March 2020 TAO Feature Article

The Cathedral of Christ the King
Superior, Wisconsin
Glück Pipe Organs • New York City
Stop List

By Sebastian M. Glück

 

From the time that the Cathedral of Christ the King was dedicated on Christmas Day of 1927, the goal of building a suitable pipe organ had been elusive. The neo-Romanesque structure and its campanile are built upon a raised platform and stand nobly against the Wisconsin sky. Romanesque churches feature thick masonry walls with small windows that encourage ample reverberation, yet 1937 witnessed the carpeting of the sanctuary and the installation of sound-absorbing materials covering the ceiling and the upper walls of the nave, annihilating reverberation. In recent decades, the choir, accompanied by a failing hybrid unit, sang from a low-ceilinged gallery above the narthex, struggling to reach the crossing. In 2003, Scott R. Riedel & Associates Ltd. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, were retained as acoustic and organ consultants. The sound-absorbing materials were removed, and the choir was relocated into the Epistle-side transept. New terrazzo paving and a coffered plaster ceiling graciously doubled the reverberation time. The hybrid unit was sold, and the cathedral used a piano as its primary musical instrument.

Several years ago, I was invited by the cathedral to design, build, and tonally finish an organ with the clear mission to serve the Catholic liturgy, congregational singing, and organ and choral literature. There was no interest in adopting the technical or tonal whims of any temporary organbuilding trend that might prove regrettable in the future. The specifications were built upon the features held in common by the organs of the important eras and cultures of organ composition and building. That information was filtered through the registration guidelines handed down by tradition, performance practice treatises, and composers’ scores. Such tenets distilled the stoplist toward a practical design that endures rather than frustrates.

The Musical Blueprint

What began as a two-manual design grew to three manuals in light of how much substantive literature called for a third, and how the nuances of choral accompaniment could be expanded. Historical study confirmed that an expression enclosure was not a requirement for the third manual, and I walked the conservative path of an unenclosed eight-rank Positiv division in the Gospel case, with the Great in the Epistle case. These divisions enjoy the spatial separation of a Baroque Positiv in a dorsal case while keeping the organ entirely on one level for the sake of tuning stability.

Pipe organs of moderate size may exhibit some predictability in tonal design if the builder is a conscientious steward of a client’s funds; each indulgent frill that supplants a requisite voice is an extravagant waste—a disservice to music, liturgy, and education. Instruments of this size can be conceived with measured additions to the safety of the template, increasing color and utility without being irresponsible. My ethical obligation to keep the instrument free of artificially generated voices served to focus the stoplist and curb tonal temptation.

The forthright core of the Great division is its diapason chorus, with the bottom octave of the 8′ standing in the speaking facade. The large-scale 8′ Harmonic Flute, which takes its lowest ten pipes from the Open Diapason to maintain open tone throughout the compass, is joined by the 16’/8′ wooden Bourdon unit and the Viole de Gambe borrowed from the Swell. The 4′ Spire Flute is voiced and finished such that it can be used in unconventional combinations with other flue stops for a variety of tonal colors. The firm, round Trumpet is also duplexed to the Positiv.

Swell division

The Swell division is located in the triforium of the Epistle side of the sanctuary, with shutter fronts opening into the sanctuary as well as to the transept behind the Great windchest. This second set of shutters prevents the Swell from sounding distant and directs its tone toward the choir stalls in the transept.

The Swell’s slotted 8′ Open Diapason is immeasurably useful in the liturgy as well as in the performance of organ and choral music. The Swell diapason chorus is marked by a brighter mixture than that of the Great, and although it contains only three ranks, it bears two unisons and a single quint to maintain clarity in voice leading. Incisive French strings of slotted construction take their traditional places, and the undulant makes a good pair with the Diapason as well. The parent rank stands behind the shutter front near the Great windchest, as it is duplexed onto the Great to complete the quartet of stops for the fonds d’huit.

Herald Trumpet and chimes in the triforium

The choir of Swell flutes includes the elements of the Cornet Composé. With only one tierce combination in the instrument, I chose flute scales for the mutations. Principal-scaled mutations cannot weld into a Cornet, yet the 8′ -2⅔’ -1 3∕5′ flute combination can, in a good acoustic, convince one that there is a Sesquialtera present. This places the Cornet in a position to enter into dialogue with the half-length cylindrical reed in the Positiv while still contributing to the Grand Jeu. An unexpected feature of the capped, full-length 16′ Bassoon is that when drawn in the Pedal by duplex action, it sits beautifully beneath the strings as a surrogate Violone and adds color and pitch identity to the pedal line in softer combinations.

The Positiv borrows a bit from the Georgian chamber organ and a bit from the Continental Baroque, but is neither. The utility of the 8′ Dulciana cannot be overstated, especially when it leans more toward an Echo Diapason than the type of neutered, bland string placed in American organs of a century ago. The two-rank mixture is not high-pitched, as the Positiv differentiates itself by its position, weight, and texture without having the upperwork separate from the ensemble. The 8′ Clarinet is notably bold and broad, voiced brightly so as to work well in both French organ repertoire and characteristic soli in English anthems. The Herald Trumpet, which plays from this manual, is placed in the triforium on the Gospel side of the sanctuary and is the most brilliant stop in the organ.

The Pedal division is derived from four boldly scaled unit ranks and carefully selected mezzo-forte stops either borrowed or extended from the manual divisions, with the 8′ Principal in the Gospel facade. The 16′ Dulciana, extended from the Positiv, is worth its weight in gold for its utility and elegance, and allows for the forcefulness of the 16′ Open Wood Bass to fully undergird the ensemble. The Pedal reeds, despite their brassy flair, are warm and round, rolling dramatically down the nave.

The Visual Element

It is a challenge to design and build an organ after another builder’s recommended alterations have been made to the edifice. A freestanding organ in a resonant case, recessed slightly into one of the transepts, would have been ideal, but reinforced concrete platforms projecting into each transept were already in place at the direction of the previously selected builder. Worshipers and visitors to the cathedral had been looking at those empty shelves and gaping holes in the transept walls for a decade and a half, and expected a resolution. In addition, three fine mosaics in the Byzantine style had been commissioned for each of the building’s apses, and their beauty had to remain in view.

As a preservation architect attuned to precedent and context, I felt that merely placing an open array of pipes on each shelf was no more than a facile evasion of artistic responsibility. The cathedral organ cases combine pendant pairs of pipe stockades with wooden casework. The former is a nod to what Midwestern American builders were producing for Catholic churches at the time the cathedral was built, and the latter was inspired by my walk-through of the permanent stage settings of Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico of 1585, in which he used classical architectural elements in forced perspective to create the illusion of greater height and depth in the built environment.

Beyond the Walls

The area’s organists and academics have taken note of this instrument in part because it offers a new perspective on the performance of the post-Mendelssohnian organ repertoire without rejecting any of the structure of the golden age of the instrument. In a region that until recently has favored the interpretive neoclassicism of the last century, organ students are welcomed to a new pipe organ of a more inclusive academic style.

Large-scale choral works and the hundreds of pieces written for organ with solo instruments or orchestra will be more authentically experienced in this peaceful, spiritual, resonant space. The Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, Twin Ports Wind Orchestra, Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra, Duluth-Superior Symphony Chorus, Superior Diocesan Chorale, and myriad collegiate ensembles have a new resource through which to expand and vitalize the musical life of the region.

Sebastian M. Glück is artistic and tonal director of Glück Pipe Organs in New York City. He is also an active lecturer, author, and consultant in the field.

Photos by Sebastian M. Glück, including the cover, except as noted.

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