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.
You can find Heather’s blog here.
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.
I AM PASSIONATE ABOUT recording and archiving the everyday sounds around me. I record anything and everything. But even I have a couple of self-imposed rules I try to adhere to – I never record people’s private conversations and I never record people at worship. To record private conversations is simply wrong and, it seems to me, the act of worship is a personal and private thing and to record it would be an unforgivable intrusion. Yet, last Saturday, I broke the second rule and recorded an act of worship!
My excuse for doing so was that this was a very public act of worship broadcast live both on television and on radio. It took place in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris and, according to the order of service, it was a Messe d’action de grâce pour la beatification de Jean-Paul II – a mass to celebrate the beatification of Pope John-Paul II.
The Cathedral was full to the rafters so, by the time I got there, it was standing room only. The mass was presided over by no less than the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois. He was appointed Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in November 2007.
Cardinal André Vingt-Trois at work:
Regular readers of this blog will know of my love of the wonderful creations of the master organ builder, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.
The organ of Notre Dame de Paris that we see and hear today is a Cavaillé-Coll creation built around the François-Henri Clicquot 18th century organ. Over time the organ has been restored, modified and upgraded and today it even makes use of state-of-the-art computer technology. With five keyboards and close to eight thousand pipes it is the largest organ in France.
Louis Vierne, Léonce de Saint-Martin and Pierre Cochereau have played this organ – immortal names in the world of Cathedral organists. Imagine then the thrill of listening last Saturday to Jean-Pierre Leguay, Organist Titulaire de Notre-Dame, playing this ‘King of Instruments’ as the ecclesiastical procession left the cathedral with Cardinal André Vingt-Trois bringing up the rear. Around a thousand people, me included, followed the procession bathing in the majestic sounds of the Grand-Orgue de Notre-Dame.
For everyone else this was a celebration of the beatification of Pope Jean-Paul II – but for me it was a celebration of the genius of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.
The Grand-Orgue de Notre Dame:
A WEDDING TOOK PLACE in London last Friday. In Westminster Abbey, nineteen hundred invited guests and an estimated television audience of two billion watched as the bride entered the Abbey as a commoner and left as a Princess.
A wedding took place in Paris last Saturday. In the Eglise Saint-Sulpice around one hundred invited guests and no television audience watched as the bride entered the Church as a commoner and left feeling like a Princess.
In Westminster Abbey, the bride entered to a fanfare sounded by the trumpeters of the Central Band of the Royal Air Force. In the Eglise Saint-Sulpice, the bride entered to the majestic sound of the original, completely un-restored, Cavaille-Col organ.
Last Friday, Westminster Abbey was in total lock-down. No one except the invited guests was allowed in and every move inside the Abbey was scripted in advance.
Last Saturday, the Eglise Saint-Sulpice was hosting a wedding but it was still a working church, anyone and everyone was allowed in… and in they came – tourists and locals all stumbled upon this wedding.
In Westminster Abbey the bride and groom left to the sound of the London Chamber Orchestra and William Walton’s ‘Crown Imperial’.
In the Eglise Saint-Sulpice the bride and groom left to another majestic sound from the wonderful Cavaille-Col organ together with unscripted and completely spontaneous applause from the uninvited guests.
These two newly married couples face very different futures. I wish them both well and much happiness in their new lives together.
I went to a wedding yesterday. I wasn’t invited and I didn’t know the people getting married but I went anyway. Actually, I didn’t set out to go to the wedding, I just sort of stumbled across it.
I was sound hunting as I so often do on a Saturday and I went back to the rue Mouffetard in the Véme Arrondissement where I went to last week (see my blog piece “rue Mouffetard”). At the bottom of the street, I stopped to have a look at the market which was as busy and colourful as ever.
Next to the market is the fifteenth-century church of Saint-Médard.
There has been a church on this site since Merovingian times. Along with the churches of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre and Saint-Marcel, this church, dedicated to Saint-Médard, was built close to the rue Mouffetard, the major Roman road leading south to Lyon and Italy. The building of the present church was begun in the mid fifteenth-century and continued until its completion in 1655. In 1784, Louis-François Petit-Radel was commissioned to rejuvenate the church’s chancel which he did in Classical style whilst at the same time replacing the nave’s sixteenth-century windows with contemporary stained glass.
In the second half of the sixteenth-century, the church was associated with the Huguenots. Public preaching by the Huguenots, as the Calvinists were called from around 1560, was banned but it still went on largely in secret on the Left Bank and particularly around the rue Mouffetard and Saint-Médard. As so often in French history, things turned bloody. In late 1561 atrocities by both Protestants and Catholics occurred in the parish of Saint-Médard. This, together with the “massacre of Wassy”, when Catholics attacked a Protestant assembly at Wassy in Champagne and dozens were killed, proved to be the trigger for a religious war which culminated in the infamous Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572.
I’ve digressed, so back to the beginning and the wedding.
I went into the Eglise Saint-Médard and much to my surprise the wedding ceremony was taking place so I sat down and watched and listened. Having not been invited I took a place towards the back of the church and tried to remain as inconspicuous as possible. From a discarded Order of Service I discovered that this was the wedding of Anastasia and Mickael, the bride being Russian and the groom French, and it was being conducted in both the Russian and French languages.
I found it all fascinating and I simply couldn’t resist recording at least some of it.
Here is the Benediction sung by Father Yagello from the Russian Orthodox Church together with a Russian choir. Père Yagello begins to chant, the congregation stand and a little French boy is desperate to join in!
The organ of Saint-Médard dates from 1645 although it has subsequently been rebuilt twice. Parts of the organ casing though are thought to be original. The first rebuild of the organ occurred in 1767 when the organ builder François-Henri Clicquot completely rebuilt the old instrument. Then in 1778, Adrien L’Espine, Clicquot’s brother-in-law, carried out more major renovations, particularly to the wind system. The instrument was completely rebuilt again in 1880 by the organ builders Edouard and Eugène Stolz.
I have digressed again!
So, another Saturday afternoon in the rue Mouffetard and in the Eglise Saint-Médard Anastasia and Mickael, now safely married, leave the church in style to be greeted outside by their families and friends. I wish them well and I shall remember this little piece of Russia in Paris for some time to come.
Both the Benediction and the organ are binaural recordings. To get the best effect it’s best to listen using headphones.
As you listen to the organ of the Eglise Saint-Médard, you might out of curiosity if nothing else want to read these – The Lord’s Prayer in both French and Russian.