Over 30 years ago, Jacques Littlefield met a kindred spirit, Charles Benton Fisk, over a mutual love of organs, and the science and engineering of music. How did this happen? Littlefield, a graduate of Stanford University, became involved in CB Fisk's Opus 85, and began to dream of a significant instrument -- not a house organ -- in a dedicated hall attached to his house.
First Jacques had to build the hall. For that, he turned to another kindred spirit, Tad Cody, who he had met through a love of trains. Tad designed the hall and the rooms and library connecting the hall to the original ranch-style house.
In 1983, calamity could have struck the CB Fisk company. Charlie Fisk died. But Jacques had confidence in the company as a team, and Opus 91 was underway. The installation was completed in 1987, with additions made in 1989. An important historic note about the usage of this organ was that the Stanford University graduate program in Organ Performance, interrupted by the effect of the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989, continued by the use of Opus 91 in the Littlefield hall, which was unaffected by the quake.
There is at least one recording made while Fisk Opus 91 was in Portola Valley, Kevin Buttle's Festival d'Orgue.
Time passes and things change. Jacques Littlefield died in 2009, and his family decided that the best future for the organ was to find it a new home. A team effort ensued to find the optimal setting.
After acquiring the instrument with collaboration from the Jacobs School of Music, the IMU and the office of the president of IU, Kazimir and C.B Fisk disassembled the organ in February 2012 and then placed it in storage in Bloomington until Alumni Hall was prepared for its official installation.
Performers and works:
- Bruce Neswick: Praeludium in C Major, Buxtehude
- Marilyn Keiser (organ), Esther Kim (violin), Joe Kaiser (cello): Suite, Opus 149, Rheinberger
- David Kazimir: Piece d'orgue, Bach
- Janette Fishell: Scene Pastorale, Lefébre-Wély
- Charles Webb: Toccata, Dubois
- Christopher Young: Petit Offertoire, Franck, and Prelude and Fugue in B Minor, Saint-Saens
- Offrande au Saint Sacrement, Messiaen
A personal note: Fisk Opus 91 was an important part of my relationship with Jacques in ways too many to mention. Jacques' thinking about the instrument, and our relationships with the "Fiskies" who came to install and voice the instrument, opened a whole world to me. The same is true for musicians who came to play the instrument over the years. I trusted Fisk President Steven Dieck when he told me that Indiana University's acquisition of Fisk Opus 91 represented a great future for Jacques's dream and the instrument.
Having seen the installation and heard the instrument in its new home, I have to agree. I also think that the Webb-Ehrlich Great Organ's (as it now should be known) location on the campus of a great university gives an opportunity for the organ to be engaged in something else: an exploration of the impact of both engineering and design on the actual production of music.
This is something that Jacques embodied, and touched on through his friendships, and maybe there's a way for the Webb-Ehrlich Great Organ to bring this forward.
In writing up the site change for Opus 91, the CB Fisk Company wrote,
The members of the Fisk shop, especially those of us who knew Jacques Littlefield, are gratified that the organ has a new home at a leading university with such a distinguished organ faculty; we suspect that Jacques would also have approved.
As I leave Indiana, having seen and heard the organ again after some years, I find myself rather teary-eyed--not sad, just poignant. Jacques was nothing if not pragmatic. Yes, I think he would have thought this was a good "next career" for this instrument. I can even imagine him putting together some kind of symposium so the engineers and the organists would see into each other's disciplines.
Timelapse video of the organ being installed
- CB Fisk Company, Opus 91
- Press release, IU http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/21762.html
- Indiana Daily Student http://www.idsnews.com/news/NewStoryPrint.aspx?id=91826
- Indiana Daily Student http://www.idsnews.com/news/story.aspx?id=94107
- Indiana Journal-Gazette http://www.journalgazette.net/article/20130806/NEWS07/308069951/1002/LOCAL