Tag Archives: Notre-Dame de Paris

The fire at La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris and the Grand Orgue

The Grand Orgue was saved because the stone slab connecting the two towers protected the organ. But, if the vaults of the Nave are not consolidated quickly, this will probably dismantle the organ says one of the three Titulaire Organists at Notre-Dame, Vincent Dubois.

Hola a todos. When I saw that the Cathedral was on fire, a sense of disgust and sadness came over me as if someone close to me had died and my memories of watching their Liturgies (the best High Church Liturgies one will find anywhere, and that glorious Grand Orgue high up in the back of the Nave). And as usual and as expected, during and after the supposedly accidental fire at La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris this week, there’s been no word, talk, concern or even mention of “What about La Grand Orgue?”

Instead, reporters have been concerned with and about anything but the Cavaillé-Coll Grand Orgue/Great Organ. Some reporters didn’t even know what the Nave was. One referred to it as “an alley.” Do some reporters not look things up anymore? The Nave is the main area/room where the congregation sits either on the Epistle side (right side facing the High Altar) or The Gospel Side (the left side facing the High Altar). The “alley” I think she was referring to is the aisle in the middle of the Nave where the procession enters and exists. Note to ignorant reporter: The aisle is not the Nave; it’s only a part of it. (Sigh.) Reporters were asking the usual ludicrous questions that one has come to expect from reporters in the US in times of a tragedy, such as “What was your first reaction when you heard that Notre-Dame de Paris was on fire?” Or “How does it make you feel to see Notre-Dame burning?” You know, I wish someone would tell it like it is and tell these people, these idiot reporters: “How do you think it makes me feel, idiot? I’m just as human as you, reporter. I haven’t had a lobotomy, how about you? How does it make you feel to see Notre-Dame burning? Or do you like this because it gives you a story to report on? It gives you work. Then sarcastically add: Oh, I’m just delighted to see Notre-Dame burn, aren’t you? It delights me. I feel giddy. Doesn’t it delight you, too? It’s a hobby of mine to watch parish and cathedral churches and other things burn. I love seeing the smoke rise above the building, don’t you?” Morons. (roll eyes) I look forward to the day — probably not within my lifetime — that reporters stop asking these idiotic “How does this make you feel?” type question in times of a tragedy. But they always ask them. I think this stupidity-level started in — can you guess where? — the US. Then, reporters were obsessed with the lead roof, but no questions or concerns about the two organs in the Cathedral. A roof is fairly easy to replace these days. It’s all precut and assembled in a factory and delivered on-site and can be installed in probably a few days for something that size. But replacing an organ like the Grand Orgue would be nearly impossible if not take years.

The corporate media regardless of country have no interest in the music of a grand cathedral such as Notre-Dame de Paris, or its musical instruments, or anything else musical.

I also learned from watching the Liturgies at Notre-Dame — from the insipid camera work as well as the U-toob comments — that to most Catholics including some priests, the music is considered unimportant. Instead, it’s all about “The Spoken Word.”(TM) That explained why KTO-TV always disrespected the Organ Voluntary at the beginning of the Messe by turning the cameras on late in the middle of the organist’s glorious improvisation, and by disrespecting the Organ Sortie at the end of the Messe by turning off the cameras in the middle of the piece being played, whether an improvisation or a prepared piece. These are renowned organists that KTO-TV routinely disrespects. But they don’t care. This has been an ongoing complaint for years and KTO-TV continues to disrespect these three organists at Notre-Dame. Fortunately, from my experience, most Anglicans don’t disrespect their organists by holding to this sad view of music in their Liturgies.

I had to search around because no one was saying a word about the Grande Orgue or the Choir Orgue.

Vincent Dubois, one of the three Titulaire Organists at Notre-Dame, said:

“Unlike the rumors that circulated early this morning, the great organ is, a priori, saved. It has some puddles of water left and right, but nothing dramatic. The buffet would be spared, as well as the piping… It’s miraculous. We were in contact all night with my colleagues Olivier Latry and Philippe Lefebvre and we did not believe it. It is the slab of stone covering that connects the two towers that saved the instrument: there is no framing in this place of the roof: the water sent by the firefighters sank on both sides and did not fall on the platform of the organ. However, if the vaults of the Nave, very fragile, are not quickly consolidated, it will probably dismantle the organ and find a workshop big enough to put away. There is no such workshop in the Paris region. The challenge is, very quickly, if cornerstone will withstand the weight of water and molten lead which spilled there. The choir organ did not burn either, but it, on the other hand, totally took the water. It remains to be seen what’s left… It will take years to play this instrument, but the main thing was that it does not end up in ashes. We will wait and we will mobilise for its rehabilitation, once it will have to be closely examined.” (Interviewed by Suzanne Gervais at source below)

The Choir Orgue which is a much smaller organ — it’s about the size that would be used in a small parish church — supposedly wasn’t burned at all but suffered a lot of water damage and it will take years before this organ plays again he said.
[Source]. The organ pictured at that link is the five-manual Grand Orgue in the back of the Nave, roughly up on the second story of the Cathedral, and the picture was taken during a Messe/Mass in the Cathedral where Vincent Dubois was organist. It’s not a picture taken after the fire.

I hope he’s correct about the Grand Orgue. There’s currently no electricity in the Cathedral to turn the organ on — and that probably wouldn’t be a good idea at this point anyway — to see if it indeed undamaged. The pictures I saw looked like the entire length of the Nave was ablaze or at least the ceiling area and that smoke would have damaged the organ.

Although, I doubt we’ll hear the Grand Orgue any time soon because of the — what appears to be — lack of stability of the Cathedral structure. Nevertheless, this is wonderful news, at least about the Grand Orgue. I should think that the Choir Orgue is more easily replaceable because of its smaller size. It’s a two manual with a full pedal board (32 pedals), of course! It’s a very nice organ (or was) with the pipes installed in the Quire area up behind the organist. It accompanied the choristers, and they also used it for evening Vespers — similar to Anglican’s Choral Evensong) when the Grand Orgue was not being played. Often the two organs overlapped and played at the same time perfectly in tune with each other. In fact, if you didn’t know, you would think it was all one organ, but they are two separate instruments. Although I suspect they won’t be using the Cathedral for some time to come, so they may be having their Liturgies outside the Cathedral with piano or Digital Organ accompaniment and with their heavy-vibrato choristers who don’t sing with perfect intonation. Perfect intonation — one of the basic principles of choral excellence — is the perfect blending of voices in ensemble singing, regardless of how one is trained as a vocal soloist or by one’s voice professor. Chau.—el barrio rosa

The Glory of the High Church

One of the most memorial examples of High Church for me was this performance from 2017 of the “Kyrie, eleison” in this Messe/Mass (which begins at 14.44 in the first video below), but I’d suggest watching the video from the beginning to hear the Grand Orgue improvisation used in this special Liturgy, and you can see how the Cathedral looked before the fire. The processional hymn is the Doxology, complete with descant from the Children’s Chorus. The “Kyrie” is by Louis Vierne and it’s one of the finest I heard at Notre-Dame. It’s rather grand and glorious, which is my preference, and gives a very High Church feel to the Liturgy. In it, you’ll hear the Grand Orgue as well as the Choir Orgue (the Grand Orgue begins the piece then the Choir Orgue takes over for a bit). The Choristers include the superb Children’s Chorus of Notre-Dame de Paris. It’s a rather excellent performance, despite some needless and noticeable vibrato from some of the adult choristers (tenors in particular). The Children’s Chorus sing with a lovely straight tone giving them the desired perfect intonation (the perfect blending of voices). Listen to the roar of the echo from the Grand Orgue at the release of “son” of “eleison.” Glorious! In that instance, the camera crew gave a panoramic view of the Nave, Sanctuary and Quire Areas including the pipes of the Grand Orgue. Beautiful. For those who don’t know, from the High Altar looking back towards the Grand Orgue, the Choir Orgue is over on the right side at the end of the seated Choir. It’s sort of tucked in there at the end of the Quire stalls.

After I posted this, I played it for mi amigo/my friend from the beginning of the organ improvisation through the Kyrie. He said, “It doesn’t get any better than that! We’ll be watching that again! That should put to rest the thinking that ‘the music is an unimportant part of the Liturgy.’” I told him, “But there are those Catholics with little regard or respect for music that complain in the comments that this is “too much like a performance or a concert.” He said, “But it is a performance. All of it is a performance from the glorious music to the procession coming up the center of the Nave, the priest and chorister robes, the incense rising above, the performance of the processional hymn, the well-trained acolytes, the choristers, the priests, verger et al. How they all perform is critical to the Mass and whether it is very moving to one’s being or whether it falls flat and does nothing for one. In this instance, it stirred me deeply and I’m not even religious. So I would say they gave a superb performance.” I agree. It compares of sorts to the Choral Festival Eucharist at St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue (Anglican Communion) in Manhattan with their renowned Choir of Men and Boys and Choir School (the only residential Choir School in the US). Their Choir sings all the movements of the Mass setting. It does sound like a concert and like one of the finest one would hear in Carnegie Hall, for example, and St Thomas knows that and is very proud of that, in part, because they value and have great respect for their rich Anglican tradition music programme. They even completed the installation of a new pipe organ for the parish recently, when other churches are going in the opposite direction and abandoning their pipe organs as they age and moving to other types of (tacky) music.

La Grand Orgue. Titulaire Organist, Olivier Latry playing an improvisation on La Marseillaise, the national anthem of France:

Why did they disband the Cathedral Choir at La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris?

Update (octubre 2017/October 2017): They have a Choir School at Notre-Dame and several choral ensembles. Unlike other Choir Schools I’m familiar with, the choral ensembles don’t perform that often for the Messe, or at least the Messe that is recorded by KTOTV. The Messe they record most often features a quartet of various choristers from the Choir School. Sometimes I enjoy them and their lovely singing, but other times I don’t because of their use of vibrato (and it can be just one or two choristers oddly singing with vibrato and the other two choristers are not) which to me is misplaced in a medieval cathedral such as Notre-Dame. Vibrato is best left to an Opera House and operatic music, which they’re not singing at Notre-Dame. Vibrato also prevents perfect intonation (the perfect blending of voices). So I just wanted to update this article and make it clear that no choral ensembles have been disband at Notre-Dame — although one could easily get that impression initially, as I did — but after watching their Liturgies every week for almost a year now, I’m quite aware of what they do there at Notre-Dame. They have the finest High Church Messe I’ve seen anywhere. When a Choir is there it’s most often a small Adult Choir. The excellent Children’s Choir (I prefer them; they should sing every week) sing occasionally. But as I said, it’s most often a quartet. The problem with only four voices is that they can’t do more elaborate choral music the most effectively, including the descants for some of the service music that one hears when a Choir is there. And I have heard the various quartets (they’re not always the same choristers) use vibrato in Renaissance music. Unheard of! But other times, the choristers will use what’s known as “a straight tone,” as should be the case in Renaissance music. Chau.—el barrio rosa

My original article:

Hola a todos. I suppose the disbanding of their Cathedral Choir had to do with dinero/money. That’s usually the case with budget priorities/cuts, although I don’t know why they’re tight on dinero (if that’s the case) since the Nave at Notre-Dame is full every Domingo/Sunday for their High Church Messe/Mass. One expense they have is the heating of La Cathédrale since according to Titulaire Organist Olivier Latry, Notre-Dame is the only church in France that’s heated, although it must not be that heated since most people wear their jackets, coats and scarves during the Messe.

So why do they no longer have a Cathedral Choir at Notre-Dame or a Choir each Domingo? One would think that an internationally-known cathedral such a Notre-Dame would have a renowned Cathedral Choir, no? They did have a larger Choir for the first Sunday after Epiphany 2017, but that was the first time I’ve seen that in some time.

Back in 2013 they had a Chorus of approximately 32-voices. But most of the time their huge Choir area rarely gets used for a Choir. It usually remains empty or priests sit there for special Liturgies where large groups of priests are in attendance. For their Sunday Messe, they usually have a small group of choristers: It can be one person (a cantor) providing and leading the service music. Or it’s a quartet (4 voices). Or an 8-voice Choir, something like that.

From my research and assuming this information is still current, they have a Choir School at Notre-Dame — Maîtrise/a pre-college music school in Paris– yet most of the time a Choir does not sing for the Messe/Mass on Domingo/Sunday morning, which is unusual. I find that odd considering the Anglican cathedrals I know of with Choir Schools as well as St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, the Choir of Men and Boys sing regularly throughout the Liturgical Year, excluding the Summer months when the Choir School is closed. Sometimes the boys/trebles will be out and just the Men of the Choir sing. Or if they also have girl choristers, they will alternate with the boys so the boys sing approximately twice a month, or both the boys and girls sing together on some occasions. But why would they disband their Cathedral Choir at Notre-Dame when they supposedly have a Choir School? The Choir School — assuming it still exists — is composed of Le Chœur d’Enfants/The Children’s Choir (they perform 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). I have heard a small Women’s Chorus on one occasion (it was maybe 12-14 voices, I forget how many choristers I counted at the time) and a small Men’s Chorus (about the same size as the Women’s Chorus as I recall) performing for the Messe on a couple of occasions. But mostly it’s The Children’s Choir that sings when a Choir is there, as in this Liturgy below from enero/January 2017. And what an invaluable experience for these boys and girls to have the opportunity to perform in one of the greatest cathedrals of el mundo/the world. Mi amigo/My friend remarked on how young some of the boys look to be able to read music of the difficulty used in these Liturgies. For example:

The organ improvisation (is that Olivier Latry playing?) at the beginning of this Liturgy is glorious with the High Church procession/incense.

In one of the videos below, they had an excellent Chorus Director, Lionel Sow, who is currently the Chorus Director for the Paris Philharmonic Symphony Chorus. I don’t think he’s at Notre-Dame any longer, or does he still serve as the assistant director of the Children’s Chorus?

They have six superb and highly-regarded organists: 3 Titulaire Organists who alternate through the year playing the Grande Orgue high up in the back of the Nave and then they have 3 Choeur Organists who play the smaller orgue in the Choeur area for accompanying the choristers. Does the salary of the 6 organists take up most of the budget/dinero of the Music Department?

What they do at Notre-Dame they do well with the small group of mic’d choristers they have. And someone might say that they don’t need/require a larger Chorus, which is true if one is being objective about it. But that’s not the point. With a larger Chorus they are able to do more elaborate and beautiful repertoire. Also, the descants and added harmonies for the service music — such as the “Al-lé-luia” that they sing before the reading of The Gospel — can’t be done well with a few choristers where it sounds the way it’s supposed to sound. I’ve heard a couple of sopranos sing the descant for the “Al-lé-luia” and even though I appreciated that they sang it, it didn’t sound the way it’s supposed to sound — because it sounded too thin since it was only two voices — and not full and more lush as it does when they have a larger soprano section of a Chorus singing the same parts. A larger Chorus makes the Liturgy richer, gives the Liturgy a richer sound and it’s more interesting musically speaking. When making budget cuts in parish and cathedral churches, it’s the Music Department that is the first place thought of to make cuts because of the lack of respect for the music, arts and culture. Although at Notre-Dame, they seem to respect the music. Their Liturgy is full of music. As mi amigo/my friend often says when watching the Liturgies with me, “they put on a good show at Notre-Dame!” Yes, Notre-Dame has the best High Church Liturgy I’ve ever seen. They make the Anglican Liturgy — of the ones I’ve seen and previously written about — look like a cheap imitation, frankly. Other than the Homily and the readings, their Messe is pretty much all music and it’s all about the music. Their organists are constantly busy with the service music/responses — their organists really have to pay attention during the Liturgy because they’re always “on” as it’s called — they play improvisations, psalm settings and music/improvisations accompanying the procession for The Gospel reading. And they have to play at the correct time.

At Notre-Dame, they sing all the parts of the Messe setting in Latin (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo and so forth) rather than the boring way of speaking/mumbling them. The settings they use (meaning the music used for the Kyrie, Gloria and so forth) are not like the ones used by some churches which I would describe as “little ditties.” The only lack of respect for the music is with the television network (KTO-TV) which video records their Liturgies. They don’t allow the viewers to hear all of the organist’s Prelude or improvisation. For some mysterious reason, KTO-TV always cut off the Organ Sortie/Organ Voluntary/improvisation at the end of the Messe which many viewers have complained about but nothing has changed in that regard. As far as expense, they do have many priests to pay.

For Noël 2016/Navidad/The Twelve Days of Christmas beginning on el 25 diciembre/December – el 5 enero/January/Epiphany, I had expected to see a large Chorus in the Choir area. But that was not the case. They had three Masses (that I know of and each different in style) and only one of them had a larger Chorus and that was again the Children’s Chorus for what was called the “Family Mass.” The other two Masses had a smaller group of choristers. Fortunately, none of their Masses for Noël were the typical Mass that one is accustomed to seeing in los Estados Unidos/the US for Navidad and fortunately their music was not the typical “Christmas music” that is played every holiday season in the US that I’m sick of hearing, frankly. They did use a couple of Sir David Willcocks’ descants for two of the well-known carols. Descants are not difficult to write so I don’t understand why someone hasn’t written some new descants for these carols to add some variety? It would have to be someone well-known — such as a John Rutter, for example — otherwise they would likely not sell or be used because they wouldn’t have the composer’s “celebrity status” attached to them in the same way that the Sir David Willcocks’ descants did when they were first released back in the 1970s and still have today. But at Notre-Dame, I was pleased that their Liturgies for Noël were not what one has come to expect to hear in Anglican parishes or cathedral churches for the Twelve Days of Christmas. They sang Adeste, Fideles for Epiphany which I’ve not heard sung before for that season of the church year, but I thought it was interesting and it made sense liturgically speaking.

They used to have a large Cathedral Choir which from older videos looks like about 32-voices. So what happened? It would be interesting to know.

On another matter, although related to Notre-Dame: Is KTO-TV going to ruin the experience for online viewers of watching the Liturgies from Notre-Dame? As it is now, they already rudely cut off the organ improvisation at the end of the Messe. They also don’t begin recording the Messe when the organist begins his improvisation. Why is that? They had a special Liturgy at Notre-Dame recently that I wanted to see, but the KTO-TV announcer talked over the entire organ improvisation at the beginning and continued talking over the entire procession. He didn’t shut up until most of the priests had reached the Sanctuary area. With this announcer talking, it was the same as standing beside some inconsiderate person in the Nave who felt the need to tell the person beside him what was taking place when we could all see what’s taking place. We’re not stupid. So CÁLLATE/SHUT UP, POR FAVOR. He was extremely annoying. It was difficult to hear the organ and to get the authentic feel of being in the Nave with the congregation. Experiencing what the congregation experiences, isn’t that the intent? I should think so. I still haven’t gone back to watch that Liturgy and am hesitant to do so because what else did he talk over in the Liturgy? I just clicked off I was so annoyed by the whole thing. That announcer’s inconsiderate behaviour is the same type of inconsiderate nonsense that the BBC does with state ceremonies where the Queen and Royal Family are in attendance. The BBC feel the need to talk over it and talk throughout it as if we’re all stupid and don’t have a clue what’s going on. They even talk over the Choir’s anthems (TAIS-TOI/SHUT UP!). Chau.—el barrio rosa:

Related videos:

The excellent Chorus Director: Lionel Sow