Arbiter Records 135

André Marchal: First recordings. Paris, 1936 & 1948.

Track List

André Marchal lifted the heavy drapery off of Baroque organ music, exposing the counterpoint through ingenious registration and a highly developed articulation, creating a revival of the music that had been submerged into the heaviness inspired by late 19th century organs. The instruments heard here show Marchal on an early neo-Baroque organ as well as Cavaillé-Coll's masterpiece in St. Eustache, covering a vast repertoire and illustrating the stops on the Baroque organ. Paris, 1936 (Victor Gonzalez organ in the home of Mme. Goüin); Paris, 1948 (Cavaille-Coll organ, Ste. Eustache)

  1. Buxtehude Prelude & Fugue in F# minor
  2. J. S. Bach Chorale Prelude BWV 631a
  3. J. S. Bach Chorale Prelude BWV 622
  4. J. S. Bach Chorale Prelude BWV 604
  5. J. S. Bach Passacaglia & Fugue: Passacaglia
  6. J. S. Bach Passacaglia & Fugue: Fugue
  7. J. S. Bach Chorale Prelude BWV 753
  8. Cabezon Tiento
  9. Santa Maria Harmonisation d' une melodie
  10. Landini Questa fanciulla
  11. Palestrina Ricercare
  12. Blow Toccata in D minor
  13. Purcell Trumpet tune and Air
  14. Sweelinck Mein junges Leben hat ein End
  15. Sweelinck O Mensch bewein dein Sünde grss
  16. Demonstration: "Les jeux d ' orgue"
  17. Vierne Impromptu
  18. bonus download track: Bach Chorale Prelude BWV 734 "Nun freut euch limber Christen"

With the advent of electrical recording in 1925 the organ came into its own as an instrument that could be listened to and enjoyed in the home. Sounds that previously could only be captured through an acoustic horn now could be recorded with multiple microphones and heard with increasingly better fidelity. Each year marked notable progress in the quality of organ recordings and in the catalogue of music available. In addition to some 24 Handel Largos and around 30 Bach Toccata and Fugues in D Minor, the era of 78 recordings encompassed a vast range of organ literature, mostly by mainstream composers. Although notable organs were recorded by famous organists there was little concern to match the music with historically appropriate instruments.

This situation changed when, in December 1936, the Pathé Company released a twelve-disc set entitled.Three Centuries of Organ Music. In the early 1930s, in order to provide the relatively small circle of sophisticated music lovers and especially those of early music – with as-yet-unrecorded repertoire, various subscription series were initiated. This was one such set and it included four organists: Joseph Bonnet (organist of Saint-Eustache), André Marchal (organist of Saint-Germain-des-Prés), Charles Hens (organist of Sainte-Gudule Cathedral in Brussels), and Friedrich Mihatsch (organist of the Cathedral of Vienna), playing organ works from the 16th through the 18th centuries – up to and including Bach.

The most interesting feature of this set was that, for the first time, early music was played on a modern organ designed especially for it. The instrument, surprisingly, was a residence organ, built by Victor Gonzalez in the music room of M. and Mme Henry Goüin in their Parisian home at 4, avenue Milleret de Brou. It had been inaugurated by André Marchal on February 3, 1934. By way of program notes, Norbert Dufourcq wrote a 32-page booklet that was included with the set.

The electric action organ was two manuals and pedal, with a prepared-for Positif (a basic Cornet decomposée and Cromorne), brilliantly voiced, powerful but not heavy, allowing polyphonic music to be heard clearly. The reed stops (Ranquette, Chalumeau, and Dolcian) were designed along what was then perceived as 17th-century lines, and contributed harmonically-rich timbres, heard in Paris for the first time in centuries.

Following the example of Reynaldo Hahn, who illustrated the Instruments of the Orchestra with characteristic excerpts from well-known works, Marchal describes the composition of the organ, the different families of stops, and the basic combinations. He demonstrates his examples with short improvisations.

“The organ is composed of several manual keyboards and a pedalboard. Each of these corresponds to a tonal plan and includes three stop families: foundation stops, mutations, and reeds. Among them the foundations or flue stops, the eight-foot Montre ( . . . ) and its octave, the four-foot Prestant ( . . . ) and the two-foot Doublette ( . . . ). This family of stops forms the foundation of the organ . . .”

In a charming, chatty way, devoid of pedantry, the maître takes us through the entire organ, letting us hear each stop in its most characteristic range, and sometimes combines them for better effect – his demonstration of the Salicional and Voix céleste is our only opportunity to hear them.

The longest work of the set was Marchal’s performance on three and a half sides, of Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C, the first recording of the complete work. In addition to short works by Santa Maria and Palestrina, Marchal pays a touching tribute to his two blind musical forebears Francesco Landino and Antonio de Cabezon.


Another more extensive collection was the French L’ Anthologie sonore, begun in 1933 and continuing after the Second World War into the 1950s. It covered music from Gregorian chant to Beethoven and issued some one hundred sixty-nine 78s before switching over to LPs. Only seven discs were devoted to the organ: two played by Dupré on his residence organ in 1934, two played by Bonnet (French Classic and early Spanish) recorded on the Goüin organ, released in 1938, and André Marchal’s three (Sweelinck, the Bach Passacaglia, and two chorale preludes) played at Saint-Eustache in April 1948.

Marchal’s contribution was two works by the seventeenth-century Dutch organist and composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. The variations on the secular German song, My young life hath an end, were aptly chosen to display the colors of Gonzalez’s rebuild of the organ. Bach’s monumental Passacaglia, BWV 583, played as magisterially as would be expected, likewise demonstrated the organ further, as Marchal varies the registration for each of the twenty variations and alternates choruses in the fugue. Additionally, each composer is represented by a chorale prelude.

The same month André Marchal recorded eight discs for another recording company, Lumen. These displayed the organist’s talents in a broad range of periods and styles, from Buxtehude to Jehan Alain. Marchal here recorded the first Buxtehude Prelude and Fugue in F-sharp Minor, the first and only work by John Blow on record before the advent of LPs, and the first Vierne Impromptu, a performance especially valuable since the piece is dedicated to Marchal. Buxtehude’s Prelude and Fugue are played with tremendous excitement and rhythmic impact and even Charles Provost, the often-negative reviewer for the journal published by Les Amis de l’Orgue, felt the Prix du Disque should have gone to this record instead of the Alain Litanies and Choral Dorien.

French organists playing in England were frequently criticized for not performing any English music and Marchal here gives us two examples, though the Purcell is actually J. Stuart Archer’s transcription of movements from the harpsichord suites. Three chorale preludes from the Bach’s Orgelbüchlein complement Jesu meine Freude from the Anthologie Sonore set.

Of the entire series Provost wrote that if you heard these recordings on an “up-to-date speaker you will feel as though you were plunged into the atmosphere of Saint-Eustache,” perhaps the highest praise for these discs and the engineers who supervised their recording. – Dr. Rollin Smith ©2003
I t is indeed an honor for me to be asked to share my memories of Andre Marchal. My relationship with this musical and personal giant began in 1953 when a lesson was arranged while he was preparing for a recital at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. I played Buxtehude’s Prelude, Fugue and Chaconne, and Bach’s St. Anne Prelude and Fugue. His insights into this music, so fresh and exciting, changed not only my concept of these pieces, but of all music! Throughout my life I have felt that music I studied with him or heard him perform has its own LIFE, even beyond the composer’s conception and inspiration, as it might sound in Heaven!

The opening pedal statement of the Buxtehude Prelude evoked several interpretative concepts of this declamatory style: detaching downward leaps of the octave, delaying the low C to increase the drama of that introductory motive, beginning the sixteenths in m. 2 deliberately but soon establishing the tempo, and a grand accent on the resolution from m. 10 to m. 11 by exaggerating the articulation before the C major chord. After this free style, the ear welcomes the discipline of a strict tempo in m. 12 with a light, non-legato touch (but not staccato) he called légère. The fugue wants a strict tempo with a légère touch. The chaconne demands a broader tempo with a relentless drive and the cadenza passages of the cadence played freely for a grand conclusion. This concept of alternating passages of rhythmic freedom with strict tempo is essential to the interpretation of much music; it came up again years later when I studied Bach’s Fantasy in G minor – the alternation of the free, rhapsodic passages with the strict B sections is the secret ingredient to the interpretation of this masterpiece.

In the study of the St. Anne Prelude and Fugue, other performance concepts presented themselves. In the opening measure the tied-over B-flat in the soprano should be “accented” or stretched. (Notes tied into an accent are always important rhythmically and often harmonically and should be stressed; even a note tied into an accent followed by a repeated note, as in measures 7 through 10, should never be eliminated by the articulation. In m. 71 and following, the tied note in the theme of the C section should be accented by stretching, to achieve rhythmic vitality. In the initial statement of the A section the downbeat of m. 2, 4, etc. (with the harmonic suspension) calls for a strong accent, achieved by stretching the articulation before it, in other words by delaying the downbeat. This technique achieves even greater excitement when the section returns finally for its apotheosis.

In the fugue the theological theme of the Trinity becomes apparent with the three sections played with different touch, registration and tempo; the God the Father theme with a legato, singing touch on principal tone of 8′ and 4′ (plus 16′ in the pedal) in a dignified tempo; the God the Son theme with a légère touch on a lighter, transparent registration probably including mutations, in a quicker tempo; and the God the Holy Spirit theme on full registration in a driving tempo, with certain nuances to achieve rhythmic vitality. The theme comes alive when the first three eighths are detached and the fourth (on the accent) is connected to the four sixteenths which follow, as well as stretched . This principle of stretching longer note values enables the rhythm to come alive, especially at the organ when an accent cannot be achieved by volume. I think that “Le Maître” would say that the performer is not “doing something” to the music, but is simply allowing the music to be what was intended. The rhythm becomes more “real” and vital than the notation is able to indicate. He never advised putting a rhythmic nuance here or there; he simply performed and taught others to strive for what the composer intended. Indeed our musical notation is only a small beginning for what the music wants to become! In his teaching he never expected or even wanted his students to imitate his style of performing. Instead, he opened up the music so clearly, a revelation as it were, that the student was inspired to become the agent through whom the music could come to life!

In the performance of the exquisite early French organ music (Couperin, Clérambault, de Grigny et al), for whose renaissance, Marchal, more than others, is to be thanked, his style was the result of his own understanding and feeling for the music.

I wish to share some of the insights into this elegant style which I have received from the master. (The reader should bear in mind that those cited are in no way comprehensive or even to be considered the most important ones.) The pieces should be registered as closely as possible to the intention of the composer; in fact the registration is indicated in the title (e.g. Plein Jeu, Basse de Trompette, Récit de Cromorne, Récit de Tierce, Grands Jeux). The music was conceived for a particular color. Mixtures and reeds were not generally played together since they were rarely in tune with one another. The trompette often needs the 4′ octave for brightness and definition. Reeds are generally detached more than flues, especially in the lower register as the pipes need more time to speak. The cromorne often ‘sings’ better with an 8′ flute (or even a 4′ flute). In the lyric solo movements (Récit de Cromorne, Récit de Tierce, etc.) the accompaniment should be played without nuance, in order to emphasize the free lyricism of the melody. The first note in a series of eighths or sixteenths may be accented by connecting it to the second note (with the following notes detached) and by stretching it rhythmically. The mathematical result will be closer to than . The reader will recognize this rhythmic freedom as the concept of “inégale” now prevalent in American pedagogy, perhaps used to excess by some American organists. Marchal, as well as many French organists, arrived at this interpretive idea through his own innate musicianship rather than from musicological research.

Marchal was never part of a “school of interpretation.” He trusted his own insights and inspiration with glorious results! In fact, a colleague, Ann Labounsky, told me that in a lesson she asked him on what he based a particular phrasing he had suggested. He was taken aback, hesitated, and then said in all seriousness, “It is pleasing to me.” His performance as well as his teaching never conformed to a system of rules. As with all truly great performers he left himself open to the inspiration of the moment. In like manner he approached each student as a unique vessel or agent of the music, imparting to him or her the “jewels” which he thought she/he was ready to receive! I think that this concept of art was the reason that he did not enjoy recording – that no music should be “frozen in time” with only one interpretation.

Marchal the man cannot be separated from Marchal the artist. He was the kindest, most selfless person I ever knew. I never heard him criticize another person. At a reception following an Orlando recital I noticed him suddenly looking irritated while conversing with the local grande dame de l’orgue. It seems she was trying to get him to agree that her teacher in Paris was not a good teacher. His eloquent daughter, Jacqueline, put an end to the situation by calmly saying, “My father sees no faults in his colleagues.”

The highest point of my life was the summer of 1955 when I had the fortune to study with Marchal in Hendaye, France. I lived with a family only three blocks from Villa Guereza, the handsome vacation home of the Marchal family, and took three lessons a week with “le Maître” on “Jean Sebastien,” his beautiful Gonzalez tracker. The other American student and I were welcomed as family. He encouraged us to “drop in” anytime. Almost daily we took long afternoon walks in the fresh sea air, ending up at a sidewalk cafe for “café et gateaux.” He was always patient to speak French slowly with clear articulation so that his young American friends could understand every word. He enjoyed taking promenades with me in a rather bizarre machine, called a velocar, left over from the war years, which many French families used to run errands without having to use precious gasoline. It was like a double bicycle, but side by side, mechanical action of course! Both passengers pedaled but only one steered. He loved to go through the town traffic with me steering and both of us pedaling. To stop this contraption, both persons had to stop pedaling. When we came to a roundabout or a stop sign, I would hysterically shout, “Arrêtez, Maître, arrêtez!” He sensed the difference between real danger and my own paranoia, and often smiled broadly and kept on pedaling! I was a nervous wreck and certain that I would go down in history as the person who killed the world’s greatest organist!!

I believe that all great people are blessed with a keen sense of humor. Marchal’s humor was childlike and never at the expense of others. I felt special because, unlike other students with whom he often began a lesson with “un petit choral de Bach” he began my lessons by teaching me a phrase of French slang – “argot”. He slowly enunciated the phrase and taught me when to say it. It was usually a comical response to a question often asked by the family with whom I took my meals. He roared with laughter when I reported the scenario back to him, wanting to know every detail, who laughed and who said what! In their turn, the family began to play the game of asking the “magic question” which would prompt the new phrase learned at my last lesson! His exceptional memory was not limited to music. During the many lessons and visits (chez lui et chez moi) from that unforgettable summer until his death in 1980, he continued to take delight in rehearsing my repertoire of “argot.”

No reflections of André Marchal would be complete without mentioning the important part his wife and daughter played in his life. In 1919 he married Suzanne Greuet, professor of piano and harmony at “L’Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles” in Paris, an accomplished singer and later to be the author of an important textbook in harmony. The Marchal household was indeed a musical one. Maître received much gratification from playing his Pleyel piano, preferred above other makers for its lyric and poetic quality. In his younger years he learned by Braille as much music for the piano as for the organ. He took much pleasure in performing the works of Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Fauré, Debussy and Ravel. Before performing an organ recital he usually played on the piano Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques, which he considered the ideal technical warm-up. His very favorite composer for the piano was Gabriel Fauré, which preference tells of their similar love of poetry and lyricism. He enjoyed accompanying Madame, a sensitive artist in her own right, in the art song repertoire, particularly the songs of Fauré and Debussy. In Paris and Hendaye the family frequently hosted soirées musicales – musical evenings when the musical intelligentsia were invited to discuss music and perform for each other.

Since 1953 their gracious daughter, Jacqueline, and her husband since 1954, Giuseppe Englert, have been my faithful friends. Jacqueline’s life was so interwoven with her father’s career that the two vibrant personalities were one in the memories of us fortunate to know them both. She always conveyed his positive nature and encouragement when she served as interpreter at master classes and private lessons. She was an invaluable help to foreign students (I think especially to Americans, whom both of them loved), not only in the arrangement of lessons but to see that they were comfortably set up in Paris or Hendaye. Today the two, “le Maître” and Jacqueline, along with my life partner Jeff Moylan, and my Christian faith, remain the sources of joy, strength and inspiration that give my life its meaning!

Ralph Tilden © 2003