"9/11 | Coming Together" 20th Anniversary Special

Organists

Alexander Schreiner (1901–1987)

Tabernacle Organist (1924–1977)

 

The life and career of Alexander Schreiner are summarized in a December 8, 1977, Deseret News editorial that appeared in conjunction with his retirement as a organist at the Salt Lake Tabernacle: 

Most Utahns—and, indeed, much of the musical world—know of the superb musicianship of Alexander Schreiner, and that’s what will be discussed about him as he retires after an incredible fifty-three years as Mormon Tabernacle organist.

 

The record on that is clear. The concert tours, the recordings, his compositions, the national acclaim won by his weekly broadcasts, the tribute paid to him by Eugene Ormandy as one of the world’s three greatest Christian musicians [of the 20th century, together with Albert Schweitzer and Pablo Casals], all speak unmistakably of his professional competence.

 

What is less well-known is the quality of Alexander Schreiner the man. Not many know, for example, of the thousands of individuals, famous and ordinary people alike, who have come up to the organ console after the broadcasts and recitals and have been charmed by his unfailing courtesy, sparkling wit, and contagious love for his work and music. Never has he been too busy to be the consummate good-will ambassador.

 

Not many know that he and his wife, Margaret, are among the keenest observers of community, national, and world affairs, and with that keenness are tremendously stimulating conversationalists and highly effective citizens.

 

And not many know that, with all his accomplishments, Alex—no one in his presence more than five minutes ever called him anything else—considers his family of outstandingly achieving children to be his greatest accomplishment.

 

Alexander Schreiner has created—and is still creating—a priceless legacy, as a musician and as a man. To him, on his retirement: Thanks!

 

EARLY YEARS

Christian Alexander Ferdinand Schreiner, the second of the seven children of Johann Christian Schreiner (known as Christian) and Margarethe Schwemmer, was born in Steinbühl, a suburb of the Bavarian city of Nuremberg, Germany, on July 31, 1901. (An older brother, Herbert Leonhard, had died of whooping cough in 1900, just prior to his first birthday, and the Schreiners’ third child, Sohpie Hedwig, died in 1904, at age eighteen months.)

In 1903, Christian and Margarethe Schreiner were baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They opened their home to various Church gatherings, such as Sunday School, a midweek Bible class, and Friday evening choir rehearsals for which Christian rented a piano to provide accompaniment for the singing. Young Alexander was fascinated by the music and watched the pianist with rapt attention. Later, he would go to the piano and by ear pick out the melodies of hymns he had heard being sung. Alexander began formal piano study with local Kapellmeister, Karl Anders, at age seven, and by the end of the following year had advanced to the point that he was playing regularly for services of the Nuremberg Latter-day Saint congregation. He began violin study at about the same time and eventually became a credible violinist.

The Nuremberg Choir with Alexander Schreiner (age 10) as accompanist.

Like many European converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Christian and Margarethe Schreiner developed a strong desire to join the main body of Latter-day Saints in Utah. On September 29, 1912, the Schreiner family left Nuremberg and made their way to Liverpool, England, where they boarded the steamship Canada. After disembarking at Montréal, the family traveled to Utah by train via Detroit and Chicago, arriving in Salt Lake City on October 13.

The move to Utah seriously impacted the Schreiner family financially. In Germany, Christian had owned an apartment house and operated a chauffeuring service. In Utah he was a woodworker for Kasper Fetzer’s Salt Lake Cabinet and Fixture Company. (Interestingly, that same firm, later in the century, would be involved in building the cases for the organs at the Tabernacle, Assembly Hall, and Conference Center on Temple Square.)  In the unpublished Autobiography of Johann Christian Schreiner (translated by his daughter Norma) Christian reminisces about the family’s finances:

Who can think what it meant to be a respected property owner in Nuremberg, and what it meant to leave that big apartment house—an elegant residence—in other hands; and to come to a country where one doesn’t even understand the language! To have operated one’s own business for fifteen years, and then in older age have to work for others! Had it not been for my firm belief in my religion, and my love for my family, it would have been impossible to bear. In the old country I was a man of substance (and would be today if I were still there) with no financial worries. But today, here I am without means. I have only my home, which I built with my own untiring labor and by the frugality of my good wife.
 

Despite their diminished finances, the Schreiner family managed to purchase a used piano on a payment plan, and Alexander began studying with Rita Jackman, who had studied with Tabernacle organist John J. McClellan and later with Alberto Jonás in Berlin. At a young age, Alexander served as organist for the wards in which his family lived, as well as for the German-Swiss Branch which existed to serve Salt Lake City’s substantial German-speaking population. At age thirteen, Alexander auditioned for and was accepted as a student by McClellan, with whom he studied for the next six years. Years later, in Alexander Schreiner Reminisces (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1984, p. 19-20) he wrote of his experience studying with McClellan:

Professor McClellan was a magnificent teacher. He taught me to play the music of Beethoven as I have never heard it. I suppose I had played the notes accurately enough, but I didn’t really understand it. He would say, “This must go this way for this reason. Here the violins are singing: here the French horns are playing, and here the cellos come in. When Beethoven wrote this sonata for piano, he was really thinking of a symphony orchestra.”

 

The next week I would try hard to put meaning into the music. Professor McClellan would say, “You are beginning to find the meaning, but there is still more.”

 

. . . Professor McClellan led me through the thirty-two Beethoven sonatas, and I found heaven unfolding before my eyes and ears with this wonderful music. He also took me through the forty-eight Preludes and Fugues of the “Well-Tempered Clavichord” by Bach. There are no greater, more brilliant diamonds in musical composition than these masterpieces. I shall be eternally grateful to professor McClellan for the instruction he gave me.
 

While yet in high school, Schreiner accepted a job as organist at Salt Lake City’s American Theater and later played at the Paramount-Empress and Kinema Theaters. He postponed enrolling in university studies for his intended career in electrical engineering to accept a well-paying position as organist at the Rialto Theater in Butte, Montana in order to save to pay for his anticipated Church mission. From there he went to work at the Star Theater in Portland, Oregon. As his contract at the Star Theater neared its end, Alexander turned down a lucrative offer from Portland’s largest movie house to accept a call to serve as a missionary in Southern California. Returning to Salt Lake City in preparation for his mission, Schreiner was invited to participate as a guest recitalist for some of the daily organ recitals at the Tabernacle, providing him a foretaste of life as a Tabernacle organist.

CHURCH MISSION TO SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Having been set apart as a missionary by Elder Melvin J. Ballard, Alexander left for the mission field on September 7, 1921, and served nearly thirty-one months until March 26, 1924. His mission afforded Alexander opportunities for personal growth and development in areas apart from music, such as public speaking, leadership, and Church administration. Yet music was also an important part of his service. While on his mission, he joined the Southern California Chapter of the American Guild of Organists and was a frequent performer on programs sponsored by the Guild. He attended the first Pacific Coast Organists Convention held in June 1923. He also made appearances on the Los Angeles radio station KFI and accompanied the Southern California Mormon Choir in performances at San Diego’s Balboa Park and the San Bernardino Municipal Auditorium. In December 1921 he performed at the Suburbia Theatre and reportedly had offers of employment from various theaters during his mission which, of course, he could not accept.

Photo of the Schreiner family with their five surviving children, taken about the time of Alexander’s mission. Back row left to right: Hildegard, Alexander, Emma. Front row: Christian, Norma, Margarethe, and William.

While on tour in California during October 1923, John J. McClellan suffered unexpected health challenges from which he never fully recovered. His incapacity left Assistant Tabernacle Organists Edward P. Kimball and Tracy Y. Cannon to handle all of the organists’ responsibilities. Following the Church’s general conference, held April 4–6, 1924, twenty-two-year-old Alexander Schreiner, home from his mission for less than two weeks, was appointed Tabernacle Organist, effective April 8. Some two weeks later, on April 24, Frank W. Asper was also appointed Tabernacle Organist. Thus, at the following October general conference five men were sustained as Tabernacle Organists, with none designated as Assistants: John J. McClellan, Edward P. Kimball, Tracy Y. Cannon, Alexander Schreiner, and Frank W. Asper.

STUDY IN FRANCE

By the fall of 1924, McClellan had recovered sufficiently that it was thought he might resume at least some of his duties at the Tabernacle. With Asper also on staff, Schreiner felt it to be an opportune time to further his studies in Europe. Granted a two-year leave of absence from the Tabernacle and financed through a mortgage on the family home, a loan from his sister Emma, and earnings from his six months’ work at the Tabernacle, Alexander set off to study in France, departing shortly following the Church’s October general conference. Writing about his time in France (Alexander Schreiner Reminisces, pp. 33-34), he later recalled:

I had just turned twenty-three when I arrived in Paris. I began my studies in organ and theory with Henri Libert, organist at the Eglise Saint Denis. I also learned the French language from him. He was adroit in helping me understand what he was teaching in French. Libert had the difficult subject of strict counterpoint well systematized, and he also gave fine instruction in the principles of musical interpretation. I worked with him during my entire sojourn in France, even though my organ teachers varied.

 

I went to the Fountainebleau Conservatory during the summer of 1925. There I studied with Charles-Marie Widor, the great organist at L’Eglise Saint Sulpice in Paris.

 

In the fall of 1925, I began studying with Louis Vierne, the famous organist at the Cathedral de Notre Dame. Vierne had been the teacher of the celebrated Marcel Dupre. With Vierne I played Bach at every lesson as well as the music of Vierne himself, after which I did improvisations.
 

According to Daniel Berghout (Alexander Schreiner: Mormon Tabernacle Organist. Provo, UT: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History and BYU Studies, 2001, pp. 19, 22‒25.), the organ faculty at the Conservatoire Américaine de Fontainebleau, where Schreiner studied during the summer of 1925, consisted of Charles-Marie Widor and Henri Libert. Students received twice-weekly lessons from Libert and “occasional ‘criticism’ from the 81-year-old Widor.”  Following rigorous examinations at the end of the term, Schreiner was awarded two diplomas of merit: the Diplome d’Exécution (performance diploma) and the Diplome d’Enseignement (teaching diploma), both bestowed with high honors.

While Schreiner was studying with Vierne, beginning in the Fall of 1925, he continued lessons in theory and composition with Libert. When he was ready to leave France in May 1926, Schreiner obtained letters of recommendation from both Vierne and Libert. Both lauded Schreiner’s ability and predicted an eminently successful career. Vierne wrote (translated):

Mr. Schreiner has studied, under my direction, a large repertoire of modern and classical works for the organ: The Preludes and Fugues of Bach, the Sonatas of the same master, various pieces of César Franck and my own Symphonies. He has the temperament of an organist of the first order: his technique, at the same time supple yet solid, allows for effortless mastery regardless of difficulty: his interpretation shows perfect musicianship: his style, while respecting the intentions of the composer, is at the same time personal and assures him an enviable place among virtuosos. He does great honor to the elite group of American organists already so numerous and interesting. I have had immense pleasure in initiating this young man in our traditions. I predict a great future given his eminently artistic nature, of which the essential qualities are rhythm, charm and power, which cannot fail to make a great impression on the public.
 

CALIFORNIA BECKONS

After returning to Salt Lake City from France, Schreiner resumed performing at the Tabernacle through the remainder of 1926. In January 1927, he traveled to Los Angeles in order to find work that would provide enough compensation to allow him to repay the money that he had borrowed from his family to finance his study abroad. He accepted a position as organist at Sid Grauman’s prestigious Metropolitan Theater, succeeding Albert Hay Malotte (composer of the popular musical setting of “The Lord’s Prayer”). Grauman’s state-of-the-art Metropolitan Theater, completed in 1923, and the largest in Los Angeles, was home to a thirty-six-rank Wurlitzer organ, the firm’s largest at that time. He also became organist at Barker Brothers Department Store following his participation in the inaugural recital of the store’s new four-manual Welte Concert Organ.

Alexander Schreiner at the console of the Wurlitzer Organ in Grauman’s Metropolitan Theater. Photo by Keystone, Courtesy of Deseret News

By June 1927, having earned sufficient money to satisfy his debts, Alexander returned to Salt Lake City to marry his fiancée, Margaret Lyman, daughter of Apostle Richard R. Lyman and Amy Brown. Margaret had been a student at Fountainebleau studying cello at the same time Alexander was there. They had known each other during high school, and during their summer together at Fountainebleau. Over the course of the next few months, their relationship had blossomed. Before leaving France, Alexander had purchased a diamond for Margaret. The couple was married in the Salt Lake Temple on June 7, 1927.

The Schreiners returned to Los Angeles following their marriage but remained there only a couple of months. In the fall of 1927, Alexander resumed his duties at the Tabernacle and also accepted a position as organist at Salt Lake City’s newly-renovated Capitol Theatre. The nationwide broadcasts of The Tabernacle Choir began on July 15, 1929, and Alexander first appeared on the third of those weekly broadcasts on July 29.

During the summer of 1929, Edward P. Kimball, Tracy Y. Cannon, Alexander Schreiner, and Frank W. Asper were all functioning as Tabernacle Organists. If anything, the Tabernacle was overstaffed with organists. In August of that year, Kimball was given leave to become president of the Church’s German-Austrian Mission. Unexpectedly, following a severe bout with influenza and upon his doctor’s advice that Alexander spend the winter in a warmer climate, in September 1929, the Schreiners returned to Los Angeles. In early May 1930, Tracy Cannon submitted his resignation as Tabernacle organist, to become effective June 1, leaving Frank Asper temporarily as the sole organist in residence.

Once in California, Schreiner had secured a position as organist at the prestigious First Methodist Church with its imposing four-manual, seventy-rank Austin organ and also resumed playing recitals at Barker Brothers Department Store. Learning of a new organ to be installed at Royce Hall on the campus of the University of California at Los Angeles, he had also made University officials aware of his interest in the position of University Organist.

In contemplating the new organ, the University had retained Harold Gleason of the Eastman School of Music as a consultant. Gleason recommended that the Skinner Organ Company build the instrument, but favored Ernest Skinner’s young associate G. Donald Harrison, who had recently immigrated from England, to be the tonal director, rather than Ernest Skinner himself. Royce Hall is said to have been the first of Skinner organs over which Harrison exercised complete control over matters of pipe scaling, wind pressures, and voicing. According to Kenneth Udy (Alexander Schreiner: The California Years. Warren, Michigan: Harmonie Park Press, 1999, pp. 40-41):

The new four-manual, 80-rank Skinner pipe organ was completed and installed by September 1930; it became the largest and newest jewel in an impressive array of four-manual instruments installed in the Los Angeles area over the preceding decade. The organ was said to have the finest tone of any organ in the West, while the auditorium’s excellent acoustics served to accentuate the excellence of its tone; indeed, it was one of the largest and finest organs ever produced by the Skinner Company. As [Harold] Gleason indicated, the organ especially proclaims the vision of builder G. Donald Harrison. It not only possesses the fine orchestral voices for which Skinner was known, but also other tonal qualities: the bright voicing of the flue choruses, and the fiery French-style chorus reeds of the Swell division which anticipated the later American Classic organ style.

 

Pursuant to Schreiner’s receiving a letter from Church Headquarters in May 1930, soliciting his return to Salt Lake City, the minister at First Methodist Church, Dr. Elmer Ellsworth Helms, wrote a letter to UCLA Provost Dr. Ernest Carroll Moore in support of Schreiner’s being hired by the University:

My Dear Dr. Moore:

 

. . . Last Fall the most brilliant young Organist I have ever known or met, one of the Organists of the Tabernacle at Salt Lake City, having had a severe attack of the flu, was ordered down here by his physicians for the winter. We grabbed him for our Church, though we could pay him but a mere pittance compared to what he had been receiving there. He has proved to be far finer than we thought or dreamed. He is akin to a genius, save he hasn’t the usual genius eccentricities. I have never met a more finely poised character in my life.

 

Up to now we have held him, but this last Saturday he received a letter from Mormon Church officials offering him the position of head Organist . . . and twelve thousand [dollars] a year. Because of health reasons he could be held in Los Angeles for quite less money, but it is not possible for our Church to hold him. I count it would be a calamity to lose him to this community.

 

If you anticipate putting on a man could we not work together and keep him here?  But since the Salt Lake people asked a wire reply we will need to act without delay. Might I not, therefore, hope for word from you by the very earliest mail as to your plans and purposes, including what you probably may pay, etc. His name is Alexander Schreiner. . . . What a piece of work he would do for your student body.

 

Schreiner tells what happened next (Alexander Schreiner Reminisces, p.51): 

I was twenty-eight years old when the provost of UCLA, Dr. Ernest Carroll Moore, talked to me about the post of organist at his spanking new university with its not-yet completed organ.

 

“Choosing an organist,” Dr. Moore said, “is a formidable task for the head of a university, notwithstanding his years of experience in selecting faculty members in other fields. I have sought advice about organists from knowledgeable people all over the country, and I am still at sea. So I have decided to engage four organists for next year, each one to play two months, and after that I shall make a decision.

 

“You, Mr. Schreiner, have a friend who has asked me to do him a favor, and to make a wager with him. The favor he asks is that I engage you for the first two months. The wager is that after you have played for two months, I will not want to hear the other organists. I have agreed to do him the favor, and to accept his wager.”

 

Taking a leave of absence from his position at First Methodist Church, Schreiner returned to the Tabernacle for the summer of 1930, with the understanding that he would return to Los Angeles in the fall to fulfill his commitment to perform for two months at UCLA. Edward P. Kimball was released from his responsibilities in Europe in July in order to be available to fill the void that would be left by Schreiner’s return to Los Angeles in September.

Reflecting on his initial recitals at Royce Hall, Schreiner later recalled (Alexander Schreiner Reminisces, pp. 51-52):

After about four weeks of tri-weekly recitals on UCLA’s new Skinner organ in Royce Hall, I knew that things were going well, so I wasn’t surprised when Dr. Moore said to me one day, “Your friend, Dr. Elmer E. Helms, has won his wager. I do not want to hear the other organists."

 

Alexander Schreiner at the console of the E. M. Skinner organ at Royce Hall.

Writing several years later, Dr. Moore explained (quoted in Alexander Schreiner Reminisces, p.54), “Mr. Alexander Schreiner came to us as the first of those whom we thought to employ on a two-month contract: he stayed for nine years.”

During those nine years, as Schreiner spent summers playing at the Tabernacle and the academic year performing in Los Angeles, his recitals at UCLA were eminently successful, drawing large crowds. Over time, he was given additional responsibility of teaching classes in music appreciation and first-year harmony. He passed the rigorous Associateship and Fellowship examinations administered by the American Guild of Organists in 1937 and 1938 respectively. Also, in 1937, his organ anthology titled Organ Voluntaries was published by J. Fischer & Bro. This collection of music selected, composed, and arranged by Schreiner, was welcomed by both LDS and non-LDS organists alike and remained in print for many years. Throughout his time in California, Schreiner remained active in the Southern California Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, holding various positions of leadership in the organization. After leaving his position at First Methodist Church in 1934, he later accepted a position as organist-choirmaster at Temple B’nai B’rith. He also served in his own church as a member of the high council and later as music director for the Hollywood Stake. In June 1939, Schreiner resigned his position at UCLA and returned to full-time service at the Tabernacle.

UNIVERSITY STUDIES, TEACHING, AND HONORS

While continuing to fulfill his recital and broadcasting responsibilities at the Tabernacle, Schreiner enrolled at the University of Utah to pursue a college degree. Although he had served as University Organist and lecturer at UCLA in addition to having earned professional certification from the American Guild of Organists, Alexander had not yet completed any formal college coursework. He received the Bachelor of Arts degree in 1942, just prior to his forty-first birthday, graduating with high honors and being elected to membership in honor societies Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi. He returned to the University of Utah in 1949, enrolling in courses that would lead to his receiving a Ph.D. in music with a minor in philosophy in 1954.

Schreiner maintained a relationship with the University of Utah, teaching private organ lessons as an adjunct member of the music faculty. A number of his students achieved success in their own right. Among them were three who would eventually become Tabernacle organists: Robert Cundick, John Longhurst, and Clay Christiansen.

During the course of his career, Schreiner was awarded honorary doctorates from four Utah institutions of higher learning: University of Utah (1968), Utah State University (1974), Brigham Young University (1978), and Westminster College (1981).

CONCERTIZING

In the summer of 1937, following a very successful recital in Cincinnati, Ohio for the National Convention of the American Guild of Organists, the Schreiners went on to Washington, DC, where Alexander played a series of recitals at the LDS Church’s chapel on 16th Street NW. This imposing Church building, completed four years earlier, featured a three-manual, fifty-two-stop Austin organ. Tabernacle organist Edward P. Kimball had been sent to Washington to establish an organ recital series akin to the one at the Tabernacle. Kimball had passed away unexpectedly in March 1937, and Schreiner filled in until a successor could be named.

Similarly, in 1961, Schreiner was asked by the Church to travel to England to oversee completion of the forty-three-stop organ by Hill, Norman, & Beard being installed in the Church’s new Hyde Park chapel complex in London’s Kensington District. To inaugurate the anticipated continuing recital series, Schreiner performed forty-five recitals on the new organ during May of that year. While abroad, he also performed at Manchester, Nottingham, and Newcastle, England, as well as Glasgow, Scotland and Belfast, North Ireland.

Toward the close of 1942, Schreiner signed with Bernard LaBerge Concert Management and began touring widely on a regular basis, receiving high critical acclaim. He continued concertizing under management of LaBerge and his successor, Lillian Murtagh, well into the 1970s, when he began to curtail his out-of-town recital appearances, largely due to reasons related to health.

Between October 1967 and February 1968, Schreiner undertook a particularly ambitious tour of Europe during which he performed eighteen recitals, mostly in England and Germany, with single appearances in Majorca, Austria, and Ireland.

RECORDINGS AND BROADCASTS

In addition to instructional recordings made for the LDS Church’s General Music Committee, Alexander Schreiner made several recordings for commercial release. For the Musical Masterpiece Society, he released an album titled Three Toccatas and Fugues (by J. S. Bach) and another simply named Christmas Carols. In 1953 he recorded A Christmas Recital on the Concert Hall Society label. Performing with the Utah Symphony Orchestra, he recorded the Saint-Saens “Organ” Symphony, Opus 78, in 1957 for Westminster Records. (Curiously, it was recorded in the Assembly Hall, rather than in the Tabernacle.)  Receiving far wider distribution were two albums released for Columbia Masterworks. The Great Organ at the Mormon Tabernacle (1960) contained compositions by Louis Vierne, César Franck, Fannie Dillon, Cyril Jenkins, Schreiner’s own “Lyric Interlude,” and his arrangement of the beloved Latter-day Saint hymn “O My Father.” Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Organ and Chimes (1964), consisted of Schreiner’s own arrangements of twenty familiar carols, featuring liberal use of the organ’s chimes.

Beginning in the 1940s and continuing into the 1970s, Schreiner presented a series of organ programs that were broadcast over radio station KSL. Because of KSL’s powerful clear-channel broadcast signal, the programs, aired late at night, could be picked up around the western United States and as far away as the Pacific islands.

Based on his performances on the Tabernacle Choir’s weekly broadcasts, between 1944 and 1952, when Musical America conducted a national radio poll, Alexander Schreiner consistently came in second among concert organists, behind E. Power Biggs. Biggs enjoyed the exposure of a weekly thirty-minute broadcast, while Schreiner was heard as soloist for perhaps five to seven minutes once every other week on Music & the Spoken Word. The two artists had maintained a cordial, professional relationship since 1940, when Biggs performed a recital at the Tabernacle.

E. Power Biggs seated at the console of the Tabernacle organ with Alexander Schreiner behind. Photo from 1940, courtesy Deseret News, photographer unknown.

CHURCH SERVICE

In 1942, Schreiner was called to serve as a member of the Sunday School General Board of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In that calling he chaired the Sunday School Board’s Music Committee and wrote articles of instruction and encouragement that were published in Church magazines for the benefit of conductors and organists. Soon, he was appointed to the Church’s General Music Committee where he served for many years, eventually becoming its managing director. During the 1940s, then under the chairmanship of Tracy Y. Cannon, the General Music Committee undertook the assignment to publish a new hymnal for the Church, together with a collection of children’s songs for use by the Primary and Junior Sunday School and an eclectic compilation, many items non-religious, suitable for community singing by the Church’s youth organizations.

Of the eleven of Schreiner’s hymn tunes that were originally included in the 1948 Hymns: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (one was omitted in a 1950 revision), nine were retained in the Church’s 1985 hymnal and continue to be widely used: MOORE (“Truth Eternal”), PARKER (“Lead Me into Life Eternal”), BAVARIA (“Thy Spirit, Lord, Has Stirred Our Souls”), AEOLIAN (“While of These Emblems We Partake”), MARGARET (“God Loved Us, So He Sent His Son”), GAILEY (“In Memory of the Crucified”), ELIZA (“Lord, Accept into Thy Kingdom”), PARLEY (“Behold Thy Sons and Daughters, Lord”), and CLIFFORD (“Holy Temples on Mount Zion”). For the youth songbook, titled Recreational Songs (1949), Schreiner is credited with having contributed ten traditional German songs together with translations, where needed. For the children’s songbook, The Children Sing (1951), Schreiner provided music to seven texts. Of those, four remain in the current Children’s Songbook (first published in 1989): “We Bow Our Heads,” “Jesus Is Our Loving Friend,” “My Flag, My Flag,” and “I Think the World Is Glorious.”

OTHER COMPOSITIONS AND ARRANGEMENTS

Original compositions for organ are sprinkled throughout Schreiner’s three volumes of Organ Voluntaries and Twenty-five Pieces for Small Organ. Perhaps his best-known published organ compositions are “Lyric Interlude,” a transcription and expansion of an improvisation performed during a Tabernacle Choir broadcast, and “Maestoso in C-sharp Minor,” a transcription for solo organ of the “Kyrie” from Louis Vierne’s Messe Solennelle, Opus 16, for two organs and choir. His tenure with the Choir also provided opportunities for composing and arranging choral music. An oft-performed choral work is his setting of “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” (ST. THEODULPH). His largest work, Concerto in B Minor for Organ and Orchestra was written in 1954 as his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Utah, where he studied composition under LeRoy J. Robertson. (A more complete listing of compositions may be found in Berghout, pp. 294-95 and in Alexander Schreiner Reminisces, p. 57.)

A NEW ORGAN FOR THE TABERNACLE

With the support of his colleague Frank Asper, Alexander Schreiner was the moving force behind the acquisition of the Æolian-Skinner organ (Opus 1075) for the Tabernacle in the late 1940s. It was felt that the Tabernacle’s Austin organ, installed in 1915, lacked the resources and tonal characteristics needed to be able to convincingly render music from the broad scope of organ repertoire. Additions and changes to the Austin instrument in 1926 and again in 1940 had attempted to address its deficiencies, yet Schreiner remained unsatisfied. He invited G. Donald Harrison to the Tabernacle to evaluate the organ and make recommendations for additional modifications. Schreiner was familiar with Harrison’s tonal esthetic as a result of the latter’s work at Royce Hall as well as from Harrison’s work on instruments Schreiner encountered as he toured. By the mid-1940s Harrison had become preeminent in designing eclectic instruments in what is known as the American Classic style. Barbara Owen (The Mormon Tabernacle Organ: An American Classic. Salt Lake City, UT: The American Classic Organ Symposium, 1990, p. 37) writes:

Although Harrison was initially approached to recommend and carry out further tonal improvements [to the existing Austin organ], he was not enthused about having to work with the old mechanism and pipework. . . . In March [1945], Harrison sent Bishop [Marvin O.] Ashton [First Counselor in the Church’s Presiding Bishopric] a proposal for an organ that would be completely new mechanically, and very nearly so tonally.

 

The result was a five-manual instrument of 187 ranks (subsequent additions have increased its size to 206 ranks) that has achieved worldwide acclaim through broadcasts, recordings, and the daily Tabernacle recital series. Coupled with the remarkable acoustics of the Tabernacle, the organ is regarded by many as Harrison’s crowning achievement. Harrison himself wrote in 1954 (quoted in Owen, p.37): “I still think that Salt Lake City is the finest organ that I have built so far and will probably remain that way.”

AMERICAN GUILD OF ORGANISTS

Throughout his career, Alexander Schreiner remained committed to the objectives of the American Guild of Organists. Berghout (p. 133) writes that in addition to successfully completing the Guild’s professional certification examinations early in his career: 

Schreiner, along with friends William H. Barnes and George Markey, was appointed to a newly-formed three-member national committee by the American Guild of Organists [in 1961] just before he left for London. The committee was assigned the task of reviewing and drafting new specifications for the standardization of organ console design. This assignment was one of many for Schreiner. Over the years Schreiner had participated in guild leadership in many different capacities at the local, regional, and national levels, including dean, regional councilor, and national committee work.

 

RETIREMENT

As Alexander’s health continued to deteriorate in the late 1970’s, preparations were begun in anticipation of his inevitable retirement. His former student John Longhurst was asked to travel with The Tabernacle Choir on their Summer 1976 United States Bicentennial tour to assist with accompanying duties. At the following April General Conference, Longhurst was sustained as a Tabernacle organist, working alongside Schreiner, Robert Cundick, and Roy Darley until the close of 1978, when Alexander’s retirement became official. Schreiner played his last Choir broadcast on December 4, 1978, and his final recital as Tabernacle Organist on December 30. In the period surrounding his retirement, Schreiner received numerous awards and recognitions from civic, educational, and professional organizations, including two of the four honorary degrees mentioned above.

On May 20, 1979, Alexander Schreiner performed his last major organ recital. In conjunction with UCLA’s semicentennial “Celebrating the Golden Year” festivities, Alex played a program of works by J. S. Bach and César Franck at Royce Hall on the organ that had been so important to him early in his career.

FAMILY AND DEATH

Alexander and Margaret Schreiner were parents of four children: Richard (b. 1931), John (b. 1933), Gretchen (b. 1938), and Julianne (b. 1946). After nearly fifty-eight years of marriage, Margaret passed away on May 13, 1985. Alexander died at age eighty-six on what would have been Margaret’s eighty-fourth birthday, September 15, 1987.