Olivier Latry (1962-)
Olivier Latry is a famous French organist. He is the main organist at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. He also teaches organ at the Paris Conservatory of Music. Latry has played in over 40 countries across five continents. He has made many recordings on the big organ at Notre Dame Cathedral.
In January 2019, Olivier Latry recorded an album of J.S. Bach organ works on the Notre Dame Cathedral organ called “Bach to the Future.” It was the last recording done on the big organ before a fire devastated the Cathedral on April 15, 2019. The spire of the cathedral collapsed, several stained glass windows were destroyed, and the Cathedral had smoke and water damage. The big organ (about 8000 pipes, five keyboards, pedals, and 109 stops) managed to escape severe damage. There was some smoke and water that got into the organ. At the time of the fire the Cathedral was undergoing renovations.
The first organ of Notre Dame was built in 1357. A few years after the first organ was built a new one was put in. Since that time the organ has grown in size. The organ was greatly transformed by the famous organ builder Cavaille-Coll in 1868. Since that time the sound of the organ has greatly changed and the instrument has been modernized.
Here is an incredible video shot in Notre Dame Cathedral of Olivier Latry playing one of the pieces on his new album “Bach to the Future” called The Toccata and Fugue in d minor. This piece has been attributed to J.S. Bach but recent scholarship seems to refute that claim. It is one of the most well known organ pieces on the planet, perhaps the most well known piece. Enjoy the wonderful sound of this massive organ played by one of the greatest organists on the planet.
Louis Vierne (1870-1937)
Louis Vierne was a French organist and teacher. He was born nearly blind due to congenital cataracts. Vierne’s music was idiomatic for his instrument and the harmonies in his music were rich. He was an inspiration to the many Parisian organist-composers that came after him. Vierne was also a great improviser on the organ. He gave many recitals during his life and toured widely. In 1937 while giving his 1750th recital at Notre Dame in Paris Vierne died at the organ console.
Here are two rare recordings froom 1929 of Louis Vierne playing the organ at Notre Dame in Paris. 1929 was the first year that sound was recorded electronically. The first recording is a soft improvisation that Vierne made up on the spot. The second recording is a Bach Prelude and Fugue. The second recording is a piece by Vierne.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like carrying all that heavy recording equipment up the narrow stairway to Notre Dame’s balcony to record the organ.
An organ with more than 7000 pipes! Enjoy.
Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (1811-1899)
Aristide Cavaillé-Coll was a 19th Century French organ builder. He completed his first organ in 1840. The period from the French Revolution beginning in 1789 and during the time of Cavaillé-Coll’s first organ was devoid of french organ music. Many pipe organs in France were auctioned off or destroyed, and many organists lost their jobs during the revolution. Some kept their jobs because they played popular music glorifying the revolution. When Cavaillé-Coll built his first organ there was basically one French organ composer named Boëlly who was writing for the organ. Cavaillé-Coll revolutionized organ building in France and he encouraged organists to compose for his romantic organs. He worked together with composers to promote their music and they wrote music that fit well together with the sounds of his organs. It was because of Cavaillé-Coll that French organ music became an important part of 19th century France. The organ in the Basilica of St. Denis was the first organ that Cavaillé-Coll built.
Pierre Pincemaille (1956-2018)
Pierre Pincemaille was a French organist who was well known for his improvisations during live performances and on cd recordings. He recorded Charles-Marie Widor’s organ symphonies on several Cavaillé-Coll organs, as well as works by Franck, Duruflé, Cochereau, and Vierne. Pierre graduated from the Paris Conservatory with first prizes in harmony, counterpoint, fugue, organ, and improvisation. He became the organist of St. Denis in 1987 and played there until his death on January 12, 2018. In the video clips you are about to see, Pierre Pincemaille improvises on the organ of St. Denis. He is making up the music on the spot. Enjoy!