Rockefeller Chapel's Organ
The E.M. Skinner Organ (opus 634)
Built with the Chapel itself in 1928, Rockefeller Chapel’s regal organ is one of four University organs of the American organ-builder E.M. Skinner (the others being at Yale, Princeton, and Michigan). These organs are considered among the finest examples of 20th century romantic organs built in America. Rockefeller’s organ, Opus 634, was unveiled at a recital by Lynnwood Farnam, reportedly to a crowd of over 2,500 admirers, on November 1, 1928.
In the Rockefeller organ, Skinner fully invested his genius for realizing a full orchestral sound, with a complete collection of voices and many soft ethereal effects. Many of the large pipe scales, which are necessary to achieve a full sound in a building the size of the Chapel, are no longer built and thus cannot be found in contemporary organs. The original Chapel organ included four manuals, and had 6,610 organ pipes in 108 ranks; since its 2008 restoration, it now has 8,565 pipes in 132 ranks. Its bay of pipes, located in the Chapel chancel, is a work of art in itself and is an integral element of the interior architecture of Rockefeller. In addition to the chancel organ located at the front of the chapel, Skinner installed a gallery organ in the upper balcony of the Chapel, to accompany the gallery choir. The organs can be played independently or as one, using either console.
The “Ideal” Organ
As a young man during the late nineteenth century, Ernest M. Skinner dropped out of school after failing a course in Latin and sought work in the music industry. While singing as a tenor in a Pennsylvania church, he was introduced to his first pipe organ, a hand-blown one, which he described as a clumsy instrument. During the next 20 years of his life he sought to correct this clumsiness by introducing a self-playing pipe organ with the ability to emulate all the sounds of a symphony orchestra. By the late 1920s, Skinner had virtually succeeded in his creation, influenced by French and English organ makers, in particular the Willis Company of England. Skinner pipe organs could successfully play literature from all eras, including the works of Bach as well as orchestral transcriptions, popular during the early twentieth century.