North Central: French Organ Music

Greetings from the North Central AGOYO! I hope everyone’s new year is off to a great start.

Here are some thoughts on organ music from France. The implications of the French Revolution and organ innovation by Cavaille-Coll are mentioned as two distinguishing forces that separate the earlier repertoire and instruments of the French Classic from their Romantic successors. A list of prominent composers from each period is also given.

The French Classic instrument pictured is the 1714 Boizard organ at Abbaye Michel-en-Thierache, and the French Romantic instrument is the famous 1862 Cavaille-Coll organ at Saint-Sulpice, Paris.

Of all the national schools which comprise the organ’s literature, the contributions of France are among the most known and studied today. French organ literature is typically understood in two broad categories, Classic and Romantic, with the French Revolution separating the two periods. The French Revolution of the late 1700s marked significant changes in the arts, both visual and musical. Traditional societal institutions (i.e. state authority, the Church) experienced a significant reevaluation of their power and influence in French society.

The Revolution, alongside the innovation of French organ builders like Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, resulted in a trend of more “symphonic” pipe organs being built across France. Unlike the organs of the French Classic era, these organs possessed  more comprehensive abilities to mimic the sounds of a symphony orchestra. Romantic-era composers such as Vierne and Widor jumped at the possibilities of writing lengthy, multi-movement symphonies for the organ to emulate these orchestral sounds. Of course, these organ symphonies form a core component of the French repertoire.

Speak Your Mind