Agnes von Rinteln, 91, longtime organist and choir director at St. Ignatius Church

June 06, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

For more than 40 years, Ednor Gardens resident Agnes G. von Rinteln never varied her Sunday morning routine.

The diminutive woman could be found comfortably seated on a bench in the choir loft of St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, patiently waiting for ushers to seat the last communicants before carefully sounding the opening notes of the liturgical music that signified the beginning of another solemn Mass.

Mrs. von Rinteln -- known to many as "Mrs. von" -- died Tuesday of respiratory failure at Hart Heritage Elderly Care Home in Street. She was 91.

She began playing the organ in the landmark North Calvert Street church in 1944 and directed its choir until she retired in 1986.

"Every Sunday morning, it made no difference what the weather was or what was going on -- she was there," recalled her daughter, Alice von Rinteln Brennan of Forest Hill.

"She once played 91 services of Novena of Grace with a cast from her thigh to ankle after she broke a leg, and no one knew it," her daughter said.

"She had an elegance, strength and special kind of beauty when she played. Her style of playing naturally invited participation by the communicants," said the Rev. William J. Walters, S.J., pastor the church.

Said Joseph B. Kelly, a longtime communicant: "Agnes had such a beautiful touch with the organ, and her style was far from ponderous. It was such that you hardly knew she was playing."

But once the Mass concluded, it was a different story as solemnity gave way to loud and unrestrained joyousness.

"After the Mass concluded she'd let it rip. I was always surprised that the plaster didn't come down," said Mrs. Brennan, who recalled her mother's particularly spirited rendition of "Also Sprach Zarathustra."

"Boy, that one was a wall-rattler," she said.

During her long tenure, Mrs. von Rinteln mastered the vagaries of the tracker organ made by the much-respected Boston organ builder William B. D. Simmons, who installed it a year after the church opened in 1855.

For 25 years, Thomas Boyle, a cantor at the church, depended on Mrs. von Rinteln's splendid sense of timing, control and agility.

"As an organist, there was no one better for an accompanist to have. She was the best I've ever been associated with," said Mr. Boyle of Northwood. "She knew how to subjugate the organ to the voice of the singer, which added to the overall beauty of the presentation."

Mr. Boyle also admired her ability to quickly transpose sheet music without missing a beat and stretching out a hymn when a procession went on too long. "She could improvise no end and it sounded great," he said

Mrs. von Rinteln's talents weren't confined to liturgical music. She played for the church's St. Patrick's Day sing-alongs, Passion Plays at the Lyric Theatre, and from 1946 to 1986 at Seton High School, where she was choral director and musical accompanist for the annual stage productions.

Born Agnes Garrett on Mosher Street, she was raised in Mount Vernon Place, where her father was the gardener and her mother was the housekeeper at the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion.

She was a 1923 graduate of Notre Dame of Maryland High School and earned a teaching certificate in 1925 from what is now Towson State University. She continued her education at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, where she graduated in 1927 with a certificate in organ.

In 1930, she began her career as organist and choir director at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption and from 1940 to 1944 was associated in the same capacity with the Howard Park Methodist Church in Walbrook.

She was married in 1928 to Frank von Rinteln Sr., a coal and oil dealer who enjoyed playing an occasional duet with his wife. He died in 1989.

A memorial Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. today at St. Ignatius, Calvert at Madison streets.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include a son, Frank von Rinteln Jr. of Northwood; nine grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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