The parish church in Saint-Chinian, Notre-Dame-de-la-Barthe, houses a rather fine 18th century organ – fine enough to be listed as a Monument Historique, a historical monument, under the same protection as some of the most illustrious and iconic historical monuments in France, such as the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame de Paris, Versailles, the Louvre . . .
The origins of the organ in Saint-Chinian are slightly mysterious. The archives show that a new organ was ordered for the parish church from a certain Louis Peyssy, organ builder in Beziers, in 1784. A major restoration of the organ was completed in 1995 by Jean-Francois Muno. During the restoration, it became apparent that the workings and pipes of the organ bear more than a passing resemblance to those of the organ in the former cathedral in Saint-Pons-de-Thomieres, which was built by Jean-Baptiste Micot, organ builder in Toulouse.
Jean-Baptiste Micot started his organ building in Paris, where he built instruments for the great and the good, including one for Queen Marie Leszczinska, wife of Louis XV – you can see a picture of that organ by following this link.
In 1758 Micot moved to Toulouse, and spent the next 20 plus years repairing and building instruments. Three of the organs he built during this time are still in their original locations and playable:
- The organ in the former cathedral at Vabres-l-Abbaye (Aveyron)
- The organ in the former cathedral at Saint-Pons-des-Thomieres
- The organ in the parish church at Saint-Chinian
All three of these organs have been more or less restored to what is perceived to be their original pitch and temperament. A fourth instrument by Micot can be heard once more in its original location in the parish church of La Reole (Gironde) from November 14th onwards. That organ has had a very chequered history, having been moved twice and modified several times. You can read all about this organ’s history here.
The Micot organs have somewhat of a fan club amongst organists, and each year a group of organists meets at one of the three locations that house a Micot organ (soon to be four locations) for a day of music. This year it was the turn of Saint-Chinian to host this get-together. On September 6, 2015, thirteen organists from all over the region got together to enjoy 18th century music played on an instrument typical of those it would have been written for.
I could not possibly miss this event! There are too few occasions, aside from Sunday mass, when the organ can be heard.
Each piece was briefly introduced by Henri Barthes, one of the organists of Saint-Chinian. I filmed a number of videos, four of which I am including at the end of this post. E-mail subscribers, please visit the blog site to view the videos.
For those of you who are into technical details, the organ has 29 ranks which together number 1919 pipes. The console has three manuals. You can see the full technical specifications by following this link (in French).
And now for the videos:
Hendrik Huyser, playing the Präludium by Hans Friedrich Micheelsen (1902 – 1977)
Henri Barthes, playing the Offertoire “Vive le Roy des Parisiens” by Andre Raison (1640 – 1719)
Bernard Verdier, playing the Plein-jeu de la suite du 2e ton by Louis-Nicolas Clerambault (1676 – 1749)
Christopher Hainsworth, playing La Bataille de Waterloo by George Anderson (1739 – 1876)
To my knowledge, two CDs are available with recordings of the organ in Saint-Chinian. One, by Marie-Helene Geispieler, is available on amazon.fr; the other, by Bruno Fraisse and Henri Barthes, is available locally in Saint-Chinian.