The Saint-Saens organ symphony we included here recently inspired my friend Helen to ask for another piece of French organ music, a piece that was played at her wedding.
The organist, a good friend of ours, was not at all happy as it took him hours of practice!
I have been meaning to remind myself of it for ages so I have enjoyed listening again and marvelling at the skill required to play it.
As an organist who has ‘had’ to play Louis Vierne’s Final from his First Organ symphony, I can totally sympathise with Helen’s friend.
Vierne was deputy organist to Widor (of the Toccata fame) and later became organist at Notre Dame. His musical output for organ was totally related to the organs he played: romantic music that brings out the unique sounds of the French organ tradition. Despite a difficult life – depression, marital divorce, almost complete blindness and in later life a street accident that meant his leg was badly injured – Vierne continued to compose, teach, play and raise money for the complete restoration of the Notre Dame organ. He literally died at the console during an organ recital. One of his many pupils, the organist and composer Maurice Duruflé, was at his side.
The final from his first Organ symphony is one of Vierne’s most celebrated pieces …and rightly so. Bustling broken chords played on the keyboards resound over a joyous melody played by the foot pedals. Someone described it as ‘travelling music’. We might not be able to travel a long way at the moment, but let Vierne take us on a journey, crossing rapidly over vast scenery while making daring turns as the two melodies of the movement intertwine with each other.
Mercifully the organ in Notre Dame remained virtually intact, though damaged, after the awful fire of last year.