In the Organ Lofts of Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Paris

August 4, 2014

Despite the best efforts of Winter Storm Hercules, all but one of our group of seventeen made it to Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport as scheduled on Friday, January 3. Once we had gathered our luggage, we headed off to our first point of interest: a cemetery . . . where else!?

The cemetery at Montparnasse is the final resting place of a number of notable figures from French history and culture. Among the graves we visited were those of Jean-Paul Sartre, Louis Vierne, César Franck, and the tombs of the Cavaillé-Coll, Saint-Saëns, and Guilmant families. Interestingly enough, while the map at the entrance to the cemetery (marking the burial locations of those considered worthy of listing) includes Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, César Franck, and Camille Saint-Saëns, Louis Vierne and Alexandre Guilmant were not listed. Fortunately, Professor James David Christie knew where they were and many a photograph was taken!

We then took the wonderful Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV)—France’s high-speed rail service—for a three-and-a-half-hour trip to Bordeaux where, after a glass (or two!) of wine, we rested in preparation for what would be a life-changing two weeks for all involved.

 

Bordeaux

The next morning, we rose early and made our way to the eleventh-century abbey of Sainte-Croix, home to the only remaining instrument of Dom Bedos, a monk and secretary of the abbey as well as a mathematician, clock builder, and author of the monumental treatise The Organ-Maker’s Art. We gathered in the large church as Professor Christie demonstrated the instrument with Louis Marchand’s Grand Dialogue in C. It was clear from the first few notes on the mighty reed chorus, the Grand Jeu, that this organ was to set the tone (no pun intended!) for our entire visit. It is impossible to describe just how powerful this instrument is—it must be heard to be believed. The entire space was filled with a raw brilliance supported by one of the finest acoustics I have ever experienced. Next we heard the instrument’s other “big” chorus—the Grand Plein Jeu—made up of foundations and mixtures. On this instrument the Grand Plein Jeu is built on a 32 foundation and its 23 ranks of mixtures produce thrilling and rich sound.

The original instrument was constructed in 1748; during the nineteenth century it was moved to the cathedral in Bordeaux and tonally romanticized, while the organ’s case remained in the abbey church, now fitted with the former cathedral organ. Thankfully, the organ was saved in the second half of the twentieth century and restored and returned to the abbey church, with Dom Bedos’s aforementioned treatise acting as an incredibly detailed guide as to what should be done. As part of this restoration, the red paint that then covered the case was stripped, initially so that the case could be repainted. In the process, the instrument’s original green was revealed along with the beautiful stop labeling at the console. As a result, we have today one of the finest and most aurally and visually beautiful organs in all of Europe, if not the world.

After hearing the instrument in the church, we made our way up to the large organ gallery, walking through the enormous blower room (where, before electricity, the instrument required seven people to pump it!), eventually arriving at the exquisite five-manual console: Positif de dos; Grand-Orgue; Bombarde; Récit; Echo. The Positif de dos and Grand-Orgue contain the majority of stops. The Bomdarde contains only two large reed stops—this was for practical reasons concerning the winding of the instrument. Nevertheless, the Bombarde can be coupled down to the Grand-Orgue to create an astonishing Grand Jeu chorus built on the 16 reed. This is neither common nor necessarily appropriate for a majority of the so-called French Classical repertoire, but used judiciously and in the right pieces, this registration creates one of the greatest sounds in all organ music.

Perhaps the most “alien” aspect of the French Classical organ is the Pédale division. Unlike its German or Dutch counterparts, the pedalboard and stops of a French Classical instrument are not designed for counterpoint, but to provide a bass part centered around an 8 flute pitch (with occasional 16 pitch added by use of manual couplers) or to play the cantus firmus on the 8 Trompette, accompanied by the Plein Jeu of the manuals. In the case of the Sainte-Croix Dom Bedos, the Pédale division has both flue and reed stops at 16 pitch as well, but this was by no means common. We all had some challenges negotiating the odd pedalboard at Sainte-Croix: not only was its design different from anything else we had ever encountered, its compass stretched down to F below the C where modern pedalboards stop. This meant that no note was where we thought it should be! That being said, the mighty 16 Pédale Bombarde extended down to low A, allowing Bach’s French-inspired Pièce d’orgue, BWV 572, with the usually unplayable low B in the middle section, to be played on this instrument. As with everything on this organ, the sound of these low reed notes was something to experience!

We were incredibly fortunate to spend the entire day and much of the evening with this wonderful instrument and were soon to discover that the organ’s uncompromising mechanical action and the church’s glorious acoustic could teach us a great deal about how to play—certainly something that would be a recurring theme throughout the trip. I should also mention that the food and wine in Bordeaux were exquisite, and I could not help but think of Julia Child—it was easy to see why she fell in love with French cuisine!

The next morning, a number of the group attended Sunday Mass at Sainte-Croix. Titular organist Paul Goussot, a winner of the improvisation prize at St. Albans in 2011, and the winner of the Haarlem International Organ Improvisation Competition in 2012, improvised brilliantly during the Mass. 

Then we took the train to the city of Toulouse, in southwest France, near the Spanish border. Toulouse is, without a doubt, one of the great organ “capitals” of the world, and we had four days to explore some of its treasures.

 

Toulouse

Following a wonderful supper of bread, cheese, foie gras, and “king’s cakes” (in honor of the Epiphany) at the home of Michel Bouvard, as well as a private fortepiano performance by Madame Yasuko Bouvard, we made our way to the stunning Romanesque Basilica of Saint-Sernin, where Professor Bouvard is titulaire. The organ, built in 1889, was among the last instruments of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll and, for many of us, the first Cavaillé-Coll we had ever encountered “in the flesh.” Although based in Paris for most of his professional career, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll was originally from Toulouse and came from a family of organ builders. From the age of twenty, he worked with his father; this included restoring a number of instruments in Spain. The Spanish influence can be seen in a number of Cavaillé-Coll’s instruments that make use of en chamade reeds, and Saint-Sernin is no exception.

Saint-Sernin is a vast church with an incredibly long nave extending into a choir that certainly had an influence on Cavaillé-Coll’s concept for the organ. There is one word to describe the tutti of the Saint-Sernin Cavaillé-Coll: TERRIFYING! The huge wall of sound produced was definitely intended to travel from the organ gallery to the high altar, and it does so with ease. That being said, Professor Bouvard treated us to a spectacular performance of César Franck’s Grand Pièce Symphonique in which we also heard the more lyrical side of this outstanding organ.

Every evening during our time in Toulouse, we had unfettered access to the organ in Saint-Sernin, which, while very different from the Dom Bedos in Bordeaux, also had a great deal to teach. Much of the time was spent adjusting to the large space, Barker-lever action, and a very heavy swell shoe! As was the case with nearly all the organs we played, “inflicting one’s self” was not an option—you had to listen, feel, and respond to what the instrument and room were telling you in order to achieve the most satisfying musical results. It was also huge fun to “let rip” on full organ, although after 11 p.m. the tutti had to be used sparingly owing to its audibility throughout most of the surrounding area.

While the name of Cavaillé-Coll is well known among organists throughout the world, the name of Théodore Puget is perhaps not quite so well known. . . but it should be! We encountered two instruments by the Toulouse-based organ builder in his native city: Notre Dame du Taur—Puget’s first large instrument in the city, inaugurated by Guilmant in 1880; and Notre Dame de la Dalbade, inaugurated by Widor in 1888. We were all in awe of these exceptionally fine instruments placed in churches with glorious acoustics. In contrast to the fiery directness of the Cavaillé-Coll in Saint-Sernin that bellows “I’m here,” the two Puget instruments enveloped the listener with a far warmer sound. While perfect for the music of the great French Romantic composers, it was unfortunate that none of us had brought along any Howells or Whitlock, which would work equally well. Sadly, Puget never built a major instrument in Paris owing to Cavaillé-Coll’s monopoly in that city.

We also spent time at the church of Saint-Pierre des Chartreux, home to a four-manual French Classical instrument dating from 1683, with rebuilds in 1783 and 1983. While more modest in scale than the instrument at Sainte-Croix, it was perfectly suited to the ornate Baroque church and gave us another chance to work on our French-Classical pedaling!

On the evening of Wednesday, January 8, four students—Nicholas Capozzoli, Mitchell Miller, Alcee Chris, and I—performed a short concert at the Musée des Augustins. This former monastery, which was used to store horses during the French Revolution, became a museum in the nineteenth century and is home to a North-German influenced organ built in 1981 by Jürgen Ahrend. It was here that we probably encountered the largest acoustic of our entire visit—nine seconds, which would have been closer to twelve were it not for an exhibition at the back of the space.

This was followed by a visit and reception held at Toulouse les Orgues, headquarters for the annual organ festival that brings countless organ enthusiasts to visit the numerous musical masterpieces of this city. The festival staff, headed by Yves Rechsteiner, is housed in the former Church of the Gesu, a stunning Victorian Gothic edifice. The rear gallery of the nave houses a modest two-manual Cavaillé-Coll organ in absolutely original condition.

The next day we took the train to Albi, whose cathedral dedicated to St. Cecilia—claimed to be the largest brick building in the world—is home to one of the most impressive organ cases in Europe. At the neighboring (and considerably smaller) church of Saint-Salvy, parts of which date back to the eighth century, we heard the 1930 Maurice (grandson of Théodore) Puget organ. While containing some seventeenth-century pipework and being housed in the original case (which had once been in the cathedral) this was certainly a twentieth-century instrument in the French-Romantic style.

We then returned to Toulouse; a small group of us visited the church of Saint- Nicholas, home to an 1844 organ by Callinet. This was certainly one of the hidden gems of the trip—an instrument indebted to its French-Classical predecessors, but also looking forward to the larger romantic instruments that would follow it, particularly in its foundation and solo voices.

We then took the TGV to the city of Poitiers—the birthplace of Louis Vierne. We made our way to the beautiful cathedral, home to the 1791 François-Henri Clicquot organ—one of the crown jewels of all the organs in France. Compared with the “rustic” and almost bombastic Dom Bedos in Bordeaux, this instrument was incredibly refined, with a sweet, singing tone, even in the Grand Jeu. It was therefore not surprising to learn that this is the same Clicquot family who make the famous Veuve Clicquot champagne—everything about the instrument suggested elegance and class. Our gracious host was the cathedral organist, Olivier Houette. A couple of hours later we arrived in Paris, where we were to spend the remainder of our visit. 

The next morning we took a train to the small town of Houdan, about 40 miles west of Paris, to visit the church of Saint-Christophe Saint-Jacques and play the church’s Louis-Alexandre Clicquot (father of François-Henri) organ. This was certainly an unexpected highlight of the whole trip: the instrument has remained almost completely untouched since it was built in 1734, with some of the pipework dating from as far back as 1667, making it one of the most ancient instruments in France. Sadly, this is only one of a handful of such instruments in the Paris area that survived the French Revolution. The sound of the instrument was absolutely exquisite and it was a joy to play; the pitch (ca. A=390) and meantone temperament added additional spice and color. Its modest size also made it particularly suited to playing the works of earlier French Classical composers such as Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers, François Couperin, and Nicolas de Grigny (to name but a few), despite having been constructed relatively late in the period. The organ was demonstrated by its titulaire, Régis Allard. In addition to its delightful organ, Saint-Christophe Saint-Jacques also had the distinction of being the coldest church we had visited to date, making all that French ornamentation a little tricky!

On our return to Paris, we stopped in Versailles. After a private tour of the King’s and Queen’s Apartments and the Hall of Mirrors, our host and organist of the Royal Chapel at Versailles, Jean-Baptiste Robin, gave us a wonderful demonstration of the 1994 Bertrand Cattiaux organ, which is housed in the original and lavish 1709 case. Although a modern instrument, it is a faithful reconstruction of what would have reigned supreme in the early eighteenth century. Sadly, the original Robert Clicquot of 1711 was subjected to a number of changes over the centuries eventually being replaced by a Cavaillé-Coll which was, in turn, rebuilt by Gonzales. 

The chapel itself is a fascinating space, and it would be impossible to describe in words just how beautiful and ornate it is. For one, there are no “hard” edges—everything, including the organ case, is curved—quite a contrast to the more conservative cases in Houdan and Poitiers. Unusually, the organ is above the altar, but it is customary in French churches for the organ to be behind the congregation, and in the Royal Chapel, the congregation faced the King, who would be seated in a gallery at the back of the chapel, facing the altar and the organ. Jean-Baptiste also informed us that the Holy Trinity is very important to French Roman Catholics and drew our attention to a number of allusions to the Holy Trinity in the Royal Chapel. He went onto say that it is perhaps not coincidental that the French-inspired organ works of J. S. Bach, namely Pièce d’orgue, BWV 572, and the Prelude and Fugue in E-flat, BWV 552, can also be viewed in a Trinitarian light.

 

Paris

On our only Sunday in Paris, we were encouraged to attend Mass at one of the city’s many churches. While some opted to go to Notre Dame or Saint-Sulpice, a few of us went to the church of Saint-Gervais, perhaps most famous for its association with the Couperin family who served as organists of the church for almost 200 years. The church was full for this celebration of the Mass in French. One of the most pleasant surprises was the music: although the organ provided a number of interludes at certain points of the liturgy in a variety of styles, a majority of the service was sung without accompaniment. While the singing was led by a large chorus of nuns, it was wonderful to hear the congregation joining in enthusiastically. Perhaps the most unusual, yet incredibly effective and beautiful moment of the service was during the Eucharistic prayer, when the clergy around the altar started singing in three-part harmony, accompanied by slow moving chords hummed by the nuns. It was nice to be involved in a real French parish Mass and to see that, although very different to what the Couperins would have known, music still plays an important part in the life of the parish.

Later that afternoon we made our way to La Madeleine for an organ recital performed by Vincent Grappy. It was quite a welcome surprise to see the church almost full—several even likened the audience size to an AGO convention recital. This magnificent church is perhaps most famous for hosting the premiere of Fauré’s Requiem, and we even had a chance to briefly glance at the intact Cavaillé-Coll choir organ which was used at that performance. 

Following the recital, it was time to make our pilgrimage to perhaps one of the most famous and important (especially for organists) Parisian churches—Saint- Sulpice. We received a warm welcome from the present titulaire, Daniel Roth, one of a line of distinguished musicians who have held this important and coveted post. Both Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers and Louis-Nicolas Clérambault were organists there, although neither knew the present building that was commenced in the middle of the 17th century and finally completed 100 years later. The great five-manual, 64-stop organ by François-Henri Clicquot was dedicated in 1781. It was reported that Clicquot was so happy with the results that he danced for joy during the dedication, and the organ became very famous throughout Europe. The organ survived the French Revolution in 1789 thanks to a blind organ pumper who, wishing to save the instrument, cleverly stamped the official seal of the government on the door to the gallery, making it seem as though that part of the church had already been inspected and approved.

Mendelssohn visited the church in 1833, and it was clear that the organ was in desperate need of restoration, with the renowned composer likening its sound to a choir of old women! In 1835, the builder Callinet began a restoration project that took ten years; it was ultimately unsuccessful and left him bankrupt. In 1854, one of the priests at Saint-Sulpice, a great admirer and friend of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, declared that such a beautiful church needed two beautiful organs. And so it was that Cavaillé-Coll began work on the instrument in 1857. When it was completed five years later it was one of the three largest organs in the world. By retaining all of the Clicquot stops—which account for about 40 percent of the instrument—Cavaillé-Coll not only demonstrated his respect for the craft of his predecessors but also created an instrument that successfully melds old and new styles into a coherent whole.

If there was one thing we learned about Cavaillé-Coll, it was that he was a consummate artist whose concept was perfectly suited to the space for which it was intended. While he had very little to do with the actual building of his instruments, the concepts were his and he knew just whom to employ to get the results he wanted. This project was clearly very important to Cavaillé-Coll: following the aborted Callinet project that had cost the church a fortune, with nothing to show for it, Cavaillé-Coll’s initial proposal was for a four-manual, 74-stop instrument. Over time, the instrument grew larger with the addition of a fifth manual and 26 more stops—none of which had been contracted or paid for. It is no surprise that Cavaillé-Coll was often close to bankruptcy with many of his projects, but if he had not cared so much, we probably would not have some of the great instruments we have today.

After Saint-Sernin, we were all rather surprised at how elegant and soft-spoken the Saint-Sulpice Cavaillé-Coll was in comparison, even the tutti. The overall tone was darker and more rounded than Saint-Sernin, and this seemed totally in tune with the majestic building, creating a wash of sound that filled the room rather than launching a battery of sound directly to the other end of it. Another contributing factor to the sound is the enormous case, with its huge 32 façade pipes and colossal statues, keeping the sound contained to a certain extent.

Finally, a lucky few had the opportunity to play the instrument, and it was such a privilege to be able to hear the sounds Widor and Dupré knew and worked with. I played Dupré’s exquisite Prelude and Fugue in F minor, op. 7, no. 2. I had been warned that after playing this piece at Saint-Sulpice it would be difficult to play it anywhere else, and after hearing the first few sixteenth notes of the Prelude, on the 8 Gamba and 2Octavin of the distant Récit, I understood—the eerie sound combined with the building’s acoustic was like nothing I had ever encountered before.

The vast five-manual console required some getting used to; the Récit is the fourth manual—it used to be the fifth (!)—and therefore presented the more vertically challenged among us with quite an extensive reach. At one point, Monsieur Roth kindly held on to my shoulders to prevent me falling off the bench while both hands were playing on the Récit! He was also gracious enough to operate the hitch-down swell pedal which, being located to the far right of the console, would have required my left foot to be considerably busier than it wanted to be. Cavaillé-Coll used these until 1870, when he introduced the more convenient but certainly less expressive balanced swell pedal. 

Upon playing a wrong note, I apologized, but was told by Monsieur Roth, “Don’t worry, he [Dupré] is not here, but with Widor, we have to be far more careful . . .” Yes, Widor’s tomb is down in the crypt and we were taken down to pay homage, following our evening with Professor Roth.

The next morning we made our way to the church of Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile to hear and play the church’s Bernard Aubertin organ, in North-German Baroque style. This is one of the finest of its kind in Paris and somewhat of a rarity. It was a welcome palate cleanser at this point of the trip to hear the sound of baroque-inspired principals and a particularly beautiful double-flute stop.

Having never been inside Notre Dame, a number of us stopped in briefly to gaze in awe at the gorgeous stained glass of one of the most famous buildings in the world. Unfortunately, the main organ was then undergoing restoration work and was unplayable. We then headed up to La Trinité, the church of Guilmant and, more recently, Olivier Messiaen.

This was somewhat of a pilgrimage for me personally, being particularly devoted to the music of Messiaen, and upon arrival at the church, I was greeted with a deeply moving vision: it had been raining, but as I approached the church, the sun came out, and a perfect rainbow appeared over the church—it could not have been more appropriate with Messiaen’s love of nature and the importance of color in his music.

The organ’s curator, Olivier Glandaz, was our host and had been a close friend of Messiaen. The organ has been well cared for and is in excellent condition. It was incredibly special to be able to hear Messiaen’s music on his organ, the combination of instrument and room creating what I can only describe as a glorious “shimmer.”

Day 12 was spent in the old French town of Rouen, perhaps most famous for being the place of Joan of Arc’s martyrdom. It is also home to Cavaillé-Coll’s last organ—the mighty four-manual instrument in the former Abbey Church of Saint-Ouen, which knocked the church in Houdan to second place as the coldest building of the entire trip! While in need of thorough restoration, it was wonderful to hear (and play) this “Grand Old Lady,” and yes, that 32 reed really is as earth shattering as it sounds on recordings! Our hosts were the titular organist Marie-Andrée Morisset-Balier and her husband, trumpet virtuoso Michel Morisset.

Upon our return to Paris, we visited the van der Heuvel organ at Saint-Eustache, beautifully demonstrated for us by Vincent Crosnier, Jean Guillou’s assistant. 

Our penultimate day in France began at the Paris Regional Conservatory where those students who didn’t perform in Toulouse played a concert on the school’s Grenzing organ—the same instrument used for the preliminary rounds of the Chartres International Organ Competition. The performers were Richard Gray, Rees Roberts, Abraham Ross, Jillian Gardner, Albert Bellefeuille, Matthew Buller, Donald VerKuilen, and Jay Yau. Following the concert, Sylvie Mallet, the current professor of organ, and Marie-Louise Langlais, professor emerita of organ, were our hosts and joined us for lunch at a small restaurant that was once frequented by the likes of Debussy, Ravel, and Poulenc.

That afternoon, we visited the church of Saint-Roch where Claude-Bénigne Balbastre, Louis James Alfred Lefébure-Wely, and Pierre Cochereau are among its most notable titulaires. The instrument, built by Cavaillé-Coll but retaining all the reeds from the previous Clicquot organ, is equally suited to French Classical music as it is to French Romantic music. The magnificent oak case also dates from the original Clicquot organ and contained the only clock we had seen which actually worked! While the music of Lefébure-Wely may not be all that sophisticated, hearing it on this thrilling instrument, in the highly-ornate Baroque church only a short walk from the Paris Opera certainly helped to put the music in context. Our host was the present titulaire, Françoise Levéchin-Gangloff.

The Cathedral Basilica of Saint-Denis was our final stop for the day. This former Benedictine Abbey—the first gothic building in the world—was incredibly powerful in its day and is particularly famous for being the final resting place of the French Kings. This association with French royalty, however, meant that it suffered greatly during the Revolution. One of the most damaging occurrences was the removal of the abbey’s roof (almost certainly so it could be melted down and made into other things), leaving the large and fine eighteenth-century organ open to the elements for twenty years. This organ was eventually removed in the hope that it would be restored one day, but it ended up being poorly stored and was entirely lost. It is quite likely that much of the instrument still exists in pieces throughout the organs of Paris, but we shall never know for certain.

In 1833, the French State decided to have a new organ built for this important church, and the 22-year-old Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, who had just moved from Toulouse to Paris (at the suggestion of Rossini), submitted a proposal that won the contract. The organ was eventually completed in 1841, having been delayed due to the lack of an organ case, which was the responsibility of the church’s architect. The delay, however, worked in Cavaillé-Coll’s favor because it was during this time that he met Charles Barker. Owing to the size of the instrument, the mechanical action was incredibly stiff and heavy, but the new “machine” of Charles Barker changed all this.

The Saint-Denis Cavaillé-Coll, while by no means perfect, was revolutionary in organ building and was the prototype for everything that followed, especially in Cavaillé-Coll’s own work. Not only was it the first instrument to make use of the new Barker machine, it also had the first harmonic flute and trumpet stops. That being said, Cavaillé-Coll never cited the instrument as one of which he was particularly proud.

Pierre Pincemaille has been titulaire at Saint-Denis since 1987 and is one of the greatest improvisers in the world, having studied with the legendary Pierre Cochereau. He improvised for us on the hymn tune Down Ampney, enabling us to hear the many colors of this important instrument.

Our final day in Paris began at Saint-Gervais, where everyone had the opportunity to see and play the 1768 François-Henri Clicquot organ, which retains much pipework from the c. 1680 organ of François Thierry. Here again, while several of us had the opportunity to listen to the organ during Sunday liturgy, now we all had the unique opportunity to experience the masterpiece firsthand.

That afternoon, we reconvened at the Basilica of Sainte-Clotilde—set back almost out of sight except for its two spires, which can be glimpsed on the Paris skyline. A number of great organists have been associated with this famous church: César Franck, Charles Tournemire, and Jean Langlais. Sadly, very little of the organ Franck knew remains, the instrument having been electrified and, beginning with Tournemire, altered tonally to embrace the aesthetics of the new neo-classical movement. Nevertheless, it was interesting to hear the music of Tournemire and Langlais on the instrument for which it was conceived. The original Franck console is now in a museum in Belgium, having been bequeathed by Tournemire to his friend, Flor Peeters. The organ was rebuilt in 1999–2005 by former titulaire, the late Jacques Taddei, with the addition of two new consoles, a 32 Contra Bombarde, and a Trompette-en-chamade, placed on the floor of the second gallery at the location of the old console.

And so, as our two weeks drew to a close, we arrived at the final church of our visit, Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, where Monsieur and Madame Maurice Duruflé had spent many years working and living in a small apartment just across the street. It felt especially humbling to be so “close” to these two towering figures in the world of organ music, and while we all have our favorites, I’m not sure I can think of anyone who doesn’t adore the music of Monsieur and the playing of Madame.

The church itself is very elegant—not unlike Duruflé’s music—and is home to the only rood screen (a beautiful, stone structure) and the oldest organ case in Paris, dating from 1633. Duruflé was also influenced by the neo-classical movement and this can be heard in the clear and bright sound of the instrument, making it especially good for counterpoint. After a stunning improvisation by Thierry Escaich on “Happy Birthday” (performed in honor of Donald VerKuilen’s 19th birthday), Alcee Chris performed Duruflé’s Toccata from Suite, op. 5, and Nicholas Capozzoli performed Escaich’s Évocation II for the composer.

I shall confess that writing this report has been incredibly difficult. It is almost impossible to express in words all that we experienced and learned on this amazing trip. One could easily write an entire article on just one of these churches and its rich musical and cultural heritage—we visited 31 organs in 13 days! Nevertheless, it is my hope that this overview will inspire further research—the Internet has a wealth of information and recordings of almost all the instruments we visited—and if you are able, go to France to see these masterpieces for yourself. We could not have been more warmly welcomed and it was clear that all those whom we met were very proud of their history and delighted to share it with others. Just be prepared to do LOTS of walking! 

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