Studying with one of the greatest organists of all time was a remarkable privilege in my life. It is already more than thirty years since André Marchal passed away on August 27, 1980 in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, near Hendaye in the south of France, where he had a summer home. I had private lessons with André Marchal in London and Paris from autumn 1978 until July 1980. These lessons came about by chance.
In August 1978 I was browsing through the Musical Times when I saw a notice in small print announcing that André Marchal would be in England in October to give masterclasses and private lessons. I promptly wrote for details, and after an exchange of correspondence with Malcolm Rudland, a private lesson was arranged at All Saints’ Church, Durham Road, London. I was asked to bring any music I wanted, but was told that his métier was Bach, Franck, and Clérambault.
Lesson 1: Fantasia and Fugue in g, BWV 542
At the time, I was a twenty-year-old student at Cardiff University in South Wales and traveled to London on an early train in time for my lesson at 11 am. Arriving in the church, I found that the organ was in the chancel on the left side, with the console backing on to the choir stalls. Several people were already there, including well-known London music critic Felix Aprahamian (Marchal’s host for the visit) and Marchal’s daughter Madame Jacqueline Englert-Marchal. To the right of the attached console, seated on a stool, was 84-year-old André Marchal, blind, his eyes fast shut. The people were talking amongst themselves, the previous pupil having finished his lesson. I felt like an intruder as I approached, but I was made to feel so welcome by Marchal, who leaned forward holding his hand out to greet me as I introduced myself. I felt altogether very humble and awestruck.
I really did not know what to expect, but the following hour was unforgettable and left a very deep impression on me. I had brought the Bach Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542. Marchal spoke in French, which was translated for me by Felix Aprahamian on this occasion. Marchal stated that we must bear in mind the vast structure of the Fantasia, and then felt his way carefully onto the organ bench. His hands went up and down the stopboards of the modest-sized three-manual instrument, halting here and there to draw stops. It was fascinating to watch—there was no question as to which one was which, and no wrong ones were drawn. He played up to bar 9 with full magisterial treatment, absolutely note perfectly and no failing in memory.
Then it was my turn to play, and he covered all aspects of it in his detailed discussion and instruction. His choice of stops and indeed everything throughout this lesson was all carefully directed to the idea that he was putting across and was exactly right all the time. Arriving at bar 31 and once again at the console, Marchal played to the beginning of bar 35 with a layered crescendo. It was so smooth that at first I thought he was using the Swell pedal. He started on the Swell, bringing the Choir in on the D of bar 31, adding the G on the second beat of bar 32, then the last beat all on the Choir, followed similarly by the Great coming in on the tenor F in bar 33, adding the B-flat on the fourth beat and then the E-flat in bar 34, remaining with three notes on the Great and two on the Choir until the first beat of bar 35 (there is a recording of Marchal playing this work at Saint-Eustache on YouTube where he does this: www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQaG_hSejXY).
After the lesson, he said he was “very pleased” with the progress made in the hour, and said I could watch him teach some other pupils that afternoon. I had seen some veritable feats by organists, but there was altogether something intangible about Marchal that made me wish to see more.
Lesson 2: Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C, BWV 564
As there was a lesson vacancy the following week, I went to London again, which was his last day in England, and had another lesson, which was kindly delayed for me until after lunch because of an unexpected travel difficulty. I played the Fantasia for him again and he was pleased with it, and so we passed on quickly to the Fugue, during which Malcolm Rudland who had arranged everything arrived, and I was introduced. Marchal covered the Fugue with the same exactness as the Fantasia. We then turned to the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C, BWV 564. I scribbled down some notes on the inside cover of my Peters Edition of Bach so I would not forget.
“The beginning of the Toccata is like a question (Choir) and answer (Swell), then the Choir again on the downward scale. The upward scale in bar 2 after the rests is on the Great. Then echo on the Choir at the same parts where there is exact repetition (bar 5); observe the rests.” Marchal adds the Swell reeds for the Pedal solo. “Rallentando as the arpeggios proceed to the low Gs (bar 23).”
In bar 30 from the F-sharp “begin slowly and accelerando. Detach the chords at the end of the pedal solo from the ensuing passage. The Rondo theme (bar 32) is on the Great. The first episode is on the Swell and the second one on the Choir. Detach the left-hand and right-hand eighth notes (bars 32, 34 and similar) where the theme is in the other hand. Observe the length of the rests and the notes. Clearly detach the pedal A, E, F (Bar 70).”
For the Adagio, Marchal uses a Cornet for the solo, with a staccato pedal. He makes an interesting point in bar 7 about the repeated trills being increased in repercussions the way his own teacher Eugène Gigout had told him to do it. In bar 23 Marchal continues the downward scale on the solo stop then plays the chords on an 8′ 4′ 2′ registration. The Fugue was not played.
The lesson concluded with the Gigout Scherzo, which Marchal on this occasion directed to be played on a light registration without reeds. Afterwards I observed another couple of lessons, which included the first movement of Vierne’s Fourth Symphony, which I did not know at the time. Marchal spent much time correcting the printed text, and Felix Aprahamian turned to me and whispered, “by God he knows it!” One pupil offered an improvisation that Marchal guided as it progressed. Unfortunately, improvisation, for which Marchal was so renowned, was a subject I never studied with him. (He was not a composer, but several composers had submitted themes on which he improvised a four-movement organ symphony in London in the 1930s: Albert Roussel, Sibelius, Joseph Jongen, and Vaughan Williams; and then on another occasion with themes sent by Alan Bush, William Walton, Benjamin Britten, and Constant Lambert.)
After this we closed for the day. Outside there was a car waiting. Both back doors were open and Marchal was guided in, but he slipped over an invisible object and fell into the back of the car behind the front seats. Alarmed, I grabbed hold of him and although he was a bit shaken, he saw the funny side of it. He was told who had “saved” him and then Felix Aprahamian took me aside and said “the Master would like to have you as a student.” I was completely overbowled!
Lessons in Paris
I wrote to him in Paris, and shortly afterwards received a letter from France, the envelope bearing the words “Concert André Marchal.” He began: “I shall be most happy to see you and hear you again on Saturday, February 10th , afternoon. Could you come from 2 pm to 4 pm; my daughter will be free then to do the interpreting. . . . I shall be very pleased to hear your Bach, Franck, and do bring as much Couperin and Clérambault as possible, which sound very well on my home organ. Happy New Year and see you soon.” His daughter had written the letter and she arranged all my lessons in Paris as well as acting as interpreter (as my French was rudimentary then), which she did with great skill and clarity throughout every lesson. I was curious over his references to seeing, which he often made, and apparently he knew parts of the south of France very well and would point things out, which he would never see, for the benefit of others.
This lesson, like all the others I had in Paris, was at his home in rue Duroc. When I saw the three-manual organ for the first time (named “Philippe-Emmanuel”) it was quite a sensation for me, never having seen a pipe organ of such magnitude in a private home. The room it was in was not enormous, but also had a grand piano, a sofa, and a large globe of the world in Braille amongst other furniture. It was all just so impressive, and still remains so in my mind.
This is the stoplist of the organ “Philippe-Emmanuel”:
Grand-Orgue (56 notes, 2nd manual) tracker action
8′ Montre (façade)
8′ Flûte à fuseau*
16′ Ranquette (Pédale)
* In a Swell box
Récit expressif (56 notes, 3rd manual) tracker action
8′ Voix Céleste
Positif (56 notes, 1st manual) electric action
4′ Flûte conique
Pédale (32 notes) electric action
32′ Soubasse* (acoustic)
** By extension
*** from Récit expressif
Tirasses I, II, III, III 4
Pos/GO, Réc/GO, Réc/Pos
Pos/GO 16, Réc/GO 16
6 adjustable pistons for each manual and pedal
6 general pistons for the whole organ
Tutti for the whole organ and each manual
General cancel for the whole organ and each manual
Arbiter Records has reissued on CD the 1956 Zodiac recordings made by Marchal on this instrument before the extension of the Pedal Ranquette 16′ comprising extracts of the Bach Orgelbüchlein, BWV 603–612, 614–15, as well as BWV 564. Marchal describes and plays each stop, with Jacqueline Englert-Marchal translating. There is a quote from Francis Poulenc on the cover: “No one has an ear like Marchal. He has the best ear in Paris.” I have since heard an anecdote of Maurice Duruflé, saying “if you want to hear a true Cromorne, it is on this organ.” Philippe-Emmanuel was the model for the Lincoln Center/Tully Hall instrument inaugurated by Marchal in 1975. The booklet notes, which also contain an extensive biographical note on Marchal, are available online at www.arbiterrecords.com/notes/111notes.html;.
Marchal also had a small two-manual mechanical-action organ by Victor Gonzales named “Jean-Sébastien” in his villa Guereza in Hendaye-Plage, with the following stoplist:
4′ Flûte 4 (by mechanical extension)
Three usual manual and pedal couplers.
Marchal’s playing style
For this first lesson in Paris, I had brought the Franck Choral No. 3. Marchal knew it, as everything else, absolutely inside out. He had learned all his vast repertory from Braille, involving the arduous task of learning each line separately and assembling them afterwards, thus making a thorough study of the construction of each work, and this would be pointed out in his interpretation, giving a true re-creation of the music from the inside.
In his lessons as a whole, traits of his own playing style came through. He gave the experience of a full lifetime of performances to me—a young student—condensed into small points. He had a magnificent sense of rubato, as shown in his own recording of Franck’s Choral No. 1, which I later studied with him. He would often play fugal passages (e.g., Vierne Symphony No. 4, second movement in the middle) without reeds, and would delay ever so slightly such imposing entries as the theme in the Pièce Heroïque to give it more drama. The tempo would not be altered, and often there would be no slowing down at a cadence (Vierne Symphony No. 2, first full close).
Frequently he would say “Make that note more waited for,” and at the start of the Choral No. 3, which he emphasized should not be played rapidly, he gave insistence to the first note and every time a similar passage came. There would be no overall alteration of tempo, and any dreaming and dragging that can creep into Franck was eradicated, but it would still be so sensitive and overall extremely musical.
His own sense of coloring was remarkable, and he would gain effects that would do wonderful justice to the music through his intimate knowledge of every part of the piece he was concentrating on. Another point in his interpretations was to repeat notes well and clearly. If he added Swell reeds, the box would always be shut “so as not to be brusque,” and he would not move from full organ to Swell-pianissimo (as in parts of Vierne’s symphonies for example)—he would take the Swell loudly and then diminuendo, but all was done with the greatest of subtlety.
I was allowed to record on cassette all these lessons in Paris, which make fascinating listening. He was a man full of history, and he would occasionally reminisce over the past. Each lesson was two hours long, and for me one was arranged on a Saturday and the other on Monday so that I could hear the organs in Paris on the Sunday. I was a frequent visitor to Saint-Sulpice, where I heard Jean-Jacques Grunenwald on many occasions, and met him along with many others who climbed the steps to the organ loft during the Sunday service.
One day I went to Sainte-Clotilde and Jean Langlais was actually there, and we had a long discussion that I also recorded. I was not aware that he lived next door to Marchal until a few years later! I never heard Pierre Cochereau at Notre-Dame as he was always away on the weekends I was there, but I did hear the organ in the Sunday afternoon recitals.
All this was a tremendous experience for me, especially since a young blind organist, David Aprahamian Liddle, and I were André Marchal’s last two British pupils. David later inherited “Jean-Sébastien,” which my wife Sylvie Poirier and I played for the first time at Felix Aprahamian’s home in Muswell Hill, London, not so long after it arrived there from France. I last saw Marchal in July 1980, a few weeks before his death, and among the works studied then was the Franck Pièce Heroïque (the last complete work I played for him) and the Fourth Symphony of Vierne.
Marchal and the Vierne Fourth Symphony
Marchal supplied a personal note on his association with the work and its composer to Felix Aprahamian for a performance in 1970, which reads in part as follows:
. . . (Vierne) spoke to me of this new Fourth Symphony which, published in the United States, had not yet been heard in France. This was in 1922, when I was preparing to make my first real contact with the public in four historical recitals of organ music ranging from Cabezón to Marcel Dupré. Tempted by the work, the first performance of which Vierne seemed happy to entrust to my care, I set to learning it with enthusiasm.
The four recitals were given under the patronage of the Minister of Fine Arts, and Vierne’s Fourth Symphony opened the third program on Wednesday, 24th January 1923.
The work is of severe technical difficulty, and I remember my nervousness and beating heart on reaching the fugal passage in the Allegro. But happily this remained only an inward uneasiness. The symphony had an immense success. Vierne embraced me on the platform and let his feelings flow in a flood of affectionate and encouraging words. Having to leave the hall before the end of the recital, he wrote me the following letter the same evening:
“Thank you again with all my heart, my dear lad, for the great joy you have just given me. I will retain forever the memory of this emotion, which is one of the most profound that I have experienced in my life as an artist. You have admirably understood and felt this work, which is brightened for a moment by the fragments of a happy dream, and finishes in a fever. You have interpreted it like a poet, and this is manifest. I could not refrain from telephoning B. this evening so that he could tell you of my enthusiasm before this note reaches you. See in this a sincere and spontaneous gesture, the natural reflex of people of my kind and one that cannot be withheld.”
To learn the work, Vierne had loaned Marchal, for the Braille transcription, his own beautifully bound copy, a present from the publisher, G. Schirmer. (Marchal also described this occasion in one of my lessons.)
Marchal’s four historical recitals
These four concerts given by Marchal in the Salle Berlioz at the Paris Conservatoire to a highly critical audience, consisting largely of professionals, were of representative works by the following composers: Cabezón, Frescobaldi, Buxtehude, de Grigny, Bach, Daquin, Couperin, DuMage, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Franck, Saint-Saëns, Boëllmann, Widor, Guilmant, Gigout, Déodat de Séverac, Tournemire, Gabriel Dupont, Barié, and d’Indy, along with Dupré’s newly published Prelude and Fugue in B major. So already Marchal’s memorized repertory was quite extensive. He developed this later into a series of recitals at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris in 1942 under the heading “Les Grandes Formes de la Musique d’Orgue,” with commentary by Norbert Dufourcq. (See the flyer for the series he gave in private homes from December 1935 to March 1936, on p. 24.)
Recitals at the Cleveland Museum of Art
Since his death, I have been more and more amazed by his phenomenal repertory from all the programs collected by Felix Aprahamian of Marchal’s recitals, duplicates of which he gave to me in the 1980s. These programs are from all over Europe, the USA, and Australia, spanning from the 1930s to the 1970s. Among them stands out a booklet of the complete series of ten recitals given at the Cleveland Museum of Art during the 1947–1948 season (most Wednesdays from October to December and two in January), entitled “The Large Forms of Music for Organ,” which is a further extension of the aforementioned. The subjects are (the titles are in French in the booklet):
1) Le prélude et fugue
2) La Toccata
3) La fantaisie
4) Chacone, Canzone, Passacaille
5) Musique d’orgue d’inspiration grégorienne
6) La Musique d’inspiration populaire
7) Le Choral expressif et contrapuntique
8) Le Choral à variations et la Partita
9) Sonate, concerto, symphonie
10) Le thème libre
In total, he performed 96 works of all periods without duplication. Each concert ended with an improvisation in the form to which the program was devoted. Walter Blodgett, then Curator of Musical Arts, wrote in the booklet “M. Marchal is esteemed as one of the great musicians in our time. To be able to present so distinguished an artist in this illuminating survey of musical literature is a privilege.”
Works studied with Marchal
Here is a list of the repertory I studied with André Marchal.
In London (lessons not recorded):
Bach—Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542; Toccata, Adagio (not the Fugue), BWV 564
Gigout—Scherzo (Dix Pièces, No. 4)
In Paris (lessons recorded):
Franck—Trois Chorals (No. 1 dedicated to Marchal’s teacher, Eugène Gigout); Cantabile; Pièce Héroïque
Vierne—Symphonie II, op. 20; Symphonie IV, op. 32; Impromptu, op. 54, no. 2 (dedicated to André Marchal); Carillon de Westminster, op. 54, no. 6
Clérambault—Suite du Premier ton: Grand Plein Jeu, Fugue
Bach—Prelude and Fugue in E Minor, BWV 548; Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, BWV 543; Trio Sonata No. 2 in C Minor, BWV 526, Vivace
Marchal answers stylistic
In these lessons I asked multiple questions that I had prepared beforehand. For some of the questions I already had a good sense of what Marchal might answer, but I wanted to hear what he had to say directly. Here is a small sample, with the actual words he used, via translation:
1) PC: What are the general rules for “tying over” in César Franck? (quoting the opening of the Choral theme in bar 30 of Choral 3).
AM: Theoretically you only repeat the notes that are repeated at the same pitch in the same part, but when you have two voices that succeed each other on the same note, that is when they are legato—unless it is specifically indicated otherwise. The different voices are treated exactly as you would treat vocal parts.
2) PC: Does the “tying over” rule apply to other composers of the period?
AM: It is the same for Vierne—but Vierne is a bit different; he uses those ties just like violin bows. Vierne used those ties because he wanted one to sense the direction of the melody. And Vierne was a violinist—and so sometimes in his music you realize that he thinks of the bow of the violin. But it would be a big mistake every time you have a rupture of the legato to make a big silence. And sometimes you just have a look at it enough not to do it.
3) PC: Do we stick rigidly strictly to the string-like phrasing of Vierne?
AM: YES! And you must have a very muscular way of playing. Vierne insisted very much on the rhythm. He did not like so much metronomically played music, but he liked a good strong rhythm. Keep in mind that Vierne was above all a musician. He would not like to have his music being ruined by playing too strictly in tempo. Generally speaking he does indicate what he wants.
4) PC: What is a good substitute for the Voix humaine in Franck?
AM: The Célestes—you can use the célestes—it is not the same in effect. But the important thing is, it is quite different from the other registration—but it is most important that it comes out as something entirely different from the rest.
5) PC: (AM had mentioned in one lesson that he is quite sure that some details in registration in Franck’s Chorals are not probably what he meant). Are his other organ works more “exact” in this context?
AM: For all the works of Franck, not just the Chorals, you must always keep in mind that all his registrations were meant for his organ at Sainte-Clotilde. Remember that this instrument was so special. You always must adapt the registration to the instrument you are playing on. [In his recordings of the complete organ works on Erato made at Saint-Eustache, Paris, also reissued on CD, Marchal supplies a valuable note on his registrations.]
6) PC: Can Swell to Pedal be used in Franck? (There was no such stop at Sainte-Clotilde in Franck’s time.)
AM: Of course! Franck was the first one to be sorry not to have one.
7) PC: When it specifies for example Fonds et anches 16, 8, 4 in French organ music of this period, can we use the mixtures also? What is the rule for using mixtures in this context?
AM: It means also mixtures when there are some mixtures. Cavaillé-Coll invented the idea of dividing the stops of each manual into two to make the registrations easier. Generally speaking, on one side you would have all the 16, 8 and 4 foundations. The 2-foot, mixtures, cornets and reeds were on a separate chest. In order to have those you had to push on a pedal [ventil], which also allowed you to suppress them. Before the era of adjustable pistons, it was a way of helping you change the stops. And that was not only in France. The Germans had a different and complicated system. [AM was referring to the Freikombination system.]
8) PC: In Clérambault, can ornaments be added at will, and can the existing ones be made more expressive by prolonging?
AM does not think it is necessary to add them—“it is safest to do as written. Not everybody does this. It is certainly possible to make them more expressive by prolonging them. Often ornaments replace the expression of the Swell box, which didn’t exist yet.”
On the subject of notes inégales:
AM: “It is a matter of taste. Each one must do according to his own taste.” But he is not very attracted himself, considering it a bit of a fashion.
On the subject of ornaments:
AM: All ornaments should be played on the beat—where there is a mordent, appoggiatura, etc., always on the beat.
9) PC asking about the best editions of de Grigny, Daquin, Marchand.
AM likes the Guilmant edition very much except for the registration. “The registration is very bad because Guilmant tried to adapt it to the nineteenth-century organ. Guilmant was very conscientious however, so if we avoid the replacement registrations he suggests, his editions are the best.”
10) PC: What are your registration plans for Trio Sonatas, particularly No. 2 and No. 6?
AM: “It is very easy. Always an equivalence of sound but a different timbre.” In the second movement of BWV 526 he likes using a reed stop in the LH, which makes a nice dialogue with the flute RH. Since the tempo is slow there, a 16′ can be used on the Pedal. For the third movement a little more sound, for example, the Cornet.
In one lesson he played through the complete Bach Fugue in C, BWV 547, demonstrating phrasing, registration, and manual changes. Several other works were also used as examples in many lessons, where he would play and explain, jumping directly into the middle of a piece to make a point.
About the recorded lessons
I am most grateful to Claude G. Thompson of Montreal, who transferred the original cassette tapes of my lessons to CD in 2008 to ensure their preservation. Listening to them again after three decades, it hardly seems it is so long ago and it is like having the lessons all over again. Sometimes I cringe at my innocence, but at the time most of this repertory was very fresh in my fingers, so I had not fallen into the habit of doing it all the “wrong way,” which can be hard to unlearn afterwards. Since having these lessons, and living in Montreal for more than 25 years and being married to Sylvie Poirier, who is French-Canadian, I understand everything Marchal says in these recordings directly, so it is doubly enlightening for me hearing his teaching in his own language also. I have always tried to apply what I learned from him, transcribing the lessons into my scores.
There are thirteen CDs of lessons I recorded in Paris in 1979 and 1980. In some parts there is a lot of repetition and revision covering the same passages. The Franck Chorals are conveniently on one CD each, approximately one hour each, except Choral 2, which is 77′55″. Pièce Héroïque and Cantabile are on the same CD (63′45″). BWV 543 and 526 are on two CDs of nearly one hour each. BWV 548 and the Clérambault are one CD (71′00″). Vierne Symphonie IV is on three CDs (75′05″, 51′50″, and 65′09″), plus 2′30″ on a fourth CD with Impromptu and Carillon de Westminster, totaling 53′11″ with related questions. Vierne Symphonie II is on two CDs (59′10″ and 65′54″), including 37′51″ of questions. Ideas on Vierne Symphonie III (the very last part of my final lesson with him), which I did not play for him total 10′16″ and are tagged onto the Symphonie IV 51′50″ CD.
Generally, the organ sounds very loud in contrast to the voices. There are extraneous noises from time to time. The telephone rings sometimes and is deafeningly loud (perhaps the cassette machine was close to the bell!) and it covers some of the spoken word. Marchal’s cat, present at some of these lessons, can be heard here and there, and Marchal’s clocks chime beautifully as we go along. The windows were open when it was warm and so there is the sound of people walking past outside, some no doubt curious on hearing the organ as the room was on ground level.
André Marchal left a profound mark on those who knew him, and extensive tributes poured in after his death. In 1981 L’Association des Amis de l’Orgue published Hommage à André Marchal, a special issue of the trimonthly review L’Orgue. This was reprinted and expanded by the American Guild of Organists in 1997. Entitled Tribute to André Marchal, it contains a number of personal homages from a fascinating cross section of organists, students of Marchal (myself included), organbuilders, composers, friends and colleagues, and people outside the music profession, all of whom have something in common—André Marchal had touched their lives in a very significant way. The Tribute also contains details of the two Marchal home organs in Paris and Hendaye, many photographs, and a complete discography. Much of this information is also available on the André Marchal website www.andremarchal.com (in French). In 1982 the Académie André Marchal was founded www.academieandremarchal.org (in French), whose initial focus was a teaching academy, but from 1991 in association with the town of Biarritz, a Prix André Marchal was established within an international organ competition.
So the life and work of André Marchal continues through his legacy of recordings and students. ■