At the Prelude (10:50 am)
ROUEN CATHEDRAL 1623
The organ music today represents what you would have heard in two of the great churches of France during the 17th century. First, the great gothic cathedral of Rouen.
Hymne de l’Eglise: Exultet coelum
Jehan Titelouze (1563-1633)
For centuries, Rouen Cathedral was a center of music in France. It was famous for its boy choir which seemed to be made up of some of the purest and best voices of the day. In fact, at one point the star boy soprano was kidnapped in the middle of the night and taken to Paris so the King could have him in his boy choir.
In the first third of the 17th century the cathedral was also famous for its organist Jehan Titelouze, the greatest French organist of the day and the first important French organ composer. He was quite a Renaissance man: besides playing the organ and composing, he was also a published and awarded poet, an ordained priest (who was named Canon of the Cathedral), and a correspondent and friend of many of the most important artistic persons of the day. He was also a fortunate organist, because, during his tenure at Rouen Cathedral, the finest organ of the period was built there (with his input) by the greatest organ builder, Crespin Carlier.
For centuries, there existed in France a very special musical tradition called alternatum. The Gregorian chant was sung in one end of the church by the choir, a verse at a time, and then the organist at the Grand Orgue at the other end of the church would improvise on that chant. And back and forth it went. If the organist was really special, the liturgy and music created quite a magnificent drama. This tradition in France started in the middle ages and continued down through the centuries until Vatican II. The only place I know where you can still hear it is at the Sunday afternoon Vesper service at Notre Dame in Paris.
In 1623 Jehan Titelouze published a book of written-out improvisations on Gregorian Chants (Hymnes de l’Eglise). Even though 1623 is officially in the Baroque period, Titelouze was a conservative composer and his music is more Renaissance in style than Baroque. The old contrapuntal forms exist. In the first verse you will hear the Gregorian Chant played in slow notes in the pedal on the trompette stop with three other independent voice parts playing on the manuals on the Grand Plein Jeux (principal chorus). The second verse is more delicate. It is played — most authentically — on our Flûte allemande. Although the term means “German flute,” it was actually a special flute stop from 17th century France.
It was documented in the organ encyclopedia by Marin Mersenne who was a close friend of Titelouze. Pascal Quoirin discovered a Flûte allemande on one of the organs he restored and has built a copy for our organ. In this verse the chant melody is heard on another flute stop in the pedals. The final verse starts with a calm four-part contrapuntal (fugue-like) setting based on a fragment of the chant melody. It suddenly breaks into a second section with rapid passage work. This leads to the final section played on the Grand Plein Jeux with the chant again in the pedal. The cumulative energy of this verse is truly wonderful!
In the true alternatum tradition, the Gregorian chant verses will be sung by our sopranos from one end of the church, with Titelouze’s improvisations played in between from the other end.
(One last note on Rouen Cathedral: it still had a boy choir of note at the end of the 19th century when Monet camped across the street, creating his famous series of paintings of the cathedral’s façade. And, in 1910, a young boy joined the choir by the name of Maurice Duruflé.)
At the Postlude
SAINT SULPICE, PARIS
Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers (1632-1714)
Few churches have had as famous a lineage of organists as Saint Sulpice, the magnificent, massive church on the Left-Bank of Paris. Organists included Nivers, Clérambault, Widor and Dupré. Nivers was organist there when the building was still new. Even though his compositions from the 1650s and 1660s are not so many years from those of Titelouze, the style is light years away. This is, for the first time, fully-developed French Baroque organ music. The Plein Jeux section of his Te Deum may use the same stops as Titelouze, but instead of independent contrapuntal voice parts, the texture is more chordal. And the second section is composed for the ultimate French Baroque registration: the Grand Jeux, the magnificent combination of cornets and reed stops.