San Diego County
JOHN STEWART, C. S. S.
organist and composer of international repute, Dr. Humphrey John Stewart was
one of the greatest individual forces in San Diego’s progress along cultural
lines, for as organist of the municipal open air organ at Balboa Park he
fostered in the people of this city a love for and appreciation of the best in
music. One full hour six days a week for
forty-eight weeks in the year he presided over this fine instrument, giving the
organ recitals for which San Diego became noted. He ranked with the foremost American
composers of this era, and was termed “the Walter Damrosch of the Pacific
coast” because, like that distinguished musician and conductor, he preceded his
recitals by an interesting and informing talk about the composers of the
selections played by him.
native of London, England, Dr. Stewart was born May 22, 1854, and pursued his
musical education under the best instructors of that country. Coming to the United States in 1886, he began
teaching in San Francisco, and during his residence in that city, which
extended over a long period, was organist of some of its larger and finer churches. In 1901 he went east, becoming organist at
Trinity Church in Boston, but in 1902 returned to San Francisco, and for twelve
years thereafter served as organist of St. Dominic’s Church of that city. He had been solo organist at the Pan-American
Exposition, held in Buffalo, New York, in 1901, and in 1915 was made official
organist at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Diego, in which capacity he
presided over the world famous open air organ owned by this city. For eighteen years Dr. Stewart remained here,
winning a host of friends, who had a sincere admiration for his genius as a
musician and a thorough appreciation of his worth as a man. Age did not diminish his power, for up to the
time of his death he continued to lead a busy life at the organ and played
about two hundred fifty recitals each year.
His programs covered the entire range of organ music, from Bach to
composers of our own time. His work as a
concert and recital organist received wide recognition. Among the many appreciative notices in musical
journals and other publications, the following is typical.
would not feel content to end this little sketch without a mention of our
meeting Dr. Humphrey John Stewart, one of the really great organists in the
country. We sat in the large outdoor
arena in Balboa Park and heard his inspiring interpretation of the music of the
music masters of the world. Enthralled
by his master playing, we introduced ourselves in order to express our
great outdoor organ in Balboa Park dates back to 1915. That year will ever be a memorable one in the
annals of San Diego, for on January 1, 1915, the great Panama-Pacific
Exposition was formally opened in Balboa Park.
The beautiful buildings still stand as a memento of this event. Some have been replaced by permanent
structures, while those of a temporary character have been renovated and
repaired from time to time. Among the
permanent buildings the Organ Pavilion stands out prominently as one of the
greater attractions. This pavilion,
together with the organ which it contains, was donated to the city of San Diego
by John D. and Adolph B. Spreckels as their contribution to the Exposition. The dedicatory oration was delivered by
Senator Samuel M. Shortridge, who, in the course of
his speech predicted that the gift of the Spreckels brothers would become one
of the greatest cultural assets of the city.
This prediction has been verified, for the same of the San Diego outdoor
organ and organ recitals have extended practically throughout the world. It is worthy of note that John D. Spreckels,
who first conceived the idea of an outdoor organ, experienced no little
difficulty in carrying out the plan. At
length the firm of Austin Brothers of Hartford, Connecticut, agreed to install
an organ on the lines indicated by Mr. Spreckels and the instrument remains a
monument to his skill.
addition to his organ recitals, Dr. Stewart was a prolific composer and his
published works include operas, oratorios, cantatas, masses, choral music, both
sacred and secular, songs, composition for the pianoforte and the pipe
organ. A complete set of these
publications he recently presented to the San Diego Library, the collection
comprising fifteen bound volumes. Among
his composition the following are most notable:
“The Nativity,” an oratorio, (1888); “His Majesty,” a comic opera,
(1890); “The Conspirators,” (1900); “Montezuma,” an orchestral suite, (1903);
“Scenes in California” (1906); “Mass in D Minor,” (1907); “Mass in G,” (1911);
“King Hal,” a romantic opera, (1911); “The Hound of Heaven,” an oratorio; a
ballet suite for the organ; “Flag of the Brave,” a patriotic cantata; “Scenes
from Shakespeare;” “The Tempest,” a suite for the organ. He has composed the incidental music for many
plays and wrote the music for the Bohemian Club grove play, “St. John of Nepomuk,” in 1921.
Stewart was one of the founders of the American Guild of Organists, and in 1900
the winner of its gold medal for composition.
In June, 1921, the city of New York presented him with its official flag
for distinguished ability as a recital organist. In 1930 he was decorated by Pope Pius XI, who
conferred upon him the rank of Commander of the Holy Sepulcher. Dr. Stewart was an outstanding member of the
Bohemian Club of San Francisco.
Forty-six years of his long and notable life were spent within the
borders of this state, for which he had a deep and abiding affection.
by V. Gerald Iaquinta.
Source: California of the South
Vol. IV, by John Steven McGroarty, Pages 577-579,
Clarke Publ., Chicago, Los Angeles, Indianapolis. 1933.
© 2012 V.