Hodges and Erben: A Clash of Egos

Due to a disagreement over the organ at St. Paul’s, tensions between Edward Hodges and Henry Erben had simmered for years. In 1839, the professional disagreement quickly turned into an ugly feud after Hodges was appointed Organist and Music Director of Trinity Church. The Vestry had recently decided to demolish the church, and the building committee asked Hodges to prepare plans for an organ to be installed in the new one.  

Edward Hodges

Hodges proposed an organ of his own design with unique specifications including a Great Division extended an octave lower than usual. However, as the cost of building the church increased, Hodges was asked to make cuts to his plan. His amended design was approved and the contract to build the instrument was awarded, at the recommendation of Hodges, to organ maker Henry Erben.

The organ was supposed to be completed by September 1, 1844, but installation would not begin until October 1845. The relationship between the men began to quickly deteriorate, with Hodges accusing Erben of delaying the organ’s completion to work on other projects. It was not until April 1846 that the first rank of pipes were able to be played. With Erben out of town Hodges, threw a small party in the organ loft, complete with champagne and a few bars of “God Save the Queen.”

Much to Hodges’ frustration the organ was not complete in time for Trinity’s dedication. In August 1849 Hodges sent a letter to Erben detailing his grievances:

“Considering that I had used what little influence I possessed in giving you the job, even at a time when you were known to be hostile to me, & that I have all through the undertaking exercised constant regard to the saving you of expense….I ought to have been met in a conciliatory & obliging spirit. Instead of that, I have been treated with indignity and insult.”

On September 8, 1846, Erben declared the organ complete. Only two days later Erben brought two acquaintances to hear the instrument, which Hodges refused to play. A scuffle broke out as Erben forced his way into the choirloft, and as Hodges recalled, attempted to level a blow that would have cracked his skull.

In an act of retaliation Hodges attempted to block Erben’s request for an exhibition of the organ. Although he had the support of the Rector, the Vestry sided with Erben and scheduled an exhibition for October 7 and 8. Over 18,000 people attended, Hodges not among them. Another blow came when Erben invited members of the American Institute to inspect the organ. Their report heaped praise on Erben, awarding him a gold star; while Hodges’ design, including the pedals and couplers, were viewed unfavorably. The institute refused to retract its review, despite over a month of protest from Hodges.

If you want to learn more about this bitter feud, check out this blog post to read some of their correspondence.