The Storm King Symphony reflects impressions made on the composer by the varying moods of the stately “Storm King” mountain, which stands guard over the Highlands of the Hudson. Clarence Dickinson wrote this piece for the dedication of the new E.M. Skinner organ at The Brick Presbyterian Church’s first building in New York City. The piece was originally scored for organ and orchestra, but the composers later transcribed it for organ solo and then performed parts of it when the organ was moved to the present Brick Church building on Park Avenue and 92nd Street. The first movement, “Allegro Maestoso,” suggests the stern and stormy aspects of the rocky heights, with moments of calm beauty and serenity. The “Canon,” with its two inter-winding voices, carries the picture of two friends walking along a winding, hillside path; occasionally blended, harmonious sounds of nature are heard, and the village church bell in the distance. The “Scherzo” brings to mind the hobgoblins that are supposed to disport themselves there at night, with elfish glee; there they also play at bowls even as they did long ago with Rip van Winkle in the neighboring mountains, and the noise of their wild games is often heard in rolling, reverberating thunder. One among them is a mighty monster; his giant footsteps are heard through the pedal reed stop. The Intermezzo reflects a summer day, with now and then a scurrying gust of wind in the hills breaking the calm; with elusive suggestions of distance; with here and there a touch of the plaintiveness, of the happy, peaceful melancholy with which the heart of man is touched by the beauty of a summer twilight. The “Finale” opens with the enunciation of a solemn, imposing “Hymn of Nature” theme; upon it enter all the other various elements of Nature’s life, harmonious and discordant, peaceful and tempestuous, and, with them, revelations of tumult in the soul of man, all to resolve themselves at last into the broad, sure chords of Nature’s Hymn.
Alec Wyton’s Fanfare was composed for the new State Trumpet stop, a powerful antiphonal reed placed high on the west wall of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, under the rose window. Alec Wyton was organist and choirmaster at the Cathedral during the time in which the Aeolian Skinner organ was installed. He later came to be organist at St. James’. British by birth, he nevertheless was a New Yorker at heart, having spent many years in the City training choirs, playing, performing, and composing.
In 1981 the organbuilder Walter Holtkamp Jr. approached Calvin Hampton to compose an anthem for choir and organ for the dedication of the new Holtkamp organ at Park Ave. Christian Church in New York City. Calvin instead wanted to compose Five Dances, using as inspiration the Five Easy Pieces for Piano Duet (1917) by Stravinsky. Each movement consists of an ostinato rhythm and a simple tune. Hampton was organist and choirmaster at the Parish of Calvary, Holy Communion, and St. George in New York. He performed organ recitals throughout the world and, from 1972 until 1982 he offered free midnight organ recitals every Friday evening at Calvary Church which were usually filled to capacity. As a composer, he was prolific and eclectic, using diverse such elements as rock, gospel hymns, synthesizers, and quarter tones in his works.
Gerre Hancock’s Toccata was commissioned by St. Paul’s School, Brooklandville, Maryland, for the dedication of their Schoenstein Organ in St. Paul’s Chapel in 2002. Like many of his written works and improvisations, this piece is a blend of French flair with a distinctly American accent. The two themes appear throughout, sometimes in canon with themselves and sometimes on their own, until the final section of the piece where the composer modulates from the original key of b minor to B major, finishing with a pedal cadenza. Hancock’s musical output on paper was substantial, and his works are widely performed. Even more remarkable were his improvisational skills, which greatly influenced his printed works. He was a brilliant man who has only recently passed away, but whose impression and influence in the realm of American music, especially sacred music is profound and everlasting.