In those first years with Jacques Picaud, we worked together on many importants organs like St-Ouen in Rouen, Ste-Clotilde, St-Sulpice, St-Augustin, Widor’s own organ at the Institut de France, quai Conti, Paris, and for the last year on the old organ at St-Eustache (before its being silenced for more than ten years before the wonderful new VAN DEN HEUVEL instrument).
In those years I met the composer Olivier MESSIAEN who was titular organist at Sainte-Trinité church, Paris and Jean-Jacques GRUNENWALD who was titular organist at Saint-Sulpice, Paris. It was a great experience for me to meet these very important people in the world of music. My last two contacts with Jacques Picaud were an important restoration of the Choir organ at St-Sulpice and a big cleaning of the Grand Orgue at Sainte-Trinité, Paris, 1980.
When Jacques Picaud died of stomach cancer, after these two jobs, Grunenwald and Messiaen told me during the postlude at Picaud’s funeral service that they entrusted me with their instruments as curator, but with the only condition that I do a very good job. That was a gift from God ! Later, at 21 years of age I formed my own company with François SEBIRE (who had worked for 20 years with Beuchet-Debierre) and together we worked on lots of important organs in Paris. During these years we worked for Grunenwald as curator of the Saint-Sulpice organ for more than ten years (after his death, we worked for D.Roth), with Jean Langlais at Sainte-Clotilde, with Suzanne Chaisemartin and many others.
In 1980, Grunenwald played a concert at the cathedral in the city of EU (normandy) and told Eu’s organist to employ us a curator for this very nice organ built in 1614. Later, in 1989 we rebuilt and installed a very beautiful Cavaillé-Coll organ in the chapel of Stanislas College, Paris. I ceased operating the Sebire & Glandaz company in 1994 after our big restoration of the Sainte-Trinité organ for Olivier Messiaen, as Mr.Sebire had by then retired.
I WOULD LIKE TO SHARE SOME VIEWS AND SOUVENIRS WITH YOU, AND MAYBE LATER, WE COULD SHARE MANY THINGS.
This is not happening because we could find ourselves with new instruments unable to render Bach and others. All music can find a good place with new instruments but to achieve this, organists need to be very adept in the ‘art of registration’ and that is exactly the problem today.
With Messiaen, I once considered whether it is the music that should go along with the instrument or vice versa. Breaking deliberately with the tradition of sacred music that reminds us only that we are destitute sinners, Messiaen and I strove to speak to people of the Incarnation and Transfiguration. In order to express these ideas we approached the organ as creative material and not as an instrument appropriate only for performing works from the past ! We are very well aware of our musical poverty ; composers of the past have made sure that is put across. For Messiaen, it is the hereafter we should be talking about a need exist for another kind of music. Messiaen was among those who felt that organ ought to evolve. During our discussions in the organ loft between two Sunday services, he consistently expressed disapproval about looking back to the past. The Messiaen we knew was a dignified and highly respectul man, shunning the world of rumour, quarrels and everything from which they might emanate. He aspired to peace. Like me…
‘I’ve been taken to task about that but I’m not ashamed to be a romantic. The romantics were superb artists. They were conscious of the beauties of nature and also of the grandeur of divinity ; they were majestic in their own way and a good number of our contemporaries would do well to let themselves be romanticised a bit. Wa are all well aware of the present tendency towards brighter, luminous instruments but these are by the same token thinner and less potent, with an overly large abundance of mixtures stops.
Organ builders are probably right to restore to the organ its great originality but they more and more take out the strong reed stops and the round foundations. Once again I stress that this does yield clear and sunny instruments, perfect for contrapuntal music, for the works of Bach and his contemporaries, but on which you couldn’t play certain powerful works, which is a shortcoming. It isn’t given to just anybody to be powerful ; it is easy to make a large painting than a miniature..
Today’s composers are only slightly interested in the organ. Some among them have made it a point to write for mechanical action organs because they can thereby use half-drawn registers to create bizarre sonorities. I must say I don’t like this type of approach. As for me, I would emphasise the extraordinary family of mixtures whose artificial harmonics without their fundamentals, which yield new tonal material – quite strage. If I live a few more years, I’ll still have other harmonics added expressly to my Sainte-Trinité organ such as my music requires.
These harmonics are not available on most other organs. I do not like the Larigot 1 1/3. For me, all big harmonics are not only for the Pedal, we could use these harmonics on the manuals without 16ft or 32ft foundations but only with some large Flute 4ft, Flute 2ft, and small reeds for exemple.
With this registration you cannot imagine it being possible to play lot of music. I don’t forget classical composers… After all, why not ! !
He organist has to re-create the piece he plays, he has to become a contemporary composer. Certain people have spoken of a stylistic break but that isn’t the case. Organ music in our time is a most natural continuation of past repertoire. There have undoubtedly been changes but not a real break’.
I asked Olivier Messiaen : whether the neo-baroque organ is part of this development.
‘That is quite and old inexplicable and curiously unique phenomenon. Formerly there had never been such a spectacular return to past centuries. Even the Renaissance was a re-construction, not a pointless copy !’.
Did Messiaen know of any valid instrument to come out of the neo-baroque movement ?
None at all ! ! The principe itself is reprehensible. I would even say that it is a complete absurdity. Today, these instruments have never engendered valid new musical composition’.
Two years before his death, Messiaen gave me 15 very interesting new organ specifications for the futur, from 15 to 70 stops. Why ? because he thought that I could go to America or others states to help some organbuilders and organists to create some of these.
Here is a very small exemple : For a small two manual organ, Messiaen explained to me that nobody needs to have the same and endless 8-4-2 foundations on every manual because for him it is ridiculous to repeat the same stop everywhere (or the organist is unbelievable bad with the art of registration. For him, the best example of a small organ is the 1978 Kleuker organ at Notre-Dame des neiges / Alpe d’Huez, France, conceveid by Jean GUILLOU.
It is necessary to get other different colours to give it a beautiful sound as on this example of a small organ. Musicians, organbuilders and organists have to think about this. To create good sound could be expensive. Nothing is beautiful enough to sing the glories of God ! "
Having just bringing up a project taht Olivier Messiaen and I jointly conceived, aiming at something other than the fucking copies so often encountered. I I knew that the composer was looking for rich organs emphasing the ascending aspect of the scales, somewhat like the human voice. Some ten years of friendship and reflection yielded a specification of 60 or so stops based on the principles of what a composer might from a new organ. No need for a multitude of mechanical accessories ; the important thing is for today’s composer to have at his disposal sonorities appropriate to his area. Only a few persons have been privy to the guilding precepts of the project, without learning of its exact specification and crucial elements – safe advice from the maestro.
Olivier Messiaen readily concurred with the idea of seeking our new harmonic combinations and different mixture compositions. Today, this organ is not built because our damned baroque organists in our Commission did not like it (and they did not understand it !) They thought that it would be impossible to play some Bach, Couperin, Buxtehude and others – with truth. This problem is not only typical in France…
Olivier Messiaen didn’t use a maintenance notebook (although this
is a very practical measure from the organ builder’s point of view), but left little notes which gave precise instructions
for the organ builder to follow. His remarks about tuning usually concerned flue pipes, rarely the reeds since
he took into account their sensitivity to change in temperature and humidity. If a trumpet was out of tune, he
did not make a big thing of it : on the other hand he had me work over various harmonics, nzards, tierces,
etc.. especially since the instrument was very dusty as a result of the restoration work in the church and was
to be overhauled when the latter was finished.