The music of Isaac Van Vleck Flagler will come to life on the Massey Memorial Organ on Wednesday, 110 years after the composer was supposed to dedicate the instrument.
Flagler was the official organist of Chautauqua Institution during the late 19th century, when he was a prolific organist throughout upstate New York. He composed a countless number of pieces for the organ during his lifetime, a handful of which Jared Jacobsen, the current organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, will play at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday in the Amphitheater for the Massey Memorial Organ Mini-Concert.
“He wrote a lot of music because he knew how to write music for concerts that would make people excited about organ music,” Jacobsen said.
Jacobsen said he knew very little about his predecessor until recently, when he read a doctoral dissertation on Flagler — which is why he doubts many Chautauquans will know much about Flagler. He was an important 19th-century American musician, but because he stayed primarily in central and western New York, he is relatively unknown.
At that time, though, this area was a hotbed for organ music. Grand instruments were abundant in the churches and universities of important cities, including Syracuse, Rochester, Cornell and Buffalo. Jacobsen said Flagler also spent a lot of time in Auburn, New York, where Auburn Theological Seminary was located at the time.
Flagler left the Institution before the Massey was built in 1907, but was asked to come back and play the dedication recital. When the organ wasn’t finished in time, though, Flagler said he couldn’t play on it and postponed the recital.
Soon after, in 1909, Flagler fell off his bicycle and broke his hip, and eventually died from the injuries. Jacobsen said The Etude, a popular music magazine of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, called Flagler’s death “a distinct loss to the cause of music in America.”
Jacobsen said he believes Flagler never had the chance to play on the Massey. On Wednesday, Jacobsen will bring Flagler’s music to the organ for him.
The pieces include “Cantilena,” which was arranged from the Organ Sonata No. 11 by Josef Rheinberger, “Variations on an American Air” and “Variations on ‘America.’ ” Jacobsen said he is also excited to play “Alpine Fantasy and Storm” because it has an exciting storm scene he will enact on the Massey.
Ultimately, though, Jacobsen said he is excited to honor one of his predecessors, especially one who was so underappreciated.
“Everybody who was anybody — I’m discovering more and more — if they were well known or had something to offer, they got invited to Chautauqua,” Jacobsen said. “This was a huge deal, this place, and we take it for granted if we’ve been here a long time.”