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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: “Restoration”

February 09, 2008

Dear Michael,

First, Other than what I have learned by listening to Pipe Dreams, I know very little about the pipe organ, but wondered why a 1927 Casavant would be restored by someone other than the Casavant company? Is a restoration just put out for competitive bidding among organ builders?

And, you mentioned (#0803 Part II) that Louis Vierne wrote Carillon de Longpont (No.21) so that it could be played on a pump organ. Is the sheet music for that type organ different from that for the pipe organ?

Thanks for all you do.




On the matter of restoration of one builder’s instruments by another firm, the practice is as old as the organ. Sometimes cost or perceived quality is an issue, sometimes a different aesthetic direction is desired. Even a given firm’s attitude towards its earlier products comes to play. In 2008, we are perhaps much more attentive to matters of historic value, and an instrument from 1927 is likely viewed as a worthy representative of its time, valueable for what it is…rather than the attitude of twenty or thirty years ago, when the broad sound of a 1920s organ was considered out-of-fashion and definitely in need of improvement.

I expect that in the case of the instrument you mention, the authorities overseeing the rebuild of the instrument in question placed higher value (monetary or aesthetic) on the work of another of the Saint Hyacinthe organ firms instead of Casavant. If memory serves, both Guy Therien and Ferrand Letourneau worked at Casavant before setting up their own shops, obviously with the desire to do things there own way. In those differences is the variety of life (and organ tone and function).

Know, too, that the term restoration has several shadings. Increasingly these days, a true restoration is work which returns an instrument to the qualities of its original configuration. But many past restorations, while they may have restored the instrument to an efficient functionality, often altered many original functions…with new chests and actions, new consoles and controls, new pipework replacing old, or old pipes rescaled or reallocated or revoiced. As with so many things, one needs to know what questions to ask, and the variables that likely are to be attached to their answers.

As for the Carillon de Longpont, from the 24 Pieces in Free Style by Vierne, these scores are published on two staves (rather than in the usual version for organ, which incorporates a third staff for the pedal part). Vierne indicates where the pedal should/could play, and performance on a pipe organ offers dynamic and color opportunites far beyond those of a harmonium. But the pieces can be played effectively with two hands only on a single keyboard pump-organ (though the French harmonium is a bit different in its capabilities as compared with an typical American-style reed organ).


I hope this doesn’t muddy the waters too much. :-)



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