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The organ

The organ case

The organ case is Flamboyant Gothic style, interior of western façade - sculpted and waxed oak by Ventadour, designed by the architect Arveuf

The great organ is located in the gallery dating from the early nineteenth century.
The neo-Flamboyant organ case was created by the cabinetmaker Etienne Gabriel Ventadour, from a project by Jean Jacques Arveuf, Architect for Historic Monuments (1802-1875).
The instrument itself is the work of John Abbey, an English organ builder living in Versailles, who delivered the instrument in 1849. His sons modified it in 1898.

The Salmon organ (1810-1847)

The decision to construct an organ was made in 1809, and Jean Baptiste Salmon of Vitry-le-François was chosen to build, on a new gallery, the positif de dos of a hypothetical great organ.

The instrument was received June 15, 1810, but the sculpting of the three-turreted case was not finished until 1812. Several years later, in 1828, Salmon enlarged his instrument by adding a swell and a separate pedal, bringing the composition to 22 stops.

The John Abbey organ: a complex construction (1839-1847)

The creation of a great, 16-foot organ, more suitable for the Cathedral, was envisioned in 1836. John Abbey was chosen for the task on December 10, 1839, by the Ministry of Justice and Religions. Construction of the organ case, designed by the architect Arveuf, was awarded to the Parisian cabinetmaker, Etienne Gabriel Ventadour. The case was received on June 17, 1847.

John Abbey began assembling the organ in the Cathedral in August, 1847.

The organ was finished on July 29, 1849, almost ten years after initial approval. This delay, combined with the workload represented by construction of the organ in the Reims Cathedral beginning in 1845, led to the bankruptcy of the organ builder at the very moment of realizing his masterpiece.

Reconstruction by the Abbey brothers (1896-1898)

Almost forty years later, the organ had become dusty, the mechanisms worn, and it lacked the new stops and technical improvements of other organs of the time.

The council of the Fabrique decided to take action. Five projects were considered before the decision was made to follow the advice of organist Jecker, and entrust the reconstruction of the organ to the sons of John Abbey. The brothers greatly transformed the organ: they completely reconstructed the windchests, action system, and wind supply, deepened the case, and added numerous new stops to replace or complete the existing stops, which they reused and modified. This work began in January 1895 and continued until April 12, 1898, greatly exceeding the eighteen months originally agreed upon.

Nevertheless, the instrument, with its 54 stops, open 32-foot at the pedal and a new console with numerous conveniences, was universally appreciated. The reception commission spokesperson, Leopold Desfrenais (organist of Notre Dame of Vitry-le-François), went as far as to compare this new symphonic organ to the famous Cavaillé-Coll of Saint Ouen Abbey in Rouen.

The sound aesthetic of the Abbey brothers' organ

The Abbey brothers' organ was unique in France for its symphonic style. Although we can identify several distinguishing characteristics exclusive to the organs of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, Joseph Merklin or Louis Debierre, this is not possible for the Abbeys, whose few significant instruments have not been well conserved. An exception is the organ of Louviers, which, however, is no longer entirely in its original state. The harmony somewhat resembles that of Stoltz, whose father was an apprentice of the Abbeys: large points for the reed pipes, bourdons in wood to B2, Gavioli freins for the gambas. However, the only great instruments of Stoltz that remain are located in Spain.

The resulting sound of the Saint Etienne organ is unique, and cannot be compared to that of any other Cathedral organ. The stopped pipes present a great variety of color, with a distinction and finesse that the sound of the bell does not always do justice to, but with less power than the organs of Cavaillé-Coll. On the other hand, the reed pipes are handled with force, resulting in a clarity corresponding to much shorter pipes. The effect of the swell box is astounding, and allows a dynamic range rarely attained elsewhere.

Certain reed soloists present a transparency that is not often found in the French symphonic aesthetic; it is a precursor of the neo-classic trend of the 1930s. This particular sonority contributes to the exceptional position this instrument holds in French organ heritage of the symphonic type.


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