I’ve been waiting to play François Couperin’s “Tierce en taille” from the Messe pour les Paroisses, and finally got that opportunity when we visited the organ at Sarrebourg’s Église Saint-Barthélémy.
Today is Day 5 of the Historical Organ Study Tour of Lorraine, France, and it was not until today that we have heard and played some French Classic organs. The organs up to now have been primarily Romantic instruments, and playing French baroque music on them hasn’t really worked.
French Classic organs are actually not easily found because many of these eighteenth century instruments underwent changes and additions during the nineteenth century. Those changes included having the action changed from tracker to pneumatic, and having many more foundation stops added—corresponding to the rise of the symphony orchestra.
At the organ at Église Saint-Barthélémy, French classic music just came alive as I heard the characteristic sounds of the cornet, chromhorne, grand jeu and plein jeu. I could easily have spent the whole day here (!) but had to content myself with hearing this organ for only the two hours our group was visiting here.
I have to mention that in all of the organs we have heard and played on this trip, only a few of them have been demonstrated by the local church organist. The rest of them have begun with a grand, 20-minute improvisation at each church by our tour leader, Christophe Mantoux, showcasing many individual stops and then building to full organ. At the Église Saint-Barthélémy, he did a surprise improvisation on “Happy Birthday” (in French Baroque style!) to tour participant Martin Stempian, who celebrated his 86th birthday today. Christophe claimed he included 86 iterations of the “Happy Birthday” in his improvisation!
By the way, Christophe told me that he was very, very good friends with the family of Hawaii Symphony concertmaster, Ignace Jang, growing up in Paris! However, Christophe remembers Iggy as the “little brother,” and he thinks the last time he saw him was when Iggy was only six years old! He was surprised that Iggy has become so successful as a violinist, because he can only remember him as a little boy. [UPDATE: Christophe said that he DID meet Iggy as an adult, but cherishes the memory of him as a six-year-old.]
We also saw organs at Blamont (Église Saint Maurice) and Fénétrange (Église Saint Rémi). You’ll notice that I’m taking a lot of pictures of organ staircases plus photos of pews. I’m so astounded that some of the “pews” are only 8-9 inches wide—you certainly can’t get comfortable on them, that’s for sure! I remember going to a church in Rudesheim, Germany, where I proclaimed the pews as medieval torture devices, with a bar sticking out in the middle of your back, to prevent you from leaning back. Aaaurgh!
P.S. Dr. Litton complimented me on my performance of “Tierce en taille!”