The great organ Cavaillé-Coll

The Organ of César Franck

Aristide Cavaillé-Coll made the drawing for the organ of the Ste. Clotilde in 1853, on the basis of a preliminary sketch of the architect of the church (François Gau), using an old design he made in 1849 for an organ in the Cathedral of Bayonne (this organ was never was built). The construction of the organ was completed six years later in 1859. Work had not begun in April 1855, as Cavaillé-Coll stated in a letter to the authorities that he did not yet receive the final plans for the organcase. This case was installed finally in the summer 1857 and Cavaillé-Coll reported in September 1857 that almost all parts of the planned instrument had been finished. The church was consecrated on 30 November 1857, but the organ has not been delivered until the latter half of 1859. There are no data other than newspaper articles from that time which contain the precise composition of the organ in 1859,.
However, a reconstruction of the composition from later sources clearly indicates that the instrument delivered in 1859 was very different from the preliminary design of 1853.
The main differences were:
(1) changing keyboards function: the design of 1853 was still classical: the Great played on the second keyboard, the positif on the first keyboard; on the instrument delivered in 1859 the Great was the first keyboard, the positive the second keyboard; (2) extension of composition with six stops by elimination of some stops and adding other; (3) different distribution of the jeux de fonds and the jeux de combinaisons, with consequently some new windchests*; (4) second machine Barker (positif); (5) new mechanics; (6) adaptation of the wind supply.

An indication of the seriousness of these interventions are the costs, which were finally almost 1 ½ times higher than expected. Cavaillé-Coll explained these higher costs to Ballu claiming that the circumstances were very unusual, involving much more work and expenses than expected.
There are several hypotheses about this radical change in the original plans of Cavaillé-Coll, resulting in a two-year delivery delay:
Change of the architect
At the beginning of the fall of 1853, the architect Gau ceded his place to his younger assistant Théodore Ballu, who changed the construction of the façade and towers, creating significant changes to the position of the tribune and the organcase which could have forced Cavaillé-Coll to change his plans radically
The architect installed the buffet (in a neo-Gothic style) on the second floor of a high wooden case, carved by Pyanet and Th. Lechesne. The first floor was designed for the choir, accessible by a staircase from the inside of the church. The upper gallery (level of the Great Organ) was accessible by an another staircase, only accessible from the exterior of the church. This construction implied that the organ tribune was placed very high and that Cavaillé-Coll had little space to position the organ. Looking at the organ, it seems the organ has plenty of space, but the turrets of the organ are placed before a very heavy arc that forms the connection between the two towers of the basilica. The organ had therefore to be built mainly in the depth (backwards). This space problem was solved partially by expanding the side turrets of the organ to the front of the gallery itself, which created (limited) place for the Great Organ.
It is clear that his high position and its construction towards the back of the organ loft created a significant problem for the sound of the organ in the church. Indeed, the bottom of the organ case is at the back three meters and at the front two metres above the level of the tribune where the console was placed. Probably, Cavaillé-Coll did not know at the time he wrote his prfeliminary proposal for the design of the instrument in 1853. Indeed, in 1855 he wrote to the prefect that he did not receive the final plans for the buffet of organ yet from the architect. These plans confronted Cavaillé-Coll with a completely new situation on a very late time. As a result, his initial plan was not appropriate anymore and he had to change them to a significant extent to obtain a satisfactory result.
Influence of César Franck
Franck was named maître de chapelle and intended organiste-titulaire of the new organ in 1857 and in this role he may have exercised a great influence on the final design of organ and its composition.
Change of the point of view of the builder himself
In the four years between 1853 and 1857 Cavaillé-Coll’s opinion and vision had time to mature further, and accordingly it is possible he changed his own ideas about the ideal design of this organ; by the way: Cavaillé-Coll often changed his plans quite thoroughly during the building phase of his organs.

The inauguration of the organ* took place on 19 December 1859 by Louis James Alfred Lefébure-Wely and César Franck, the last played his Finale and the Prelude and Fugue in b minor of J.S. Bach.

Before the major works in 1933, the organ had maintenance in 1891 (without significant changes) and at the beginning of the 20th century (at that point, the 'Pédale d'orage' was replaced by a 'Tirasse Récit') by Mutin (Cavaillé-Coll's successor). Probably also in this period, the spoonlike swellpedal (with three positions: closed, half-open and open) was replaced by balanced pedal.

* it is likely that various parts of the never finished 1853-organ have been used for the organ of Saint Martin in Bergues, built in 1858 by Cavaillé-Coll.
** Helga Schauerte argued that the organ - despite its inauguration in 1859 - was not finished before fall 1863, the moment that Franck was officially appointed as organiste titulaire (Helga Schauerte-Maubouet Théodore Dubois et César Franck à Sainte-Clotilde La tradition musicale de la basilique Sainte-Clotilde de Paris L’Orgue n° 278-279 (2007/II-III) 7-14 ISSN 0030-5170).

Stoplist 1859


In 1881, Louis Vierne ( a boy of 11 years old) visited for the first time the mass at Sainte Clotilde and heard Cesar Franck play:
I clearly remember that Mass. We arrived early and I waited impatienty. The organ played a mysterious prelude, quite unlike any I had heard at Lille; I was bowled over and became almost ecstatic. There was more to come at the Offertoire, where the master had more time; the theme so unfamiliar, yet so attractive, such rich harmonies, such subtle figurations, and a pervasive intensity that astounded me. I reveled in such delights and wished they would never end. We listened to the Sortie right up to the last note; it was a long paraphrase on the "Ite missa est," full of lyrical flights of fancy that conjured up for me heavenly visions of processions of angels chanting ‘Hosanna’. At the same time, certain melodic progressions and harmonies made me feel uneasy and sensual at the same time.

I could not hold back my tears. I knew nothing; I understood nothing; but my natural instinct was violently shaken by this expressive music echoing through my every pore. Faint premonitions of the true meaning of music arose in me. I could not express it in precise terms, but when my uncle asked me what I had felt and what it had done to me, I replied ’it's beautiful because it is beautiful; I don't know why, but it is so beautiful that I would like to play such music and die immediately afterwards’. My aunt was alarmed at my reaction and took me home in a carriage, my legs refusing to carry me. She discussed the matter with her husband and expressed concern. Wisely he reassured her, convincing her that, almost inevitably, this reaction proved my future lay in music.
Reference: Louis Vierne, Journal (excerpts), Cahiers et Mémoires de l’Orgue, No. 135bis (Paris: Les Amis de l'Orgue, 1970) 129 (English translation found in : Louis Vierne- organist of Notre Deame cathedral. Rollin Smith, Pendragon Press Hillsdale, N.Y. 1999).

Original console of Cavaillé-Coll

The history of the César Franck console appears straightforward at first glance. Charles Toumemire (1870-1939) received the old console from the pastor of Saint-Clotilde - Toumemire bestawed it to Flor Peeters, 'because of all his friends, he was the most loyal' - Peeters legated it to the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp - the Conservatory donated it to the Vleeshuismuseum, where it still is. At the request of Orgelkunst for the occasion of the Cavaillé-Coll year 2011, Annelies Focquaert began to more thoroughly delve into this mostly orally-recounted story, upon which previously unknown sources surfaced. The matter of the right of ownership in 1933 is uncertain, but it is likely due to the efforts of the pastor and Toumemire that the console still exists today Toumemires testament contains no information whatsoever about the console, which, together with some letters, confirms the working hypothesis that it was Alice Tournemire who, immediately before WWII gave the console to Flor Peeters. Although a letter by Peeters to Alice Toumemire indicates that Tournemire wanted the consoleto be transported to the city of Liège after Alices and Peeters'deaths, Alice did not comply with this wish and offered the console to Peeters 'because she did not want to await her death'. The console remained in Peeters' house in Mechelen from 1946 or 1947 onwards. After his death in 1986, the console was placed in the directors office of the Royal Flemish Music Conservatory in Antwerp. In 1991 it was given on laon to the Museum Vleeshuis. After an exhaustive search through files and texts supposed to be lost, most of the pieces concerning the history of this consolehave finally fallen into place.
Abstract of a paper by Annelies Focquaert The history of the Cesar Franck console (in Dutch) published in Orgelkunst 34, 2, 82-96 (2011)

Ch. Tournemire Improvisation Fantaisie (1930-32)

Ch. Tournemire Andantino (1930-32)

Tournemire Improvisation sur le Te Deum (1930-32)

Statue of César Franck

A statue was erected to the memory of César Franck in Paris on the 22nd of October 1904 at the Square Samuel-Rousseau, in front of the Basilica.

photo: Klaas Schippers, Lisse

The statue was damaged by a large tree falling upon it during a heavy storm in 2000

Tomb of Cesar Franck at Cimétière Montparnasse