Music for Millionaires: The Residence Organ in the Gilded Age

Madison, N.J. - April 8, 2010 - The public is invited to a unique presentation on Sunday, May 2, 2010, at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s College at Florham, when Troy Simmons, Architectural Historian for the Archdiocese of Newark, discusses “Music for Millionaires: The Residence Organ of the Gilded Age.” This fascinating look at the lifestyles and music of the wealthy in the early 20th century begins at 3 p.m. in Hennessy Hall (The Mansion), once owned by Florence Vanderbilt and Arthur Twombly. Admission is $25 at the door, and refreshments will be served following the lecture.

The Vanderbilt-Twombly mansion became the home to an Aeolian pipe organ Opus 1428, purchased by Mrs. Florence Twombly in late 1918. It was installed in June 1919 in the Great Hall of Florham, next to the ballroom.  The organ quickly became an integral part of Mrs. Twombly’s entertainment lifestyle, and her guests were treated to recitals on Sunday evenings by Archer Gibson, one of the most well known organists in the United States at the time, according to Carol Bere, a member of Friends of Florham, sponsors of this lecture. Residence organs were mainly the province of very rich whose large mansions could accommodate the instruments.  The organs were essentially music chambers that could mimic the sounds of church, concert, or theater organs, and even the music of dance bands in the l920s.

Robert Taylor, current owner of the 1913 Aeolian pipe organ Opus 1280, which was originally purchased by Helen Gould Shepard, the daughter of financier Jay Gould, describes the substantial impact of the residence organ: “Bringing the finest musical entertainment to the home, Aeolian found a niche among the wealthiest people.  Not only did the residence organ prove status, it also provided home music that otherwise was unavailable.  The music on the Aeolian Player Rolls covered a broad spectrum of tastes, and thus, no patron, nor his money, were excluded.”

Troy Simmons, B.A., M.A., C.C., has served in dual positions of Architectural Historian and Director of Patrimony to the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey for the past four years.  He is also an Associate Director of Development for the archdiocese and teaches in the Historic Preservation Program at Drew University.

Mr. Simmons was curator of Form, Function & Faith, an exhibition held in 2006 at Seton Hall University, which highlighted the Arts and Crafts movement and its influence on Roman Catholic ecclesiastical architecture in America.  He is a Fellow of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture & Historic Preservation where he completed a thesis entitled “The Art Moderne in Ecclesiastical Design.”

Mr. Simmons also holds a Master in Ecclesiastical History from Seton Hall University.  He is the co-author of “Guidelines Concerning the Handling of Ecclesiastical Patrimony,” a document that instructs pastors and administrators in the proper handling of art and artifacts that are of historical value to the Archdiocese.  The document also provides comprehensive instruction on the closing of a parish and the proper handling of the art and artifact contained therein.

For Immediate Release

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