Members From the Past
||Dr. William C. Carl at the console of the organ in First Presbyterian Church.
Congratulations to Wayne Dieterich and Steven Frank who correctly identified William C. Carl (1865-1936) in last month's issue
Carl was the organist of First Presbyterian Church in New York from 1892 until his death. He was born in Bloomfield, New Jersey, and was the organist of the First Presbyterian Church in Newark before going to Paris to study with Alexandre Guilmant in 1890-91.
Returning from Paris on the same ship as Carl was the Rev. Howard Duffield, newly appointed pastor of First Presbyterian Church who in short order appointed the 27-year-old Carl to be the organist and choirmaster of the First Presbyterian Church, the first serious musician called to the church. Dr. Duffield was a strong visionary leader with progressive ideas and a lover of music. At the time the church moved to its present location in 1846 only vocal music was considered appropriate for worship, and it was not until 1888 that a new organ by Roosevelt was installed in the gallery. Little is known about the first organists to play the new organ, and Carl's appointment marked a new era in the prominence with which the organ was to play in the life of the church.
Carl immediatley established an organ recital series that packed the church regularly, requiring police to control the crowds we are told. He also produced a concert version of Wagner's Parsifalwhich caused great interest, as full productions were only allowed in Bayreuth at that time.
Carl was a leading disciple of Guilmant in America, and during Guilmant's second American tour in 1898 the two decided to establish the Guilmant Organ School in New York to further the teaching ideals of the Parisian master. Dr. Duffield invited the new school to make First Presbyterian Church its headquarters, featuring the church's magnificent Roosevelt organ as the centerpiece for lessons and recitals. The first class was held in October 1899. Guilmant was the President, Carl was the Director and Instructor of Organ, and Dr. Duffield was the Chaplain and Instructor in Theology. The initial announcement stated that:
"William C. Carl, having been authorized by Alexandre Guilmant to open an organ school under his patronage, begs to announce the Guilmant Organ School, in which the method as set forth by the great French organist will be taught. Since the phenomenal success of M. Guilmant in America, a new impetus has been given to the organ as a solo instrument and its relation to the church service. Organists in all parts of the country are giving more attention to its study and in preparation of their work. Organ concerts are in demand with a growing success. Church committees are exacting a higher degree of ability from their organists and the press is giving it attention."
In the ensuing years the school gained considerable recognition in America and Europe. The French government bestowed upon Carl the Officer de l'Instruction Publique, and he was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in recognition for his work in promoting the works of Guilmant and other French composers. New York University also conferred on him an honorary Doctor of Music.
At the 25th anniversary of the school in 1924 it was noted that 150 students had graduated, and 26 of them were in positions of renown in the greater New York area. To celebrate Dr. Carl's 40th anniversary as organist of First Presbyterian Church in 1932, the church installed a bronze plaque in the choir seating area in the chancel. In 1935 Dr. Carl was granted a leave of absence from his duties at the school for health reasons, and Williard Irving Nevins, Carl's first student and associate, became director of the school. Dr. William C. Carl died on December 8, 1936, and Nevins was appointed organist and choirmaster of the church the following month.