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Jean Guillou

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The renowned French organist and composer Jean Guillou has died.

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I was in St. Eustache one Sunday morning, for Mass, quite a few years ago and Guillou improvised before and after, as well as during the offertory of the Mass. The 'Toccata' after Mass was a stunning piece of work, it was totally amazing. The music before the Mass was, at one point, the loudest noise I have ever heard. I thought the organ was going to jump off the back wall and attack me!

Undoubtedly Jean Guillou was one of the most important teachers, organists and improvisers of his day but his music is not limited to organ works of which there are a huge number including seven organ concerti. There are three symphonies, two piano concerti, chamber music for all kinds of combinations. In total over 80 opus numbers!

May he rest in peace.

 

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In the far-off days when I was a student I heard Guillou give a recital at the Royal Festival Hall. It was quite riveting, if idiosyncratic.  He played his Sinfonietta, only recently composed, I think. I was very much taken with its structure, language and sonorities.  Sadly few English organs are spiky enough to do it justice. Here's the first movement on an organ that suits it very well indeed and player ditto.

 

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He was also possessed of a wide and deep intellectual remit, and of particular interest to me was his support of an unusual class of temperaments in which the octaves are not tuned pure.  Probably the best known of these is that due to Serge Cordier, having slightly widened (sharpened) octaves which then enables all the fifths to be tuned pure.  This is impossible in all other useable temperaments.  Jean Guillou wrote the Foreword to one of Cordier's books, and he also encouraged the firm of Kleuker Orgelbau in tuning some of their organs to the Cordier temperament.  He was not alone, as some other notable names at the time (we are speaking of the 1980s) such as Yehudi and Hephzibar Menuhin and Paul Badura-Skoda were also interested in impure-octave temperaments, though in their case it was more for the piano rather than the organ.  Menuhin had his own Steinway tuned to Cordier.  The fact that such temperaments were impractical before this is because they are difficult to tune without the aid of electronic tuning devices, and these did not become generally available until the 1980s.  This alone shows how Guillou eagerly embraced new developments and was prepared to give them a go, rather than being suspicious and resistant like so many of his peers.

CEP

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Sad news indeed.  I met Jean Guillou in Dijon Cathedral about 18 months ago and was introduced to him by a friend who is one of the organists of the cathedral.  He was playing for the memorial concert for the trumpeter Maurice Andre.   He was highly amused at the prospect of taking part in a performance of the Grand March from Aida which was to be played by two organs and 100 trumpets (and percussion)!  While not everyone would agreed with some of his interpretations, his playing was really electrifying.  I have a number of his arrangements including his extraordinary one of the Hornpipe from Handel's Water Music which is well worth playing. Even at a great age (85/86 when I met him), he cut dashing and elegant figure.  He spoke fluent English (and I suspect many other languages too) and it was a real honour to meet one of my heroes - and no, I wasn't disappointed.  RIP

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By a sad coincidence at yesterday's London Organ Day at Bloomsbury chapel Isabelle Demers the Candian virtuoso organist played his arrangement of a Vivaldi Concerto in d minor. No one was aware of the sad news at that time.

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17 hours ago, Jim Treloar said:

By a sad coincidence at yesterday's London Organ Day at Bloomsbury chapel Isabelle Demers the Candian virtuoso organist played his arrangement of a Vivaldi Concerto in d minor. No one was aware of the sad news at that time.

It was an interesting arrangement - quite a lot of Guillou in it, but still Vivaldi. The whole recital was terrific.

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I attended a master organ performance class given by him during the summer of 1978 and I learnt much from the experience. In those days his performances weren't so idiosyncratic as they became in his later years, especially with the playing of Bach and other Baroque organ composers. I last heard him perform on the Flentrop organ in the OLV Kerk in Breda about ten years ago where he gave an all Bach concert. Although it was quite fascinating to listen to, many of the tempi and registration selections I thought were just more than a little strange, bearing in mind that this is a modern organ, although it always seems to be trying to pretend not to be.

Although his Toccata was one of the first pieces by him that I learnt, I soon found out that although it generally found favour with an audience at concerts, trying to introduce it to the wider public, such as giving a performance of it after a church service used to have them scurrying out of the building as fast as their legs could carry them. This was sometimes greatly appreciated by the minister, for the last time that I played it after a service, he came up to me just as I was locking the organ up and said: "Well done my boy. I needed to get out of here quickly today as the Colonel (a churchwarden) has invited myself and the wife to Sunday lunch and since he always provides a good nosh, the last thing I want to do is to be late!"  

Another time when I was practising his Toccata at our local church, my mother came in to help get the floral displays ready. Although a serious musician herself, but with the violin and piano, not the organ, she came up to the organ loft as I was playing and stood beside me for a minute or so before I looked up and acknowledged her. She then looked at me with a worried face, gave a large sigh and shook her head saying "If you carry on like that then you'll ruin this organ. And when you do just be warned that it won't be me who'll be to paying for it!" - before turning and stomping back down the stairs.

Rest In Peace master, and thank you. You will be greatly missed thought the world

   

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