High Church French Organ Improvisation at La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris

The Glory of the High Church: Theatre, Rituals, French Organ Improvisations, Incense and Procession at High Church La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris

Hola a todos. Nothing is left to chance at La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris (Roman Catholic). All the participants in the Liturgy know what they’re supposed to do and it flows smoothly as if choreographed. They have splendid High Church Liturgies weekly at Notre-Dame. And there’s nothing uptight about them. They are very relaxing and enjoyable to watch for myself and mi amigo/my friend. For this particular Messe Solennelle/Solemn Mass in the video below (Messe solennelle de l’Immaculée Conception), it was the High Holy Day for the Virgin Mary in the Liturgical Calendar (8 diciembre/December). It was a beautiful Liturgy.

For us, the beginning of this Liturgy was thrilling to watch and hear. It was mainly due to the High Church French organ improvisation presumably played by superb Titulaire Organist Olivier Latry on the Grand Orgue high up in the back of the Nave. His playing was glorious (I think I heard a little bit of Herbert Howells in there, the Anglican composer). The bells rang at the beginning of the Solennelle Messe, followed by the procession with incense wafting through the Nave.

Mi amigo/My friend and I have watched this many times. He (who like me is not religious at all) says: “I love it. I love the three bells at the beginning of the organ improvisation and especially the start of the procession up the center of the Nave beginning at 1.38 in the video. It’s perfect.”

It was perfect. It doesn’t get any better than this. This is the best High Church procession I’ve ever seen. The only change I would make at Notre-Dame is to keep the processional organ improvisation going until the thurifer reaches the Sanctuary, then I would start the hymn, which for this Liturgy was the hymn “Ave Maria” honourinng the Virgin Mary. What they usually do is what they did in this Liturgy, as you’ll see in the video below. Maybe their way of doing it was/is to have all verses of the hymn sung, so they have to start the hymn earlier shortly after the procession enters the center aisle of the Nave. I told mi amigo regarding the organ improvisation and the High Church procession: You’d never see or hear that at Washington National Cathedral (Anglican Communion) that I used to write about. He said, “Oh no, they wouldn’t allow that there. I think they would think it would be too “scary” for the people. (roll eyes). They wouldn’t allow the organist to play like that either.” Yet the Nave at La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris was packed (as it always is) for this High Church Liturgy, and this Liturgy was held on a Thursday night. Let me repeat that: The Nave was packed on a Thursday night for a Liturgy honouring the Virgin Mary. Where would that happen in the US? I can’t think of any parish or cathedral church where that would be the case. Not on a Thursday night.

I don’t speak Francés unfortunately — I wish I did — although some words sounds similar to español, but I think they had a conference of Roman Catholic priests in Paris around this time and this Liturgy was part of the conference, and that’s why the large group of priests were there. The procession of priests was very impressive from the high-up camera view.

Surprisingly, they didn’t have a Choir for this Liturgy. They don’t often have a Choir at Notre-Dame for some reason. What they do with their (service) music at Notre-Dame works well with either a cantor leading the Liturgy or a small group of choristers, but I’d much prefer to have a larger Choir. From my research and assuming this information is current, they have a Choir School at Notre-Dame (Maîtrise/a pre-college music school in Paris) composed of Le Chœur d’Enfants/The Children’s Choir (they perform there the most and they’re quite good; I enjoy them), the Young Ensemble, the Adult Choir of choristers receiving professional training, and the Gregorian Ensemble). We find the Liturgies with a Choir more enjoyable because of the repertoire they’re able to do as well as descants the sopranos sing (such as on the “Alléluia” sung before The Gospel reading) and other added choral harmonies one does not hear when they don’t have a Choir.

The grand and glorious High Church French Organ improvisation accompanying the High Church procession starts at the beginning of this video below. Chau.—el barrio rosa


An interview with Olivier Latry, Titulaire Organist at La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris

3 comments on “High Church French Organ Improvisation at La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris

  1. Former San Franciscan

    “The Glory of the High Church”

    That describes the organ playing I just heard in this video w/ the procession. I’ve never heard playing like that before. Absolutely stunning. Imagine what it must be like to be there….all that sound coming at you….Thrilling.

  2. David in Breuckelen

    Beautiful. I’ve never heard organ playing like that before and it fits beautifully with the procession. The sound of that organ is amazing. Thanks so much. I’ll be watching this many times. It’s very uplifting.

  3. D8

    Wow! I see why you like that! I’m not religious either but watching that procession with the organ and incense sends chills up my spine. Too bad they cut it off and started the hymn early.

Fin. The End.