Some years before graduating from the Paris Conservatoire with a coveted first prize in 1894, Louis Vierne was serving as an assistant to his teacher, Charles Widor, both at the Conservatoire itself and at the Church of Saint-Sulpice. Both in teaching and composing he upheld and developed the heritage of the French organ school, which was maintained by his students such as Henri Mulet, Marcel Dupré and Nadia Boulanger. In 1900 he won the most coveted post of all as titulaire at Notre-Dame, placing him in charge of the instrument which had already attained iconic significance as the masterpiece of its designer and builder, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.
In developing beyond Franck and Widor the genre of the symphony for solo organ with the superb sextet of works recorded here, Vierne was inspired by the orchestrally conceived instruments of Cavaillé-Coll. He created whole new families of stops and voicing and coupling mechanisms that allowed an organ to imitate virtually every instrument of the orchestra. This enabled composers to write for the organ as if it were a symphony orchestra. Vierne’s six symphonies attracted admiration from the unlikely quarter of Debussy, and they exercised a formative influence on the young Messiaen. All six symphonies are cast in minor tonalities, with an expressive key signature of cavernous Gothic gloom periodically illuminated, especially in the finales, by brilliant shafts of light, and by flowing currents of melody in the gentler Andante movements, swirling like incense in the heavy air.
Hayo Boerema recorded this newly released set of the complete symphonies on the superb Marcussen-built organ at the main church in Rotterdam, the Laurenskerk, where he has been organist since 2005. In 2009 he received the silver medal from the Société Académique des Arts, Sciences et Lettres in Paris in recognition of his achievements in performing and promoting the masterpieces of the French Organ School.
The name of Louis Vierne (1870-1937) will be associated with organ music immediately. As did quite a few other 19th-century organists/composers he used the instrument as a means to perform ‘symphonic’ music. The scope in this respect was greatly enhanced by the new organs built at the time, for instance by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.
The blend of styles in this music for organ is unique. It contains aspects of Romanticism combined with an impressionistic ‘pastel-like’ quality. Like many of his contemporary colleagues Vierne felt a strong fascination with Wagnerian chromaticism.
An admirer and pupil of César Franck at thirty, the virtually blind Vierne was appointed organist at the Paris Notre Dame. Among many other pieces for organ he wrote six (five movement) symphonies, which became standard organ repertoire. Franck inspired him in the use of cyclical elements and harmonic refinement, whereas Widor’s influence is clear in the use of the organ and the classical forms.
Dutch organist Hayo Boerema is organist of the Great or St. Laurens Church of Rotterdam, where the present CDs were recorded on its magnificent Marcussen organ. Boerema has a special affinity with French organ music, he is currently recording all of Messiaen’s organ music and has already released the organ music by Alain. For this he received the silver medal from the Société Académique d’Education et d’Encouragement ‘Arts.