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The History, Evolution, and Legacy of Les Facteurs d’Orgues Théodore Puget, Père et Fils, Part 1

April 16, 2024
Notre-Dame du Taur
Notre-Dame du Taur organ façade

John Joseph “JJ” Mitchell is a musician and scholar from Arlington, Virginia. He is the director of music at Saint John Neumann Church in Reston, Virginia, where he oversees several musical groups and accompanies liturgies on the organ. JJ graduated summa cum laude from Westminster Choir College with a bachelor’s degree in sacred music. He then earned his Master of Sacred Music degree in organ performance from the University of Notre Dame, where he attended on a full-tuition scholarship. He also studied at the Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional de Toulouse, France, where he practiced and studied on the organs of the Puget family. JJ then earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in organ performance from the University of Houston (UH). During this time, he worked as a teaching assistant in the UH Music History Department and served as a musician in multiple churches around the city. The article published in this magazine is a cut of his complete dissertation on the Puget family, which was finished in May 2023.

JJ has served as organist on the music staff of churches such as Christ Church Cathedral, Houston, Texas; the Cathedral of Saint Thomas More, Arlington, Virginia; and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, South Bend, Indiana. He has performed in these churches as well as at Boston Symphony Hall, the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, and various other churches in the United States, Canada, France, and England. He is the winner of the Nanovic Grant for European Study for Professional Development and was a finalist for the Frank Huntington Beebe Grant. He also won second prize in the graduate division of the Hall Pipe Organ Competition in 2022. At age 24, JJ’s research on César Franck and his musical influences was published in the Vox Humana organ journal. In September 2020 he was a guest on Jennifer Pascual’s Sounds from the Spires SiriusXM Radio program in which his organ recordings were broadcast. He has played liturgies and concerts for international television audiences on the Salt + Life and EWTN networks. JJ is a member of the American Guild of Organists as well as the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM), from which he has received several scholarships. He has served on NPM’s national publications committee. He is a member of The Diapason’s 20 Under 30 Class of 2021. JJ’s career goal is to teach sacred music to the next generation.

Théodore Puget, his sons Eugène and Jean-Baptiste, and his grandson Maurice, cultivated a dynasty of organ manufacturing that is worthy of recognition, though their work is often overshadowed by other organ builders in France. This essay argues that the organs of Théodore Puget and his sons demonstrate innovation and artistry in French symphonic organ building.

The Cavaillé-Coll problem

Since the Romantic era, the history of French symphonic organbuilding has been dominated by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.1 A prodigy of both acoustics and mechanics, Cavaillé-Coll constructed instruments to meet the artistic and cultural demands of cosmopolitan Paris. His organs, often designed to boom down cavernous naves of Gothic cathedrals, inspired compositions by renowned musicians including César Franck, Alexandre Guilmant, Louis Vierne, and Marcel Dupré. Cavaillé-Coll’s influence is so great that one may be tempted to believe that he alone was responsible for an entire era of organbuilding. His immense fame overshadows the reputations of other builders.2 The Puget dynasty also consisted of formidable organbuilders of note during this time and deserves recognition.3

Théodore Puget (1801–1883), his sons Eugène (1838–1892) and Jean-Baptiste (1849–1940), and his grandson Maurice (1884–1960), hereafter referred to by their first names, cultivated a family lineage of French symphonic organbuilding in a different style than that of Cavaillé-Coll.4 Set upon the backdrop of Toulouse in southern France, Théodore created instruments fit to serve local parishes throughout the Occitania region and beyond. These organs reflected local cultural aesthetics with technological materials of the region. Théodore’s sons expanded his vision and built lasting organs that won the respect of the aforementioned organists and have left musicians in the modern age asking themselves whose instruments they prefer: those of Cavaillé-Coll or the Puget family.5

The organs of Théodore Puget and his sons demonstrate innovation and artistry in French symphonic organbuilding. This research begins with a study of Théodore Puget’s early life and career and includes a description of cultural trends concerning the pipe organ in nineteenth-century France. Two of Théodore’s sons’ most notable instruments are examined: Notre-Dame du Taur, constructed by Eugène, and the Cathedral of Sainte-Cécile in Albi, built by Jean-Baptiste. Of the hundreds of organs the Puget family produced between 1838 and 1960, these two contrasting instruments are excellent representations of different periods in the Puget history.6 Though Théodore and his grandson Maurice are deserving of praise for their work as organbuilders, the instruments of Eugène and Jean-Baptiste demonstrate the pinnacle of the family’s production and influence.

The formative era, 1838–1877: Théodore Puget

The birth of a dynasty

The lineage of the Puget family can be traced back to the seventeenth century, and many of Théodore Puget’s ancestors were woodworkers.7 Most sources claim that Théodore was born in 1799, but genealogical research conducted by Jean-Marc Cicchero in 2016 proves that he was born on November 15, 1801, in the village of Montréal d’Aude. His parents, François Puget and Catherine Boyer, were carpenters.8 Growing up around the family’s workshop, Théodore learned the art of woodworking. His family also made sure that he studied organ, though they were not musicians themselves.9 Théodore lived in the village of Fanjeaux between the years 1822 and 1837, where he married Louise-Anne Mossel in 1824.10 During his early career, Théodore was both an organist and a clockmaker.11

Théodore’s training in organbuilding is a mystery. Many scholars argue that he was self-taught, combining his skills of woodworking and musicianship. Cicchero suggests that while Théodore could have determined some aspects of organbuilding on his own, he likely apprenticed with a builder. He could have studied with Prosper Moitessier in Carcassonne between the years 1826 and 1830. He also may have apprenticed with Sieur Benoit Cabias, a local builder of musical instruments in Carcassonne at that time. There is no evidence concerning Théodore’s work with either of these builders, though it is probable that he met both of them while living in Fanjeaux.13

The greatest influence on Théodore’s organbuilding was Dom Bédos de Celles. Bédos was a monk and organbuilder in the eighteenth century whose most famous instrument is the gallery organ of l’Église Saint-Croix in Bordeaux.14 His treatise, L’Art Du Facteur d’Orgues, is one of the most important documents on organbuilding ever written. This collection of detailed descriptions and precise illustrations is a guide on how to construct a pipe organ, including information about layout, voicing, winding, and many other pertinent elements. Bédos’s writing concerns organs of the French Classical era, though many of his methods were continued or expanded upon in the building of French symphonic organs.15

To Théodore, the contents of Bédos’s treatise were sacred. He kept a copy of L’Art Du Facteur d’Orgues in the shop and referred to it frequently. Even Théodore’s sons and grandson Maurice, who were far more progressive in their organbuilding than the Puget patriarch, consulted the Bédos text when building their instruments.16 For example, when Maurice designed the organ for l’Église Saint-Michel in Villemur, he created a five-rank mixture according to Bédos’s instructions. This instrument, built in 1960, was the final organ of the Puget dynasty, and Maurice never witnessed its completion.17 Though the Pugets deviated from some of the instructions due to the advances of industrial age technology and trends of symphonic organbuilding, Bédos’s treatise was a grounding foundation through the complete duration of the dynasty.

Théodore and his wife settled in Toulouse between 1839 and 1840, during which time he assembled milacor organs.18 The milacor was a patented device to help amateur organists accompany Gregorian chant.19 This machine was connected to a simplified keyboard of a small pipe organ typically containing five or fewer stops that was built in a factory setting, shipped out in a kit, and assembled by a local distributor.20 Théodore was a Toulousain subcontractor for the organbuilder Abbé François Larroque, whose organs were commonly paired with milacor systems.21 During these years, Théodore’s older children assisted in these projects and took music lessons.22

The first Puget organ, installed in the gallery of l’Église Saint-Exupère de Toulouse, was too tall for the milacor workshop. Larroque and Théodore asked the parish to keep this organ, which was over twenty feet in height, in the loft at the church’s expense as a model for clergy and other potential customers.23 The church council agreed to purchase the instrument on the condition that Théodore would play every Mass and feast day for free for six years or have one of his sons substitute on his behalf.24 Completed in 1842, the new instrument was double the size of a standard milacor. Théodore served as an organist at this church, fulfilling the council’s demands.25 This landmark project demonstrated Théodore’s ability to produce gallery organs of a larger size than milacors.26

There are multiple documented claims to the year Les Facteurs d’Orgue Théodore Puget, Père et Fils was founded. Some scholars assert that the firm was established in 1834, the earliest date put forth by some Puget sons.27 According to one source, the company began as late as 1843.28 The first documentation about the age of the Pugets’ business comes from a newspaper article written in 1864, which indicates that the organbuilding firm was founded in 1838.29 The year 1838 was also when Théodore entered into cooperation with Larroque to build milacor organs. During this year Théodore prepared to relocate his family to Toulouse and sent his wife to Lagrasse to be with relatives as she gave birth to Eugène.30 Théodore parted ways with Larroque at some point between 1843 and 1845.31

The Pugets’ workshop was always in Toulouse, though the address changed several times. In some instances, the factory remained in one place while the street name or block number was altered; other times, the Pugets had moved. Directories indicate that by 1855 the Pugets were located three blocks north of Saint-Sernin Basilica on Rue de Trois Piliers. During many of the family’s most prosperous years, 1863–1895, the Puget shop was headquartered in the Jeanne d’Arc neighborhood of Toulouse at various addresses.32 In 1899 the factory was moved south to what is now Boulevard Michelet. The shop relocated again in 1925 to Rue de Négreneys where it remained until Maurice’s death in 1960. None of these sites retains any remnants from the Puget workshops.33

Théodore had nine children, some of whom worked in the family business.34 His firstborn child, François, was Théodore’s logical successor since he demonstrated much promise as an organbuilder.35 Tragically, François passed away from cholera in 1854.36 Some of Théodore’s other children founded their own organ factories, which, in the case of the second-eldest son, Baptiste, resulted in bitter estrangement from the family.37 The latter is not to be confused with Théodore’s youngest son, Jean-Baptiste. It should be noted that there are two Pugets with the first name “Maurice:” one was Théodore’s third-eldest son born in 1835, and the other, born in 1884, was the son of Jean-Baptiste who took over the company in 1922.38 Théodore’s daughters, Marie and Josephine, were unsung workers in the Puget family who traveled to the worksites, overseeing projects’ expenses.39

Confusingly, Théodore and his sons signed correspondence as “Théodore Puget.” Authors sometimes refer to Eugène, Jean-Baptiste, and Maurice all as “Théodore.” Jean-Baptiste went by several names throughout his life because, when François passed away, Théodore began addressing his youngest son as François. Later, when Baptiste set up his rival company in 1863, Jean-Baptiste was called Théodore by his family. In the times when Jean-Baptiste did not sign his name as “Théodore,” he wrote the middle initials of his name: “F. E. Puget.”41 In my writing, I distinguish the sons by their first names where they might otherwise be referred to as “Théodore.”42

The formative era, 1838–1877: Théodore Puget

Organ construction trends of the mid-nineteenth century redefined what soundscapes were possible, converting organs constructed to mirror stile-antico vocal polyphony and Baroque dances into instruments that could more closely resemble that of a symphony orchestra. Church organs were designed to enhance liturgy, but now they were also featured in concerts of secular Romantic works. During France’s industrial revolution, builders like Cavaillé-Coll and the Puget family converted organs of the French Classical style, such as the instruments of Robert Clicquot, into symphonic organs by transforming existing pipework and adding modern innovations, including expression shoes, pneumatic systems, and several new stops.43 According to Vincent d’Indy, when César Franck played the newly constructed Cavaillé-Coll organ at l’Église Sainte-Clotilde in 1846, he was thrilled and compared his new organ to an orchestra.44 These culturally turbulent years in France created a new kind of market for organbuilding on which the Puget family capitalized.

Compared to his descendants, Théodore’s organbuilding is difficult to define because of how drastically his artistry evolved over time. During his first several decades of building, he constructed anachronistic instruments. For example, in 1842 he built a twenty-rank organ for l’Église Saint-Cere, the specification of which was particularly French Classical.45 This instrument was a prime representation of Théodore following the instructions in Bedos’s treatise. By contrast, one year prior, Cavaillé-Coll had revolutionized the Parisian music scene by constructing a French Romantic organ at l’Église Saint-Denis.46

Some clients favored Théodore’s anachronistic organs built in the French Classical style. His reputation in southern France was well established over the course of the nineteenth century. Many clients chose Puget because they did not want to pay Cavaillé-Coll’s steep fees for a new organ. Customers also recognized Théodore’s use of local, quality materials, such as oak and tin, which were durable. Following Bédos’s method, he pursued consistency and reliability rather than artistic innovation.47

By 1865 Théodore’s sons persuaded their father to build organs in a Romantic style.48 Eugène became the chief voicer for his father, beginning with the organ at l’Église Saint-Mathieu in Perpignan. Théodore constructed fewer mixtures and mutations, choosing instead reed choruses and ranks such as the Kéraulophone, Unda Maris, and Salicional. The 1875 organ of Saint-Vincent de Carcassonne, hereafter referred to as Saint Vincent, represents a transitional period in the Puget family’s history: the departure from organs built in the French Classical style to the creation of symphonic instruments. This organ is also one of Théodore’s last major projects before his retirement in 1877, so it is indicative of change in the family business leading to Eugène’s takeover. Théodore’s new style of organbuilding made him appealing to new clientele in the turbulent nineteenth-century market, which was rife with competition from Cavaillé-Coll and other organbuilders.

The same year the Saint Vincent organ was inaugurated, the Pugets began drawing up a proposal for a new organ in l’Église Notre-Dame du Taur in central Toulouse. Théodore did not oversee this project as he had transitioned the company into the hands of his ambitious son, Eugène. The organ of Notre-Dame du Taur would become a unique, defining opus for the Puget family that gave them an edge against their tenacious competition. Though credit for the Notre-Dame du Taur organ belongs to Eugène, Théodore’s organ at Saint Vincent set the precedent.50 Eugène’s groundbreaking innovations at Notre-Dame du Taur were rooted in the organbuilding techniques he had learned while working for his father. The organ at Notre-Dame du Taur would catapult the Pugets’ prestige beyond the regional level.

The golden era, 1877–1892: Eugène Puget

Eugène, the sixth-eldest of his siblings, demonstrated keen intelligence at a young age.51 He studied at the Conservatoire de Toulouse and excelled in his study of music.52 Following the unexpected passing of his eldest brother François, Eugène took up a position in the family business.53 His approach to organbuilding was influenced by his fascination with Romantic ideals of the nineteenth century, which is evidenced in his nicked pipework, Bertounèchian reeds, and symphonic foundations.54 Though he did incorporate some new technology into his organs, Eugène was a traditionalist when designing instruments.55

Under Eugène’s leadership, which officially began in 1877 following Théodore’s retirement, the Puget company expanded professional relations beyond Occitania. Eugène established relationships with famous Parisian organists of the time such as Charles-Marie Widor, Alexandre Guilmant, and Eugène Gigout, all of whom dedicated at least one Puget instrument each.57 In letters to Eugène Puget, Widor addressed him as mon cher ami (my dear friend).58 Camille Saint-Saëns sent a message to Eugène in 1891 that read: “I don’t think I will have time to visit your organ, but I know what you are worth and I will give you with great pleasure all the attestations you desire.”59 When Eugène passed away unexpectedly, Guilmant wrote a letter of condolence to the family workshop, describing him as an “artiste.”60 These professional connections with Parisian organists indicate the increased status of the Puget family. The organ most emblematic of Eugène’s craft is the gallery organ of l’Église Notre-Dame du Taur, hereafter referred to as the Taur.

Notre-Dame du Taur

The Taur is a historic church, the origin of which can be traced back to the martyrdom of Saint Sernin, the first bishop of Toulouse.61 The Romans had settled in Toulouse by the third century as part of their occupation of Gaul. The local authorities seized Saint Sernin, tied him to the back of a bull in the capitol plaza, and sent the animal running through the city streets, dragging the bishop. An oratory was built on the site where Saint Sernin was detached from the bull and pronounced dead. The church was called “l’Église Saint-Sernin du Taur” until the nineteenth century when a local statue of a black Madonna was moved there. L’Église Notre-Dame du Taur (Church of Our Lady of the Bull), became an official historic monument in 1840.62

The first record of an organ in the Taur comes from the time of the French Revolution. The instrument at the time, a twenty-three-stop organ in the French Classical style, was described in a review of Toulousain organs by Jean-Baptiste Micot as useless in both its sonority and appearance.63 There were restorations of the instrument carried out between 1840 and 1860, all of which failed.64 When the church underwent renovations during the years 1870 to 1876, the clergy made plans to rebuild the organ and declared that this instrument needed to endure for at least longer than forty years. On November 24, 1875, the priests approved the Pugets’ proposal, which cost 32,000 francs.65

One evident aspect of the organ was its unique tripartite façade. The Taur borders buildings on either side of the nave, so little natural light comes into the sanctuary save for the rose windows on the gallery wall and some smaller windows over and behind the altar. During the restoration, Henri Bach, the city architect of Toulouse, requested the Pugets to design an organ that would not obstruct these windows.66 Bach approved these drawings after he made some corrections to them.67 When the preeminent architect of France at the time, Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, visited the Taur during the renovation and learned of the plans for the organ’s layout, he skeptically commented that the Pugets would be great artists if they yielded a successful result.68

To frame the windows, three cases were built in the gallery. The two outer cases display pipes on two of their sides, and the middle case’s pipes are exposed on three sides. The tripartite façade contains 159 pipes in total, only two of which do not speak. If the whole façade were lined up horizontally, it would be sixty-nine feet wide.70 In order to make the instrument playable, Eugène constructed five Barker machines to lighten the weight of the long trackers, the most extensive of which is forty-five feet.71 These trackers activate over 800 pallets.72

Eugène chose local materials for the construction of his instruments. The cases and console at the Taur were made of oak, which was desirable for its durability.73 Puget scholar Henri de Rohan states that burnished oak was the dominant wood used in the Puget’s workshop.74 The bellows were made of sheepskin leather. Eugène prioritized these refined local materials in his instruments, which are integral to the organ’s authentic southern French character. All of the Taur organ’s original oak and sheepskin have endured.75

The organ’s specification is impressive. With forty stops spanning over three manuals, each containing fifty-six notes, and a thirty-note pedalboard, this organ was the largest in Toulouse at the time of its construction.76 The specification for the instrument boasted ten foundation stops speaking at 8′ pitch in the manuals. As a result, the foundations supported the upperwork easily. When drawn together, their combined sound was potent but not oppressive. Jean-Claude Guidarini, who was titular organist at the Taur from 1990 until 2020, described the jeux de fonds as “somber” and “calm.”77

The voicing of the foundations at the Taur was mellow with a dark, rounded tone. This color was a contrast to foundations of other builders of the time, who constructed foundation stops that sounded brighter. Why the Pugets desired this kind of sound for their foundations is unclear, but the resulting unique sonority is an example of artistry from the organbuilder. In a demonstration of this organ I attended by Guidarini, he indicated that the Flûte harmonique was voiced to be a solo stop. He dissuaded visiting organists from registering this rank with the other 8′ stops, the rest of which were powerful enough on their own.

Though the foundations were mild, the reeds were vigorously round and powerful. Toward the end of Théodore’s life and the start of Eugène’s tenure, the company used brass shallots.78 These reeds were voiced brighter than typical French symphonic organs by other builders. When paired with mixtures, mutations, and the foundations, the brashness of the reeds balances out and results in a broad sonority.79 One crucial distinction concerning the reeds is the role of the Hautbois in the ensemble. On Puget instruments, this stop is labeled “Hautbois-Basson” rather than “Basson-Hautbois” and is activated on the reed ventil.80

In addition to the foundations and reeds, there are other color stops on this instrument. The Voix humaine on the Récit is soft, especially compared to the stronger stops on the organ. Guidarini described all of the flutes, open and stopped, as “lovely and clear.”81 On the Positif, there is a Clarinette and a Cornet, which was originally on one stopknob. In 1939 Maurice Puget separated out the Cornet; removed the 8′ Kéraulophone, 4′ Dulciana, 2′ Doublette, and Unda Maris; and added a 1′ Piccolo.82

Another major element of Eugène’s instrument was its two enclosed divisions operated by two expression shoes. In nineteenth-century France, the vast majority of symphonic organs had only a single enclosed division, which was almost always the Récit. By having both an enclosed Récit and Positif, half of the Taur organ was under expression. With the boxes shut, the pipes were barely audible. The organist could achieve a smooth crescendo from a mystic pianissimo to a robust fortissimo by manipulating the boxes as well as the seventeen combination pedals. One division could accompany the other with ease, and the Grand Orgue could serve as a tutti contrast.83

Because he was an organist, Eugène understood how to construct a console to suit performers’ accessibility needs. Stops were arranged in the French tiered-console style and were comfortably within an arm’s length from the bench. The music rack was placed above the Récit so the view of the upper manual was unobstructed. The expression shoes were easy to manipulate and did not require much leg strength. The natural ergonomic design of the Taur organ console was more comfortable than the consoles of Cavaillé-Coll, who designed with the perspective of a technician rather than an organist.84 Though the plaque on the console reads 1878, which is the date of the completion, the organ was not inaugurated until two years later.85

Théodore promoted the instrument’s dedication ceremony with flyers that were sent almost exclusively to local parish priests and affluent southern French residents who were likely to be future customers of the Pugets.86 Eugène found his father’s grassroots, old-school method of advertising to be unacceptable for the family’s ambitious new organ. To garner attention at the national level, Eugène invited lionized organist Alexandre Guilmant to dedicate the Taur organ. Guilmant’s performance fee of 1,000 francs for the inaugural concert was considered astronomically expensive at the time.87 His performance spanned two evening sessions on the nights of June 17 and 18, 1880.88 The program included works by Handel and Mendelssohn, along with transcriptions of selections by Beethoven and several compositions by Guilmant himself, concluding with an improvisation on a popular theme.89

The reception committee included almost all the organists of Toulouse, the director of the local conservatory, and Théodore Sauer of the Daublaine et Callinet organ company.90 The committee’s report lauded the new instrument’s voicing, round and powerful foundation stops, and orchestral qualities.91 The organ’s expressive Positif division impressed several listeners who were accustomed to instruments with only one enclosed division. The vast dynamic range of the Taur organ astounded musicians, audiences, and congregations alike. The Reverend Eugène Massip, who was the rector of the Taur at the time, described how the two expressive divisions would yield magnificent results for worship. Jacques Lacaze, the Taur’s titular organist at the time, wrote glowing reviews about the new Puget instrument.92

The Taur church as a whole is a prime representation of Toulousain art and culture. Its domineering, fortress-like façade overlooking the Rue du Taur is constructed of red brick, a common local material.94 The dark interior of the church is lined with paintings of Saint Sernin’s martyrdom by Toulousain artist Bernard Bénézet.95 The black Madonna and the sculpture of the bull in the sanctuary are staple fixtures with local significance. The whole church is a quintessential example of southern French neo-Gothic ideals. The Puget organ tastefully complements the church’s aesthetic.

Of all the instruments the Pugets built, the Taur organ is the most influential opus of the dynasty. This instrument inspired several organs of Eugène’s tenure, including l’Église Saint-Fulcran in Lodève, l’Église Saint-Amans in Rodez, l’Église Notre-Dame des Tables in Montpellier, l’Église Saint-Aphrodise in Béziers, and l’Église Notre-Dame de la Dalbade in Toulouse.96 The Taur organ was an archetype but not a reproduced, copied project. For example, the Pugets did not have standardized models for organs in the manner that other companies did with factory catalogs published in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, the artistic and technical decisions Eugène made for his other projects were based on the success of the Taur organ. Eugène’s traditionalist tendencies are evident in his consistent organbuilding choices, such as the use of tin rather than zinc, mechanical action with Barker levers, and tiered three-manual consoles. He voiced all of his instruments in a similar manner to that of the Taur organ.97

Eugène elevated the perception of the Puget family during the Taur project. After Guilmant’s inaugural performance in 1880, the Pugets cultivated a national reputation. In the eighty years that followed, highly respected Parisian organists of multiple generations—from Guilmant to Xavier Darasse—dedicated Puget organs.98 The Taur organ was widely considered the finest, most innovative organ in southern France at the time of its inauguration, surpassing Cavaillé-Coll’s reputation there.99 As a result, organists traveled across France to play and listen to Puget instruments.

Today many organists and scholars consider the Taur organ to be the greatest instrument the Puget dynasty ever built. Save for its electric blower and Maurice’s minor changes to the specification, the organ remains entirely in its original state from 1880. The 143-year-old sheepskin has always been treated naturally without chemicals.100 On September 25, 1987, the organ was classified by the French government as a historic monument. In July 2022 the first ever restoration of the organ was announced as part of a renovation of the whole church. The project is scheduled to finish in autumn of 2025.101

The Taur has maintained a prominent role in both the artistic and liturgical life of Toulouse. To showcase the organ and celebrate the seasons of the liturgical year, Guidarini initiated a concert series called “Moments Musicaux au Taur.”102 He would invite local organists as well as students at the Toulouse Conservatory to give recitals on the Puget instrument for the general public, with programs centered on works for appropriate liturgical seasons. I performed at the Taur in December 2019, the final year Guidarini organized the concert series before his passing. My experience playing the Taur organ has, in major part, inspired 
this research.

To be continued in the July 2024 issue.


1. Jesse Eschbach, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll: A Compendium of Known Stoplists, second edition, volume 1 (Kraichtal: Verlag Peter Ewers, 2013); John R. Shannon, Understanding the Pipe Organ (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2009); Philippe Cicchero, Les Orgues Des Cathédrales de France (Gentilly: EMA, 1999). Cavaillé-Coll built over 500 instruments across Europe and beyond. He is considered a master of both technical prowess and artistry. Some innovations for which he was known include the implementation of the Barker lever, the development of the harmonic flute stop, and the construction of ventil systems. These engineering feats gave his organs qualities more similar to a symphony orchestra than a choir and, as a result, influenced the composition of new organ repertoire.

2. Arjen van Kralingen, “Recensie Clair-Obscur: Henri Ormières Bespeelt Het Puget-Orgel in de St. Vincent Te Carcassonne,” Orgel Nieuws (blog), March 20, 2021, https://www.orgelnieuws.nl/recensie-clair-obscur-henri-Ormières-bespeelt-het-puget-orgel-in-de-st-vincent-te-carcassonne/. Puget scholars Jean-Claude Guidarini and Henri de Rohan make similar remarks in their writings when discussing Cavaillé-Coll from the perspective of the Puget family.

3. Henri de Rohan, Th. Puget: Une Famille de Facteurs d’orgues à Toulouse, 1834–1960 (Toulouse: Bibliothèque Municipale de Toulouse, 1987), pages 11, 17, 19, https://orguesaintantonin.fr/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Puget-Rohan-catalogue-expow.pdf.

4. Jean-Marc Cicchero, “Montreal d’Aude, Une Autre Colline Inspirée?,” July 13, 2016, accessed January 28, 2022, https://orguesaintantonin.fr/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/ob_760b48_theodore-puget.pdf; Maggie Hamilton, “Poetic License,” Choir & Organ (June 2009), page 62. Eugène’s full name was Eugène Germain Lagrasse Puget. Jean-Baptiste’s full name was François-Ernest Jean Baptiste Puget.

5. Jean-Claude Guidarini, “Cavaillé, Puget . . . un Débat Cool,” Orgues Nouvelles, 6ème année, no. 23 (December 2013), https://orguesaintantonin.fr/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/puget-cavaille-coll.odt.

6. Jean-Claude Guidarini, “Compositions Du Quelques Instruments Construits Ou Reconstruits Par La Manufacture Puget de Toulouse,” n.d., http://www.orgues-nouvelles.fr/ON23/textes/CompoOrgPuget.pdf?fbclid=IwAR11p00_bj-jvug9IbbgxWZyuVSrCQnsne0fup0Nmv15E8pneGhXEuUc3ec.

7. Jean-Marc Cicchero.

8. Philippe Bachet, ed., Orgues En Midi-Pyrénées (Toulouse et Région): 15ème Congrès de La FFAO, July 13–18, 1998 (Lyon: Fédération Francophone des Amis de l’Orgue, 1998), page 28; Jean-Marc Cicchero, Rohan, page 35. François Puget, a dressmaker, was born in 1771 and died in 1831. The dates of Catherine Boyer are unknown. Together, they had six children, of which Théodore was the only surviving male; one of his siblings died in infancy. Only one of Théodore’s four sisters, Hélène Geneviève, married.

9. Jean-Marc Cicchero.

10. Bachet, page 28; Jean-Marc Cicchero; Rohan, page 35. Louise Anne Mossel was born in 1802, but her death date is unknown.

11. Jean-Marc Cicchero.

12. Reprinted from Jean-Claude Guidarini, “Les Puget, Une Dynastie de Facteurs d’orgues,” May 13, 2019, accessed April 12, 2022, http://www.orgue-puget-lavelanet.com/2019/05/les-puget-une-dynastie-de-facteurs-d-orgues.html.

13. Jean-Marc Cicchero. Cicchero argues that one cannot learn organbuilding from books alone because there are several nuances and details as to how complex mechanisms in the instruments work. Also, there is no evident relation between Benoit Cabias and Abbé Cabias, who was another organbuilder of the time.

14. I use the words “gallery” and “tribune” interchangeably in the research. These terms are synonymous.

15. Dom François Bédos de Celles, L’Art Du Facteur d’Orgues, Facsimile edition (New York: Bärenreiter, 1963).

16. Rohan, page 17. Eugène’s and Jean-Baptiste’s instruments contained stops that were scaled, voiced, and labeled according to the directions in L’Art Du Facteur d’Orgues. This is especially true of the pipes speaking at 8′ and 4′ pitches, such as the Montre.

17. Mathieu Delmas, Zoom call. Interview by John J. Mitchell, July 1, 2022; L’Association Orgues Meridionales, “Villemur,” Orgues Meridionales, http://orgues.meridionales.free.fr/Villemur.pdf. During the 1920s and 1930s, there was a newfound appreciation for organs of the seventeenth century.

18. Mathieu Delmas; “Quand Théodore Puget Etait Representant Du ‘Milacor’ . . .,” May 28, 2021, accessed January 29, 2022, https://orguesaintantonin.fr/quand-theodore-puget-etait-representant-du-milacor.

19. Kurt Lueders, emailed comments made to the author, April 24, 2023. In French, the word “milacor” is a play on words, combining “mille,” which means “one thousand,” and “accord,” meaning chords. According to Kurt Lueders: “This brand name has the same pronunciation as ‘a thousand chords,’ cleverly evoking the use to which the device is put. An overtone of the French word ‘cor’ [which means ‘horn’] may also be present, but the allusion would be much less obvious to a French speaker.”

20. “L’abbé Dessenne, L’abbé Cabias et l’orgue simplifié, l’abbé Larroque et Le ‘Milacor,’” Les Orgues de l’Abbé Clergeau, accessed January 29, 2022, https://rmcks.pagesperso-orange.fr/orgue/orgues_clergeau/index_abbe_Larroque.htm; “Quand Théodore Puget Etait Représentant Du ‘Milacor’ . . . .”

21. “L’abbé Dessenne, L’abbé Cabias et l’orgue Simplifié, l’abbé Larroque et Le ‘Milacor.’”

22. Jean-Marc Cicchero.

23. Michel Évrard, “Toulouse Bonnefoy Un Orgue Puget aux Prénoms Trompeurs dans Deux Églises Successives,” Les Amis des Archives de la Haute-Garonne, Petite Bibliothèque, no. 162 (October 31, 2008): page 4, https://orguesaintantonin.fr/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/pb_162_txt.pdf.

24. Delmas; Évrard, page 4.

25. Évrard, page 4.

26. Jean-Claude Guidarini, “Grand Orgue de l’Église Saint-Exupère,” Toulouse Les Orgues, accessed April 26, 2022, https://toulouse-les-orgues.org/instrument/grand-orgue-de-leglise-saint-exupere/; “St Exupère Church–Toulouse (Haute-Garonne),” Orgues en France et dans Le Monde, accessed April 26, 2022, http://orguesfrance.com/ToulouseStExupere.html. Théodore’s organ at Saint-Exupère was fourteen stops with two manuals, one under expression, including stops found in Romantic-era symphonic organbuilding such as Clarinette and Hautbois-Basson. Eugène expanded this organ’s pipework and installed a new console in 1885. Jean-Baptiste and his son Maurice made further modifications to the instrument.

27. Évrard, page 9; Rohan, page 35.

28. Maison Théodore Puget, Père et Fils, “Orgues Construites Ou Restaurées Par La Maison,” October 1911, reprinted from Pastór de Lasala, “A Puget Organ in Sydney: A Fortunate Historical Accident,” OHTA News 44, number 1 (October 4, 2018), page 18.

29. Évrard, page 4; S. L. [sic], “On Nous Ecrit de Pibrac,” Journal de Toulouse: Politique et Littéraire, février 1864, 60ème année, no. 45 édition, BNF, https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k53716127/f1.item.r=puget.zoom. An advertisement for the Puget family written in 1869 also lists 1838 as the year of founding.

30. Jean-Marc Cicchero.

31. Delmas; Hamilton, page 55.

32. Évrard, pages 6, 9. On September 10, 1869, a fire broke out at the Puget factory. The structure survived, but most of what was inside the shop was lost to the flames.

33. Bachet, page 15. Bachet’s and Évrard’s writings describe the precise addresses of the Puget factory in more detail.

34. Bachet, page 28. Théodore’s sons Olivier and Jean Ernest Gustave died in infancy.

35. Rohan, page 36.

36. Bachet, page 16.

37. Delmas; Rohan, page 36; “Orgue Puget de l’Église de Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val,” Fondation du Patrimoine, January 19, 2022, https://orguesaintantonin.fr/lorgue-puget. The organ in Saint Antonin-Noble-Val, north of Toulouse, is an example of Baptiste’s work. His son emigrated to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the twentieth century, and two of his descendants, Elsa and Alberto Puget, are alive today.

38. Bachet, pages 16–18.

39. Évrard, page 4.

40. John J. Mitchell, compiled from Bachet, pages 15–19; Delmas; Évrard, pages 3–4; Jean-Marc Cicchero; Rohan pages 35–37; Jean-Gabriel Pélaprat, “Les Orgues de la Famille PUGET” Facebook group, May 20, 2023.

41. Évrard, page 3.

42. Successors of instrument builders commonly continue signing work using their father’s or mother’s name after the head of the family has died.

43. Douglas Earl Bush and Richard Kassel, “Clicquot,” in The Organ, an Encyclopedia (Oxfordshire: Routledge, 2006).

44. “César Franck–Classical Music Composers,” Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, accessed March 18, 2023, https://www.pcmsconcerts.org/composer/cesar-franck/; Léon Vallas, César Franck, trans. Hubert J. Foss (New York: Oxford University Press, 1951), page 102; John J. Mitchell, “German Influences on Franck’s Chorale in E Major,” March 31, 2019, accessed March 18, 2023, https://www.voxhumanajournal.com/mitchell2019.html.

45. Bachet, pages 15–16.

46. Rohan, page 18.

47. Rohan, pages 17–18.

48. Delmas; Rohan, page 18.

49. Photo credit: Tylwyth Eldar (cropped). Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en.

50. Toulouse Les Orgues, “Grand Orgue de l’Église Saint-Barthélémy,” accessed March 16, 2023. https://toulouse-les-orgues.org/instrument/grand-orgue-de-leglise-saint-barthelemy/.

51. Jean-Claude Guidarini, Les Puget, Une Dynastie de Facteurs d’orgues à Toulouse (Toulouse: Médiathèque José Cabanis, 2008), https://orguesaintantonin.fr/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/ob_79c1c0_les-puget-catalogue-expo-2008.pdf.

52. Rohan, page 37.

53. Guidarini, Les Puget, Une Dynastie de Facteurs d’orgues à Toulouse, page 3. When François died, Eugène joined the factory to make up for the new lack of manpower. Eugène was titular organist at la Basilique Notre-Dame de la Daubade in Toulouse for most of his career until his passing.

54. Rohan, page 38. Abel Bertounèche was a reed voicer for Cavaillé-Coll who influenced the Pugets and other organbuilders of the time.

55. Rohan, page 36.

56. Reprinted from Rohan, page 39.

57. Guidarini, Les Puget, Une Dynastie de Facteurs d’Orgues à Toulouse, page 3; “Orgue de Rodez, Église Saint-Amans,” Orgue Aquitaine, accessed February 13, 2023, https://orgue-aquitaine.fr/; The Puget family members were almost all organists, which may explain why their instruments were so ergonomically suited to musicians.

58. Bachet, page 16.

59. Rohan, page 25.

60. Rohan, page 25.

61. Saint Sernin is also referred to as Saint Saturnin in certain sources.

62. “Notre-Dame Du Taur,” Basilique Saint-Sernin de Toulouse (Site officiel), accessed March 7, 2023, https://www.basilique-saint-sernin.fr/note-dame-du-taur/; Robert Poliquin, “Orgues En France,” Organs Around the World, 1997–2023, http://www.musiqueorguequebec.ca/orgues/france/toulousendt.html.

63. Guidarini, “Le Grande Orgue;” Jean-Baptiste Micot, “Rapport Sur Les Orgues de Toulouse,” 1796, Archives of the Musée de Lavaur, shared by l’Association Jean-Claude Guidarini.

64. Dominique Amann, Le Facteur d’Orgues Frédéric Jungk (France: La Maurinière éditions, 2013), www.la-mauriniere.com, pages 53–54; Guidarini, “Le Grande Orgue.” One restoration was carried out by organbuilder Frédéric Jungk between the years 1850 and 1857. This organ was expanded to thirty-seven stops over three manuals. There were nine couplers and tirasses with a swell box (boîte expressive), pneumatic machine, Barker lever, and a state-of-the-art winding mechanism. The organ was inaugurated in 1860 and after only fifteen years was damaged during the church’s restoration in 1875.

65. Guidarini, Les Puget, Une Dynastie de Facteurs d’Orgues à Toulouse, page 6. A complete specification of this Puget organ is found on page 17, Mitchell, reprinted from Guidarini, “Compositions Du Quelques Instruments Construits Ou Reconstruits Par La Manufacture Puget de Toulouse.”

66. L’Association Orgues Meridionales, “Notre-Dame-du-Taur,” Orgues Meridionales, http://orgues.meridionales.free.fr/SaintExupere.pdf. The church’s reception committee claims that it was the wish of the clergy to leave the gallery windows unobstructed. Henri Bach designed the windows and was delegated the responsibility of overseeing the organ façade’s layout.

67. Jean Nayrolles, “Un architecte toulousain du XIXme siècle: Henri Bach (1815–1899),” Histoire de l’art 1, no. 1 (1988): page 45, https://doi.org/10.3406/hista.1988.1628; Radio Présence, “Jean-Claude Guidarini: ‘Immersion à Notre-Dame Du Taur’” (Toulouse, 2012), 18:27, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dy69JOvYnsE.

68. Rohan, page 54.

69. Archives of the Musée de Lavaur, shared by l’Association Jean-Claude Guidarini.

70. Sixty-nine feet is about twenty-one meters.

71. Forty-five feet is about fourteen meters.

72. Guidarini, “Le Grande Orgue.”

73. Delmas.

74. Rohan, page 54.

75. Hamilton, page 58.

76. Rohan, page 56.

77. Hamilton, page 58. It is unclear if Guidarini made these comments in English or if they were translated from French to English by Hamilton.

78. Bachet, page 24; Delmas; Hamilton, page 59.

79. Guidarini “Le Grande Orgue.”

80. This detail regarding the oboe is critical for performers bringing French symphonic repertoire to Puget instruments. On a Cavaillé-Coll organ, for example, not only is the label different, but also, the Hautbois-Basson is not on the reed ventil. When taking repertoire to a Puget written for a Cavaillé-Coll, the performer and their console assistant(s) must strategize in advance how to bring on this stop.

81. Guidarini, “Le Grande Orgue;” Hamilton, page 58.

82. Guidarini, “Le Grande Orgue.”

83. Guidarini, “Le Grande Orgue.”

84. Radio Présence, “Jean-Claude Guidarini: ‘Immersion à Notre-Dame Du Taur’” (Toulouse, 2012), 15:38, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dy69JOvYnsE.

85. Guidarini, “Grand Orgue de l’Église Notre-Dame du Taur,” Toulouse Les Orgues, accessed March 9, 2023, https://toulouse-les-orgues.org/instrument/grand-orgue-de-leglise-notre-dame-du-taur/; Rohan, page 23.

86. Rohan, page 15.

87. Guidarini, Les Puget, Une Dynastie de Facteurs d’Orgues à Toulouse, page 6. The fee for the performance was over three percent of the cost of the whole organ. For perspective, if a new organ in 2023 costs $1,000,000, Guilmant’s fee for a performance would be about $32,000.

88. “La Séance d’orgue,” Le Journal de Toulouse: Politique et Littéraire, June 1880, Année 76, No. 16 édition, Gallica.

89. Alexandre Guilmant, “Deuxième Séance d’Inauguration Solennelle du Grand Orgue de Notre-Dame du Taur” (Typo.-Lith C. Berdoulat, June 1880), in “Le Grande Orgue,” Guidarini, https://image.jimcdn.com/app/cms/image/transf/dimension=1024x10000:format=jpg/path/s5bdc24606d23f03d/image/i8c3c33134c11eaa2/version/1411689846/image.jpg.

90. “Les Callinet de Rouffach,” accessed April 12, 2022, http://decouverte.orgue.free.fr/facteurs/callinet.htm; Rohan, page 48. The Callinets, another organbuilding dynasty, predate both the Pugets and Cavaillé-Coll. They were one of the first symphonic organbuilding companies in France. Their instruments demonstrate the drastic changes in French organ building from the early eighteenth century to the late nineteenth century.

91. Bachet, page 17.

92. Delmas; Rohan, page 56.

93. Archives of the Musée de Lavaur, shared by l’Association Jean-Claude Guidarini.

94. Toulouse is colloquially referred to as “La Ville Rose,” meaning “The Pink City,” since many of its historic buildings are constructed with red brick.

95. Poliquin.

96. Guidarini “Le Grande Orgue.”

97. Rohan, page 38.

98. Guidarini, Les Puget, Une Dynastie de Facteurs d’Orgues à Toulouse, page 6.

99. Guidarini, “Le Grande Orgue”

100. Hamilton, page 58.

101. Gala Jacquin, “Toulouse: l’église Notre-Dame du Taur va faire peau neuve,” L’Opinion Indépendante, January 30, 2023, https://lopinion.com/articles/actualite/15240_toulouse-eglise-notre-dame-taur-peau-neuve.

102. “Association Jean-Claude Guidarini– AssoJCG.Org,” accessed January 25, 2022, https://assojcg.org/.

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