Welcome to my blog; inspired by Hemmingway's A Moveable Feast, a desire to record the more succulent and misshapen nuggets of my Parisian adventure in nibble-size lobes for your light-entertainment and my anticipated future memory failure, and to get some things off my chest and onto yours.

Monday, 19 March 2012

God's Almighty Organ

If you hear of a church organ concert for four hands, you would not be blamed for conjuring up visions of a haggard, dusty old man with a severe birth defect; perhaps from one of those mid-west American travelling carnivals, or an incestuously rural belt of darkest Shropshire.  You would be right to.  But in Paris? There must be some mistake?!

Yes, you idiot, you're the mistake.  It just means two people at one keyboard (or 'manual' if you're going to be like that.)

Now, here are facts...  As well as being the only keyboard on which it is considered common practise to use one's feet (like Fred Astaire in grey slacks), Church organs are the biggest instruments in the world.  The latter is irrefutably so, if you include the surrounding building as part of it - as I do - acting as the sound box or bell that gives the organ its signature sound; in this case the collosal, crushing sound of eternal damnation.

Eglise St Gabriel in the 20eme and it's medium sized organ
The only reason I enter churches is for music, and church organ concerts are fantastic things to experience.  I've been to others in Paris- there are weekly organ recitals in the bizarre innards of the ├ęglise du Saint Espirit on Avenue Daumesnil, 12eme, Sundays at 18h.  One of the best church organ concerts I've been to was in Oslo's Cathedral back in '03.  It featured the music of Scandinavian composers from the first part of the twentieth century and the cavernosity (yes, that's right) of the cathedral made a delicously discordant echo chamber for this music, giving it such an immensity it was as if the sky was falling in around it, making you feel both excited and invigorated, much like being the victim of a violent massage from a Turk.

The 5 manual organ at Eglise St. Sulpice in Paris' left bank.  When this was built in 1781 with 102 stops, the phrase 'pulling out all the stops' had much more gravitas.
-photo taken from this great pipe organ blog: http://mypipeorganhobby.blogspot.fr/ 
Sunday's concert in the 20eme, while superbly executed, lacked a little of what I need from an organ recital due to the mass of the specific organ in question (see top photo.)  While its sound box (ie church) was large, the instrument itself was modest and failed to incite the cataclysmic fear that we seek on these occasions.

Here is an excerpt of an arrangement of Rachmaninov's Danse Symphonique Opus 45 No.2 for 4 hands from the concert, showing a range of sounds, from flute and oboe -esque to bontempi chord organ in a well.

Despite some lacking horse-power, I was as impressed as ever by the vast array of sounds that this ancient instrument is capable of impersonating.  From something like a trumpet, to something like a choir...to moments which reminded me of those lorries at countryside fairgrounds that open out to raucous phantasmagoria of brazen brass band music and jerky, mechanical men in candyfloss induced psychoses.
The following nine-minute medley from 2007's unforgettable Great Dorset Steam Fair, will be a more-than-sufficient introduction to those of you thusfar untouched by this phenomenon.  I should warn you, I hold these monsters accountable for 70-80% of my magical yet scarring carnival-based nightmares from ages 5-11.

I'll send you a quid if you continue to part 2.

The natural segue from here is to the almost entirely eccentric Wurlitzer organ -an acid casualty cousin of the venerable church organ.

Here is a video/photo combo (v/p-c) of the bestial 'Mighty Wurlitzer' (type 250, born 1929) which I was fortunate enough to see demonstrated in the muso's paradise that is the Berlin Musical Instrument Museum back in 20-10.  The footage video shows the seedier, funkier side of the pipe organ family, but not the outrageous sound effects which it is also capable of; attached as it is out back to a smorgasbord of clap-trap such as drums, cymbals, small chirpy birds (or things that sound like them), and of course the kind of mechanical paraphanalia that recreates thunder.

    He gets going around the 14 seconds mark...

Alack, I have digressed.  But before this blog post ends as horribly as a cliff's edge ends a fun run, I feel I couldn't leave it without noting the incorporation of a pair of rear view mirrors to the organ from last Sunday's concert in the Eglise St. Gabriel, and leave it to you to suggest below the most likely reasons for their fixture...

The unadulterated but truly awesome pipe organs, which have, in churches and cathedrals existed almost unchanged for the last 400 years, with their huge tone banks of voices are, I will have it, the true original Synthesizers.  Scores of lovely examples exist in Paris and are often performed upon, and it is quite probable you have one of these not far from where you live too.  So next time you're at a loose end of a Sunday evening, I urge you to seek out your local pipe organ and drown in the apocalyptic dirge of the heaviest metal you will ever have the pleasure of imbibing.

In Summary:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pipe_organ - that's right, I travel far and wide to research my blog posts.

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