St. Wenceslaus Church
J. G. Pfeffer, Organ Builder
Very few organs are truly restored. In many cases, original parts are altered or modernized, or new synthetic materials replace the original natural ones. The Pfeffer organ at St. Wenceslaus, because of its fine condition, its relatively great age for organs in our state and the historical connection to Antonin Dvorak, seemed to call for a strict historic restoration. Although the organ had suffered several indignities during its 120 years, it was essentially intact. The case, the mechanical key and stop actions, the windchests and virtually all of the pipes are original, and in generally excellent condition.
The indignities mentioned were few but significant. The bellows had been recovered with sky-blue pearlescent Naugahyde, contact cement and staples, and the feeder for the bellows was removed altogether and discarded. Slide tuners had supplanted the original cone tuning. An attempt had been made to enclosed the pipework by installing a roof and small sets of swell shades in the upper middle panel on each side of the case. Lastly, the organs originally grained casework and the gilded front pipes had be covered in several coats of paint.
St. Wenceslaus Church and the Spillville Historic Action Group commissioned us to restore the organ in accordance with the Organ Historical Societys Guidelines for Conservation and Restoration. The bellows was completely releathered, a new feeder made, and a new hand pumping mechanism constructed around the existing original pump handle. The pipes were carefully washed and repaired; although the slide tuners are not original, they were retained because of the cost involved to restore the cone tuning and because they themselves are now a half-century old. The ill-advised swell mechanism and the roof were removed, and the casework patched where necessary. All pipes were carefully re-regulated for proper speech and retuned. The original Pfeffer nameplate and several drawknob stop faces, missing in recent years, were replicated by Pennsylvania jeweler Brian ODonnell based on other Pfeffer originals. And finally, the case was completely stripped by Spillville volunteers and regrained by an artist from the Conrad Schmitt Studios of New Berlin, Wisconsin. For reasons of cost, the front pipes were stripped and repainted, with the restoration of the gilding a possible future project.
The organ was rededicated on 25 August 1996 during Morning Mass celebrated by the Most Reverend Jerome Hanus, Archbishop of Dubuque, concelebrated by Father Daniel Keppler, Priest of St. Wenceslaus Parish. In the afternoon, the organ received a Historic Organ Citation from the Organ Historical Society, as being an instrument of exceptional historic merit, worthy of preservation. Following this presentation, Archbishop Hanus re-blessed the organ. The day was concluded by a festival rededication recital played by Karel Paukert, who was assisted by his wife, soprano Noriko Fujii (please see program and notes below).
J. G. Pfeffer - A Brief Biography
John George Pfeffer (recorded as Johann Georg Pfeffer in German sources) was born on 23 April 1823 at Stettin bei Heigerloch, Hohenzollern, Sigmaringen in southwestern Germany. He emigrated to the United States in 1854, and after brief stays in New York City; Hamilton, Ontario; and Cleveland, he settled in St. Louis, Missouri in 1859, where he became one of the city’s most prominent 19th century organbuilders. he was probably trained in Germany, as he identified himself as an “organmaker” when he first appeared in the city directory in 1859. He lived near the shop of organ builder William Metz and may have worked with Metz. When Metz moved to Collinsville, Illinois about 1865, Pfeffer began working out of Metz’s former shop.
Pfeffer was Roman Catholic and built many organs for Catholic churches. The large organ built in 1865 for “Old” Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Louis, though not his first for that denomination, firmly established his reputation among German Lutherans as well. Pfeffer also built two organs for the Lutheran Teachers Seminary in Addison, Illinois, which made his name well known among Lutheran organists.
While no list of Pfeffer organs has been found, it seems likely that he built at least 200 instruments, and possibly as many as 600. His son, Robert, joined the firm in 1882 and worked there until his death in 1891. Another son, Eugene, took Roberts place in the firm from 1893 until his own death in 1899. Sons Anthony and George were also associated with the firm. When Pfeffer retired in 1900, employees continued the business. To the end, Pfeffer organs were well built and carefully voiced. They usually included upperwork and larger pedal divisions than were common in organs of other builders. After John George Pfeffers death on 4 April 1910, the Pfeffer Organ Company was purchased by Alfred George Kilgen, eldest son of George Kilgen, who operated it under the Pfeffer name until 1919.
St. Wenceslaus Church
Karel Paukert, Organist
Remarks on this afternoons program
It is an honor for me to be invited to rededicate the Pfeffer Organ of St. Wenceslaus Church, the very instrument played in the summer of 1893 by my famous countryman, Antonin Dvorak. The first time I heard the name Spillville was at the Prague Conservatory in the music history classes when Dvoraks American years were discussed. Shortly after coming to Cleveland, an acquaintance, knowing of my friendship with Dvoraks great-grandson, violinist Josef Suk, shared with me the circumstances of Josefs wonderful visit to Spillville in the 1960s and showed me a photo of him taken in the organ loft of St. Wenceslaus Church.
Considerable thought was given to selecting compositions for this program. I wanted to focus on the “Dvorak experience,” yet keeping in mind that the instrument is in the first place an American organ, built for liturgical use. Although several of the works on this program could use a larger, two manual instrument, the Spillville organ will render these larger works in a different, chamber music-like vein. The solemnity of the occasion requires a work by Johann Sebastian Bach, the best-known composer for the organ. Of course, the inclusion of Bach’s work would be approved by Dvorak. When he entered the Prague Organ School, Carl Pitsch, a disciple of Felix Mendelssohn, was the director. The study of composition there was rooted in a solid knowledge of counterpoint and fugue in the German tradition. Thus Dvorak’s student compositions for the organ are a direct reflection of this training. They are a product of the early years are to be viewed as such. Although Dvorak played the organ frequently thereafter and even held a organ post at St. Adalbert (Sv. Vojtech) in Prague, he did not compose a single work for solo organ. Rather, he used it as an accompanying instrument. The short preludes and fugues from Prague Organ School showed great promise, and Dvorak performed several of them at his graduation concert on July 30, 1859, in addition to a prelude and fugue by J. S. Bach and a four-hand arrangement of another Bach fugue.
Jan Zach and Josef Seger both achieved renown as composers. Seger, the organist of the Tyn Church in Prague was visited and subsequently praised by the English historian Burney. He found Seger to be not only a fine organist but also a distinguished linguist. The Fugue in A minor was until recently attributed to his teacher Cernohorsky. His oeuvre includes toccatas, preludes and fugues.
Zach, after an unsuccessful attempt to become music director at St. Vitus, the cathedral church of Prague, left for Germany to become violinist-conductor of the orchestra of the Prince-Archbishop of Mainz. The last seventeen years of his life, Zach lived without steady employment, roaming through Germany, Italy and Austria. The Prelude and Fugue in C minor was written probably in Prague. Later on he turned away from baroque features such as chromatic progressions and dissonances of the piece at hand and favored more diatonic musical language of the pre-classical era. In that style he wrote most of his chamber works and is deservedly ranked with the foremost composers of that era.
The Adagio by Kuchar displays a beautiful melodic line, which could have been Mozarts own. Kuchar knew Mozart from his frequent visits to Prague and was the first to arrange piano-vocal scores of his operas. He lived in Prague and studied with Seger. Later he became the organist at St. Henry Church (Sv. Jindrich) and maestro di cappella of the Italian Opera in Prague.
Tomasek was one of many Bohemian composers who found acclaim and appreciation in Vienna. He was highly regarded by Beethoven. His greatest contributions are piano works echoing the emerging romantic sentiments. His devotional song to the Blessed Mary in the keyboard accompaniment imitates a villagers tune from the Italian region of Calabria.
John Zundel was born in Germany and came to New York following a short stay in St. Petersburg, Russia. He was the organist at St. George and later at the famed Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. He was a highly regarded composer of organ and choral music. Following his retirement, Zundel moved back to Germany.
The depiction of thunderstorm scenes and sea voyages were favorite preoccupations of organists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This craze raged not only on the Continent, but was known in this country. Improvised or composed, they were set to display the capabilities of the organ. Most of the them consisted of several movements: an introduction, usually a simple shepherd song, followed by a brewing storm and lightnings. A serene movement, prayer-like, would conclude the scene. Thomas Philando Ryder was born in Cohassset, Massachusetts. He was the organist of Tremont Church in Boston, well-known recitalist and composer of many published works.
George Whitefield Chadwick, another New England composer, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts. His teachers included Eugene Thayer in Boston and Joseph Rheinberger in Munich, where Chadwick completed his musical studies. From 1882 on, he taught at the New England Conservatory and eventually became director of that school in 1897. He is one of the finest American composers. His many compositions include an opera, symphonies, chamber and choral works.
In spite of brevity and simplicity, Dvoraks Preludes suggest in their harmonic and melodic content the future master. The juxtaposition with Bachs Prelude and Fugue reminds us of the graduation program Dvorak played in 1859 at the Prague Organ School.
Biblical Songs is one of the several compositions Dvorak wrote in America during his three-year stay as Director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City (Autumn 1892 - Spring 1895). A cycle of ten songs to texts take from the Book of Psalms mirrors Dvorak’s profound religious feelings. The composition of the cycle provided him with a refuge, an oasis of intimate contemplation in fundamentally foreign surroundings. The first song was sketched on March 5, 1884 (no. 7) and other followed in quick succession. No. 5, heard today, was composed on “Saturday morning before Easter,” March 24, 1894. The entire set was completed a few days later on March 26. Prior to and during the composition of this song cycle, Dvorak received a series of sad notices: the death of his great friend, conductor Hans von Bülow, the illness and subsequent death of his father, as well as the deaths of Gounod and Tchaikovsky. It can be safely assumed that these losses influenced and, in a way, intensified the compositional process.
Josef Bohuslav Foerster, together with his contemporaries Janacek, Suk and Novak, continued in the Smetana-Dvorak heritage. Like Dvorak, he also studied at the Prague Organ School and succeeded Dvorak at St. Adalbert as organist. In 1893, he moved with his wife, Berta Lauterova, the reigning singer at the Prague Opera, to Hamburg. On the invitation of his friend, Gustav Mahler, they moved from Hamburg to Vienna, where Lauterova was engaged at Vienna’s principal opera theatre, the Hofoper. Foerster in the meantime taught composition and from 1910 became music reviewer of the daily Die Zeit. At the end of World War I the couple returned to Prague, where Foerster taught composition. He composed six operas, 350 songs, 300 choral works and four symphonies in addition to solo concertos and chamber music. He was also a published writer of memoirs, largely dealing with musical subjects.
His Fantasy, Op. 14 was mostly likely composed in Prague, before departing for Germany. It is a large scale late romantic work. Two lyrical themes in gentle six voice textures are the first part of the Fantasy. An agitated fugato then enters with a new theme. In the closing portion all three themes are intertwined and end in a hymnic coda.
Vitezslav Novaks extraordinary talent was pointed out by Brahms, who was not only helpful to Dvorak, but also to his student Novak by recommending him to his publisher Simrock. Like Foerster, he wrote in all genres. From his first works which were written in the German romantic tradition, he turned toward national themes and found inspiration in nature, folk song and Czech history. He taught at the Prague Conservatory and Academy of Musical Arts and belonged to a group of Czech composers who stand in the shadow of more successful contemporaries Leos Janacek and Bohuslav Martinu. Novaks Preludium, three pages long, is based on a love folk song.
Ilja Hurnik, the last composition student of Novak, is not only a composer of note, but a highly successful writer of short stories which were translated into several languages. He composes with ease and flair. In the list of his many works are several operas, ballets, oratoriosthere is hardly a genre in which Hurnik as not composed. I wrote to him about the planned Spillville event and requested a short work for voice and organ. In a few weeks he obliged and the result is a charming monologue of one of his opera characters, probably the most famous one: Rusalka. The story of the water nymph and her love for a prince, poetically rendered by the libretto of Jaroslav Kvapil, inspired Dvorak to include in the opera Rusalka some of his most lyrical and deeply-felt pages of music. In Hurniks own text, the sad heroine Rusalka tries to convince Dvorak not to embark on a long journey to the New World, but rather stay in a world familiar to him. Hurnik took poetic license, in that he uses an opera character not yet born. The opera Rusalka was composed in 1900, several years after Dvoraks return from America.
Bedrich Antonin Wiedermann, a student of Josef Klicka, who was Dvoraks disciple, composed primarily organ music. He is often called the founder of the modern school of Czech organ music. Wiedermann taught at the Prague Conservatory and the Academy of Musical Arts, in addition held several organ posts in Pragues churches. Through his public concerts and radio recordings he popularized the organ as a concert instrument.
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