Academic journal article Notes

Pierre Cochereau: Organist of Notre-Dame

Academic journal article Notes

Pierre Cochereau: Organist of Notre-Dame

Article excerpt

Pierre Cochereau: Organist of Notre-Dame. By Anthony Hammond. (Eastman Studies in Music, vol. 91.) Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2012. [x, 346 p. ISBN 9781580464055. $85.] Music ex- amples, illustrations, work lists, appendices, bibliography, index.

The French organist, improviser, com- poser, and pedagogue Pierre Cochereau (1924-1984) was, in his lifetime, fêted, re- viled, and generally successful. Because he wrote little and published seldom, Coche- reau's legacy as a composer rests almost en- tirely on the improvisations with which he concluded his recitals and amplified church services at Notre-Dame de Paris, where he was organist from 1955. Cochereau has been held accountable by some for the long neglect, then perhaps overly radical renova- tion of the historic Cavaillé-Coll instrument at Notre-Dame. He further provoked with his idiosyncratic recordings of early music, such as multiple renditions of François Couperin's Messe pour les couvents and Messe pour les paroisses, usually played excruciat- ingly slowly and occasionally with their lively dotted rhythms (notes inégales) simply ignored and played straight.

Cochereau is mostly forgotten today ex- cept for his recorded improvisations, which are thrilling, and for charming quirks such as his penchant for touring rural France with his own portatif organ, which he towed in a custom-made trailer. Anthony Hammond has taken up the challenge of examining Cochereau anew and from many angles, constructing a layered and af- fectionate portrait not only of this signifi- cant and gifted musician but of the musical and cultural environments in which he smoothly operated.

Hammond is not impeded by the lack of secondary literature. In fact, he is clever enough to benefit from Cochereau being not widely known or at least not well under- stood. This is not a biography, although there is a life-and-career chapter; rather, Hammond lets an impression of Coche- reau's legacy build gradually and organi- cally by approaching his subject through the various musical and administrative roles Cochereau played in his life, in six chapters and five appendices. These last include the first complete list of Cochereau's record- ings of works by other composers as well as of Cochereau's own improvisations and film soundtracks.

Cochereau was educated largely at the Paris Conservatoire. He studied harmony with Maurice Duruflé, "analysis and aes- thetics" with Olivier Messiaen, and organ with Marcel Dupré from 1943 to 1950. For a long span of chapter 2, Cochereau's name does not appear at all. Instead, Hammond revels in the administrative doc- uments Dupré generated at the Conserva- toire, now in the collection of the Biblio- thèque nationale de France. Exam notes and sample extemporization plans (how to accompany Gregorian chant, how to impro- vise a fugue) illustrate the text. Nearly every page of chapter 2 contains a music exam- ple, a diagram, or a table. I question why this was thought necessary, as there is al- ready a masterful two-volume documentary study of these and similar materials, Odile Jutten's 871-page-long L'enseignement de l'improvisation à la classe d'orgue du Con- servatoire de Paris, 1819-1986. D'après la thé- matique de concours et d'examens (Villeneuve d'Ascq: Presses universitaires du Sep- tentrion, 2000). It is true that Jutten's study is a synthesis, gathering the perspectives of many teachers and students, whereas Hammond prefers to concentrate on Cochereau alone. Still, Hammond does not add much to our knowledge of Dupré's teaching methods and the chapter does not serve his project; instead, it bears the unappetizing taint of having been too much research to throw away.

Chapter 3, "Pierre Cochereau as Inter- preter," is more original and much more satisfying. Breaking down Cochereau's repertoire by composer, Hammond evalu- ates the recordings for content (fidelity to the score, choice of organ) and offers some context (the writing of the sleeve notes by Thurston Dart, various musicologists' opin- ions on rhythmic flexibility in baroque music at the time of recording). …

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