Beautiful noise

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:

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; the other, by Bruno Fraisse and Henri Barthes, is available locally in Saint-Chinian.

And then there’s music…

Music is as much part of the summer in Southern France as is the sound of the cicadas and the click of the petanque balls.  There are music festivals everywhere, ranging from the very large, such as the Festival de Radio France et Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillonto the more intimate, such as the Festival Pablo Casals in Prades, and to the modest, such as the classical music festival which was organised in Saint-Chinian this past July.


The festival in Saint-Chinian took place for the first time this year – a week of concerts, nine in total, and all of them free to enter.  The programme was varied, and the music ranged from Baroque to modern classical music.  The concerts took place in two locations:  the Abbatiale, the former church of the former abbey, a beautiful room with plenty of space for concerts, and in the parish church of Saint-Chinian.  The concerts were all well attended and the next year’s edition of the festival is already being planned!

Hot on the heels of the music festival came the 5th Academie Musicale de St-Chinian, a week-long programme of lessons and workshops for students of the flute.  The academie  was based at the Maison du Parc, not all that far from my potager .  It was lovely to hear them all practising and rehearsing whilst I was working in the garden! 🙂  Having heard all those snippets of music, I was looking forward to the concert of the students at the end of the week.  Ahead of the student concert, there was a masterclass with Philippe Boucly, the solo flutist from the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.  Following the masterclass he gave a mini recital, which was spectacular!

Here is a brief video clip of Philippe Boucly playing with Herve Hotier (flute) and Pierre Courthiade (piano).  The piece is the Concert Paraphrase of La Sonnambula Op. 42 by Franz Doppler.  E-mail subscribers, please visit the blog website to watch the video.

The concert given by the students and teachers that evening was wonderful too, and I am already looking forward to hearing them all again next year.

Walking past the open door to the parish church one day, I heard the sounds of the church organ.  I walked in and filmed a little video for you – only a little taster but you’ll get the idea.

The organ in Saint-Chinian is one of only three authentic 18th century organs in Herault, and it has been listed as an historic monument since 1976.  There is an extensive article on  Wikipedia (in French) about the instrument, with lots of technical detail, and here is another article in both French and English.  The organ is not a flamboyant or extravagant instrument to look at, but it has a beautiful sound, and it fills the church perfectly.  Bruno Fraisse and Henri Barthes, the former and present organists, produced a CD of the organ a few years ago.  You can also listen to the instrument during Sunday service, or at one of the concerts which are given occasionally.  The next concert is on September 6, 2015 at 4pm.

Another concert I recently visited took place in Serignan, where I went to see the exhibition of Pierre Regis Dides – see last week’s post.  The Regional Museum of Contemporary Art (MRAC) had the privilege of hosting this concert as part of the Festival Pablo Casals.  A Steinway concert piano had been set up in one of the galleries on the first floor of the museum, and the space was filled with chairs.  Those chairs were of course filled with listeners by the time the concert started.

The musicians were Bruno Pasquier (viola), Michel Lethiec (clarinet) and Yves Henry (piano).  Together they interpreted a programme of music by Mozart (Trio in E-flat major, K. 498), Schumann (Märchenbilder, Op. 113), Poulenc (Sonata for clarinet and piano, FP 184), Bruch (Pieces for clarinet, viola and piano, Op. 83) and Maratka (Sylinx).

The musicians’ love and passion for what they were playing was infectious!  Michel Lethiec played a solo piece called Sylinx, which was written for him in 2000.  In his introduction to the piece, he reminded the listeners that contemporary music is as important now as it was in Mozart’s time.  Audiences then were as little used to “new” music as we are now.  Mozart is “easy” to listen to for most of us nowadays, but it was probably fairly radical to the ears of people at the time.  Whilst I found the piece by Maratka to be challenging, it was also very rewarding to listen to.  Here is part of it – I hope you enjoy it too!

At the end of the concert, Michel Lethiec explained that he had to rush off to his next concert, as he is the musical director of the Pablo Casals festival.  He left Yves Henry to play another piece for us, a beautiful Chopin nocturne!!  What a lovely end to a great afternoon!