The Green Memorial Rieger Organ


The Green Memorial Organ was built in 1969 by Rieger Orgelbau of Schwarzach, Austria. German classic in concept, the pedal tracker action organ has four manuals, 60 registers, 96 ranks, and 5,173 pipes.

The computerized control system was the first of its kind and its electronic console system was designed jointly by Joseph von Glatter-Gotz, president of Rieger Orgelbau, and All Souls' Minister of Music Karl Halvorson.

This organ is the second Green Memorial Organ. The first, in memory of Bernard R. Green, was given by members of his family and was installed in the new building in 1923. The current organ, named in memory of Dr. Julia M. Green, was financed in part by Dr. Green's bequest.

During installation of the organ, the choir loft was modified and expanded to provide additional room for the choir and musical instruments. To assure and enhance clarity of tone, the rich, scarlet tapestry hanging in back of the pulpit and the curtains covering all windows of the sanctuary were removed. Even the mini-drapes hanging from brass fixtures topping the rear pews were banished. Although the pew cushions remained, they are sometimes removed for special concerts.

Though reception is excellent throughout the sanctuary, audio experts believe that optimal hearing is experienced in the pews two thirds of the way down the center aisle and in corresponding seats in the first row of the balconies.

The Zimbelstern

A unique feature of the All Souls organ is its Zimbelstern, the nine-pointed shining star floating above the highest pipes.

The original Zimbelsterns (cymbal stars) had bells attached to each point of a star and as the star was turned manually the bells struck stationary clappers.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they were common in Europe, though usually reserved for festive holidays, when the happy, tinkling sound of the bells was often compared to the laughter of angels. During the past 75 years or so, the Zimbelstern has once again become a popular stop on many pipe organs.

While most have five to nine bells, the All Souls' Zimbelstern has twelve tuned bells. It was designed, manufactured, and installed in 1972 by organ builder James Akright, who also served as curator of the organ during its early years.

Akright explained that "the twelve tuned bells, G through F#, are controlled by three adjustable presets, which can be programmed to strike from one to twelve bells in any order of repetition or rhythm at any speed, and with volume selection." Cherry Rhodes, Organist in Residence in the 1970s, praised All Souls' Zimbelstern for its high quality and unusual versatility.

The performing artists

For over 35 years, scores of talented organists from three continents have given recitals on the Green Memorial Organ.

The first was Marie-Claire Alain, perhaps the premier organist of the day. A graduate of the Conservatoire National de Paris, she had won prizes, awards and competitions throughout Europe. She inaugurated All Souls' new organ with a series of three recitals and a workshop from November 30 to December 7, 1969.

David Hurd, music director of the Church of the Holy Apostles in New York City and professor at the General Theological Seminary, is a composer of dozens of choral and organ works. He appeared in recital at All Souls in 1973.

Cherry Rhodes, an adjunct professor of organ at the University of Southern California, was the first American to win an international organ competition (in Munich in 1966). She was selected as first organist to play at the Kennedy Center in 1972 and the new Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2004, where she performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. As an artist-in-residence at All Souls in the early 1970s, she gave many recitals, often presenting premieres of new works. She also gave two A. Powell Davies memorial concerts, in 1974 and 1999.

Gunther Kaunzinger, professor of organ in Wurzburg and master recitalist at the Capriccio Music Center in Helmstadt, is noted for his "dazzling improvisations." He was an artist-in-residence at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for two years in the 1970s, appearing in concert at All Souls in 1978.

Peter Hurford, famous English organist, who has recorded all the organ works of J.S. Bach, performed at All Souls in 1973 and chose its organ for some of his recordings.

Among the others who have given recitals on All Souls' organ are Karel Paukert of Czechoslovakia, Anthony Newman of the United Kingdom, Yuko Hayashi of Japan, Christoph Albrecht of Germany, and Guy Bovet of Switzerland.

All Souls organists

Lewis Corning Atwater, Organist/Director of Music (1911-1955). In addition to directing the music during the Sunday services for four and a half decades and frequently participating in the services of the church school, Dr. Atwater gave Sunday afternoon organ recitals -- more than 500 during his career. He was widely known for his organ compositions and cantata and choral arrangements. The head of the music department of Catholic University described him as "a notable figure in the musical life of the city, a scholar as well as a virtuoso."

Karl Halvorson, Minister in Music/Organist (1955-1980). Born in a Minnesota farming community and speaking only Norwegian until he entered school, Karl Halvorson showed rare talent as a teenage church organist. His studies at Minot State, Gustavus Adolphus, Oberlin, and Peabody included research on the history of the organ and its forgotten masterpieces. Advanced study and concerts took him to many parts of the US, Europe, Mexico, and South America. His skills culminated in the design of the All Souls' organ.

Nancy Reed, Interim Organist (1980-1981). ). A scholarship student at the Settlement Music School of Philadelphia, Marvin Mills later studied at Westminster Choir College of Princeton, NJ, and in Germany and France. His accomplishments include many recitals and recordings, including one with Denyce Graves, and a 14-program series of the complete works of J.S. Bach on the All Souls' organ.

John Strang, Organist and Accompanist (2000-2010). John Strang's mastery of the many unique features of the versatile Rieger organ provided a vital part of All Souls' Sunday services. From Bach to Ellington, Messiaen to Joplin, Vierne to Hampton, he brilliantly wove the music of classic and modern composers is into the fabric of worship, proving his conviction that the "cutting-edge" organ's diverse sounds should be used to produce music from all styles. With degrees in music composition and organ performance from the University of Michigan, John studied at Valparaiso University and Hope College. He was organist for several churches, including St. Mary's Episcopal in Chicago, where he oversaw the designing of a radical new mechanical action pipe organ. He also served as Howard University's organist and assistant director of its choir. John has been pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology.

Assistant organists

Jean Slater Edson, Professor of Physics at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, VA, served as volunteer assistant organist from 1952 to 1980.

Parker Kitterman was the music associate from 2003 to 2005.

The history of All Souls’ organs leading up to the Rieger organ

Organized in 1821 and housed in a church at 6th and D Streets the following year, the First Unitarian Church waited until 1826 to install an organ. The instrument, built by Jacob Hilbus, a music teacher, cost the church $1,217.

The growing church moved into a new building at the southeast corner of 14th and L Streets NW at the beginning of 1878. The new Hook and Hastings organ cost $3,700; the company took the 50-year-old Hilbus organ as partial payment. A large part of the balance was provided by John Hitz, Switzerland's consul general (and forebearer of Ohio senator, Supreme Court associate justice, and All Souls congregant, Harold Hitz Burton).

For All Souls' new building at 16th and Harvard Streets NW, dedicated in 1924, the church installed a new E.M. Skinner organ at a cost of $25,000. Built by the foremost American organ-builder of the day, it was a four-manual, electro-pneumatic organ with a pedal division and included 60 ranks with 40 speaking stops. The organ was a gift in memory of Bernard Richardson Green from his family. During his membership from 1877 until his death in 1914, Mr. Green had served the church in numerous volunteer offices. A lover of fine music, he was a civil engineer closely involved in the construction of the State, War, and Navy Building, the Library of Congress, the Washington Public Library, and the National Museum. He also helped complete the Washington Monument following the Civil War.

The church also brought along the Hook and Hastings organ. Partially rebuilt in memory of Elsa Colman Tulloch by her brother, William Parkman Tulloch, in memory of his sister Elsa Colman Tulloch, partially rebuilt the organ, and James C. Robertson added chimes in memory of Christopher C. Robertson. The old organ was installed in Pierce Hall, where it was sometimes used as an echo organ from the console in the sanctuary.

During the mid-1960s, after 40 years of use, the Skinner organ was clearly deteriorating. The organ frequently malfunctioned and stops failed to respond. Organists were often forced to improvise during performances with whatever parts happened to be working. In a report of May 6, 1965, the music committee concluded that the cost of repairing the Skinner organ ($55,000 - $60,000) would result in a restored but out-moded instrument unsuited to much of the world's great music. The committee unanimously recommended purchase of a new organ at a cost of about $100,000.

After reviewing proposals from five of the world's leading organ-builders, the committee recommended a tracker organ manufactured by Rieger Orgelbau of Austria. On June 6, 1965, the All Souls congregation approved the recommendation.They named it the Green Memorial organ. A substantial amount of its cost was borne by a bequest of $85,000 from congregant Dr. Julia M. Green, daughter of Julia L. Green, who had donated the first Green Memorial organ.

While the new Rieger organ was being installed in 1969, the church used the Hook and Hastings organ (after repairs costing about $15,000). It was once again placed in Pierce Hall after the Rieger was complete.

In 1995-96, the Rieger organ was renovated at an estimated cost of $130,000.

-- Text by Paul Pfeiffer