In an earlier post, we mentioned a characterization of George William Warren’s performance on the organ: “Mr. Geo. Wm. Warren organist of St Paul’s Albany next extemporised in his usual fanciful and somewhat comic style.” This assessment was contained in a review of a concert celebrating a new Hook organ at St Paul’s Church in Troy, New York. The letter, signed only “Philomel,” was published on page 102 of the October 28, 1854 issue of Musical World.
But we have recently found that there is more to this story. Warren responded the same month in a letter to the Musical World’s editor published in the December 2, 1854 of the journal (page 166). After describing the European opera career of former St. Paul’s soloist Henry Squires, Warren reacted with good humor to Philomel’s characterization, and suggested why the reviewer might have found his performance comical:
One thing more and I am done. Your correspondent “Philomel” writes from Troy about the Organ exhibition at St Paul’s, and dubs me a Comic Organist; and as it is not so desirable to have that reputation, as some other, will you allow me to justify myself in the Musical World. When I played that evening it was a prima volta and in a certain passage when I used the CC pedal expecting that I had drawn the register “pedals and choir” lo! it was “pedals and great” and nothing out but “trumpet” which of course snarled astonishingly; as I was in for it, I proceeded up the scale and finally got out of the scrape. I explained this to Mr. Philomel who was in the Organ loft; but it is a very good joke and if he has said it, of course I am a Comic Organist and if Christy will get an organ to use at his concerts, maybe he will give me an engagement. Again I would say to you, how much I am charmed with your paper and I wish it was a dally instead of a weekly: and if I can be of use to it in any way command.
As Warren prepared to show off his footwork, he pulled the wrong coupler, and instead of bringing a pleasant mixture of sounds to the instrument’s pedals, he brought only a blaring trumpet. When he played the lowest note on the pedal board, the audience heard a loud, nasty blast. By moving up the pedals, the ugly effect was reduced, and Warren was able to continue. This, then, was Warren’s guess as to what Philomel found fanciful and comic.
The “Christy” from whom Warren jokingly suggests he might receive an engagement, was Edwin Pearce Christy, entertainer and producer, whose minstrels shows included an early version of vaudeville.
But this jovial conversation was not over! In the December 23, 1854 issue of Musical World (page 206), Philomel replied to Warren’s explanation of his error in registration, and expresses affectionate regard for the young organist’s energetic style and character:
I regret that any remark of mine should cause even that degree of uneasiness in Mr. George Wm. Warren’s mind sufficient to call for a “comical” letter. Mr. Warren is, incontestably, a wit; and I do not desire, either by accident or design, to incur the consequences of his ridicule. Lest, however, he should deem the last observation more “comical” than true, I beg to state, that my remark “Mr. Warren extemporised in his usual fanciful and somewhat comic style” referred not to the mistake in the pedal playing, for this is common enough, and I did not notice it; but simply to his off-hand, dashing, sprightly, operatic, and in view of his unmistakably volatile temperament, occasionally comic style. Indeed a man cannot break away from the general current of his thoughts, and Mr. Warren’s musical expressions are the natural outbursts of a heart, (to all outward appearance at least) free from care, and overflowing in its excess of joy.