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S_L

Chartres Cathedral

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I drove from my home to the UK and decided to do the long journey through France in two stages stopping at Chartres on the way. After a cheap hotel and an excellent meal we found ourselves in the Cathedral for the 'Grand Messe' at 11h00.

Years ago I was there and attended both the Mass sung to Gregorian chant at 09h00 and the 11h00. It had been a pretty torrid experience and, in truth, I wasn't expecting that a lot had changed.

Prior to the 11h00 Mass I had coffee with the titulaire opposite the cathedral and, just prior to 11h00, found myself in my usual place in church - on the left hand side about 6 rows from the front. There seemed to be hardly anyone there but it soon filled up. A procession of robed young people and adults made their way into the choir whilst Patrick Delabre improvised on the Grande orgue on the hymn 'Il est ne le Divin enfant' which began the celebration. The Bishop of Chartres celebrated. He is a very tall man and, complete with mitre must have been over eight feet tall!!! Clouds of smoke bellowed from the thurible and even the altar boys seemed to know what they were doing (all rather different from the last visit when my second son remarked that, had he been the celebrant, he would have "stuck his boot around that altar boys ****"!!!). The Bishop sang, slightly hesitantly and the choir of young people and adults, singing in four real parts, made a splendid sound - helped, of course, by an amazingly generous acoustic! The organ improvisations at the gospel procession (with alleluias fitting to the first line of the tune Forest Green!) and at the offertory, and during communion, were understated and totally amazing! I am used to wonderful improvisations from my time in Birmingham and these were equally as good. The Grande orgue sounded magnificent and accompanied the whole Mass. Seemingly the orgue de choeur, that I remember our member pcnd hated so much, has been removed during the renovations of the choir. And, at the end of Mass we had a French hymn to the tune Adeste fideles - complete with Willcocks descant that was thundered out by the top line of the choir! - followed by an improvisation on the tune!

If you're passing I would recommend it! It's not an English cathedral - it's very French - but I came out of church feeling a lot better than when I went in!! What will I remember in six months time - the power of the descants and the organ improvisations - oh, and the eight foot tall Bishop!!!! 

 

http://orguesfrance.com/ChartresCathedrale.html

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On 14/01/2020 at 13:45, SomeChap said:

Has the new paint-job changed the acoustics do you think?  What do the locals think of it (it's highly controversial if anyone doesn't know)?

I can't answer that because I can't remember what it was like before!!

The place, of course, is vast, it is enormous! And the restoration is hugely controversial! My first encounter with the restoration was when my daughter travelled to see me about four years ago, stopping at Chartres on her way down here. "English Heritage would have a fit!!" she said. And she is right. The choir looks totally amazing but I'm not sure it is in keeping with a medieval cathedral or with restoration techniques as understood in the UK. The external part of the choir, the stone carved scenes, are nearly finished and seem to be being painted rather than having the grim and dirt blasted off! I may be wrong here! Of course the French do paint on top of stone. I know of another 'World Heritage site' where the walls have been plastered and red lines painted on to simulate the edges of stone!! True - imagine English Heritage allowing this!

As to the acoustics! The place is noisy. Dr. Colin has mentioned the very different attitude of continentals towards ecclesiastics. There are signs asking the public not to walk around during services but they are, largely, ignored! The Grande Messe is celebrated from the Nave Altar under the central space at the crossing. The choir sit in the choir. The  orgue de Choeur which, of course, would traditionally accompany them, doesn't seem to exist any more. I remember pcnd, and if I have got this wrong I apologise to him, being quite vitriolic about the instrument. I think he described it as the worst instrument he had ever played! All accompaniment comes from the Grande Orgue which hangs high on the south wall of the nave just by the crossing. The organist sits inside the instrument. I can't imagine what, if anything, he can hear up there but he has an array of TV cameras to assist him.  Even accompanying plainsong could be a problem and also hymns too without considerable expertise of the instrument and knowing the acoustics of the building. Accompanying, for instance, a Mozart Mass, would, I imagine, be next to impossible. Nothing in my musicianship tells me how it could be successfully done!

For those interested there are a number of YouTube videos of Patrick Delabre, the titulaire, talking (in French!) and playing the instrument he has presided over since 1986.

I return to my home on the 26th and have an invitation to spend the 'Grand Messe' in the tribune that morning. Perhaps I can better answer your question, somechap, then!

 

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On 16/01/2020 at 06:42, S_L said:

 The  orgue de Choeur which, of course, would traditionally accompany them, doesn't seem to exist any more. I remember pcnd, and if I have got this wrong I apologise to him, being quite vitriolic about the instrument. I think he described it as the worst instrument he had ever played! All accompaniment comes from the Grande Orgue which hangs high on the south wall of the nave just by the crossing.

 

No, SL - you are quite correct. It was, quite simply, execrable. The concert in which I played was video recorded, so I know that it was not my faulty memory. (It formerly occupied 'boxes' dispersed behind the choir-stalls. These boxes looked like nothing so much as a set of coal bunkers.)

I was most interested to read your account of the service which you attended - it sounds fabulous. I should love to have heard this, particularly the organ improvisations, but also the excellent choir.

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