James Welch Organist

Richard Purvis, Organist of Grace
A Biography of California's Most Prominent Organist
by James Welch

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Richard Purvis—organist, choirmaster, and composer at historic Grace Cathedral—became a San Francisco legend and (along with Alexander Schreiner, E. Power Biggs, and Virgil Fox) a national celebrity who made mid-20th century American organ music popular with the masses through records, recitals, and the press. The only book of its kind, James Welch's Richard Purvis, Organist of Grace, is a major contribution to our understanding of the music, culture, and church politics of an era marked as much by social change as by a revolution in musical taste, technology, and compositional technique.

Uniquely among his colleagues, Purvis was first and foremost a writer and performer of original music for the organ, thrilling church and concert audiences everywhere with daring harmony, colorful registration, and evocative emotion of compositions that won him instant acclaim. Hollywood noticed, but Purvis turned down offers to leave Grace to write for the movies. Ed Stout, curator of instruments at the cathedral, famously remarked that Purvis wrote "film music for the Episcopal church." Child prodigy, conservatory virtuoso, prisoner of war—Purvis's life before Grace reads like a movie. Following his epic rise and fall at Grace, he continued to concertize, compose, and teach a new generation of organists in his own image: equally adept at playing church and theatre organs, unafraid to experiment—even with electronic organs—and trained to trust their ears, not just the page.

Through scrupulous research and extensive interviews with those who knew Purvis best, James Welch captures the character, career, and legacy of "The Master of Grace" in a biography that future scholars and readers will return to, again and again, as the Place Where it All Began in Purvis studies.

Richard Purvis, Organist of Grace, 508 pages, is lavishly illustrated with never-before seen photos and a wealth of documents and interviews. It chronicles Purvis's early life in the Bay Area, his years at The Curtis Institute, his military service in World War II, and his tempestuous tenure at Grace Cathedral, where he made the stones sing and crowds cheer. The book includes detailed chapters about Purvis as composer, recitalist, and teacher; complete lists of his published (and unpublished) organ and choral works; the story of his secret love for the theatre organ; and colorful anecdotes and reminiscences from those who knew him as a friend, teacher, and colleague. His legend continues—clarified, corrected, and completed—in this essential resource for organists, historians, and lovers of music that speaks to the heart.

Available in soft cover only; book size 6 x 9 inches.

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Errata and Additional Notes
updated June 18, 2013