Charles Tournemire and "L'Orgue Mystique" - an undiscovered genius and his masterpiece for the Mass
  • As we approach the 75th anniversary of the untimely & mysterious death, on 4th November 1939, of this unjustly neglected but hugely influential organist/improviser/composer, I am wondering if there is anybody out there who is planning to play "L'Orgue Mystique" in its entirety, throughout the liturgical year, at Mass, on the appropriate Solemnities, Feasts and Sundays? This is of course the purpose for which it was written, with the shorter movements at the Introit, Offertory and Communion alternating with the gregorian propers chanted by the choir/scola.

    It was Messiaen who said, in the 1930's: "One day, justice will be done to Tournemire". That justice still seems an awful long time a-coming...... The music world at large and the Catholic Church in particular need to discover the extraordinarily rich treasury of compositions by this devout Catholic and mystic who so inspired a whole generation of renowned organist/composers such as Durufle, Langlais, Messiaen and Peeters, also Bonnal, Daniel-Lesur and Fleury.

    I discovered "L'Orgue Mystique" in 1999 and have become totally immersed in its innumerable complexities, delights, inspirations and wonders over the past fifteen years through a programme of continuous study, practice and playing. This awesome, beautiful, colossal and majestic work written between 1927 and 1932 almost certainly constitutes the greatest unrecognized and unexplored treasure of 20th-century sacred music. It is, without a doubt, the only truly monumental cycle of liturgical organ music ever composed, containing fifty 5-part suites (known as Offices) and one 3-part (for Holy Saturday), a total of 253 pieces which paraphrase more than 300 plainchants and cover nearly 1300 published pages - almost fifteen hours of music!

    "L'Orgue Mystique" was a very significant influence in my 2012 conversion to Roman Catholicism (from the Church of England). It is very clear that sacred music in the Roman church and particularly at parish level is in urgent need of restoration and revival. I am well aware of all the wonderful work that the CMAA have been doing in this respect for some years now, but over here on "this side of the pond" we unfortunately lack a cohesive organisation that can do similiar work on a regular basis throughout the UK. There are pockets of excellence, granted, but they are musical oases in a sadly arid desert landscape where the infamous "4-hymn sandwich" still seems to reign supreme!!
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,308
    Welcome to the Forum, Steve; and welcome aboard to the Church! :-) Quite a few of us here started out somewhere else! A few notes:

    There's been some discussion of "L'orgue mystique" in previous threads:

    If you've been reading the forum for a while, you've probably noticed an ad for CMAA's recent book on Tournemire.

    And here's a recording of Scott Turkington playing an Epiphany piece on January 8, 2010: Ecce advenit
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,510
    I play pieces from "L'Orgue Mystique" throughout the year, but have never tried to play the entire work. A little of Tournemire goes a long way with some audiences, so I don't play too much of him in one mass.
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,111
    Greetings and welcome. There is an active Tournemire Facebook page which if you have FB is worth visiting.. At present there is someone in the US presently preparing the whole cycle for a several days concert. He is very nearly finishing the cycle and I know he has most if not all the piece terminales learned. There has also been two conferences in the last couple of years on Tournemire which have given us a wonderful recent book on the man.

    There was a whole presentation of L'OM given in Minneapolis in 1989. each Sunday the prescribed suite was played and the chants were sung.

    I am presently preparing a book on Tournemire and would be happy to assist you in any way. We still have a lot to learn about him and the sources are not as rich as one would hope.

    I also encourage you to read Stephen Schloesser's book Jazz Age Catholicism. The last chapter is on Tournemire and is a great read about him. It posits the work of Tournemire in the context of the post WW1 time in France.

    Good luck and glad you are interested.