Sunday, June 16, 2013

Notre Dame comes to Westminster

Notre Dame is celebrating its 850th anniversary this year in fitting style: a new set of bells was commissioned for the Jubilee which you can read about over at FrZ and a new updated console has been installed in the organ tribune. I had the honour of playing it earlier this year and I took this photograph:

The console is beautifully laid out and very comfortable to play, boasting a wealth of playing-aids. (For any organists reading, my favourite feature is the 'any piston acts as advancer' setting.) The sound of the instrument remains every bit as thrilling as before and it is an absolutely incredible experience to play. The view is spectacular too:

Since the death of the legendary organist Pierre Cochereau in 1984, Notre Dame has had three Titular Organists who rotate the duties between them. One of the three Titulaires, Olivier Latry, will be giving a recital at Westminster Cathedral soon, playing music by former organists of Notre Dame. The programme includes a transcribed improvisation for organ and percussion by Pierre Cochereau and a work by one of the other current Titulaires, Jean-Pierre Leguay. He will also play Carillon de Westminster by Louis Vierne, a piece with an interesting story: in 1924, Vierne played one of the inaugural recitals of the Grand Organ at Westminster Cathedral. During the recital Henry Willis, the builder of the organ, brought him a theme on which to improvise. Willis was rather taken aback to discover that Vierne was practically blind and unable to read the theme, the chimes of the clock at the Houses of Parliament. Somewhat flustered, Willis hummed him the theme incorrectly (it's easy to do!) and mixed up the chimes. Vierne used this improvisation as the basis for his famous Carillon de Westminster, dedicating it ‘à mon ami Henri Willis, facteur d’orgues à Londres’. The chimes remain the wrong way round in perpetuity, but the anomaly does not detract from this magnificent piece. The full programme is available in this brochure. The recital is on Wednesday 26 June at 7.30pm. Admission is free with a retiring collection. 
The Liturgy at Notre Dame has long been adorned by the French tradition of organ improvisation, so it is fitting that Olivier Latry, one of its greatest exponents, will conclude his recital with an improvisation. If you are unable to hear him play at Westminster, or indeed Notre Dame, here is a video of him improvising a Prelude to the main Sunday Mass at the old console at Notre Dame: 

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: