Photos 2: Homage to Louis Vierne

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.  🙂

Students came from all over the world to study with him.

A sample of this French master's inspired choral and organ writing is posted on this blog [See menu bar, Videos 1 subpage, Vierne Kyrie Eleison].  The entire work [Messe Solennelle, Op. 16, for two organs and choir] from which this Kyrie is excerpted is a masterpiece.  This is a precious recording made on site at the Cathedral de Notre-Dame de Paris long before the tragic fire of 15 April 2019 which completely destroyed the spire, three quarters of the roof, and all of the wooden frame in the attic.  The intense heat of this cataclysmic furnace melted the lead in the roof, weakened the remaining limestone structure, and it is anticipated that the sudden cooling from the firefighters water created innumerable microcracks in the rose windows and other stained glass, all of which will need to be painstakingly repaired.  Miraculously however, the great organ in the west tribune escaped destruction, though it is filled with a non-adhering type of ashen dust which is easily removed and not the type of corrosive, sticky soot common with many fires.  The stone with its sloping roof that connects the two towers and covers the span of the great organ perfectly fulfilled its role as an umbrella, and the instrument was not flooded.  There is only a small puddle on a bellows and a few drops on the G#1 pipe of the Principal 32', the only pipe that received any water at all.

While the great organ suffered the effects of smoke, dust, and heat, it managed to escape destruction, but the fire left three gaping holes in the roof, one when the spire collapsed.  Unless work proceeds swiftly to shore up the remaining portions of the building weakened by the fire, and unless giant tarps can be stretched across the roof and secured in a satisfactory manner against future thunderstorms, the possibility is always there that the great organ may sustain additional damage from rain or additional crumbing of parts of the building.  As there is no electricity available in the Cathedral yet, it has not been possible to turn the great organ on.  At this stage one can't be absolutely sure if the windchests have suffered any ill effects of the heat before they can be tested in operation, but the authorities are optimistic and confident that the mechanical components are intact.  The console and pipes so far are showing no obvious signs of heat damage.  The vaults are partly collapsed at the crossing in the north transept and in the nave near the crossing due to the fall of the spire, but the great organ's electronic circuits, whether in the console or at the base of the buffet, are unscathed and perfectly clean, having been locked.

It is unrealistic to expect the Cathedral to be rebuilt in time for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, as many would wish; estimates are that it may take two years just to settle on a plan for restoration of the edifice and ten years or longer for the Cathedral to reopen, as much of the rebuilding effort will be costly, difficult, labor-intensive, and very time-consuming.  As reconstruction work near the great organ will commence at some point, it may prove better to completely seal and enclose the instrument in a pressurized, climate-controlled, waterproof case rather than to dismantle it.  The cleaning within such a case could be done without technical difficulties, keeping the voicing and harmonization perfectly preserved, but the dismantling of the organ, with its prolonged storage and relocation, would be a considerable undertaking, and the organ would suffer greatly.  But additionally, and more importantly, the extremely fragile facade of Cavaille-Coll, which has never been removed from the Cathedral since his rebuild of the great organ in 1868, would have very little chance of surviving.

As for the smaller choir organ, 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.  The blower in the upper part of the basement filled with water, which then spilled onto the mechanism in the basement.  The upper part of the choir organ seems to have been spared somewhat, but the console situated at floor level, completely inaccessible for security reasons, has surely been flooded.  The great organ in the west tribune however, has survived.  It is silent for now and will be for many more years, but, thankfully, it is still intact and alive.

In homage to this great French master Vierne an organ piece for 2 hands entitled Prelude Internationale in Bb Major Op. 5 has been written.  This is a dreamy, unpretentious work constructed in the same 6-part form that Vierne taught his pupils to employ for improvising on a single free theme [See menu bar, Free Stuff subpage, 2 Staff Op. 1-9 ... and blog/archive, Learning By Example].  This music pays quiet homage to this great French master -- without bombast, fanfare, or virtuoso display -- simply by employing the same form and some of the methods and vocabulary he enlisted when he composed his 24 Pieces en style libre Op. 31 and what he taught during lessons on improvisation.

In this author's view the word "Homage," as it applies to a piece of music bearing that title, should be more than simply a tribute to another musician, more than simply a work showing respect for or gratitude to someone else.  Ideally it should enlist some of the same methods and rhythmic and harmonic vocabulary as the dedicatee habitually employed in his/her own work, thereby demonstrating that those very same principles still have relevance to today's expression.  It can be argued that the theme of the tribute should not be lifted from the other person's composition 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:  a musical tribute entitled "Homage" does not have to make an ostentatious show as a sign of the intended reverential regard -- and it does not have to be a flashy torrent of notes many pages long with a crashingly loud climax.  On the contrary, it can be short, quiet, incorporate perhaps many more of the methods used by the dedicatee, and may succeed in serving the purpose even better.  Above all, it should be beautiful when people listen to it.                     

The Preludes from Op. 25-28 described on this blog also have single free themes worked in the same 6-part improvisational form taught by this great French master [See menu bar, Free Stuff, Five Preludes & Fugues subpage ... and blog/archive, Getting Started With Writing, Parts XXXI, XXXII, XXXIII, XXXV].  This author -- for special reasons, all good and sufficient and described elsewhere on this blog [See menu bar, Bio subpage, A Case Study], takes unusual interest in Mssr. Louis Vierne, his methods of composing, and his manner of teaching his students.  This great organist of Notre-Dame Cathedral left this world some 82 years ago, but he is most certainly not forgotten.