Lynnwood Farnam

(Walter) Lynnwood Farnam. Organist, teacher, b Sutton, southeast of Montreal, 13 Jan 1885, d New York 23 Nov 1930. He studied piano in Dunham, Que, and in 1900 was awarded the Lord Strathcona Scholarship, which paid three years' tuition at the RCM, London.

Farnam, Lynnwood

(Walter) Lynnwood Farnam. Organist, teacher, b Sutton, southeast of Montreal, 13 Jan 1885, d New York 23 Nov 1930. He studied piano in Dunham, Que, and in 1900 was awarded the Lord Strathcona Scholarship, which paid three years' tuition at the RCM, London. The college granted him an additional year's tuition for excellence. His teachers there were Franklin Taylor (piano) and Sir Walter Parratt and W.S. Hoyte (organ). Farnam returned to Montreal in 1904 as organist at St James' Methodist Church. He was the organist 1905-8 at the Church of St James the Apostle (Anglican) and organist-choirmaster 1908-13 at Christ Church Cathedral and taught 1912-3 at the McGill Cons. During these years he gave many recitals in Montreal and paid a visit to Boston, where he met and played for several established colleagues. In 1913 as a result of the impression he made he was invited to audition for Emmanuel Church, Boston, and, when asked what he would play, handed the committee his notebook, saying 'Any of these'. The book listed 200 pieces which he had memorized. The post was immediately his, and he retained it till 1918. During his tenure the Canadian organ builders Casavant Frères installed a 140-stop organ in the church. Farnam was invited to be organist-choirmaster at New York's Fifth Ave Presbyterian Church in 1918, but enlistment for overseas service in the Canadian infantry postponed his acceptance. Illness prevented his going on to the front in France, however, and he remained in England, returning to the USA in 1919 and assuming the New York post that year. His last recital at Fifth Ave Presbyterian Church, in May 1920, was also his 500th organ recital. He then became the organist at the Church of the Holy Communion and gave there many notable series of recitals. A dazzling recital in 1920 for the American Guild of Organists consolidated his reputation among his colleagues. In 1925 he made organ rolls of 23 works for the player-organs of the Welte-Mignon Corp, New York, and five more for the Austin player-organ. All these later were transferred to records. He gained fame as a teacher in New York and in 1927 was asked to head the organ department at the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia. He taught there weekly until his death at 45.

Farnam has become a legend in the organ world. He did no improvising, and his only composition, a French-style Toccata on the Easter Hymn 'O filii et filiae,' was published posthumously (by Theodore Presser at the instigation of Farnam's pupil Ernest White; it was recorded by Hugh McLean). But he was counted among the great interpreters, attracting to his performances not only organists but other leading musicians and a wide listening public. He introduced his audiences to organ music of his day - particularly French and American - as well as to the forerunners of Bach. He championed Willan's Introduction, Passacaglia, and Fugue, thus helping it to fame. His programs also offered the complete works of Brahms, Franck, and other romantics, and in one notable season, 1928-9, he played all of Bach's organ music in 20 recitals, repeating each program once and some twice to meet the public demand. Farnam's success was international, and he gave numerous recitals in England and France on the greatest organs. He played his last recital - at the Church of the Holy Communion 12 Oct 1930 - in great distress. He was taken to hospital immediately afterwards, and terminal cancer of the liver was diagnosed. He died a month later. Louis Vierne dedicated his Organ Symphony No. 6 (1931) to Farnam's memory.

The New York critics recognized Farnam's worth. Lawrence Gilman of the Herald Tribune wrote that he was truly self-effacing and had whole-hearted dedication kindled by genius, intensity of vision, sincerity, and excelling craft. Richard Aldrich of the Times wrote that Farnam had executive power, artistic sense, and a comprehensive knowledge of organ literature. His Canadian pupils included Arthur L. Bates, H. William Hawke, Harold Ramsay, Frederick Silvester, and Ernest White. Notable among his pupils in the USA were Ruth Barrett Phelps in California, Alfred Greenfield in North Carolina, Alex McCurdy in Maine, Paul Robinson in North Carolina, and Carl Weinrich in New Jersey.

Writings

'Lynnwood Farnam tells of recent trip in Europe,' Diapason, vol 14, Nov 1923, vol 15, Jan 1924

'Rambling remarks of an organist's sojourn in England,' Diapason, 4 instalments, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec 1927

'How the organ chose a disciple,' Overtones, Apr 1930


Further Reading

  • 'A noted Canadian organist's views on organ playing and repertoire,' CQR, vol 1, Nov 1918

    'A chat with Lynnwood Farnam,' MT, 1 Aug 1923

    Worcester, Elwodd. 'Lynnwood Farnam, the modest genius,' Diapason, Feb 1931

    Hawke, W.H. 'Some Farnam registrations,' American Organist, 2 articles, Jul, Sep 1956

    'Lynnwood Farnam; his life,' American Organist, Jul 1964

    Rizzo, Jeanne. 'Lynnwood Farnam - master organist of the century,' Diapason, 2 instalments, Dec 1974, Jan 1975

    RCCO papers. Hawke, W.H. 'Lynnwood Farnam: 1885-1930,' manuscript

    McLean, Eric. 'Memories of Lynnwood Farnam, a giant of organ music,' Montreal Gazette, 2 Feb 1985

    Conner, Jeanne Rizzo. 'Lynnwood Farnam: a centennial remembrance,' American Organist, vol 19, Nov 1985

    The Curtis Institute of Music. Farnam collection