Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pipedreams Organ Tour, Day 4

Le Pont d'Avignon
Avignon is another old and famous city of Provence, and is probably best known in the U.S. for the song that high-school French students are required to learn: Sur le pont/d’Avignon/tout le monde/y danse, danse… (On the bridge at Avignon, everybody dances, dances…) I didn’t realize until college French that this was some reference to the old Popes who once held court there. So, yes, there is a fine remnant of a medieval bridge, half collapsed and half intact (a sort of bridge to nowhere) in Avignon, the actual name of which is Pont Saint-Benezet. More significantly, a huge and marvelously appointed Palace of the Popes, built during the 13th and 14th centuries, takes up a large part of the old town. We had time to tour the Palais des Papes that first afternoon, and it was clear how materialistic the church and its administrators had become by the Middle Ages, despite efforts by the likes of St. Francis, a century earlier, to bring the church back to Christian simplicity. This ecclesiastical opulence led eventually (after several centuries) to the Reformation, but not until a great deal of blood had been shed in the interest of maintaining economic (and spiritual?) power on the part of the established church.
The church we visited that morning (Thursday, May 13) in Avignon was the Collegiale Saint-Agricol, a very ancient church (7th - 15th centuries). My impression of the organ (a well preserved 19th century instrument) was that it had a lovely tone with a fantastic emotional range. I almost wept at one point during the demonstration by the organist.
Collegiale Saint-Agricol, outside stonework
Again, Ian Cook recorded the organ in Saint-Agricol and Saint-Martin and uploaded them on YouTube. An excerpt of what we had the pleasure of hearing can be found at the link.

Collegiale Saint-Agricol, organ, nave inside

Luckily, we had time to tour the Palace of the Popes in Avignon, an amazing structure both outside and in. Another bit of luck was that an annual rose festival was being held there, so we were treated to an abundant, luscious display of virtually every variety imaginable of roses, decorating hallways, growing in gardens, festooning cloisters.

Palace of the Popes with roses

From Avignon, we rode our bus to Saint-Remy de Provence, where we visited the Collegiale Saint-Martin. The organ there is a new one, installed in 1983. It was built by the organ builders we had visited previously, Pascal Quoirin, and it was apparently their first really big organ. It is a huge, powerful instrument, very versatile in range and sound. The church, itself, is a neo-classical structure, topped by an odd combination of neo-gothic tower and neo-roman oculus.
New Quorin organ in the Collegiale Saint-Martin
We saw and heard another new organ (Saby & Grenzing) at the Eglise Notre-Dame in Caumont-sur-Durance. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of that church or organ. I took both stills and movies with my movie camera, which was stolen later on the trip in Russia. Nonetheless, the organ had a clear, sweet sound in the upper registers. A Haydn piece had an almost bell-like tone, but a later Bach fugue sounded a bit muddy. That may have been the playing.
JAVS sur le Pont d'Avignon; the Rhone flows on beyond

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Pipedreams Organ Tour, Day 3

  After a very pleasant dinner , we spent the night in Aix-en-Provence.
The following morning (Wednesday, May 12) we visited another church in Aix, the Eglise Saint-Jean-de-Malte. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my camera into the church, which was beautiful, with ogival arches and very light inside. On one wall was a painting by Delacroix, which I would love to have photographed. Again, the organ in this church was a new one, simple, with an elegant arrangement of the pipes. Jean-Claude played variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle,” a delightfully irreverent tune that suited the organ’s abilities.

From there, we went to Beaucaire, to the Eglise Notre-Dame des Pommiers, a baroque structure that scarcely looks like a church from the outside. The organ was built in 1849, using an even older case. It was restored between 1986 and ’88 and is considered an “Historical Monument.”

Notre-Dame des Pommiers, organ pipes.
The next stop (third church of the day) was Roquemaure, the Collegiale Saint-Jean-Baptiste. This is an old church, with an old organ, apparently constructed in the 17th century and transferred to the church in the 19th century. The pipes are very well preserved, and the organ was restored in 1989. The church claims the remains of Saint Valentine (moved there in 1868). I wonder what lovers fought over those remains and where they were originally! The structure of the pipe assembly includes elements of both Spanish and Italian style organs; lovely stained windows illuminate the sanctuary.
Roquemaure, Collegiale Saint-Jean-Baptiste



After Roquemaure, we went to an organ builder’s workshop, Pascal Quoirin, a fascinating behind-the scenes glimpse at the guts of those magnificent music-makers. We saw two disassembled organs: one, being restored, from the cathedral at Toulon, and one being newly constructed for the Church of the Ascension (Episcopal?) in New York. We saw cabinetry, pipes and pipe construction, reeds and shallots. The many different types of pipes – tapered (trumpets), constant diameter, with and without reeds, the kinds of pipes in wood or metal – mostly tin (Sn) with about 10% lead (Pb) and even some (~0.1%) gold (Au). It seems that hammered and unhammered tin have different hardness and different sound.


Organ builder’s workshop, Pascal Quoirin

After the workshop visit, we went into the city of Avignon, where we were to spend the night in a hotel. The rest of the group went  to the cathedral (Notre-Dame des Doms), but I didn’t go; I was tired and wanted to take a shower and go to bed.