I asked Olivier Messiaen about his opinion of foreign organs, since he had the opportunity to travel and hear many different instruments. Sometimes he loved some organs, but not all. He didn’t like to hear his work on instruments which were too brilliant, like baroque organs.


America :

Our conversations were not extensive enough to allow me to go into detail here about what Messiaen heard in the course of his travels, but he noted that there are very fine organs in spite of frequently unfavourable acoustical settings. He played some famous instruments and told me of this appreciation for the singing ensemble of the stops with the exception of most chamade batteries which he felt were too agressive.

For Messiaen, a chamade should in no case overwhelm the tutti but simply give a special edge to it. Be that as it may, in general he found American and some Australian chamades too grating, especially given such other beautiful and clear-speaking stops. Personally, I think that when Americans will take out the carpet from churches, they will understand what good sound is. Carpet is an insult to the organ music.

Messiaen long since warned organists against demanding too many pungent stops since this can distort the sonority, particularly in the lower ranges. He was aware that great progress has been made in America and Australia in attaining homogenous voicing of the registers. As a rule, Messiaen belived that a truly eclectic organ does not exist (the french orgue à tout jouer.) Potentially, one way confer an appropriate and personalized color on every performance but it wil never be possible to obtain with a sole instrument the appropriate timbres for the entire range of organ literature. Personally, I too believe that.




Olivier Glandaz and Robert Vickey at the Church of the Holy Chuldhood, St. Paul, MN

Since Messiaen’s death, I received lots of letters and faxes from all over the world asking many questions about the maestro. I respond when I can help some people but sometimes it is too difficult and I cannot. I try to give the best of myself to everyone. I think that I can help some churches, conservatoriums or auditoriums in an attempt to achieve a Messiaen-style-organ. Of course, I’m not the best, I know that but I had a great experience with Messiaen and I would like to share this chance with many of you.

Since April 1996 I have visited the USA many times to help organ builders. I met the organ builder Timothy Patterson in Minnesota. He cames to France to see some french instruments and we discuss voicing, timbres, stops, pipes, mixtures and the art of registration. In autumn of the same year I went to Minnesota. It was quite difficult for me with my poor english but a lot of people wanted to help and appreciated that I tryed to correspond with my bad english.

I do not want to build 200 stops organs, but I am able to create the organ conceived by Messiaen on which I have every design and program, from 16 to 70 stops. I do not want to give them to the French Government for they have no idea about what creation is. I prefer to give them to other states…

I have had a great chance to travel in the USA. I have seen many different organs, met organ builders and organists. It is very interesting to hear what they are doing in their works. As with the French, it is not easy to agree with what I see and hear For example, I do not understand why so many churches have carpet on the floor ; how organ builders can gave the best of themselves in their work. Something else, I do not understand the system of "ranks." The montre, prestant, doublette, piccolo, all are the same timbre, the same color. Where is the interest? The Bourdon 16 – 8’ – 4’ etc… have the same sound, same color, no difference. Where is the interest ? Idem for the flutes... Where is the originality ?

Some organ builders told me that most Music Ministery want that absolutly. Why ? Is it a problem of money ? God, thank you, I hear some different technics about organs in America : a montre 8’ is a real montre, the prestant is another stop (another rank) with different sound and different colour and not a simple octave of the montre. Considerate that a prestant is only a simple octave of the montre, that is ridiculous and absolutly no artistic ! With the principe of ‘rank’, it could be easy to have 50 stops with 15 or 20 ranks but here, where is the beauty of sound ? None !

Olivier Glandaz at Evangel University Chapel, Springfield, MO. during installation of Copper en chamade.

Is it not ridiculous to want absolutly 60 stops in a small room – but with carpet ? Yes, it is ! Did you never met a composer who accept to create good music in some of these rooms ? Probably not…

Anyway, never in Europe…

Rev 4/9/2000 by Timothy Patterson