Archive for the ‘Books of Days’ Category

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Book of Days : May 3

May 3, 2011

Today it’s an 100% organic edition of my Book of Days series! That’s right, both of these entries have to do with pipe organs!

Today is the birthday of Organist/Composer Marcel Dupré, born in 1886. Dupré was a musical prodigy from childhood, and was born into something of a perfect storm for a French organ genius. When Marcel was 14 years old, his father Albert commissioned Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (The still undisputed master of French Symphonic organ building) to furnish the Dupré house with an organ. Within four years of that instrument being installed, Dupré was enrolled at the Conservatoir de Paris where he would study under a panoply of the finest organists, composers, improvisors and theorists France had ever produced. Among Dupré’s mentors were such leading lights as Louis Vierne, Alexandre Guilmant and Charles-Marie Widor, who he would succeed as the organist at the famed Cavaillé-Coll organ at Église Saint-Sulpice, Paris. Dupré was as prolific as he was brilliant, producing a substantial body of composition and volumes of written works on topics including organ building, counterpoint, fugue theory, accoustics, and improvisation (twice). As one examines the rich tapestry of French organ genius, one cannot escape feeling that all threads are connected to Dupré, those of the upper echelons who were not his mentors were invariably his students.

One of those students shared his birthday; Virgil Fox born today in 1912 in Princeton Illinois, would become perhaps the best known and most controversial organist of the 20th century. Known for his extravagant and highly romanticized performances of the works of J.S. Bach, Fox toured the world in a flashy cape putting on concerts under the banner of “HEAVY ORGAN” which were meant to appeal to a general public more comfortable with rock and roll, for whom the organ had distinctly churchly connotations. Fox’s concerts featured light shows, audience participation, and frequent colorful commentary from Fox himself, who rarely missed an opportunity to tweak the organ orthodoxy by the nose. His palpable contempt for traditional and historical performance practice riled the organ community, while his obvious technical mastery and near-instant recall of a catalog of hundreds of organ works from memory made him difficult to dismiss as a mere entertainer. Arguments over Fox’s legacy continue to this day but it can be truthfully said that there are many fans of organ music today who would never have become so without him.

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Book of Days : April 28

April 28, 2011

Today I’m starting what I expect to be a regular feature on The Daily Cypher, which is posting excerpts from my various Books of Days, where I collect chronologically sorted oddities.

Today is the birthday of author Sir Terry Pratchett, who requires no biographical sketch. If you do not know who Sir Pratchett is, go and read his books immediately. Sir Pratchett is widely quoted as having said “I’ll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there’s evidence of any thinking going on inside it.” – This quotation is so delicious that I shall be heartbroken if I ever find out it is not genuine. It is difficult to find any geek anywhere in the world who has not been influenced by Pratchett’s eloquence and wit.

This day in 1940 saw the first recording of  “PEnnsylvania 6-5000″ by The Glenn Miller Orchestra. A classic tune of the era, its title was a reference to the phone number of the Hotel Pennsylvania, a big-band hot spot frequented by Miller and other bands of the era. The phone number PE6-5000 or (212) 736-5000 is still in service today.

On the same day as the Miller recording, Rudolf Hoess took command of the Auschwitz concentration camp. His three and a half year supervision of the facility was to be characterized by the massive expansion required in order to accommodate the vast throughput of victims necessary to enact the Shoah. His formidable ingenuity, when coupled to a total absence of empathy resulted in perhaps the most efficient human extermination process in recorded history. At the trial which would ultimately result in his execution, Hoess boasted that at peak operation the facilities could murder 10,000 victims in a 24-hour period, a number limited only by the speed at which the bodies of the dead could be incinerated.

This day in 1937 the Theiler Yellow Fever Vaccine was announced to the public. This would mark the beginning of the near eradication of a disease which had claimed untold numbers of lives, and would earn Max Theiler a Nobel Prize for Medicine. The progress made against Yellow Fever has begun to backslide in recent years, with the number of cases increasing due in some part to anti-vaccination sentiments in the affected regions.