Finding the Musical Spirit of Notre Dame


The singers have been unseen, filling the grand darkened area of Paris’s Saint-Eustache Church with music, like disembodied angels. They moved slowly in procession, up the aisles to a makeshift stage, the place they revealed themselves: the males, girls and kids of the Notre-Dame Cathedral choir.

It has been greater than two-and-a-half years since hearth tore by Notre-Dame, the most visited church in the world and France’s most visited monument. The herculean activity of restoring the medieval masterpiece was then delayed by the pandemic, however the French president has promised that the cathedral will reopen in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The musical custom at Notre-Dame is as previous as the cathedral itself, with origins relationship again to the twelfth century.

But since the hearth, the cathedral’s historic music college and its choirs, known as the Maîtrise of Notre-Dame, has struggled financially: the state and the metropolis of Paris eradicated funding; the college misplaced one third of its 2-million-euros-a-year finances and needed to hearth most of its workers and musicians.

“We went through a period of deep mourning, but now we are motivated by the certainty that Notre-Dame will one day reopen,” stated Yves Castagnet, the grasp organist who has performed at Notre-Dame for 33 years. “Meanwhile, our mission is to preserve and spread the spirit of our great cathedral outside its walls. We have become the city’s ambassadors of sound.”

The musicians now carry out like a band of musical nomads, awaiting their return dwelling. Tourists — whether or not believers or not — who had made the Cathedral a pilgrimage web site have been left bereft. The sense of loss is particularly acute throughout the Christmas holidays, when Notre-Dame’s midnight Christmas mass doubled as an excellent organ and choir live performance. But there’s a surefire option to emulate the pleasure and luxury beforehand discovered at Notre Dame: Follow the music.

The cathedral’s closure has opened many guests to a world neglected even by Parisians themselves: the metropolis’s greater than 100 church buildings. Most of these have some music accompanying mass and Vespers; some entice grasp organists and choirs, who carry out each scheduled and impromptu live shows — particularly at Christmastime. Every church has not less than one Christmas mass, however even church buildings that don’t usually host live shows are prone to supply liturgical music at the finish of December.

The cultural scene in Paris got here again to life this fall, however now the uncertainty of the Omicron variant has solid a protracted shadow over the metropolis. Currently, entry into all indoor areas requires the presentation of a “pass sanitaire” (proof of vaccination, or a detrimental P.C.R. or antigen take a look at not more than three days previous). Masks should be worn indoors. On Dec. 6, the C.D.C. issued a Level 4 “do not travel” discover for France, indicating a really excessive degree of Covid-19 in the nation. The French authorities has determined to maintain most public areas, together with eating places, bars, museums — and church buildings — open over the holidays, however it’s advisable to confirm whether or not an occasion has been canceled.

Many of Paris’ church buildings have musically extraordinary organs (and organists) even when they don’t even have a choir. Nearly 20 church buildings scattered throughout the metropolis have organs made by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, a Nineteenth-century grasp organ maker, whose improvements ushered in a brand new period of organ building and sound. Notre-Dame’s personal Cavaillé-Coll organ has been below restore since the hearth.

From musical mass and Vespers to open-door visiting hours, church buildings are free and open to the public — although greatest follow is to deliver a two-euro coin to drop in a donation field. Concerts which are hosted fairly than organized by church buildings will cost for tickets and they’re greatest booked upfront.

Here’s the place to search out the musical spirit of Notre-Dame this vacation season.

Five Paris church buildings are taking part in host to the Maîtrise whereas Notre-Dame is below reconstruction. One of Paris’s oldest church buildings, St.-Germain-l’Auxerrois is a 15-minute stroll alongside the Right Bank of the Seine and throughout the road from the Louvre. The cathedral’s spiritual companies have moved there for the period, together with some of its music.

Rebuilt many instances over the centuries, the church is the resting place for a lot of of France’s poets, architects, painters and sculptors. It is a visible journey that blends a number of kinds: a Romanesque bell tower, a High Gothic chancel, a Flamboyant nave, a Renaissance portal and a Flemish altarpiece and triptych carved in wooden.

Vierge du Pilier, the most necessary statue of Mary to which individuals got here to hope at Notre-Dame, is on show right here. One of Paris’s most stunning church organs is right here — a 32-stop masterpiece in-built 1771 by François-Henri Clicquot. It is present process restoration, however could also be prepared for Christmas. For now, Mr. Castagnet performs on a contemporary auxiliary organ put in close to the important altar.

“Our repertoire is alive — we perform music that dates back 800 years and contemporary pieces that look to the future, Gregorian chants and Requiems and classic French Baroque and German romantic music,” stated Henri Chalet, director of the Maîtrise de Notre-Dame.

Accompanied by the Maîtrise, the 5:45 p.m. Monday by Saturday Vespers and the 6:30 p.m. Sunday mass are broadcast on Catholic tv’s YouTube channel. On Sundays, the 6:30 p.m. mass and the 10 a.m. Gregorian mass are broadcast on Notre-Dame Radio. (The Maîtrise additionally has recorded a Christmas album, À la venue de Noël, which may be heard on Spotify.) On Christmas Day, the Maîtrise is anticipated to carry out throughout the 11:30 a.m. mass, in addition to the 10 a.m. Gregorian mass. Plans for the traditional Christmas Eve efficiency are unsure as a result of of Covid-19 concerns.

But St.-Germain-l’Auxerrois is just too small to host to live shows with the Maîtrise’s massive choirs, which have struggled to search out different Paris church buildings keen to host them. About twice a month, they carry out in different venues, particularly at two of Paris’ best-known church buildings, each of them a few mile away: St.-Eustache close to the Forum des Halles on the Right Bank, and St.-Sulpice (greater than Notre-Dame), in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood on the Left. St.-Sulpice plans to host a Christmas live performance on the 14th.

St.-Eustache is taken into account a jewel of the French Renaissance, however it additionally may be seen as a mini-Notre-Dame. Its inside — together with its perpendicular nave and transept and facet and radial chapels — was modeled on the nice Gothic cathedral. With its extraordinary acoustics, St.-Eustache usually hosts live shows — from psalms to up to date compositions. Even the unusual singing of parishioners throughout weekend companies stirs the soul. The 11 a.m. Sunday mass options each the church refrain and the organist, Thomas Ospital; there may be additionally an organ live performance at 5 p.m. on Sundays.

The church, host to different teams in addition to the Maîtrise, might be the venue for 2 deliberate classical music live shows at the finish of the 12 months, one on New Year’s Eve, and the different on Jan. 1, 2022.

St.-Sulpice is a late baroque constructing, constructed over the Thirteenth-century foundations of a Romanesque church. If you need a Nineteenth-century Eugène Delacroix repair, that is the place to go: two of his work and a ceiling fresco (magnificently restored) grace this venue. And it’s simply as well-known for its famend organ.

The St.-Sulpice 6,600-pipe organ, constructed by Cavaillé-Coll, is taken into account one of the most lovely devices in Paris. The brilliance of its building is matched by St.-Sulpice’s wonderful acoustics.

The church’s grasp organist, Daniel Roth, has a cult following. On most Sundays, he begins taking part in quarter-hour earlier than the 11 a.m. Mass, then continues afterward with a well-loved 30-minute live performance — mixing kinds and attracting organ groupies from round the world. Organ and choir music may be heard usually right here.

In addition to plenty at common hours, an 11 p.m. mass on Christmas Eve, a Christmas live performance on Dec. 23 (from 15 to 30 euros, or about $17 to $34 primarily based on present trade charges), and a New Year’s Eve live performance on the thirty first (from 44 to 66 euros) are deliberate.

The Notre-Dame choirs are additionally acting at Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, a gothic construction in the Latin Quarter at the prime of a delicate hill honoring Geneviève, Paris’s patron saint. Her mystical piety, fasting and shrewd negotiating expertise are stated to have stopped Attila the Hun from invading Paris in the fifth century. (Her historic sarcophagus is housed inside.)

St.-Étienne-du-Mont is most well-known for Paris’s solely “rood screen,” an intricately carved, lofted-arch, Sixteenth-century partition that serves as an ornamental barrier between the excessive altar and the congregation.

Then there may be its Seventeenth-century organ, thought of one of the most interesting in Paris, up to date by Cavaillé-Coll in 1863, and restored a number of years in the past.

This Christmas, the church has organized a play recounting the story of Saint Geneviève’s life (scheduled to run till Dec. 12; reservations vital). Although no live shows are scheduled right here for Christmas, the church’s organists will play at vacation plenty.

Finally, the Notre-Dame choirs may be heard now and again at Saint-Séverin in the Latin Quarter — not removed from the cathedral and the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. Saint-Séverin was in-built the late Gothic model in the eleventh century; like Notre Dame, its exterior options gargoyles and flying buttresses; there’s a rose window above the west entrance. The Maîtrise might be at St.-Sulpice and St.-Germain-l’Auxerrois this Christmas. Saint-Séverin plans to supply two classical live shows: the predominantly-string orchestra Les Solistes Français on Christmas Day, and a trumpet and organ recital on New Year’s Day.

Paris has extra Cavaillé-Coll church organs than another metropolis in the world — and lots of of these should not removed from Notre-Dame. The Sainte-Clotilde Basilica, on the Left Bank close to Les Invalides, is a good looking area to go in and pray, and there’s a live performance on the 1859 Great Organ each second Saturday of the month (besides in August) at 5 p.m. The Basilica’s choir additionally practices on Saturdays from 5 to six p.m. in the Las Cases room, and on Sundays beginning at 10 a.m., earlier than its participation in the 11 a.m. mass. On Dec. 11, the Choir of Paris, a gaggle of about 60 skilled and newbie singers, is scheduled to carry out Handel’s Messiah there, then on the twelfth at the Saint-Roch Church (tickets from 25 to 30 euros).

Saint-Roch, an 18th century church boasting a museum-worthy artwork assortment, 10 minutes from the Louvre, has an early (however no much less wonderful) Cavaillé-Coll, from 1842. On Mondays from 12:30 to 1:15 p.m. there are “Musical Monday” live shows when you may hear the organ; you may as well hear it at some plenty.

A Cavaillé-Coll organ and the Notre-Dame choirs should not the solely markers of an incredible Paris church music expertise. On the Left Bank’s Boulevard St.-Germain is St.-Germain-des-Prés Church. This church with scrumptious acoustics is the oldest in Paris, based by King Childebert I in 543, restored many instances and now finishing a serious multiyear renovation.

After many years of water injury and dirt, the ornamental Italianate wall work and murals of Hippolyte Flandrin have emerged in sensible shade; as have marble columns, delicate vaulting, mosaic flooring and a gilded copper-clad roof that displays the daylight.

On Christmas Eve at 10 p.m. a musical prelude to the 10:30 p.m. mass is scheduled. On the twenty fifth and twenty sixth of December, the deliberate plenty are at 11 a.m. and seven p.m., throughout which conventional music might be sung with the Christmas liturgy. There can be a Christmas live performance scheduled on the twenty fifth at 3:30 p.m. (no reservation vital and free, although a donation is inspired).

Some church buildings with excessive vacationer attraction supply live shows of uneven excellence. Ste.-Chapelle, simply steps away from Notre Dame on the Ile de la Cité, advertises live shows with a recognizable repertoire (Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is a favourite). The performances are thought of adequate — for vacationers. The value will not be insignificant: about $70. Pay $10 extra for a coupe of champagne.

From Dec. 19 to thirtieth (besides Christmas Day) Christmas live shows are deliberate at Ste.-Chapelle; additionally, two New Year’s live shows, on the thirty first and January 2nd. (Some dates have already bought out.)

Ste. Chapelle has not been used as a church since the French Revolution, however like Notre-Dame, is one of the world’s most wonderful examples of Gothic structure, and it nonetheless resembles the grand place of worship it as soon as was.

Light pours in from Ste. Chapelle’s stained-glass home windows protecting greater than 6,000 sq. ft, most of them relationship from the Thirteenth century. A telephone app permits guests to zoom into each stained-glass panel for one of the most uplifting experiences of discovery in all of Paris: Biblical tales — together with Genesis, Exodus, Ezekiel’s visions, Judith’s beheading of Holofernes — instructed in glass.

Ste. Chapelle additionally has a Nineteenth-century lead-covered picket spire, a 3rd of the dimension however not not like the one on the roof of Notre-Dame that collapsed in the hearth. The Ste. Chapelle model was created in 1853 by Adolphe Victor Geoffroy-Dechaume, an architect colleague of Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, who erected the Notre-Dame spire. If you stand at simply the proper spot at the far finish of the courtyard exterior Ste. Chapelle, you will get an ideal view, in addition to a reminder of what was misplaced not far-off.

The spirit of Notre-Dame touches sudden locations. Many biblical texts describe heaven as a spot of music, and for English-speakers in Paris, an earthly model may be discovered at the American Cathedral throughout the road from the Crazy Horse nightclub in central Paris. An Episcopal Church in-built 1886 and designed by the English architect George Edmund Street, it has an English-language liturgy, in addition to a Cavaillé-Coll organ, of which it is rather proud. The Cathedral has launched a fund-raising marketing campaign to revive the instrument.

The cathedral livestreams its companies, a follow it started throughout the pandemic lockdowns. Professional singers donate their time and take part with the choir. Its “jewel in the crown,” in accordance with Zachary Ullery, its musical director, is a 45-minute, mediative “Evensong” service on choose Sundays at 6 p.m. There can be a free live performance each Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.

For Christmas this 12 months, a jazz Vespers is deliberate on Dec. eleventh at 8 p.m., in addition to “Christmas Lessons and Carols” on the 18th and Nineteenth. On Christmas Eve, the 10 p.m. service is anticipated to function carols for all to sing.

“If you want to hear a really great organ, come to the American cathedral,” stated Mr. Ullery. “Come if you want to hear Requiems and English Renaissance motets. It’s hard to find a sound like this anywhere else in Paris.”

Charlotte Force contributed analysis.

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