LDS Church News

Alexander Schreiner: a Legacy of Music

By R. Scott Lloyd

LDS Church News

Published: Saturday, Aug. 23 2014 12:10 a.m. MDT

Daniel F. Berghout delivers Men and Women of Faith lecture on "Alexander Schreiner: A Legacy of Music"

R. Scott Lloyd

When iconic Salt Lake Tabernacle organist Alexander Schreiner played his final broadcast with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir of “Music and the Spoken Word” on Dec. 4, 1977, his heart was full. He expressed his feelings in writing: “My blessings have been many: The huge dome of the Tabernacle above me, the gorgeous organ kept in perfect condition, the nearly 400 singers and staff which have poured love on me through the years have been marvelous, to say the least.”

A few weeks later, on Dec. 30, Brother Schreiner played his final organ recital in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. Before a gathering of his family and friends and Church and civic leaders, Church President Spencer W. Kimball said: “Our lives are richer and nobler because of you. We are grateful and thank you, our friend, for your goodness, for your faith, which has made our faith stronger, and for your music, which has made the whole world better.”

Brother Schreiner’s life and career were recounted Aug. 14 in a lecture by music scholar Daniel F. Berghout in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, the latest in the Men and Women of Faith Lecture Series sponsored by the Church History Library. A composer, organist and teacher, Brother Berghout wrote his doctoral dissertation at the University of Kansas on Brother Schreiner.

“Alexander Schreiner left behind a remarkable musical legacy,” Brother Berghout declared in his lecture. “His 53 years of recitals and broadcasts from the Salt Lake Tabernacle and his extensive concertizing influenced generations of organists and reached millions of listeners. His published collections of organ music still in print today provided countless church musicians with music that was easily approachable.

“His tireless crusade for the Aeolian-Skinner organ in the Tabernacle resulted in the creation of [organ builder] G. Donald Harrison’s masterpiece. His quest for perfection and knowledge, his impatience with mediocrity, his gentle humanity and his genuine charisma all contributed to his commanding, multi-dimensional personality.”

Brother Berghout affirmed that Brother Schreiner’s faith in and commitment to the Church was “undeniably apparent throughout his career.”

It was a career that began early, according to Brother Berghout’s account.

Born July 31, 1901, in Nuremburg, Germany, the second son of Church converts Johan Christian and Margarethe Schwemmer Schreiner, young Alexander watched the pianist with fascination as branch choir practices were held in the family home.

“He always spent the next morning at the piano, figuring out the melodies he had heard the night before,” Brother Berhout said.

He was appointed branch organist at the age of 7.

Brother Berghout quoted this reminiscence from him: “Occasionally a visiting missionary would come to Nuremburg. When our local missionaries found out that he could play the organ, they would invite him to play, and they would release me for that meeting, which made me very sad indeed. My mother would say, ‘Sit right by me with the altos and sing with me.’ But that did not please me one bit! I was glad to sit by my mother, but not only would someone take my place illegally, I thought, and unfairly, I always noticed that he could not play nearly so well as I was able to play by that time.”

Brother Schreiner’s healthy opinion of his own ability remained with him after the family immigrated to Salt Lake City. The family attended a meeting for German and Swiss members of the Church, and to Alexander’s delight, there was no organist.