Charles Tournemire and l'Orgue Mystique: Chant and organ
  • For those of you who play the organ and love Chant, the name Charles Tournemire should be in your midst. However, for many of us who play in the Roman rite, he is either known for a few pieces that were really improvisations and not much more. Sadly, he left a corpus of work that is still in its infancy with regard to awareness or popularity. That work is l'Orgue Mystique or The Mystical Organ.

    Tournemire lived from 1870 to 1939. He was a professor of harmony at the Paris Conservatory and the organist at St. Clotilde (Cesar Franck's church). Tournemire was a student of Franck and went on to teach Langlais, Messiaen and Durufle (names familiar to those in the organ world). He was a rather interesting individual, known for his moodiness and intense personality. He was a deeply mystical Catholic and was attached to the writing of Ernest Hello. Tournemire was also close to the monks of Solesmes and there in lies the connection.

    Tournemire considered a project of compositions based on the proper chants of the Sunday as far back as 1922, when he wrote of his conversations and visits to the Abbey at Solesmes. If your French history is in play, you will remember that the French had just allowed the religious and monks to return to France,after having been thrown out for some years. A new religiosity had been made and the monks at Solesmes were in its midst. Tournemire visited there many times and made much of their singing.

    Somewhere between 1922 and 1927, Tournemire prepared a plan for composition of l'Orgue Mystique. He made notes of the proper chants of the day and also of chants there functioned at the divine office. A look at the plan shows that sometimes he made mistakes and chose chants not always proper to the day. He also used two sources for his chants, that of the 1908 Graduale and the old Roman (1871) book. Also, there is a chant that glues the whole thing together and appears a number of times throughout the suites.

    There are 52 suites in the set. However, one should note that the use of the organ in France at that time governed Tournemire's choice of the days. The organ only played at Immaculate Conception and the Third Sunday in Advent, only Laetare Sunday in Lent. Therefore, the suites do not correspond to the whole year per se.

    The suites were not composed in order of the year, but in a liturgical precedence. Tournemire was an avid reader of Mocquereau's l'Annee LIturgique (the Liturgical Year) and worked from many of his thoughts. Therefore, the Third Sunday in Advent is the first to be seen in the cycle, but Easter was the first to be composed. Tournemire composed the work between 1927 and 1932. Incidently, the last piece of the last suite is based on the Te Deum.

    Now, for the pieces themselves. They are; Prelude a l'Introit, Offertoire, Elevation ,Communion and Piece Terminale.
    How did Tournemire envision them to be used? Again, liturgical practice in his part of France governed their usage.
    The prelude was used between the Asperges and the Introit. The Offertoire was used as a prelude to the actual chant for the day sung at the Offering. The elevation is most interesting because the organ actually played in France during that moment. Communion is quite clear from it name. Piece terminale was for Tournemire an extended time of meditation on the day itself and often involved chants from the office and his own choice of chants for the piece. They are long pieces that are rather involved and do not always end loudly. Tournemire once was improvising on just a lone stop and his assistant said to him, "But it is a sortie" Tournemire shot back" Well then, sortez!"

    Why Tournemire here at this place? Because, for me, his use of the chant is powerful and still useful. As we encourage chant, we should also encourage music based on chant to be used. It is true that Tournemire's music cannot be separated from the liturgy, which is why we here need his music. It is deeply connected to the liturgy and closely connected to the spirit of the liturgy. It is impressionistic and yet grounded in the chant forms and modes. Langlais once said that it was never to be used as setting pitch for the chants, but as garland for the liturgy. Messiaen proclaimed that one day, the world would discover Tournemire.

    I am happy to provide more information about Tournemire if you are interested. I hope this whets your palette a little and encourages you to hear and play his music. The first four pieces of each suite range from very easy to challenging.
    The last pieces are often difficult but well worth the time. I love them all, but then I am biased.

    I will end with a quote from Tournemire. "The organ without chant is like a body without a soul."

    Kevin in Atlanta
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,798
    Please stop torturing me, and tell me where I can get L'Orgue Mystique!
  • Call Lois Fyfe Music in Nashville. 800-851-9023. The suites are not cheap. About 30 to 40 a pop.
  • "The last pieces are often difficult but well worth the time . . ."

    I've played quite a bit of Tournemire and had to smile when I read this. I don't think I've ever spent as much time on any piece as I have with the final movement of the Mass for Pentecost. Wide pedal double stops, visual challenges (against instinct, the left hand often plays the upper part), fingering hurdles and much more. And it should be noted that it helps to have a three manual organ with the proper stops. It's wonderful stuff, but be aware of what you're getting into.
  • Thank you Randolph, it is true that many of the final pieces are difficult,some even fiendishly. I have spent as much time on these pieces as on Messiaen or Durufle. This year I am learning the Easter piece terminale. Frightening at first glance, but I hope in the end, worth it.

    By the way, to all who might be interested, an artist by the name of Tom Walker in the UK has done tryptchs of all the suites. They are pastels on black paper. He has read all the chant texts that Tournemire used and drawn impressions of them.
    Very fascinating.


    Your friendly local Tournemire fanatic.

  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 772
    my teacher has just introduced me to this...
    If anyone is interested, but has no idea which ones to start learning, (especially since the suites are pretty pricey,) try starting with the Ascension one. Even if you don't want to spend the effort to learn the last movement, I am enjoying the others, and I think it would be quite manageable for most people, and worth it.
  • Maureen
    Posts: 611
    Re: The Elevation

    That's interesting. I've run across several 19th c. folk tunes from various countries which were apparently meant to be played during the Elevation, and are called "The Elevation" or words to that effect. But I didn't realize it was anything official or high-culture. (And I guess if you were ringing the church bells in the tower as well as the little bells at the altar at the moment of Elevation, playing a tune on the organ or bagpipes or violin or guitar or whatever would just be cake icing.)
  • BruceL
    Posts: 852
    I second the recommendation...there is, of course, also the ubiquitous reconstructed improvisation on Victimae paschali (I know it's not part of LOM), which has to be one of the most moving pieces in the repertoire.

    It is also important to remember Tournemire because, truly, his compositions grew out of his improvisations, which is the way (IMHO) we Catholic organists should look at our organ-playing.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 7,353
    "CommentAuthorKevin in Atlanta CommentTimeJan 2nd 2009
    Thank you Randolph, it is true that many of the final pieces are difficult,some even fiendishly."

    They are heaven to hear, and hell to play.
  • Randolph,

    They are. For anyone needing a great sortie, I heartily recommend the piece terminale of the last office. No. 51. While it does not use the proper chants, it is an extended meditation on the Te Deum.
  • If you're looking for something easy to start with, I recommend the simple and beautiful Elevation movement from the suite for Corpus Christi. It's based on the Sanctus from Mass VIII. I use it often when I need something meditative to fill a minute or so during Communion.
  • Though several of us have expressed an admiration for Tournemire's "L'Orgue Mystique" no one has mentioned the obvious: this music is hard to come by. The scores I have were discovered by chance while rummaging at various music stores over the years. The Organ Historical Society does not currently list any "L'Orgue Mystique" scores on their popular web site and a trip through Google and doesn't seem to bear results either. (There are, however, several available recordings of this music.)

    Is there an available published edition of the complete set? Some guidance would be appreciated.
  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 772
    according to Wikepedia, Tournemire died 3 or 4 November 1939...which would be just barely 70 years ago, which for the purpose of copyright doesn't that now mean that it is public domain as of a couple days ago? If that's all true, then you should be able to get it from here,'Orgue_Mystique_(Tournemire,_Charles) (but you can't...)

    It does seem to be available from sheetmusicplus:
  • I'll answer my own question. (In my laziness, I confess to wanting someone do the leg work.) The complete series is published by Alphonse Leduc & Cie (Paris) and can be purchased online through The Sheet Music Store. Prices range from approximately 30 to 40 dollars per suite before shipping costs are added. As was mentioned above by Kevin there are over fifty suites in the set, so you'll need to be selective.
  • You may order L'Orgue Mystique suites from Presser in Bryn Mawr. They have all of them in stock (or at least that is what I was told). They are 38.95 plus shipping.
    Sadly, they are the small A4 size as opposed to the huge page loose-leaf suite of earlier times.
  • Kevin,

    i thought you might be interested to know that i'm in the process of arranging a selection of pieces from Tournemire's L'Orgue Mystique for the contemporary music i run in England (called Interrobang). Working title, "L'Ensemble Mystique (Book One)", and hopefully, they'll be played next spring. Hopefully, among other things, it'll bring Tournemire to the attention of UK concert audiences!
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 7,353
    What I would like to find, is a collection of those pieces that can be used on Sunday mornings. For example, a single volume that wouldn't require buying the complete series.
  • Yes, a collection would be good. Sadly, I don't see the estate giving much permission for that. Clearly, one of the marks against l'Orgue Mystique is the cost of the suites. They are not cheap, as is French organ music in general. Also, I was told by Langlais that Tournemire did not like for the suites to be played in concert. They were to "breathe life into the liturgy". He did play them in concert occasionally but disliked it. Mm. Tournemire (the second one) also deposited much of his papers to a British institution, separating his papers from the scores (deposited in the Bib. nationale in Paris). So, I cannot say. Personally the first four mvts. are relatively manageable (exceptions do abound), but the last one can be a killer. Hence, it has militated against the suites being popular. Also, the music really "smells" of the liturgy. I have only played one liturgy in my life where the chants and the music were sung and played. It was a remarkable experience, but if you are not RC, I really have to wonder if they will make much sense. Heck, I am not even sure of being RC! I don't know, I guess its the"you gotta be one to understand" mentality. Lastly, Tournemire is a mystic of the first order and the music '"wears" the impressionistic harmony prevalent at that time. Not all audiences or congregations tolerate that harmony well. Messiaen said that eventually the world would be ready for Tournemire, but maybe not now. Who knows, maybe the recovery of chant will help Tournemire. I am too close to it to say as I love the music dearly.

    The meanderings of your local Tournemire aficionado.
  • By the way, the American most responsible for Tournemire being talked about and the one who has written the most on him lives in Pittsbugh. As I am planning to go to the Colloquium, I hope maybe to conjure him into coming for a day and visiting.
  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 772
    ...and who is that? I would love to meet him.
  • Marajoy,
    e-mail me for that info as I do not want to post with out his express permission. Click on my name.
  • . (comment removed)
  • redsox1
    Posts: 173
    I would also check out the works of Dom Paul Benoit. Wonderful music and not as well known as it should be. You also want to check out the 12 Choral-Preludes on Gregorian Themes by Jeanne Demessieux. The Demessieux is very inexpensive. Unfortunately, most of Benoit's music is not convenient to purchase. His Elevations are readily available. They are wonderful for Offertories, or short preludes. If you go to the website dedicated to him (I can't remember the address but you can Google it) there were a couple of places in Europe where you could purchase his music. I don't know if you can still do this, and it required having dollars converted to Euros through a bank here in the States first. I'm thinking about buying all his music. I bought his Liturgical Sketches on Ebay. It was a great investment!
  • Erik P
    Posts: 152
    Ahhh.....finally Tournemire is public domain???? I have been impatiently waiting for this repertoire.

    Please post a link as soon as possible...

    Thanks for this
  • Earle
    Posts: 6

    Do you have a copy of Benoit's Liturgical Suite for Easter? Had it a long time ago, but it somehow vanished. Anotyher Easter goes by without playing it, hopefully next year. I have very small hands so the French organ music of that period presents difxficulities for me even though I like it.
  • redsox1
    Posts: 173

    I should have a copy by tomorrow! My assistant went to the Carnegie Mellon Library and found it. He is making me a copy. I'll let you know if I get. I am going to inquire about the European printings of his music. I really would like to own it all.
  • Stefff
    Posts: 1
    I noticed some very familiar comments which resemble an article I read on Tournemire. It is well worth reading, as it is written by the world's foremost expert on the music of Tournemire, Robert S. Lord, from the University of Pittsburgh. His article "Liturgy and Gregorian Chant in L'orgue mystique of Charles Tournemire" is the foundation of all of the information on the web on Charles Tournemire. It was published in the early '80s. It is well worth reading.
  • Adam Bartlett
    Posts: 527
    Many of Tournemire's works are posted here. And here's l'Orgue Mystique.

    But then this is what's given when trying to download:

    You have reached this page because the file you requested has not been reviewed for copyright, or is currently restricted due to various reasons. The block will be lifted after the file is reviewed for copyright and/or other applicable reasons are resolved.
  • Adam et al,

    Tournemire's works are not in the public domain and copyright agreements have not been given by Durand, T's publisher. Email me privately and I can assist you in what info is available,

  • Dr. Lord is the foremost American authority on Tournemire. And yes,he lives in Pittsburgh. Wonderful man and the person who began most of the research on Tournemire. I would also encourage you to check out Joel Fauquet and Marie Bernadette Dufourcet. They have done work on him. And I have also, in the footsteps of Dr. Lord, my mentor.
  • Correction, Leduc is the publisher. Too much French music in my head these days ,trying to get ready to go to Paris.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    For another interesting take on Tournemire and L'orgue mystique, there is Jazz Age Catholicism: Mystic Modernism in Postwar Paris, 1919-1933 by Stephen Schloesser, SJ. The work revolves around the influence of Catholic intellectuals such as Jacques Maritain on the creative arts. Very good read.
  • Erik P
    Posts: 152
    I would love to learn more about Tournemire but the resources are so scarce. I've read a number of short articles from JSTOR and other scholarly search engines. The most informative article I've read though, is the liner notes from the Delvallee recording, which were written by Dr. Lord. There is no biography that I have been able to find and research is scarce in comparison to Langlais, Durufle, Widor, Dupre, etc. Kevin, could you point me in the direction of some more information??
  • There's a nice little volume simply entitled "Charles Tournemire" published by Association des Amis de l'Orgue (ed. Leersnyder, 1989) that contains a number of helpful and interesting bits, in addition to Dr. Lord's article. There's also correspondence between T. and Felix Aprahamian that was recently published by Nigel Simeone (2003) entitled "Dear maître Tournemire ...", though it seems impossible to actually track it down, save for a review.
  • There is an aricle in L'orgue (in French) that Marie-Bernadette Dufourcet wrote that is useful. Dr. Lord's article is the starting point for any Tournemire research. I will be in Paris in July and hope to track down some more information. Norbert Dufourq wrote an article in L'orgue that you might also find useful. Sadly, much of it is in French, so if you do not read French, it is difficult.

    Without revealing too much, it is my hope to compile the current research on Tournemire into a form that we can all use. In fairness, Tournemire and his world is still very under-researched. It is my hope that someone in the English-speaking world will produce a book. I have even thought about it myself. Who knows, maybe God in his mercy will give me the time to do it.

    There is at present, no definitive biography. Just a number of articles. Messiaen is right. He said 'Someday the world will come to know the genius of Tournemire."
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    I know several musicologists interested in Tournemire (I am one of them), but they are primarily Messiaen scholars. Messiaen is simply sexier from a career perspective. Maybe that will change.

    And the relationship between Messiaen and that is something worth digging into. It certainly wasn't all adulation all the time.
  • Agreed. Messiaen and Tournemire were not always in praise of each other. However, Tournemire was not really good with anyone. There are numerous accounts by people who were around him that said he was not the nicest person. But that is another can of worms.

    In the end i argue that one has to love the liturgy as much as the music of Tournemire to make real sense of him. Just my .02.

  • Just so you know, l'Orgue Mystique is now available for download from a European Server here:,_Charles)

    Get it now before the loop is closed!
  • Erik P
    Posts: 152


    Thank you, Carlos
  • Yes, it is available now. A chance to fill in those missing holes in my collection. Madame Tournemire would have a cow. She always was a little bit of a profiteer.
  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 772
    I'm not sure there's any rush, since that is the same link that has been posted in this thread previously, and it still doesn't appear to be "public domain," at your own risk...
  • Yeah, it's really tempting to download this, but I'm pretty sure it's still illegal to do so in the US. Now, if you had a good friend in Canada willing to download the thing and mail it to you...
  • Hmmm. I will be in GB in August. Maybe I should visit an inter-net cage with a USB memory device and download it there! Then my only problem would be learning to play any of it!
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 7,353
    "Then my only problem would be learning to play any of it!"

    Tell me about it! LOL
  • JeanL
    Posts: 21
    Kevin's remarks about Madame Tournemire are false, uncharitable, and not necessary. My mentor new her for over 20 years. She was extraordinarly generous and kind. Unfotunately, over the years some several ambitous and nasty people tried to rip her off (and succeded). They stole from her and mislead her. Perhaps after that she may have become a bit more cautious, but never a profiteer!
  • Something else to consider, since we're (for the most part) all Catholic here:

    If you live in the US, using these downloads is a breach of copyright. Yeah, yeah, I know we've all done something like that somewhere along the line, but we need to consider it not only illegal, but sinful.

    It's unfortunate, since this collection is both beautiful and expensive, but theft is theft.
  • Erik P
    Posts: 152
    Tournemire died 71 years ago; I thought public domain only extended 50 years after death?

    It just seems wrong that a composer who was almost an exact contemporary of Debussy, can still be held under copyright? any input on that?
  • No idea. All I know is that the above link specifically marks each of these suites as being non-public domain in the US. I don't know enough about copyright law to know whether printing them in Canada and bringing them back would be legal.

    I've been really cracking down on myself to respect copyrights lately, even when I disagree with their use (which is most of the time). My above reminder was about 3/4 for myself, because I found myself hovering above the "print" button for far too long.
  • If Wikipedia can be trusted (which it usually can in the case of non-controversial subjects), these won't fall into USA public domain until 2023-2029.'_copyright_length

    I'm assuming we're using the listing from the "Copyright term based on publication and creation dates," which is, in this case, 28 years or 95 years if the copyrights were renewed (which they almost certainly were). If we're using the "Copyright terms based on authors' deaths" column, then these are public domain even in the US!

    It's strange that Tournemire's works are in the public domain in his home country, but not here. If someone knows more (that is to say, anything) about copyright law and can correct me, please do.
  • To JeanL,

    Perhaps my remarks were somewhat uncharitable. But having known a number of people who knew her directly, there is some truth in my statement. I base my comments on direct evidence of people who did know her.We can certainly discuss this directly and if you have insights I might not be aware of ,I would appreciate it. You might click on my name to find my e-mail.

    I am open to discussion
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    Downloading the materials for private use/study is legal even if it's not in the public domain.