(b Colchester, 25 Oct 1750; d Colchester, 9 Sept 1847). English violinist and composer. He was the son of a victualler, and was trained in music by the singer and organist Frederick Charles Reinhold, who worked in Colchester from 1760 to 1767. Fisin's early professional life was precarious, but in 1776 Thomas Twining recommended him to Charles Burney, who obtained a post for him in London with Sir Thomas Robinson, the director of entertainments at Ranelagh Gardens. Robinson soon changed his mind and, despite Burney's recommendation, Fisin failed to obtain a post in Newcastle in the winter of 1776–7. Nevertheless, he eventually established himself in London as a violinist at the Pantheon and elsewhere. In 1790 he led the orchestra for Colchester's first Handel festival, and played a leading part in the town's musical life over the next few years, while continuing to live in London. He moved to Chester in 1801, again on Burney's recommendation, and finally retired to Colchester in 1804. In his later years he received a government pension for his ‘musical accomplishments and services’. Fisin was a competent and fairly prolific composer, mainly of songs and keyboard music, though in 1809 he published the last-known setting of Congreve's masque The Judgment of Paris. On 28 December 1823 he wrote an account of his life (now in GB-Ge), for Sainsbury's Dictionary of Musicians.
J.Bensusan-Butt: James Fisin: Leader of the Band 1750–1847 (Colchester, 1989)
R.S.Walker, ed.: A Selection of Thomas Twining’s Letters 1734–1804 (Lewiston, NY, 1991)
JOHN BENSUSAN-BUTT, PETER HOLMAN
F. SeePitch nomenclature.
Fisk, Charles Brenton
(b Washington DC, 7 Feb 1925; d Boston, 16 Dec 1983). American organ builder. Educated at Harvard and Stanford universities, he was apprenticed to John Swinford (d 1972) and the elder Walter Holtkamp. In 1955 he co-founded the firm of Andover with Thomas W. Byers of Methuen, Massachusetts, who had established a small business in 1949 doing maintenance and rebuilding work. In 1958 Byers sold his interest to Fisk, who in the same year began to devote himself solely to the building of organs with mechanical key action, becoming the first modern maker in the USA to do so. In 1961 the company, renamed C.B. Fisk, Inc., moved to Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Fisk’s first important instrument, a sizable two-manual organ completed in 1961 for Mt Calvary Episcopal Church, Baltimore, focussed the attention of influential organists on his work, and helped to bring about a realization that American organs need not be inferior to imported instruments. His organ built for King’s Chapel, Boston (1964), was the first modern American-made tracker-action organ with three manuals, and that for Memorial Church, Harvard University (1967), the first with four. The organ completed in 1970 for Old West Church, Boston, has been used frequently for concerts and recordings by such performers as E. Power Biggs, Mireille Lagacé and Frank Taylor.
During the 1970s Fisk went several times to the Netherlands, France and northern Germany to study and document historic instruments. This resulted in certain changes in his work: mechanically, he began to make greater use of suspended key action and the flexible winding systems of older organs; tonally, he incorporated pipes based exactly on historic models, and made greater use of lead pipework. He also began building organs in historic styles, including chamber organs based on the work of Snetzler for the Yale Music School and the New England Conservatory (1972), and an organ in the French classic style for the University of Vermont (1975). Perhaps his most important historical instrument was that completed in 1981 for Wellesley College. Based on the work of Friedrich Stellwagen, it is tuned in mean-tone and has two sub-semitones to each octave. It has been extensively used in recitals and seminars dealing with the interpretation of 17th-century keyboard music.
After the completion of the large organ for the House of Hope Presbyterian Church, St Paul (1979), Fisk built a series of sizable instruments in which historic principles are combined to form an eclectic design, providing an effective vehicle for music of all periods. Among these instruments are those in the First Presbyterian Church, Charleston, West Virginia (1980), Christ United Methodist Church, Greensboro, North Carolina (1982), Downtown United Presbyterian Church, Rochester, New York (1983), and Stanford University (1984). The Stanford University organ is a large instrument developed by Fisk in consultation with Harald Vogel; it has 17 pipes to the octave and may, by means of a shifting mechanism, be played in either mean-tone or well-tempered tuning. Most of Fisk’s organs from the early 1970s onwards have mechanical stop action as well as key action, and they are distinguished visually by custom-designed casework in both traditional and contemporary styles. Since Fisk’s death his work has been carried on by his former associates. In 1993 Steven A. Dieck was named president of C.B. Fisk, Inc., with David C. Pike as executive vice-president and Robert Cornell as vice-president of engineering. Notable instruments built since 1983 include those for Mt Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts (1985), the Church of the Transfiguration, New York (1988), and the large concert organ in Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas (1992).
See Organ, §VIII, fig.58 for illustration of an organ by Charles Fisk.
G. Bozeman: ‘C.B. Fisk, Inc. of Gloucester, Mass.’, Art of the Organ, i/1 (1971), 25–37
J. Fesperman: ‘The Fisk Organ in Old West Church, Boston, USA’, Organ Yearbook, v (1974), 109–10
J. Fesperman: Two Essays on Organ Design (Raleigh, NC, 1975)