Incorporated Association of Organists

Annual Organ Congress Paris 2002

by Brian Moore

It was in October 2001 that details of the Paris Congress appeared in the Organists’ Review, but it was well into the New Year before my reservation was confirmed, such was the demand for places from organists all over the country to hear the famous instruments known to the great players of the French school, past and present.


So on the fine Friday morning of 19th July I caught a train from Bearsted station to Ashford and then Eurostar to the Gare du Nord, Paris, the main party of delegates having left from Waterloo, and then made my way to the Hôtel Ibis at Porte d’Orléans. Accommodation was arranged in two hotels since there were 300 of us, and over the next few days considerable curiosity was caused by groups of English travelling on the Métro wearing their yellow IAO Congress nametags.


I soon met Anthony Cairns who is Organist and Choirmaster of Leatherhead URC and the IAO Web Master, and his cellist wife Anne, and we set off on Friday evening to enjoy a bateaux-mouches cruise on the Seine. 


Over the next three days we visited nine of the most well known Parisian churches and Saturday started with  Sainte Clotilde, to hear the 1859 Cavaillé-Coll played by César Franck for 30 years.  Mme. Louise Langlais spoke about the organ (3 manuals 61 stops) and organists of Sainte Clotilde, including her husband Jean Langlais and played music by Franck, Tournemire and Langlais, all written for this instrument. 

St. Étienne du Mont
The organ case dates from 1631/33
and is the oldest in Paris

The afternoon visit was to Saint Étienne du Mont, a striking Gothic church with a Renaissance West front and magnificent stone rood screen dating from 1520. The fine double organ case dates from 1631-1633. Many builders have added to the organ over the years, including Cavaillé-Coll in 1863, the last work on it being carried out by Dargassies in 1991 (4 manuals 88 stops). Maurice and Marie-Madeleine Duruflé played here from 1930 to 1999, but M. Duruflé often returned from recital tours dissatisfied with the organ and had various additions made so that it now overflows the case.  He died in 1986, but after the 1991 alterations Mme. Duruflé considered the organ “parfait”. It was played by the young Vincent Dubois, who gave a brilliant performance of the Prelude et Fugue sur le nom A.L.A.I.N. by Duruflé.

n the evening at La Madeleine we heard the successor to Saint-Saëns and Fauré, François Henri Houbart, playing Saint-Saëns and Widor on the 1846 Cavaillé-Coll organ (4 manuals 59 stops) with its beautiful harmonic flutes and powerful reeds.  His performance of the Widor Variations de la 5éme Symphonie was masterly

On Sunday morning we found that the choir organ only was being used for the morning mass at La Trinité, the church where Messiaen played for most of his life, so quickly went to Saint Sulpice to hear the mighty Cliquot/Cavaillé-Coll (5 manauls 102 stops). The organist was Sophie-Véronique Cauchefer-Choplin and at the end of the 10.30 mass she played Prelude, Cantilène et Final improvisés sur “Voici que Dieu vient à mon aide; le Seigneur est le soutien de ma vie”.  It was very symphonic and well developed, the highlight of all the improvisations we heard, with the possible exception of that which she gave for us at 1.00 p.m. to demonstrate all the facets of the organ.  It was a set of variations, with her husband calling down to us the combinations being used. Widor was organist here (1870-1934), followed by Marcel Dupré (1934-1971) who considered it his duty to stay in Paris during the German occupation to safeguard the organ.  It was a great thrill to hear this famous instrument in this huge resonant building.

Next on the list was Saint Eustache, built between 1532 and 1637, and after Notre Dame the largest church in Paris.  The organ was rebuilt by Van der Heuvel in 1985-1989 with dual action and has two consoles, the electric mobile console in the north transept and the Barker lever console in the organ gallery (5 manuals 101 stops).  Vincent Crosnier gave an unrhythmic and harshly registered performance of the Bach/Vivaldi Concerto in A minor, and also played the Duruflé  Prélude et Fugue. The organ has two 32ft pedal reeds, a 32ft Montre on the Grand Orgue, and a Contrebasson 32ft on the Récit.  It is obviously a wonderful organ, but somehow I was not as bowled over by it as I expected to be.

The organ in Saint Eustache

Our day ended with a private visit to La Cathédrale de Notre-Dame de Paris, where we were ushered in by security guards.  It was a great privilege to be in this beautiful building, to absorb its atmosphere with the evening light filtering through the West Endrose window over the organ. The organ dates from 1733 and was rebuilt by Cavaillé-Coll in 1868 and 1894, with a large rebuild in 1992 by Boisseau, Giroud, Eymeriau and Synaptel who installed the computer transmission system (5 manuals 109 stops). Louis Vierne was organist here and died at the console in 1937. Appropriately, Yves Castagnet included in his recital Clair de Lune and Carillon de Westminster by Vierne, the first piece sumptuously drifting round the cathedral, and the second full of majesty. 


Monday started at Saint Augustin with a demonstration given by Didier Matry of the organ rebuilt by Cavaillé-Coll in 1890 (3 manuals 54 stops).  We heard music by Gigout, who was organist here, and Tournemire. The organ sounded well in this impressive church which has a large central dome and was the first to be constructed using a stone-clad iron framework.


The Paris Congress was the brainchild of Professor Ian Tracey, the current President of the IAO.  He was helped locally by Frédéric Blanc, who is organist at Notre Dame d’Auteuil.  The organ here was built by Cavaillé-Coll in 1877 and enlarged by him in 1882 after having been loaned to the Trocadéro (3 manuals 52 stops).  The voicing remains untouched since 1884, and it is considered to be one of the finest symphonic organs in Paris.  Frédéric played pieces by Vierne, Duruflé and Fauré, followed by an Improvisation Libre.  There was an improvisation masterclass, and then Paul Hale introduced the RCO lecture The Life and Works of Maurice Duruflé given by Frédéric who is a key figure in l’Association Maurice et Marie-Madeleine Duruflé.  He was a pupil of Mme. Duruflé and she bequeathed to him the Duruflé apartment containing the house organ and all of the books and papers.  Maurice Duruflé was born in 1902 but he and his wife were involved in a car accident in1975, after which he never played again. Mme. Duruflé was born in 1921 and died in 1999.


Congress ended at the outstanding Paris landmark of Sacré Coeur, on a beautiful warm evening with magnificent views over the city. The organ was built by Cavaillé-Coll in 1898 (4 manuals 78 stops).  Although partially restored in 1985, it is now unreliable so that the organist Gabriel Marghieri chose to demonstrate it with an Improvisation Libre.  It has a wealth of soft colours as well as the magnificence of a large Cavaillé-Coll.


There are many memories — meeting Dr. Francis Jackson, speaking to Paul Hale, seeing KCOA member Vicky Shepherd and her husband Gilbert on several occasions, and Jim Bryant, also one of our members. It is impossible to choose a favourite organ — was it St. Sulpice or Notre Dame? — but mixed in with the music were delightful coffee stops, picnic lunches under shady trees, good company and superb evening meals at typically attractive Parisian restaurants.  I wish it could all happen again!

The organ in Saint Sulpice

Anthony and Anne Cairns
with Brian Moore at d'Anteuil

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