The buffet is the wooden part of the organ that encases
It protects and covers the organ’s pipes, mechanical parts and bellows and supports the front pipes.
It is most often a carefully-crafted piece of woodwork that has its own place as part of the church’s furniture. The overall wood design is characteristic of the time and place of construction: In 17th and 18th century France, organs were divided into two parts, the large buffet in the back, and a second, smaller buffet, the back positive, right against the gallery.
The great organ buffet at Notre-Dame de Paris today was created by François Thierry to replace the medieval buffet from 1403. It was built in 1733, in the Louis XV-style and was originally paired with Valéran de Héman’s back positive from 1620. In 1788, Clicquot replaced this back positive with a new, Louis XVI-style buffet. Finally, Viollet-le-Duc asked that Cavaillé-Coll remove Clicquot’s positive and the wrought iron balustrade. The woodwork and the grille are still kept in the cathedral’s attic.
The buffet’s current arrangement, not counting the missing positive, is very close to Thierry’s original design. The only other differences are the Louis XVI panels and the palm patterns, which were added on the sides in the late 18th century to extend the instrument, and the absence of decoration the intermediary turret bases. The fleurs de lys that were there before were destroyed by axe during the Revolution.
Apart from its purely aesthetic and decorative role, the buffet plays a significant acoustic role. It improves acoustics, projecting sound towards the nave and the audience, serving as both a sound box and a louvre.
When Thierry was building the buffet, there were panels behind it, which, when combined with the ceiling at the top, closed the instrument in entirely.
Cavaillé-Coll removed most of these panels when he expanded the instrument in 1868 to make more room behind the buffet for the pedal stops and the expressive swell. Since then, the stone back of the cathedral’s façade has enclosed the instrument.