Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pipedreams organ tour, Day 2

On the second day of the Pipedreams tour (Tuesday, May 11), we visited five different churches in five different towns in Provence, all in the vicinity of Marseilles. This seemed like a bit of a forced march to me, as I’m used to taking vacations in a leisurely and exploratory fashion.
Libbie at Notre Dame de l’Assomption

The first town was Barjols, and the church was the Collegiale Notre-Dame de l’Assomption. It was built into a town square, with commercial buildings sharing its walls. The interior was simple, but the organ was ancient, having been built in 1657 and restored in 1837. Several modifications were made in the later 19th and 20th century, but these were “reversed” in 1986, giving the organ its authentic functions and old, rich tone.

Organ at Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine

The second town was Saint-Maximin la Sainte-Baume, where we visited the Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine (I’m not fabricating any of these names!). The organ was an Isnard organ, built during the last half of the 18th century, so another very old organ whose original pipes have all been preserved, despite several restorations. This is the legendary site where Mary Magdalene, with her brother, Lazarus, landed on a boat trip from the Holy Land and established a Christian colony. A reliquary contains a skull and shin bone, with the epithet: “Noli me tangere.” The crypt contains sarcophagi purporting to contain the remains of Saints Maximin, Sidonius, and Mary Magdelaine.
Organ, Eglise St-Vincent
The next town on the itinerary was Roquevaire, and the organ was in the Eglise Saint-Vincent. It is a new organ, built in 1993, re-using some pipes. It boasts a total of 5,000 pipes and operates with electric action. The sound is huge and dramatic, and fills the large church with sound. Bell and percussion sounds chime from the high registers. John Claude played a storm scene on the organ that was almost overpowering.      
The next town (the fourth) was Bouc-Bel-Air, where the Eglise Saint-Andre sported a much more simple organ, again a new one, completed in 2006. It is a small organ with a good sound (although tinny in spots).
Organ, Eglise St-Andre
The fifth and final stop for the day was in Aix-en-Provence, at the Cathedral Saint-Sauveur. Several organs have been installed in this cathedral, beginning in the 15th century, with the latest restoration in the early 21st century. Several master organists have had a hand in renovations and restorations, including Jean-Esprit Isnard and Aristide Cavaille-Coll, two famous French organ producers. The interior of the cathedral was very dark; the organist, Chantal de Zeeuw, played a piece by a female student of Cesar Frank. The cathedral itself is built upon the foundations of a temple to Apollo.
 Again, the links to YouTube videos were done by Ian Cook, who took sound and videos of many of the organs and their churches.

Cathedral Saint-Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence, outside and inside, with organ loft and pipes.


  1. Thanks for the youtube links. Christianity's greatest contributions to civilization may be its music and the organs that play it.

    1. Appreciate the comment! Yes, the music in those majestic old churches was truly a reverberating experience! The churches are echo chambers that amplify the music - each with its own tonal synchronicity. The YouTube recordings were done by another of the participants, Ian Cook, who came all the way from Australia to revel in the sounds of cathedral organs in Southern France.