We are almost at the anniversary of when I went to London with a large van to bring another organ to France. In late January of this year, I wrote the melancholy A New Purpose after the main article on this subject New Unity. I had many reflections to express about that very original church community that seems to have gone beyond Unitarianism to atheism. Perhaps they want a new notion of the Transcendent outside the stereotypes of religions. Anyway, it is not my purpose to make any judgement.
Once the organ arrived at Vermenton, a small town near Auxerre in the Burgundy region, the problems began. The organ had to lie in pieces in the church for a whole year. An elderly man in the congregation, ignorant and stupid, was violently opposed to the organ project at Vermenton in spite of having kept his mouth shut at the parish council meeting that approved it. The priests who look after the parish had to jump through hoops to get the various authorisations from historical monument and diocesan authorities.
When I finally met this cantankerous man, he told me I was buying an organ in very poor condition, I was being conned like buying a second-hand car. I was not the person who dismantled or transported the organ and that it was going to be reassembled by a priest of the community with no experience of organ building. He knew all this from infallible Google along with some other juicy titbits about myself to get the diocese to hold me away with a barge pole!
He was gobsmacked when I related the facts to him. I was the “horse’s mouth” rather than the bits and pieces he was finding on the internet. Some officials from the diocese came and visited me, and they were most kind and pleasant. I explained that I was indeed working on an old organ, but there is nothing that cannot be repaired – quite unlike a worn-out car engine.
Now the gentleman is attributing the success of the project to himself! The hypocrisy oozes out from this modern-day Tartuffe, the perfect apologia for the need to find a new notion of God and our desire for the Transcendent.
A platform had to be built for the organ, and it was botched. It needed to be corrected in terms of the level. The carpenters came on the Monday, and I told them they had a choice: dismantle and redo their work or superimpose a perfectly level platform to the dimensions I specified and in exactly the right position. They worked whilst I set up my field workshop.
I brought the organ to playing condition about the middle of last week. The pedal bourdon still needs work because the lead pneumatic tubes of the action are in appalling condition. I will replace them with plastic tubes, which will make everything so much easier to install. I’ll do that job in January. In the meantime, the stops on the great and swell are working, as are the manual to pedal couplers. The organ is tuned and can be used for Christmas.
In spite of the report that this organ is without any real tonal distinction, I found the sound in the church of Vermenton to be “sweet” and full of character. The fifteenth on the great is the only upperwork, but the voicing is bright. I made no modifications of any kind. I simply cleaned the pipes with compressed air to get the London dust out! I am strongly of the conviction that an existing organ must be respected, not changed to make it into something else as was often done from the 1960’s. Indeed, the organ of York Minster is being almost restored to its 1931 state by Harrison & Harrison of Durham in the tradition of the great English cathedral organ. This little Victorian instrument is a part of the history of the organ builder’s craft. After all, I have no compunction about playing Bach on the piano!
After a series of problems and challenges, this little instrument seemed to console my efforts and pains as it sang into the reverberant acoustics of the church and accompanied my lone voice as I sang the Gloria Patri to a Gregorian tone. My perseverance paid off…
Open Diapason 8
Stop Diapason Bass 8
Claribel Flute 8
Viol d’Amour 8
Lieblich Gedeckt 8
Voix Céleste 8
Swell to Great
Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal
Here are some photos:
It is delightful to read this next chapter in the history of that organ – and how well all has gone despite the protracted impediments!
My architectural senses and imagination sadly fail me, here, though – where is the organ now – a side aisle, a transept? (Those look like choir stalls in the last photograph…?)
The positioning of the organ is in a transept of the crossing, with a view of the Volksaltar. That said, each bay of the choir are as big as the crossing. The choir stalls are further to the east than the altar facing the people and the choir. Here’s a site with a few photos: https://bourgognemedievale.com/departement-et-pays/yonne/pays-auxerrois/vermenton/ Some old-time photos: https://monumentum.fr/eglise-notre-dame-pa00113928.html
Thank you – and for the splendid assortments of photos! What a fine ‘new home’ for the organ!