A century earlier, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll was another literal heir to the French classical organ tradition, as his family had been building organs in southern France for several generations when Aristide won his first design contract in 1833. The family business moved to Paris then, and Aristide went on to build almost 500 organs, pioneering a host of technical innovations.
César Franck (1822-1890) was an artistic representative of the Cavaillé-Coll company and also the organist at several churches with Cavaillé-Coll organs, including St. Clotilde in Paris, where he inaugurated one of Cavaillé-Coll's most famous instruments in 1859. Franck's improvisations after church services were major public attractions, and he set some of them down in the Six pièces he published in 1868. These exploited the power and colors of the Cavaillé-Coll organs to the fullest and did much to establish the distinctively French school of symphonic organ music.
The Grande Pièce Symphonique, dedicated to the pianist/organist/composer Charles-Valentin Alkan, was the second of that set. This monumental piece, with its multi-movement form and suggestive scoring, became the prototype for the organ symphonies of Charles-Marie Widor and Louis Vierne. Franck develops his themes cyclically and pulls them together in the final pages.
- John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.