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The Virgil Fox Phenomenon

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This could be the start of a fascinatng thread; perhaps covering rather more than pure organ-playing or showmanship.

 

Virgil Fox was so many things to so many people, and not all them complimentary or comfortable, yet he left a legacy, a legend and even an source of inspiration for many who might aspire to the dizzy virtuosity of a top concert-organist.

 

Perhaps we live in a less robust and confident age; constantly concerning ourselves with matters historical or musically tasteful, whereas Virgil Fox (and others who try to follow in his wake) played, and continue to play, to a different gallery.

 

Perhaps Fox really was a freak, in the sense that he could play the clown, poke fun at J S Bach, entertain, astonish, annoy, display extraordinary innate musicianship or thoroughly appalling taste as the case may be, thrill, delight, inspire....the list of superlatives and extremes is almost endless.

 

His lifestyle was personally and professionally risky, and but for good fortune, he may well have gone the way of Liberace or Rock Hudson. His "pool parties" are still talked about to this day, and yet he managed to stay on the right side of the press and those who could have damaged him had they so chosen to do so.

 

Others have followed his example, such as Carlo Curley and Cameron Carpenter, but none even begin to come close to the complete phenomenon which was Virgil Fox.

 

If there is one really annoying thing about the Virgil Fox legacy, it is the mass of contradictions. On the one hand, a man who could really drop into the gutter of shameless attention seeking and self-promotion, and yet, just when you are about to dismiss him as a musical jester, you hear something special and unique; perhaps something so powerful, that the exact opposite springs to mind.

 

However, in fairness to the memory of the man, perhaps we should start with a tribute.

 

The following two video-clips show two movements of the Jongen "Sinfonie Concertante," and in spite of the limited sound-quality and poor video-quality, it is possibly the most thrilling piece of organ-playing ever captured on camera.

 

The absolute mastery of music, instrument and acoustic is astounding, but so too is the total awareness and control of the musical circumstance; all played from memory before a rapt audience.

 

Personally, when I first watched this, I got shivers running up and down my neck.....a real spine-tingler and absolutely spell-binding to watch.

 

If there is one thing that really gets to me in this video, it is the absolute JOY that Fox demonstrates as he turns to the conductor and shakes his hand; having just rattled his way through the Toccata without any apparent effort.

 

As this thread unfolds (and I hope we can stay on track, much as we like to ramble) I will post other URL's which demonstrate the many facets of the phenomenon that was Virgil Fox.

 

Fasten your safety belts!

 

 

 

B)

 

MM

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This could be the start of a fascinatng thread; perhaps covering rather more than pure organ-playing or showmanship.

 

Virgil Fox was so many things to so many people, and not all them complimentary or comfortable, yet he left a legacy, a legend and even an source of inspiration for many who might aspire to the dizzy virtuosity of a top concert-organist.

 

Perhaps we live in a less robust and confident age; constantly concerning ourselves with matters historical or musically tasteful, whereas Virgil Fox (and others who try to follow in his wake) played, and continue to play, to a different gallery.

 

Perhaps Fox really was a freak, in the sense that he could play the clown, poke fun at J S Bach, entertain, astonish, annoy, display extraordinary innate musicianship or thoroughly appalling taste as the case may be, thrill, delight, inspire....the list of superlatives and extremes is almost endless.

 

His lifestyle was personally and professionally risky, and but for good fortune, he may well have gone the way of Liberace or Rock Hudson. His "pool parties" are still talked about to this day, and yet he managed to stay on the right side of the press and those who could have damaged him had they so chosen to do so.

 

Others have followed his example, such as Carlo Curley and Cameron Carpenter, but none even begin to come close to the complete phenomenon which was Virgil Fox.

 

If there is one really annoying thing about the Virgil Fox legacy, it is the mass of contradictions. On the one hand, a man who could really drop into the gutter of shameless attention seeking and self-promotion, and yet, just when you are about to dismiss him as a musical jester, you hear something special and unique; perhaps something so powerful, that the exact opposite springs to mind.

 

However, in fairness to the memory of the man, perhaps we should start with a tribute.

 

The following two video-clips show two movements of the Jongen "Sinfonie Concertante," and in spite of the limited sound-quality and poor video-quality, it is possibly the most thrilling piece of organ-playing ever captured on camera.

 

The absolute mastery of music, instrument and acoustic is astounding, but so too is the total awareness and control of the musical circumstance; all played from memory before a rapt audience.

 

Personally, when I first watched this, I got shivers running up and down my neck.....a real spine-tingler and absolutely spell-binding to watch.

 

If there is one thing that really gets to me in this video, it is the absolute JOY that Fox demonstrates as he turns to the conductor and shakes his hand; having just rattled his way through the Toccata without any apparent effort.

 

As this thread unfolds (and I hope we can stay on track, much as we like to ramble) I will post other URL's which demonstrate the many facets of the phenomenon that was Virgil Fox.

 

Fasten your safety belts!

 

 

 

:o

 

Virgil had one attribute the upset nearly every other organist going - he could fill a church!

 

FF    B)

 

MM

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk

Such Joie de Vive!

No wonder he upset all his contemporaries - what a gift!

Mind you, like Dupre, he practised every day.......so that gift was earned.

 

Following links to the VF site, I was moved to find out that at the time of the Japanese performance of the Jongen was recorded/broadcast (as can be heard now on U-Tube) he already knew he was dying. I don't think it is over-romanticising that concert to say that (like Franck and his Three Chorals) knowing that he might never be able to do the same again lent terrific emphasis to his last work.

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Such Joie de Vive!

 

I don't think it is over-romanticising that concert to say that (like Franck and his Three Chorals) knowing that he might never be able to do the same again lent terrific emphasis to his last work.

 

===================

 

When I was in America, Virgil Fox had just made his last recording, which I believe is the one I have in my record collection. I bought it in America amd nursed it back across the Atlantic.

 

A limited edition direct to disc cut, and probably quite rare, it isn't Virgil Fox at his best. However, I later learned that he was just a few weeks away from death and was in great pain when he made the recording, so the lapses are themselves quite poignant.

 

What a fighter!

 

MM

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===================

 

When I was in America, Virgil Fox had just made his last recording, which I believe is the one I have in my record collection. I bought it in America amd nursed it back across the Atlantic.

 

A limited edition direct to disc cut, and probably quite rare, it isn't Virgil Fox at his best. However, I later learned that he was just a few weeks away from death and was in great pain when he made the recording, so the lapses are themselves quite poignant.

 

What a fighter!

 

MM

 

=============

 

Well, there's nothing quite like mis-information......I checked the details, as I should have done at the start.

 

The following from the Virgil Fox website:-

 

Virgil Fox's final performance took place on September 26, 1980, at the opening concert of the Dallas Symphony's season. His life, which ended on October 25, 1980, followed a four-year fight with cancer.

 

In fact, Virgil Fox died whilst I was in America, and that is why I bought the recording. I think my reference to his "great pain" was concerned with his last performance as detailed above.

 

Sorry about the confusion!

 

B)

 

MM

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Fasten your safety belts!

And while your at it, don't miss the

.

 

I love the way he peers round nochantlantly at the stops before plucking one or two out, without dropping a stitch with his feet.

 

Eat your hearts out, folks!

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And while your at it, don't miss the
.

 

I love the way he peers round nochantlantly at the stops before plucking one or two out, without dropping a stitch with his feet.

 

Eat your hearts out, folks!

 

 

Never mind that - how could he TALK to the audience in such a fluent and relaxed manner WHILE he was playing. If someone asks me a question while I'm playing I have a job to stitch two words together... and then they're probably the wrong words!

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I know it's not related to the Virgil Fox thread (sorry MM), but whilst watching the linked clips came across several others from a young chap calling himself "Arky83mi". Just curious as to what others thought of his playing. In one of his comments, he says he is not having lessons. Despite this his playing seems fairly accomplished (and he always seems to be playing from memory).

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Thus far in this thread we have not mentioned THE DISH by Ted Alan Worth which of course tells the tale! I would say that it is a most enthralling book and if you don't have it, I heartily recommend that you get a copy from either the Fox website or OHS. I couldn't put the darned thing down, and have now read it twice!

 

Apparently it was written down in one 300 page paragraph, so needed some judicious editing! :(

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Guest Lee Blick

Virgil Fox. AWESOME!

 

Glad this forum is discussing the great man. :(

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Guest Andrew Butler
Never mind that - how could he TALK to the audience in such a fluent and relaxed manner WHILE he was playing. If someone asks me a question while I'm playing I have a job to stitch two words together... and then they're probably the wrong words!

 

Not wishing to wander from the topic, I have, however, often marvelled as to how I can be in church for 25 minutes before a service and not exchange two words with anyone, but start my voluntary 5 minutes before the service and that is the cue for people to need to tell me something vital. 2 examples: Choir member "I won't be here the week after Christmas" (said at the end of September!) and "Do you know where the spare loo rolls are kept?" :(

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Not wishing to wander from the topic, I have, however, often marvelled as to how I can be in church for 25 minutes before a service and not exchange two words with anyone, but start my voluntary 5 minutes before the service and that is the cue for people to need to tell me something vital. 2 examples: Choir member "I won't be here the week after Christmas" (said at the end of September!)  and "Do you know where the spare loo rolls are kept?"  :(

 

I personally enjoy wedding guests congratulating me on my playing during the recessional - nothing like passing the time of day to the Widor Toccata.

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All consoles should have a sign on both sides:

 

Please do not speak to the organist while he is playing.

 

And the organist should have a thumb piston that erects another sign:

 

Can't you read?

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All consoles should have a sign on both sides:

 

Please do not speak to the organist while he is playing.

 

And the organist should have a thumb piston that erects another sign:

 

Can't you read?

 

Now we're talking - how about a stop which opens either an escape chute for the organist or a disposal chute for his/her conversational distraction. i'm sure virgil Fox would have done it if he'd thought of it (note - I'm trying to keep this thread relatively on topic)

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stitch two words together... and then they're probably the wrong words!
I have two particular words permanently available for this situation.

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All consoles should have a sign on both sides:

 

Please do not speak to the organist while he is playing.

 

And the organist should have a thumb piston that erects another sign:

 

Can't you read?

 

I saw something very similar to this in France over the Summer where the organ and console were in a sort of abulatory at the East end of a church behind the high altar - the congregation were free to wander very close.

 

AJJ

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Virgil Fox. AWESOME!

 

Glad this forum is discussing the great man.  :lol:

 

=========================

 

 

 

Well we were!

 

I've been doing a bit of digging around, and have come up with some quite fascinating material about Virgil Fox; much of it previously unknown to me.

 

However, as I while away my time trying to get my act together with all the material gathered, here are three things you probably didn't know about Virgil Fox:-

 

The eulogy at his funeral, began with the words, "Well honey!"

 

A couple of years back, during the Iraqi War, there was use of the term, "Sexed up." In fact, the term "sexed up" was first used in 1977 by the "Washington Post"

when the term was used to deplore Virgil Fox's style of "sexed-up Bach"....suggesting a fake approach to interpretation.

 

The headstone above the grave of Virgil Fox is carved in pink stone:-

 

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?p...&pt=Virgil+Fox&

 

Virgil Fox described E.Power-Biggs, quite openly, as being, "Dead from the neck-up and the waist-down!"

 

More later!

 

:lol:

 

MM

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If Virgil Fox remains a unique phenomenon in the national musical life of America, and his many performances mark the high-watermark of the popularity of the great synphonic American organs, it is rorbably true to suggest that the controversy rages on. Bemused Europeans have, over the years, both admired and derided the Fox phenomenon in equal measure, and this continues in both the adulation heaped upon, and the criticisms levelled at one of his star pupils, Carlo Curley.

 

The Fox legend is both alive and relevant, in that the art of transcription has made something of a resurgence in recent years, and Fox played many transcriptions to rapt audiences.

 

Fox himself, when asked why he played music not originally written for organ, justified this by saying, "I play it because it is beautiful."

 

Virgil Fox had quite an unusual education, coming under the influence of an essentially European romantic source. At an early age, he listened to the very elderly Paderewski, which left a deep impression on him, and this is not without relevance to his own growth as a legendary performer.

 

Ask most people who Wilhelm Middelschulte was, and they will usually suggest that he was the organist who wrote a very difficult pedal-solo work, the "Perpetuem Mobile". This is something of a pity, for Middelschulte was a truly gigantic figure musically, quite a substantial composer of serious works, a highly respected contrapuntalist in the prevailing tradition of German Romantic organ-playing style. It is a measure of Middelschulte, that he was admired enormously by Busoni; possibly one of the greatest names in the history of piano playing and Bach transcriptions for the piano.

 

The link to Paderewski is interesting, because Paderewski had studied with Theodore Leschetizky in Vienna, and it was the

Theodore Leschetizky piano-playing method which Middleschulte brought to Chicago, and which he imposed on the young Virgil Fox. To this was added the pedal technique of the great Louis Roberts.

 

Thus, at a young-age, Virgil Fox had already met with the strands which would combine to create the unique Fox style; the highest pianistic virtuosity, a flawless pedal technique, a dazzling contrapuntal facility and the early success which would give him the confidence to project himself onto the world-stage.

 

Yet there was perhaps something else other than innate genius about the man, which to this day remains a little unsettling.

 

Although notoriously prudish in many ways, he was quite prepared to flaunt and even ce01lebrate his own homsoexuality; even to the point that when he was appointed as organist to the Riverside Church, New York, it was a joint appointment, with his live-in partner, Richard Weagly, being appointed Choir Director. (Clearly the Bishop Gene Robinson phenomenon within the American Episcopalian Church, had a high-profile precedent, and one which didn't start the alarm-bells ringing across America).

 

If ever a performer shouted, "I am what I am," then it was Virgil Fox, who combined the aggressive showmanship of Broadway with the highest intellect and innate ability. In effect, it could be said that his whole reason d'etre was to assert and impose his own personality upon an unsuspecting and adoring public, using music as his medium and the organ as his projectile; firing thunderbolts from his fingers and toes.

 

Should anyone doubt his awesome abilitites and musicianship, let them cast aside the reputation for "sexed-up Bach," the Middelschulte "Perpetuem Mobile" and the riotous renditions of the Bach "Jig Fugue" with full audience participation and animation.

 

Instead, they should spend awhile listening to him performing in a way for which he is perhaps not best remembered, as a very serious organist indeed.

 

The following will illustrate this perfectly, and Virgil Fox knew that he was terminally-ill when he played for this last performance at Riverside Church.:-

 

http://pipedreams.publicradio.org/listings/2040/

 

Durufle - Suite Op.5 (complete) beginning at 00.57:35 (with spoken introduction)

 

:lol:

 

MM

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Guest Barry Williams

 

 

re: The Jongen video

 

It is interesting to note that Mr Fox's keyboard technique is very pianistic. Also, like Whitlock, he has a wide gap between the thumb and first finger - very useful to maintain legato in fast passges. It is a phenomenal and most musical performance.

 

Barry Williams

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=========================

Well we were!

 

I've been doing a bit of digging around, and have come up with some quite fascinating material about Virgil Fox; much of it previously unknown to me.

 

However, as I while away my time trying to get my act together with all the material gathered, here are three things you probably didn't know about Virgil Fox:-

 

The eulogy at his funeral, began with the words, "Well honey!"

 

A couple of years back, during the Iraqi War, there was use of the term, "Sexed up."  In fact, the term "sexed up" was first used in 1977 by the "Washington Post"

when the term was used to deplore Virgil Fox's style of "sexed-up Bach"....suggesting a fake approach to interpretation.

 

The headstone above the grave of Virgil Fox is carved in pink stone:-

 

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?p...&pt=Virgil+Fox&

 

Virgil Fox described E.Power-Biggs, quite openly, as being, "Dead from the neck-up and the waist-down!"

 

More later!

 

B)

 

MM

I am not sure that this memorial marks the grave of Virgil Fox, since Ted Alan Worth, author of the Fox biography, "The Dish" seems to suggest that his partner never released the ashes and that his final resting place, like that of Moses, is unknown.... or do you guys know something that I don't????

 

Q B)

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If Virgil Fox remains a unique phenomenon in the national musical life of America, and his many performances mark the high-watermark of the popularity of the great synphonic American organs, it is rorbably true to suggest that the controversy rages on. Bemused Europeans have, over the years, both admired and derided the Fox phenomenon in equal measure, and this continues in both the adulation heaped upon, and the criticisms levelled at one of his star pupils, Carlo Curley.

 

The Fox legend is both alive and relevant, in that the art of transcription has made something of a resurgence in recent years, and Fox played many transcriptions to rapt audiences.

 

Fox himself, when asked why he played music not originally written for organ, justified this by saying, "I play it because it is beautiful."

 

Virgil Fox had quite an unusual education, coming under the influence of an essentially European romantic source. At an early age, he listened to the very elderly Paderewski, which left a deep impression on him, and this is not without relevance to his own growth as a legendary performer.

 

Ask most people who Wilhelm Middelschulte was, and they will usually suggest that he was the organist who wrote a very difficult pedal-solo work, the "Perpetuem Mobile".  This is something of a pity, for Middelschulte was a truly gigantic figure musically, quite a substantial composer of serious works, a highly respected contrapuntalist in the prevailing tradition of German Romantic organ-playing style. It is a measure of Middelschulte, that he was admired enormously by Busoni; possibly one of the greatest names in the history of piano playing and Bach transcriptions for the piano.

 

The link to Paderewski is interesting, because Paderewski had studied with Theodore Leschetizky in Vienna, and it was the

Theodore Leschetizky piano-playing method which Middleschulte brought to Chicago, and which he imposed on the young Virgil Fox. To this was added the pedal technique of the great Louis Roberts.

 

Thus, at a young-age, Virgil Fox had already met with the strands which would combine to create the unique Fox style; the highest pianistic virtuosity, a flawless pedal technique, a dazzling contrapuntal facility and the early success which would give him the confidence to project himself onto the world-stage.

 

Yet there was perhaps something else other than innate genius about the man, which to this day remains a little unsettling.

 

Although notoriously prudish in many ways, he was quite prepared to flaunt and even ce01lebrate his own homsoexuality; even to the point that when he was appointed as organist to the Riverside Church, New York, it was a joint appointment, with his live-in partner, Richard Weagly, being appointed Choir Director. (Clearly the Bishop Gene Robinson phenomenon within the American Episcopalian Church, had a high-profile precedent, and one which didn't start the alarm-bells ringing across America).

 

If ever  a performer shouted, "I am what I am," then it was Virgil Fox, who combined the aggressive showmanship of Broadway with the highest intellect and innate ability. In effect, it could be said that his whole reason d'etre was to assert and impose his own personality upon an unsuspecting and adoring public, using music as his medium and the organ as his projectile; firing thunderbolts  from his fingers and toes.

 

Should anyone doubt his awesome abilitites and musicianship, let them cast aside the reputation for "sexed-up Bach,"  the Middelschulte "Perpetuem Mobile" and the riotous renditions of the Bach "Jig Fugue" with full audience participation and animation.

 

Instead, they should spend awhile listening to him performing in a way for which he is perhaps not best remembered, as a very serious organist indeed.

 

The following will illustrate this perfectly, and Virgil Fox knew that he was terminally-ill when he played for this last performance at Riverside Church.:-

 

http://pipedreams.publicradio.org/listings/2040/

 

Durufle - Suite Op.5 (complete) beginning at  00.57:35 (with spoken introduction)

 

;)

 

MM

Oh dear. I really tried, and wanted, to like this, given the extraordinary facility of Fox's playing elsewhere, and the moving circumstances of the performance; but this reading doesn't seem to have much to do with Durufle in spirit or letter. There are so many questionable things happening on so many levels - some them directly against Durufle's clearly expressed wishes - that it's sometimes hard to recognise the piece. If I have to restrict myself to one thing it's the start of the Sicilienne. Why does he do it? I do genuinely admire Fox's technical facility, but this performance embodies for me exactly why I never want to hear him play serious repertoire.

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Oh dear. I really tried, and wanted, to like this, given the extraordinary facility of Fox's playing elsewhere, and the moving circumstances of the performance; but this reading doesn't seem to have much to do with Durufle in spirit or letter. There are so many questionable things happening on so many levels  - some them directly against Durufle's clearly expressed wishes - that it's sometimes hard to recognise the piece. If I have to restrict myself to one thing it's the start of the Sicilienne. Why does he do it?  I do genuinely admire Fox's technical facility, but this performance embodies for me exactly why I never want to hear him play serious repertoire.

 

=================

 

Mmmmm!

 

I must confess that I'd scrolled on to the Toccata first, and even moments of that seem to have a little "re-invented" rhythmically! (Nevertheless quite good, I think)

 

I shall have to dig the music out, because I've never had the right organ on which to play the Suite Op.5.

 

Perhaps we'll stick with the U-Tube broadcast of the Jongen Concertante, I posted earlier, which is magnificent.

 

;)

 

MM

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Guest Lee Blick
Oh dear. I really tried, and wanted, to like this, given the extraordinary facility of Fox's playing elsewhere, and the moving circumstances of the performance; but this reading doesn't seem to have much to do with Durufle in spirit or letter. There are so many questionable things happening on so many levels  - some them directly against Durufle's clearly expressed wishes - that it's sometimes hard to recognise the piece. If I have to restrict myself to one thing it's the start of the Sicilienne. Why does he do it?  I do genuinely admire Fox's technical facility, but this performance embodies for me exactly why I never want to hear him play serious repertoire.

 

For God's sake the guy is at death's door and all you can do, sjf, is criticize his playing. Call yourself a bloody Christian? :D

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An intemperate comment, Lee I'm afraid. As an organist of no little reputation Stephen's comments carry weight. If you peform at a paid concert you expose yourself to critical comment whether well, ill or otherwise.

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Guest Lee Blick

Sorry but it just confirms my perception that some organists and clergy seem to pontificate from their high organ lofts/pulpits with little compassion or sensitivity...or professionalism for that matter.

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