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French Masters of the Organ

French Masters of the Organ: Saint-Saëns, Franck, Widor, Vierne, Dupré, Langlais, Messiaen

Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    French Masters of the Organ
    Book Description:

    This engaging book discusses the colorful personalities and beloved music of the French romantic organist-composers. Michael Murray draws vivid portraits of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (1811-1899), the greatest and most influential organ builder of his time, and of seven other musicians with connections to Cavaillé-Coll and to one another: Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), César Franck (1822-1890), Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937), Louis Vierne (1870-1937), Marcel Dupré (1886-1971), Jean Langlais (1907-1991), and Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992).The book offers to lovers of French music and culture-and especially to student organists-details of these composers` lives and times and of their styles and techniques. Drawing on his personal acquaintance with Messiaen, Langlais, Dupré, and other famous contemporaries, and on period documents, original accounts, early recordings, and other primary sources, Murray examines the relationship between organ building and musical composition, the nature of romanticism and classicism, and the ever-perplexing question of composer versus interpreter.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14702-5
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    These essays are meant to introduce the student organist to some notable creators, each a Parisian by circumstance if not by birth. I say introduce because space does not allow every opus and biographical fact to be mentioned, let alone discussed. Still, experience suggests the utility of such portraits painted in broad strokes, and the reader in search of detail may easily find it, as a glance at the Bibliography will show. There also, besides the recommended reading, I have put the occasional elaboration, the sources of quotations, and the record of my debt to colleagues, students, and friends.


  4. 1 Aristide Cavaillé-Coll
    (pp. 19-41)

    THAT THE FRENCH ROMANTIC SCHOOL OF the organ owes its being to Cavaillé-Coll, a statement routinely heard, is true only in general. Unqualified, it misleads on three counts. First, two schools, not one, emerged in France in the nineteenth century: an earlier school, headed by Saint-Saëns and Franck, and a later, headed by Guilmant and Widor. The older is only indirectly influenced by Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens, a Belgian organist whom we shall meet in due course. To the younger, Lemmens’s ideas are seminal.

    Second, the Cavaillé-Coll organ so called is not one organ; it is many. Its tone and mechanism is...

  5. 2 Camille Saint-Saëns
    (pp. 42-63)

    TO TURN NEXT TO SAINT-SAËNS IS TO DEPART from chronology, since Franck was his senior by more than a decade. Yet Saint-Saëns felt so passionate an attachment to what he deemed the classic virtues that he looks back toward the eighteenth century in a way that Franck, for all his love of Bach, Beethoven, and Schubert, does not. Even if Saint-Saëns’s earliest organ works had not preceded Franck’s—a first Fantasy and the “Bénédiction Nuptiale” antedate theSix Piècesby a handful of years—his predilection would place the younger man at the beginning of our survey.

    This priority is...

  6. 3 César Franck
    (pp. 64-88)

    THAT SAINT-SAËNS AND FRANCK WERE ANYthing but friends is readily understood. In origins and experience, in habits of mind, in esthetic ideals, the two masters differed so greatly that they regarded each other across a gulf which only the warmest fellow feeling might possibly have spanned.

    Even casual conversation must have been awkward. Saint-Saëns was urbane, a Parisian sophisticate through and through; Franck was embarrassingly artless. Saint-Saëns embraced conservative politics, Franck liberal. Saint-Saëns knew literature, science, history; Franck’s schooling had been unexceptional, and his musical training itself had been cut short. In attire and demeanor, Saint-Saëns was fastidious. Franck, as...

  7. 4 Charles-Marie Widor
    (pp. 89-107)

    AS NOTED ABOVE, THE YOUNG CAVAILLÉ-COLL traveled abroad in the autumn of 1844 to examine organs and meet their builders. During his stay in Alsace, where he shared with Joseph Callinet a particularly amiable bottle of champagne and some pleasant hours of shoptalk, he met, perhaps not for the first time, Jean Widor, Charles-Marie’s grandfather, who had long been Callinet’s employee and confidant. Jean Widor took him on a tour of the Callinet workrooms and warehouses, and escorted him, at five o’clock in the morning, to his train. Friendship was to link Cavaillé-Coll’s art with three generations of the Widor...

  8. 5 Louis Vierne
    (pp. 108-132)

    IN THE EIGHTEEN YEARS REMAINING TO HIM after his appointment to the Paris Conservatory, César Franck composed the masterworks that brought him posterity’s acclaim. But the Violin Sonata,Variations symphoniques,Piano Quintet, String Quartet, and Symphony in D Minor drew by and large only perfunctory notice from contemporaries. He was so lightly regarded that a full seventy years could pass and Schweitzer “still remember what a stir theTrois Choralsmade.... Franck was a wonderful improviser, but no one expected from him so great a work.”

    But theTrois Choralswere published posthumously. Such repute as Franck knew in his...

  9. 6 Marcel Dupré
    (pp. 133-154)

    THE SPRING THAT WITNESSED FRANCK’S ENcounter with the fifteen-year-old Vierne (“Do I frighten you so very much?”—“Oh, yes, Monsieur Franck”) witnessed the birth of Marcel Dupré, their successor, heir, and consummation. And not just Vierne’s and Franck’s, but also Widor’s and Guilmant’s. “This will be an organist!” prophesied Guilmant, as he leaned over the cradle and examined the baby’s fingers. Indeed, this was to be such an organist as the world had never seen.

    Marcel Dupré was born in Rouen on 3 May 1886 into a family of musicians. One grandfather was an organist, the other a choirmaster. The...

  10. 7 Jean Langlais
    (pp. 155-179)

    BEFORE TURNING OUR ATTENTION TO THE work of one of Music’s most remarkable geniuses, we must note some events that took place in the decades of his birth and young adulthood.

    In the musico-political Paris of the 1920s, Widor was singularly powerful. To his friends in high places, his successes in ballet and opera, his published instrumental and orchestral music and critical and editorial writings, his half-century at Saint Sulpice, his renown as touring virtuoso, and his professorship in composition—to these wellsprings of influence had been added, in 1914, an appointment as permanent secretary of the Academy of Fine...

  11. 8 Olivier Messiaen
    (pp. 180-206)

    TO LANGLAIS, HE WAS A SCHOOLMATE WHO ever remained the warmest of friends, and they respected each other’s music and played it publicly. To Dupré, with whom friendship was also lifelong, he was an enigma from the day he enrolled in the organ class. Not even a request for the father’s advice could overcome puzzlement: “Sir,” said Dupré to Messiaenpère,himself a lycée teacher, “I have not had much experience in teaching, and I cannot understand your son.”—“I don’t understand him, either!” confessed the older man with a smile. “Of all the students I have had, in twenty-five...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 207-224)
  13. Index
    (pp. 225-245)