When initial discussions about the possibility of a new organ in The Memorial Church began in 2005, they presented C. B. Fisk, Inc. with a complex set of challenges and opportunities. Not only does Harvard University represent the pinnacle of scholarly achievement, The Memorial Church and the Reverend Peter Gomes have long served as a model for the religious and social conscience a university church can bring to an academic community. Charles Fisk, the founder of our company, was a Cambridge native and a Harvard Alumnus. In 1967, his then six-year-old firm built a large four-manual organ in Appleton Chapel in front of the grand Palladian window (Opus 46). It was not the location that he would have preferred, and caring for this instrument over the intervening years had given us, his followers, an appreciation for the reasoning behind his preference and an intimacy with the splendors and foibles of the acoustical environment into which it spoke.
The decision to build a new organ in the gallery and to move the choir there for Sunday services, and to install a separate instrument in the original chambers of Appleton Chapel frees both instruments from compromise.
The tonal design of Opus 139 is an eclectic choice of historically based voices that authentically reflect the best examples of French, German, and English organ sound from the last four centuries. With two divisions, the Swell and the Positive, under expression, a plethora of colors at eight-foot pitch, including the powerful Tuba mirabilis, is available at all dynamic levels.
In the Fisk tradition, the visual design of the new organ was carefully created in a precise scale model of the building to ensure harmony with the Georgian Revival interior. The dark oak case, ornate carvings, and gold-leafed front pipes were all concepts developed in consultation with Reverend Gomes and the musicians of Memorial Church. The position of the organ in the gallery, the arrangement of the divisions within the organ, and the decisions made during the nine-month voicing process, all reflect our long term study of the acoustical properties of the room and the roles the organ will play in the life of the church, first and foremost as choral accompaniment and in support of congregational singing, but also in solo recital, and as a teaching instrument.
The men and women of C. B. Fisk, Inc. have spent more than 40,000 hours to create Opus 139 as a tribute to Charles Fisk and to the Reverend Gomes, whose friendship and guidance we valued so highly. We commend this organ to the present and future students and faculty of Harvard University as a memorial to these two sagacious men who cared so deeply about this church.
A documentary film is being made showing the entire project from conception to dedicatory concert. A trailer for the film may be seen at www.tohearthemusic.com.
Opus 46 will begin a distinguished second chapter in a new building with fine acoustics: Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas. With a strong music program and links to the music department at University of Texas, Opus 46 will continue to support worship and provide educational opportunities.