They spoke about it
In 1978, the most voluminous extant manuscript of French organ music of the period of Louis XIV was found in Montréal. This precious document was brought to New France in 1724 by Jean Girard, a Sulpician cleric from Bourges in France, who was organist of Notre Dame Church in Montréal until his death in 1765.
The manuscript was named Livre d’orgue de Montréal by the musicologist Elisabeth Gallat-Morin, who made the discovery, and Kenneth Gilbert, who gave the first public performance of this music in the twentieth century.
Jean Girard (1696-1765), to whom we owe the survival of the manuscript, seems to have been Montréal’s first professional musician. A tonsured cleric, he received complete musical training at the choir school of Bourges’ Sainte-Chapelle, prior to his sojourn at the Sulpicians’ in Paris, where he prepared himself to play the organ in Montréal. He performed this function for forty years, teaching also at the boys’ school. He did not, however, compose the music of the manuscript. Not only is there no sample of his handwriting to be found in it, but the style of the music, which belongs to the end of the 17th century, together with the physical aspect of the document, indicate that the volume was already completed and bound when it was given to the young organist departing for the New World.
A certain mystery continues to surround the 540-page manuscript which bears no composer’s name. A close study of the document revealed a link with one of the King’s four organists, Nicolas Lebègue (1630-1702); the manuscript contains sixteen of his pieces (fifteen of which appear in his three published Livres d’orgue with a sixteenth piece to be found only in a contemporary manuscript at the Paris Bibliothèque nationale (Vm 7.1823)). In addition, the many points of resemblance which exist between the anonymous pieces and Lebègue’s music further link the manuscript to the school of this famous composer and teacher, whose reputation extended beyond the frontiers of his own country. It is not unreasonable to believe that the Livre d’orgue de Montréal may contain some of his unknown pieces.
The manuscript, which is made up mostly of verses for the Magnificat, includes among other works six masses, a Pange lingua and three Te Deum. The verses in the French organ repertory of the 17th and 18th centuries are relatively short, as they were intended to alternate with the sung verses of Masses and hymns; thus the organ replaced every second verse. Another specific characteristic of French organ music of that period: the various pieces were composed with a particular sound colour in mind and the registration and the title of the piece are often one and the same. The Wolff organ, with its suspended action, flexible wind, voicing and d’Alembert tuning, meets the specifications of the French classical organ; it recreates the sound atmosphere in which the Livre d’orgue de Montréal was composed, with its typical Plein Jeu (full organ), Grand Jeu with the reed stops, Jeu de Tierce and solo stops.
I. Magnificat en D (man. nos. 1 to 7)
No doubt wishing to start with the most beautiful pieces, the person who compiled the Livre d’orgue de Montréal (which is made up of separate quires), placed this Magnificat at the very beginning of the volume; it opens with a “Prélude” in which the Plein Jeu of the Great organ dialogues with that of the Positif. Next comes a “Duo” in a triple-time dance rythm, played on the Tierces, and a “Récit” played on the Cornet, inspired by vocal music. In a brilliant piece, the Trumpet stop alternates between Dessus (Treble) and Basse, ending with both hands on the Trumpet. After another “Plein Jeu,” the Magnificat concludes with a “Dialogue” and a final “Plein Jeu” according to the plan adopted by Nicolas Lebègue for his Magnificat.
II. Pieces en D (man. nos. 14 to 20)
In this series of pieces in the church tone of D (or first tone), the first “Récit” is played on the Cromhorne, followed by a “Dialogue” on the Grands Jeux. Then comes a “Fugue grave” on the Trumpet. In the “Duo,” which opposes the Jeux de Tierces of the Great organ and the Positif, the composer takes pleasure in prolonging the effect of syncopated rythm in short note-values, as in certain harpsichord pieces; one must not forget that the organists of that period were also harpsichordists.
III. Magnificat en C (man. nos. 30, 31, 32, 29 and 35)
Following a rather meditative opening “Plein Jeu,” the “Duo,” light but with a marked rythm, ends with a syncopated passage that requires a degree of virtuosity on the part of the performer. The serene “Trio” precedes a brilliant “Basse de Trompette” (no. 29) that replaces the unfinished “Basse” (no. 33). The Magnificat ends with a typical “Dialogue” on the Grand Jeu.
IV. Fugue [in Dialogue] (man. no. 46)
The registration of this fugue is unusual, with indications of Dessus and Basse where the various parts enter on the Great organ.
V. Tierce en Taille en D (man. no. 184) Cromhorne en Taille du 7e by Nicolas Lebègue (man. no. 196)
In the manuscript, the first piece belongs to a series of consecutive anonymous Tierces en Taille, which is immediately preceeded by a series of eight Tierces or Cromhornes en Taille by Lebègue; he is considered the creator of this most expressive genre of the French classical organ repertory, in which the melody occupies the medium register of the organ. Since these two series of pieces are placed side by side and are so similar in style, one may well ask the question whether or not the anonymous series contains unknown pieces by Lebègue. Or else did a student reproduce the style of the master? The Cromhorne en Taille du 7e is indeed a work by Lebègue; also heard on the record are his Tierce en Taille en F, as well as three other anonymous pieces of the same type.
VI. Fugue (man. no. 273)
This four-part fugue is played on the Crom-horne.
VII. Pange Lingua (man. nos. 270 to 272)
The “Plein Jeu” which opens this hymn to the Holy Sacrament — sung at Vespers in France as well as in New France — is one of the rare piece in the manuscript where one hears the plain chant used as a cantus firmus in the bass. The ornementation of the plain chant in the “Récit sur le même chant” reminds one of the Pange Lingua by Nicolas de Grigny, the most famous of Lebègue’s students. The concluding “Dialogue” also borrows its thematic material from the plain chant.
VIII. Messe en sol
The Messe en sol from which the record presents excerpts (man. nos. 117, 118, 119 and 133), and the Suite en F, heard further on, share a certain number of pieces, transposed in passing from one suite to the other. As the same “Plein Jeu” opens the two series of pieces, it has been replaced here in the Messe en sol by another “Plein Jeu” (man. no. 63). The central section of this piece is quite unusual in French classical organ music: toccata style parallel roulades in sixteenth notes are played by both hands over a long pedal point. Following a “Fugue” and a “Trio,” the “Tierce en Taille” reminds one of Lebègue’s works. A “Dialogue” concludes the Messe en sol with a series of brilliant runs in sixteenth notes.
IX. Magnificat en D (man. nos. 8 to 13)
After the opening “Plein Jeu,” the “Dessus de Voix humaine” (a stop greatly appreciated in New France) dialogues with the Echo. Follows a piece on the Cornet, a “Basse de Cromhorne,” a “Récit” played on the Cornet and a “Dialogue” on three manuals: Grand Jeu, Petit Jeu and Echo.
X. Three Fugues (man. nos. 276, 278 and 279)
These “Fugues” are part of a consecutive series of thirteen such pieces. They are quite typical of those found generally in the French organ repertory of the classical period (particularly with Nicolas Lebègue); indeed they are in the tradition of the fugue-verses for organ of Catholic countries, a concise genre derived from the Italian ricercar. The first “Fugue” is played on the Cromhorne, the second on the Trumpet, while the last one returns to the Cromhorne.
XI. Tierce en Taille en g.b. (man. no. 185)
Several passages of this anonymous piece remind one of Nicolas Lebègue’s Tierce en Taille du 6e ton.
XII. Messe du 4e ton (man. nos. 327 to 344)
In the Messe, due to the alternation of the verses between the organ and the singers, five ver-ses of the Kyrie fall to the organ, nine verses of the Gloria and two each in the Sanctus and Agnus. The organ verses, even if they are relatively short because of their liturgical purpose, are not less well written and the verses of this complete Messe go through the entire range of sound colours of the French classical organ.
XIII. Messe double – Kyrie (man. nos. 307 to 311)
This Mass for double feasts, like the Mass published by Lebègue, the Messe pour les Paroisses by Couperin and de Grigny’s Mass, is written on the plain chant of the Kyrie cuntipotens genitor Deus (Mass IV). According to the precepts of the Cérémonial de Paris (1662), the cantus firmus is clearly stated in the bass in the first and last verses of the Kyrie and the Gloria and at the beginning of the Sanctus and the Agnus. It was current practice to make the cantus firmus stand out on the pedal Trumpet, even if there were no instructions to that effect in the printed music.
XIV. Magnificat en E si my (man. nos. 346, 347, 348, 354, 356, 350, 362)
In the Preface to his organ Masses, André Raison states that organists who require Magnificat may compose them from the Mass verses, by choosing six or seven of them. Indeed, certain pieces of the Messe en E si my of the Livre d’orgue de Montréal bear the figures 1 to 7, but not in perfect order; could these numbers correspond to Magnificat verses? If one puts the pieces in order, the Magnificat opens with the appropriate “Plein Jeu”; a “Fugue” is in the usual second place, and the two last verses, the sixth and the seventh, are a “Dialogue” and a “Plein Jeu,” as in Magnificat by Lebègue and Guilain. (There are no precise indications for the intermediary pieces; here we have a “Récit” (played on the Cornet), a “Basse de Trompette” and a “Voix humaine.”) The presence of these numbers on some of the Mass verses suggest that it was quite usual to compose Magnificat in this fashion and that it was not a practice peculiar to André Raison. It is also interesting to note that the handwriting of the titles of the pieces in this Mass is very similar to that of a letter left by Lebègue. If it is indeed his handwriting, it would be his only extant musical autograph.
XV. Suite en F (man. nos. 134, 137, 136, 195, 142)
The “Plein Jeu” in three sections dialogues between the Great organ and the Positif. The expressive “Récit,” played on the Nazard, is strongly inspired by vocal music, whereas one finds harpsichord and lute-like passages in the central section of the “Trio.” The “Tierce en Taille” is taken from the series of eight such pieces written by Nicolas Lebègue to be found in the manuscript. Lastly, in the final “Dialogue” played on the Grand Jeu, one can hear a motif of church chimes.
XVI. Trois fugues (man. nos. 49, 277 and 283)
The first fugue in three-parts (or “Trio”) is written in the manuscript on three separate staves, as in pieces intended for several instruments. The two other fugues are in four parts and are played on the Trumpet and Clairon and on the Crom-horne.
XVII. Tierce en Taille en C (man. no. 187)
This anonymous “Tierce en Taille” is characterized by metrically non-symetrical runs of sixteenth notes.
XVIII. Magnificat du Premier (man. nos. 22 to 28)
Although it is not so entitled, the genre and arrangement of the pieces within this suite correspond to that of the Magnificat. Analogies exist between the various pieces that make up this suite and works of Lebègue. His influence is particularly obvious in the “Cornet” (no. 24) in which the rather brief motifs enounced by the Cornet are repeated textually, as in the Echos of Lebègue’s first Livre d’orgue; even the way the repeat is indicated by the word “bis” is identical. The first of the pieces entitled “Trio” (no. 26) is, in fact, a “Dialogue de Récits” in which the Cromhorne and the Cornet alternate, as in a vocal duo, before joining over a pedal bass.
XIX. Fugue (man. no. 169)
This four-part fugue is played on the reed stops.
XX. Te Deum (excerpts) (man. nos. 71, 72, 81, 85, 86)
In the 17th and 18th centuries in France, important events were the occasion for elaborate ceremonies, during which the Te Deum was sung in great pomp, often following a solemn procession. New France had by no means set aside this custom, if one is to judge from the great number of Te Deum prescribed by the bishops. As in the Masses and the Magnificat, the verses of the Te Deum played on the organ alternate with the sung verses. As there are thirty-two in all, these verses are rather short. In the five excerpts chosen here, a “Plein Jeu” introduces the first verse, Te Dominum; the verse Tibi omnes angeli is a “Dessus de Tierce.” In the third verse, Judex crederis, the “Voix humaine” alternates between the Basse and Dessus, whereas the Miserere of the fourth verse calls for the expressivity of the Cromhorne. The final verse, In te Domine, is a “Dialogue” on the Grands Jeux.
XXI. Grand Jeu (man. no. 174)
The record ends with a “Dialogue” on the Grand Jeu, which calls for three manuals and is not unlike the DuMage piece with the same title. The trumpet-like flourishes at the beginning call to mind the splendours of Louis XIV’s reign, whereas the final section, in triple time, reminds one of the Dernier couplet du Gloria of François Couperin’s Messe pour les Couvents.
© Élisabeth Gallat-Morin, Ph. D. Musicologist