Music by Dietrich Buxtehude.
A meditation on the six days of creation, performed on the 2004 Aubertin Organ, Saint-Louis-en-l’Île, Paris.
THE ORGAN OF SAINT-LOUIS-EN-L’ÎLE, PARIS
Bernard Aubertin, organ-builder
Building an organ in Germanic style is not as simple as it may appear at first sight. It is necessary to forget our modern idea of Germany and dig down to rediscover the reality of that land in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. At that time, what we now call Germany was a conglomeration of around 350 principalities and feudal demesnes, some of them scarcely more than a few square kilometres in area. The whole region was dominated by Prussia. Relations between these various entities were extremely volatile, and wars were frequent.
These states, and some large cities, made it a point of honour to maintain Kapellen, or choral and orchestral establishments, whose quality and size varied widely, and also organists. The practice of sacred and secular music depended on the tastes and religious affiliations of the ruler of the moment. The latter’s death could therefore entail musical changes as radical as they were sudden. As a result, the aesthetics of organ-building were quite variable. To be sure, there were regional tendencies, but these were closely bound up with the personalities of the men who built the instruments-often benefiting from a monopoly-and of the musicians who played them.
Given these facts, it seemed to me judicious to base the design of the new organ for Saint-Louis-en-l’tle on the work of the most renowned of German composers, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), and of his favourite organ-builder, Zacharias Hildebrandt (1688-1757), ungrateful pupil of the famous (and rather touchy) Gottfried Silbermann. The first contact between these two eminent personalities took place in 1723, at Stormthal in Saxony. Bach gave the inaugural recital on an organ there, and wrote for the occasion his cantata BWV 194 Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest (‘Much-awaited Joy-feast’ ). His lasting friendship with Hildebrandt culminated in the construction in 1746 of a new organ in the existing case for the church of St Wenzel in Naumburg.