Photos 2: French master Louis Vierne
Sunset at Notre-Dame, wide-angle view from the east across the Seine the way it was before the 2019 fire, as Vierne would have known it
First photo of Notre-Dame taken in 1843, only 4 years after Daguerre took the first photographs in the world in 1839
View of metal Montre facade pipes (vertical) and horizontal Trompette en chamade pipes from floor of west tribune looking upward
view of choir from south triforium showing smaller choir organ with case and pipes occupying second arcade with 2-manual choir organ console at floor level before the 2019 fire
Young Louis Vierne (c. 22 years old) seated to the left of Charles-Marie Widor seated front row center among students in Widor's organ class at the Paris Conservatory c. 1892
Improvisation recorded by Vierne at the Grand Organ, Notre-dame de Paris on 17 Nov 1928 and transcribed to paper in 2015 by organist Danijel Drilo
The standard nameplate affixed to all Cavaille-Coll organ consoles, as with Notre-Dame de Paris constructed in 1868
A brand new fiery French Romantic Toccata written in crescendo style very reminiscent of Louis Vierne and paired with a related 4-voice Fugue written in triple counterpoint has been written. To preview, playback, or digital download this Toccata & Fugue in F Major Op. 19 score, please use this link:
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Homage to Mssr. Louis Vierne, organiste-titulaire 1900-1937 of the Cathedral de Notre-Dame de Paris ... inspired composer and performer, beloved teacher, improvisor of genius, dear friend and mentor to many, even to this day, in absentia.
International students came to Paris from all over the world to study Organ with him.
This French master's inspired and moving choral and organ writing my be sampled by using this link:
The entire Messe Solennelle for Two Organs and Choir Op. 16 from which this Kyrie is excerpted is a masterpiece.
Made on site at the 850 year-old Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, this recording of this Kyrie is a precious souvenir of what listeners would have heard when this music sounded against those great stone walls. Sadly, the tragic fire of April 15-16, 2019 completely destroyed the Cathedral's spire, roof, and all of the wooden frame in its attic. It's an alarming fact that most historic-building conflagrations strike during renovations, and this fire, while its cause may never be determined, appears to have started accidentally in or near roof work underway near the Cathedral spire, which was elaborately scaffolded. As flames raced through the historic wooden timbers in the attic the intense heat of this cataclysmic furnace melted all the lead in the roof, contaminated the entire work site with lead dust and debris, caused several of the six-partite ceiling vaults to collapse, and the heat and flaming debris followed by the drenching by fire hoses damaged some of the stonework and created innumerable microcracks in the rose windows and other stained glass which will require painstaking restoration.
Stabilization of the structure and rebuilding true to a heritage that stretches back to the 12th century has begun however. With precision and prowess a French team of carpenters using medieval techniques have begun rebuilding the triangular wooden frames in the "attic forest" using oak from France. This team felled the trees and used axes to cut the logs for the wooden frame, then, with rope and a rustic pulley system, they slowly pulled the no. 7 truss replica they built from the ground in July, 2020 where it was displayed for the French people to see.
A total of 25 such trusses are to be installed at an unknown date in the cathedral nave, but this carpentry phase is not expected to come before 2022. The sheer numbers of the timbers in the attic's close quarters and the fact that after the first alarm on the evening of April 15 a marshall failed to locate the fire allowed it to spread much faster than anyone ever anticipated. There were special joints, techniques, and carpenter's marks on the wood members, all of which was lost. The chief hurdle to overcome with reconstruction is not the carpentry problem however; the French have the wood and know how to do it with original methods. The big issue has to do with the stone. Some stones which support the carpentry were damaged by the fire, and it's not so easy now to find similar stone.
Miraculously, the world-famous 1868 Cavaille-Coll organ in the west tribune escaped destruction, though it became filled with a non-adhering type of ashen dust like very fine sand which can, with extreme care, be removed and not the type of corrosive, sticky soot common with many fires. The stone with its sloping roof that connects the two bell towers and covers the span of the Cavaille-Coll organ perfectly fulfilled its role as an umbrella and protected the instrument from being flooded. Initially only a small puddle on a bellows and a few drops on the G#9 pipe of the Principal 32', the only pipe that received any water, were discovered.
The instrument is not completely out of danger, however. While it suffered the effects of smoke, dust, and heat and managed to escape destruction, the fire left three gaping holes in the roof, one when the spire collapsed. The instrument's console and pipes, miraculously, did not burn, windchests have been tested in operation and given the all clear, its electronic circuits, whether in the console or at the base of the buffet, somehow survived clean and unscathed, and its other mechanical components also survived intact. This organ with its 8K pipes was removed for repair in early August, 2020.
To get a sense of the task which lies ahead, the floor of the nave was cleared initially but not before it began raining inside the church during which time the site remained closed to the public. One only had to look upward at the roof at the time to understand just how much work had to be done. The fire left gaping holes in the vaults of the ceiling, twisted piles of burned metal and wood, and, at the summit, partially burned scaffolding towers overhead, which at the time were still in danger of collapsing. Massive wooden braces were erected and bolted together outside the building in an attempt to shore up the huge exterior flying buttresses. About 300 tons of structure were carefully stabilized before it could be taken down slowly, piece by piece. The delicate task of dismantling melted scaffolding which was originally erected to refurbish the now-toppled spire continues and is expected to be completed in October, 2020.
Tents in front of the Cathedral were erected to shelter much of the precious debris until a more permanent structure could be erected for that purpose. Archeologists are in the process of restoring tens of thousands of pieces of stone and some metal, but the chief architect has a different priority: he's still concerned about the vaults in the ceiling. According to him, when all the pieces of the chared wooden framing that burned and the metal elements that accumulated are eventually removed, anything could still happen. The ceiling and walls near the summit remain fragile, and the initial moisture and dampness in the building from rain puddles standing in the floor of the nave after every storm presented an initial threat to the wooden and perishable leather components of the Cavaille-Coll organ.
The soaring Cathedral vaults are being cleared of debris by 35 specialists on ropes, and the mammoth task of restoring the Grand Organ is expected to last nearly 4 years. While the instrument managed to survive the fire which consumed the cathedral's roof and spire, the blaze coated it with toxic lead dust that must be painstakingly removed. It's been affected by the record heatwave during the ensuing summer of 2019 and other temperature variations to which it's been exposed since the roof was lost. The pipes and other pieces have been placed in special containers inside the cathedral where the cleaning and restoration is to take place. The organ is expected to be reinnaugurated and play again on April 16, 2024, marking five years from the fire.
As for the smaller Choir Organ built by Merklin, the firefighters soaked the choir stalls to prevent them from burning, and, inevitably, the water came back over the stalls and sank beneath the overhanging side of the buffet. This caused the instrument's blower plant in the upper part of the basement to fill with water which then spilled onto the mechanism in the basement. The elevated parts of the instrument seem to have been spared somewhat, but the console situated at floor level was flooded and will likely need rebuilding.
A new work for 2 hands entitled Prelude Internationale in Bb Major for Organ Op. 5 has been written and dedicated to Vierne's memory. To preview, playback, or digital download this score, please use these links: BLUE for Organ, GREEN for Piano.
This is a dreamy, unpretentious work constructed in the same 6-part form that he taught his pupils to employ for improvising on a single free theme. This music pays quiet homage to this great French master -- without bombast, fanfare, or virtuoso display -- merely by employing the same form and some of the methods he used when composing his Twenty-four Pieces en style libre for Organ Op. 31 for 2 hands and what he taught during lessons on improvisation.
Ideally, if the dedicatee of a work was also a composer, the tribute should enlist some of the same compositional techniques and/or harmonic vocabulary as the dedicatee habitually employed in his/her own music so that, when performed, it brings that person to mind and sounds very much like a sketch the dedicatee could have written. It can be argued that the theme of the tribute should not be lifted from the dedicatee's music lest it suggest that more can be squeezed from the theme than the composer could find or wish to be found. It also can be argued that, when done with dignity and respect, anything is permissible.
Bottom line: homage to a musician of greatness and the intended reverential regard does not have to be an ostentatious show, i.e. a flashy torrent of notes many pages long ending in a crashingly loud climax. On the contrary, it may succeed in serving the purpose just as effectively if not better when it is shorter and quietly incorporates some of the personal vocabulary and methods used by the dedicatee. Above all, in the case of Vierne, it should have captivating chromatic harmony, thematic interest, and a strong sense of form.
Four of the preludes from Five Preludes & Fugues for Organ Op. 24-28 by this author also have single free themes worked in the same 6-part improvisational form taught by Louis Vierne. To preview, playback, or digital download any of these scores, please use these links:
This great French master Louis Vierne may be gone but not forgotten. Within his compositional output masterpieces are plentiful, and this includes much piano and chamber music as well as organ music which is still being performed today. He brought the organ symphony to the highest artistic level ever reached, contributed in a large way to the standard organ repertoire, and left his highly personal and indelible mark in the hearts of his many pupils and admirers, which continues to this day.
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