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Remembering César Franck’s Organ Class at the Paris Conservatory: His Impassioned Quest for Artistic Beauty, Part 2

February 20, 2024
César Franck
César Franck at the console of the Cavaillé-Coll organ, Église Sainte-Clotilde, Paris. Portrait by Jeanne Rongier, 1888

A French American organist and musicologist living in Paris, Carolyn Shuster Fournier was organist at the American Cathedral in 1988 and 1989. After thirty-three years of faithful service at Église de la Sainte-Trinité, where she had directed a weekly noontime concert series, she was named honorary titular of their 1867 Cavaillé-Coll choir organ. A recitalist, she has made recordings and contributed articles to specialized reviews, on both sides of the Atlantic. In 2007 the French Cultural Minister awarded her the distinction of Knight in the Order of Arts and Letters.

Editor’s note: Part 1 of this series appeared in the February 2024 issue, pages 10–16.

The repertoire of César Franck’s organ students

What organ repertoire did César Franck’s students play, and how did they play it? Many of them stated that he did not give them any indications concerning tempi, style, technique, and registrations.87 Let us examine if this is true by beginning with their repertoire, which was founded on the works of the great master Johann Sebastian Bach, the absolute spiritual reference for these budding organists. Franck’s students played the following Bach works during their exams and competitions:88

Played once: Well-Tempered Clavier, Part 1, “Fugue in C-sharp Minor,” BWV 849ii, and “Fugue in F Minor,” BWV 857ii; Well-Tempered Clavier, Part II, “Fugue in C Minor”, BWV 871ii; “Fugue in D Major,” BWV 874ii, “Fugue in D-sharp Minor,” BWV 877ii; “Fugue in E Major,” BWV 878ii; “Fugue in F Minor,” BWV 857ii or BWV 881ii; “Fugue in A-flat Major,” BWV 862ii or BWV 886ii; “Fugue in B-flat Minor,” BWV 891ii. Aria in F Major, BWV 587; fugue of the Passacaglia in C Minor, BWV 582; Canzona and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 588; Prelude in E Minor, BWV 555i; Fantasy in C Minor, BWV 562i; Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542; Pastorale in F Major, BWV 590; Prelude in E Minor, BWV 533i; and Prelude in G Major, BWV 568; Fugue in C Major, BWV 545ii, and either BWV 564iii or BWV 566; Fugue in C Minor (unspecified); Fugue in D Minor (unspecified); “Toccata” from Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564; “Allegro,” first movement of Sonata in E-flat Major, BWV 525.

Played twice: Well-Tempered Keyboard, Part I, “Fugue in B-Flat Minor,” BWV 867ii. Fugue in E Minor, BWV 555ii; Prelude and Fugue in G Major, BWV 557; Prelude and Fugue G Minor, BWV 558; Prelude and Fugue B-flat Major, BWV 560; Prelude in C Minor, BWV 546i; Prelude in C Minor; Prelude in D Major, BWV 532i; Prelude in G Major, BWV 541i; Prelude in B Minor, BWV 544i; Fugue in D Minor, BWV 539ii; Fugue in E Minor, BWV 548ii; Fugue in F Major, BWV 540ii; Fugue in F Minor, BWV 534ii; Fugue in G Minor, BWV 131a; Fugue in B Minor on a Theme by Corelli, BWV 579; Fugue in B Minor, BWV 544ii; Fantasy in G Minor, BWV 542ii; Passacaglia in C Minor, BWV 582; Prelude and Fugue in E Minor, BWV 533; Toccata in D Minor, BWV 565i; Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565; first movement of Concerto in A Minor after Vivaldi, BWV 593; O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig, BWV 656; O Mensch, bewein’ dein’ Sünde gross, BWV 622.

Played three times: Prelude in E-flat Major, BWV 552i; Fugue in C Major, BWV 566ii; Fugue in C Minor on a Theme by Legrenzi, BWV 574; Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542ii; Prelude and Fugue in C Major, BWV 566; Prelude and Fugue C Minor, BWV 546; Toccata in F Major, BWV 540i; last movement of Concerto in A Minor after Vivaldi, BWV 593.

Played four times: Concerto in G Major after Prince Johann Ernst, BWV 592; Fantasy in C Minor, BWV 537; Fugue in C Minor, BWV 546ii; Toccata in D Minor (“Dorian”), BWV 538i.

Played six times: Concerto in A Minor after Vivaldi, BWV 593; Fugue in G Minor, BWV 578.

Played eight times: Fugue in C Minor, BWV 537.

In 1887 Franck prepared five volumes with thirty-one Bach pieces in a Braille edition for the National Institute for the Blind in Paris. It used heels, heel and toe crossings, finger, foot, and hand substitutions, finger, foot, and thumb glissandi, which favored a complete legato.89 All pieces included in this collection were performed by Franck’s students at the Paris Conservatory, except for the chorales An Wasserflüssen Babylon, BWV 653, and Wir glauben all an einen Gott, Vater, BWV 740. On the other hand, they had performed the following works that were not in Franck’s Braille edition of Bach’s organ works: selections from Well-Tempered Clavier, parts 1 and 2; Aria in F Major, BWV 587; Concerto in G Major after Prince Johann Ernst, BWV 592; Fugue in G Minor, BWV 131a; Pastorale in F Major, BWV 590; Toccata in D Minor (“Dorian”), BWV 538i; and the first movement (“Allegro”) of Sonata in E-flat, BWV 525.

Franck’s ten students who had previously studied at the Niedermeyer School and at the National Institute of Blind Youth had immediately played Bach’s virtuosic works: Fugue in D Major, BWV 532 (played by Albert Mahaut and Adolphe Marty); Fugue in E Minor, BWV 548 (played by Joséphine Boulay); Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542 (played by Mahaut). They won their first prizes rapidly, except for Henri Letocart. As at the Niedermeyer School, Franck’s students likely used the C. F. Peters edition of Bach’s organ works. Many of his long-term students had begun with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and Eight Little Preludes and Fugues. Franck had inscribed in John Hinson’s copy of the Well-Tempered Clavier numerous “optional” pedal indications for the first twelve preludes and fugues in this collection.90 Charles-Valentin Alkan’s performances of Bach chorales and trio sonatas in his Les Petits Concerts in the Salons Érard between 1873 and 188091 certainly inspired Franck’s students to play the two chorales and a movement of a trio sonata.

Franck’s students thoroughly studied the construction of Bach’s fugues, more than his preludes—for example, the combination of themes in the Fugue in C Minor, BWV 574.92 This truly inspired his students’ improvisations and compositions as well as those of his own, as shown in his Prélude, Fugue et Variation, Grande Pièce Symphonique, and Trois Chorals.93 Bach’s fugues were indeed “the model for all music.”94 During the bicentenary of J. S. Bach’s birth in 1885, René de Récy had indicated the importance of the fugue in Bach’s works: “The fugue is . . . the first complete type of musical composition.”95 Mel Bonis, who attended his class as an auditor around 1878, remembers having heard him say, “Bach is the oldest of the future musicians.”96

In addition to their substantial Bach repertoire, Franck’s students played Handel’s Concerto in B-flat Major, a short piece by Lemmens, Schumann’s Canonic Study in A-flat Major, opus 56, number 4 (played twice), and movements from Felix Mendelssohn’s sonatas, notably Sonata VI, based on the Lutheran hymn, “Vater unser im Himmelreich,” played six times. Franck’s teaching, based on these German masters, was faithful to that of Alexis Chauvet, François Benoist, and Charles-Valentin Alkan, who had composed works based on Protestant chorales, such as his Impromptu sur le Choral de Luther (“Ein Feste Burg”), dedicated to François Benoist.

For Franck, improvisation was an “authentic compositional act.”97 Vincent d’Indy and Charles Tournemire considered it to be “an infinitely precious advantage to work for two years in his organ class, a center of true studies in composition.”98 According to his composition student, Charles Bordes (1863–1909), “Father Franck was formed by his students.”99

Franck’s students became pioneers when they played their master’s works, which were relatively unknown then. When Georges Bizet heard a student play Franck’s Prélude, Fugue et Variation during an exam, he confided to Franck, “Your piece is exquisite. I did not know that you were a composer.”100 Franck’s following fourteen students promoted and encouraged him by performing his works for their exams and their competitions:

Adèle Billaut: Prélude, Fugue et Variation (January 1875)

Marie Renaud: Prélude, Fugue et Variation (July 1876)

Georges Verschneider: Fantaisie in C (January 1874), Pastorale (January 1877), and Prière (June 1877)

Henri Dallier: Fantaisie in C (June 1878)101

Gabriel Pierné: Final (July 1882)

Henri Kaiser: Grande Pièce Symphonique (July 1884)

François Pinot: Fantaisie in A (June 1885)

Adolphe Marty: Fantaisie in C (June 1886)

Jean-Joseph Jemain: Cantabile (January 1887), the beginning of Grande Pièce Symphonique (June 1887)

Georges Aubry: Cantabile (June 1888)

Georges Bondon: Prière (July 1888), Grande Pièce Symphonique (July 1889)

Albert Mahaut: Prière (June 1889)

Marie Prestat: Prélude, Fugue et Variation (July 1889), Fantaisie in A (January 1890), and Prière (July 1890)

Henri Letocart: Pastorale (July 1890).

For Tournemire, his master’s “Prière,” the most remarkable of his Six Pièces, is an uninterrupted large fresco. Its “Andante sostenuto” theme is played at the tempo of 55 to the quarter note. Its animated central melismatic recitative sections, played with great liberty and at a livelier tempo, at 76 to the quarter note, “provide the necessary calm to express the initial theme when it returns with more ardent intensity. One must interpret its conclusion with fantasy.”102 Jean Langlais regretted that he never heard Albert Mahaut play it. Mahaut revered it so much that he had stopped playing it when he was seventy-five years old.103 Dedicated to François Benoist, it was played four times, which duly rendered homage to Franck’s predecessor.

Charles Tournemire’s indications in his book César Franck prove that Franck did indeed deal with expressive interpretational matters. In accordance with his master’s approach, he analyzes the basic form and structure of each piece, its musical expression, its tempos, and its mystical meaning. The exquisite Prélude, Fugue et Variation, a sweet Bach-like cantilena, was dedicated to Camille Saint-Saëns. The “Andantino” should be played without rigor at the tempo of 60 to the quarter note, the “Fugue” at 88, and the “Variation” without haste, very clearly, “at the tip of your fingertips.”104 In the Grande Pièce Symphonique, the first Romantic sonata conceived for the organ, dedicated to Charles-Valentin Alkan, Tournemire provides the following tempi: “Andante serioso” with the quarter note at 69, “Allegro non troppo e maestoso” with a half note at 80; quarter notes in the “Andante” at 60; in the “Scherzo-Allegro” quarter notes at 96; in the final grand choeur quarter notes at 80; and the final fugue with a half note at 60; after the final subject in the pedal, one should broaden the tempo until the end. In the pure Fantaisie in C, dedicated to Alexis Chauvet, the “Quasi lento” is “a small, calm intense poem;”105 the quarter notes in its “Poco Lento” can be played at 66 without dragging, and its pastorale-like “Allegretto cantando” around 76, with great suppleness. Its calm, contemplative final “Adagio” rejects any metronomic movement. In the charming Pastorale, the quarter notes of the “Andantino” are at 58; in the “Quasi Allegretto,” the quarter notes are at 100, and slightly less rapidly during the exposition of the fugue. In the Fantaisie in A, the quarter note of “Andantino” is at 88, and the movement should fluctuate with much liberty; after “Très largement,” at measure 214, one returns to the initial tempo with “a feeling of infinite calm”106 until its delicate ending. In the remarkable Cantabile, with the general movement of a quarter note at 69, each interpreter should “follow his own interiority!”107

Charles Tournemire’s disciple Maurice Duruflé indicated Tournemire’s advice in brackets in his own edition of Franck’s works, published in Paris by Bornemann. He wrote the following concerning the general interpretations of this music: “It is certain that one must bring to it a wide-awake sensitivity, but a sensitivity the measure of which must be ceaselessly controlled. Even though, it is delicate and even dangerous to give too precise indications in this realm, which remains personal. . . .”108 One must always remain faithful to César Franck’s musical intentions, which means that one may need to change the registrations and even rewrite the score. When Marie Prestat played Franck’s Pièce héroïque on the studio organ at the conservatory, since it had no 16′ stops in the manuals, she had to play the piece’s theme in octaves in the manuals, leaving out a low B that did not exist.109 As Rollin Smith indicated, according to Franck’s private student, R. Huntington Woodman, Franck did deal with details such as touch because he insisted that in measure 27 of this piece, the eighth notes should be played with “a crisp, short, staccato” (Example 3).110

Organists must adapt the tempo of his Prélude, Fugue et Variation, originally written for piano and harmonium, to the acoustics in churches and concert halls. André Marchal (1894–1980), who had studied with Adolphe Marty and Albert Mahaut at the Institute for Blind Youth from 1909 until 1911, played Franck’s works in a very supple and expressive manner. A true artist never plays music in the same manner, but continually evolves and adapts each of his interpretations to each particular situation, to each organ, and to the building’s acoustics. This is shown in Tournemire’s annotated scores.

Like their master, Franck’s students certainly played his works in accordance with their own personalities, each organ, and acoustic, but always very musically. Vital musical expression cannot be acquired by imitating others, but by understanding and expressing music freely and with conviction. According to Tournemire, Franck admonished his students “not to imitate him, but to search within oneself.”112 During his lessons, his only criteria, “I love it” and “I don’t love it,” made his students understand that music is a science of producing and hearing pleasant, enchanting sounds that deeply touch and transform humanity.

Each student’s repertoire is very interesting. To give one example, Georges Verschneider had earned no organ prizes because he had difficulty improvising, and his whitlow illness had prevented him playing his exam on June 24, 1878. Nonetheless, Franck found him to be a very interesting student and really appreciated his hard work, his distinctive interpretations, and his innovative repertoire. During his six years in Franck’s class (1873–1879), in addition to the above mentioned three Franck pieces, he played the following works during his exams: Bach’s Fugue in C Minor, BWV 546, the virtuosic Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542, and his Prelude and Fugue in B Minor, BWV 544 (each of these four pieces in separate exams), as well as the flamboyant Toccata in F Major, BWV 540. An Alsatian, he was Franck’s first student to play the first movement of Sonata in E-flat, BWV 525, the chorale, O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig, BWV 656, and Mendelssohn’s Sonata III and Sonata VI.

In order to play this repertoire, Franck’s students had already acquired an excellent piano technique when they had entered his class, but they absolutely needed to acquire an excellent pedal technique as well. Since the Paris Conservatory had no practice instruments and they could not rehearse in churches, they were obliged to practice on pianos equipped with pedalboards. Pierre Érard began to rent them out in 1873.113 Louis Vierne’s aunt Colin had purchased a Pleyel pedalboard for him in 1889, the year he had begun to attend Franck’s class.114 In addition, Franck’s students could practice in piano and organ manufacturing firms.115

According to Henri Büsser, “To tell the truth, Franck neglected to teach technique, notably that of the pedalboard.” (À dire vrai, l’enseignement technique était assez négligé, notamment l’étude du pédalier.)116 Was this true? While no written technical organ method by Franck is known, his approach to acquiring an excellent pedal technique is nonetheless revealed in Adolphe Marty’s L’art de la pédale du grand orgue (Art of the Pedal for the Great Organ), published in 1891 and dedicated “To my Master, Monsieur César Franck, Organ Professor at the National Conservatory in Paris.”117 In its preface Marty explains that,

without the pedal, the sound of the Grand Organ is lacking in roundness and a full sonority, also because the more one is a walking virtuoso, the more one can achieve the true style of the organ, thus being able to play together all of its harmonic voices, because after all the execution of modern compositions especially requires a deep knowledge of manipulating this part of the organ.118

Divided into four series, the first series presents twenty-five exercises destined to give suppleness and technique to the pedal lines played by both feet, learning glissandi and substitutions. The second series deals with the technique of the toes, in order to play large intervals with the same foot, then presents the chromatic scale, the trill, and arpeggios. Highly musical, a manual accompaniment is added to each exercise that enables students to think harmonically. It was expected that each should be transposed into all major and minor keys (see Example 4).

In the third series, one learns how to play octaves. The fourth series deals with the independence of the two feet, glissandi, and substitutions, as well as scales and arpeggios, which should be practiced in fragments. Above all, this method was not based on plainchant and was not applied to the harmonium, as in École d’orgue of Lemmens, but was closer in spirit to Alkan’s highly virtuosic Douze Études pour les Pieds Seulement (Twelve Etudes for the Feet Alone, published by Richault, ca. 1866), which were dedicated to Louis James Alfred Lefébure-Wély, as was Franck’s Final with its long pedal solos. The two brief excerpts, Examples 5 and 6, illustrate the polyrhythms found in the pedal studies by Alkan and by Marty.

Franck’s students possibly practiced on Charles-Valentin Alkan’s grand concert piano equipped with a pedalboard in Pierre Érard’s workshop at 11–13, rue du Mail, located near Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church. According to Albert Mahaud, they attended a performance of Franck’s Prélude, Choral et Fugue for piano there.122 In 1818 the Érard piano builders erected a concert hall on the ground floor of their mansion, now located on the right side of 13, rue du Mail. On January 10, 1839, Franck performed a traditional piano concert there, and in 1843 his Trio in F-sharp Minor, dedicated to S. M. le Roi des Belges (His Majesty, the King of Belgium). In November 1845 his Ruth was performed there.

In 1860 a second prestigious concert hall with 300 seats was built at the far end of this building. In 1877 Charles Garnier restored its ceiling and enlarged it to 572 seats. Both halls had excellent acoustics. On March 31, 1883, a concert given by the National Society of Music conducted by Édouard Colonne premiered two orchestral symphonic poems: César Franck’s Le Chasseur maudit (The Accursed Huntsman) and Viviane, opus 5, by his student Ernest Chausson. In 1894 when Louis Vierne assisted Widor’s organ class, he gave lessons on Alkan’s piano, which had remained there after his death in 1888.123 Immediately following Alkan’s death, Franck expressed his immense gratitude to him by arranging ten of his keyboard pieces for organ, which were published in Paris by Richault in 1889: seven excerpts, numbers 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 11, of his 13 Prières, opus 64, for piano with a pedalboard, dedicated to Pierre Érard (Richault, 1866); two (numbers 3 and 7) of his 11 Grands Préludes, opus 66, for piano with a pedalboard, dedicated to C. A. Franck (Richault, published in 1866); as well number 3 of his 11 Pièces dans le style religieux, opus 72, for harmonium, dedicated to Simon Richault (Richault, published in 1867).

How did César Franck’s teaching differ from that of Charles-Marie Widor? Widor had warned Louis Vierne about the attacks by Franck’s former pupils against his reforms of their organ technique and confided to him: “Concerning improvisation, I have nothing to change from what Franck taught you: he was the greatest improviser of his time . . . only some details in the forms, nothing in the procedures.”124 For Vierne, while Franck was more severe in his requirements for the fugue than Widor, his interest in detailed melodic invention, harmonic discoveries, and subtle modulations all promoted the musical expression.

For Widor, being a musician was not enough: one must be a virtuoso as well. In June 1891, before Jules Bouval played his exam, Widor mentioned that unfortunately he had not acquired a good organ technique. However, in January 1892 he observed that he had gained the virtuosity that he had lacked during the preceding year. Henri Libert, who played mechanically, became an intelligent musician and an excellent virtuoso, performing Bach’s Toccata in F Major in January 1892. In 1894 he won a first prize in organ, the same year as Louis Vierne.

In addition, Widor had encouraged his students to compete for the Grand Prix de Rome: Paul Ternisien, Jules Bouval, and Henri Büsser, who won it in 1893. However, none of them won an organ prize at the Paris Conservatory. In January 1892 Ternisien was extremely nervous and lost control of himself during his exam as he played Franck’s Cantabile. Bouval was so upset that he did not compete in June 1894. Büsser, although he was very intelligent and a good musician, had difficulty improvising. Contrary to Widor, who was to become the Secrétaire Perpétuel of the Institut de France in July 1914, Franck had discouraged some of his students from attempting to go to Rome. In 1884, while Claude Debussy had won the Grand Prix de Rome, Franck’s organ student, Henri Kaiser, had only received his first prize in organ. Only two of his “true” organ students, Samuel Rousseau and Gabriel Pierné, obtained the Grand Prix de Rome, in 1878 and 1882.125 Tournemire later expressed his gratitude to Franck for having discouraged him to follow this path:

The most beautiful nature that I ever met, during my long career, was naturally that of Franck. I owe him my direction and how much I bless him each day for having advised me, when I began, to not dream of the Prix de Rome. . . . Since then, I have had the time to reflect. . . . I wonder what I would have become if I had had the disrespect to not follow his advice. . . . I would have undoubtedly made conventional music, false theater, and I would have been lost . . . irremediably.126

César Franck’s artistic legacy

Many of Franck’s organ students at the Paris Conservatory composed works in various genres. The following exhaustive list will illustrate this.

Organ works: Alfred Bachelet, Édouard Bopp, Joséphine Boulay, Jules Bouval, Henri Büsser, Auguste Chapuis, Hedwige Chrétien (even though she was not a liturgical organist), Henri Dallier, Georges Deslandres, Vincent d’Indy, Dynam-Victor Fumet, Louis Ganne, Georges Guiraud, Georges Hüe, Henri Letocart, Henri Libert, Adolphe Marty, Gabriel Pierné, Marie Prestat, Paul Rougnon, Marcel Rouher, Samuel Rousseau, Francis Thomé, Charles Tournemire, Paul Vidal, Louis Vierne, and Paul Wachs.

Religious vocal music: Joséphine Boulay, Georges Guiraud, Henri Letocart, Albert Pillard, Marcel Rouher, Achille Runner, Arnal de Serres, and Théophile Sourilas.

Vocal works: Hedwige Chrétien.

Piano works: Bazile Benoît, Hedwige Chrétien, Aimé Féry, Louis Frémaux, Georges Guiraud, and Carlos Mesquita.

Works for harmonium and piano: Marie Prestat and Théophile Sourilas.

Chamber music: Auguste Chapuis, Hedwige Chrétien, Jean-Joseph Jemain, and Marie Prestat.

Melodies: Amédée Dutacq, Georges Guiraud, Jean-Joseph Jemain, Henri Letocart, Carlos Mesquita, Albert Pillard, Marcel Rouher, Achille Runner, Arnal de Serres, Paul Ternisien, and Paul Wachs.

Light music: Émile Fournier.

Lyrical works: Alfred Bachelet, Émile Fournier, Louis Frémaux, Jean-Joseph Jemain, and Marie Prestat.

Operettas: Louis Frémaux and Louis Ganne.

Symphonic works: Hedwige Chrétien, Jean-Joseph Jemain, Henri Letocart, and Paul Wachs.

Music for all genres: Camille Benoît, Pierre de Bréville, Henri Büsser, Auguste Chapuis, Henri Dallier, Vincent d’Indy, Cesarino Galeotti, Lucien Grandjany, Georges Hüe, Henri Kaiser, Adolphe Marty, Gabriel Pierné, Marie Renaud, Paul Rougnon, Samuel Rousseau, Jean-Ferdinand Schneider, Théophile Sourilas, Francis Thomé, Charles Tournemire, and Louis Vierne.

Editions of early music: Auguste Chapuis and Vincent d’Indy (Rameau), Jean-Joseph Jemain (Baroque works), and Henri Letocart (Jean-Baptiste Lully).

Transcriptions: Henri Büsser, Charles Tournemire, Louis Vierne, and Paul Wachs.

Louis Vierne had transcribed for organ five of Franck’s Pieces for Harmonium (Pérégally et Parvy, 1901/Leduc, 1905); Charles Tournemire transcribed his “March” and “Prelude” of the Second Act of Ghiselle, as well as the Chanson de l’Hermine d’Hulda (Choudens, 1927).

Many of Franck’s students, in addition to Adolphe Marty and Charles Tournemire, were authors of pedagogical music methods, and others were administrators in conservatories. Some of Franck’s students wrote books on harmony (André-Paul Burgat) or solfège manuals (Marie Renaud, Paul Rougnon). Paul Wachs wrote a manual on organ improvisation, “in homage to his Master Monsieur César Franck, Organ Professor at the Paris Conservatory,” as well as a treatise on plainchant, written for organists who accompany the liturgy.127 Some were members of the Institut de France: Georges Hüe, Officier d’Académie; André Paul Burgat; Louis Ganne, president of Société des auteurs, compositeurs, et éditeurs de musique. Auguste Chapuis was a music inspector. Jean-Joseph Jemain and Camille Benoît were music critics. Lucien Grandjany, Georges Guiraud, Georges Marty, Samuel Rousseau, and Vincent d’Indy were choir directors. Louis Ganne, Jean-Joseph Jemain, Georges Marty, Gabriel Pierné, and Vincent d’Indy were orchestral conductors. Alfred Bachelet succeeded Guy Ropartz as director of the Nancy Conservatory, who had been there from 1894 until 1919 before directing the Strasbourg Conservatory from 1919 until 1929. Some became inspectors of music in the city of Paris, such as Auguste Chapuis (1895–1928).

Some of Franck’s other students became music professors. Georges Guiraud taught harmony at the Toulouse Conservatory from 1912 until 1928. Bruno Maurel taught music in Marseille. Jean-Joseph Jemain was a piano professor at the Lyon Conservatory from 1888 to 1901. In Parisian schools Paul Jeannin taught music and Césarino Galeotti taught piano. Henri Dallier taught organ at the Niedermeyer School beginning in 1905. Henri Libert taught organ there as well as at the American Conservatory in 1937.

At the Paris Conservatory, Paul Rougnon taught solfège; Marie Renaud (1876–1893), Lucien Grandjany (1883), Paul Vidal (1884), Hedwige Chrétien (in the class for women, 1890–1892), Henri Kaiser (1891), and Georges Bondon (1898) taught there. Louis Vierne assisted both Charles-Marie Widor and Alexandre Guilmant’s organ classes (1894–1911). Paul Vidal taught accompaniment at the piano (1886) and composition (1910) there. Georges Marty taught the vocal ensemble class (1892) and harmony (1904). Both Auguste Chapuis (1894) and Henri Dallier (1908–1928) taught harmony to women: their student, Nadia Boulanger, then trained musicians from all over the world at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau. Henri Büsser was a professor of vocal ensembles (1904–1930) and composition (1930–1948) there; his student, Gaston Litaize, highly appreciated his remarkable teaching. Like César Franck, Büsser recommended his students to “work, work, always work.”128 Charles Tournemire taught chamber music there (1928–1935). In 1935 he wrote in a rather severe manner to his private organ student from Liège, Pierre Froidebise, as his own master César Franck had corrected him:

I read your music with interest. You have ideas, many ideas. You are only missing the art of presenting them with more subtlety. . . . 
I am returning your works with several corrections. . . . Accept them!! Don’t get tense!! When for the first time, César Franck corrected my works at the beginning, I found that odious!!? Because he dared to alter my harmonies. . . . And since, I have acknowledged the soundness of his remarks! This may be learned. You have what may not be learned. Thank God. . . .129

From 1891–1899, Arthur Coquard, Franck’s former composition student,130 directed the National Institute for Blind Youth, where three of César Franck’s students also perpetuated his legacy: Adolphe Marty, Albert Mahaut, and Joséphine Boulay. When Adolphe Marty was organ professor there (1888–1930), he opened up new horizons to an entire generation of blind organists, teaching them counterpoint and fugue, improvisation, and interpretation of the works of J. S. Bach. According to Louis Vierne, his open-minded and enthusiastic manner of teaching illustrated that of his master, César Franck: “I found joy with my professors. Marty, always very affectionate, treated me like a friend, not like a student. He continued to largely make me profit from his experience as a student at the Conservatory and predicted a likely success in this establishment.”131

Albert Mahaut, who taught harmony there (1889–1924), wrote the following just after Franck was buried at the Grand-Montrouge Cemetery on November 10, 1890: “We had encircled a tomb, it is true, but this tomb ought to be glorious. . . . We gathered courage to work, each in our sphere, to the triumph of the master who, unknown during his lifetime, ought to be soon the object of enthusiastic acclamations.”132

Eight years after Franck’s death, Albert Mahaut was the first to perform Franck’s entire twelve organ pieces at the Trocadéro on April 28, 1898, and again in 1899. He also played them at Saint-Léon Church in Nancy on March 24 and 27, 1905, the year he wrote his book, César Franck, and continued to perform them throughout his life. During his fifty-three years of volunteer social work for the Valentin Haüy Association for the Blind (1890–1943),133 he developed the musical notation in Braille and encouraged young blind organists throughout France to study in Paris. Josephine Boulay taught harmony and piano there from 1888 to 1925. This institution produced hundreds of other future church musicians, music professors, and piano tuners. André Marchal, Augustin Barié, Gaston Litaize, and Jean Langlais faithfully transmitted the teaching principles of Adolphe Marty and Albert Mahaud to an entire generation of blind organists, among them: Xavier Dufresse, Jean-Pierre Leguay, Antoine Reboulot, Georges Robert, and Louis Thiry. These then transmitted their knowledge to their own students. The organ professor there since 2002, Dominique Levacque, had studied in Rouen with Louis Thiry. Gaston Litaize later taught at the conservatory in Saint-Maur (1974–1990), where he was succeeded by his organ student, Olivier Latry, who, in 1985, became the youngest titular organist at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris and, in 1995, was appointed organ professor at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris. Litaize’s student, Éric Lebrun, succeeded Olivier Latry at the Saint-Maur Conservatory.

In 1894 Charles Bordes, with the collaboration of Vincent d’Indy and Alexandre Guilmant, founded the Schola Cantorum and taught choral direction there. Vincent d’Indy directed it from 1900 to 1931. Pierre de Bréville taught counterpoint from 1898 to 1902. Jean-Joseph Jemain was a piano professor beginning in 1901. Marie Prestat taught organ in 1901 and 1902 and also piano from 1901 until 1922. Louis Vierne taught organ there (1911–ca. 1925). Opposed to the academic programs at the Paris Conservatory and known for its high artistic morals, the Schola Cantorum’s monthly review, La Tribune de Saint-Gervais, published articles on religious music, as had the Niedermeyer School. After d’Indy’s death in 1931, four of Franck’s composition students who were artistic advisers there—Gabriel Pierné, Paul Dukas, Guy Ropartz, and Pierre de Bréville—along with Albert Roussel, resigned and founded the École César Franck on January 7, 1935. Louis d’Arnal de Serres directed it until 1942 according to the spirit of Franck, with strictness and musicality. Among Édouard Souberbielle’s organ students there, Michel Chapuis became organ professor at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris from 1986 to 1995.

Finally, in accordance with an 1870 modification of Article 29 at the Paris Conservatory, which had stipulated that the organ should be taught both technically and liturgically,134 Franck had inspired and trained an entire generation of church musicians in Paris; several indications concerning his private students are provided in brackets:135

Choirmasters and organists at:

La Madeleine: Achille Runner (1904–1938);

Sainte-Anne-de-la-Maison-Blanche: Dynam-Victor Fumet (1914 or 1917–1948);

Saint-Denis-de-la-Chapelle: Joseph Humblot (c. 1873–1903).

Choirmasters at:

Notre-Dame d’Auteuil: Stéphane Gaurion;

Sainte-Clotilde: Stéphane Gaurion (1869?–1875),136 Samuel Rousseau (1882–1904)137;

Saint-Esprit Reformed Protestant Church: Jean-Joseph Jemain (beginning in 1901);

Saint-Gervais: Charles Bordes (1890–1902), where he founded the Chanteurs de Saint-Gervais in 1892;

Saint-Roch: Louis Landry (beginning in 1897)138;

Saint-Vincent-de-Paul: Marcel Rouher (1890–1900).

Choir accompanists:

Sainte-Clotilde: Stéphane Gaurion (1863?–1869), Samuel Rousseau (1870–1878, 1881–1882); Georges Verschneider (1882?–ca. 1891); Dynam-Victor Fumet (1884, in the Chapelle de Jésus-Enfant, also known as the Catechism Chapel);

Saint-Eugène: Albert Pillard (1900);

Sainte-Marie des Batignolles: Georges Deslandres (ca. 1870);

Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois: Marcel Rouher (1882–1910);

Saint-Philippe-du-Roule: Georges Bondon (in 1900);

Saint-Vincent-de-Paul: François Pinot (1887–1891, succeeding Léon Boëllmann), Lucien Grandjany (1891–1892), and Henri Letocart (1892–1900).

Titular organists at:

La Madeleine: Henri Dallier (1905–1934), for whom Achille Runner substituted;

Notre-Dame Cathedral: Louis Vierne (1900–1937);

Notre-Dame-des-Champs: Auguste Chapuis (1884–1888);

Sainte-Clotilde: Gabriel Pierné (1890–1898); Charles Tournemire (1898–1939;

Sainte-Trinité: Marie Prestat substituted for Alexandre Guilmant on August 30, 1896;

Saint-Eustache: Henri Dallier (1878–1905);

Saint-François Xavier: Albert Renaud (1879–1891), Adolphe Marty (1891–1941);

Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois: Marcel Rouher (1910–1913);

Saint-Jean-Saint-François: Georges Guiraud (1889–1896) [Camille Rage (1906–1919?)];

Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Grenelle: Albert Pillard (1929);

Saint-Joseph’s English-speaking Catholic Church: Louis de Serres;

Saint-Leu-Saint-Gilles: Camille Rage (1901–1906);

Saint-Louis-en-l’Île: François Pinot;

Saint-Mérri: Paul Wachs (1874–1896);

Saint-Philippe-du-Roule: Cesarino Galeotti;

Saint-Pierre-de-Chaillot: Jules Bouval (1900–1914);

Saint-Roch: Auguste Chapuis (1888–1906);

Saint-Sulpice: Louis Vierne substituted for Charles-Marie Widor (1892–1890);

Saint-Vincent-de-Paul: Albert Mahaut (1897–1899), succeeded Léon Boëllmann.

Some played in Parisian suburbs at:

Charenton-le-Pont: Georges Guiraud;

in Nogent-sur-Marne: Charles Bordes, organist and choirmaster (1887–1890);

Saint-Clodoald in Saint-Cloud: Henri Büsser (1892–1906) [Bruno Maurel substituted for him (1893–1895)];

Saint-Nicolas in Issy-les-Moulineaux: Louis Ganne (in 1882);

in Meudon: Albert Mahaut (1888);

in Saint-Leu-la-Forêt: Vincent d’Indy (1874);

Saint-Pierre in Montrouge: Albert Mahaut (1892–1897);

Saint-Pierre in Neuilly: Henri Letocart (1900–1944), organist and choirmaster; director of the chorale society, Amis des Cathédrale [Friends of the Cathedral];

Saint-Denis Basilica: Henri Libert (1896–1937).

Some of his students were active as organists in provincial cities, at:

Saint-Pierre in Dreux: Henri Huvey (1887–1944); succeeded by his daughter Anne-Marie Huvey (1944–2005);

Saint-Paul in Orléans: Adolphe Marty (1887–1891);

Saint-Germain in Rennes: Charles-Auguste Collin;

Saint-Pierre in Rennes: Albert Renaud (1873–1878);

Saint-Germain in Saint-Germain-en-Laye: Albert Renaud (1891–1924), who had succeeded Saint-René Taillandier;

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence: Saint-René Taillandier (1891–1931?);

Basilica in Saint-Quentin: Henri Rougnon (until 1934);

Saint-Pierre in Toulouse: Georges Guiraud (1896–1912);

Saint-Sernin in Toulouse: Georges Guiraud (1912–1928);

His private organ student, Raymond Huntington Woodman, was organist and choirmaster at First Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York (1880–1941).

Among Franck’s disciples who played at Sainte-Clotilde Basilica in Paris, Samuel Rousseau possibly accompanied the choir before he was appointed choir organist in 1877. He then left for Rome after winning the Grand Prix de Rome. On February 20, 1888, Georges Verschneider, Franck, Dubois, and Rousseau inaugurated the new Merklin choir organ.139 Rousseau’s Libera me, premiered in 1885, was played during Franck’s funeral. His Fantaisie, opus 73 (1889, published in 1894), which closely resembles Franck’s Trois Chorals, was dedicated “to the memory of his dear Master, César Franck.”140 After César’s death, his son Georges Franck entrusted him with the orchestration of the third act of Ghiselle and the revision of Hulda. In 1884 Franck had turned over the accompaniments in the Catechism Chapel of Sainte-Clotilde to Dynam-Victor Fumet.141 Surnamed “Dynam” due to his “dynamite playing,” he was appreciated by Franck for his original spirit, and this had encouraged him: “I was still in César Franck’s organ class . . . when I sought to make known a very rich music; also, I invented music with one beat time so that each beat rested on a rich harmony. The purpose of art . . . is to humanize the universal life, that is to say, to render it proportional to mankind’s fallen kingdom.”142 Gabriel Pierné began to substitute for Franck in 1882 and became his successor (1890–1898).

Charles Tournemire, a true dignified disciple of Franck, succeeded Gabriel Pierné (1898–1939). In 1910 he dedicated his Triple Choral (Sancta Trinitas), opus 41, “to the memory of my venerable Master César Franck.” In 1930 and 1931 he became the first organist to record at Sainte-Clotilde Basilica for Polydor some of Franck’s works (Cantabile, Chant de la Creuse, Noël angevin, and Choral in A Minor) as well as five of his own improvisations (Petite Rapsodie improvisée, Cantilène improvisé, Improvisation sur le Te Deum, Fantaisie-improvisation sur l’Ave Maris Stella, and Choral-Improvisation sur le Victimae Paschali), proving that interpretation and improvisation are inseparable.143 Tournemire also prepared an edition of Franck’s L’Organiste and Pièces Posthumes with his own fingerings, metronome markings, and annotations (Enoch, 1933: volume 2, and 1934: volume 1). Maurice Emmanuel, Franck’s disciple who had not been his student, was choirmaster at Sainte-Clotilde from 1904 to 1907, thus described Tournemire’s dignified succession to his master César Franck:

After the service had ended, the parishioners fled the church during the “postludes,” which were true treasures that César Franck played for them. Have times changed? Do the parishioners hear the artist who today [1926], through a close bond between the liturgy and art, and equally respecting the religious and musical functions, edified them on the themes taken from the service of the day, as noble, as disciplined in their structure as those by César Franck, of whom he was one of his last students? His master bequeathed to him the gifts of these contemplative and impassioned improvisations, sometimes calm, sometimes tumultuous, and which are like mystical dramas conceived in the secret recesses of the soul. The successor of the Master of the Béatitudes also retreats to the contemplation of labor, and comes out of his reserve only to give flight to the thousand voices of his organ, in a lyrical exhilaration, with which the congregation seems to associate little. . . .144

During the inauguration of a monument in homage to César Franck in the small garden placed in front of Sainte-Clotilde Church on October 22, 1904, named as the Square Samuel-Rousseau in 1935, Théodore Dubois, director of the Paris Conservatory since 1896, expressed the Conservatory’s gratitude to César Franck:

If there was, as one had pretended, some coldness, or rather some indifference of certain colleagues of César Franck, I ignore this, and even I do not believe it, but I insist on officially proclaiming that the Conservatory is very proud to have counted among its professors such an artist, and the actual director considers it a great honor to have been his friend and colleague during all these years. And in my name and in the name of the Conservatory, I bring here a moving homage of admiration to the memory of a noble and powerful artist to whom we erect this monument today.145


An ardent, prolific music teacher with an open-minded spirit, César Franck faithfully accomplished his duties as an organ professor at the Paris Conservatory. Due to a lack of funds, its Cavaillé-Coll organs were limited, but they were equipped with a thirty-note pedalboard, indispensable to playing Bach and contemporary works. In this institution founded on the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity, he respected his students, understood their potential, gave them practical advice, encouraged them to constantly work with rigor, and guided them with suppleness in the right direction.

To become accomplished artistic organists and excellent church musicians, Franck’s students needed to acquire a solid pedal technique, internalize their musicianship by memorizing their repertoire, and study harmony, counterpoint, fugue, and composition to be able to realize subtle plainchant accompaniments and master the art of improvisation, which helped them to compose. His private organ and composition students who audited his class benefited from his wise advice. Johann Sebastian Bach’s music inspired and influenced the improvisations and compositions of both the master and his students. Franck’s impassioned quest for artistic beauty and spiritual approach to teaching produced a lasting legacy.


87. Jacques Viret, “César Franck vu par ses élèves,” La Tribune de l’Orgue, 1990, No. 3, page 11, quoted in Fauquet, page 477.

88. Prepared with A. N., AJ37 283 and Russell Stinson, J. S. Bach at His Royal Instrument (New York: Oxford University Press 2021), pages 159–172.

89. Karen Hastings, “New Franck Fingerings Brought to Light,” The American Organist (December 1990), pages 92–101.

90. Stinson, page 74.

91. Constance Himelfarb, “Chronologie,” in Charles-Valentin Alkan, sous la direction de Brigitte François-Sappey (Paris: Arthème Fayard, 1991), page 21.

92. Ibid.

93. Vallas, “César Franck,” Histoire de la musique, Encyclopédie de la Pléiade (Paris: Gallimard, 1960), page 894, and Stinson, pages 81–88.

94. Joël-Marie Fauquet and Antoine Hennion, La grandeur de Bach (Paris: Arthème Fayard, 2000), page 115.

95. Cited in Fauquet and Hennion, page 115. See René de Récy, “Jean-Sébastien Bach et ses derniers biographes,” Revue des deux mondes (September 15, 1885), pages 406–427.

96. Mel Bonis, Souvenirs et Réflexions (Paris: Éditions du Nant d’Enfer, s.d.), page 38, quoted by Norbert Dufourcq in L’Orgue, No. 185 (1983), page 5, by Fauquet, page 574, and by Fauquet and Hennion, page 132.

97. Fauquet, page 485.

98. Tournemire, page 70. After Franck’s death, Tournemire studied composition with Vincent d’Indy at the Schola Cantorum.

99. Tournemire, page 72.

100. Vallas, page 244.

101. On June 1, 1889, Henri Dallier performed Prélude, Fugue et Variation at the Trocadéro for the World’s Fair.

102. Tournemire, page 24.

103. Jean Langlais, “Propos sur le style de César Franck dans son œuvre pour orgue,” Jeunesse et Orgue (Automne 1878, page 6), mentioned in Smith, page 134.

104. Tournemire, page 23.

105. Tournemire, page 21.

106. Tournemire, page 25.

107. Tournemire, page 26. For more information on Franck’s metronomic markings, see Rollin Smith in The American Organist (September 2003), pages 59–60.

108. Maurice Duruflé, “Notes to the Performer,” César Franck, Volume IV, Les Trois Chorals (Paris: Durand & Cie, D. & F. 13.794), undated.

109. Viret, page 11, cited in Fauquet, page 179.

110. Winslow Cheney, “A Lesson in Playing Franck: Measure-by-Measure Outline of Technical Details Involved in Attaining an Artistic Interpretation of Pièce héroïque,” The American Organist (August 1937), page 264.

111. César Franck, Pièce héroïque, measure 27 (Paris, September 19, 1878), B. N. Music Department, Ms. 20151 (3), page 2.

112. Tournemire, page 63.

113. See François Sabatier, “L’œuvre d’orgue et de piano-pédalier,” in Charles Valentin Alkan, 233, and in Georges Guillard, “Le piano-pédalier,” R. I. M. F., No. 13, February 1984.

114. Vierne, Mes Souvenirs, page 20.

115. According to Gustave Lyon, “Letter to Ambroise Thomas,” October 31, 1893, A. N., AJ37 81 12. In 1893, this director of the Pleyel, Wolff et Cie. firm opened his workshop to Widor’s students and gave such a pedalboard to the Conservatory.

116. Büsser, pages 33–34.

117. Marty, L’Art de la Pédale du Grand Orgue (Paris: Mackar et Noël, 1891/Philippo et M. Combre, 1958), on the cover. It was printed in braille just after Franck’s death.

118. Published in Marty, page 1.

119. Published in Marty, page 22.

120. Published in Sabatier, page 240.

121. Published in Marty, page 37.

122. Mahaut, “Souvenirs personnels sur César Franck,” Bibliothèque Valentin Haüy in Paris, MTP138, 4066, page 587. This work was composed in 1884.

123. Vierne, Journal, page 165.

124. Vierne, Journal, page 164.

125. See Fauquet, page 491.

126. Tournemire, “Letter to Alice Lesur,” L’Herbe, September 21, 1930, Collection Christian Lesur, published in “Mémoires de Charles Tournemire,” Critical Edition by Jean-Marc Leblanc, L’Orgue, No. 321–324, 2018—I–IV, XXI. At least three of Franck’s organ students received the Grand Prix de Rome: Samuel Rousseau (1878), Gabriel Pierné (1882), and Henri Büsser (1893).

127. Paul Wachs, L’organiste improvisateur: traité d’improvisation, Paris, Schott (1878) and Petit traité de plain-chant, Énoch (undated).

128. Alain Litaize, Fantaisie et Fugue sur le nom de Gaston LITAIZE, Souvenirs et témoignages (Sampzon: Delatour France, 2012), page 38.

129. Tournemire, letter to Pierre Froidebise, April 17, 1935, published in Pierre Froidebise, “Grande rencontre: Charles Tournemire,” Exposition itinérante, Art & Orgue en Wallonie, undated, page 13. Pierre Froidebise took private organ and composition lessons with Charles Tournemire in his Parisian home beginning in April 1935.

130. Arthur Coquard (1846–1910), a composer, also earned a Doctor in Law degree and was a music critic for Le Temps and L’Écho de Paris. He wrote Franck in 1890.

131. Vierne, Journal II, page 157.

132. Mahaut, page 588. Two years later, his body was transferred to the Montparnasse Cemetery.

133. This association was founded in 1889 by Maurice de la Sizeranne. Albert Mahaut succeeded him as its director (1918–1943).

134. See Fauquet, page 476.

135. This list was established thanks to Pierre Guillot, Dictionnaire des organistes français des XIXe et XXe siècles (Sprimont, 2003), and the assistance of Vincent Thauziès from the Archives Historiques de l’Archevêché de Paris.

136. See Denis Havard de la Montagne and Carolyn Shuster Fournier, “Maîtres de chapelle et organistes de la Basilique Sainte-Clotilde,” in “La Tradition musicale de la Basilique Sainte-Clotilde de Paris,” L’Orgue, No. 278–279, 2007—II–III, page 5.

137. Samuel Rousseau also directed the women’s choir at the Société des Concerts at the Paris Conservatory.

138. He was also a choir director at the Opéra-Comique.

139. Cf. Smith, page 45.

140. Kurt Lueders, “Samuel Rousseau: simple figure marginale ou témoin privilégié d’un ‘Esprit Sainte-Clotilde’?,” in Carolyn Shuster Fournier, L’Orgue, No. 278–279, 2007—II–III, page 23.

141. According to Denis Havard de la Montagne, who had spoken with D.-V. Fumet’s organ student, Odette Allouard-Carny, in March 2007 Sainte-Clotilde’s annexed Catechism Chapel, located at 29, rue Las-Cases, had been inaugurated in 1881. According to Shuster Fournier, page 159, from 1861–1885 their choir was accompanied on a Victor Mustel harmonium, previously placed in their Sainte-Valère annexed chapel (rue de Bourgogne). According to Smith, page 43, around 1885 this parish acquired another Victor Mustel harmonium, a Model K with 19 stops. In 1888 a fourteen-stop Merklin choir organ was installed in Sainte-Clotilde’s chancel area. Thanks to its electro-pneumatic action, it was divided into two elevated sections in the side arches of the sanctuary; its console was located on the left side, at the end of the choir stalls, and its bellows were placed behind the high altar.

142. Philippe Rambaud, “D.-V. Fumet,” Bibliothèque des Lettres françaises, No. 4, February 15, 1914, published in Pierre Guillot, 223.

143. See Joël-Marie Fauquet, Catalogue de l’œuvre de Charles Tournemire (Geneva: Minkoff, 1979), page 99. These five improvisations were reconstituted by Tournemire’s disciple Maurice Duruflé and published by Durand in 1958.

144. Emmanuel, page 124.

145. Julien Tiersot, “Inauguration du monument de César Franck,” Le Ménestrel, No. 44 (October 30, 1904), page 34, and in Théodore Dubois, Souvenirs de ma vie, annotated by Christine Collette-Kléo (Lyon: Symétrie, 2009), page 194.

Editor’s note: an earlier version of this article, “César Francks orgelklas aan het Parijse conservatorium, zijn gepassioneerde zoektocht naar artistieke schoonheid,” appeared in Orgelkunst, issue 179, 2022, pages 168–191.

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