Thomas Murray and Peter Stoltzfus play the organ at Elm Court

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Recording of the Skinner Player Pipe Organ in a private home. Automatic musical instruments from the 1930s. Live playing by Thomas Murray & Peter Stoltzfus.

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The pipe organ installed in the private residence, “Elm Court”, in Butler, Pennsylvania is a very rare instrument. It is a Skinner Player Organ, which means it is an automatic musical instrument that plays the notes on the organ, changes the stops and opens and closes the Swell shutters. Before the advent of the long-playing record or high fidelity, music in the home had to be played by a person. If there were no musicians in the home, the instruments had to be automatically played. The middle class tended to have player pianos but the wealthy were able to indulge in player pipe organs. Almost every titan of industry, from Andrew Carnegie to Frank Woolworth, had player pipe organs in their mansions. Elm Court was built for Benjamin D. Phillips by the architect, Benno Jannsen, and was completed in 1931. In 1990, the A. Thompson-Allen Company fully restored Elm Court’s pipe organ to like-new condition. This is the second recording JAV Recordings was allowed to make on this extraordinary instrument. Professor Thomas Murray, University Organist and Professor of Music at Yale University, with Peter Stoltzfus Berton, Organist and Choir Director of St. John’s, West Hartford, play on the Skinner Pipe Organ at Elm Court. Four Rolls were also recorded on this disc. This recording comes with extensive documentation: an essay about the pipe organ, notes on the music, stoplist and numerous photos.

  Name Composer
1 Sonata No. 1 in A (1904): Allegro ma non troppo Felix Borowski
2 Sonata No. 1 in A (1904): Andante Felix Borowski
3 Sonata No. 1 in A (1904): Allegro con fuoco Felix Borowski
4 The Flowers of the Forest  
5 Variations sur un noel bourgignon (1959) Andre Fleury
6 Angelus! Priere aux Anges gardiens Franz Liszt
7 Toccata: Deo Gratias Richard Keys Biggs
8 24 Pieces en style libre, Op. 31: Pastorale Louis Vierne
9 24 Pieces en style libre, Op. 31: Divertissement Louis Vierne
10 Suite: The Firebird (1910): Berceuse and Finale Igor Stravinsky
11 Mignon: Overture Ambroise Thomas
12 Sonata No. 2 “Cromatica” (1917) Pietro Yon
13 Tea for Two Vincent Youmans
14 The Sorcerer’s Apprentice Paul Dukas

1 review for Thomas Murray and Peter Stoltzfus play the organ at Elm Court

  1. Thomas Faircloth

    I have not received my copy yet, but in 1965 B.D. Phillips and his wife, the daughter of famed Evangelist P.H. Welsheimer hosted our touring Choir at their home in Butler. I had never seen anything like it in my 19 years of life. Besides the beautiful Pipe organ in the Main Hall, many of the rooms had player grand pianos in them as well. Since neither of the Phillips played the organ they put it on automatic. What resulted was an experience I will never forget. I am eagerly awaiting my copy of the recording and the booklet that comes with it. The rating above was mandatory by your software so even though I haven’t heard it, I know from the instrument and the artists it will be five star.

    • Newsroom

      My apologies for the slow reply. But the Elm Court Skinner Organ is very special – they were common in large homes before World War II. I hope you are enjoying the rolls and the live playing. The roll of Firebird is something else, but it can’t compete with the excellent playing of Professor Thomas Murray of Yale or one of his former student’s Peter Stoltzfus.

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