Organ symphonies by Louis Vierne, an eminent maestro of Notre Dame de Paris

Louis Vierne
Louis Vierne
Louis Vierne was an outstanding musician, teacher and composer of organ music who for almost 40 years held the prestigious position of the title organist at Notre Dame de Paris. It is reported that his recitals were exciting and invariably intriguing as the composer often performed brilliant improvisations in addition to the vast repertoire of organ works collected from different musical periods.
Although Vierne wrote music for various instruments, it was his organ symphonies that defined the new aesthetics for the genre by perfectly combining the classic confessional approach with the emotional drama of romanticism as well as adding fresh ideas to the mix, namely the new musical directions found in impressionism and modernism.
Strictly speaking, the musical form of organ symphonies is more likely reminiscent of a sonata or suite, but in the second half of the 19th century, the term symphony had already firmly entrenched itself as a descriptor for organ works, specifically the ones designed to imitate orchestral tone and texture. As a genre, an organ symphony is strongly associated with French romanticism, despite the fact that the first symphony for the organ was written by the German composer Wilhelm Valentin Volckmar in 1867.
Listen to Louis Vierne's Organ Symphony No. 1 - Finale performed by Søren Gangfløt:
In different periods of his life, Louis Vierne wrote six organ symphonies that are thought to reflect individual emotional states of the composer at the time of writing. Vierne's difficult fate can be traced through his music, from the stormy years of an unhappy marriage and eventual divorce to the loss of his son and a younger brother in the Great War, all of which was permeated by the lifelong struggle to retain the last vestiges of his sight.
Here is Claude Debussy's flattering quote on the second organ symphony by Louis Vierne:
"M. Vierne's symphony is truly remarkable. It combines rich musicality with ingenious discoveries in the special sonority of the organ. J.S. Bach, the father of us all, would have been well pleased...."
Louis Vierne died playing the instrument while holding his solo performance at Notre Dame de Paris in 1937.
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2 comments so far
  • Nigel Wilkinson 4 years ago

    And on the Notre Dame organ:

  • Nigel Wilkinson 4 years ago

    I remember well my first encounter with this, some time around 1990. A colleague kindly gave me a cassette of the King's College Nine Lessons and Carols of whatever year it was, taped off the BBC, and the recessional caught my attention. I mentioned this, and as back then there were no websites to consult, she wrote to the BBC and asked what it was. It was, they replied, this Vierne finale - played faster than I've ever heard it since.