Great organ of Nancy Cathedral
Dupont - 1763
The great organ was originally built by Nicolas Dupont, the major organ builder in Lorraine during the 18th century, who also famously built the great organs of Toul cathedral and Verdun cathedral, among others. His work at Nancy is the biggest he ever made, and was at that time the biggest organ in the Duché de Lorraine, duchy which remained independent from France until 1766. The works started in 1756 and were finished 1763 in the newly built cathedral, which was not back then yet a cathedral but officially a primatiale. The bigger organ in Nancy (44 stops) compared to the one in the Toul cathedral can be seen as a rivalry between the two cities, as Nancy claimed the become the center of the episcopacy.
The organ’s monumental 16-foot case was probably designed by Jean-Nicolas Jennesson and is truly remarkable and typical of its time. Dupont also contributed to its conception as the case can be easily compared to his prior work at Toul cathedral, and was later used as a model for the construction of the Verdun great organ.
The case occupies all the organ gallery's width. A rare elegance as well as a sumptuous balance are achieved trough the two central 16-feet turrets that surround the convex central turret, overlooked by carved-wood garlands and a central heraldry.
Vautrin - 1814
Nicolas Dupont looked after the organ until he eventually died in 1781 and passed to his pupil Jean-François Vautrin who intervened in 1788 for minor repairs, included adding a stop of grosse caisse (i.e. bass drum).
The French Revolution, starting in 1789, surprisingly did not have any consequence on the instrument thanks to the appointed organist Michelot « homme de cœur et de bonté » (i.e. : kind and heart-full man), who could have played Revolutionary anthems that got the great organ saved. Vautrin again repaired the instrument in 1808 : keyboards were extended from D5 to F5 ; 4 stops were added to the Swell, several stops modifications were operated to the Great and Choir ; last but not least, two Bombarde stops were added : one of 16’, and one of 32’. It can be noticed that this was the first Bombarde 32’ stop ever built in France, and it needed some extra work in the organ in order to install it.
Unfortunately for Vautrin, he executed all this work without having a written agreement from the cathedral’s council, who refused to pay Vautrin in 1814 when he finished it. The case lasted until 1836 when an arrangement was found between the council and Vautrin’s daughters, as he died in-between. Before the case was settled, organ builder Joseph Cuvillier changed the wind supply and the newly French Ministère des Cultes asked for estimates, especially to the Frères Callinet from Rouffach, and to the Frères Claude, based in Paris but born in Mirecourt, who eventually were put in charge a minor repairs.
Cavaillé-Coll - 1861
Minor modifications were made to the great organ since Dupont’s original work and it remained a classic organ, in the sense of the 18th century. As the musical standards dramatically changed during the 19th century, famous Parisian organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, who just restored the organ of Saint-Sulpice church in Paris, was appointed to reconstruct the organ in a symphonic style.
Cavaillé-Coll retained the case and most of the stops. He migrated the Great reeds stops into a new Bombarde keyboard and created an enclosed-Swell at the center top of the case. He added several other stops to a total of 65, including an identical replacement of the two 16’ and 32’ Vautrin’s Bombardes, reconstructed the wind system, the tracker action and the entire console.
Some characteristics of this organ remains unique and reflects Cavaillé-Coll’s genius : he kept in his new specification most of the former reeds’ stops. He also added reeds from his own, making an exceptional total of 23 reeds stops, being 1/3 of the entire organ. Such a proportion remained unique among all his work.
The pedal stops’ number (15 stops) as well as the pedal reeds’ number (8 stops) are the highest ever achieved, beating even bigger constructions, such as Saint-Sulpice or Notre-Dame de Paris. Cavaillé-Coll signed here its biggest work in France outside of Paris. The organ’s outstanding specification, its size, its sound, altogether with the cathedral’s extraordinary acoustics, give this organ a richness and a depth of sound barely achieved elsewhere by the greatest organ builder of his time.
Haerpfer-Erman - 1965
Aristide Cavaillé-Coll intervened later in 1881 for minor works and his successor, Charles Mutin, restored in 1921 damages due to shrapnel, as shells hit the square in front of the cathedral during World War I. In the 1930s, famous organist Marcel Dupré from Saint-Sulpice in Paris supervised a transmission electrification project that organ builder Roethinger from Strasbourg was supposed to carry out. This project was fortunately stopped just because of World War II. It could have irremediably modified the specification, the sound and destroyed the whole mechanics and console.
Finally, in 1965, as a complete restoration was urgently needed, organ builder Hærpfer-Erman was designated. The restoration was supervised by famous organist Gaston Litaize and transformed the instrument as its specification under the néo-classique vague, then the dominant esthetic school after World War II. Wind system, mechanics, console and wind chests were mostly kept unspoilt, but the stops’ specification was modified and pipes were re-voiced. Some characteristic stops from the romantic organ’s period such as harmonic stops, several viola da gamba, and several 16’ stops were replaced by smaller ones such as mixtures and mutation stops, in reference to the classical French organ style. As was customary after World War II, materials used were of poor quality, especially regarding the organ’s historical content.
The organ today
Recent works (2012) have been operated in the organ, led by organ builders Laurent Plet and Bertrand Cattiaux, and consisted of dust removal, mechanics and wind review, re-voicing of the Choir and restoration of its reeds stops. If today’s organ specification slightly more reflects the néo-classique aesthetics because of the 1965 Hærpfer-Erman’s modifications, the organ’s sound still keeps a deep influence from Cavaillé-Coll. It still remains 24 stops (37% of total) from Dupont, 23 (35%) from Cavaillé-Coll and 2 from Vautrin. 16 stops have so been replaced, but recently Flutes stops have been made harmonic again and the Choir’s reeds have been re-voiced (2012). The Pedal and the extraordinary Swell have been kept nearly unmodified in 1965 and contribute to an still indisputable symphonic sound.
- Pierre Cortellezzi since 1950
- Johann Vexo since 2009
- Guillaume Beaudoin since 2014
- Great organ of Nancy Cathedral, on Palissy (French Minister of Culture)
- First Bombarde 32 in France
- In wood
- In metal
- Johann Vexo plays on the great organ of the cathedral of Nancy :