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Book details
  • SubGenre:Artists, Architects, Photographers
  • Language:English
  • Pages:348
  • Paperback ISBN:9780578378060

Virgil Fox - In The Beginning

by Dennis Block

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Virgil Fox – In The Beginning explores the early life of iconic American organist, Virgil Fox. It is the first book of its kind, documenting Virgil's life from his birth in 1912 to his appointment as Organist of the Riverside Church in New York City in May 1946. It explores, among other things, his family and school life, his music teachers and their influences, the development of his career, and his unique performance style that earned him an international reputation as a youthful organ prodigy. Many previously unknown facts about this period in Mr. Fox's life are revealed here for the first time in a book that will be of interest not only to musicians, but to anyone who wishes to know more about one of the 20th century's most famous organists.


Virgil Fox was one of the most popular, innovative, admired, and controversial organists of the 20th Century. While stories and anecdotes about him abound, they mostly center around the second half of his life, the years following his appointment as Organist of the Riverside Church in New York City in May 1946. Almost no biographical information has been published about the first half of his life – until now. This book sets out to fill that void. Virgil Fox – In The Beginning, examines many of the people and factors that shaped the artist who emerged from a small farming town in Illinois to reimagine the art of organ playing and expand the organ's traditional role as a church instrument into that of a concert instrument. The author has uncovered some surprising facts about Fox's youth, information previously unknown to even his closest associates, and provides answers to many questions people have wondered about for years, such as: What was Virgil Fox's family life like as a youth? What was life like for him in Princeton, Illinois' schools and at the Peabody Conservatory of Music? Who were his music teachers, what methods did they employ, and what was his relationship with each of them? What musical competitions did Virgil enter, in which did he win first place and in which did he not? What compositions did he play in his early years? How did his concert career develop and what role did friends and relatives play in it? What did music critics have to say about his early performances? When, where (and possibly how) did Virgil Fox meet W. Richard Weagly, the man with whom he would form a partnership for most of his adult life? What churches hired Virgil Fox, what were his dates of service, what kind of organ did each one have, and which churches did he join? What were his exact dates of service in the Army Air Force and as Head of the Organ Department at the Peabody Conservatory and what happened during those years? How did he obtain the position of Organist at the Riverside Church and how did his relationship with John D. Rockefeller, Jr. develop there?

This book contains information gleaned from hundreds of hours of historical research, and it includes a detailed chronology of the first 34 years of Virgil Fox's life, a look at his hometown of Princeton, IL and his ancestry there, mini-portraits of the main people in his life, and specifications of many of the important organs he played. It often quotes Virgil's own words to illustrate a point but also includes the author's observations and remembrances from attending many Fox performances and Master Classes in the 1960s. Rather than an academic biography, the author has chosen to write an informal history without footnotes and with few technical musical terms. While familiarity with pipe organ nomenclature is helpful, this book may be enjoyed by anyone who wishes to learn about the early life and career of the iconic American organist, Virgil Fox.

About the author
Dennis Block is a native New Jerseyan who was born, raised, educated, and is now happily retired in the Garden State. Although his professional career centered around the design and programming of digital electronic equipment, he has had a lifelong passion for classical pipe organs. From the mechanisms of these, the most complex of all musical instruments, to the performers whose deft touch can persuade a machine of wood and metal to make beautiful music, Dennis' interests encompass all aspects of pipe organs and their music. Over the course of a lifetime, he has had the privilege of knowing many great organs and organists and has strived to be a faithful friend and patron in the arcane world of pipe organ enthusiasts. Dennis' first encounter as a teenager with the virtuoso organist Virgil Fox at the Riverside Church in NYC, was a life-altering experience that set him on the path ultimately leading to the publication of this book.

Book Reviews

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A Fantastic Biography of the Early Career of American Organ Virtuoso-Virgil Fox Throughout its colorful 21 chapters and its two large Appendixes, the reader has an excellent opportunity and an adventure in discovering the early and remarkable career of the late Virgil Fox, American concert organ virtuoso, who was not only a brilliant and colorful church musician but also one of the first organists to tour throughout the United States on three different types throughout the years on three electronic analogue instruments: 3m 'Black Beauty Rodgers;' 5m- "The Royal Five, Rodgers; and a custom 4m Allen early digital organ in giving stunning organ performances throughout the United States. Mr. Block has painstakingly done "his home work' utilizing magazines, newspapers, reviews, school and church magazines and books throughout VF's high school career; Mr. Block affirms throughout this book on how and with the help of his beloved Aunt Etna, Virgil Fox gave his first organ recital on a fine 4 manual E.M. Skinner organ at his high school as well as other exciting and colorful early organ recitals in select churches and even another high school. Fox's awards are are discussed throughout this narrative. Other chapters are devoted to his studies here in the United States including the studying with Middelschulte, Peabody Conservatory, Baltimore and eventually studying, oh so briefly, with famous Marcel Dupre in Paris, France. This seems to have been not the most appreciated time as shared between teacher and student. Virgil Fox's early career throughout the 1930's is discussed with even select repertoire listed as well as a discussion concerning the yearly American tours: 1939-1942 nevertheless, there will be several surprises for readers regarding VF's repertoire during these years. Information is also given regarding Fox's position at the Brown Memorial Church, Baltimore, MD. The war years are dutifully covered throughout WWII and Fox's performances - (three times) at the White House as well as select recitals while still in the US Army - (Sgt. Fox) on the east coast. The basically unknown history on how Virgil Fox met Richard Weagly who formed a partnership for almost all of Virgil Fox's adult career is fully discussed here. In its well-researched chapters, the history of VF's new position at the Riverside Church is mentioned with a brief discussion regarding the church's 4-119 Hook and Hastings instrument which was a total disaster both tonally as well as mechanically. Something not mentioned in the book regarding the instrument, was that it had 'blind' pistons which made for a nightmare for any organist let alone a organ virtuoso like VF. Appendix A and B list Virgil Fox Chronology as well as VF's Ancestry. Appendix C lists the complete specifications of select churches and their respective instruments as played by Virgil Fox. Brief mention is mentioned regarding Virgil Fox's first recordings for RCA-Victor - (Radio Corporation of America). The first discs were recorded on the glorious 4-109 Skinner organ at Girard College for Boys, Philadelphia and the second series recorded on the John Jay Hammond Concert organ - 4-150 rank instrument located in the Hammond Castle, Gloucester, MA. Both specifications are not listed in this book; moreover, there are numerous rare photographs utilized throughout this biography which add even more to the delight of this biography. This superbly written and researched biography is highly recommended and required for any one who has always loved and fully appreciated the ART of one of America's greatest concert organ virtuosos: Virgil Fox. - (1912-1980) Read more