Though it is the normal practice of BMInt to review and discuss only events relating to classical music, we occasionally venture afield — in this case with an appreciative account of an improvised organ accompaniment to a silent movie. On July 21 a large screen was set up in the chancel of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul (Episcopal) on Tremont St. for an audience of the participants in and friends of Pipe Organ Encounters, a gathering organized by Christian Lane including several days of workshops, concerts, and other events centered on the organ. Peter Krasinski was at the console of the 1950 Æolian-Skinner, a visually unprepossessing instrument meant to be hidden behind a façade, for Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman. This classic is one of the glories of the last flowering of silent cinema one year before the widespread adoption of sound.
To evoke memories of movie palaces Krasinki began with an overture, Bernstein’s Candide, in a bravura though not immaculate performance. Then the show began with a pitiable tintype vendor (Buster Keaton) falling in love with the unattainable beauty. Buster eventually wins her love by capturing a gang war on film, and further by having by his organ-grinder monkey crank the camera and thus document the brave Buster’s rescue of the drowning damosel.
It was all great fun. The audience was totally on board for this timeless comedy, and Krasinski was very effective as an accompanist. While some theater organists assign memorable themes to each character and develop and intertwine them over the course of the film, Krasinki was more of the school of highlighting action and emotion with effective though not memorable music, thereby serving more as an excellent supporting actor than as a star.
His playing had a convincing period feel with no added anachronistic elements. By using thoughtful and evocative registrations, he even got the “American Classic” Æolian Skinner to sound like a Wurlitzer theater organ. He made good use of a throbbing Vox Humana stop and contrasted reeds and flutes colorfully. This was a great marriage of movie and music and was received with enthusiasm.
Kransinski concluded the evening with a performance of our National Anthem. His modulation in the last stanza was an amusing surprise.
In closing one cannot help but observe that through the performance of Peter Krasinski, the grand sounding Æolian Skinner organ met the spiritual needs of this congregation most movingly.
F. Lee Eiseman is the publisher of The Boston Musical Intelligencer
BMInt’s extensive POE interview with Christian Lane is here.