8 months before the reopening of Notre-Dame de Paris, the five organists of the cathedral have just been appointed

8 months before the reopening of Notre-Dame de Paris, the five organists of the cathedral have just been appointed

While the great organ is being harmonized, five musicians have just been appointed organ holders of the cathedral by the diocese of Paris.

The organs of Notre-Dame de Paris have just found their four titular organists who will provide “by district” – that is to say in turn -, according to a tradition inherited from the 18th century, the service during the services at the cathedral. Three “old hands”: Olivier Latry, tenured since 1985 and Vincent Dubois, since 2016, for the grand organ, Yves Castagnet, since 1988, for the choir organ, will be able to return to service. They are joined by two “newbies”: Thierry Escaich, until now titular organist of the organ of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont in Paris, and the very young Thibault Fajoles – he is 22 years old! – who regularly intervenes during celebrations at the Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois church, which became a “host parish” during the construction of the cathedral. They all have a brilliant career as an internationally renowned musician.

Tuning of the 8,000 pipes of the great organ

After its dismantling and complete cleaning, the great organ was reassembled in 2023. Its tuning, pipe by pipe – and there are 8,000 of them! – has started and will take several months. “Especially since the organ builders are forced to take a break during the summer to avoid bad harmonizations, the great heat expanding the metal too much” explains Olivier Latry who goes to see them every month in the cathedral where they work at night because they need silence and the inside of the building is always a noisy construction site during the day.

The organist also says he is “expectant, because I haven't heard anything yet” and imagines that the rehearsals will be done “in the urgency of the last weeks before reopening. In the meantime we will think about the musical programs ” Nevertheless, Olivier Latry underwent two other restorations of the organ between 1990 and 1992 and between 2012 and 2014, which led him to “feel more and more patient and philosophical”. He recalls that, in any case, “the art of the organist relies heavily on his capacity for improvisation. We have a sensitive reception of the atmosphere of the assembly, we respond to it and participate in it through the music that we let's create.”

Therefore, this is undoubtedly what will happen during the prayer vigil which will be organized on December 7, 2024, on the eve of the reopening of the cathedral. Archbishop Mgr Laurent Ulrich will then “wake up the organ” with a long interpellation. A musical and sung dialogue will then be organized with the instrument. The grand organ is “a mythical instrument, one of the largest in the world and which sums up the French art of the organ” explained researcher Christophe d'Alessandro. His communication focused on “the sound geography of Notre-Dame” during a very recent conference of the CNRS and the Ministry of Culture devoted to the scientific work carried out at Notre-Dame in parallel with its restoration or even thanks to it.

The choir organ returns in 2025

The instrument accompanies Sunday services and concerts as well as major ceremonies, while the choir organ is used for daily liturgies. The latter, destroyed by the fire, had to be rebuilt. Only his pipes could be saved. It will only return to its place at the end of 2025. In the meantime, it is an electronic substitute which will allow Yves Castagnet to support the mastery of Notre-Dame.

The current large organ succeeds several others since the Gothic era. It is a very large symphonic instrument designed in 1868 by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (1811-1899), a major organ builder but which retains its splendid 18th century case. However, “The first mention of an organist at Notre-Dame dates back to 1333, recalls Christophe d'Alessandro, but there were portable organs and choir organs, initially located high in the gallery, from the 12th century .” It is up to the five current holders to be part of this long tradition while bringing their personal art of improvisation and composition to this intangible, lived and inhabited heritage.

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