GUILMANT, Felix-Alexandre: Allegro assai from Sonata No. 1 D minor (Robert Delcamp) (Naxos: 8.557614)
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Felix-Alexandre Guilmant (1837-1911): Organ Works
Felix-Alexandre Guilmant is considered, along withCharles-Marie Widor, as one of the founders of thenineteenth-century French Romantic school of organplaying.
As a composer, editor, musicologist andpublisher he made significant contributions to the organrepertoire. His teaching led to a vast improvement in thetechnical abilities of organists as well as in the quality oforgan performance in general. He was a worldrenownedperformer and improvisor who inspired agreater appreciation of the organ and its music amongstthe general public.
Guilmant was born on 12th March, 1837, atBoulogne-sur-mer. His parents were Jean-BaptisteGuilmant (1793-1890) and Marie-Ther?¿se Poulain(1798-1867). In 1849 he received his first organ lessonsfrom his father, who was organist of St Nicolas Churchin Boulogne and an occasional organ-builder. Heprogressed so rapidly that he was able to deputise for hisfather at St Nicolas at the age of twelve. In 1853 hebecame organist at St Joseph's Church in Boulogne, andin 1857, at the age of twenty, was appointed choirmasterat St Nicolas and a teacher at the BoulogneConservatoire. He also studied the violin and viola andwas elected a member of the Boulogne PhilharmonicSociety.
In 1860 Guilmant heard a recital in Rouen given bythe Belgian virtuoso Jacques Lemmens (1823-1881).
While in Rouen he played for Lemmens, who thensuggested that he come to Brussels for further study.
Under the tutelage of Lemmens he learned the Bachtradition, studied improvisation, and acquired a fluentand immaculate technique. In 1862 he was invited totake part in the dedication of the new Cavaille-Collorgan at the Paris Church of St Sulpice, performingwith, among others, Cesar Franck and Camille Saint-Sa?½ns. In 1862 he began work on the first of hispublications for the organ, L'organiste liturgiste, Op. 65,which was to comprise ten volumes by the time of itscompletion in 1899.
In 1871, at the age of 34, he was appointed organistat La Trinite in Paris, where he was to remain for 31years. In 1874 Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 42, the firstof his eight sonatas was published. The sonatas appearedat regular intervals until 1906, when Sonata No. 8, Op. 91,was issued. It was during this period that Guilmantbegan activities as a teacher, eventually attractingstudents from all over the world.
For the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris, he wasinvited to perform a series of recitals on the magnificentnew Cavaille-Coll organ installed in the Palais duTrocadero. These recitals were immensely popular anddid much to develop a worldwide audience of admirers.
The series also demonstrated to the public that the organwas capable of being a concert instrument in its ownright, not solely for use in church. After the expositionended, Cavaille-Coll's instrument was originally to havebeen dismantled but, owing to the success of Guilmant'srecitals and to his own strong recommendations, it wasretained and Guilmant embarked on a series of historicalrecitals each year from 1879 to 1897. This series didmuch to popularise the organ and its music from allhistorical periods and all countries.
Guilmant's reputation as a virtuoso began to spreadoutside France and he became the first French organistto tour Great Britain, Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy,Sweden, The Netherlands, Hungary, Russia andScotland. In 1893 he was invited to America to performat the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, makingan extensive concert tour after his appearance at the fair.
In 1894, along with Charles Bordes (1863-1909)and Vincent d'Indy (1851-1931), Guilmant founded theSchola Cantorum in Paris, a school for the training ofchurch musicians. He was to teach there one day a weekuntil his death in 1911. In 1896 he succeed Widor asProfessor of Organ at the Paris Conservatoire. Heenjoyed great success as a teacher, developing his ownmethod based upon the Lemmens tradition of training,and eventually was to produce more Premier Prixwinners than any of his predecessors. These laureatesincluded Louis Vierne, Charles Tournemire, JosephBonnet, Nadia Boulanger and Marcel Dupre.
In 1898, upon his return from his second Americantour, Guilmant was forced to resign his post at La Triniteowing to changes which were made to the organ duringhis absence and without his authorisation. In protestagainst this unfortunate incident, his former pupil andassistant at La Trinite Louis Vierne arranged forGuilmant to be appointed an honorary organist at NotreDame Cathedral in Paris in 1902.
In 1899, William Carl, a former student and longtimefriend, founded the Guilmant Organ School in NewYork City for the training of church musicians.
Guilmant consented to be president and the students atthe school were taught in the Guilmant method, thusassuring that his influence would be felt far beyond Parisafter his death.
Guilmant undertook his final American tour in1908, performing forty recitals at the St LouisExposition. The organ at the Exposition was then thelargest organ in the world. It was later acquired byRodman Wannamaker and installed in his Philadelphiadepartment store, where it remains to this day. A tour of24 recitals followed immediately after the expositionended.
In his later years Guilmant bought a home, which henamed the Villa Guilmant, in the Parisian suburb ofMeudon. In the music room Cavaille-Coll installed athree-manual, 28-stop organ on which Guilmantfrequently performed at evening soirees and continuedhis teaching activities, attracting organists from all overEurope and America. Several honours came his wayincluding that of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour(1893), an honorary Doctorate from ManchesterUniversity in England (1910), and the institution of aprize at the Paris Conservatoire, to be given each year tothe outstanding student in the organ class. In 1909 hiswife died, and on 30th March, 1911, after a brief illness,Guilmant himself died at the Villa Meudon. The funeralwas held in the music room, and he was laid to rest inMontparnasse cemetery in Paris.
Guilmant was active his entire professional life as acomposer, editor and publisher of organ music. Hisoutput for the organ is so vast that he can be described asone of the most prolific of composers for the instrument.
In addition, his life-long interest in the organ music ofthe seventeenth and eighteenth centuries bore fruit infour major publications of early organ music: ?ëcoleclassique de l'orgue (25 volumes 1893-1903),Repertoire des Concerts du Trocadero (25 volumes1892-1897), Concert historique d'orgue (1892) and,with the musicologist Andre Pirro, Les archives desma?«tres de l'orgue des XVI, XVII, et XVIII si?¿cles (tenvolumes, 1892-1910). Guilmant originally publishedmuch of his music himself and his wife played animportant role in the sale of it, eventually establishing asmall music store in Meudon.
Guilmant's organ music can be divided into twolarge groups: concert works and those written for churchservice. Foremost amongst the concert works are theeight sonatas (1874-1907), Pi?¿ces dans differents styles(25 volumes, 1870-1881), L'organiste pratique (twelvevolumes, 1870-1881), 18 nouvelles pi?¿ces, Op. 90 (c. 1904)and Sept morceaux (1894-1899). The works written forchurch use are often based upon Gregorian melodies andinclude L'organiste liturgiste, Op. 65 (ten volumes,1884-1889), Soixante interludes dans la tonalitegregorienne, Op. 68 (1884-1911), and No?½ls, Op. 60(four volumes, 1883-1896).
The Grand Chorus in G minor, Op. 84, waspublished in 1898. It is typical of the numerous marchtypepieces which Guilmant wrote for various festive,ceremonial, and liturgical occasions. The opening themealternates with a trio and a short fugato before endingwith a dramatic flourish.