Notre-Dame de Bayeux -The Big Organ Cavaillé-Coll


La Spezia, Italy

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Views 1978 at May – 18 – 2013

Featured in RB Explore Photography Page October – 13 – 2012

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The Organ Voice

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The Gallery Organ

A first instrument, of which nothing is known, was in all likelihood installed in a bird’s nest on the left side of the old Romanesque nave where it is still possible to see where it was attached. This instrument was rebuilt on a rood screen and then on a gallery at the far end of the nave. It was destroyed by the Huguenots in 1562.

In 1597, a Classic style instrument, with 36 stops over 4 manuals and pedal, was built in an organcase executed by Jacques Lefebvre. In 1712, a renovation was carried out by Martin Ingout, from Caen. The instrument went through the 18th century and the Revolution without great damage and was back into service as soon as a bishop was appointed. The condition of this organ will not change until 1838, date where the first requests for modification was presented, apart from cleaning operations and renovation without change in the stoplist. On May 12, 1838, MM. de Noyville, de Cussy, and Thomine-Desmazures, charged by the Churchwardens to visit the organ, reporte that « the organ is in urgent need of repairs, its condition is deplorable and if nothing is done, it will be impossible to preserve it ». They also report that » during the month of March, one of the Claude Brothers, organbuilders in Paris, came to Bayeux. After inspecting the instrument, he submitted a project, evaluated at 10,500 francs, to repair and enlarge the instrument ».

By May 21, 1838, the bishop sends the project to the Prefect and the Minister along with a request for subsidy. A second project is commissionned to tahe local organbuilder Luce, unknown organbuilder in the organbuilding circles. The bishop is attracted to this new project because it is more important and costs less. For the same amount, more work will be executed. On May 4, 1841, the bishop recommends that the contract be awarded to organbuilder Luce instead of to the Claude Brothers. Facing this situation, the minister asks Mr. Simon, organist at Notre-Dame-des-Victoires and Saint-Denis, in Paris, to study both projects and to report to him. In this report dated November 1st, 1841, and presented to the minister on January 8, 1842, Mr. Simon relates that between an incomplete project and an incapable organbuilder, the difficulty should be solved by calling in a brighter and skilful organbuilder. He recommends to call in organbuilder John Abbey. The latter went to Bayeux in February 1843 and submits his project on February 20, 1843 for an instrument of 38 stops over 3 manuals and pedal at the cost of 26,915 francs. The project is approved on June 29, 1843.

In spite of the Canons’ opposition, the organ is dismantled during the summer of 1843. As regards to the organcase, in the Abbey’s project, nobody thought about the cost en enlarging the organcase due to the increase in the number of stops. From this important item, all sorts of difficulties will happen. The woodworker and the organbuilder will accuse each other of delaying each other’s work, so that the modifications to the organcase will be completed only in 1849. The costs for enlarging the organcase, estimated at 3,410 francs by Louis Le Breton, a woodworker from Caen, were approved on March 6, 1646. The organ itself, whose works were first delayed by Abbey, then by his bankrupcy in 1850, will be completed only in 1863.

In 1844, the archeological committee wanted to take advantage of the situation to remove the surbassed archway supporting the organ gallery and whose heavy and awkward design was in shoking contrast with the church’s architecture. They commissionned architect Verroles to present a project. While the project was under study, both Abbey’s and the woodworker’s works were suspended. The minister did not approve the project and the gallery would stay as it is. The same year, the Churchwardens went on to sell materials (wood and metal) considered irrecuperable by Abbey. The proceeds of the sale allowed the purchase of a small choir organ, from an unknown organbuilder. It will be restored, in 1863, by Cavaillé-Coll.

On January 28, 1850, the Prefect informs the Minister that organbuilder Abbey is bankrupt. Two years will go by before the final liquidation. On December 1st, 1852, the Syndic annonces that the restoration of the organ in Bayeux is and will remain cancelled. On September 15, 1853, the ministry informs the bishop that organbuilder Abbey has reached an agreement with organbuilder Stoltz to finish the organ. On November 23, 1853, Stoltz’s project is refused because it contains the same defaults found in Abbey’s. During that time, organbuilder Ducroquet submits two projects to finish the instrument. The remained dead letters. During the next six years, the cathedral presents an empty organcase on the gallery, all work is suspended.

In 1859, the bishop asks Aristide Cavaillé-Coll to prepare a project to complete the organ in the cathedral. He will submit a project costing 53 111 francs reduced to 47 669 francs due to materials coming from the old organ. On February 11, 1859, following setbacks incurred with the project with Abbey, the bishop informs the minister that he needs a subsidy from the government to finally complete the organ. The minister answers that the government cannot, alone, pay for the total cost of the instrument. Consequently, the Churchwardens voted to allocate 6,000 francs to the organbuilding project while the bishop, on his own name, contributed 11,669 francs leaving only a sum of 30,000 francs to be paid by the government. The contract is signed on March 26, 1860.

Finally, in the summer of 1862, the instrument is completed. On June 17, 1862, the bishop informs the minister that the organbuilder’s works will be completed next July 1st and suggest that the instrument be received by Lefébure-Wély. The latter is informed, on June 25, 1861, that is charged with the verification and the inauguration of the organ in the cathedral of Bayeux. The reception and the verification are carried out on July 12 while the inauguration took place the next day.

Renovations are carried out in 1878 by Cavaillé-Coll, in 1893 by Charles Mutin, in 1913 by Joseph Koenig, and in 1942 by Gloton-Debierre.

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