Fox, Virgil (Keel)

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Fox, Virgil (Keel)

Fox, Virgil (Keel), famous American organist; b. Princeton, 111., May 3, 1912; d. West Palm Beach, Fla., Oct. 25, 1980. He studied piano as a child, but soon turned to the organ as his favorite instrument. He played the organ at the First Presbyterian Church in his hometown at the age of 10, and gave his first public recital in Cincinnati at 14. He then enrolled in the Peabody Cons, of Music in Baltimore, graduating in 1932. To perfect his playing he went to Paris, where he took lessons with Duprée at St. Sulpice and Vierne at Notre Dame. He returned to the U.S. in 1938 and became head of the organ dept. at the Peabody Cons, of Music. From 1946 to 1965 he was organist at the Riverside Church in N.Y., where he played on a 5-manual, 10, 561-pipe organ specially designed for him. He then launched a remarkable career as an organ soloist. He was the first American to play at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, and also played at Westminster Abbey in London. As a solo artist, he evolved an idiosyncratic type of performance in which he embellished Baroque music with Romantic extravaganza; he also took to apostrophizing his audiences in a whimsical mixture of lofty sentiment and disarming self-deprecation. This type of personalized art endeared him to the impatient, emancipated musical youth of America, and he became one of the few organists who could fill a concert hall. He also displayed a robust taste for modern music; he often played the ear- stopping, discordant arrangement of America by Charles Ives. Wracked by cancer, he gave his last concert in Dallas on Sept. 26, 1980.

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire