The Fritts & Co. Organ, built for the ASU Herberger Institute School of Music in 1991-1992, provides a world-class instrument that is available on a regular basis for teaching, practice and recitals. The tonal and visual beauty of the instrument, as well as the architecture of the room, inspire local music lovers, as well as visiting organists and organ builders from North America, Europe, Australia and Japan.
The Fritts organ, while a thoroughly up-to-date instrument, is strongly influenced by historic practice as may be noted in the use of mechanical (tracker) key action, the presence of a functional and decorative case and a style of voicing derived from the high-Baroque instruments of northern Europe. The decision to build a tracker action organ was a musical choice. Tracker action makes possible the most intimate contact between player and instrument. While tracker action was obviously the only possibility for Baroque organs, it was just as much the norm for the great Romantic instruments of France, Germany and England. A major movement in North America, especially since about 1970, has been the return of tracker action in modern instruments.
The Fritts organ is strongly influenced by historic practice in its mechanical (tracker) key action, its functional and decorative case, and its pipe voicing, which is derived from that of northern European Baroque instruments. The decision to build a mechanical action organ was an artistic choice because this makes possible the most intimate contact between player and instrument. While tracker action was obviously the only possibility for Baroque organs, it was just as much the norm for the great Romantic instruments of France, Germany and England. A major movement in North America, especially since about 1970, has been the return of tracker action in modern instruments.
Except for a few hardware items the Fritts organ is virtually handcrafted, representing some 13,000 hours of individual labor. Each of the 1900 pipes, including the burnished tin pipes of the facade, were made in the Fritts shop in Tacoma, Washington. The process of casting the metal, forming sheets, hammering and cutting the metal and finally forming the pipes, is the same now as it was many hundreds of years ago.
Such details as the wood barrel-vault ceiling, masonry walls, the lack of sound-absorbent materials, and the high, rectangular shape of the room where the organ is housed, are direct influences from the typical churches in which the old organs sounded. The design of the organ was done under the supervision of Robert Clark, Professor Emeritus of Organ.
The Italian baroque organ built by Domenico Traeri for a church in Modena in 1742 is on indefinite loan to ASU. Concert-goers can experience what it may have been like to hear organists play centuries ago.
ASU is believed to be one of only four U.S. academic institutions, and the only campus in the southwest region, to house such a rare musical treasure. Other campuses that have Baroque organs include the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, The University of California, Berkeley and Cornell University. The instrument is used for performances, special classes and lessons in Italian Baroque music.
Before its arrival in Tempe, the Traeri organ made a fateful journey. The organ was housed in a church that was bombed during WWII. Before the church was razed in 1950, the organ was purchased by an Austrian, who kept it safe in his attic for the next 50 years. Despite the environmental challenges the organ has faced, it has survived nearly completely intact – only one of its 300 pipes has been replaced. The Traeri organ was brought to the U.S. in 2004 by one of the foremost American organ builders, Martin Pasi, who restored it to its original condition.
The instrument is in one-fourth-comma meantone tuning with a short octave compass CDE-c3. The specification is Principale, Ottava, Decimaquinta, Decimanona, Vigesima seconda, Voce umana.
In addition, the School of Music possesses a 2004 Bennett-Giuttari continuo organ with three ranks.