Organ Music Notes, March 4, 2012

by Dr. Dennis Keene


At the Prelude (10:50 am)
Adagio (Symphonie III)
Louis Vierne (1870-1937)

Louis Vierne was one of the great French organ composers of the beginning of the 20th century. He was born almost entirely blind, and suffered through many hardships in his life. As a student at the Paris Conservatoire, he found a father figure in his teacher, César Franck; and he and fellow student Charles Tournemire played the first read-through of Franck’s Trois Chorals on the piano (four-hands) in front of their teacher. A few days later Franck died, devastating the young Vierne. Vierne went on to study with Widor and, in 1900, won the competition for the post of Organist of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. He played on that magnificent Cavaillé-Coll organ for 37 years until he suffered a massive heart attack during a recital. He died at the organ with his protégé, Maurice Duruflé, at his side.

Vierne composed many wonderful pieces of music for the organ. This Adagio was reputed to be Vierne’s own personal favorite piece. In his slow movements, Vierne could express with exceptional intensity and poetry the deep inward feelings of a sensitive soul, one that has suffered a great deal in life. But at the end of each of these deeply-felt pieces he always gives a glimpse at a spiritual light, a hope of peace.

This Adagio shows some of the most beautiful 19th century-type sounds of our organ: the lush, singing foundation stops (fonds 8’), the strings stops (Gambe & Voix céleste), and finally the gorgeous Flûte harmonique. All these sounds were made exactly in the style of the great organ builder Cavaillé-Coll; and the Notre Dame console at which Vierne died, was, in fact, the model used for our large electric console.

At the Postlude
Chorale Prelude on J. S. Bach
“O Sacred Head, sore wounded”

This simple, miscellaneous chorale prelude is direct and touching. The famous melody is highly (and expressively) ornamented, with a simple accompaniment. For the melody, I have chosen the Montre 8 stop on the Grand-Orgue. It is accompanied by soft flutes in the left hand and pedal.