Louis Mitchell

Louis Mitchell (Mitchel). Organ builder, b Montreal 1823?, d there 6 May 1902.

Mitchell, Louis

Louis Mitchell (Mitchel). Organ builder, b Montreal 1823?, d there 6 May 1902. Little is known of his early training, except that his desire to become an organ builder originated during his stay at the music school run by Father Charles-Joseph Ducharme at the Collège de Blainville in Ste-Thérèse, Que. Apprenticed 1855-60 to Samuel Russell Warren - later one of his principal competitors - he opened his own workshop in 1861 in partnership with Charles Forté, who also had trained under Warren and who was to remain with Mitchell until ca 1865. The name of his father, Samuel Mitchell, also appears in articles dealing with organs produced by the firm. Louis Mitchell began building instruments in 1861, and the first three were installed at the Church of Beloeil and the Pied-du-Courant convent in Montreal, and at St-Joseph-de-Bytown Church in Ottawa. Paul Letondal, in La Minerve, 24 Sep 1861, described the Ottawa instrument as 'a real success in both workmanship and effect.'

In the ensuing years Mitchell organs were installed in Ste-Scholastique, Que, at the Hôtel-Dieu in Montreal, and in Lanoraie, Que: instruments 'with no more than fifteen stops... solid, well-balanced' (Coup d'oeil). The excellent reception accorded his first products earned Mitchell in 1864 the contract for the restoration of the great organ of the Basilica in Quebec City. He transformed the 14-stop Elliott organ of 1802 into a handsome 32-stop instrument. From then on his business prospered, as attested by the organ he built in 1870 for the Jesuit Fathers' Holy Family Church in Chicago, an instrument immediately acknowledged as one of the foremost in North America in both size (63 stops) and quality; and by the organ in St-Boniface Cathedral in Manitoba in 1875.

At first Mitchell imported his pipes from France, but after 1874 he made them himself with the help of a European foreman; he avoided the use of zinc, preferring an alloy of tin and lead which ensured an excellent sound quality. He occasionally used stops of pure tin, imported from the USA. Le Canada musical reveals that in 1879 his workshop employed six carpenters, three metalworkers, and two tuners.

Some Mitchell organs were installed in churches in towns outside Quebec, eg, Tignish, PEI (1882, the organ identified as Opus 129), Brockville, Ont, and Guelph, Ont. The majority, however, were installed within the province: in St-Jacques Church, Montreal, in 1867; in the Gesù Church, Montreal (though supplanted by a Casavant in 1901); in the convent of the Dames du Sacré-Coeur, Sault-au-Récollet, in 1877; in St-Patrice Church, Quebec City; in Notre-Dame Church, Lévis (near Quebec City), and in the churches of many Quebec towns: St-Nicholas in 1883, St-Pierre-de-Sorel in 1884, St-Croix-de-Lotbinière in 1887 (rebuilt by Casavant after 1910), L'Ancienne Lorette, St-Augustin-de-Portneuf, St-Janvier, St-Romuald, St-Zotique, Terrebonne, St-André-de-Kamouraska, St-Michel-de-Vaudreuil, St-Roch-sur-Richelieu, and St-Norbert.

Even in 1980 the organs at St-André, St-Michel (1871), St-Roch, and St-Norbert, and the very fine 1870 instrument at Notre-Dame-de-Lévis - in all of which the subsequent adaptations for the most part have respected the original pipe work - remained an eloquent tribute to the workmanship and artistic sense of Louis Mitchell. Their solid construction, the quality of the materials, the overall sense of proportion, the beautiful timbres (particularly the reed-stops), and the graceful lines of the organ-chest (mostly in the Gothic style) explain the high level of popularity enjoyed by this organ manufacturer until the business ceased in 1893.

According to the organist Christopher Jackson, certain elements of Mitchell's work recall that of the French organ builder Calinet, who was active at the beginning of the 19th century. Nothing indicates that Mitchell ever visited France, but according to Arthur Laurendeau (L'Action nationale, Jun 1950) he did study his craft in London, at an undetermined date.


Further Reading

  • 'Visite à la Fabrique Nationale d'Orgues de M. Louis Mitchell,' Canada musical, vol 2, 1 Feb 1876

    'L'orgue de la chapelle du couvent des Dames du Sacré-Coeur, du Sault-au-Récollet,' ibid, vol 4, 1 Sep 1877

    'Manufacture d'orgues canadienne-française de M. Louis Mitchell,' ibid, vol 6, 1 May 1879

    Friesen, Michael D. 'A history of the organs at Holy Family Church Chicago: Canadian builds largest organ in U.S. church, 1870,' The Tracker, vol 27, no. 3, 1983

    Mulaire, Bernard. 'David and his harp,' Canadian Collector, 1 May 1984