E. Power Biggs 1907-1977
THE DAY BEFORE what turned out to be E. Power Biggs's last major public appearance, the 69-year-old organist fell and broke his right arm. Biggs's physician told him that in order for the bone to heal properly, he would have to forego the next day's solo performance with the Boston Pops, so that the cast could dry and set properly. But Biggs chose to neglect his health, rather than his art. The next day at Symphony Hall, Biggs positioned the organ so that no one would be able to witness the incredible feat that was to follow, and he gave a brilliant performance, holding the tender and fractured right arm with the healthy left one, whenever he needed to use it.
Such sacrifices for his art marked the fifty-year performing career of one of the world's undisputed organ masters. A Cambridge resident for most of that period, Biggs's most notable contribution to the organ and musical world had its roots in 1937 in Harvard's Busch-Reisinger Museum, where regular coast-to-coast CBS broadcasts--which reached millions of listeners--persuaded the musical public of the glories of authentic performance. In this regard, Biggs will be written in music history books in connection with the resurgent interest in the organ music of J.S. Bach, and in the use of authentic Baroque organs that were abandoned for the garish, flashy organs of the late nineteenth century.
For those who remember Biggs's glorious live broadcasts and recordings, who are familiar with his rectification of unauthentic performance practices, who studied under him at the Longy School, and who appreciate the cultural richness he brought to Cambridge and the Harvard community, the organist's sudden death last Thursday comes as saddening news. The Crimson extends sincere condolences to his family and friends.