Craig R. Whitney, The New York Times’s assistant managing editor, proves to be a fully-fledged organist and organ expert. His other books, which include Spy Trader, an analysis of Cold War espionage, must be enviable indeed if they match this impeccably researched, humane guide to “the king of instruments”—Mozart’s phrase—in our grand- fathers’ America.

Here, organ history centers on two contemporaneous performers: E. Power Biggs (1906–1977) and Virgil Fox (1912–1980). These gentlemen loathed each other. Fox accused Biggs of being dead “from the waist down,” not specifying whether he meant Biggs’s pedaling or erotic life (Fox, by contrast, was an overt homosexual whose tombstone is pink).

The English-born Biggs was the musicologist: a devotee of Teutonic organ scholarship’s anti-Romantic, blandly styled ...

 
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