Second Church of Christ Scientist
129 Lafayette Street
(facing Columbus Green)
Hartford, CT 06106
1929 E. M. Skinner, Opus 793
Three manuals, 45 ranks
History of the Skinner Organ at the Former Second Church
Joseph F. Dzeda, A. Thompson-Allen Company,
Gordon Clark Ramsey, Organist, Second Church
The 1930 Skinner Organ in Second Church, Hartford represents an important transitional instrument between the English-oriented E.M. Skinner organs of 1920’s, and the French oriented Aeolian-Skinner organs of 1930’s. The transition was brought about in large part by G. Donald Harrison, who came to Skinner in 1927 from the firm of Henry Willis & Sons in London, bringing with him an interest in brighter upper-work, called “mixtures.” This influence is felt in the Second Church organ in seven ranks, or sets of pipes, rather more numerous and well-developed than in the earlier Skinner organs.
Perhaps most important about this instrument, however, is that it has never been tonally altered. That is, no pipes have been replaced in an attempt to “update” the instrument over the years. “Updating” was often disastrous to organs of this period, destroying the original concept completely. Skinner organs were designed specifically to fit the buildings for which they were intended, and designed specifically to perform the kind of music with hymn accompaniment, and the accompaniment of late Romantic church solos, often rendering orchestral scores on the organ. Very, very few large Skinner organs of this transitional (1930) period exist in their original tonal specifications.
E.M. Skinner hoped that the mechanical aspects of his instruments would last at least 25 years without rebuilding or re-leathering. He more than exceeded his hopes that his instruments were at least the quality of a Stradivarius violin, or a Pierce-Arrow automobile. They always cost more than other makes, but were of a much higher quality tonally and mechanically. This instrument cost $26,290 in 1930, with that sum being raised by the pupils and teachers of the Sunday School. Those pupils and teachers worked long and hard and well: it would cost almost $700,000 to duplicate this organ in 1990, and the quality could probably be obtained only from England, since the Aeolian-Skinner Company went bankrupt in the early 1970s.
As mentioned, E.M. Skinner hoped that the mechanical side of his organs would last 25 years without rebuilding or re-leathering. The Second Church organ has lasted almost 60 years before the first of the four divisions, the Swell Organ, needed rebuilding, cleaning, and re-leathering. This was accomplished in 1989. It will be the first division you see as you enter the organ chamber. Contrast that rebuilt division with the other three divisions still needing rebuilding sometime during the next decade – the Choir, Great and Pedal divisions, which you will see next. Each division is controlled by a separate keyboard at the console or playing desk in the auditorium. The Pedal keyboard, as its name implies, is played with the feet.
The console was the first mechanical part of the organ to give out. It was a beautiful piece of equipment, with drawknobs, and was powered by both electricity and wind, giving it a speed and silence of action which could not be achieved by any mechanical or all-electric console. Unfortunately, the Aeolian-Skinner Company went bankrupt just as the original console gave out, and the Organ Committee made what appeared to be the only logical choice to keep the organ playing without interruption. An all-electric console from Austin Organs in Hartford was chosen to replace the original Skinner console, which was then given to a church in New Britain, where it subsequently has been altered beyond recognition. In 1989, the Thompson-Allen Company curators of the Second Church organ since 1956, located an original Aeolian-Skinner console of the size and vintage of the organ. That console has been purchased and put into storage for the day when outside funding might be found to restore and rebuild it, since the Church’s first priority is to restore the remaining three divisions – the Choir, Great and Pedal organs when they begin to fail, as they will before the replacement Austin console. It is just possible that outside funding might be found for the console, since the organ is now regarded as a very important historical and musical example of organ building in American, since it remains tonally original, and an original console would complete the organ’s restoration.
|GREAT (Manual II)||CHOIR (Manual I)|
|8||First Diapason||8||Concert Flute|
|8||Flute Harmonique||8||Cello Celeste|
|8||French Horn||2 2/3||Nazard|
|8||Tuba||8||Corno di Bassetto|
|SWELL (Manual III)|
|8||Flauto Dolce||16||Gamba (ch)|
|4||Flute Triangulaire||8||Gamba (ext. ch.)|