Wednesday, March 6, 2013


William C. Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright

Any serious attempt to understand Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture has to embrace the degree to which Wright was involved in music. He writes in his autobiography of a painful early memory: 

At this time a nervously active intellectual man [Wright’s father] in clerical dress seated at the organ in the church playing. Behind the organ, a dark chamber. In the dark chamber, huge bellows with projecting wooden lever-handle. A tiny shaded oil lamp shining in the dark on a lead marker that ran up and down to indicate the amount of air pressure necessary to keep the organ playing. A small boy of seven, eyes on the lighted marker, pumping away with all his strength at the lever and crying bitterly as he did so.

You might think that Wright would have grown to hate music, but no, subsequent accounts of life in the Taliesin Fellowship that include Curtis Besinger’s Working with Mr. Wright (1995), Randolph Henning’s At Taliesin (1992), Priscilla J. Henken’s Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright (2012), and others, attest to the constancy of serious music in the life of Wright and those around him.  As Henning has written:  the “music omnipresent and important,” even to the broadcast of the music of Beethoven across the valley from the belvedere atop Taliesin.

It is of considerable interest, then,  that David Patterson, a musician and musicologist in Oak Park, Illinois, has obtained funding through the Kickstarter program that has enabled him to gather and record twenty-one pieces of music composed by William C. Wright, the architect’s talented and restless father. I will leave the evaluation of Mr. Wright’s compositions to others better qualified but Patterson’s 31 pages of program notes are a boon to anyone interested in Wright and altogether “The Music of William C. Wright” deepens our understanding of both the architect and his father. As Wright tells it, his father passed quietly and briefly through his life but left one indelible message:

Father sometimes played on the piano far into the night, and much of Beethoven and Bach the boy learned by heart as he lay listening. Living seemed a kind of listening to him – then.
            Sometimes it was as though a door would open, and he could get the beautiful meaning clear. Then it would close and the meaning would be dim or far away. But always there was some meaning. Father taught him to see a symphony as an edifice – of sound!

1 comment:

John Bachman said...

Wright's symphony was the Darwin Martin house.