Louis Vierne (1870-1937)
Berceuse (from 24 Pieces in Free Style)
Louis Vierne was organist of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris for nearly 40 years, and he died there, playing the instrument he loved, in the middle of a recital in June 1937. Vierne was the great romantic among the French organ composers. Although he was greatly influenced by the ambiance of the cathedral in which he worked, and made full use of the wide range of colours and effects available on a large cathedral organ, his music remained essentially secular in inspiration, and some of the movements in his organ symphonies exude an almost Wagnerian sensuality. Born almost blind, Vierne was inevitably inclined to introspection; he described his own nature as “hypersensitive, the source of intense joy and inexpressible pain”, and his artistic creed was summed up in this revealing declaration (more typical of the romantic 19th century than the cynical 20th) - “I do not believe that a musician who, as a man, is incapable of love or suffering, will ever create anything of real beauty.”
Today Vierne is chiefly remembered for his organ music, but he was much more than just an organ composer; his list of works includes many piano pieces, three superb chamber works (equal in quality to the masterpieces of his friend Gabriel Fauré), and a number of works for the female voice, which was always one of his greatest inspirations. But the organ was always central to his artistic creativity; in addition to his major works (six great Organ Symphonies), he also published two sets of 24 pieces in all the major and minor keys (just like Bach’s ‘48’) - Pièces en Style Libre (Pieces in Free Style) designed for the amateur church organist, and Pièces de Fantaisie (Fantasy Pieces), which are technically more advanced and intended mainly for concert performance. The popular Berceuse from the first set of pieces is a miniature of exquisite and memorable simplicity. The rocking contour of the melody follows the rhythm of the traditional French lullaby: Dodo, l’enfant do...