Friday Pipe Organ – St Ouen

   Posted by: John   in Friday Pipe Organ

It has been a while since I have posted Friday Pipe Organ, mostly because I had the server turned off for a while.  Now that I have a solution in place that does not use any more electrical power, I will be updating Friday Pipe Organ every week.

This week’s organ is the 1890 Cavaille-Coll organ in the Church of St Ouen in Rouen, France.  The building itself dates back to the 14th century.   It is a large gothic-style building, famous for its architecture and stained glass windows, also dating to the 14th century.  The building was renovated in the mid 1800s.  It is not used as a regular church, that being given to a newer cathedral not far away.

Outside of the Church of St Ouen

Inside the Church of St Ouen, looking from the front to the back.  The organ is below the window.

Also famous is the organ.  The case dates to 1630, although it was enlarged to its current configuration sometime between 1630 and 1683.  Numerous organ builders worked on it over the centuries and it was, more than once, dismantled for long periods of time.

Aristide Cavaille-Coll initially looked at the organ in 1851 and over 30 years repaired and altered it several times.  In 1888, Cavaille-Coll was awarded a contract to completely rebuild the organ using the existing casework.  It was completed in 1890 and contains 64 speaking stops.  The organ stands unaltered and is listed as a French Historical Landmark.  It was the last of the long series of large symphonic organs that Cavaille-Coll himself built. 

Organ Facade.  Note the figures on the pillar tops.

The console has 4 manuals (keyboards) and the pedalboard.  The manual order from top to bottom is Bombarde, Recit, Grande, and Positif.  The Recit manual boasts 20 stops (the most that Cavaille-Coll ever used for the Recit) and is the only manual using expression (enclosed in a box having shutters the organist can open or close).  It is a mechanical tracker organ employing the Barker lever system that essentially gives a pneumatic power assist.  In the video clips, you will notice manuals with key action even though the organist’s hands are on a different manual.  This is typical of mechanical coupling and without the Barker levers the organist would have a difficult time pressing the keys.

One interesting thing about this organ: It has one of the strongest and loudest 32 ft Bombarde pedal ranks ever made by Cavaille-Coll.  Additionally, the Bombarde pipes are not mitered…the longest extends the full 32 ft length.  It is behind the facade and cannot be seen from the front.   The building itself has a 8-10 second reverb and I can only imagine what it sounds like in the actual church. 

In this clip, Michel Chapuis plays the organ.  This piece is an improvisation on a hymn and is peaceful and fairly quiet .  Notice that Mr. Chapuis at one point is playing two melodies on two manuals with his right hand, in addition to playing accompanying left hand and pedal notes.


This video features Kalevi Kiviniemi improvising on “Caprice Herioque”.  This piece displays the organ’s full power including the 32 ft Bombarde.  It is a very fast paced piece that also demonstrates the organ’s ability to respond to high speed pieces in spite of the mechanical action.


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