French Organ Music Seminar July 5 - 17, 1999

January 16, 2003

The Eighth Biennial French Organ Music Seminar attracted 60 registrants for a commemoration of the centennial of the death of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. Hearing, playing, and studying the music written for the great instruments of Paris, Rouen, and Toulouse formed the focal point of the two-week schedule. French Classical and modern instruments at Versailles, Chartres, Bordeaux, Cintegabelle, and Albi rounded out the itinerary. Five recitals and three masterclasses by and for participants climaxed the events. The legacy of Cavaillé-Coll's work and influence was made vivid especially for those experiencing the instruments for the first time--from the first large-instrument contract for Saint-Denis (1841), the transitional La Madeleine organ (1845), to the late Saint-Ouen instrument (Rouen, 1890). His respect for the work of predecessors such as Thierry, Dom Bedos and Clicquot is reflected in the preservation of pipework for instruments restored after the damage left behind during the French Revolution. Cavaillé-Coll's close relationship with the premier organist/composers of his generation who were inspired by his instruments was made apparent many times over.


Even the finest recordings pale when compared to the experience of being present within the acoustical environments of these magnificent instruments.  The initial experience of hearing the Grande Orgues of Paris played by their artist-curators--the effect of the near-Positiv and distant Récit, the solid depth of bass voices, the reverberation through the vast naves--was moving beyond description.

Prior to and during the seminar, participants studied improvisation and repertoire both privately and in groups with master teachers including Marie-Louise Langlais, Daniel Roth, Susan Landale, Naji Hakim, and Marie-Bernadette Dufourcet. Lectures on the history of each church and its instrument were followed by a demonstration and improvisation by the titulaire organist. Participants also enjoyed hearing a wide variety of examples of French Romantic and Classical literature from one another. Generous playing time was allowed at each venue.

At the Paris Conservatory organ recital hall, Dallas flutist Debra Johnson played a virtuosic new work for flute and piano by Naji Hakim, accompanied by the composer. Marie-Louise Langlais introduced François Espinasse, titulaire organist at Saint-Severin, who conducted the first masterclass which addressed French Classical music. His comments focused on correct registration and the careful and sensitive employment of the French manner. Mme. Langlais gave to the participants an extensive handout on registration and interpretation.

Saint-Roch was the next stop for a recital by David Erwin who played works by Clérambault, Balbastre, and Langlais. Lefébure-Wély, at age 15, assumed the organist position there in 1832. The instrument dates from 1751 with several rebuilds, including one by Cavaillé-Coll 1840-1862.

At Notre-Dame-de-Paris, the group gathered in the organ loft for Philippe Lefebrve's demonstration of the famous Cavaillé-Coll in this most famous of churches. Lefebrve's exciting improvisation began with employment of Clicquot pipework--a Grand Plein Jeu with pedal en chamade. Next, an Adagio with variously the Voix humaine, Doublette, Cromorne, Hautbois, Strings, and double pedal. A Flute Scherzo with Vox Humana countermelody in the pedal was followed by a lively march with Trompette long-note melody in the pedals. The stirring finale was built from Fonds+Reeds+Cornets to full organ with pizzicato pedal sprinkled throughout.

In the loft at La Trinité, titulaire organist Naji Hakim, protégé of Langlais, and Messiaen's chosen successor, told of Guilmant's collaboration with Cavaillé-Coll for the 1871 instrument. Hakim, a charming man, successful composer, and virtuoso organist, spoke with great reverence of his predecessor, Olivier Messiaen. He played two unpublished early Messaien works, Offrande and Prélude, which showed influence of Fauré and Debussy. Amid telling delightful stories and putting off the vacuum-cleaner-wielding sexton, he played portions of his own Sinfonia and a new piece, Chant de Joie. He then assisted participants in trying the organ.

The first participants' recital, open to the public at Saint-Roch, featured nine performers in a program of Clérambault, Boëllmann, Balbastre, Dupré, de Grigny, Widor, Langlais, and Saint-Saëns.

Notre-Dame-des-Champs was Ca-vaillé-Coll's parish church. Today the two-manual mechanical action organ, with Barker machine and Appel lever, is 90% original Cavaillé-Coll pipework. Titulaire organist Marie-Bernadette Dufourcet demonstrated the beautiful Flûte Harmonique and rich Montre of the Grand Orgue division and improvised on Fonds and Anches. She played portions of pieces by seminar director Christina Harmon, herself, her husband Naji Hakim, and René Vierne, who was organist at the church before his death in WWI.

At The American Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal), Ned Tipton, organist of the cathedral, explained the varied history of the 1845 Cavaillé-Coll organ and later rebuilds and additions by Mutin, Henry Willis, and others. The west-gallery 1970 neo-Baroque organ, added as an aid to congregational singing, was eventually revoiced and brought into compliance with the chancel instrument. To demonstrate the diversity of the organ, Mr. Tipton played works of Bach, Sowerby, and Duruflé. A masterclass followed, conducted by Lynne Davis, with participants playing works by Franck, Vierne, Dupré, Widor, and Tournemire. Miss Davis' succinct comments focused primarily on tempo, phrasing, articulation, and delineation of form. Following the masterclass, David Wilson, retired professor of music history and early-music ensemble director at Dalhousie University in Halifax, presented a lecture on the French Romantic Organ School.

The historically rich Schola Cantorum, located in what was an English Benedictine monastery, was founded by Guilmant in 1896 for the restoration of Gregorian chant after Solesmes, and for fostering the heritage of the organ in that tradition. A temple of "non-official"  music, it nurtured students such as Debussy, Milhaud and Roussel. Teachers have included Vierne, the Duruflés, Grunenwald, and Langlais. The organ, designed by Guilmant, who played the inaugural recital, is a 1902 three-manual Mutin after Cavaillé-Coll. Mutin worked for Cavaillé-Coll and took over the company after Cavaillé-Coll's death. Participants were treated to a fine recital by Lázló Deák, competition-winner and student of Mme Langlais.  Repertoire included works of Guilmant, Vierne, Duruflé, Grunenwald, Messiaen, Litaize, and Langlais.

Also at the Schola Cantorum, Marie-Louise Langlais conducted a master class on the Franck Choral in E Major and Cantabile, Duruflé Veni Creator Variations, Widor Salve Regina, Langlais Fantasie, and Vierne Prélude from Symphony #1. Besides telling of the rich history of the school's site and heritage and the attributes of the organ, she wove stories and anecdotes of Franck, Sainte-Clotilde, Messiaen, Duruflé, Litaize, and Langlais for performers and audience.

The Sainte-Clotilde Cavaillé-Coll was demonstrated by Jacques Taddei, titulaire organist and current director of the Paris Regional Conservatory. After playing the Franck B-minor Choral he demonstrated the colors of the organ beginning with Grand Plein Jeu (of Baroque influence from Dom Bedos) the Positiv Clarinet (Cromorne) which was moved to the Récit by Tournemire but later moved back to the Positiv, Fonds 8¢ with Oboe, Great and Positiv Trompettes, all reeds together, solo reeds Oboe, Vox Humana, Trompette; and the  Grand Orgue, Récit, and Positiv Harmonique Flûtes. He improvised on two melodies: Amazing Grace and the refrain of  Battle Hymn of the Republic--chosen by Marie-Louise Langlais for all of the Americans present. It is among the "sweetest" of Cavaillé-Coll instruments (1859), reworked by Beuchet-Debièrre in 1933 and 1960 and Barberis in 1983. The console was electrified after WWII. The assertive unenclosed Positiv, forward in the case, contrasts greatly with the recessed Recit, a factor affecting registration of Franck's music on American organs. We would return to Sainte-Clotilde to play the organ and hear an impressive participants' recital of music by Franck, Boëllmann, Tournemire, Dubois, Guilmant, Vierne, and Langlais.

Michel Chapuis was the host at the Palace of Louis XIV at Versailles.  In the royal apartments he demonstrated an 18th-century harpsichord (Blanchet) and chamber organ. The highlight of the visit was his demonstration of the magnificent organ in the chapel. After his presentation, members of the group were able to play briefly.

Philippe Brandeis, titulaire organist at Sacre-Coeur and co-titulaire at Les Invalides, demonstrated the organ at the beautifully resonant chapel at Les Invalides (Church of the Dome). The chapel, built in 1675 by Louis XIV, is now reserved for military events and services and is the seat of the bishop of the military. An organ was finished in 1687 (Thierry) and LeBegue played there for the king. The organ had a checkered history throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and in 1957 was reconstructed after Sainte-Clotilde, though the present instrument is considered neo-classic with only one stop left of the original. Brandeis played the Duruflé Sicilienne and The World Awaiting the Savior by Dupré.

The noble chestnut trees of the cloister of Saint-Severin welcomed us to the architecturally eclectic church in the heart of the Latin Quarter of Paris. A walk from the West end pillars to the apse ambulatory columns and new stained glass designs is for the eye a short journey from the 13th to the 20th century. François Espinasse, titulaire organist, demonstrated the 1964 Kern (case from the original 1745 instrument) with flutes, cornets, and Basse de Trompette. Assisted by Espinasse and David Erwin, participants played Bach, Couperin, LeBegue, Raison, and deGrigny.

Our next stop, Saint-Sulpice, a mammoth Roman-style church with interior arches and huge paintings, boasts a Cavaillé-Coll of five manuals and 102 stops. Daniel Roth, titulaire organist, presented an excellent history of the organ. Its original Cavaillé-Coll mechanical-action console and preserved pipework are due in large part to the legacy of two organists, Widor and Dupré, whose combined, unbroken tenure there spanned 100 years. Despite protests that he "played too much like a German," Widor was appointed "interim" organist at Saint-Sulpice at age 26 upon the strength of Cavaillé-Coll's recommendation. He stayed for 63 years. Cavaillé-Coll retained the 1781 Clicquot pipework from the instrument which miraculously escaped desecration during the Revolution. Roth played an extended recital including Guilmant First Movement from Sonata #5, Widor Scherzo and a Fugue in A Minor. After demonstrating the Grand Jeu and other combinations, he concluded with an improvisation to demonstrate all the solo colors, strings, flutes, and tutti. Ample opportunity for all to play this great instrument was provided later in the week, with M. Roth assisting on the bench.

François-Henri Houbart, 20 years the titulaire organist at La Madeleine, discussed the considerable visibility of the church and its 1845 Cavaillé-Coll in terms of its history of celebrity organist-composers: Saint-Saëns, Fauré, Nadia Boulanger, Gigout, Dallier, Jeanne Demessieux, and Odile Pierre, and of the state occasions observed there. Many great musicians played the organ, including Frederick Chopin, Clara Schumann, and Anton Rubenstein. The organ was Cavaillé-Coll's second large instrument after Saint-Denis and is reminiscent of the French Classical design, with Plein jeu principals after Dom Bedos. There is no cromorne or cornet. The voix celeste is in the Positiv rather than in the Récit, and the Positiv is placed above the Grand Orgue. Its four-manual console is electrified, and 46 of the original 48 stops are preserved. Houbart demonstrated the organ with a long improvisation, delighting and amusing his audience, on the theme from "Dallas." Afterwards he assisted participants for playing time.

The visit to Chartres, site of renowned international organ competitions on the Danion-Gonzalez reconstructed organ of 1969-71, proved more than just the opportunity to hear and play the organ. This Queen of Gothic Cathedrals stands above all others as witness to and testament of the Age of Faith. Malcolm Miller, who has made a career studying and lecturing on the Chartres Cathedral, gave a guided tour especially for FOMS participants. Its 400 stained-glass windows, unparalleled in beauty, and the 4000+ sculptures which adorn the exterior capture and mesmerize all who journey there. Tourist traffic has failed to destroy its atmosphere and radiance.

 On the northern environs of Paris, titularie organist Pierre Pincemaille was our host at the ancient basilica church of Saint-Denis, the place of coronation and burial for centuries of French kings. It was here where the influential Abbot Suger instructed his architect to open up the apse ambulatory to light and space. The resulting gothic arches and provision for walls of colored glass realized Suger's belief that God can be known through beauty on earth. The nave is wide and "open." The 1841 Cavaillé-Coll instrument, his first in Paris and first to use the Barker lever, was restored in 1987 by Boisseau.

On Sunday morning, participants had opportunity to hear our French hosts improvise and preside from their organ lofts: Lefebvre for hundreds of tourists at the Notre Dame Gregorian Mass, Espinasse at Saint-Severin, Pincemaille at Saint-Denis, Taddei at Sainte-Clotilde, Dufourcet at Notre-Dame-des-Champs, Fréderic Blanc at Notre Dame d'Auteil, and Roth at Saint-Sulpice.

At St-Etienne-du-Mont, Maurice Duruflé's church, titulaire organist Thierry Escaich demonstrated the 1863 Cavaillé-Coll. The four-manual organ of 89 stops has been rebuilt and electrified by Beuchet-Debierre (1956), and rebuilt again by Gonzalez (1975) and Dargassies (1991).

The group traveled to Rouen to hear the spectacular 1890 Cavaillé-Coll organ at the abbey church of Saint-Ouen, a site with a history of bishops dating to the 7th century. The present flamboyant Gothic-style church's cornerstone is dated 1318, and the nave was finished in the 16th century.  Organist George Baker, describing his passion for the instrument, mentioned that it was the last organ which Cavaillé-Coll personally supervised. Widor played the dedication recital in 1890. The four-manual organ has one of the most spectacular of cases, with five figures crowning the towers: the central one is Christ, with King David, Saint Cecilia, and two angels on either side. Marcel Dupré's father Albert was titulaire organist at Saint-Ouen from 1911-1940. The organ was demonstrated first by titulaire organist Marie-Andrée Morriset with trumpeter Michel Morriset, in works of Vierne and Morriset. George Baker and Fréderic Blanc treated the group to a lengthy recital which included music of Vierne, Duruflé, and Widor. Dale Peters, Professor of Organ at the University of North Texas, played the Toccata by Lanquetuit which was dedicated to Albert Dupré.

From Rouen the group arrived late in the afternoon at the Regional Conservatory of Rueill-Malmaison. Professor, organist, and musicologist Susan Landale treated the group to her recollections of Marchal, Messiaen, and Langlais. A student of André Marchal in the 1950s and early 60s, she played several recordings of performances by these master teachers and discussed their relationships with one another through many interesting anecdotes and stories.

The next portion of the seminar itinerary took us to the south of France, first arriving in Bordeaux to visit the 14th-century Gothic Cathedral of Saint-André and its Gonzalez organ of neo-classical design. Our organist-host played the Final from Symphonie II by André Fleury. Bordeaux was the birthplace of Charles Tournemire, who was  organist there at Saint Michel. After playing-time at the cathedral and lunch, the bus drove towards Toulouse through the heart of wine country with a short stop at the picturesque, ancient Roman town of St. Emilion.

Continuing on to Toulouse, traveling through the beautiful countryside, we arrived in this beautiful city ready for the two days of events scheduled there. Most participants were attracted to the south of France because of the promise of experiencing the great organ at Saint-Sernin, but many other delights awaited. Two churches were on the first-day agenda. First, Église de la Duarade ("golden" from the gold mosaics that once decorated the interior), a Roman-style church with rounded arches with varied past of pagan, Moorish, and eventually Christian dominance. The organ, an 1864 Poirer and Lieberknecht, is typically Romantic, including a lovely free reed Euphone. Lefébure-Wély dedicated the instrument. Participants had ample time to play, with the assistance of François Espinasse and Sylvie Mallot, assistant director of FOMS. The choir organ, by Puget, was a jewel of an instrument with its Baroque case. A walk past the Garonne river took us to Église de La   Dalbade, a Gothic interior with familiar brick exterior common in this city and region. The organ of three manuals and 50 stops is an 1888 Puget. Espinasse played Messiaen's Dieu parmi nous. The voix celeste was particularly beautiful and the reeds assertive.

The Basilica of Saint-Sernin, a magnificent Romanesque church with spectacular spire, houses one of the most powerful of Cavaillé-Coll's instruments. Built in 1887-88 and restored in 1996, its three-manual console retains the original mechanical action. The reputation of the 54-stop organ comes partially from the presence of Pedal 32¢ Principal and 32¢ Bombarde, Grand-Orgue 16¢ Montre, 16¢ Bourdon, reeds from Bombarde 16¢ to 2¢ Clairon-doublette, and Trompette and Clarion en chamades 8¢ and 4¢. The Positiv is unenclosed. The fifteen performers for the third participants' recital prepared repertoire by Dupré, Langlais, Widor, Guilmant, Gigout, Boëllmann, Vierne,  and Franck.

The second day in Toulouse commenced at the Musée d'Augustine for a recital on a neo-Baroque organ by Arendt (1981). Housed in what was the impressive Gothic chapel of a monastery, the instrument was built upon recommendation of Xavier Durasse, an advocate for organ restoration in the region, who felt that Toulouse needed a modern instrument of this type. The first event held there was a Bach competition. Tuned in Werckmeister III, the organ has three manuals, 30 stops and a beautiful case with side door-panels.

The Cathedral church of Saint-Etienne houses an organ restored by Cavaillé-Coll in 1849. It was restored again by Puget between the World Wars and by Kern in 1976 to become a neo-Baroque instrument of four manuals with an echo manual. François Espinasse played works of deGrigny, Marchand, and Bach. This organ is placed so high on the wall, with access to the loft so difficult, that one of the titulaire organists there was forced to resign because of acrophobia.

The last day brought visits to three towns: Cintegabelle, Albi, and Lavaur. Tiny, picturesque Cintegabelle boasts a Roman-style church of Moorish influence and a large French-Baroque instrument built by Boulbonne which was moved to the church from a nearby 17th-century monastery. Its magnificent case dominates the building. Of three manuals and 36 stops, the organ has the French pedalboard of short keys. Participants practiced for the fourth recital of the seminar for works by Couperin, Roberday, Dandrieu, d'Aquin, and deGrigny.

In the city of Albi, with its magnificent and imposing cathedral church of Sainte-Cécile, participants visited the fabulous Toulouse-Lautrec museum (he was born in Albi) across from the church and then returned for the fifth participants' recital. The French-Baroque organ by Moucherel was restored to its original voice in 1971-1981 by the firm of Formentelli. The recital, including works by Clérambault, de Grigny, Le Begue, and Corrette, was enjoyed by many ambulating tourists.

Lavaur, a peaceful town with its church of Saint-Étienne, was the last stop of the seminar. Like many places in the region, Lavaur suffered during the Albigensian Crusade in the early 13th century, a legacy of terror and destruction. Today the river Agoût flows peacefully along its edges and beautifully sculpted gardens welcome the visitor to the church. The organ is an 1876 Cavaillé-Coll, whose case resembles La Madeleine in Paris.  Within the quiet surroundings, participants again heard the Romantic sound of Lefébure-Wély, Franck, Chausson, and Tournemire.

Directors Christina Harmon and Marie-Louise Langlais and their associates planned the schedule for maximum use of time, and the seminar fulfilled its purpose as an educational experience and delight for the ear. The gracious hospitality of our hosts included a dinner at the home of Naji and Marie-Bernadette Dufourcet Hakim, a garden reception at the Schola Cantorum prepared by Mme. Langlais and her daughter Caroline, and two group dinners at private rooms in fine restaurants, one of which was for celebration with song and gifts on Mme. Langlais' birthday.

The first French Organ Music Seminar in 1987 attracted six students who spent five days studying with Philippe Lefebvre at Notre Dame in Paris. The eighth tour, with 60 students from age 16 to 75, provided experience of a wide variety of instruments and invaluable personal interaction with fine scholars and teachers.  

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