The installation of a 44-rank pipe organ by Casavant Freres Limitee in the Fall of 1992 has been a major addition to our worship and music programs. The design of the organ is that of “French Classic” voicing; repertoire of many and varied styles is playable on this versatile instrument. The organ is featured particularly during First Church’s Series of short recitals, following noonday worship on Wednesdays during the Lenten season.
The First English Evangelical Lutheran Church has emphasized the Lutheran musical tradition throughout its ministry in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Our present organ, Cassavant Opus 3709, was heard publicly for the first time on Reformation Sunday, October 25, 1992 and was Blessed and Dedicated, November 8, 1992. It is a magnificent instrument. We Lutherans have valued the gift of music perhaps more than any other community of believers. Our tradition includes a vast treasury of music to enhance our proclamation and celebration of the Gospel.
The congregation of First Church has worshiped with several instruments since its founding in 1837. The first small organ was installed in 1867 in the Seventh Avenue building. Its purcase was supported by B. Frank Weyman whose father, George Weyman, a tobacco merchant, had been a leader in establishing the congregation and has supported the purchase of land for the first church building.
The congregation purchased land for the present Grant Street building in 1885 and, in 1886, decided to purchase a larger organ for the new building at a cost not to exceed $5000. A contract was signed with William A. Johnson & Son, Westfield Massachusetts. The organ was Johnson’s Opus 697, a 3 manual tracker action instrument of 32 stops that wind chest driven by a water motor. (The drive wheel for that motor can still be seen in the church.) It was installed in 1888 and played at the dedication of the building on November 4. The organ casework, newly refurbished, dates from this organ.
For reasons which are not clear, in 1889 the congregation began planning to rebuild and enlarge the organ. In 1900, Austin Organs, Hartfod, Connecticut was chosen to perfom the work. The changes inclujded 12 new stops (2 in the Great, 3 in the Swell, 3 in the Choir, 4 in the Pedal) bringing the total to 44 stops. The new pipes were made by Philip Wirsching and all pipes, new and old, were voice by Austin. A new Austin air chest was installed and the organ was converted to pneumatic operation. The rebuilt organ was completed in the Fall of 1900 and was said to be “one of the finest in the city”. With several updates, it remained in operation until it was removed in the Spring of 1992 and sold to The Congregational Church, East Hampton, Connecticut.
The organ blower was convered from water to DC electric power in 1915 at a cost of about $500, half of which would be saved in unnecessary “water rent”. The 1900 organ was first updated in about 1925 with the installation of a new Tellers Kent console and new stops which included chimes and a vox humana. The work was done by Dahlstead Brotehrs, the church’s organ maintenance firm. In 1948, a second update was done by H.P. Moeller, Hagerstown, Maryland. A new console was installed and all reeds were revoiced at the Moeller factory. A third update done in 1978 by Austin included a new console which was played until the present organ was installed.
When repairs and replacements to the pipe organ grew in cost and failed to correct serious problems with pipes, valve operation and the wind chest, the congregation decided to install a new instrument. In 1991, it signed a contract with Casavant Frères Limitée, Ste. Hyacinthe, Quebec, for installation of the 44 rank electropneumatic.
Designing an organ is a subject no two organistis, no two organ builders, or no two listeners agree upon. Designing and organ is a subjective decision based on objective science: personal likes based on the hisotry organ design.
The Organ Selection Committee of First Church decided to build an organ that was eclectic in voicing; i.e. an instrument that could accommodate all styles of music with few limitations in organ repertoire, choral and orchestral music, and congregational singing. Therefore the committee was not committed to one particular school of thought.
Our basic design and concept is that of the “French Classic Organ” Casavant Frères has a direct link to the French Builder, Aristide Cavaille-Coll (1811-1899). The layout of the keyboards and voicing of the main Reeds and Principles accommodate the repertoire of the French Orchestral Organ. The Flutes and Principles of the Positif (middle keyboard) accommodate music of thinner quality. The organ can, thus, perform music of the Gernal Baroque and especially Bach Cantatas, Bach Sinfonias and Handel Organ Concertos.