Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Mortal defeat for the mob in Paris

The mob is on the loose. The only way to get your symphony performed is to write it as a ringtone. Reality opera is following close on the heels of reality TV. The technorati predict that soon all those troublesome live musicians will be replaced by note-perfect robots. The only use for CDs is as drink coasters, and if you can't download it nobody will listen to it ..........................

Or as Franck Jaffrès writes: 'The internet is transforming our relationship with recorded music and with musicians. The virtual world of the internet shatters the record as an object into sound files of poor quality, ignoring the attractions of a stimulating editorial approach: the high quality of sound recording and its digital mastering, richly informative booklets, original paintings.'

But all is not lost. On An Overgrown Path is delighted to report on a major defeat for the mob in Paris, just a few blocks from that darling of the technorati, IRCAM.

When the 18th century church of St-Louis-en-l'Ile decided to build a new organ they did it in style - 'German' style to be precise. Master organ builder Bernard Aubertin was commissioned to create the new instrument in the style of that composer of masterworks for the organ, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), and his favourite organ-builder, Zacharias Hildenbrandt (1699-1757), who was a pupil of the master organ-builder of the of the German Baroque Gottfried Silbermann.

The collabaration between Bach and Hildenbrandt culminated in the building in 1746 of an organ for the church of St Wenzel in Naumburg. The specification for this historic instrument was the starting point for the new organ in St-Louis-en-l'Ile. Additional stops were added, particularly the so-called 'northern stops' which originated in the late 16th century, but have subsequently dropped from use. The final specification for the new organ called for fifty-one stops.

The original organ of 1745 in St-Louis-en-l'Ile was destroyed, as were so many in France, in the Revolution at the end of the 18th century. But the organ case was left intact by the mob, and for two hundred years sat empty, awaiting the creation of an appropriate new instrument. And
Bernard Aubertin has certainly delivered that. The new organ is completely mechanical, and is built from natural materials. Aubertin applied a simple rule in the construction - materials available in Bach's day were to be used, but 21st century tools could be used to work them.

The resulting organ (above), which was completed in 2004, is a triumph both sonically and aesthetically. And the great news is that you can share in this triumph via a new recording from the innovative new French label Zig-Zag Territoires who have already featured On An Overgrown Path. For the premiere recording of the new St-Louis-en-l'Ile instrument organist Francis Jacob chose J.S.Bach's Clavier-übung III. Bach's keyboard compositions fit neatly into clear groups such as the Partitas and The Well-Tempered Clavier, whereas the organ works are usually categorised by the catalogues from which they are drawn. The exception is the remarkable Clavier-übung III which forms a clear grouping with ten chorales preceeded by a massive opening prelude and fugue. Nine of the chorales are set twice, and one (Allein Gott - see audio sample below) is set three times. Like those two other peaks of Bach's art, the Musical Offering and the Art of Fugue, the context of the Clavier-übung III is unclear. It was almost certainly not intended for liturgical use, and its two hour length means it is hardly practical for concert performance. Bach most probably composed it to show he was not limited by constraints as mundane as practicality, and we should be eternally grateful for that.

Like the new organ itself
Francis Jacob's performance, and the recording by Alban Moraud (Producer) and Franck Jaffrès (Balance Engineer, co-founder of Zig-Zag Territoires, and yes, the author of the quote at the head of this article) is a triumph. Both sonically and musically this CD is quite outstanding, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is also great to see that in today's world of 'here today, gone tomorrow' MP3 files that the packaging, with wonderful original graphics by Anne Peultier (above), is also exemplary, and includes a detailed description and specification of the organ.

There is an awful lot here to celebrate - the vision of the church of St-Louis-en-l'Ile in commissioning this remarkable new organ, the talents of
Bernard Aubin and his team in building it, and the achievement of Zig-Zag Territoires and organist Francis Jacobs in creating this outstanding new recording.

But above all the mob have suffered a mortal defeat in la quatrième arrondissement of the City of Light. Let's all celebrate with J.S.Bach's Clavier-übung III sounding triumphant in downtown Paris.

Join the celebration by clicking on this button for an overgrown path exclusive, and revel in Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr played on the new organ of St-Louis-en-l'Ile....

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With thanks to the monks of the Bendictine Community at L'Abbaye de Sainte-Madeleine du Barroux whose hospitality gave me time to both think and write.

Photo credits:
Guillotine -
BBC News
Organ pipes - Binns organ, Nottingham UK
Organ of St-Louis-en-L'Ile - Zig-Zag Territoires

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6 comments:

Pliable said...

Zig-Zag Territoires' are pretty hot on 20th century repertoire as well. For information on their recordings of contemporary music, including Xenakis' Okho, Psappha and Rebonds A & B and string quartets from the Second Viennese School, see my linked post at Sequenza21.

Jeff Harrington said...

Heh, I don't appreciate, given the history of classical record companies and their support of the artists, your linking of users of internet distribution methodologies with a 'mob' and ringtone silliness. The Internet, IMO, represents probably the greatest positive change in how independent artists communicate with audiences. I detect a serious bias in your blogging... and I have to vehemently disagree with your characterizations. Sounds like a very interesting record company and a great business sense. So far, though, they're only released CD's from dead guys.

Pliable said...

Jeff - your comment "So far, though, they've only released CD's from dead guys" is untrue.

As well as some remarkably fine music from dead guys like Bach, Mozart, Schoenberg and Webern the releases from Zig-Zag Territoires include works by living composers including Raoul Lay who was born in Marseilles in 1964. See this link.

bernard said...

The way I see it.
Bach's best organ music are... the exercises for his children, ie the Trio Sonates.

Pliable said...

Bernard, I totally agree.

In fact I'd go further. I think Bach's Trio Sonatas are among the greatest music he wrote for any instrument.

Thanks for visiting an overgrown path.

Anonymous said...

I do find it rather ironic that this article begins with heavy criticism of downloadable music on internet, including a quote this quote: "for The virtual world of the internet shatters the record as an object into sound files of poor quality" and then the article ends with a link to an mp3 download. Wonderful music though and a very fine instrument.