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About this Piece

Nicolas de Grigny was appointed organist at Reims Cathedral, France, in 1697. He died at only 31, leaving a widow, seven children, and a single published volume of organ music, the Livre d’Orgue of 1699. It was this book that Bach admired so highly that he copied it out by hand, and it represents the highest point in the highly stylized but profoundly expressive organ music of its period in France. In this Golden Age, style in organ music divided into the so-called “Parisian” style, exemplified in François Couperin le Grand’s exquisite evocation of courtly dance and song disguised as liturgical music, and the “Provincial,” led by Grigny. The word suggests today the simple or bucolic, but the reverse is true here; it came to indicate music of great sophistication, less dashing and elegant than its Parisian counterpart and instead serious, devout, and often complex, but always beautiful.

Most of the Livre consists of a magnificent sequence of versets for performance during the Mass, but there are also settings of verses from plainsong hymns, and this Dialogue forms the final verse of Grigny’s setting of the Whitsun hymn Veni Creator Spiritus. The Grands Jeux combination of stops mimics the sound of the orchestra one might hear at one of the divertissements held nightly at the Court of Louis XIV, the Sun King. Reflecting both regal and ecclesiastical pomp and splendor, it has the grandeur of a Cardinal’s procession through the great Cathedral.

The sublimely mystical Récit, conveyed on the sensuous sounds of the Tierce combination, comes from the Gloria of the Mass.

Program notes © 2009, Dame Gillian Weir