In 1895, Edwin Votey began experimenting with a pneumatically operated piano-playing device, which would become known as the “pianola.” Later this turned into what we think of today as the player piano. Votey became more interested in his new invention, and decided to join the Aeolian Company in New York City, which wanted to sell pianolas. He bought out the pipe organ and player piano division of Farrand & Votey and began building pipe organs under the Votey name solely while building player pianos for Aeolian. Farrand continued making reed organs, pianos, and player pianos until 1915, when the company went bankrupt. In 1901, Aeolian sold their pipe organ division to George S. Hutchings (1835-1913), a Boston organ builder, who changed the name of his firm to Hutchings-Votey. This company also went bankrupt in 1915.

Prior to its dissolution, Farrand & Votey changed organ building in the United States immensely and built several important instruments. For the Columbian Exposition in 1893, they built the first pipe organ with an electric action throughout. This was one of the world’s largest instruments at the time, boasting about 63 ranks spread over 4 manuals. Because electricity was relatively new as well, making a pipe organ playable by electricity alone was a great novelty and an important step for the future of American pipe organ building. At the same time, Farrand & Votey built the first organ for Aeolian Hall in New York City. The Aeolian Company was well known throughout the world for their automatic musical instruments, and Aeolian Hall made many a debut of some of the finest mechanical musical instruments of the early 20th century.

No stoplist of All Hallows’ Farrand & Votey exists. Records only indicate that the organ was re-leathered by Estey in 1922. The Columbian Exposition’s organ stop list indicates that All Hallows’ first organ was one of the finest church organs money could buy in 1896, however. Farrand & Votey’s pipe organs were influenced by European instruments having much more color and variety of tone than other American organs during that era. Voicing was much more even throughout, rather than being too “bottom-heavy,” and very few other organs of that period were operated by electricity either.

Chancel Fire

Around 7:30 p.m. on the evening of January 14, 1929, All Hallows’ sexton and several neighbors noticed flames coming from the church building. It was soon discovered that the pipe organ had caught fire, most likely from failure of the blower motor or electrical wiring. The fire soon spread into the chancel, and required nearly 15 volunteer fire companies to battle it. They worked for about two hours, keeping flames from the nave or parish house. Thankfully there were no deaths, but seven men were hospitalized after the ordeal. About 45 policemen had to keep a large crowd of people attracted to the blaze at a safe distance.

The next morning, the chancel stood mostly as a stone wall structure with holes where fire had burned through the roof. The whole church was heavily damaged, whereas the choir stalls, pews, and other furniture were either burnt or had varnish drip on them from the roof of the nave, where heat had been trapped. The light fixtures had all melted, and the windows were cracked as well. Running into the burning building, parishioner Robert D. Hamilton managed to save the altar cross, linens, candlesticks, and vases. Firemen, also risking their lives, were able to rescue the Jennings and Curtis memorial windows, though the Fleming James window would need to be entirely replaced by Tiffany Studios. The altar was damaged, and the organ completely lost.

Without hesitation, restoration began and the church was ready for Christmas Eve 1929 when the new Skinner pipe organ would be heard for the first time. The organ cost $13,841.67. The treasurer’s report of 1930 shows every item covered by insurance, including amongst other things: reconstruction, furniture, vestments, sheet music, a reed organ for interim services in All Hallows Hall, the new pipe organ, and the dedicatory recital, played by Dr. Ernest T. Allen, who served at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Melrose Park from 1913 to 1952. He was paid $50 for the recital.

Skinner Organ Company, Opus 769 (1929)

Ernest M. Skinner (1866-1960) was born in Clarion, Pennsylvania, and began his organ building career with George H. Ryder (1838-1922) in his Taunton, Massachusetts, shop in 1886, and later with George Hutchings (1835-1913) in Boston. In 1898, Mr. Skinner went abroad in order to study organs in England, France, and Holland. While in London, he studied the work of Henry Willis (1821-1901), one of England’s most influential organ builders. Skinner was given access to study the Willis organ at St. George’s Hall, Liverpool, while Henry tutored him, showing him ways of voicing pipework which up to that point were not known in America. Skinner returned and put much of his new knowledge to work at the Hutchings-Votey Organ Company. In 1902, Skinner left Hutchings-Votey and entered into a partnership to form the Skinner & Cole Company. This business lasted until 1904, when Ernest M. Skinner & Company was organized.

During the early 1900s, Skinner experimented with and successfully built beautiful orchestral voices for his pipe organs, including the Erzähler (a string-like stop whose name means “story-teller” in German), the Orchestral Oboe, English Horn, Corno di Bassetto, Flügel Horn, and Heckelphone, which are all imitative of their orchestral counterparts and remarkably convincing. Skinner also refined his string stops, such as the Salicional, Dulciana, and Gamba. His Flauto Dolce Celeste became his favorite stop. Made up of two ranks of mildly voiced flutes, one tuned flat, it produces an ethereal, undulating effect called a “celeste.” Of all Skinner’s pipework, he only ever patented his designs for his French Horn stop.

Ernest M. Skinner & Company quickly became nationally recognized in the early 20th century for building pipe organs for some of the most prominent churches, concert halls, colleges, and civic auditoriums in the United States. A few of these are The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York (1906); Carnegie Music Hall, Pittsburgh (1910); St. Thomas Church, New York (1913); and Brick Presbyterian Church, New York (1917).

Skinner’s pipe organs were not only tonally beautiful, but through a system of specific measurements used on his organ consoles, they were built to be very easy to play. These measurements included the distances between the various manuals, pedalboard, and expression shoes, as well as other mechanical devices that became standard in 1930 by the American Guild of Organists. Skinner also refined the motors he used to open and close swell shades, which control the volume of the pipes housed in a swell box. By making them open and close smoothly, they create seamless crescendos and decrescendos. Also, before many other organ companies built their consoles with standard combination actions, most Skinner consoles had fully adjustable pistons, which would set, move, and change stops just by pressing one with the thumb.

Although an artist and mechanical genius, Ernest Skinner was not a good businessman; however, in 1919 he gained financial freedom from his company when Arthur Hudson Marks (1874-1939), former Vice-President of the Goodrich Rubber Company, re-organized the firm as the Skinner Organ Company. With encouragement from Marks, Skinner returned to Europe in 1924, where he studied and discussed new ideas with Henry Willis III (1889-1966) and met one of his best employees, George Donald Harrison (1889-1956). Skinner also visited France, meeting organist Marcel Dupré (1886-1971), who showed him the brilliant voicing found in French Romantic organs.

With encouragement from Henry Willis III, Arthur Marks hired G. Donald Harrison as Assistant General Manager of the Skinner Organ Company in 1927. Together, Harrison and Skinner designed several important organs, such as those at Princeton University Chapel (1927); Woolsey Hall, Yale University (1928); and the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at the University of Chicago (1929). Skinner’s relationship with Harrison began well, but by the end of 1929 he was well aware that Harrison had been hired to replace him eventually.

In 1932, the Skinner Organ Company merged with the organ division of the Aeolian Company, forming the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company. By this time, Skinner’s tonal philosophies were going out of fashion and Harrison’s were becoming more popular. The last pipe organ that Ernest Skinner designed while still with Aeolian-Skinner was for the Chapel at Girard College, Philadelphia, in 1931. After he attempted to circumvent Harrison for a contract with Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Aeolian stripped him of any power within the company, so he attempted to form the Ernest M. Skinner and Son Organ Company with his son, Richmond (1898-1986). Instead, Arthur Marks persuaded Skinner to enter a 5-year contract, which provided him with a $5,000 annual salary for the use of his name and the stipulation that he would not build any new pipe organs. In 1936, Ernest Skinner sold his interest in the firm and never returned.

In 1937, the Ernest M. Skinner and Son Organ Company built one last, large organ for The Washington National Cathedral. However, in 1941, the company filed for bankruptcy, and in 1943, the organ shop in Methuen, Massachusetts, burned to the ground.

From the late 1930s through the 1970s, there was great interest in European organs of the 18th century in the United States. Skinner’s pipe organs sounded very different from instruments built 200 years prior; thus, he defended his tonal philosophies in publications such as The Diapason and The American Organist well into the 1950s. Towards the end of his life, he began to see virtually all of his instruments rebuilt or tonally altered in some way. Even after his death, many of his pipe organs would either be rebuilt beyond recognition or completely thrown out in order to accommodate new tastes.

Today, very few Skinner instruments remain in their original installation and unaltered tonal state. Two of the largest are the Newberry Memorial Organ (which Skinner rebuilt in 1928) in Woolsey Hall at Yale University, and the organ at Grand Avenue Temple United Methodist Church, Kansas City, Missouri. Thankfully a renewed appreciation and understanding of Ernest Skinner’s work has come around, and many of his instruments are being restored to be as close to their original tonal state as possible.

Where does All Hallows’ Skinner organ figure into all of this? In the aftermath of the fire in January of 1929, a committee made up of Messrs. A. B. Parvin, William T. Pringle, and William H. Rohrer, set about to purchase a new pipe organ for All Hallows Church. The Skinner Organ Company was chosen and was able to rush the installation, not something they often did, so the organ could be used on Christmas Eve of that year.

From the Skinner Organ Company history, it is clear that All Hallows’ pipe organ is a typical Skinner, bearing the influence from his fruitful trip abroad in the late 1920s. There appears to be only subtle influence from G. Donald Harrison, even though he and Skinner were building several important organs together around the time of its completion. The organ includes examples of imitative reed stops such as the Clarinet, Oboe, and Trumpet, flute stops like the Concert Flute, and Rohrflöte, two very realistic narrow-scale string stops, the Salicional and Voix Celeste, and two Diapasons, the one on the Great division being rich and sonorous, while the one on the Swell division provides foundation and can be used as a solo string voice as well. The pedal 16’ Open Diapason or Contrabass, as the pipes are labeled, adds gravity to the instrument with its purr. Though few in number, the higher-pitched voices add clarity to the unison voices, and a Mixture III on the Swell provides brilliance in full combinations. Overall, the organ exhibits all of the symphonic characteristics, attention to detail, and mechanical ingenuity that a Skinner would have, making it quite useful and pleasant. It is these qualities that made Skinner’s instruments the “Duesenbergs of pipe organs.” In addition, there are known to be at least three to four different opus numbers of pipework from other Skinner contracts in All Hallows’ instrument, most likely pulled from other jobs to speed up the building process in the shop; something rather uncommon. It is very apparent that great attention to detail was made during the tonal finishing of this organ because it is highly successful. This process was most likely personally managed by Mr. Skinner in an attempt at a “weekly” sales pitch, as it were, to one particular pipe organ aficionado/philanthropist; Cyrus Curtis!

In 2004, Patrick J. Murphy & Associates of Stowe, Pa. re-leathered the organ console’s leather components. The chests were re-leathered in 2007, and two new ranks were added where space had originally been prepared for a Second Open Diapason on the Great and a Dulciana on the Choir. A Grave Mixture II and a 2’ Piccolo were added to these divisions, respectively. The blower and motor were restored in 2011 after flooding. Although it was proposed to re-voice some pipework (such as the Choir Concert Flute to be re-voiced as a Quintadena!), and replace the organ console in the 1960’s, neither occurred.

In 2014, as part of chancel remodeling, All Hallows elected to have Opus 769 re-wired for safety and reliability, focusing special attention on the console, which caused ciphers, dead notes, and other occasional problems, even very strangely, electrocution to the organist! Despite a mostly working combination action, it was quite limited in its capabilities and decidedly replaced with an Opus Two control system. The console is now state-of-the-art and aesthetically and mechanically in excellent condition, and the organ (and organist!) have an immensely wider range of registration capabilities necessary for the liturgy and recitals. In mid-2019, the Clarinet, one of the four reed stops was restored and the church plans to continue to restore one reed each year until they have all been brought back to their 1929 splendor.

3 manuals, 22 stops, 19 ranks, 1,435 pipes

16’ Bourdon from Pedal
8’ Open Diapason
8’ Principal Flute (wood, marked Clarabella)
8’ Rohrflöte from Swell
4’ Octave
Grave Mixture II (12th and 15th )*

8’ Geigen Diapason
8’ Rohrflöte
8’ Salicional
8’ Voix Celeste
4’ Flute Triangulaire
Mixture III (19th, 22nd, 26th)
8’ Trumpet
8’ Oboe d’Amore
8’ Vox Humana

8’ Concert Flute (wood and metal)
4’ Flute (harmonic, metal)
2’ Piccolo (harmonic, metal)*
8’ Clarinet

16’ Diapason (wood, marked Contrabass)
16’ Bourdon
8’ Octave (wood, ext. of 16’ Diapason)
8’ Gedeckt (ext. of 16’ Bourdon)
4’ Super Octave (top 1½ octave open metal, ext. of 16’ Diapason)

Includes most standard couplers save for the 5-1/3 Choir-Great, which makes the Choir’s stops available on the Great at the 5th above unison pitch.

* (Indicates pipework added in 2007)

Organists of All Hallows Church

Mrs. H. Vance Peters
Miss Evelyn Tyson
Mr. A. Eric Martin
Mr. James C. Slechta
Mrs. Joan Gurniak FAGO
Mrs. Rose Davis
Dr. Kathleen Scheide
Mr. Christopher H. Kehoe CAGO

Skinner Organ Company
Boston, Mass.