The Organ

Jean Guérard: Léonce de Saint-Martin à Notre-Dame de Paris

Jean Guérard: Léonce de Saint-Martin à Notre-Dame de Paris
Paris: Les Editions de l’Officine
ISBN 2-915680-08-6

It must seem strange to many (mainly to the ones in charge of classical music and, particularly, of organ music, its history and its famous performers) that someone from inland Brazil may write about such an unknown personage within such a restricted Brazilian organological scenery. In fact, when I was still young (in 1960), I came to know Léonce de Saint-Martin through a long playing recording which reached my hands at my home town. As soon as I listened to it, I was amazed by the beauty of the organ improvisations, as well as the charm of the original compositions of that remarkable master organist (died10th June 1954), performed by him on the great Cavaillé-Coll organ at Notre-Dame, Paris!

Jean Guérard, the book’s author and former student of the biography, comments: 'This book comprises facts about the life and work of this musician who overcame many difficulties with courage and dignity in order to fulfil his mission as organist. His personality and his talent have been handed down to posterity through his contribution to the repertoire'.

The organist and composer Léonce de Saint-Martin was born on 31 October 1886, descendent of a traditional French noble family. Though music was not a family tradition, at an early age he became organist of Saint Cecile Cathedral in Albi, his home town, pursued his music and organ studies in Paris with Louis Vierne, got married, interacted with famous organists of the time, succeeded Vierne as organiste-titulaire at Notre-Dame, was wronged by his colleagues concerning his controversial nomination, survived two Great Wars and endured poverty in his last years. Léonce de Saint-Martin was a master of organ improvisation. His improvisations during the services at Notre-Dame Cathedral were those of an inspired creator of eloquent melodies and harmonies of mystic and spiritual atmosphere. As a composer, he left us an impressive Catalogue of Works, of which several were published while he was still alive.

The book has 328 pages in two parts, of ten chapters each. The first part comprises facts about his birth, his childhood and youth period, his appointment to Saint Cecile Cathedral, his controversial nomination as organiste-titulaire at Notre-Dame, and the Second World War period, among others. The second part tells us about the organist and his work: the transcriptions, the melodies, the works for special occasions and more generic compositions, the organ works for liturgy, the chorale works, etc. The book includes a full catalogue of works, a small discography and an interesting book of illustrations (Cahier Photos). It is also a reference book for anyone interested in Saint-Martin’s works. Written in impeccable French, Jean Guérard’s study takes us - with ability and involvement - into Léonce de Saint-Martin’s world, disclosing a charismatic figure, simple, humble, full of tenderness and love for music, the organ and his faith.