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.
In this regard, the following novelty should be noted, which could be realized due to the changes that Cavaillé-Coll made in the concept **** :
this organ is completely designed from a dynamic perspective to obtain a huge crescendo. The basson-hautbois of the Swell, which disrupts the piano with the Swell box closed, joins the ‘fonds’ of the other keyboards, is situated on the funds-case, so that the jeux des combination are reserved for the reeds-battery. To play increasingly stronger, the organist has simply to pull almost all stops (those constituting the Grand Choeur), to close the Swell box (funds + Hautbois), push the couple Swell/Great Organ - but this did not work at Sainte Clotilde - and play on the Grand organ, then add the Positive/Great Organ coupling, and then the appel Great Organ, and then to add the jeux de combinaisons of the Positive and finally the Great organ and Pedal. There are two pedal couplers, the Postif couple pulls the Swell couple, the Couple great Organ pulls the Positive couple; one has to be careful not to add the Great organ coupler until the moment that one plays on that keyboard. Some writers and performers did mention the absence of coupler Pedal-Swell and the coupler and coupler Swell/Great Organ, but in the logic of the crescendo when going down on the keyboards, this coupler qwould be superfluous in as much as Swell/Positive and Positive/Great Organ do function in a cascading way.
Helga Schauerte argued that the organ suffered a further delay in completion (until 1863) due to the fact that - just before the official inauguration in december 1859 - workers damaged the organ severely when placing the cornice othe organ. Cavaillé-Coll had to repair or reconstruct the damaged mechanisms and may have choosed to keep things simple by reversing the order of the manuals, and thus realising a more simple transmission for the GO (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).

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, and that Franck was officially appointed as organiste titulaire at that moment (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).
*** already in 1844, Cvaillé-Coll stated in a letter: 'Architects, at least in France, are the enemies of organ-builders. If they can imprison us, they will not hesitate to do so in order to preserve architectural lines'. (in: Fenner Douglas, 1999, p 183)
Source : Roland Galtier Innovations techniques et musicales chez Cavaillé-Coll des débuts à l’orgue de Sainte-Clotilde. La Flûte Harmonique Numéro 97 Assocation Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, Paris, 2015.

Stoplist 1859



Recordings of 1930-1932

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