THE FRANK ROOSEVELT ORGAN, OPUS 433
The Church of the Angels in Pasadena is home to the Frank Roosevelt Organ, Opus 433, an important instrument in the evolution of the pipe organ. Roosevelt's Opus 433 was built in 1889 at the Roosevelt Organ Works in New York City. Very few of Roosevelt's instruments remain intact today, and almost none of those that survive in original condition remain in the churches or halls for which they were built.
This organ is not the largest, loudest, or grandest organ around. The voicing of the instrument is gentle, smooth and lovely. The rich Open Diapason is round and full through its entire compass. Its opposite, the Aeoline, is very quiet and delicate. It was meant to be a sturdy, lovely, solid "workhorse" of an instrument, and its survival here today is a testament to the quality that went into its construction.
Roosevelt Organ Works
American pipe organs in the 19th century were strongly influenced by the work of two brothers, Frank and Hilborne Roosevelt. As a boy, Hilborne became interested both in organs and in the relatively new science of electricity. These interests and his ambition to become an organ builder were frowned upon by his family. He was, of course, first cousin of the future president, Theodore Roosevelt.
Despite family objections, Hilborne constructed an organ for the New York Industrial Fair in 1869. When the organ won a gold medal, he overcame family opposition and was soon on his way to Europe to study at the organ shops of the master organ builders there.
When he returned to America he opened the Roosevelt Organ Works completing his Opus 1 for the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in New York City in 1873. He built a large organ for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. This organ is believed to have been the first American organ to include electric action. Although Hilborne died in 1886 at the age of 36, his brother Frank oversaw the construction of another 178 organs. All told, the Roosevelt firm built 536 organs in the roughly 20 years they were in business, 1875-1895.
Innovative Pneumatic Action
Most organ builders in 1889 would have used tracker action in a small instrument like Opus 433. Tracker action can be described as "tinker toy" action - one depresses a key which pulls on the tracker (a thin piece of wood similar to a Popsicle stick, but many feet long). This horizontal action is transferred to a vertical action by means of a rocker bar. Another tracker, pulled downward by movement of the rocker bar, pulls the valve under the pipe open and allows wind to flow into the pipe, which speaks.
The Roosevelts, always innovators, used a device similar to a Barker Machine in the Church of the Angels instrument. In this arrangement, one presses the key which moves a wooden pin upward. This contacts a rocker arm which opens a valve. The open valve allows air to escape from a small pneumatic (a miniature bellows) in a pressurized chamber, and as the pneumatic collapses, it pulls open the valve under the pipe, allowing wind to enter and causing it to speak.
It is quite an elegant little system. When originally constructed, the organ required no electricity to operate. It was pumped by hand by hearty, willing souls when instructed to do so by the organist's pulling of the Bellows Signal. Of course, today the wind is supplied not by elbow grease, but by a small electric turbine, and the Bellows Signal is just a quaint reminder of days gone by.
About the Facade
The organ has a facade of 27 pipes, but only 12 of them (those in the center of the facade) are actual speaking pipes; the others are non-speaking pipes ("dummies") put there to fill the space and lend symmetry to the facade. The 12 speaking pipes in the facade constitute the bottom octave of the 8' Open Diapason stop. All other pipes are enclosed in a mechanically operated swell box, except for the 16" pedal Bourdon stop.
About the Keyboard and Pedals
The organ has only one manual (keyboard) for the hands. Frank Roosevelt tried to give the player more flexibility in choosing tone color by splitting the keyboard. Though there are only five ranks (complete sets) of pipes that play on the keyboard, each set is divided between E3-F3 (the E and F just above middle C). The upper (treble) stopknob for each stop plays F3 and above; the lower (bass) stopknob for each stop plays E3 and below. This is why there are ten stopknobs to control five ranks of pipes.
The pedal division consists of only one stop, a 16' Bourdon, or stopped wooden flute. Its only other tone option is to play the bottom 27 notes of the manual through a coupler.
Additional Mechanical Features
The "Manual Octaves" control causes the pipes an octave above the depressed note to sound along with that note. It is a mechanical control, so it adds considerable weight to the keyboard for the player. The Tremulant device (currently inoperative) caused the wind to shake, creating vibrato in the pipes. There are two mechanical combination pedals to the right of the swell pedal. The first, labeled "Forte", pulls on all the stops (but not the couplers), a Tutti or Full Organ combination. The second, labeled "Piano", pulls on just the Salicional and Doppel Flute.
A Roosevelt Hallmark
It should be pointed out that the organ bears one other classic Roosevelt hallmark: a Doppelflute. The Doppelflute is a wooden lute stop that is different from other pipes in that it has two mouths, one on the front and one on the back of each pipe. It has a very fundamental, rich sound. Though the instrument does not present the organist with a large variety of tone colors, each in itself is carefully voiced and very lovely.
Specifications for the Frank Roosevelt Organ, Opus 433
One manual and pedal, 6 ranks, 317 pipes
MANUAL [58 notes, split between E3-F3]
- 8 Open Diapason Bass
- 8 Open Diapason Treble
- 8 Saiicional Bass
- 8 Salicional Treble
- 8 Doppelflute Bass
- 8 Doppelflute Treble
- 4 Gemshorn Bass
- 4 Gemshorn Treble
- 8 Aeoline Bass
- 8 Aeoline Treble Bellows Signal
- 16 Bourdon
PEDAL [27 notes]
- Manual to Pedal coupler
- Manual Octave coupler
- Mechanical Combination Pedals: Forte, Piano
- Mechanical Swell
- All pipes enclosed except for bottom 12 of Open Diapason (facade) and Pedal Bourdon.
- Manual Action: Tracker
- Pedal Action: Tracker
- Facade contains 12 speaking pipes, 15 dummies
Dimensions: 11 '2" wide, 8'2" deep, 14'10" tall
Preserving Musical History
Very few of Roosevelt's instruments remain intact today, and almost none of those that survive in original condition remain in the churches or halls for which they were built. To support the preservation of the Frank Roosevelt Organ, Opus 433, contact the Church of the Angels.
Compiled and written by James Wallace, M.M. 5/2004