Notes on the Organ in the Basilica of Sainte-Clotilde, Paris

July 25, 2006

Jean-Louis Coignet is organ expert and Advisor for the City of Paris.

Two years ago, a storm was suddenly triggered on the Internet: the Sainte-Clotilde organ was being “vandalized” . . . “impure hands were ravaging the Cavaillé-Coll masterpiece” that Jean Langlais had so respectfully preserved . . . Jacques Taddéi, titular organist of Sainte-Clotilde, was deemed responsible for the “sack of a sacred heritage” and put in the stocks. This turmoil spread in the United States with that fine sense of moderation that characterizes some organ circles; it did not arouse much interest in France except from a few quarters where Taddéi is hated for various reasons.

What remains of the storm now? Merely a feeling of ridiculous agitation as it has become obvious that this thermonuclear bomb was a non-event perpetrated by mythomaniacs, and that the real motives of the agitators had little to do with their supposed respect for the Sainte-Clotilde organ. In order to separate lies and fantasms from the truth, it is helpful to sketch the history of this instrument.

When the organ was inaugurated on December 19, 1859, its specification was as follows: three manuals (C1–F5: 54 notes): Grand-Orgue, Positif, Récit; Pédale (C1–D3: 27 notes).

GRAND-ORGUE

16’ Montre

16’ Bourdon

8’ Montre

8’ Bourdon

8’ Viole de gambe

8’ Flûte harmonique

4’ Prestant

4’ Octave

22⁄3’ Quinte

2’ Doublette

Plein-Jeu VII

16’ Bombarde

8’ Trompette

4’ Clairon

POSITIF

16’ Bourdon

8’ Montre

8’ Bourdon

8’ Salicional

8’ Unda Maris

8’ Flûte harmonique

4’ Prestant

4’ Flûte octaviante

22⁄3’ Quinte

2’ Doublette

Plein-Jeu III–VI

8’ Trompette

8’ Cromorne

4’ Clairon

RÉCIT

8’ Bourdon

8’ Viole de gambe

8’ Voix céleste

8’ Flûte harmonique

4’ Flûte octaviante

2’ Octavin

8’ Trompette

8’ Basson-Hautbois

8’ Voix humaine

4’ Clairon

PÉDALE

32’ Soubasse

16’ Contrebasse

8’ Flûte

4’ Octave

16’ Bombarde

16’ Basson

8’ Trompette

4’ Clairon

Pédales de Combinaisons

Orage

Tirasse Grand-Orgue

Tirasse Positif

Anches Pédale

Grand-Orgue 16

Positif 16

Positif/Grand-Orgue 16

Anches Grand-Orgue

Anches Positif

Anches Récit

Positif/Grand-Orgue

Récit/Positif

Trémolo Récit

Expression Récit

It should be noted that certain items of the specification are still debatable: Was there a Gambe 8’ or an Unda Maris 8’? Was there a Flûte octaviante 4’ or an Octave 4’ on the Positif? Was there an “appel Grand-Orgue” among the “pédales de combinaisons”? There is at least one point that is no longer questionable, namely, concerning the Récit/Pédale coupler: During examination of the original console in Flor Peeters’ music room, I noted several changes that had been carried out on the “pédales de combinaisons.” There was no longer any “pédale d’orage” as it had been replaced by the “tirasse Grand-Orgue.” Thus the original “tirasse Grand-Orgue” became “tirasse Positif” while the original “tirasse Positif” became “tirasse Récit.” When did this change happen? Probably during one of the “relevages” that Tournemire mentions in the “notice d’inauguration du Grand Orgue” published in 1933. In a letter to Daniel-Lesur, Tournemire wrote that he had the “tirasse Récit” added to the organ. Still, he mentions a “tirasse III” in the “notice . . . ” under the title “Dispositif de l’ancien orgue (1859) . . . ” Historical accuracy was probably not his strong point.

After César Franck’s death, Pierné was appointed in 1890, then Tournemire in 1898. The organ was enlarged in 1933 under Tournemire’s direction: 10 new stops and many new “pédales de combinaisons” were added, while the manuals were extended by 7 notes to reach a 61-note key compass and the pedal by 5 notes to a 32-key compass. These modifications made it necessary to provide a new console. A Cornet V was added to the Grand-Orgue; the Positif Cromorne was transferred to the Récit and renamed Clarinette; a Tierce 13⁄5’ and a Piccolo 1’ were added to the Positif; the Unda Maris gave way to a Gambe 8’.

The most important changes were made on the Récit: a new windchest was installed as well as five additional stops (Quintaton 16’, Bombarde 16’, Nazard 22⁄3’, Tierce 13⁄5’ and Plein-Jeu IV). The Récit enclosure was enlarged to accommodate the new elements. A Soubasse 16’ and a Quinte 51⁄3’ were added to the Pedal, and a Flûte 4’ replaced the Octave 4’. Fourteen new “pédales de combinaisons”—“octaves aigües” and “appels et retraits de jeux”—were added to the existing ones. The expression pedal was centered.

In the “notice d’inauguration,” Tournemire attempts to justify these changes: “These improvements were carried out to better serve the Art of the Organ from the 13th century to the present day.” Even if we do not agree with him, we have to admit that no irreversible changes were perpetrated at that time. All of the Cavaillé-Coll structures of the organ were still there: mechanical action with Barker levers, winding with double-rise bellows, etc. I remember having visited and heard the organ in the 1950s; its sound effect (excepting the “octaves aigües”) was still quite typical of a large Cavaillé-Coll organ.

After Tournemire’s tragic death in 1939, Ermend Bonnal was appointed titular organist. The organ underwent no changes during his tenure. Jean Langlais succeeded him in 1945. Soon afterwards he had part of the organ ceiling removed and replaced by a raised roof in particleboard in an attempt to improve sound egress from the Récit. This modification, carried out in the 1950s, was acoustically efficient, albeit visually very ugly indeed. (Photo 1)

The organ underwent substantial further modifications in 1960–62. The Barker levers, the trackers, and the stop action were removed and replaced with electro-pneumatic transmissions. The Grand-Orgue and Positif reservoirs were also removed and replaced by spring-regulators; the winding of the instrument underwent big changes as did its general balance (along the then-fashionable neo-classical trends). A new Pédale windchest was installed in front of the Récit box to accommodate the Soubasse 16’ as well as three new stops (Bourdon 8’, Prestant 4’ and Doublette 2’). A Flûte 4’ took the place of the Octave 4’ on the Grand-Orgue; the Positif Gambe 8’ was replaced by a Larigot 11⁄3’; a Principal Italien 4’ and a Clairon 2’ were added to the Récit; a new console (the third one) was installed; the “pédales de combinaisons” were reorganized and a combination system, with 6 general and 18 individual pistons, was installed at the back of the organ.
Beuchet-Debierre executed these extensive modifications under the direction of Jean Langlais. It cannot be seriously asserted that these were merely superficial, cosmetic alterations. In fact the sound effect of the organ was grossly modified. Whether it sounded better or not is a matter of taste, but obviously the sound was no longer that of Cavaillé-Coll. Jean Guillou faithfully summed up a fairly widespread feeling: “ . . . it is a faucet for lukewarm water!”

Jacques Barberis performed another “relevage” in 1983; the Clarinette 8’ was moved back to the Positif at this time and a few small changes were made among the couplers.

Soon after his appointment as titular organist in 1987, Jacques Taddéi first complained of the limitations of the combination system, then of the lack of wind, quite evident when heavy registrations and 16’ couplers were used. This was by no means surprising as neither Tournemire nor Langlais had ever taken care of this: many stops and couplers had been added to the original organ, an electro-pneumatic action for both notes and stops had replaced the original action, and many reservoirs had been removed when, on the contrary, new ones should have been provided to feed these multiple additions. Worse, in the late 1990s the wiring inside the console had deteriorated to the point where it became dangerous to use certain console controls; e.g., the crescendo pedal had to be disconnected as posing a fire hazard. As far as the instrument’s tonal aspects are concerned, Jacques Taddéi felt that the instrument lacked “guts” and was not responsive enough. This was clearly the result of the drop in the wind pressure that afflicted most divisions, especially the Pédale.

At this point, I drew up a program of repairs aiming at a largely sufficient wind supply by mending the reservoirs and wind trunks, adding a new blower and new primary reservoir to the existing ones, and replacing the electro-pneumatic slider motors (leaking, noisy and very cumbersome) with electric slider motors. To avoid all fire risks, it was decided to upgrade the key and stop action with solid-state transmissions and an electronic combination system. At the same time, Jacques Taddéi requested some tonal modifications that were described in the March 2002 issue of The Diapason: “With Jacques Taddéi and Marie-Louise Langlais as consultants, the organ is currently undergoing yet another restoration. The goal is to return it as much as possible to the original Cavaillé-Coll voicing and disposition while maintaining the tonal design for playing also the music of Tournemire and Langlais.”

The Manufacture Vosgienne de Grandes Orgues was entrusted with these tasks. Due to financial restrictions by the civic administration, they were staggered over many years. At the beginning of 2004, as the final phase was being carried out, Jacques Taddéi received a gift from a significant donor, the Bettancourt Schueller Foundation, to pay for several additions and changes that he was eager to have worked out: adding mutations in the 16’ series, a horizontal Trompette 8’, a Bombarde 32’, and moving the console from the second to the first gallery.

Soon after this, a conflict emerged among Jacques Taddéi, his assistant Marie-Louise Langlais, and the latter’s assistant, Sylvie Mallet. I was not aware of that dispute until Christina Harmon called my attention to the fight that, in fact, seems to have begun soon after the appointment of Nicolas Pichon as new assistant. (In fact, during various meetings concerning the organ, Marie-Louise Langlais used to say nothing but “Jacques is right! . . . ”)

Here are some extracts of my reply to Madame Harmon (May 24, 2004):



I am dumbfounded indeed to hear of a disagreement between Madame Langlais and Monsieur Taddéi concerning the organ of Sainte-Clotilde. At meetings before and during the works, Madame Langlais had the opportunity to voice her concerns, but she did not. She could also have phoned the Bureau des Monuments, or me, if she did not care to express her disapproval during the meetings; she did not.
. . . I am very sorry to hear of the dispute between Madame Langlais and Monsieur Taddéi; I thought that they were close friends, but conflicts are SO COMMON in the organ world that I wonder whether they are not the result of a genetic programming. . . . Anyhow it is a rule for me never to interfere in that kind of affair.

. . . Personally I am quite conservative towards organs; I was among the first (more than forty years ago!) to deplore the changes that French organs have endured along the years and centuries. If Monsieur Taddéi’s predecessors had acted more respectfully toward the Sainte-Clotilde organ, we still should be able to hear and play Franck’s organ.

An orchestrated flood of false “news” and delirious scoops was then spread on the Internet, which, according to Claude Imbert (in Le Point, April 14, 2005), “swarms with insane rumors and pillories.” Together with the organists’ verbal “grapevine,” this generated a campaign of considerable misinformation. The limits of absurdity were indeed reached many times, not least when someone launched the report that “The keyboards [of the new console] are repulsive . . . ” when, in fact, these keyboards are simply those of the Beuchet-Debierre console.

Reason clearly has no place in such polemics, and I do not wish to waste my time—and that of serious readers—in analyzing and refuting all of the crazy assertions that appeared here or there; it would give too much importance to mythomaniacs. Nevertheless, there is a point that needs to be clarified: Marie-Louise Langlais claimed that the “Monuments Historiques” [the official body dealing with historic organs] had not approved the work ordered by the City of Paris. This is fundamentally untrue. On June 14, 1999, the office in charge of organs at the City of Paris sent a letter to the “Direction des Affaires Culturelles d’Ile de France,” asking permission to carry out the proposed work on the Sainte-Clotilde organ. In a letter of June 27, 1999, the “Conservateur Régional des Monuments Historiques d’Ile de France” replied that there was no objection.

In order to put an end to the crazy allegations that were circulating, the ministry of culture entrusted Eric Brottier, advisor for historic organs, with the inspection of the Sainte-Clotilde instrument. He visited it in 2004 and acknowledged what every sensible person already knew: that the organ had been significantly and detrimentally altered in 1960–62, and that—far from damaging it—the recent works had on the contrary given it more coherence. The administration clearly understood that the organ had been and was being used as hostage in a private conflict. Consequently all planned-for work on Parisian organs has been cancelled.

The present specification of the organ follows: three manuals, 61 notes (C1–C6), Grand-Orgue, Positif, Récit; Pédale, 32 notes (C1–G3).

GRAND-ORGUE

16’ Montre

16’ Bourdon

8’ Montre

8’ Bourdon

8’ Viole de gambe

8’ Flûte harmonique

4’ Prestant 4

4’ Flûte

22⁄3’ Quinte

2’ Doublette

Plein-jeu VII

Cornet V

16’ Bombarde 16

8’ Trompette

4’ Clairon

8’ Chamade

POSITIF

16 Bourdon

8’ Montre

8’ Bourdon

8’ Flûte harmonique

8’ Salicional

8’ Unda Maris

51⁄3’ Quinte

4’ Prestant

4’ Flûte octaviante

31⁄5’ Tierce

22⁄3’ Quinte

22⁄7’ Septième

2’ Doublette

13⁄5’ Tierce

11⁄3’ Larigot

1’ Piccolo

Plein-jeu III–VI

8’ Trompette

8’ Clarinette

4’ Clairon

Trémolo

RÉCIT

16’ Quintaton

8’ Flüte harmonique

8’ Viole de gambe

8’ Voix céleste

8’ Bourdon

4’ Principal italien

4’ Flûte octaviante

22⁄3’ Nazard

2’ Octavin

13⁄5’ Tierce

1’ Octavin

Plein-jeu IV

16’ Bombarde

8’ Trompette

8’ Basson-Hautbois

8’ Clarinette

8’ Voix humaine

4’ Clairon

Trémolo

8’ Chamade

PÉDALE

32’ Soubasse

16’ Contrebasse

16’ Soubasse

8’ Flûte

8’ Bourdon

4’ Flûte

4’ Octave

2’ Flûte

32’ Bombarde

16’ Bombarde

16’ Basson

8’ Trompette

4’ Clairon

8’ Chamade

4’ Chamade



Combinaison électroniques

Coupure de pédale

Crescendo ajustable

Tirasses 8, 4

Octaves graves aux claviers

Accouplements manuels 16, 8

Conclusion


What does the future hold for the Sainte-Clotilde organ? It is indeed debatable: some strongly advocate recreating the original 1859 instrument; others think that the evolution should follow its course, according to Tournemire’s personal opinion (from “Notice d’inauguration”): “En outre, je ne me suis pas interdit de songer aux possibilités futures . . . ” (Moreover, I have not ruled out any reflection on future possibilities . . . ).

Translation of French terms:

Tirasse – pedal coupler

Anches – reed (ventil)

Octaves graves – 16' coupler

Octaves aigües – 4’ coupler

Relevage – overhauling

Orage – storm effect. A pedal that, on depression, draws down successively six or seven notes from the bottom of the pedalboard upwards.