The Saint Cecilia Cathedral Organ
by Kevin Vogt
The firm of Martin Pasi & Associates of Roy, Washington, installed a new landmark organ in Saint Cecilia Cathedral, Omaha, Nebraska, in 2003. The organ is comprised of 55-stops over three manuals and pedal, 29 of which are playable in two temperaments: 1/4-comma meantone and a new well-tempered tuning devised for this instrument by Kristian Wegscheider of Dresden, Germany. The organ replaces a 37-rank electro-pneumatic instrument from 1918 by the one-time firm of Casavant Brothers of South Haven, Michigan.
The idea of a dual-temperament organ for Saint Cecilia Cathedral developed in early conversations between organ builder Martin Pasi and cathedral organist and music director Kevin Vogt, and was inspired by the dual-temperament organs at Stanford University (C.B. Fisk, Op. 85) and the Wegscheider organs at the Allstedt Schloßkapelle (Op. 1) and Dresden-Wilschdorf (Op. 21). While the two temperaments of the Stanford Fisk are made possible by five extra pipes per octave, and the smaller Wegscheider organs boast six extra pipes per octave, 29 stops of Pasi Op. 14, contain eight extra notes per octave, tipping the scale of the concept from a single organ with extra pipes to the equivalent of two organs which share a third of their pipes. The abundance of extra pipes allows the circulating temperament to accommodate much of the Romantic and modern repertoires, while retaining enough key color to bring Baroque music alive and to lock into tune the mixtures and reeds in the best keys.
All stops in the Oberwerk and selected stops in the Hauptwerk and Pedal divisions are available in both temperaments. The well-tempered and meantone organs share the following notes in every octave: C, D, G and A. The desired temperament may be chosen independently in each division by the choice of stops. Each dual-tempered voice has two sliders and separate stop controls: traditional drawknobs for the well-tempered stops and Italian-style levers for the meantone stops. This is thus a simpler and more flexible system than a shifting roller board (e.g. Fisk, Op. 85) or a shifting stop action mechanism (e.g. Wegscheider, Op. 1 and Op. 21).
While an argument could be made that it would have been easier to build two separate organs, the economy of the Pasi dual-temperament design yields much larger and more complete organs in both temperaments than would be possible if separate cases, chests, actions and wind-systems were to be built for the same price.
The mechanical key action is suspended to provide the most direct link between keys and pallets. Solenoid slider motors and an electric combination system by Taylor of England enhance the mechanical stop action of the well-tempered side of the organ. The meantone stops may be drawn only by hand, but the well-ordered Italian levers allow for the drawing of an entire chorus with one sweep of the hand.
All of the pipes were made by hand in the Pasi shop, with the exception of 10 wooden basses recycled from the previous organ. Metal pipes are made of an alloy of 97% lead, with a remainder of tin and trace metals, cast to variable thickness and hammered to increase density. Flue pipes are cut to exact length and cone- or scroll-tuned for maximum stability of tuning. Wooden pipes are of poplar and Douglas fir. The freestanding case is of white oak and incorporates pillars, arches and ornaments from the original 1918 organ façade designed by cathedral architect Thomas Rogers Kimball.
Tapered wind lines deliver wind to the organ from a separate, adjacent bellows room, which will be a dedicated public space for education about the organ. The organ is winded by four 4’ x 8’ wedge-shaped bellows, either fed by a 2 horsepower silent blower or raised with calcant pedals by human assistants. The option of hand-pumped (or in this case, treaded) wind and the resulting possibility of a messa di voce bloom in the organ’s sound are reflected in an excerpt from John Dryden’s Song for St. Cecilia’s Day painted around the perimeter of the bellows room ceiling:
- But bright Cecilia raised the wonder higher
- as to her organ vocal breath was given…
Both the instrument and its builder seem to consciously evade characterization as either eclectic or stylistically specific. While the stoplist may look like a complete “eclectic” organ, preference is clearly given to a colorful, well-blended Schnitgerian tonal ideal. For instance, the smooth 16’ Posaune easily balances only a couple of other stops, but seems to grow in gravitas as brilliant choruses are built upon it. A colorful variety of flutes, principals and mutations seem to blend and balance in every conceivable combination and permutation. Conversely, while materials and blockwerk-like choruses may recall Niehoff, and reed scales and shallots Schnitger and Clicquot, liberal incorporation of harmonic flutes and slotted strings equally sympathetic to Bach and Widor contributes to the artistic fusion and synthesis characteristic of “universal” and “cosmopolitan” organs of every age.
The fifteen reed stops of the organ are particularly noteworthy, made with resonators as long as the stop’s character and the reed’s “flip point” will allow achieving as much fundamental in the tone as possible. Both Hauptwerk and Pedal divisions boast both Schnitger-and Clicquot-style Trumpets. The smooth Hauptwerk 16’ Trumpet and it’s counterpart in the Unterwerk (Swell), the 16’ Bassoon (really another 16’ Trumpet) are equally at home in chorus and consort registrations. A Dutch-style Vox Humana, a Schnitgerian Trichterregal and Dulzian and a French Oboe complete the palette.
A large case, open between Hauptwerk and Oberwerk divisions, and a remarkably effective swell enclosure for the Unterwerk, provide primary resonating cavities for the instrument. The large, resonant nave of the cathedral, however, brings the organ into its full glory. Recently fitted with a new plaster ceiling and splendidly decorated in a bright Iberian style by Evergreene Studios of New York City, the pristine Spanish Renaissance Revival cathedral begun in 1905 literally sings with seven seconds reverberation when empty and four seconds when full. The ceiling restoration and interior decoration crowned a complete cleaning and restoration of the cathedral in 1999, led by liturgical design consultant Br. William Woeger, FSC, who is also the director of liturgy at the cathedral, and the architectural firm of Bahr, Vermeer & Haecker. Robert Mahoney of Boulder, Colorado, was the acoustical consultant.
The organ was inaugurated with a yearlong “Saint Cecilia Organ Festival,” including a stunning concert before a capacity crowd by Olivier Latry. The festival included performances by Robert Bates, Craig Cramer, John Ferguson, James Higdon, Kimberly Marshall, George Ritchie, Marie Rubis Bauer, Kevin Vogt, five former cathedral organists, organ scholars Heather Hernandez and Mark Pichowicz, and members of the Omaha chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
The following artisans participated in the building of this instrument: George Brown, Emanuel Denzler, Martin Elsaesser, Markus Hahn, Dominik Maetzler, Brett Martinez, Christian Metzler, Markus Morscher, Markus Nagel, Markus Pasi, Martin Pasi, Chris Schinke, and Robert Wech.