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    Schreiner, Alexander (31 July 1901 – 15 September 1987)

    Arranger, author, composer, educator, organist and pianist from Nuremberg, Germany, whose parents converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints when he was two years of age.  The Schreiners hosted choir rehearsals and meetings because they had a piano that could be used for accompaniment.  Alexander was fascinated with the instrument and soon began trying to replicate the music he heard by ear.  At five years of age, he started taking formal lessons, and rapidly memorized choir anthems and hymns.  He became the organist of the Nuremberg Branch Sunday School when he was only eight.  In addition to his piano studies, he studied the violin, but the organ would become his dominant instrument.


    In October 1912, the Schreiners decided to move to Salt Lake City, Utah, was the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Alexander continued his studies with John J. McClellan, who was the organist for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. 


    In 1917, Alexander played his first professional gig at the American Theater, as a silent-movie organist.  After high school, he did the same at the Rialto Theatre, which was housed in Butte, Montana.  Then he switched jobs again, taking a similar position in Portland, Oregon. 


    Still, the church called, and at twenty years of age, he made his debut at the Salt Lake Tabernacle.  He gave several recitals in the summer of 1921 and then went on a three-year mission to California. 


    After his mission was over, he was hired by the Tabernacle, and went abroad to study in Paris, France, with Henri Libert, Louis Vierne, and Charles-Marie Widor. 


    He returned to Salt Lake City to resume his organ duties in June 1926.  On 7th June 1927, he wed Margaret Lyman, a cellist he had met in school and reacquainted with himself in Paris.  One of his first recordings was made on 10th June 1927, and it was simply titled Bach at the Mormon Tabernacle. 


    In July 1929, he performed on the first-ever broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word, which is regarded to be the longest-running radio program, ever.  He divided his time between Utah and California, where he played the organ at the First Methodist Episcopal Church, Grauman’s Metropolitan Theatre, and the University of California-Los Angeles.


    In 1936, he appeared at the Los Angeles Bach Festival, where he performed the organ bits of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B minor.


    The first volume of his Organ Voluntaries was published in 1937.  It would be followed by five more installments.  In April 1937, he was the featured soloist in a performance of Alexandre Guilmant’s “Concerto in D minor for Organ and Orchestra”, with the L.A. Philharmonic conducted by Otto Klemperer.  He participated in the American Guild of Organists’ National Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, in June 1937.  The Southern California Chapter of the AGO elected him to be their dean, or president.  He also did a brief stint with the LDS Church in Washington, D.C.


    Salt Lake called again, though, and after ten years of playing and teaching at UCLA, he returned to the LDS home base as their full-time organist.  Ironically, upon resigning from his duties at the university, he went back to school, and at the tender age of 38, began his freshman year at the University of Utah.  He graduated in 1942 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and membership in Phi Beta Kappa. 


    The Mormon Tabernacle closed its doors during World War II as a security measure, but it did not preempt Alexander’s burgeoning career, and he won international acclaim for his radio broadcasts and live concert appearances.  He made his debut in the Big Apple in 1944 when he concertized at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church. 


    In 1947, he delivered the American premiere of “Concerto in E minor” by Marcel Dupre in tandem with the Utah Symphony Orchestra.  He contributed significantly to the LDS book of hymns when it was revised in 1948, adding ten of his own compositions to the collection.  Before the decade was out, he had also played a significant role in helping the Tabernacle obtain a brand new, Aeolian-Skinner organ.


    He continued his studies at the University of Utah and acquired his Ph.D. in Organ Music and Esthetics in 1954.  For his dissertation, he wrote “Concerto in B minor for Organ and Orchestra”, which Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony Orchestra premiered during their next season. 


    In 1955, Alexander appeared on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s album, Concert of Sacred Music.  He was also on-hand when the choir made its European debut with stops at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Kursaal in Wiesbaden, Germany, and Royal Albert Hall in London, England. 


    On 27th June 1956, he gave a recital at St. James Church in New York, New York, as part of the AGO’s 60th National Convention.  Organ Institute Quarterly published his essay, “The Tabernacle Organ in Salt Lake City” in their Vol. 7, No. 1 issue in 1957.


    In 1959, Alexander appeared on pair of albums, The Lord’s Prayer with Richard P. Condie, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Eugene Ormandy and The Philadelphia Orchestra, and The Spirit of Christmas.  Another one of his educational articles, “In Quest of a Subjective (Musical) Scale” was published in the July 1959 edition of AGO Quarterly the July 1960 edition of Piano Technician’s Journal.


    In 1960, he appeared on the small screen in a trio of documentaries entitled French Composers, A Program of Fugues, and Romantic Composers.  The Mormon Tabernacle Choir released Hymns and Songs of Brotherhood in 1962. 


    In 1963, Alexander became the Chief Organist of the Tabernacle.  He was the organist du jour on the December 1963 recording, Mahler:  Symphony of Thousand, with Maurice Abravanel, the University of Utah Choruses and the Utah Symphony Orchestra.  In 1964, he celebrated Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir & Chimes.  He gave his last concert in the Big Apple at Riverside Church in 1965. 


    In 1967, he rejoined Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony Orchestra, this time with the Utah Civic Chorale, on a recording of Mahler’s “Symphony No. 2” (“Resurrection”) on the Vanguard label.  He also authored more articles:  “The Virtues of Soft Music” was published by Clavier in October 1967 and “100 Years of Organs in the Mormon Tabernacle” was printed in the November 1967 edition of The Diapason.


    In 1968, he gave his last recital in Minnesota at Rochester’s Christ United Methodist Church.  “My ‘One Hundred Best Books’ for Building Personal Musicianship” was included in the December 1968 edition of Instructor.


    In 1969, his version of “Christians Awake” appeared on the various-artists compilation, Merry Christmas.  The Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s recording of “Joy to the World” made the cut 1971’s The Joyous Songs of Christmas.  His article, “Guidelines for Writing Hymns”, was printed in the April 1973 edition of Ensign.


    In January 1974, Utah State University bestowed upon him their honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree.  His home country of Germany gave him their highest arts award, the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit, First Class, in 1975.


    In 1977, he performed his organ concerto and one by George Frideric Handel in tandem with Crawford Gates and the symphony of Rockford, Illinois.  He retired and gave his final Tabernacle recital on 30th December 1977. 


    In 1979, he came out of retirement to perform his last concert with UCLA in honour of their golden anniversary.  The University of Utah Alumni Association honoured him as a distinguished alumnus on Founders Day 1980.  In 1982, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir released another one of their patriotic albums, America in Song. 


    Alexander teamed up with his son John for a pair of performances in April 1983.  They took Robert Schumann’s “Piano Concerto” and played it as a piano four-hands piece, with Alexander playing the orchestral bits.  In the autumn of 1983, he gave a brief recital for some visiting Minnesota businessmen, his last on the Aeolian-Skinner organ of the Tabernacle.


    His autobiography, Alexander Schreiner Reminisces, was published in 1984.  In 1985, he was credited with organ on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Joy to the World and Serenade.  He contributed nine hymns to the 1985 LDS hymnal:  “Behold Thy Sons and Daughters, Lord”; “God Loved Us, So He Sent His Son”; Holy Temples on Mount Zion”; “In Memory of the Crucified”; “Lead Me Into Life Eternal”; “Lord, Accept into Thy Kingdom”; “Thy Spirit, Lord, Has Stirred Our Souls”; “Truth Eternal”; and, “While of These Emblems We Partake”.


    Two of his last albums with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir were 1987’s The Most Loved Songs of Faith and Voices of Harmony.  He passed away just about two months later, on 15th September 1987. 


    His legacy lives on in many ways, on posthumous albums, such as 1989’s On the First Day of Christmas, albums featuring his arrangements, like Michael Murray’s 1990 recording, The Willis Organ at Salisbury Cathedral, and articles written by his former students, Clay Christiansen, James B. Welch, and Darwin Wolford. 


    For more information on this beloved and prolific artist, check out Alexander Schreiner, Mormon Tabernacle Organist, by Daniel Berghout, and 1991’s Selections from the Writings of Alexander Schreiner on Music and the Gospel.


    The Mormon Tabernacle Choir recordings

    Silent Night (Franz Xaver Gruber/Joseph Mohr)

    The Columbia Brass and Percussion Ensemble

    Director:  Jerrold Ottley

    Organist:  Alexander Schreiner

    (CD:  Silent Night:  The Greatest Hits of Christmas)



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