Saturday, January 26, 2013

Pipedreams Organ Tour, Day 6

Lunel: Eglise Notre-Dame du Lac
On day six (Saturday, May 15), we left Nîmes and headed deeper into Languedoc, to the town of Lunel. Our first stop was the Eglise Notre-Dame du lac; this church boasted another 19th century Cavaille-Coll organ. Lunel was considered a troubadour town. The image of St. Bernadette is in the grotto and one of Mary is in a side chapel.
Organ, Eglise Notre-Dame du Lac

Our next stop, Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert, with its church, Abbaye Saint-Guilhem, was perhaps my favorite spot of the whole tour. It is an absolutely enchanting village, high in the southern French hills. It felt more spiritually intense to me than any other we visited – perhaps because it was embedded in wilderness and blended with it. Flowers, particularly poppies, grew out of rocky outcroppings and constructed stone hedges indifferently, and in the middle of the town was a very ancient platane (plane tree or sycamore) that had already been measured at 6 meters (~ 6 yards) in circumference in 1855. The abbey so enchanted one of the Rockefellers, that he moved part of it, in toto, to New York. There it forms the nucleus of The Cloisters in upper Manhattan, the world-renowned museum of medieval art. The organ was beautiful, with mellow low tones - if a bit tinny in the higher register. Apparently, with its “cuneiform bellows” one can only play music from the classical period. I wish I could include many photos from this gorgeous town. Maybe in another blog post.

The last two stops of the day were in Montpellier, Cathedrale Saint-Pierre, and Beziers, Cathedrale Saint-Nazaire. The Cathedrale Saint-Pierre is very large, a true cathedral, and the organ, a restored early 19th century Cavaille, has a very rich sound throughout its range and reverberates extensively in the huge stone building. The organist did have some technical problems, though, and had to stop the concert. I did not get an in-focus photo of the organ, but did get a couple of photo of the massive nave and stained-glass windows.
Abbaye Saint-Guilhem, organ

Thecathedral in Beziers was begun in the 13th century, on a site where many Catholics and Cathars were slaughtered in 1209. St. Dominic led a “crusade” against the Cathars – an “heretical” group in southern France – and that crusade is seen by many as the beginning of the Inquisition. There was some WWII veterans’ celebration at the cathedral as we were arriving, which delayed our entry. I took no notes on the sound of the organ, but the play of light from stained-glass windows onto the church pillars was captivating.

Montpellier, Cathedrale Saint-Pierre

Again, Ian Cook, our intrepid organ aficionado from Australia, made the organ recordings and posted them on YouTube.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Pipedreams Organ Tour, Day 5b


Pipedreams group, amphitheater at Nimes
From Uzès, we drove to Nîmes, once the Roman colony of Nemausus, which boasts some of the best-preserved Roman structures outside of Rome itself, including a huge aqueduct (the spectacular Pont du Gard), a well preserved Roman temple, and a large amphitheater, still used for community events (including bull-fights). We visited the aqueduct first, which was amazingly intact for a two-thousand-year old structure of that size. It crosses the Gard River, and in antiquity, it carried water from Nîmes to Avignon. The aqueduct was a tourist draw, but uncrowded, as were the other Roman structures we visited. I recommend Nîmes as a destination for those interested in ancient Roman artifacts who don’t like to hassle the crowds. The Roman temple, called the “square house” of Nîmes, was built in 02– 05 AD when Augustus was emperor.

Pont du Gard, Nîmes


The two churches (with organs) we visited that day (Friday, May 14) in Nîmes were the Église Saint-Paul and the Cathédrale Notre-Dame & Saint-Castor. Both had classic Cavaille-Coll organs (19th century) which have been recently restored, to good effect.

The organ in the Église Saint-Paul was one of my favorites of the entire trip. The low, vibrating tones resonate through the church and through the body, giving a reassuring sense of grandeur and protection, as if the tones offered the power of a massive, surrounding shield. Even the higher, lighter tones of the organ have a masculine sound.

The Cathédrale Notre-Dame & Saint-Castor was a Romanesque cathedral built in the 11th century, partly destroyed during the religious wars (Reformation), and reconstructed in the 17th century. It was embedded in a conglomerate of buildings in the center of the city, with shops attached to its walls like accretions or parasites on the side of a whale. The church was quite dark inside, and I couldn’t get a good, in-focus picture of the organ. Moreover, the organ seemed to have a rather more tinny sound than some of the others we’ve heard.