New York City, New York, 1905.
Name informally adopted by the Los Angeles Art Organ Co. of California when it relocated to Hoboken, New Jersey, 1905; products supplied by the Wirsching firm of Salem, Ohio; reorganized as the Electrolian Organ Co., 13 November, 1905.
Similar Names, But Not the Same Company
The Art Organ Company of New York City, and the Los Angeles Art Organ Company were two different, unrelated companies, but their similar names have led to confusion, and they are frequently referenced as being a single company. James Stark's excellent article in the Spring 2005 issue of Organ Historical Society's journal, The Tracker, separates the two neatly. Since The Tracker is not a readily available resource in most libraries, Mr. Stark has graciously summarized it for the database, his condensed version is found in the next bulleted note below.
The Art Organ Company was organized in New York City, the Los Angeles Art Organ Company was a reorganization of the Murray Harris Company. The Los Angeles Art Organ Company moved to New Jersey and was reorganized as the Electrolian Company. The Art Organ Company was always located in New York City, but sub-contracted the production to the Wirsching firm of Salem, Ohio. After Electrolian closed, the Wirsching firm purchased its assets and hired some of the former Electrolian employees.
George Ashdown Audsley was born in Scotland in 1838. He was an architect who became interested in the pipe organ's design. He grasped the potential for new configurations of traditional and new imitative voices from the larger instruments made possible by electrical key action, and became an organ designer himself in order to exploit these possibilities. Audsley focused on concert organs, not church organs, but some of his ideas influenced the design of larger church organs. Organists were frequently playing transcriptions of orchestral works rather than works written for the organ, his designs made it possible to play transcriptions that more closely resembled their orchestral counterparts. The String division, a collection of imitative string stops grouped together in their own swell box, was one of his innovations.
We associate Audsley with huge concert organs, but he also had ideas regarding the salon organ. While the concert organ was intended to play the part of a one-man symphony, the salon organ would replace the chamber ensemble. He threw aside any attempt to play traditional 'church' literature, these instruments would provide incidental music, dance tunes, and lighter chamber music for the wealthy households who could afford such an instrument.
While Audsley would provide the aural portion of these residence organs, J. Burr Tiffany would ensure that the eye would be pleased as well as the ear. An interior decorator for the fashionable millionaires of the late 1800s, Tiffany was a member of the family of famed New York jewelers, and a first cousin of stained-glass artist, Louis Comfort Tiffany. At the time, he was also employed by Steinway Piano to decorate its customized concert grand pianos, in this capacity, he was responsible for the eagles supporting the concert grand in the East Room of the White House. His part in the new company was to design the ornate casework to present a suitable face for the salon organ, one which would be at home in the lavish (or overelaborate) décor of the period. Together, the two planned to capture the small, but lucrative market for the residence organ.
The Art Organ Company of New York
The Art Organ Company was incorporated in New York in 1905. The incorporators were G. A. Audlsely, J. Burr Tiffany and Robert Gere, Tiffany's brother-in-law. The company entered into an agreement with the Wirsching Organ Company to build organs to the designs of Audsley and Tiffany. The company showroom was in Steinway Hall, then on 14th St. in New York. Only six residence organs and two church organs were built, the company began having financial difficulties and Wirsching cancelled the contract in 1909. The Art Organ Company, however, existed on paper until 1926.
According to Jim Lewis' recent book, "The Los Angeles Art Organ Company", Audsley and Tiffany did apparently first approach William Fleming of Los Angeles Art Organ/Electrolian to build the organs for them. Fleming was not interested, and they turned to Philip Wirsching. That appears to be the only connection between the two companies other than similar names.
After leaving the Art Organ Company, Audsley returned to writing his theoretical treatise on organ building, The Temple of Tone. He died before completing it.1 Tiffany had never left his position with Steinway Pianos, it again became his primary occupation until he retired in 1912.2
There are 6 entries in the database that describe organs by Art Organ Co.
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