Five main scribes, as well as four or five others, worked on the book, in which there is no table of contents or composer's name indicated. Only 16 pieces (out of 398) have been identified as those of Nicolas Lebègue (1630-1702), king's organist. Fifteen of them appear, sometimes with variants, in his three organ books: all of the Tierces ou cromhornes en taille (save one) from the first book (1676), five verses out of eight of the Magnificat du 2me from the second book (1678), as well as an Offertoire and an Élévation from the third book (1685). A sixteenth piece, which was never published during the composer's lifetime, Offertoire en F ut fa, is almost identical, in its first half, to the Offertoire dialogue de Monsieur Le Beigue, du 8e ton, found in a contemporary manuscript at the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris.
The music of the Livre d'orgue de Montréal was intended for liturgical purposes, the organ verses, which are relatively short, alternating with the sung verses. The manuscript contains six Masses, eleven Magnificats sung at Vespers, nine other suites of pieces which could be used as Magnificats, three Te Deums, and a Pange lingua. There are also three series of the same type of piece: 16 Tierces en taille, 6 Dialogues de récits with a section in Trio, and 13 Fugues. Almost all late-17th- and early-18th-century French organ music forms are represented: Pleins jeux, Dialogues sur les grands jeux, two-, three-, and four-voice pieces, Duos, Trios, Fugues, pieces with the Récit or melodic voice in the Basse, Dessus (soprano), or En Taille (tenor). The only types missing are Quatuors and Noëls. One finds several scattered verses of plainchant throughout the manuscript, but among the organ pieces, only the Pange lingua and certain verses of the Messe double are actually based on plainchant. The other organ pieces, although they remain within the confines of the eight church modes, find their inspiration in dance movements and vocal forms, as is the case with all French organ music of that period. Furthermore, the registrations are often given in the very title of the piece (Basse de trompette, Récit de cornet); the composers, having a particular sound colour in mind, completed these titles with instructions for registration, or Meslanges des jeux, in their published organ books.
The obvious stylistic analogy between a great number of the anonymous pieces of the Livre d'orgue de Montréal and the music of Nicolas Lebègue is underlined by the fact that the only identifiable works in the manuscript are by that sole composer, sometimes in a version perhaps earlier than the published one. However, other pieces are characteristic of the reportoire of the generation following Lebègue. As it is not known with whom Jean Girard studied with a view to playing the organ in Montreal, which would have given a clue as to the origins of the manuscript, it can only be surmised that the organ book came from Lebègue's circle; indeed, his pieces were copied into almost all extant French organ manuscripts, generally, however, with the works of other composers. One or more of the students of this much-sought-after teacher must have contributed to the Livre d'orgue de Montréal, which most probably includes hitherto unknown pieces by the master. Containing works of great quality, next to more simple but not necessarily inferior pieces, the Montreal manuscript represents an important addition to the French organ repertoire of the end of the 17th century.
One may wonder whether Jean Girard could play this music on the one-manual seven-stop organ at his disposal at Notre-Dame in Montreal. In France, small parish or convent organs were equipped with divided stops (all or in part), making it possible to obtain one sound colour on half of the keyboard and play the accompaniment on the other half. The Montreal organ would have possessed all the basic stops, making it possible to play, with certain adaptations, most of the music of the manuscript, with the exception of the Tierces en taille, whose melodic line continually crosses over the point of division of the keyboard. Judging from the finely embroidered liturgical vestments and the beautifully crafted chalices that have come down to us, it is evident that liturgical ceremonies were performed with all possible splendour. Ceremonials and customarys describe processions and solemn Te Deums, of which singing and organ music were no doubt an important part.
In the 19th century the manuscript belonged to Jean Girouard (1795-1855), a notary, music-lover, and one of the intellectual leaders of the 1837 Rebellion. He was on friendly terms with the Sulpicians whose affairs he managed in their seigneurie of Deux-Montagnes, where he lived. In 1950, Girouard's papers were given by his great-granddaughter, Mrs Girouard Décarie, to canon Lionel Groulx, the well-known historian. In 1981 the Fondation Lionel-Groulx published a facsimile edition of the manuscript, while Gilbert and Gallat-Morin prepared a critical edition under the auspices of the Institut québécois de recherche sur la culture. The manuscript was the subject of Gallat-Morin's doctoral dissertation, later published in Paris and Montreal.
In May 1981, Gilbert gave the first public performance in the 20th century of the music of the Livre d'orgue de Montreal, at the inauguration of the French classical type organ built by Hellmuth Wolff in Redpath Hall of McGill University; a series of six broadcasts that Gilbert recorded in 1983 for the CBC (produced by André Clerk, with commentary by Gallat-Morin) was awarded the Canadian Music Council prize for the best broadcast with a soloist. Quebec organists who play in Europe now often include excerpts from the Livre d'orgue de Montréal in their program, while French and European organists, such as Michel Chapuis, play this music at their concerts. In 1990 France-Musique produced a series of four public concerts each including works from the manuscript, played by three Parisian organists and John Grew. There are two recordings, by Kenneth Gilbert and Réjean Poirier, which contain approximately two-thirds of the music of the manuscript; a third by Antoine Bouchard, with further excerpts, was to be released in 1991 on the REM label. Parish organists on both sides of the Atlantic also make use of the Livre d'orgue de Montréal during religious services; this music thus fulfills its original purpose, just as in the little church of Notre-Dame in Montreal, in the 18th century.
Author Élisabeth Gallat-Morin
Le Livre d'orgue de Montréal, facsim edn (Montreal 1981; Montreal, Paris 1988)
Gallat-Morin, Élisabeth. 'Le Livre d'orgue de Montréal - aperçu d'un manuscrit inédit,' CUMR, 2, 1981
- 'Un manuscrit inédit de musique d'orgue à Montréal au XVIIIe siècle,' L'Orgue à notre époque, ed Donald Mackey (Montreal 1982)
Gilbert, Kenneth. 'Le Livre d'orgue de Montréal: un premier regard sur la musique,' ibid
Gallat-Morin, Élisabeth, and Gilbert, Kenneth. Livre d'orgue de Montréal, critical edn, 3 vols (Ostiguy 1985, 1987, 1988)
Gallat-Morin, Élisabeth. Un manuscrit de musique française classique - Étude critique et historique - Le Livre d'orgue de Montréal (Montreal, Paris 1988)
Poirier, Réjean. 'Le Livre d'orgue de Montréal: le point de vue d'un interprète,' Orgue francophone, May 1989
Beaudry, Claude. Review, CAML Newsletter, vol 18, Dec 1989
Links to Other Sites
Features full length audio tracts of Kenneth Gilbert's recording “Livre d’orgue de Montréal.” An Analekta website.
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