WHEN HUGE MEANS TRAGIC
At this time when many have been commemorating D-Day, featuring this instrument seems rather appropriate. It’s the world’s largest pipe organ in a place of worship, with 23,511 pipes and 874 speaking stops. And it’s to be found in the Cadet Chapel, West Point Military Academy, USA.
But why is its immense size so sad? Well, when it was first built by Möller in 1911, it’s proportions were far smaller. Whilst visiting it, my brother was told how it has been expanded and further expanded over the years, as bereaved families donated a rank of pipes in memory of their military loved ones who had been killed in action. That seems as telling as rows of grave-stones or clouds of ceramic poppies.
The console is sited, unusually, at ground level, as you will see in this video of an organist (un-named, but it looks like Meredith Baker’s back view) playing Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copeland.
By way of contrast, you can watch Scott Dettra in 1999 playing Fantasia in G (BWV 572) by Bach. The first section is remarkable for being a long string of single notes, played so fast that they almost blur into chords. If you fancy something more modern, Scott plays the Fugue by Honegger here. The figure assisting Scott is his father, who at that time was organist at the chapel.
As we listen to the glorious sound of this titanic instrument, it’s timely to reflect that at least half of those ranks of pipes sound a memorial to lives cut short by war.