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.
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
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,
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.
mission was over, he was hired by the Tabernacle, and went abroad to study
in Paris, France, with Henri Libert, Louis Vierne, and
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.
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,
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Columbia Brass and
Director: Jerrold Ottley
Organist: Alexander Schreiner
Night: The Greatest Hits of