The composer and organist Charles Tournemire’s revelatory improvisations and interpretations link his master César Franck to Messiaen. A profound and volatile mystic, his avant-garde experimentation emerges from plainchant and modes. These rare discs document the only surviving sounds of the organ Franck played on for thirty-one years before it was controversially rebuilt in 1933.
- Franck L'organiste: Chant de la creuse 1:51
- Franck L'organiste: Noël angevin 0:52
- Franck Pastorale 8:38
- Franck Cantabile 5:46
- Franck Choral in A minor 10:44
- Tournemire Orgue mystique: Andantino 2:23
- Tournemire Orgue mystique: Paraphrase carillion 7:56
- Tournemire Improvisation: Petite rhapsody 3:10
- Tournemire Improvisation: Cantilene 3:53
- Tournemire Improvisation: Te Deum 6:04
- Tournemire Improvisation: Fantasie 8:27
- Tournemire Improvisation: Chorale 8:16
While portions of Tournemire’s historic 1930-31 78 rpm recordings have appeared in the past on LP and CD formats, his entire recordings are published here for the first time in a restored version: Arbiter’s Sonic Depth Technology allows for a greater capturing of the famed 1859 Sainte-Clotilde Cavaillé-Coll organ sonority, Tournemire’s articulations, and their projection within the church’s acoustics. Allan Evans endeavored to correct the numerous changes in speed caused by inconsistencies in the motor’s speed during the original recordings, a defect plaguing many discs.
The twelve pieces appear on this CD in a sequence as in a recital. Five Franck works open the program, the last one of this grouping, the Choral en la mineur, earned Tournemire a Grand Prix du Disque. There follows two pieces from Tournemire’s masterpiece L’Orgue Mystique. The five Tournemire improvisations complete the program in the order established in the 1958 Durand Edition of Maurice Duruflé’s reconstructions.
Tournemire’s music is emblematic of a time in which the Cavaillé-Coll organ transformed organ playing, organ composition, and improvisation. His quest for a musical spirituality sets him apart from his contemporaries. It is thus that the expression of religious sentiment in Franck’s organ music, inherited and transformed by Tournemire, was conveyed to succeeding generations of composers, especially Olivier Messiaen and Maurice Duruflé.
Charles Tournemire was born in Bordeaux on January 22, 1870. He died in Arcachon on November 3, 1939. At the age of sixteen he went to Paris to study at the Conservatoire where his principal teachers were Charles de Bériot in piano, Antoine Taudou in harmony, and César Franck in organ and improvisation. He became one of the youngest members of Franck’s class.
The school year of 1890-91 must have been difficult. After Franck’s death, Charles-Marie Widor, quite different from Franck in temperament and teaching, took charge of the organ class. Whereas Franck nurtured improvisation and composition, Widor emphasized technique. Nonetheless, Tournemire won a premier prix in organ and improvisation at the next Concours in the spring of 1891.
In 1898, Gabriel Pierné, Franck’s successor as organist at the fashionable Parisian church of Sainte-Clotilde, resigned: Tournemire was chosen out of thirty applicants, playing there for the first time at Easter, and remaining until his death in 1939, ten years longer than his master César Franck had. (Franck had brought distinction to this organ tribune for thirty-one years, from 1859 until 1890.) Although he inherited Franck’s mantle at Sainte-Clotilde, he did not secure the post of organ professor at the Conservatoire. When Tournemire was appointed to the Conservatoire faculty in 1919, it was as master of the Ensemble Class. He was a distinguished pedagogue. Aside from his many Conservatoire students, Tournemire taught organists/composers such as Ermend-Bonnal, Joseph Bonnet, Maurice Duruflé, Jean Langlais, and Daniel-Lesur. His influence extended far beyond his teaching, through numerous organ recitals given throughout Europe and by the many young French musicians who frequented the organ tribune at Sainte-Clotilde, among them Olivier Messiaen.
Tournemire composed some of the most significant organ music of the twentieth century. A selective list would include a Fantaisie symphonique (1933-4), a Symphonie-Choral (1935), a Symphonie sacrée (1936), and Deux Fresques symphoniques sacrées (1938-9). Yet as a composer of liturgical organ music, Tournemire remains the most influential with his Postludes libres pour les antiennes de Magnificat (1935), the Chorals-poèmes pour les sept paroles du Christ ((1935), and his masterpiece for organ, L’Orgue Mystique (1927-32).
He composed a treasury of vocal and orchestral works: four operas, eight symphonies, choral works, solo songs, as well as piano, chamber, and instrumental works. Tournemire prepared editions of organ music by Cabanilles, Buxtehude, d’Andrieu, d’Aquin, Le Bègue, and Franck; and he published a Précis on Organ Playing, Registration, and Improvisation; and an Organ Method.
Tournemire wrote a book on César Franck which was published in 1930 by Delagrave, Paris. [This writer translated the text, which is available through UMI Dissertation Services, Ann Arbor, MI.] The book is not only a significant source for the study of Franck’s organ music as well as the Sonata for Violin and Piano and the Piano Quintet, but it provides, in addition, cultural-psychological portraits both of Franck and Tournemire.
Daniel-Lesur left an interesting portrait of his teacher:
“In him, the man and the artist were one and the same: of noble character, he remained aloof from all kinds of intrigue, and if he suffered deeply from being ignored by his peers, he was entirely aware of his worth He could be difficult Relaxed, Tournemire let a more familiar aspect of his personality appear, most often good-natured, occasionally not so good-natured, always spontaneous Endowed with a highly emotional nature, it was not rare to see him go in several instants from calm to the most vehement indignation One sensed that he held to an absolute value: grandeur. The eclectic along with the dilettante were, without doubt, intellectual attitudes in direct contradiction to his temperament. His love of nature was intense. Each year saw him carry back from his retreat on the Isle of Ouessant one or another new chef-d’uvre, pondered while facing the ocean. The ocean’s presence marked his character with a sense of universal grandeur. The ocean and the cathedrals”
The Gothic-revival basilica of Sainte-Clotilde, built from 1846 to 1856 by architects Gau and Ballu, overlooks the rue Saint-Dominique in the Seventh Arrondissement on Paris’ Left Bank. The structure may look uninspired, its organ, the work of the great French builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, is not. With forty-six stops and numerous mechanical devices to control them, the instrument was used for the first time in 1859. Both Franck and Tournemire improvised weekly on this instrument and composed most of their organ music for it.
Maurice Duruflé has described the instrument:
“What more ideal sonority can one desire than that of the full Swell Organ to bring to life a musical thought which had been inspired by just this very sound? The composition of this manual was limited to ten stops, but it was of an exceptional balance: Bourdon 8, Flûte Traversière 8, Gambe 8, Voix Céleste 8, Voix Humaine 8, Flûte Octaviante 4, Octavin 2, Trompette 8, Clarion 4, Hautbois 8. The quality of this Swell Organ was marvelous. Without doubt, a number of technical reasons contributed to this: the size of the Swell box, the responsiveness of the shutters, the placement of the box at the very rear of the organ case, the large sonorous space surrounding the box on all sides giving it an extraordinary resonance, the acoustics of the church and, above all, the genius of the organ builder. All these factors produced a miracle. Add to this the beauty of the 16′ and 8′ foundation stops of the other keyboards. When these stops were combined with the Tutti of the Swell Organ, a registration often indicated by Franck [and Tournemire], the Swell Organ sonority projected astoundingly well. Due to the excellent responsiveness of the Swell shutters, sometimes the full Swell sonority surged to the forefront, sometimes it ebbed, allowing the 16′ and 8′ stops to predominate [this effect is heard quite well in Tournemire’s performance of Franck’s Pastorale].”
In his Notice for Volume IV of uvres completes pour orgue of César Franck, Éditions Durand & Cie., Paris [no date], Duruflé gives the specifications of the Sainte Clotilde Organ in Franck’s time:
Bottom Keyboard: Grand-orgue
Montre 16, Bourdon 16, Montre 8, Gambe 8, Flûte harmonique 8, Bourdon 8, Prestant 4, Octave 4, Quinte 2 2/3, Doublette 2, Plein-Jeu VI, Bombarde 16, Trompette 8, Clarion 4.
Middle Keyboard: Positif
Bourdon 16, Montre 8, Gambe 8, Unda maris 8, Flûte harmonique 8, Bourdon 8, Prestant 4, Flûte 4, Quinte 2 2/3, Doublette 2, Plein-Jeu V, Trompette 8,
Clarion 4, Clarinette 8
Top Keyboard: Récit expressif
Gambe 8, Voix Céleste 8, Flûte traversière 8, Bourdon 8, Flûte octaviante 4, Octavin 2, Trompette 8, Clarion 4, Hautbois 8, Voix humaine 8
Soubasse 32, Contrebasse 16, Basse 8, Octave 4, Bombarde 16, Basson 16, Trompette 8, Clarion 4
Couplers: Tirasses et Accouplements
Grand-orgue and Positif to Pédale; Positif to Grand-orgue;
Récit expressif to Positif
In 1932 the church authorities decided to enlarge this marvelous instrument, to add ten stops, to extend the keyboards from fifty-four notes to sixty-one notes, and to extend the pedal board from twenty-seven notes to thirty-two notes. All of the work was supervised by Tournemire and carried out by Beuchet-Debierre, the successor to the Cavaillé-Coll firm. The new organ was inaugurated by Tournemire on 10 June 1933. This restoration and enlargement was not, at the time, and even since then, without controversy. Therefore, Tournemire’s 1930-31 recordings are a unique historical document, a primary source enabling a listener to hear the very sonorities which inspired the organ music of César Franck and that of Charles Tournemire, as well as Tournemire’s improvisational genius. This unique sonority was lost forever in 1933.
Tournemire’s Recordings of Franck
Franck composed L’Organiste, a collection of fifty-nine brief pieces for harmonium or organ, in 1889-90. There are eight groupings of seven pieces each, beginning in C Major and ascending by half-steps to G Major. The volume concludes with three pieces in A-flat Major. Both Tournemire and Duruflé published editions of L’Organiste, the latter supplying suggested organ registrations for each piece. Tournemire chose for this recording two charming pieces from L’Organiste: Chant de la Creuse, a traditional folk melody from the Limousin Region of France and a Vieux Noël from the Anjou Region.
Franck composed twelve major works for organ during three different periods. The first group of six pieces were written from 1860 to 1862: Fantaisie en ut majeur; Grande Pièce Symphonique; Prélude, Fugue, Variation; Pastorale; Prière; and Final. In 1878 he wrote the Fantaisie en la majeur, Cantabile, and Pièce Héroïque. Finally, in 1890, close to death, Franck completed his masterpiece for the organ, Les Trois Chorals.
In Chapter 5(A) of his 1930 book on Franck, Tournemire writes:
“The Pastorale is a charming piece which is somewhat akin to the Fantaisie en ut majeur; both pieces having three sections with plagal relationships between each section. A slight difference in the Pastorale: there are no transitions between the sections. There is the exposition of the tranquil theme, a middle section, and a return to the opening pastorale idea. Nothing is more simple. Generally, the middle section is played too fast which destroys the balance of the piece. Both Andantinos: a quarter note =58; the Quasi allegretto: a quarter note =100. The fugal section, slightly slower.
“The Cantabile is a masterpiece: unfulfilled desire of the soul, the inner supplications of a saint, ceaseless invocations, confidence in divine mercy. This piece one of Franck’s most remarkable has a simple design, gently shaped like the shoreline of a lake. The canon is one of the most beautiful which exist. It bursts forth with great clarity. The general tempo: a quarter note =69. And whatever ‘else’ according to one’s inner feelings!”
In Chapter 5(B) of his Franck book, Tournemire discusses Les Trois Chorals. Tournemire writes [the Durand Edition, Vol. IV, mentioned above, is used for page and measure references]:
“It is bittersweet for me to speak of the Trois Chorals, for I cannot forget the emotions felt the day when the master let me hear these magnificent works on the piano in his home.
“My task was to play the Pedal part on the piano [with Franck, one would suppose, playing the manual parts]. It was a somewhat unsatisfactory first hearing. At that moment I engraved in my mind and heart the impressions that I will now convey.”
After discussing the Choral en mi majeur and the Choral en si mineur, he continues:
“The Choral en la mineur is the least complex of the three. The opening, influenced by J. S. Bach [Organ Prelude in A minor, BWV 543], has a slightly classical character. It is followed by rich, arpeggiated chords which must be played with grandeura fermata before the entrance of the chorale. On the bottom of page 36, return of the opening material, transposed at the fifth; reappearance of the rich chords; next, return of the chorale, still transposed at the fifth, with considerable modifications in the transposition; conclusion of this first part in A minor. The rich chords again, then a pause on the dominant of A. In short, from the beginning of the piece we have gone from the tonic to the dominant, and inversely back again. Extraordinary economy of means.
“The second part of the Choral en la mineur does not modulate. We stay in A. The beginning of the expressive, wonderful arabesque, heard so magnificently throughout this second part of the piece, derives from the third measure of the chorale melody. Perfect derivation with Beethovenian roots. We are in the Ninth Symphonybut the feeling is very different.
“On page 42 and the top of page 43, the above mentioned arabesque is grafted to the chorale in a most moving manner. At the top of page 44, the theme in the Pedal part, should be very marked. At the bottom of page 44, there is a return of the opening arpeggiated material, this time on the first inversion of the C chord; then brilliant returns of the chorale melody on an F-sharp Major chord [a pedal point on the raised fourth of C]. Finally the final burst of sound, solidly established on the tonic. The last measures of the piece have eloquence, in grandiose style.”
In his discussion of the piece, Tournemire returns to the opening measures:
“The Quasi allegro, a quarter note =100. The top of page 35, more lively. The chorale (page 35) at the initial speed. The broken chords on page 37, sempre largamente.
“The second part of the piece, in A Major, played very freely, an 8th note =76, without dragging, but with great license. It is a recitative.
“The pedal part on pages 42, 43 and the top of page 44 should be played non-legato, orchestrally, very trombone-like. That is just the way the composer intended it. Play the large chords, page 44, boldly and proudly, drawing lots of sonority from the instrument.
“At the bottom of page 44, the Récit should be coupled to the Positif. On pages 45 and 46, the Expression Box should be open three quarters of the way only for the chorale melody; otherwise the Box should be shut. These dramatic effects, using the surge and ebb of the Expression Box, are very much part of Franck’s style. The molto crescendo on page 47 should be lively; the chorale enters in total majesty: fortissimo. It is important to phrase the chorale melody, but the inner voices should be non-legato, even shortening their note values a bit. The music will gain in clarity. The final six measures, very broad and noble.
“The Choral en la mineur, Franck’s final work, is a model of simplicity. It is more modal than tonal.”
Tournemire’s Recordings of his own Works
Tournemire’s studies with Franck and Widor, his association with the rich and varied colors of Sainte-Clotilde’s Cavaillé-Coll organ, his contacts with the French symphonists of his day each helped him to fashion his own symphonic style. Whatever the performance medium or whatever the date of composition, Tournemire’s works are imbued with the late 19th century French symphonic tradition. Yet, his aesthetic lay elsewhere, and little by little, it imposed itself on his works. A fervent Roman Catholic, he saw the role of the Roman Catholic composer as a “high and ethical calling.” This ideal is especially obvious in his organ music. He wrote that “organ music where God is absent is a body without a soul.” Through improvisation and throughout the written work, the organist must be inspired by the liturgical texts and melodies, thus joining the worlds of the symphonic organ and the liturgical organ. Alexandre Guilmant and the Schola Cantorum composers made numerous expeditions into this aesthetic realm. Widor approached it in his Symphonie gothique and especially in his Symphonie romane. But Charles Tournemire in L’Orgue Mystique achieved it. This peerless improvisateur and strange, controversial composer composed works in which the texts and chants of the liturgy are like the immobile structure of the French gothic cathedrals, and in which the magnificent colors of the symphonic organ illuminate like stained glass. In this sense Tournemire became the true shaper of modern French liturgical organ music, a source from whom both Duruflé and Messiaen drew mightily.
Tournemire began in 1927 to compose the fifty-one volumes of L’Orgue Mystique, grouped into three cycles: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. Each volume contains an Office, in this context a Mass consisting of a Prelude to the Introit, an Offertory, an Elevation, a Communion, and a Final Piece, as a Postlude to the Mass. The pieces vary in length from a few measures played on a quiet 8′ stop to extended movements using all the organ’s resources. The work encompasses the liturgical year as observed in the Archdiocese of Paris at that time: included are all the Sundays on which the organ was used, many of the principal feast days, and Holy Saturday.
Tournemire must have particularly loved the two pieces from L’Orgue Mystique that he chose to record, for he had two hundred and fifty-three pieces from which to choose.
The Communion from the Office for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost is one of the most successful pieces of that cycle. The Proper of the day alludes to the bread, wine, and oil associated with the harvest. These elements achieve greater significance in their sacramental use. This double status inspired Tournemire’s “poem.” Two ostinatos, in the bass and tenor, allude to the toil of tilling the fields. The introspective, rich sound of the Harmonic Flute stop is heard in the melody, perhaps suggesting the mystical character of bread, wine, and oil.
The Pièce terminale, the so-called Paraphrase-Carillon, from the Office for the Feast of the Assumption, is the most frequently played piece from L’Orgue Mystique. It quotes in part four chants: the antiphon Ego dormivi, the canticle Venite, exsultemus, the Marian hymn Ave maris stella, and the antiphon Salve Regina. The form is ternary: allegro andante allegro. Tournemire, however, intended no more than a mere reference to classical sonata form. His need to respect the modal character of the Gregorian chants reduced the possibility of thematic development and secondary ideas. The chant grows increasingly paraphrased as the music progresses. A four-voice harmonization follows. The original idea returns, more brilliant with chordal passages in the higher register. A bass motive appears, embellished with trills, choral-like passages, and many varied rhythms.. The initial theme is then heard as a carillon figure. The andante, played on the Cor de nuit stop in one hand and the Gambe and Voix céleste stops in the other, is like the muted echo of a distant carillon. In this section Tournemire used material from the first part, clothing it in a subdued, iridescent mantle. The initial carillon figure introduces the final allegro, used in new ways. Several series of modulating arpeggios, a few unison passages, and some rather grand moments bring this piece to a conclusion in the key of D Major. The Paraphrase-Carillon is one of the most inventive movements in L’Orgue Mystique, belonging to the realm of pure improvisation.
Tournemire’s Recorded Improvisations
Maurice Duruflé’s reconstructions of these five improvisations, published by Editions Durand & Cie., Paris, 1958, have entered the organ recital repertory, especially the Choral-Improvisation on “Victimæ paschali.”
Tournemire’s improvisational skills were legendary. Maurice Duruflé provides one of numerous witnesses to them:
“For a full twenty minuteshe embarked upon one of those inspired improvisations whose secrets he alone possessed. Form was irrelevant; pure music flowed up from the deep springs of his being. It was miraculous”
His musical language resembled no other, as may be judged from the two pieces from L’Orgue Mystique and the five improvisations heard on these recordings. His works contain freely-composed modal melodies, unusual and unusually interesting scales, such as Carnatic modes [Chorals-poèmes], and much chromaticism. One also finds various alterations of melodic lines, imitative use of fragments, and the use of parallel octaves of both fragments and melodies, a highly unusual practice in organ music before Tournemire’s time. Harmonically, his music moves through remote key relationships; he uses open fifth and octave sonorities as well as ninth and eleventh chords; there are many parallel chords, real rather than tonal. Important rhythmic elements stand out: multi-metric and barless sections, and ad libitum passages. There are numerous examples of two-voice counterpoint, in which melodic lines converge to a second, or move away from one. Lines move in parallel fifths and sevenths, in canon, both strict and free. There are trills, grace notes, freely-composed ornaments, ostinato figures, glissandi, and pedal points.
This rich, splendid, unique musical language includes four fundamental features: the use of modes side by side with the major/minor scales; frequent chorale-like passages; interesting, unusual registrations, more original than those of his contemporaries; and above all, highly dramatic content, more a reflection of this volatile personality than a pre-determined reliance on using contrasting material.
Tournemire’s pupil and disciple Maurice Duruflé found words that convey the master’s relationship to the great instrument created for Franck and inherited by Tournemire, who “found in Sainte-Clotilde’s magnificent Cavaillé-Coll organ the ideal instrument, one which responded wonderfully to his every wish, to the flights of his imagination by turns poetic, picturesque, whimsical; then impassioned, tumultuous, wild; finally peaceful, mystical, blissful. Carried away by the music which sprang forth under his fingers, he lost conscious control of his movements. He had embarked for another world.” Ralph Kneeream
Dr. Ralph Kneeream earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in French Language and Literature from Columbia University. He holds a Doctor of Music Degree from Northwestern University. Dr. Kneeream has held Organist/Choir Director positions in Churches and Temples in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, and Florida. As an organ recitalist, he has concertized in the United States and Europe, including three recitals at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. He has taught at Blair Academy, Columbia University, Northwestern University, and The Harid Conservatory. Dr. Kneeream has participated in Institutes at The University of Michigan, giving seminars on Franck, Tournemire, Dupré, and Duruflé. He has translated from the French and edited Recollections by Marcel Dupré (Belwin-Mills, 1975), César Franck by Charles Tournemire (University Microfilms International, 1989), and has contributed numerous articles on various musical subjects to several professional magazines. Dr. Kneeream is a member of the American Guild of Organists, the Association of Anglican Musicians, the Organ Historical Society, and he was elected to Pi Kappa Lambda, the National Music Honor Society. He has enjoyed numerous personal and professional contacts with several of France’s celebrated personages of the twentieth-century French organ world, namely Marcel Dupré, Mme. Charles Tournemire, Maurice Duruflé, Marie-Madeleine Duruflé, Nadia Boulanger, and André Marchal.