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Organ Music of Michel Boulnois, Jeremy Filsell, 2012 Dobson organ of St. Thomas Church, New York - [OAR-175] $15.98

Jeremy Filsell plays rarely heard organ works composed by Michel Boulnois (1907-2008), a Parisian organist (titulaire of L’Église de Saint-Philippe-du-Roule for 53 years, succeeding Henri Mulet) and contemporary of Jehan Alain and Jean-Jacques Grunenwald, all members of Marcel Dupré’s 1937 organ class at the Conservatoire. Filsell plays the 2018 Dobson organ at St. Thomas Church, New York (first solo recording of the organ).

Organ Music by Michel Boulnois (1907-2008):
Symphonie (in 4 mvt., 1944)
Paraphrase de l’Antienne O Quam suavis
Paraphrase de l’Alleluia
Variations sur l’hymne Sacris Solemnis
Prélude et Fugue sur le Veni Creator
Prélude à l’Introït pour la fête de l’Annonciation
Pièce terminale pour la Messe de la fête de l’Annonciation
Berceuse du Petit Négre

Michel Boulnois Organ Music
by Jeremy Filsell

Marcel Dupré exerted an incalculable influence over a generation of twentieth-century European and North American organist-composers, as performer, composer, and improvisateur but, perhaps most importantly, as teacher. Michel Boulnois (1907-2008) was just one of his protégés who demonstrated the indefatigable disciplines and musical prowess imparted by Dupré to his myriad students. Boulnois’ name sits alongside those of perhaps more familiar Dupré students such as Langlais, Jehan Alain, Demessieux, Gillou, Cochereau, Fleury, Messiaen, Litaize, Gru­nen­wald, Rolande Fal­cinelli, Marie-­Madeleine Duruflé-­Chevalier, Marie-Claire Alain, and Michel Chapuis; any appreciation of Boulnois’ music has been overshadowed by the notable creativity of his illustrious colleagues. Both Jean-Jacques Grunen­wald and Jehan Alain, who have certainly enjoyed greater recognition, were direct classmates.

Prior to Dupré’s influence, Boulnois’ earliest inspiration was probably his father Joseph (1884-1918), an organist-composer too, and virtually an exact contemporary of Dupré (he was the dedicatee of Dupré’s Prélude et Fugue en sol mineur, op. 7, no. 3). Boulnois senior had been a student of Louis Vierne and Alexandre Guil­mant and left a significant number of piano and chamber works (his cello sonata is worthy of revival). Of the few organ works, one has remained in concert repertoire (if on the fringes): a Franckian-inspired but ambitious Choral for organ. Sadly, Joseph succumbed to the world­wide flu epidemic of 1918, dying aged only 34 years, and thus essentially becoming a spiritual men­tor to his then 9-year-old son.

Michel Boulnois entered the Conservatoire de Paris in 1934 and studied with André Bloch (harmony), Georges Caussade (fugue), Abel Estyle (piano accompaniment), Henri Büsser (composition) and Dupré (organ), graduating in 1937 with a premier prix in organ. He succeeded Henri Mulet as organiste titulaire at L’Église de Saint-Philippe-du-Roule in Paris that same year, a post he then held for the following 53 years. Longevity-in-post indeed extended beyond ecclesiastical associations, for after a spell as a Professor of Musical Education within the city of Paris (1935-1946), he was appointed Divisional Inspector of Music Education in the City of Paris in 1946, another position he held until his retirement. After the war years, he also fulfilled a journalistic role as music critic for Gabriel Bender’s review, Le Guide du Concert.

Boulnois’ compositional output throughout a long life was perhaps sporadic but not insignificant. In the great 20th-century tradition of Parisian organist-composers, he wrote some impressive, dramatic and beautifully crafted music, demonstrating a clear communality with the artistry of aforementioned colleagues and contemporaries, all of whom exhibited a similarly profound understanding of craft, contrapuntal integrity and structural command, instilled by the then-­rigorous academic demands of the Conservatoire training, if not a specifically organistic discipline imparted by Dupré.

That Gregorian melody infuses Boulnois’ music as much as that of any of his contemporaries should be no surprise, for they all were brought up within the environs of a plainchant-rich and aesthetically aspirational liturgy. Plainchant shapes and contours infuse all of Boulnois’ music. The incisiveness of Dupré, the rythmicien, can also be felt in his work too, in particular within the dramatic and dynamic four-movement Symphonie of 1944 – a work of great ambition which sits happily alongside similarly large-scale organ works by, amongst others, Fleury, Langlais, Joseph Gilles, Augus­tin Barié (for whom Vierne was argaubly la plus haute montagne). Beyond his symphony, Boul­nois’ improvisatory-born plainsong paraphrases, preludes, fugues and classical symphonic forms are foremost. In such pre­di­lec­tion, he embodied the Dupré-­oriented vision that one should always adopt “forms already used by others rather than [create] your own.” Alain and Messiaen perhaps became the exceptions!

Along with Marie-Louise Girod and Norbert Dufourcq, Boulnois devised many varied collections of original organ works of other composers (published by Schola Cantorum) during his career, and as an educator, he produced in the 1940s a number of volumes of solfège studies for the municipal schools in the city of Paris. His wife, Suzanne Sohet (d. 1995), taught at the Cours Normal de la Ville de Paris, and was the author of several didactic works on musical education published between the 1930s and 1970s.

Boulnois died just a month after celebrating his 101st birthday, in Provins (Seine-et-Marne), and was buried in the cemetery of Villemomble (Seine-Saint-Denis), the town in which he had resided for many years.

Boulnois’ Symphonie (1944) is the principal work on this recording. It was published by Lemoine in 1949 and is touchingly dedicated “A mon maître, Marcel Dupré, en tèmoignage d’affectueuse reconnaissance.” However bold and successful the work, Boulnois expressed mild dissatisfaction with it late in life to his student, Jean-Marc Lesquivin, “If I had to write it today, it would be quite different…!”  It is nonetheless a grand, dramatic and ambitious work, worthy of a place within the wider French symphonic canon. If its construction remains indubitably classical, this makes for ready comprehensibility in both its thematic divisions and its energetic developments. Two ideas of great clarity dictate the dialogue of the first movement: one rhythmically animated, the second of lyrical tendresse. Those of the Sarabande are respectively sparsely melodic and lusciously harmonic, while the scherzo’s playful dual motifs are similarly differentiated. A monothematic Toccata concludes the symphony, and adopts the fairly common French-­toccata custom of the opening being in a brooding minor key before a late transition to the tonic major. Much of the symphony perhaps recalls the monumentalism of Vierne’s great works, while the scherzo often seems to align with the piquancy and tongue-in-cheek character of many of Dupré’s op. 50 Inventions.

The improvisatory-style Paraphrase de l’Alleluia draws its melodic shapes from a common liturgical Alleluia. Rhythmically liberal and quasi recitativo, the music delights in massed ensembles and harmonic largesse; characteristic Cavaillé-Coll sonorities hardly seem far away.

Variations sur l’hymne Sacris Solemnis is one of three pieces Boulnois wrote for the Feast of Corpus Christi (1952), and it is dedicated to the memory of his father, Joseph. The musical spirit of classmate Jehan Alain seems to hover over this numinous and modal music, as indeed it perhaps does in the Paraphrase de l’Antienne O Quam suavis – dedicated specifically to the memory of Alain, who had lost his life prematurely but heroically during the Second World War. The plainchant basis of both works is taken from the Corpus Christi liturgy, and particularly notable is the alluring final variation of O Quam suavis, set in outer-part canon at the 5th against swifter-moving triplet parallelism within the inner voices.

Variations on Veni, Creator Spiritus were written for the review Orgue & Liturgie under the direction of Norbert Dufourq, Félix Raugel and Jean de Valois in 1976. While the central variations are somewhat rudimentary harmonisations of the Pentecost plainchant melody, the opening paraphrase and splendidly intense and beautiful closing fugue form a somewhat convincing “prelude & fugue,” created as such here. The fugue itself seems to recall the haunting beauty, contour, style and even harmonic world of Maurice Duruflé.

Two pieces here are taken from Boulnois’ music for the Marian Feast of the Annunciation (1963). The Prélude à l’Introït pour la fête de l’Annonciation is based on the Introit for the second antiphon of the feast day’s Vespers, initially forming a calm and gentle paraphrase study in open 4th s. The central passage develops the plainchant in harmonized canon between soft fonds d’orgue and the 8’ Cromorne. The Pièce terminale pour la Messe de la fête de l’Annonciation takes the well-known Ave Maris Stella as its basis, the contours of both prevalent toccata motifs and primary thematic substance outlining the plainchant’s opening lines. It is a remarkably fine liturgical sortie.

The Berceuse du Petit Négre is a short but charming piano piece dedicated to Boulnois’ son Alain (who was to die prematurely in 1982 at the age of 39, echoing somewhat the premature demise of his grandfather). Effective as an organ piece, the melancholic air proves a neat vehicle for the solo hautbois.

Music and Organs at Saint Thomas Church

Music is at the heart of the Saint Thomas Church mission in bearing witness to the Christian faith. Founded in 1919, the church’s dedicated Choir School is the only boarding school solely for choristers in the United States, and one of three such schools remaining in the world. The Choir School offers a pre-preparatory curriculum and musical training for boys in grades 3 through 8. The Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys sings five choral services per week during the academic term and, as (arguably) the leading ensemble of its kind in the Anglican choral tradition in the United States, it performs regularly with Orchestra of St. Luke’s and New York Baroque Incorporated as part of the concert series.

Of five organs existing in the church building, three are located in main worship space: the Miller-­Scott chancel organ built by Dobson [2018], the Loen­ing-­Hancock mechanical action organ built by Taylor & Boody in the rear gallery [1996], and the Martha J. Dodge continuo organ built by Taylor & Boody [2001]. The Tower carillon space houses a mechanical action organ built by Peter Collins [2001], and a two-manual Aeolian-Skinner practice organ [1957] resides in the Choir Rehearsal Room. The Miller-Scott Dobson Organ is one of North America’s significant pipe organs, supporting the parish’s renowned liturgical and musical life, while the rear gallery instrument, inspired by the traditions of organ building active in the Netherlands and North Germany in the 17th and 18th centuries, provides a foil to the Dobson eclecticism.

Organ History
The Ernest M. Skinner Company built the first organ for the current building in 1913, the firm’s Op. 205, a four-manual organ of 67 stops, and revised it in the mid-1920s. Ernest M. Skinner & Son revised it in 1945, and M. P. Möller further rebuilt it to 73 stops in 1948. In 1955-56, the Aeolian-Skinner Company greatly revised it and enlaraged it to 109 stops, 98 of which were in the chancel. Sadly, the renowned voicer and president of Aeolian-Skinner, G. Donald Harrison, passed away during his tonal finishing. Gilbert Adams’ reconstruction of 1964-69 included new slider windchests in the Swell, Positif, Vorwerk and Grand-Choeur, reducing the number of expressive divisions from two to one, replacing some of the pipework while revoicing much of the rest, and eliminating the gallery sections in preparation for a separate instrument there. This work resulted in the 112-stop Arents organ. Lawrence Trupiano undertook further rebuilding work 1980-1995, and installed new Swell chorus reeds. In June 2014, Dobson was commissioned to build its opus 93, subsequently named the Miller-Scott Organ, honoring the major donor, William R. Miller, and Director of Music John Scott who died before its completion. The Dobson organ is contained in Bertram Goodhue’s famous 1913 case on the Epistle side of the chancel and, on the Gospel side, in a new case of complementary design, enriched with significant carvings from Dennis Collier Sr. and Jr., and housing the Great and Positive divisions. Fifteen registers from the previous Arents organ exist in the Miller-Scott Organ, completed in Summer 2018.

The William R. Miller - John G. Scott Organ, Chancel, St. Thomas Church, New York
Dobson Pipe Organ Builders, Lake City, Iowa, Op. 93, 2018, 4 manuals, 102 stops, 126 ranks
*retained from the previous Arents Memorial Organ

GREAT (II, new case)
    32'    Diapason ext. 16'
    16'    Diapason façade
    16'    Bourdon
    8'    First Diapason    partly in façade
    8'    Second Diapason
    8'    Harmonic Flute
    8'    Gamba*
    8'    Chimney Flute
    4'    First Octave
    4'    Second Octave
    4'    Spire Flute
    3-1/5'    Grosse Tierce
    2-2/3'    Twelfth
    2'    Fifteenth
    1-3/5'    Seventeenth
    V    Cornet 8 (g20-56 mounted)
    IV    Mixture 2
    III    Cymbal 2/3
    16'    Bombarde
    8'    Trompette
    4'    Clairon
Great 16 coupler (does not affect 32)
Solo Chorus Reeds on Great
Swell to Great 16 8 4
Ch/Pos to Great 16
Choir to Great 8 4
Positive to Great
Solo to Great 16 8 4
SWELL (III; northeast chamber)
    16'    Bourdon
    8'    Diapason
    8'    Viola
    8'    Viola Celeste
    8'    Flûte Traversière*
    8'    Lieblich Gedeckt
    8'    Flûte Douce*
    8'    Flûte Céleste*
    4'    Octave
    4'    Fugara
    4'    Flûte Octaviante*
    2-2/3'    Quint
    2'    Fifteenth
    2'    Octavin
    1-3/5'    Tierce
    IV    Cornet 4 (g20-56 mounted)
    IV    Plein Jeu 1-1/3
    16'    Double Trumpet
    8'    Trompette
    8'    Trumpet
    8'    Hautbois
    8'    Vox Humana
    4'    Clairon
Swell 16 4
Swell Unison Off
Choir to Swell
Positive to Swell
Solo to Swell
CHOIR (I; southeast chamber)
    16'    Quintaton
    8'    Diapason
    8'    Spire Flute
    8'    Flute Celeste
    4'    Gemshorn
    4'    Flute*
    2-2/3'    Nazard
    2'    Doublette
    2'    Recorder
    1-3/5'    Tierce
    1-1/3'    Larigot
    1-1/7'    Septième
    1'    Piccolo
    16'    Basson
    8'    Trompette
    8'    Clarinet
    4'    Clairon
    8'    Tuba Mirabilis Solo
    8'    Trompette en Chamade* (new 16')
Great Reeds on Choir
Choir 16 4
Choir Unison Off
Swell to Choir 16 8 4
Solo to Choir 16 8 4
Pedal to Choir   
POSITIVE (I, new case)
    8'    Principal façade
    8'    Voce Umana 21-61, façade
    8'    Gedeckt
    4'    Octave
    4'    Chimney Flute
    2'    Super Octave
    II    Sesquialtera 2-2/3
    IV    Sharp Mixture 1-1/3
    8'    Cromorne
Positive Unison Off
SOLO (IV, enclosed, southwest chamber)
    16'    Contra Gamba
    8'    Flauto Mirabilis
    8'    Gamba
    8'    Gamba Celeste
    8'    Viole d’Orchestre
    8'    Viole Celeste
    4'    Orchestral Flute
    4'    Viole Octaviante
    III    Cornet des Violes 3-1/5
    16'    Cor Anglais
    8'    French Horn
    8'    Orchestral Oboe
    16'    Trombone
    8'    Tuba
    8'    Trompette
    4'    Clairon
    8'    Tuba Mirabilis (unenclosed)
    8'    Trompette en Chamade (Choir)
Great Reeds on Solo
Solo 16 4
Solo Unison Off   
Swell to Solo
Choir to Solo
Positive to Solo
Positive on IV

PEDAL (northwest chamber & old case)
    32'    Contrabass
    32'    Diapason (Great)
    32'    Subbass
    16'    Contrabass (ext. 32)
    16'    First Diapason (façade)
    16'    Second Diapason (Great)
    16'    Subbass (ext. 32)
    16'    Contra Gamba (Solo)
    16'    Bourdon (Great)
    16'    Echo Bourdon (Swell)
    10-2/3'    Quint (Gr. Bourdon 16)
    8'    Octave (façade)
    8'    Bass Flute
    8'    Gamba (Solo)
    8'    Gedeckt Subbass
    8'    Bourdon (ext. Swell Bourdon 16)
    6-2/5'    Grosse Tierce*
    4-4/7'    Grosse Septième*
    4'    Super Octave (façade)
    4'    Flute (ext. Bass Flute)
    3-1/5'    Seventeenth*
    2'    Flute (ext. Bass Flute)
    IV    Mixture 2-2/3
    32'    Contre Bombarde*
    32'    Trombone (ext. Sw. Dbl. Tr. 16)
    16'    Bombarde (ext. 32)
    16'    Posaune
    16'    Trumpet (Swell)
    8'    Trompette
    4'    Clairon
    4'    Schalmey*
    8'    Tuba Mirabilis (Solo)
    8'    Trompette en Chamade (Choir)
    Chimes (Solo)
Great Reeds on Pedal
Pedal Unison Off
Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal 8 4
Choir to Pedal 8 4
Positive to Pedal
Solo to Pedal 8 4
Pedal Divide (adjustable)

Bells 5 bells    
Choir Expression on Swell
Solo Expression on Swell
Manual I/II Transfer
Great & Pedal Combinations Coupled

Organ Music of Michel Boulnois, Jeremy Filsell, 2012 Dobson organ of St. Thomas Church, New York
Click to enlarge
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