When I saw that the first two organs we were going to visit today had French pedalboards (“Pedalier à la française), I said aloud, “Uh oh, I’d better play something for manuals only!” and the person next to me said, “You are just going to have to bite the bullet and give it a try. You can either learn to do it on this organ or the next!”
Believe it or not, that gave me the courage to try to play Couperin’s “Tierce en taille” from his Messe pour les paroisses and yes, it wasn’t absolutely perfect, and I had to look at my feet. But at least I tried! And oh, the sound was just ravishing!
Today we visited churches in three medieval villages: Domgermain, Vézelise and Villacourt and what was so amazing were the classic French organs in these churches. Partly it is because these churches did not have the funds to make extensive changes and therefore the organs have been more or less preserved from their 18th century beginnings. In the first church we visited, Église Saint Maurice, there was a sentence in the tour booklet that caught my eye about this organ built in 1720 by Charles Cachet: By 1990, the organ was in a “sorry state” and was unplayable; nonetheless it had been well protected from the typical deforming revisions through the years thanks to the modest means of the parish.
Fortunately the Domgermain organ was restored to its almost original state in 1991-94. I was struck with the realization that French baroque music sounds incredibly rich and colorful — most especially on French classic organs — and it has really come alive for me here.
By the way, when we got to this town, our bus had to park at the bottom of a very, very steep hill, forcing us to walk up to the church which was at the top. I admit I was huffing and puffing pretty badly when I reach the top, but we were greeted with the church’s tower bells, which always puts me in festive mood!
Again the local media wanted to take a group picture for their newspaper, and I finally asked them to take a photo with my camera, so here we are:
It was on the 1779 George Küttinger organ at the Église Saint Cosme et Saint Damien in Vézelise that I truly appreciated the beauty of these examples of French Classic organs. In fact, I am now motivated to learn more French baroque music when I get home (after playing the Bach Clavierübung recital, of course!) This instrument was restored to its 1779 state by organbuilder Yves Koenig from 2004-2007, with most of the pipes being original.
We were greeted by the church’s organist, Dominic Dantand who played a suite by Jean-Baptiste Nôtre (1732-1807), one of the past organists of the church. It is always incredible to me to be hearing the music of a composer in the very place it was composed! Dominic said to be careful going to the organ because “the stairs to the organ are also original!” I would easily classify these steps as the most treacherous we have had to traverse so far!
I absolutely loved the sound of this instrument and even bought a CD. The tone was so mellow, yet so colorful.
One thing that was really unusual in this church were the wrought iron pews. Surprisingly, they were not at all uncomfortable, but I imagine that they must get pretty cold in winter.
The third organ we saw today was at Église Saint Martin at Villacourt, built during the transition period between Classic French and Romantic styles. Again, the organ was spared major changes due to lack of funds and it was miraculously not damaged during the two world wars. However it was unplayable during the 1950s, silent and neglected for 45 years, but remained untouched until being fully restored by the year 2000.
We traveled to our next hotel stop in Épinal where we had a group dinner. Especially memorable was the apple tarte! I sat directly across from our tour leader, Christophe Mantoux, and found out that he will be going to Yale in November to work with the organ students there. That means he will meet my former student, Joey Fala!