It`s my third day here, and I haven`t gotten any better at using this French keyboard, so you'll have to pardon the brevity of this post. After a Saturday night spent bouncing around the cafes in Belleville, where I'm staying, I got up early yesterday and made my way to the Eglise St.-Sulpice, where a festive Baptismal mass was taking place. The real draw, however, was the presence of Daniel Roth at the Grand Organ. Ross, one of the world`s great organists, has been the titular organist at St.-Sulpice since 1985, following in the footsteps of his renowned predecessors Charles-Marie Widor (64 years) and Marcel Duprè (37 years), both of whom I`ve written about recently.
After the mass ended, Roth launched into an extended, fierce improvisation, for which nearly everyone stayed in their seats. The celebrated organ, made by French master Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in the 1860`s, is a solid mass of dark wood and metal, filling the entire loft: it was as if the church had been built around the organ, rather than the other way around. About midway through, the sun suddenly streamed in the clear windows, bathing the heavy wood with light. When Roth finally ended after nearly 20 minutes, the entire congregation erupted into applause.
And then, as if by magic, a tiny door opened in the rear of the nave, and I, along with fifty-or-so others, climbed a tiny spiral staircase up 100 feet. At the top, I found myself standing in the loft, face-to-face with the mighty organ itself. I was directed to walk behind the console, where the old foot pedals that once required a dozen men to work lay dormant. (The bellows are now powered by electricity.) A little further, I entered a small salon containing portraits of all the St.-Sulpice organists back to 1619; there have been a total of twelve. Above all of them rests a bust of Bach.
Around the corner, I waited on a short line to enter the console area, where Roth was preparing his music for the next mass, already in progress. He greeted his guests warmly, flashing them a toothy smile while chatting breezily in French. It was like waiting to see Santa at the department store during Christmas.
When it came to be my turn, I tentatively climbed the three small steps behind the console so that I was standing directly next to Roth. I decided that I was just going to politely observe, not wanting to bother him or offend him with my pidgeon French. But, he suddenly turned to me, extended his hand, and said, "Bonjour!"
I tried to tell him in French that his playing was "très magnifique." He smiled, and immediately spoke to me in English.
"And where are you from?"
"Ah! The city?"
"Are you a musician?"
"No, but I love music - and especially the organ. It is a great honor to meet you, and to hear you play today."
"Thank you. I hope you enjoy your stay in Paris."
I then asked if he would mind posing for a picture, and he obliged:
My evening was occupied with the Orchestre Lamoureux performing Carl Orff`s Carmina Burana at the Thèatre des Champs-Elysees, which was no less stunning. You can see pictures of that here; more of St. Sulpice after the jump.