Since my last post, I have received an outpouring of support and thanks, for which I am most encouraged and grateful. When I read the letter to the choir on Thursday night, I told them that I always had dreams that I would die at the organ, but I guess that is not going to happen!
But guess what — it did happen to organist and composer Louis Vierne, on the night of June 2nd, 1937, and this year marks the 75th anniversary of his death. Vierne was the organist at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and after 37 years in that position, the powers that be decided there would be no more organ recitals. (Obviously, things have changed!) On that night, he climbed up the steps to the organ for his 1,750th performance and played the first part of the concert “as well as he has ever played.” Here’s the Wikipedia account of what happened next:
Directly after he had finished playing his “Stele pour un enfant defunt” from his ‘Triptyque’ Op 58, the closing section was to be two improvisations on submitted themes. He read the first theme in Braille, then selected the stops he would use for the improvisation. He suddenly pitched forward, and fell off the bench as his foot hit the low “E” pedal of the organ. He lost consciousness as the single note echoed throughout the church. He had thus fulfilled his oft-stated lifelong dream — to die at the console of the great organ of Notre-Dame.
Virtuoso organist Christopher Houlihan, who played a concert here in Honolulu at Central Union Church a couple of years ago, recently wrote a wonderful article called “Famous Last Notes: The Epic Death of Louis Vierne” for the Huffington Post and I highly recommend that you click the link to read it. In addition to being legally blind due to congenital cataracts, Vierne had an unbelievably tragic life. His wife ran off with a friend, his brother and his son were both killed in battle in World War I, then Vierne himself was badly injured in an accident and there was a fear that his leg would have be to amputated (and that would be devastating news to an organist!) According to Christopher Houlihan, Vierne was also depressed and lonely, smoking three packs of cigarettes a day, taking lots of pills and inhaling ether whenever he felt nervous. So whether he died of a heart attack or a stroke, he died what he loved doing best — playing the organ.
Heavens! my life is not nearly so melodramatic!
But I thank all of you for your messages and notes of support in this transition to another chapter of my life. I also thank you for reading my blog — over 50,000 page views since I started keeping statistics from January 2011!