The classical organ 1730-1838

In 1730, Antoine Calvière (1695-1755), François Couperin’s disciple was named tenured organist. In 1752, in his Letters on Famous Men, Daquin’s son wrote the following about the musician, a legend in his own time
“Daquin and Calvière are what Marchand and Couperin were for yesterday’s generation. They are two rare geniuses, two complete opposite, both of whom became leaders through different paths.”

As soon as he took office, Calvière decided to completely rebuild the instrument. This work would be done by organ builder François Thierry. France’s Enlightenment had begun, the cathedral’s choir had been redone in the baroque style, the arches in the nave were hidden behind large paintings, the Mays were given each year by the goldsmiths’ guild, and the stained glass windows in the upper nave would soon be replaced by white diamond-shaped windows: the last remains of the medieval style had to go. A large, new buffet was created above the choir, concealing part of the rosette. Its Louis XV style fit its era, not too far removed from grand siècle stiffness. This 19th century etching (from before Dallery’s work) shows the elegance of the new construction.

Apart from a few changes made in the 19th century during Viollet-le-Duc’s restoration, this is how buffet stands today. However, in the 18th century, it was no doubt painted white with gold details, like the organs at Invalides and Sainte-Chapelle, which is now at Paris’s Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrrois. The former Back Positive organ was kept and the tribune was enclosed by a wrought iron balustrade with gilded decorations.

Several sources give clues about how the instrument was in 1733: a composition and a sketch by André Silbermann, a pre-1763 description by the canon Guillot de Montjoie, and an estimate from François-Henri Clicquot who rebuilt the instrument twenty years later.

The work was received in July 1733 by four of the greatest organists of the day: Antoine Calvière, the tenured organist, Louis-Claude Daquin, organist at the Couvent des Cordeliers, Pierre du Mage, organist at the Cathedral of Saint-Quentin from 1703 to 1710, and Nicolas Clérambault, organist at Saint-Sulpice and the Jacobins, assisted by organ builder Nicolas Collar. They could not stop singing the praises for this work: Sir Thierry fully satisfied the quotations and contracts and entirely deserves the public’s praise and applause. The 1730 quotation shows the extent to which François Thierry respected his predecessors’ work.

François Thierry’s organ with five 50-note keyboards (C to D without the first C-sharp):
the first keyboard (Back Positive, still in the old 1610 buffet, Thierry-Ducastel wind chests) had 13 stops;

  • the second keyboard (Great Organ) had 22 stops including a 32- foot principal, two 16-base stops, with the principals and the 16-row stop divided into four registers and the stops from the former Boucquin keyboard;
  • the third keyboard (Bombarde, paired with the second): a 16-foot bombarde;
  • the fourth keyboard (27-note swell from C3 to D5): a V cornet and an 8 trumpet;
  • the fifth keyboard (34-note echo from F2 to D5): a V cornet and an 8 cromorne;
  • the Pedal (34 notes for the base stops, 33 notes for the reeds, expanded to F0) two 8 flutes, two 4 flutes, bombarde, trumpet, clarion.

This large instrument’s wind supply was provided using 12 bellows and 4 blowers. It was long considered to be the most complete French classical organ.

François Thierry’s impressive work made it possible for the instrument to last fifty years before it had to be dismantled, and only the façade pipes had to be whitened in 1767. After Calvière, Notre-Dame de Paris began service by district as practiced in Versailles, perhaps because the canons feared that there would be frequent absences as in the time of Calvière, who liked to go across the countryside telling about himself.
The following organists played there: Armand-Louis Couperin, René Drouard du Bousset, Louis-Claude Daquin, Charles-Alexandre Jollage, then Claude Balbastre, Pierre-Claude Foucquet, Nicolas Séjan, Claude-Etienne Luce, Jean-Jacques Beauvarlet known as Charpentier, and Armand-Louis Couperin’s two sons, Pierre and Gervais-François.

In 1783, they worked with organ builder François-Henri Clicquot. The organ was in a bad state, and considerable work was commissioned.

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Arrière des motifs latéraux en palmier,

et leurs ferronneries, ajoutés par Clicquot en 1783. © NDP

Clicquot decided to proceed to general expansion work:

  • the Back Positive buffet was replaced with a larger Louis XVI style buffet, built by Caillou, with completely new pipework, except for the wooden bourdon and cornet basses. These parts of the buffet were taken down in the 19th century by Viollet-Le-Duc, but since then have been kept in the cathedral. This Positive has 14 stops including a 16 bourdon and above an 8 hautbois;
  • the great organ buffet was extended to the side walls by Louis XVI panels at the bottom and by large wooden palms at the top. The Great Organ still had 22 stops; the reeds were restored to brand new condition, many of the tin pipes were replaced, and an 8 chimney flute was added;
  • the third Bombarde keyboard was endowed with another stop: an 8 trumpet;
  • the fourth keyboard (swell) stayed the same with the cornet and the 8 trumpet:
  • the fifth keyboard (Echo) was brought up to date (the cornet was removed, the 8 flute, 8 bourdon, trumpet and clarion were added);
  • the three reed stops on the Pedal were restored from F0 to D3, the bases were kept, and a 16-foot stop and a large 51/3 nazard were added.
  • new keyboards, new bellows for separate wind to the Positive, Pedal and Great-Keyboard.

The instrument was brought in on 5 May 1788. There is a description of it in Citizen Mollard’s description from 24 Thermidor, Year III (1795).

In 1793, the cathedral was “converted” into a Temple of Reason, then used as a supply store. The organ came under fire and all decoration portraying the monarchy and the fleurs de lys on the buffet columns were destroyed with axes. The organ suffered most from neglect.

In 1794, during a Temporary Arts Commission meeting, Citizen Godinot announced that “The deterioration of this organ caused by the defendant was caused by the neglect of this instrument.” He asked that “Citizens Desprez, Séjan Charpentier the younger and the other recognised organists” be able to touch the organ. When asked, Desprez responded that “The combination of all the stops could produce most beautiful sounds, forming harmonies that could be used to accompany civic songs, to portray truly republican feelings, and to convey the wrath we feel towards tyrants.”

His request was granted because “The greatest contribution one can make to preserving an organ is to touch it.” However, the National Convention yet again put the instrument in jeopardy through its decree of 16 Ventôse, Year III (5 March 1795), which demanded that all existing organs kept in churches belonging to the republic be sold, along with all national furniture.

On 15 April 1795, the constitutional clergy took possession of the church: the organ may have been used for some festivals and celebrations. The Notre-Dame choir was assigned to the cult of Théophilanthropes (May 1795) and the cathedral was stage to ceremonies celebrating the goddess of Reason.

On 22 Thermidor, year III (9 August 1795) the Temporary Arts Commission visited the instrument. In his report dated (24 Thermidor – 11 August), Citizen Mollard declared: “Its quality and the necessary repairs would require all its parts to be reviewed, although the buffet is in the best possible condition. The great organ was then placed under caretaker P. Gilbert’s care and ranked as first category, that of organs to be kept more because of their significance than for the quality of their stops.

When Napoléon legalised the Catholic faith in 1802, the former organist of Saint-Merry, Antoine Desprez, became tenured organist on the great Clicquot.

François Lacodre, known as Blin, a student of Balbastre and Séjan, took over for Desprez in 1806, and in 1812 the organ was dismantled by Pierre-François Dallery (1764-1833), Clicquot’s successor. The base stops were partially reharmonised. Forty years later, Georges Schmidt would allude to it: “This is when [the flutes] gained their commendable nature that sets them apart still today.”

In 1833, Louis-Paul Dallery, son of Pierre-François, restored the organ, moving it away from its classical nature. The keyboards were extended to 60 notes (C to C, without the first C-sharp), the base was elevated (with paper mache pattern strips), and a new pump blower was installed. Two-thirds of the great organ was removed, and a Bombarde clarion was added, the positive wind chest was replaced, the two small keyboards (Swell and Echo) were combined in one keyboard and their pipes were housed in a small expressive box (8 bourdon, 8 flute, IV cornet, 8 trumpet, 4 clarion). The pedal was kept according to Clicquot’s arrangement.

This work was completed in 1838, and its flutes, upper hautbois, and Bombarde cornet were met with praise.

For a few years, Joseph Pollet was at the organ’s keys, and he was succeeded by Félix Danjou beginning in 1840 (Joseph Pollet would be the cathedral’s chapel master until 1873). Eugène Sergent was appointed tenured organist in 1847: Viollet-Le-Duc and Lassus’s restoration work on the cathedral would begin soon. The organ had become unusable due to dust in the pipes, general wear on the mechanical parts, faulty supply, and wind and rain coming through the windows, which were being restored: the organist had to give up the keyboards.

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Plan du grand orgue vers 1860.

par Viollet-le-Duc. Médiathèque du Patrimoine. © Gérard Boullay

When he arrived at Notre-Dame, upon request of the architect Viollet-Le-Duc, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll observed the instrument which he mentioned in his 30 March 1860 estimate. He mainly complained of Dallery’s “Poor bellows design, the absence the first C-sharp on the keyboards, excessively thin wind chests and cuts that were too meagre to supply the stops.” He also added, “The last notes added above the stops go so far beyond the limits of experience that these same notes have long become mute, and because it did not last, this costly addition had no significant impact on the organ.” However, he did call attention to the qualities of the sound material: “Notre-Dame’s organ still has some excellent aspects worthy of being conserved by the planned restoration, in particular the positive’s instrumental part and Clicquot’s reed stops.”

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