I SPEND A LOT of my time walking the streets of Paris listening to and recording the everyday sounds around me, the sound tapestry of the city.
Recording urban soundscapes is not as easy as you might think. In our modern digital world where we’ve come to expect affordable technology to turn us all into instant experts, one might be forgiven for thinking that recording urban soundscapes is simply a matter of pointing and shooting and hoping for the best – but it doesn’t quite work like that. Capturing the most expressive and lasting images of the sounds around us requires a heady cocktail of active listening, enthusiasm, hard work, endless patience, attention to detail and an ear for a captivating subject, not to mention copious amounts of shoe leather.
Captivating sounds seldom appear to order, they are often elusive and need to be hunted out and to hunt them one needs time, often lots of time. Few things are more frustrating than spending an entire day pounding the streets searching for that special sound only to come home empty-handed. But on a good day, it only takes one chance moment to come home with an absolute gem.
The great 20th century Parisian street photographer, Robert Doisneau, summed up this element of chance by saying, “Chance … You have to pay for it and you have to pay for it with your life, you pay for it with time – not the wasting of time but the spending of time.”
And sometimes the spending of time can bring a huge reward.
Les Halles – the former ‘belly of Paris’
Recently, I was wandering around Les Halles, once the huge covered food market known as the ‘Belly of Paris’, and a part of Paris now undergoing much needed renovation. I’ve recorded there many times but this time captivating sounds seemed particularly elusive. I’d been there for most of the afternoon spending time but recording nothing and I was on the point of giving up and going home when the element of chance that Robert Doisneau spoke about intervened.
In the distance I could hear the sound of bells, the bells of the Église Saint Eustache, the gothic masterpiece in which the young Louis XIV received communion, the church chosen by Mozart for his mother’s funeral, the church where Richelieu was baptised and where both the future Madame de Pompadour and Molière were married. I followed the sound of the bells and began recording. The sounds led me into a little courtyard at the side of the church. I waited until the sounds of the bells faded and then, spying a very old, well-worn door, I opened it, entered the church and walked into a magnificent wall of sound coming from the Van den Heuvel organ being played by a young man sitting at the giant five manual console in the nave.
The Bells and Organ of Église Saint Eustache:
“… not the wasting of time but the spending of time.” And in this place, on this day, the spending of time was an investment richly rewarded.
Yesterday marked the third birthday of this blog. When I began it the world of blogging was very new to me and I had little idea of what I was doing or what shape this blog would take. All I had was a vague idea that I wanted to share two of my passions – the city of Paris and recording the everyday sounds around me. Now, three years on, this blog has taken on a life of its own with over 200,000 visitors and over 1,000 loyal followers.
To all those who visit this blog regularly, to those who just stop by as they’re passing and to all the friends I’ve made all over the world as a result of this blog I just want to say a heartfelt “Thank You”.
This recording of the sounds of the bells and the organ of Église Saint Eustache is a celebration of the life that this blog has taken on and I dedicate these sounds to you all.
FOR THE LAST FIVE years or so I’ve been recording the contemporary sound tapestry of Paris in, as far as I know, a more comprehensive way than it’s been done before. During that time I’ve recorded both the ordinary and extraordinary sounds of this city in ordinary and extraordinary places.
Occasionally, I’ve been able to record history in the making and last Saturday was one such occasion. It was quite sobering to think that the event I was about to witness will never be seen again in the lifetime of anyone who was there.
Bells have rung out from the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris since the end of the 12th century, long before the building of the cathedral was completed. As the cathedral’s life evolved and its influence developed more bells were added to reflect its increasing importance.
By the middle of the 18th century Notre Dame had a magnificent array of bells – eight in the north tower, two bourdons, or great bells, in the south tower, seven in the spire and three clock bells in the north transept.
But their days were numbered. The ravages of the French Revolution took their toll and the bells were removed, broken up and melted down. One bell though escaped this destruction. The biggest of the cathedral’s bells, the great Emanuel bell, was saved and reinstalled on the express orders of Napoleon I and it still sits in the south tower today.
After the dust of the Revolution had settled new bells were installed in Notre Dame – four in the north tower, three in the spire and three in the roof of the transept. Unfortunately, the best that can be said about these new bells is that they were second rate. Poor quality metal was used to cast them and they were out of tune with each other and with the magnificent Emanuel bell. And these second rate bells are what Parisians have lived with, at least until last Saturday – and then everything changed.
To mark the 850th anniversary of the founding of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris it was decided to replace the existing cathedral bells with new ones, exact replicas of the bells that were in place before the Revolution. With eight new bells in the north tower cast at a foundry in Normandy and a new bourdon cast in the Netherlands sitting beside the frail and now very carefully used Emanuel in the south tower, once again the soundscape of 18th century Paris can be recreated and sounds that have been lost for over two centuries can again be heard.
In February, the new bells were delivered to Notre Dame and were blessed by Cardinal Vingt-Trois. They were then set out in the nave of the cathedral for the public to see and to touch. I saw and touched them all.
A Call for Silence:
I was there on the Parvis du Notre Dame or as it’s called today, Place Jean-Paul II, as the crowds gathered and the anticipation mounted.
The dignitaries arrived and proceedings got underway with three chimes from the great Emanuel bell which brought a gasp from the crowd. Singing by children from the Sacred Music Choir of Notre Dame was followed by an explanation of what was to happen next by a lady whose French was impeccable and whose English accent was far from perfect but nevertheless, an absolute delight to listen to. Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, recently returned from the Papal conclave in Rome, then gave a short address.
The Opening Ceremony:
The smallest of the new bells, Jean-Marie, in memory of Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the 139th archbishop of Paris, from 1981 to 2005.
782kg – 997mm
When the Cardinal finished speaking there was an eerie silence and then the moment came – the very first ringing of the new bells of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, sounds that haven’t been heard for over two centuries.
The first ringing of the new bells:
Maurice, in memory of Maurice de Sully, the 72nd bishop of Paris, from 1160-1196, who launched the construction of the current cathedral in 1163.
1,011kg – 1,097mm
After that historic and quite breathtaking experience, which kept the crowd spell bound, it was the turn of the Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, to speak which he did fluently and without notes.
Bertrand Delanoë :
Benoît-Joseph, in honour of Pope Benedict XVI. Joseph Ratzinger was made Pope in 2005 and retired in 2013.
1,309kg – 1,207mm
Then came quite remarkable sounds from the bells, a conversation between the smallest bells and Gabriel, one of the largest.
A conversation between bells:
Étienne (Stephen), in honour of Saint Steven, the first Christian martyr. The church constructed (from 690 AD onwards) on the same site as the current Cathedral bore the name Étienne.
1,494kg – 1,267mm
Next to take to the podium was Aurélie Filippetti, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication.
Aurélie Filippetti :
Marcel, in honour of Saint Marcel, the ninth bishop of Paris, at the end of the 4th Century.
1,925kg – 1,393mm
Denis, in honour of Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris, c. 250 AD. He is the patron saint of the diocese.
2,502kg – 1,536mm
Over the centuries, the sounds of the bells of Notre Dame have told of the joys and sorrows of the Christian community and the major moments that have marked the history of France.
Anne-Geneviève; in honour of Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary and in honour of Saint Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris.
3,477kg – 1,725mm
Hearing the sounds of the new bells for the first time was a very special moment but more was to follow.
Introduced by Monseigneur Patrick Jaquin, recteur-archiprêtre de la Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, the climax of the ceremony was a magnificent grande solenelle, all ten bells ringing at once.
La Grande Solenelle:
Gabriel, in honour of Saint Gabriel, who announced the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary. In the 15th Century, the largest of the North Tower’s bells already bore the name Gabriel.
4,162kg – 1,828mm
Bells have been associated with Christianity since its earliest times and, although they have marked the passage of time, their primary purpose has always been liturgical. Their chimes summon people to come together and call them to prayer.
It seems appropriate therefore that I should conclude with the sounds of the new bells at Notre Dame doing just that – calling people to the evening service in the cathedral just as they have done for hundreds of years.
And it was quite special to know that the sounds engulfing the Place Jean-Paul II and beyond were the same sounds heard over two centuries ago.
Call to Prayer:
Marie, in honour of the Virgin Mary and in memory of the first great bell of the Cathedral, which was cast in 1378.
6,023kg – 2,065mm
AT FIRST SIGHT, the Rue Saint-Roch seems to be an ordinary street in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, a stones throw from the Jardin des Tuileries and the Musée du Louvre. But, as is so often the case in this wonderful city, things are not always quite what they seem.
Let’s start with the obvious. The most prominent feature in the street is the Église Saint-Roch at the junction of the Rue Saint-Roch and the Rue Saint-Honoré.
The church was built in the late baroque style. Louis XIV laid the foundation stone in 1653 and building was completed in 1754.
Sounds inside the Église Saint-Roch:
The church suffered during the French revolution, it was ransacked, and many works of art were stolen or destroyed. Scars of the revolution are still to be seen on the façade of the church with the marks left by flying bullets.
It’s a well-kept secret, but the Église Saint-Roch is notable because the French aristocrat, revolutionary politician, philosopher, writer and notorious libertine, the Marquis de Sade, was married here on May 17, 1763.
The Église Saint-Roch is special for me because it is yet another Parisian church with an organ that has the fingerprints of the master organ builders, François-Henri Clicquot and Aristide Cavaillé-Coll all over it.
In 1750, François-Henri Lesclop was commissioned to build the first organ but he died before the work was completed. François-Henri Clicquot was asked to finish the work, which he did in 1756. The organ was restored just over a hundred years later in 1859 and again in 1881 by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. This magical combination of work by François-Henri Clicquot and Aristide Cavaillé-Coll is to be found in churches all over Paris, not least in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.
And so, back to the Rue Saint-Roch itself. The origins of the street date back to somewhere around the tenth-century. It was officially named for the first time in 1450 as Rue Saint-Vincent then, several hundred years and several name changes later, it became Rue Saint-Roche in 1879.
Today, amidst scaffolding and extensive building work, Rue Saint-Roche is home to the Paris Bureau of the BBC who advertise their presence in rather austere terms compared to the other more elegant signage on the rest of the building.
Sounds in the Rue Saint-Roch:
The sounds of the Rue Saint-Roch may be what I came to listen to but what I especially came to see was this house, two doors down from the BBC office, N°41 Rue Saint-Roch. An ordinary looking house you might think, but this house has a history, a secret history. During the First World war, N°41 Rue Saint-Roche was the headquarters of a secret British military intelligence operation involving an underground espionage ring operating behind enemy lines.
The story of 41 Rue Saint-Roch is intriguing and brilliantly set out in Janet Morgan’s book, The Secrets of Rue St Roch. It’s a story of ingenuity, bravery and meticulous attention to detail, the very stuff of espionage behind enemy lines.
During the First World War, the Germans depended on trains to sustain and move their armies. The Allies realised the crucial importance of timetable information and of knowing what troop trains in occupied territories were carrying. Movements of men and guns from one part of the front to another, or the clearing of hospitals in forward areas, indicated the position and timing of the next offensive.
It was difficult to find people who could provide such intelligence, and difficult for it to be passed on. The front line was impermeable, neutral borders mined and electrified, movement restricted and clandestine radio and aerial reconnaissance were in their infancies. The Allies made many attempts, but German counter-espionage was formidable – though one network, La Dame Blanche in Belgium, was an espionage triumph. There was no coverage of tiny Luxembourg, which became, as the war went on, an increasingly important rail hub.
It was partly to address this that Captain George Bruce, later Lord Balfour, was assigned to a department of British military intelligence at 41 Rue Saint-Roch. He identified a possible recruit, a middle-aged Luxembourgeoise called Lise Rischard, whom he persuaded to return to her country as a railway spy. She began reporting by letter and newspaper code, which was a difficult business but this improved when she was joined by another of Bruce’s agents, an irrepressible Polish-Belgian soldier called Baschwitz Meau, who had escaped five times from German prison camps.
Meau was inserted into Luxembourg by hydrogen balloon at a late and crucial stage of the 1918 German spring offensive. The importance of the intelligence that he and Rischard provided from the agents they recruited can be gauged by the honours they later received – she the CBE, he the DSO, and both were made Chevaliers of the Legion d’Honneur.
I often wonder how many of the people who pass along the Rue Saint-Roch every day have any idea of the secret history of the house at N°41.
I walk the streets of Paris endlessly, observing and listening, and I am constantly intrigued by how the seemingly ordinary can often turn out to be quite extraordinary. The Rue Saint-Roch is a perfect example of this serendipity.
I AM DELIGHTED TO present a new piece in my Paris – A Personal View series.
For each piece in the series I invite a guest who lives in or has a close connection to Paris to visit one of their favourite places or a place in the city that has a special meaning for them. With access to a microphone and sound recorder the guest talks about the place and tell us why it’s special to them.
Today my guest is Heather Munro. Heather doesn’t actually live in Paris but she is a regular visitor to the city so much so that she considers Paris to be her second home.
Heather Munro is a writer, editor and photographer (though not always in that order) who grew up in Great Britain, Mexico and Peru (in exactly that order) before finally settling down in the United States. Whenever she is able, she greatly enjoys travelling and discovering new places and new cultures. But of all the places she’s visited, Paris is still her favourite.
And Heather’s chosen place? The Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris …
©Heather Munro at the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris:
I am very grateful to Heather for giving up her time and for braving the wind and the rain to visit and talk about the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris.
Unlike other sounds on this blog, the sound piece ‘Heather Munro at the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris’ is not covered by a Creative Commons license. The copyright for this piece rests jointly and exclusively with Heather Munro and Des Coulam. It follows therefore that the downloading of this piece for any purpose is not permitted without the express permission of both Heather and Des. We have no wish to spoil your enjoyment of this piece but simply ask you to respect that the work is ours. The copyright for the pictures rests exclusively with Heather Munro. Thanks for understanding.
DID YOU KNOW that the Battle of Alésia is the oldest event commemorated on the Paris Métro? It took place in France in 52 BC when the Romans took on the Celts.
The Romans were led by Caesar and the Celts by Vercingétorix and the Romans won when Vercingétorix eventually surrendered. Vercingétorix was banished to Rome and after spending six years in prison Caesar had him strangled to death.
A more recent piece of history associated with the Alésia Métro station is this wonderful 1960’s Métro sign. Very few of these were used so this one is quite rare.
Next to the Alésia Métro station is the church of Saint-Pierre de Montrouge with its tall bell tower looking out over the centre of the quartier, the Place Victor-et-Hélène-Basch. The church was built in 1863 by the French architect Joseph Auguste Émile Vaudremer who was noted for building several public buildings including Paris’s Prison de la Santé.
I was in the 14th arrondissement on Saturday in the Alésia quartier and I went into the church to find that it was all decked out for a wedding. So, with my sound recorder to hand I was once again in the right place at the right time!
The Bride Arrives:
I didn’t stay for the entire service but I did stay long enough to see the bride enter the church and to hear the organist improvise brilliantly when it became clear that bride’s walk up the aisle was going to extend beyond the end of the music!
As the service got underway I left and walked across the street to a café where I toasted the happy couple and became engaged in a fascinating conversation with an elderly gentleman sitting next to me.
Before I knew it, the church bells were ringing as the service came to an end. Family and friends gathered outside the church waiting for the bride and groom to appear while I watched from the café. I raised a glass and wished them well.
THE MIDDLE OF AUGUST is perhaps not the best time to go sound hunting in Paris. It’s a curious time, the weather is hot, the locals are for the most part away on holiday and many bars, restaurants and shops are closed.
I was in the 6th arrondissement on Saturday where I found this usually bustling area particularly quiet. Beyond a near empty Place Saint-Sulpice the Eglise Saint-Sulpice glistened in the summer sunshine. It’s dedicated to Sulpitius the Pious, it’s the second largest church in Paris and it’s always worth a visit so I went in.
The present church, which took one hundred and forty years to build, was completed in 1732 and it stands on the site of a much earlier, thirteenth-century Romanesque church. The present church is noted for several things; the Marquis de Sade and Charles Baudelaire were both baptised here, the church is home to a gnomon, a scientific instrument used to determine the time of the equinoxes and hence of Easter (it featured in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code), a side chapel in the church houses two murals by Eugène Delacroix, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel and Heliodorus Driven from the Temple and … Saint-Sulpice houses a magnificent Cavaillé-Coll organ, perhaps the finest instrument of the French symphonic-organ era.
My sound hunting adventures in Paris have taken me to many places and I’ve discovered many different sounds, but few sounds affect me as much as the sounds of the organ and particularly the organs of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. On Saturday, I was able to capture the sounds of his finest creation.
The Organ of Saint-Sulpice:
Just as he did with the organ of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, Cavaillé-Coll reconstructed and improved upon the existing Saint-Sulpice organ built by François-Henri Clicquot. The instrument is reckoned to be the summit of Cavaillé-Coll’s craftsmanship and genius. The sound and musical effects achieved in this instrument are almost unparalleled.
Some world-renowned organists have played the Cavaillé-Coll organ in Saint-Sulpice; Louis James Alfred Lefébure-Wély was the organist from1863 to 1869 and then for the next one hundred years just two people occupied the post, two of the most illustrious names in the world of church organ music, Charles-Marie Widor from 1870 to 1933 and Marcel Dupré from 1934 to 1971.
The Organ of Saint-Sulpice:
It is largely thanks to this continuity that the organ of Saint-Sulpice has avoided the changes in taste and fashion which have ravaged so many of Cavaillé-Coll’s other creations. Appointed in 1985, Daniel Roth is the current organist assisted by Sophie-Véronique Cauchefer-Choplin.
I have no idea who was playing the organ on Saturday and somehow it didn’t really seem to matter. They were practising and clearly having fun whilst I was perfectly happy to sit and simply let the rich palette of Cavaillé-Coll’s sounds wash over me.
You can hear more of the organ of Saint-Sulpice here.
IT WAS SOMEWHERE AROUND the year 270 AD when Denis, a Christian missionary and Bishop of Paris, was martyred on the hill we now call Montmartre. Denis was beheaded during the period of Christian persecution under the Roman Emperors Decimus and Valerian. It is said that after his head was chopped off, Denis picked it up and walked six miles or so preaching a sermon as he went. The place where he eventually fell and died was marked by a small shrine which eventually became the Basilique Saint-Denis and the burial place of the Kings of France.
The Basilique Saint-Denis is a medieval abbey church in Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of Paris. The abbey church was created a cathedral in 1966 and is the seat of the Bishop of Saint-Denis. The building is of unique importance historically and architecturally.
In Roman times the site was a Gallo-Roman cemetery but around 475 Saint-Genevieve purchased some of the land and built a church. This became a place of pilgrimage and in the 7th century, Dagobert I had this church replaced with something grander. By the 12th century it had grown to become one of the most powerful Benedictine abbeys in France. The abbot of Saint-Denis, Suger, rebuilt portions of the abbey church using innovative structural and decorative features turning it into a masterpiece of what came to be known as Gothic art. The basilica provided an architectural model for the cathedrals and abbeys of northern France, England and other countries.
From the 6th century onwards, the Basilique Saint-Denis became the necropolis of French monarchs. Most of the kings and queens of France were buried here. The list is impressive: 42 kings, 32 queens, 63 princes and princesses and 10 great men of the realm. With I think three exceptions, all the French monarchs were buried here from Hugues Capet onwards.
Over the years, the Abbey was plunged into decline by wars and the Revolution. During the Revolution the tombs were opened and the bodies were removed and dumped in two large pits nearby and dissolved with lime. In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte reopened the church and the royal remains were left in their mass graves. Thankfully, most of the tombs survived the Revolution and today they lie resplendently in the much-visited “Royal Necropolis of France”.
Sounds from the Necropolis:
Clovis I (465 – 511) and Childebert I (496 – 558)
Henry II and Catherine de Médicis
Charles V and Jeanne de Bourbon
The fate of King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette of Austria is well known. Both were guillotined in the Place de la Concorde during the Revolution. They were though not initially buried in the Basilique Saint-Denis, but rather in the churchyard of the Madeleine, where they were covered with quicklime. Louis XVIII, the last king of France to be buried in the Basilique Saint-Denis, ordered that the remains of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette be transferred from the Madeleine cemetery and today they lie side by side in the crypt of the Basilique Saint-Denis.
The two centre tombs: On the left is Marie-Antoinette and on the right is Louis XVI
THE ÉGLISE SAINT-AUGUSTIN DE PARIS is to be found in the 8th Arrondissement amidst Baron Haussmann’s rectilinear avenues.
The Église Saint-Augustin was designed and built by the French architect, Louis Baltard between 1860 and 1871. As well as building Saint-Augustin, Baltard was also involved with the restoration of several Parisian churches including Saint Germain l’Auxerrois, St. Eustache, Saint-Germain-des-Prés and Saint-Séverin. He is perhaps best known though for building the twelve pavilions of Les Halles, the former central market in Paris.
The Église Saint-Augustin is almost 100 metres long and the dome stands 80 metres high. The church incorporates several architectural styles, Roman, Gothic, Byzantine and Renaissance but its main feature is that it is the first church in Paris to be built around a metal frame.
Inside the Église Saint-Augustin:
The church is dedicated to the philosopher and theologian, Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430), patron saint of brewers, printers and theologians. His writings, including his framing of the concepts of original sin and just war, were very influential in the development of Western Christianity.
The Église Saint-Augustin boasts not one, but two organs. The first, the Orgue de tribune or Gallery Organ, was built by Charles S. Barker, an Englishman, and it was inaugurated on June 17, 1868. The occasion aroused great interest in France and abroad because it was the first organ to be powered by electricity.
The second organ, the Orgue de choeur or Chancel Organ, was inaugurated in 1899.
The great French organ builder, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, was involved with both organs. In 1899, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll completed the rebuilding and enlarging of the Gallery Organ. The organ was enlarged again in 1925 by Charles Mutin. More modifications were made in 1962 and, in 1988, the instrument was completely revoiced and rebuilt by the organ builder Bernard Dargassies.
Charles Eugène de Foucauld was a French Catholic priest living among the Tuareg in the Sahara in Algeria. He was assassinated in 1916 outside the door of the fort he built for protection of the Tuareg. On November 13th, 2005, de Foucauld was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI and listed as a martyr in the liturgy of the Catholic Church.
It was in 1886 in the Église Saint-Augustin that de Foucauld spoke with Father Huvelin. Father Huvelin encouraged de Foucauld to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where he was inspired to begin the spiritual work that led to his death. There is a chapel in the Église Saint-Augustin dedicated to Charles Eugène de Foucauld.
As an unashamed organ enthusiast, I have one remaining fact to share, which has little to do with the Église Saint-Augustin but is connected to the architect of this church, Louis Baltard. Amongst all the other work he did in Paris, Baltard also built the tomb of Louis James Alfred Lefébure-Wély (1817-1869) at Père Lachaise Cemetery. Who is Lefébure-Wély I hear you ask.
Lefébure-Wély was a French organist and composer who played a major role in the development of the French symphonic organ style and was a close friend of the organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, inaugurating many new Cavaillé-Coll organs. Lefébure-Wély left a considerable catalogue of compositions for both organ and piano but he is perhaps most well known for one work in particular, the Sortie in E-Flat, which still seems to be as popular as ever.
Thanks to the involvement of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, the Gallery organ of the Église Saint-Augustin has exactly the symphonic qualities required to do justice to the works of Lefébure-Wély.
Sortie in E-Flat; Lefébure-Wély:
DON’T YOU JUST LOVE it when an otherwise ordinary day turns out to be extra special! That’s what happened to me earlier this week.
After a rather tedious morning I met a friend for lunch in Saint-Germain in the 6th Arrondissement. We arranged to meet at a restaurant I hadn’t been to for a long time and I had quite forgotten what a delightful place it is. The restaurant, the food and my friend were on sparkling form so our three-hour lunch simply couldn’t have been better.
After lunch my friend left for another engagement and I wandered along the Boulevard Saint-Germain to have a look at the Christmas market … my fifth Paris Christmas market this year.
My walk ended with me going into the Eglise Saint-Germain as I often do when I’m in this area. I hadn’t though expected the surprise that awaited me when I went inside. The organ was being tuned.
Organ Tuning in L’Eglise Saint-Germain:
These sounds are a short extract of the thirty minutes of the organ tuning that I recorded all of which have now been consigned to my Paris sound archive.
Regular visitors to this blog will know of my love of the organs of Aristide Cavaille-Coll, many of which are to be found in Paris, but the organ in this church is not one of his creations.
This organ was built by Pierre Thierry in 1679 and it was modified by Louis-Alexandre and François-Henri Clicquot in 1766. Organ enthusiasts will know that the magnificent Cavaille-Coll organ in the Cathédrale Nôtre Dame de Paris was built around an original François-Henri Clicquot organ.
Earlier this year, I was in L’Eglise Saint-Germain for a wedding when the organ was in full flow and what a delight it was to listen to.
The Organ of L’Eglise Saint-Germain:
So, there we are – an ordinary day transformed into a perfect day by a delightful lunch in a perfect setting with the company of a dear friend followed by an unexpected sound feast. What could be better?
Well, hot, roasted chestnuts might come a close second!
For another organ tuning experience you might want to look at this – my visit to Warsaw in March of this year when I happened upon the tuning of the organ in Saint John’s Cathedral in the old city of Warsaw.
I CAME UPON THIS quotation recently in an article in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television Vol. 24, No. 4, 2004:
“Today’s hunters no longer turn to the woods or fields, but to the noisy big cities. Instead of banging rifles they take their silent tape recorders with them. These modern day hunters call themselves ‘sound hunters’. Instead of hunting for deer, foxes and rabbits, they are after sounds and noises. To be sure, sound hunting is no less exciting than hunting in the green fields.”
This was how the sound tape manufacturer BASF promoted the hobby of sound hunting in the Netherlands in 1964. As a modern day ‘Sound Hunter’ myself I found this a very apt quotation. For me, the excitement of sound hunting comes from hunting the often elusive quarry, the thrill of the chase and the golden moment of the capture.
Last Saturday was a typical sound hunting day for me. I left home thinking that I would try to search out some festive season sounds. After a fruitless search around the Hôtel de Ville and the Cathedral of Nôtre Dame I found myself in the medieval but rather un-Christmas like Rue de la Huchette. I don’t quite know why, but this street and the surrounding area draws me back like a magnet time and time again.
I have many sounds recorded in the Rue de la Huchette in my sound archive and, on Saturday, there seemed to be nothing new to add. It seemed as though the hunt for new sounds had gone cold.
As is so often the case, I couldn’t leave this area without paying a visit to one of my favourite places in Paris, the Eglise Saint-Séverin.
The construction of this church began in the 11th Century and it’s the oldest surviving church on the Left Bank. It’s bells, cast in 1412, are the oldest in Paris. For me, this church always seems to provide a haven of tranquillity in this otherwise hustling, bustling area.
I feel a great affinity with the Eglise Saint-Séverin not least because over the years it’s offered me some golden sound nuggets – although very sparingly.
On Saturday, I arrived at the church in the late afternoon. As always, there were several other visitors looking around. After a day of intense listening I sat down to enjoy an oasis of comparative silence. Presently, I thought I heard a sound. It was fleeting but it sounded like the voice of a singer. It passed; perhaps it was a figment of my imagination. I got up to leave and then I heard the sound again … and this time the hunt was on.
Walking round to the other side of the church I could hear that the sound was coming from behind a closed, heavy wooden door. It was the sound of a choir going through a warm-up routine.
A choir behind a thick wooden door:
I didn’t know if this was a routine choir practice or whether something else was in prospect so I sat down to await developments … and I wasn’t disappointed.
A choir in the Eglise Saint-Séverin:
The choir emerged from behind the heavy wooden door wearing coats and scarves (it was chilly in the church) and lined up in front of the alter and began to sing. It turned out that they were rehearsing for a Christmas concert.
A choir in the Eglise Saint-Séverin:
Sound hunting can be a frustrating business. That elusive sound, the one that rises above all the others, can often be hard to find and even harder to hunt down. But when the hunt succeeds then all seems well with the world.
As a final note, I recorded another sound of these singers that is extra special but to hear that I’m afraid you will have to wait until Christmas when I shall feature it on this blog.