Program Notes

The music of Johann Sebastian Bach
Performed by Virgil Fox
On The Riverside Church Organ

The final recording of an organ recital can only imply the hours of experimentation that go into finding exactly the right sounds for each piece. Mr. Fox's rehearsals consist mostly of pulling out stop-knobs, listening intently to the sounds they make, rejecting some, trying others, and always thinking ahead ten or twenty measures to the ultimate con­clusion of each choice. The process resembles a chess game. But a chessboard has only thirty-two pieces, and the organ of the Riverside Church has 182 ranks and is the largest musical instrument in New York City. Even for its master, it is a formidable opponent.

An organ is the ultimate in stereophonic high-fidelity. Its pipes can sound from the front, the back, the right, the left, and from above and below the floor. The artist and the engineer must work together to contrast the sounds artistically as well as acoustically.

In the PRELUDE AND FUGUE IN D, one of Bach's showpieces, brief snatches of dialogue between the reeds and diapason chorus in the prelude foreshadow the brilliant variations of registration for the fugue, in which Mr. Fox blends the ensembles of the choir-positiv and great organs to the left with the swell organ to the right. Short state­ments and echoes sally hack and forth with ingenious variety until, with the pedal organ, the final statement is made—and answered.

Although the TRIO SONATA NO. VI calls for no more than three notes to sound at any one time, it is one of the most difficult pieces of music known to man. One almost needs three brains to play each voice as if it were completely independent.

Mr. Fox used to teach his students to swing around on the pelvis while practicing the fast movements of this piece. Concentrating on something unrelated to one's hands or feet somehow enables the sub-conscious to respond to three different musical demands at once.

Until Bach's generation, the musician's thumb was considered an "ungainly stump," and Bach was one of the first musicians to advocate its use during the performance of keyboard music. Virgil Fox, too, has broken outmoded conventions in order to perform music more effectively. If you listen carefully, you will hear four different groups of sounds playing simultaneously in certain parts of the FANTASY AND FUGUE IN C MINOR. Mr. Fox has only two hands with which to play three manual keyboards. He therefore plays the extra keyboard with one thumb.

There are organists—and critics—who are only satisfied with a faithful reproduction of old sounds and old techniques. But the worship of the past can be fatal for a serious performing artist. Bach never used some of the sounds heard on this record—but only because he didn't have them. No one who knows of Bach's great vitality of spirit can say that Bach would refuse to bring the full resources of the modern organ into the service of music.

When one listens to Bach's setting for the Lutheran chorale ALL MEN ARE MORTAL, one recognizes the belief that death serves to reunite us with God. For a moment, art and religion are one in the chorale's motif—which Mr. Fox has cradled in delicate flute stops. Dr. Schweitzer calls it "a motif of transfigured bliss." And the organ is the only instrument that can fully express this sensitivity of religious feeling.

Although, in the hands of a master, the organ can ebb and flow with the subtlety of a violin, it is still the most mechanical of musical instru­ments. Its control is not simply a matter of playing several keyboards well. The performer is engaged in a continuous sequence of button-pushing, tablet-tilting, stop-pulling, and pedal-pressing—all of which must occur with split-second timing.

At the beginning of the TOCCATA IN F, for example, a single pedal note must build, with imperceptible gradations, until the whole pedal division is employed. Since Mr. Fox's hands are flying all over the keyboards at the time, he must depress three expression pedals, a crescendo pedal, and eight toe studs with his one free foot. And when, at last, he comes to the brilliant pedal solo, one regrets that there was no way for Command to record the gleam in his eyes. For there is probably nothing more fascinating to watch than a musician giving himself entirely to his music. —MARSHALL YAEGER


Original Cover - Select image to enlarge

Original COMMAND master recorded on 35 mm magnetic film

The original master for this COMMAND CLASSIC was recorded on 35 millimeter magnetic film rather than on 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch tape. 35 mm magnetic film recording offers many advantages over more conventional tape recordings. These advantages become most important and exciting in the recording of very large orchestras.

  1. Film has no flutter because of the closed loop sprocketed guide path which holds it firmly against the recording head.

  2. 35 mm film is more than four times as wide as the 1/4-inch tape, thus the film is able to curry the equivalent of three 1/4 - inch tape tracks with more than enough space between each track to guarantee absolute separation of channels.

  3. The thickness of the film—5 mils — (three times thicker than tape) greatly reduces the possibility of contamination by print-through.

  4. Excellent frequency response is assured by the fast speed at which the film travels — 18 inches per second, or ninety feet per minute, and the low impedance head system.

  5. The wider track allows for a very wide, previously unheard of range of dynamics without distortion.

  6. The great tensile strength of film and the sprocket drive effectively eliminates any pitch changes due to "tape stretch."

  7. Signal to noise ratio is far superior.


This record is an example of the finest quality sound fidelity that can be achieved with a multiple microphone pick-up. From the origin of the sound in a largo acoustically perfect auditorium to the editing and the final pressing of the record, only the finest equipment is used. Some of tho microphones used, representing the best of all manufacturers available, are: the Tolefunken U-47, the RCA-44 BX, Telefunkon KM 56, Altec 639 B, RCA-77D and special Church microphones.

The reason for the multiplicity of microphone types is to insure that the optimum instrumental sound will be reproduced by use of the microphone whose characteristics are most complimentary to that particular instrument.

Recording is from 35 millimeter magnetic film through a Westrex RA 1551 reproducer. The sound signal is fed through a specially modified Westrex cutting head which is installed on an Automatic Scully lathe fitted with variable electronic depth control and variable pitch mechanisms.

From the preparation of the acetate master to the final stamper used to make this copy, all phases of the manufacturing process are carefully supervised and maximum quality control is exorcised to the highest degree known at the present state of the industry.

RIAA standards are fully complied with in these new COMMAND CLASSICS and for the best results we recommend that standard RIAA reproduction Characteristic Curve for each channel should be used.

Great care should be exercised in the selection of the stereo cartridge — properly adjusted for optimum tracking force and a minimum of tracking error — and, when played through a two-channel reproducing system of quality workmanship this COMMAND CLASSIC will delight the most discriminating audiophile.