Craig Whitney, author of “All the Stops” (PublicAffairs, 2003), has been playing the organ for more than 60 years, since he was 13 years old. He started taking lessons when the organist of the Unitarian Church in his home town, Westborough, Mass., asked his piano teacher if she had a student who might be interested in succeeding her – she was in her 80s and wanted to retire. He studied there and on the G. Donald Harrison organ at All Saints Church in Worcester, Mass., with Henry Hokans, and in school and college with Lorene Banta, Melville Smith, and John Ferris.
As a foreign correspondent for The New York Times for many years, he has played on historic pipe organs and met famous organists all over the world. One of them was Maurice Durufle, at the Cathedral in Soissons, France, where in 1962 one of the canons asked the composer to write a fugue on the motif the cathedral’s clock chimes send out every hour — the fugue, op. 12.
In this video Craig Whitney plays it at the church he attends, Grace Church Brooklyn Heights, New York. The instrument, dedicated in 2001, was designed by the church’s organist and choirmaster, Paul Olson, the consultant Douglass Hunt, and by Bruce Buchanan, tonal director of Austin Organs Inc. at the time, and was installed under his artistic direction. Its 69 ranks are, unusually for an Austin organ, on slider soundboards with electric action, and 15 of them come from a predecessor organ built by Hilborne and Frank Roosevelt in 1887. Its five divisions, in the main chamber at the west end of the church and a new antiphonal in the east end gallery, are controlled from a drawknob console with three manuals and pedalboard. The church, an Episcopal parish, is an 1848 Richard Upjohn Gothic Revival design, with much of its 19th-century interior decoration beautifully restored earlier in this decade in a renovation project.