"Symphony #1 Final"
Notre Dame - Paris
He, like Gabriel Faure, was an assistant to the organist Charles-Marie Widor at Saint-Sulpice in Paris, and from 1900, principal organist at Notre-Dame de Paris. Vierne was considered one of the greatest musical improvisers of his generation, although most of his works were never written down. He had an elegant, clean writing style that respected form above all - even the few of his improvisations extant on early phonograph recordings sound like finished compositions. His harmonic language was romantically rich, but not as sentimental or theatrical as his early mentor Cesar Franck. Of all the great fin de siecle French organists, his music was perhaps the most idiomatic for his chosen instrument.
Vierne had a rather difficult life. His congenital cataracts did not make him completely blind, but he was what would be called today "legally blind". Early in his career, he composed on outsized manuscript paper, using "a large pencil" as his friend Marcel Dupre described. Later in life, as his sight diminished, he resorted to Braille to do most of his work. He was deeply affected by a separation from his wife, and he lost his son, whom he adored, to the battlefields of World War I. Though he held one of the most prestigious organ posts in France, the Notre-Dame organ was in a state of disrepair throughout much of his tenure at the instrument. He eventually undertook a concert tour of North America to raise money for its restoration. The tour was very successful, though it physically drained him. A street accident in Paris caused him to badly fracture his leg, and it was briefly thought his leg would need to be amputated. The leg was saved, but his recovery, and the task of completely re-learning his pedal technique, took a full year during one of the busiest times of his life. Despite his difficulties, however, his students uniformly described him as a kind, patient and encouraging teacher.
Vierne suffered a stroke while giving his 1750th organ recital at Notre-Dame de Paris on the evening of June 2, 1937. He had completed the main concert, which members of the audience said showed him at his full powers - "as well as he has ever played". After the main concert, the closing section was to be two improvisations on submitted themes. He read the first theme in Braille, then selected the stops he would use for the improvisation. He suddenly fell forward, his left foot coming to rest on the low "E" pedal of the organ. He had thus fulfilled his oft-stated lifelong dream - to die at the console of the great organ of Notre-Dame.
recorded/sequenced on the Reuter opus #822 pipe organ, August 7, 2007
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