Alexandre Guilmant Organ Music
  • RCS333
    Posts: 36
    I am wondering if anyone has opinions/recommendations on the organ music of Alexandre Guilamant. From what I've read it seems he was a very popular and influential composer and organist at the turn of the last century. However, today I rarely see his works programmed.
    My only exposure to his music thus far has been buying a volume of his "practical organist" and then discovering most of the pieces in the volume that I bought were too difficult and long to be played at my parish - entirely impractical for me :)

    Anyway, I'd love to know what, if any of his pieces y'all play at your church jobs and any other notable pieces I should listen to, whether suitable for a church service or more of a concert type.

  • JonathanKKJonathanKK
    Posts: 458
    I've heard played in recital his Sonata No. 1.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,508
    I sometimes play pieces from the "Practical Organist." Some of his works are long, but you have to consider the size difference between the great French churches and the typical U.S. parish. Three verses of a hymn is sometimes longer than the procession in my place, but the priest does walk fast.

    Oh, you know that many contemporary organists like to play N. German works on Baroque screamers. The difference being that in Guilmant's day, the recital hall or church was filled with an appreciative audience. I have noticed even some of the AGO folks stay home for some of the Baroque heavy concerts these days. I think Guilmant gets a bad rap.
  • Two books were recommended to me by the two organ teachers I've had - Flor Peeters's collection, and Guilmant's "Practical Organist". Our choir sometimes sings his Ave Verum as well - when I can pull them kicking and screaming away from the Mozart.
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  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,298
    Yesterday I heard his "March on A Theme of Handel" (on the motif "Lift Up Your Heads"), performed in recital.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,508
    I have been told that Guilmant was the greatest organist of the 19th century. Too bad there aren't recordings available. I, too, like the theme of Handel.
  • Having studied at The Guilmant Organ School, I can tell you that the tradition of his playing (and arranging) influenced many.
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  • RCS333
    Posts: 36
    Interesting info guys! I’ll have to check out the 1st Sonata and the March on a Theme by Handel.

    I wonder why he has fallen out of favor somewhat. He seems to not have the overall reputation of Widor or Vierne. And I suppose he never wrote any “hits” like Gigout’s Toccata or Boelman’s Suite Gothique.

    What would you say is unique about the “Guillmant playing tradition” Noel?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,508
    I think Romantics fell out of favor because of the organ reform movement. That's changing, I think, and audiences and the younger performers are picking up Romantic literature again. I never gave it up.

    Side note: I played a short section from the Dupre Magnificat last Sunday. It was this, btw.

    A lady came running up to the choir loft after mass and said, "don't ever play that again." I had played a Stanley and a Sweelink piece before the Dupre, and she noted she liked those, I told her that since she liked the Dupre so much, I would play it every Sunday just for her.

    You just can't please everyone some days. LOL.
  • I wish you all could be here at Incardination's retreat. Msgr. Wadsworth gave a talk on the place of organ (especially re improvisation) at Mass. Then he placed selections from Messiaen. This has been a rather sedate bunch up until that point, but after that - well, it's the closest I think I'll ever get to a recreation of the premiere of The Rite of Spring at Champs-Elysees. (Perhaps I overexaggerate . . .)
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,508
    I understand fully. Many of my folks want nothing newer than Franck and Vierne. Some are not even willing to accept anything that new.
  • Guilmant is excellent! I played two pieces from the Practical Organist this morning (an interlude and an elegy), and played the Finale from his 1st Sonata last week as a postlude. I guess I've lived in a bubble of French-influenced organists, so I haven't really had the impression that he's fallen out of favor in any way. I play Guilmant, my brother seminarian organists from my seminary days played Guilmant, the cathedral organist up the street plays Guilmant. Definitely dive into some of his literature, and share the wealth!

    I have never understood the Baroque-only mentality, though I've run into plenty of Catholics (including clergy) who seem to feel that nearly anything post-Bach is probably unworthy of the Liturgy. (oddly enough, they're often also the sort whose nostalgia for the schmaltzy barbershop-style ditty "Bring Flowers of the Rarest" leads them to consider it a solidly traditional Catholic hymn; now there's a conundrum of musical opinions for you). On the contrary, the French school (Romantic through modern) has carried on the Catholic organ tradition through the centuries, and has given us thousands of beautiful compositions, and an entire school of improvisational technique and thought. And a large portion of that school draws directly from Gregorian chant motifs. Watch the living masters like Daniel Roth or Olivier Latry dive head-first into stunning improvisations, but listen for the chant themes. They play on both the melodies and the meanings of the chants to assemble remarkably fitting improvisations. Yes, every Sunday, the propers give us more than enough motif and material to form countless improvisations. I'm all for playing the great compositions when they are fitting, but I think the art of improvising on and around the chants of the day is the most authentic sort of Catholic "filler" organ music for the Liturgy. But here I go rambling again, and wandering off topic. Mea culpa.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • A lady came running up to the choir loft after mass and said, "don't ever play that again."

    Catholics can be so...subtle.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW MarkS
  • I don't remember which, but I once played a slower Langlais piece in a similar character to the one you linked, and I was told after Mass by one in attendance that I had prevented her from praying when it was played. I smiled and moved on with my day.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,508
    I sometimes think parishioners believe we are providing a spa experience for them. If we provide good "zen" with mood music, good feng shui, and never is heard a discouraging word or dissonant chord, then they think we have done well.
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,574
    Yes I use his scores often.

    See this Discussion:

    Listen to this radio program episode "Alexandre The Great"
  • Guilmant seems to have been a person who took old music on two staves, put it on three and made playing it more exact and expressive in a modern fashion, taking advantage of the potential of the modern organ.

    He had many followers, including William Carl, who found the NY Guilmant School with his blessing.

    It was a "trade school for church organists". Evolved into a training ground for the AAGO and FAGO exams. Teachers were organist from Juilliard, Union Theological Seminary and Westminster Choir College.

  • If we do not play and sing music that challenges the ear at times, we are nothing better than elevator operators, going from floor to floor all day but never getting any place.
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