Visite à Madeleine

by Peter Ewers

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Peter Ewers spielt Improvisationen an der Cavaillé-Coll-Orgel in La Madeleine, Paris

In 1846, the organbuilder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (1811-1899) provided the Eglise de la Sainte-Madeleine in Paris, consecrated in 1842, with the organ that until today enriches the monumental nave of this church visually and tonally. It is accommodated in a low cabinet in Italian renaissance style that is partly from gilded wood. The seperate console is layed out in the style of architecture of the prospect; its four manuals were originally crowned with the company plaque:
Cavaillé-Coll Pere et Fils
Facteurs d’orgues du Roi
While he equipped his first great organ (Basilique de St-Denis, III/P/69, 1841) with a “classical” concept of tone with diapasons, numerous mutations stops, cornets and mixtures in Grand-orgue/ Bombarde and Positif as well as the Ravalement of reeds of the pedal, there took place a crucial change with constructing the Madeleine organ towards the possibility of progressive and homogeneous orchestral fusion.This was provided by an increased number of stops of the same pitch2, numerous flutes, couplers of all manuals, octaves graves in Grand-orgue and Bombardes, brilliant reeds (Trompettes 16’, 8´, 8´, 4´ in the Bombardes manual), general tutti. Originally there was not a single Cornet there!
The division of organ, however, refers to the period of classical French organbuilding; the reeds that in later organs is in the Grand-orgue is in the joinable IIIrd Bombardes manual (16’, 8’, (8’), 4’); Grand-orgue has got the 8’-reeds Trompette and Cor anglais. Cavaillé-Coll had intended unrealized Trompettes en chamade 8’ and 4’ here. Though enclosed, the Récit is - in a “pre-symphonic” manner - assigned to the IVth manual. In 1846, it covered less than 20% of all the stops (with his later organs, it would cover up to one third as a “second Grand-orgue).
In the Positif there was in the beginning a Basson-Hautbois 8’ instead of the classical Cromorne, the Basson-Hautbois 8’ having changed places with the Musette 8’ from the Récit nowadways. The then innovative string-celeste Voix céleste II 8’ is in the Madeleine organ part of the non-enclosed Positif ever since; in 1971, Danion-Gonzalez intervened supple-mentarily into the general plan by establishing a Bourdon-celeste in the Récit expressif (Bourdon céleste 8’).
Not until 1927, the organ was given a general overhaul by Charles MUTIN.
As early as in 1956/57, the organbuilder Roethinger/ Boisseau provided the IIIrd manual with a “neo-classical” Fourniture IV as well as Cornet III, the Récit expressif with Prestant 4’ and Cymbale III, and thus extended most probably the Trompette harmonique 8’ (removed from Bombardes) by 12 base notes into a “Bombardes” 16’. In 1971, Danion-Gonzalez electrified stop- and keyaction, added - besides the before-mentioned Bourdon céleste - Flfte 4’ to the Pédale and added Larigot 1 1/3’ and Pleinjeu IV to the Récit. Grand-orgue was given the missing Cornet V. Bernard Dargassies, who is entrusted with the organ at present, gave the organ a general overhaul in 1988.
The Organists at La Madeleine
Since its consecration in 1846, the organ of La Madeleine resounded under the hands of many - mostly famous - musicians who held the post of the organiste titulaire or organiste supplémentaire respectively. A.Ch. Fessy was followed by L.J.A. Lefébure-Wély in 1847 whose compositions breathed the spirit of the neighbouring Opéra-Comique, which, however, according to Camille Saint-Saëns who succeeded in 1857, veiled the quality of his improvizations. With Saint-Saëns “a serious, stern musician” entered the gallery of La Madeleine. As he himself commented ironically, “... et l’on avait fait croire au public que je jouais continuellement des fugues; si bien qu’une jeune fille, en passe de se marier, vint me supplier de ne pas en jouer sa messe de mariage.”
Saint-Saëns lamented the low regard people had for improvization: “Sous prétexte qu’une improvisation ne sautait valoire les chefs-d’oeuvre des Sébastian Bach, des Mendelssohn, on en a détourné les jeunes organistes. (...) c’est tout simplement la négation de l’éloquence.”
Franz Liszt, to whom the well-known Third Symphony for organ and orchestra was dedicated, was often Saint-Saëns’ guest at La Madeleine.
Théodore Dubois, who had asserted himself against César Franck, succeeded Saint-Saëns in 1877 and remained in office as Madeleine organist until 1896 when he became director of the Paris conservatoire. Dubois left numerous pieces for the organ that are almost exclusively of liturgical purpose. Amongst them is the popular Marche des Rois Mages and a toccata. His successor Gabriel Fauré, famous as a componist, did not leave any organ compositions. Henri Dallier was titulaire from 1905 till 1934. During Dallier’s period of office, Charles-Marie Widor gave the first performance of his “Suite latine” on January 13, 1928, right at the end of the restauration of the Madeleine organ by Charles Mutin. Dallier’s successor Edouard Mignan worked until 1962 when Jeanne Demessieux (student of Marcel Dupré) followed as a legendary organist who on her tournaments of the whole of Europe as well as three times the USA received triumphant glory. At La Madeleine she recorded - among other things - the complete works of César Franck on LP-disk and inspired the congregation with her Sunday morning improvizations. Dupré confessed once, that he was Jeanne Demessieux teacher as well as student. After her death in 1968, Odile Pierre succeeded her in office, who also studied with Dupré and lead an important carreer as a concert organist and teacher. She left La Madeleine in 1979. Since that year, François-Henri Houbart is the titulaire, student of Pierre Cochereau.
Amongst the supplementary organists of the titulaire organists there are Charles-Marie Widor (who later became an influential organist at Saint-Sulpice), Eugene Gigout and Nadia Boulanger to be mentioned.


released January 15, 2013



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Peter Ewers Paris, France

Peter Ewers, born 1963, develops an own style of improvisation autodidactically, works as an organist at Paderborn cathedral for five years (with up to 480 services a years). 1996 first CD of improvisations, 1997 on the Cavaillé-Coll-organ of the Madeleine, Paris (critic's prize Coup de coeur), 2000 „Les planètes“ Notre-Dame de Laeken, Brussels (four of five tuning forks in „Diapason“). ... more

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