Toulouse, Capital of the October Organ Fe(a)st

South-west France, richly endowed with magnificent pipe organs and famous organ builders, celebrates this rich musical heritage each Autumn with a world-renowned international organ festival — Toulouse-les-Orgues.

This organ for the Saint-Gilles d’Étampes church is currently in the  Liourdres workshop of  leading French organ builder:  Bertrand Cattiaux

This organ for the Saint-Gilles d’Étampes church is currently in the Liourdres workshop of leading French organ builder Bertrand Cattiaux. (Credit: Ken Pottinger, Rights reserved)

The southwest is the cradle of the great 19th-century organ builders Aristide Cavaillé-Coll and Théodore Puget and a repository for some of their original preserved and restored instruments. Indeed 60 organs in the region are classified as historical monuments. Some such as the Cintegabelle organ or the one in the Auch Cathedral are famous. But there are lesser known jewels awaiting discovery. Among these is the organ at Pamiers, Ariège,  the magnificent Villefranche de Rouergue Notre-Dame organ first started in 1432 and finally completed in 1851 and others listed here.

Over 14 days, starting this year on October 9, Toulouse becomes the world stage for a festival now in its 18th edition. The 2013 programme, says artistic director Michel Bouvard, ranges over five centuries of organ music from the Middle Ages — with some of the oldest works still existing for pipe organ — through the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods and up to the 20th Century.

While the festival focuses on the great churches and their organs in the south West – from Toulouse where the instruments of 12 churches, convents and abbeys are used, to Lavaur, Grenade-sur Garonne, Cahors, Rocamadour, Gers and Albi — it also acts as a showcase for rising new organ talent.

Some 70 young organists from 20 different countries — China, Japan, Korea, US, Russia and South Africa among others, will participate this year in the 11th annual Xavier Darasse organ competition. This is named after the organist, composer and teacher who as professor of the Lyons Conservatoire, taught in Toulouse.  The festival offers broad insights into one of the finest collection of pipe organs in all Europe found in Toulouse, and embraces educational events and side visits to leading organ builders with workshops in the region.

Bertrand Cattiaux

One of these is Bertrand Cattiaux acknowledged as among the top instrument builders in France. Trained under organ master Jean-Loup Boisseau, Bertrand Cattiaux founded the Atelier Bertrand Cattiaux in Liourdres, Correze, in 1988. Here he and his team of craftsmen have built the organ for the Basilica of Saint-Remi at Reims, and those at Lunéille, Sarlat and Amilly.

As part of the warm-up to the festival this year a series of eight concerts played by famous French and foreign organists including Viviane Loriaut, Willem Jansen and Tomoko Hirade, is running through to September 14 at Bertrand Cattiaux’s workshop using a pipe organ he has built but not yet delivered to the Saint-Gilles d’Étampes church near Versailles.

The Saint Gilles organ for Etampes (his hometown)is inspired by the instruments built in 17th century in north-west Normandy. (See the photos in the gallery below – Image rights reserved: Ken Pottinger).

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At one of these pre-Octoberfest concerts, two of France’s leading organ builders — Bertrand Cattiaux and Pascal Quoirin, whose workshop is at Saint-Didier-en-Provence — managed the organ stops for Viviane Loriaut (see photo in gallery above) in her recital of Spanish 16th century organ music. Afterwards they discussed their metier with the audience. Viviane Loriaut, a professor of organ music at the Paris Conservatoire is a well-known interpreter with numerous recordings of rare French organ music including, on the Aubenas organ, transcriptions for organ of works by Jean Philippe Rameau.

The organist’s husband Jean Louis Loriaut, himself a facteur d’orgues — organ builder — on Corsica, took the audience on a pre-concert tour of the workshop describing how organs are built and explaining the team work and skills required from the master craftsmen involved  — carpentry, cabinetmaking, iron work, mechanics, pipe making, cad-cam designand organ pipe voicing.

An organ, he explained, is a bellows-driven wind instrument producing tones from pipes made either of metal (lead and pewter) or wood. Pipes are blown in response to commands from the keyboard. Each of the pipes produces just one note of a particular pitch or timbre and a separate pipe is required for each key of each stop represented by a knob or tab on the console. When this stop is activated the organist produces a particular timbre on the keyboard. The pipes of a stop are ranked to produce a pitch graduation alike in loudness and tone quality and corresponding to the keys. In Europe organ size is measured by the number of stops the instrument has.

More on pipe organs can be found here on the International Society of Organbuilders website (in French, German and English).

Festival Toulouse les Orgues from October 9

Festival Toulouse les Orgues from October 9

The Toulouse Organ festival, which aims to provide an overview of organ history and ongoing developments in south western France, includes a free conference with local organ builders on Friday 18 October.

It also offers a two-day visit to the Lot — Cahors / Liourdres / Rocamadour — starting Saturday 9 November. This begins with the celebration of the tercentenary of the organ at the Cahors Cathedral, continues with a visit to and a concert on, the Baroque organ under construction in Bertrand Cattiaux’s Liourdres workshop, and ends with concerts and events for the inauguration of the new organ at the Rocamadour Sanctuary, a German-style instrument built by Jean Daldosso – with works by Heinrich Scheidemann, Johann Sebastian Bach, John Bull, Pieter Cornet, Pablo Bruna, Dietrich Buxtehude, Jehan Alain , played by Albertus Dercksen.

The full programme of the Toulouse festival can be found by clicking the image below:

Click the image for the full festival programme

Click the image for the full festival programme

Visit the Festival Toulouse les Orgues 2013 website here.

Locations for all the concerts are shown on this map:

View Festival Toulouse les Orgues 2013 on a larger map

Toulouse City of Pipe Organs 

Toulouse has one of the finest collection of organs in Europe. This unique historical heritage makes the city much sought after by organists and musicians worldwide.

The Toulouse collection is unique in several respects: it has unrivalled historic organs from different periods including the great Cavaillé-Coll instrument in the Basilique Saint-Sernin. These instruments have benefited from a policy of restoration in the 1970s by the city of Toulouse, under the supervision of Xavier Darasse, a professor of organ at the Toulouse conservatory.

Moreover new instruments of high quality have been built in different styles and these complete the collection.  Among them is the organ at the Augustins church built in 1982, by the German organ builder Jürgend Ahrend. Toulouse today is a city where an organist can play the full repertoire — Frescobaldi and XVIIth Italian masters in the Sainte-Anne chapel, Bach and the Nordic Baroque composers in the Musée des Augustins, Couperin, the French Baroque and Classical at Saint-Pierre des Chartreux church, and of course the greatest works in the repertoire on the Saint-Sernin symphonic organ.


Organ builders: a profession, a passion

Organ builders, are men and women who conceive, build, maintain, voice, repair and restore organs. A magnificent yet not widely-known profession.

As a creator, restorer and musician, the organ builder’s metier is one of great passion. Organ building requires both artistic and technical skills, a creative spirit and a considerable capacity for adaptation. The organ craftsman requires a knowledge of instruments that are centuries old which enables them to view the organ today with an eye to the future and the transmission of a living culture and heritage. France is home to more than 80 organ builders. The Midi-Pyrénées region, birthplace of the famous Cavaillé-Coll and Puget organ building traditions boasts more than 370 pipe organs and eight organ builders.

The organ craftsmen who look after the Toulouse instruments include: Patrice Bellet, Jean Daldosso, Bertrand Cattiaux, Gérard Bancells, Pierre Vialle and Jacques Nonnet.


The OctoberFe(a)st 2013:

Story: Ken Pottinger

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5 Responses to Toulouse, Capital of the October Organ Fe(a)st

  1. Max September 1, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Not to be forgotten : On the 9th of september 7 p.m., will be opened the new organ of the famous sanctuary of ROCAMADOUR, built by Jean Daldosso. This will also be a great musical occasion, for a top-rate new instrument. It’s integrated in the Toulouse Les Orgues festival, too.

    • admin September 1, 2013 at 11:25 am

      Thank you for your comment and you are right to highlight this important event which as you probably noticed we indeed covered in the main body of the piece. Enjoy the Les Orgues festival!

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