I SPEND QUITE A LOT of time in churches, especially Parisian churches.
I am interested in church architecture, I’m fascinated by the history of individual churches and I enjoy exploring the sounds of churches. One strand of my Paris Soundscapes Archive is dedicated to the sounds of Parisian churches. I have a particular interest in the work of the master organ builder, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, and the organs he built for Parisian churches and while I’ve made many recordings of these Cavaillé-Coll organs I also record the ambient sounds in churches, especially when they’re empty. In my experience, there are no silent churches in Paris: even without services taking place, without the organ playing and with no people, there are still sounds. It’s as though the very fabric of each church speaks to the attentive listener.
Apart from weddings and funerals (more of the latter than the former these days unfortunately) I seldom go to churches other than to explore their architecture, history and sounds. Imagine my surprise then when, thanks to a confluence of interests, I found myself, despite not being of the Roman Catholic persuasion, attending a Roman Catholic mass yesterday morning.
The twin-spired Église Saint Jean-Baptiste de Belleville has been on my Parisian church exploration ‘to-do’ list for some time. It was built between 1854 and 1859 in the neogothic style by the architect Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus, an expert in the restoration and recreation of medieval architecture, and it replaces a chapel built in 1543 and the first Saint-Jean-Baptiste church dating from 1635.
Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville was one of the first churches in Paris to be built in the neogothic style, which in itself was a good enough reason to visit it, but the fact that it also has a two-keyboard Cavaillé-Coll organ dating from 1863 was an added attraction.
One of the things I knew about the church was that Edith Piaf, the French cabaret singer, songwriter and actress, was baptised here on the 15th December 1917.
It was this confluence of interests: the neogothic l’église Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville, a Cavaillé-Coll organ, my enthusiasm for Edith Piaf, in my view one of the greatest performers of the 20th century, together with the sound-rich environment of Belleville that brought me to this place yesterday morning where, to commemorate the 54th anniversary of her death, a Messe à la memoire d’Edith Piaf took place in the church supported by Les Amis d’Edith Piaf.
During the Mass the organ played and, of course, I had to record it for my archive. From my recording I’ve produced the following sound piece of some of the music played, which illustrates some of the voices and textures of the Cavaillé-Coll organ and gives a flavour of the Mass itself.
The Cavaillé-Coll organ of the Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville:
The piece opens with the full-throated Entrée. The tone changes for the next piece, the music for the Offertoire. Then comes the music for the Communion, an improvisation on “Non, je ne regrette rien”, a French song originally composed by Charles Dumont, with lyrics by Michel Vaucaire, always associated with Edith Piaf’s 1959 recording of it. The Sortie comprises a short organ piece followed by the lady herself singing “Hymne à l’amour” for which she wrote the words and Marguerite Monnot the music.
The organ was played by Laurent Jochum, organiste titulaire des grandes orgues Cavaillé-Coll de l’église Saint-Jean Baptiste de Belleville et de l’orgue de la Chapelle du collège et lycée Saint-Louis de Gonzague à Paris.
I am old enough to remember listening to Edith Piaf on the radio and I can remember her funeral bringing Paris to a standstill being headline news. For some of her short life she lived just round the corner from where I live now.
Sitting in the church yesterday morning next to the font where she was baptised and with her voice echoing around the church, it seemed ironic that, because of her lifestyle, the Catholic Church denied her a funeral mass when she died – they branded her ‘a categorical sinner’. Instead, her coffin was carried through the streets of Paris to be buried at the Père Lachaise cemetery with only a token blessing.
It was only on 10th October 2013, fifty years after her death, that the Roman Catholic Church gave her a memorial Mass in l’église Saint Jean-Baptiste in the parish in which she was born.
I don’t propose to document the life of Edith Piaf here; a quick search of Edith Piaf on Google will tell you much of what you need to know about her.
What I can say is that it is said she was born on the steps of N° 72 rue de Belleville on 19th December 1915. Her birth was registered at the Hôpital Tenon, next to what is now Place Edith Piaf in the 20th arrondissement, under the name Edith Giovanna Gassion.
In 2013, a statue of Edith Piaf, known as l’Hommage à Piaf, created by the French sculptor, Lisbeth Delisle, was inaugurated in the Place Edith Piaf.
Following yesterday’s Mass in Belleville I went to Place Edith Piaf to take in the atmosphere. I found a street market in full swing with some sounds that Edith herself might have been familiar with.
Sounds in Place Edith Piaf:
I couldn’t possibly end my own hommage to Edith Piaf yesterday without visiting her grave in the Cimetière du Père Lachaise.
She died on 10th October 1963 at the age of 47. Denied a funeral mass by the Catholic Church, some 10,000 people came to the cemetery to witness the interment of La Môme Piaf (‘The Little Sparrow’).
Edith Piaf was interred in the same grave as her father, Louis-Alphonse Gassion, and Theophanis Lamboukas, (Théo Sarapo), whom she married in 1962. She is buried next to her daughter, Marcelle, who died of meningitis at the age of two.
Of the 70,000 graves in the Cimetière Père Lachaise, Edith Piaf’s remains one of the most visited.
From the sounds of the Cavaillé-Coll organ in l’église Saint Jean-Baptiste and the bustling sounds of the street market in Place Edith Piaf, I couldn’t leave the cemetery without recording the sounds of the relative stillness surrounding Edith Piaf’s grave.
Like the fabric of an empty church, cemeteries speak to the attentive listener.
The sounds around Edith Piaf’s grave:
“Every damn thing you do in this life, you have to pay for.”
“Je ne me repends pas de m’être livrée à l’amour.”
(“I do not repent having given myself up to love.”)
Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux
AS YOU WALK ALONG rue Étienne-Dolet in Ménilmontant in the 20th arrondissement it’s hard to miss the imposing church, l’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix at the end of the street. The street was named after the French writer, poet, printer and humanist, Étienne Dolet, who was executed in 1546 for heresy and atheism after publishing a tract denying the existence of the soul. Ironically, the street was named after him in 1879 precisely because it leads to a church.
L’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix from rue Étienne-Dolet
The architect, Louis-Antoine Heret, designed l’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix to replace a former chapel that stood on the site. Combining neo-Romanesque and neo-Gothic architecture the church is huge – 97 meters long, 38 meters wide, 20 meters high under the vault of the nave – not to mention the massive 78 metre bell tower.
Like many churches in Paris, l’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix was used to hold political meetings during the Paris Commune of 1871. In fact, it was here on 6th May 1871 that a resolution was passed by the Communards calling for the death of the Archbishop of Paris, Monseigneur Georges Darboy. The resolution was carried out and the Archbishop was executed as the Paris Commune was about to be overthrown.
L’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix – the nave
One feature of l’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix that may go unnoticed by the casual visitor, but certainly not by me, is the organ. I’ve long been fascinated by church and cathedral organs and particularly the organs of the master French organ builder, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, and this church boasts a very special Cavaillé-Coll organ, one classed as a monument historique.
The organ was built between 1872 and 1874 and it’s one of the rare examples of a Cavaillé-Coll organ that has not been altered to any significant extent.
Building the organ posed two major problems – a rose window that was not to be concealed and a bell passageway in the gallery used for the operation of the bells and as a route to bring them down for repair that was not to be obstructed.
Cavaillé-Coll came up with a technically complex but very neat solution; he built the organ case in two sections leaving the centre of the gallery and the rose window unmasked.
The Cavaillé-Coll split organ case, the rose window and the bell passageway above
Splitting the organ case though was not the complete solution. There remained a complex problem: the three-manual organ console could not be built in the usual position in the centre of the gallery with a direct action to the two organ cases.
How Aristide Cavaillé-Coll resolved this problem is worth a blog piece of its own!
L’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix is built on a hill so to enter by the main entrance it’s necessary to climb fifty-four steps of the grand staircase that leads up from the street.
It was from these steps that I was able to look out over one of my favourite Parisian hideaways – Place Maurice Chevalier.
Located at the corner of Rue Étienne-Dolet the square was originally called Place Gerard Manvusa but that was changed in 1978 in honour of the French singer and entertainer, Maurice Chevalier, a Ménilmontant celebrity who was born close by at 29, rue du Retrait.
The commune of Ménilmontant is far removed from the glamour of central Paris but, for me, that’s its attraction. I’ve spent many hours here, au coin de la rue, watching and listening to everyday life passing by.
Ménilmontant: Sounds in Place Maurice Chevalier – Au Coin de la Rue:
With l’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix as a backdrop I sit on a green bench in the leaf-strewn square and begin to listen. It’s a little before 5.00 pm and with a Wallace fountain, a café and a boulangerie and another café across the street all echoing to the sound of passing footsteps crunching the autumn leaves I absorb the mixture of ecclesiastical and secular sounds that fill the air.
A refuse truck pulls up and loads some rubbish. A street sweeper gathers leaves from the gutter. A group of schoolchildren surround me on their way back from an outing. A bell sounds out from l’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix calling the faithful to worship. A group of small schoolchildren walk past hand in hand on my right gaily chanting, ‘à gauche … à droite’. A dog barks. A school bus comes to a squeaking halt at the foot of the steps to the church blocking the traffic. As the schoolchildren disembark from the bus music pulsates from a car radio and car horns sound impatiently. The schoolchildren pass me and their sounds fade into the distance. A metal bottle top falls to the ground. A youngster on a bicycle taunts the pigeons. The church clock chimes five o’clock. The pigeons speak. A shopping trolley passes.
Paris has many charms but, to my phonographer’s ear, ordinary people creating a deftly woven sound tapestry as they go about their daily lives in this part of cosmopolitan Paris is one of the most fascinating.
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.
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:
THE WEEK BETWEEN CHRISTMAS and the New Year always seems rather like a no-man’s land to me – winding down from the Christmas festivities and the anticipation of the New Year celebrations; the dying embers of the old year and the sparkle of the new year in prospect.
During this week I’ve been catching up with some blogs I visit regularly and some I haven’t seen for a while. I’ve found that a good number of them seem to be in reflective mood, looking back over 2011 and highlighting their top posts or posts that have had a special significance for them during the year. During this week in no-man’s land I’ve been reflecting too, reflecting on the sounds I’ve recorded during the past year.
2011 has been a good sound year for me. As always, my sound haul has been eclectic covering a wide range of sounds that capture the sonic atmosphere of Paris and sometimes, of other places too. I’m afraid that from my collection of sounds recorded in 2011 the temptation to select a ‘Sound of the Year’ was too great to resist.
I would like to present three sounds out of the many I’ve collected during the year and I’ve chosen these, not because they are necessarily the best sounds either technically or artistically but because they each have a special significance for me.
So, here we go …
IN THIRD PLACE:
This is the sound of Jean-Pierre Leguay, Organist Titulaire de Notre-Dame, playing the magnificent Cavaille-Col Grand Orgue de Notre-Dame in the Cathédrale de Notre Dame at the end of the service to mark the beatification of Pope Jean-Paul II presided over by Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Cardinal Archbishop of Paris.
I’ve chosen this piece simply because of its majesty. It’s not often that one gets to hear one of the world’s finest cathedral organists playing one of the world’s finest cathedral organs in one of the world’s finest cathedrals to a congregation of well over a thousand.
This recording sends shivers up my spine every time I listen to it.
IN SECOND PLACE:
This recording is special to me because it came about as a result of an invitation I received from some friends in Warsaw to visit them at their home to hear the Bornus Consort give a private recital.
Established in 1981 by Marcin Bornus-Szczycinski, The Bornus Consort specialise in singing early music from the Middle Ages to the Baroque. As well as singing early Polish music, the ensemble also sings Dutch polyphony, French chansons, Italian and English madrigals together with contemporary pieces. In recent years the ensemble has focused on various forms of Gregorian chant, including the Dominican liturgical tradition.
I’ve chosen this recording because of its intimacy and also because it reminds me of the generosity and kindness of my Polish friends.
AND IN FIRST PLACE – MY SOUND OF THE YEAR 2011:
I’ve chosen this piece, recorded in Cité Veron in the 18th arrondissement, as my ‘Sound of the Year’ because it best represents the sound work that I do and you can see the full story behind this sound by clicking on the link above. The story is worth reading to set the sound in context.
I am a sound hunter, a flaneur, endlessly pounding the streets of Paris hunting for sounds that evoke the atmosphere of this city. Sometimes those sounds are hard to find but there is no feeling quite like finding a sound that captures the atmosphere perfectly, and this one does.
And a sound that can bring a tear to the eye of at least one member of my audience, a former ballet dancer, simply has to be my Sound of the Year!
And Finally …
During 2011, some people have very kindly given up their time to contribute to this blog with spoken pieces. I would like to say a big ‘Thank You’ to:
I wish everyone a very Happy New Year!
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.