The 1992 restoration

A few months after Pierre Cochereau’s death in March 1984, the decision was made to return to service by district, as in the 18th century, a desire that Pierre Cochereau himself had expressed. A competition was held, and four new tenured organists were appointed in 1985: Yves Devernay (who died in 1990), Olivier Latry, Philippe Lefebvre and Jean-Pierre Leguay.

Very soon after, the cathedral granted them permission to perform general tuning and dust removal on the instrument, while the Ministry of Culture’s discussions on the great organ’s future, its restoration and its expansion—which had already been suggested by Pierre Cochereau in 1972 and by Norbert Dufourcq before 1980—were making good progress. The project prepared by Pierre Cochereau and Norbert Dufourcq (1982) never came to a fore.

Many options were discussed:

  • bringing back the 1868 Cavaillé-Coll or even the 1788 Clicquot;
  • refurbishing the Cavaillé-Coll with the Back Positive buffet used as simple decoration and housing for the former console;
  • keeping the electric organ and reinstalling the 18th century Back Positive and wrought iron balustrade (which was mentioned in the 1980s), which would have made it necessary to remove Viollet-Le-Duc’s organ loft and to gut the base so the upturned console could be housed in it;
  • a double instrument: the Cavaillé-Coll controlled by its mechanical console, since Cochereau’s additions had been transferred to a Back Positive (except for the chamades, which remained where they were). It was all controlled electrically from a second console installed in a side gallery;
  • for awhile, to reconcile the differing opinions, they considered building a new mechanical organ in the nave (like the buffet from Chartres Cathedral) in addition to the Cavaillé-Coll, which would be restored to its original condition, but the nave was too narrow and its acoustics were far from ideal.

None of these projects was met with the national commissions’ consensus and, in the end, the great organ’s tenured organists, who agreed completely with the cathedral and the Ministry of Culture’s technical consultant, Jean-Pierre Decavèle, suggested to restore the organ entirely based on the following elements:

  • conserving the organ loft and the existing decoration;
  • restoring the organ and all of its components (wind chests, Cavaillé-Coll’s pneumatic stop ties, supply, pipes, mechanical parts); restoration of Cavaillé-Coll’s supply and doubles pressure systems, which made it possible to regain original pressure and rising harmony (separation of wind: wind chests/pneumatic register machines); a copy restoration of Cavaillé-Coll’s stops, which had been lost in previous restorations (especially the Great Organ’s viola da gamba 8 and octave 4 and the Swell’s octave 4, fifth 22/3 and clarinet 8);
  • restoration of the Great Organ keyboard’s harmonic progressions (fourniture II-V, cymbal II-V with third);
  • maintenance of several “ancient organ” stops, evidence of the great organ’s history, in their Clicquot harmony so these pipes would not have to be altered yet again. They had been transformed once by Cavaillé-Coll, then restored to their 18th century state by Robert Boisseau and his son Jean-Loup (Swell hautbois top and cornet, Solo montre);
  • corrections to the harmony between the altered stops and the modern stops and restoration of the organ’s acoustic consistency;
  • installation of two chamade stops, a copy of those on Cavaillé-Coll’s organ at Saint-Sernin in Toulouse, to top the “Cavaillé-Coll” tutti;
  • removal of the obsolete electric transmission and its multitude of cables and accessories;
  • installation of a digital transmission to give the instrument extended capacity in terms of pistons, stop transfers between keyboards, and touch settings that could be customised by each organist (pressure, release);
  • replacing the console while keeping the keyboards, the pedalboard, the register buttons and the bench.
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L’intérieur de la console

© Boullay

After an international call to tender, the contract was given to a group of organ builders managed by Jean-Loup Boisseau and his partner Bertrand CATTIAUX, with Philippe Emeriau, Michel Giroud and Synaptel in charge of computer fittings. The restoration of Notre-Dame’s organ brought two completely foreign worlds, the world of organ building and the world of computing, together for the first time. One is a world of high-level crafstmanship, in a country with a very rich organ heritage where the national and local governments’ 15-year organ restoration policy had provided training for internationally-renowned organ builders. The other is a world of engineers and computer scientists, of cutting-edge technologies, aeronautics, astronautics and telecommunications.

The work began in May 1990 and was completed in November 1992. The organ was blessed by Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, Archbishop of Paris and inaugurated in December in the presence of the Minister of Culture. A concert series with performances by the tenured organists would attract fifty thousand people in one week.

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La "clef" électronique pour démarrer le grand orgue.

© Gérard Boullay


The great organ at Notre-Dame de Paris is now, more than ever, one of the main participants in the cathedral’s liturgical and musical life. Louis Vierne, Pierre Cochereau, and their substitutes played in two morning masses and in afternoon vespers every Sunday and on holidays, but, for the past twenty years, the great organ’s tenured organists have played at six Sunday services (five masses and the vespers) in addition to weekday holidays at Notre-Dame de Paris and national ceremonies.




Notre-Dame de Paris’s great organ testifies to the history of a country that has often been intertwined with that of the cathedral. From its centuries-old loft, it watches over the cathedral’s nave and the millions of pilgrims and visitors who come to this great spiritual site each year. And when it wakes up every Sunday morning after the Lauds, it makes the stones sing and, just like its rose window, blossoms with the sunrise.

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