Reflections and meditations on music and singing, birds in my life, books and literature, reading, art and art history, history and humanity, words and writing, and things that catch my eye or cause me to wonder.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
“A Sense of Grandeur”
During the summer, D, K, and I spent three glorious weeks in France. Our French sojourn began with five days in Paris, where we visited the magnificent, massive Église Saint-Sulpice (Church of St. Sulpice). The photos that illustrate this post are among those we took at St.-Sulpice.
As you might expect, my primary interest in visiting St.-Sulpice was to celebrate its prominent place in musical history, particularly the distinguished legacy of magnificent French pipe organs and the organist-composers who brought them to life. It was at three great churches of Paris ― St.-Sulpice, Notre-Dame de Paris, and the Basilique Sainte-Clotilde ― that the great “symphonic” organ tradition was born and flourished, inaugurated by the great César Frank, organist-composer at Sainte-Clotilde from 1858 until his death in 1890.
One of the greatest proponents of the symphonic organ tradition was organist-composer Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937), who was appointed organist at St.-Sulpice at age 26, and held the post for 64 years. The wealth of sonorities available in the famous, 100-stop Cavaillé-Coll symphonic organ at Saint-Sulpice (shown in the photo) influenced Widor’s tonal conception and found their way into his written works, including his Messe Solennelle (1878, Op. 36), composed for the choir and organs ― and acoustic ― of Saint-Sulpice.
The church, constructed between 1646-1732, is notable for its somewhat-odd architecture (Baroque overlaid with Classical elements) and enormous size; it is the second largest church in Paris, bested in that regard only by Notre-Dame de Paris. In addition to its large dimension, though, this building is massive; its heavy piers, enormous pillars, and soaring, deeply arched vault are nearly overwhelming in their size and grandeur.
CONCORA, the all-professional choir in which I sing, will perform the “Kyrie” from Widor’s Messe Solennelle on its upcoming concert, which takes place this Sunday, October 23, 7:30 p.m., in West Hartford, Connecticut (more details below). This “Extraordinary Concert” includes about 150 singers, with 30 from CONCORA, select choirs from five high schools (Hall, Ledyard, Westbrook, Manchester, and Lyme/Old Lyme High Schools), and the University Singers from CCSU. The huge choir is necessary for the Widor Messe, which calls for “a choir of two hundred seminarians” (originally from the seminary across the square from St.-Sulpice) to be accompanied by the orgue de chœur (the choir organ), while the grand orgue (great organ) provides majestic interludes and forceful ending. The men of the high school and CCSU choirs, while not numbering 200, will be our “seminarians” in this performance of the opening movement, the Kyrie. This Kyrie demonstrates Widor’s commitment to composing sacred music of true dignity and splendour, and conveys, in fellow-composer Vierne’s assessment, Widor’s “authority, his sense of grandeur, his imperious mastery...”
Did you notice that Widor calls for two organs? CONCORA’s Artistic Director Richard Coffey explains: “Widor’s mass employs the French custom of having two organs (and often two choirs) perform the liturgy. The enormous grand orgue (great organ) is located in the gallery, with the petit orgue (the “small organ,” sometimes called the orgue-de-chœur or choir organ) in the apse behind the altar, near the choir, opposite from the gallery. The petit orgue, a substantial instrument in its own right, provides accompaniment for the choirs and creates an aural contrast with the grand orgue. Together, the two choirs and two organs create a remarkable antiphonal effect.
And you can hear that "remarkable antiphonal effect" on October 23 when CONCORA and a six choirs of talented young singers perform this beautiful music in the resonant sanctuary of St. Thomas the Apostle in West Hartford.
Six choirs, two organs...and you.
For more information about the magnificent Cavaillé-Coll organ at St.-Sulpice, visit http://www.stsulpice.com/. Or…visit Paris.