At La Madeleine – Chopin’s funeral, revisited

30 October 1849 – Chopin’s funeral.

30 October 2010 – and it is a shock to hear the organist practising a Chopin Prelude as I walk into La Madeleine, and to discover that the concert there this evening will feature the music from Chopin’s funeral – Mozart’s Requiem, Chopin’s Funeral March, and two Preludes.

I note that the LH accompaniment of the E minor prelude has been altered so that the chords are more sustained; the piece does not work well on organ, needing the contoured melodic line and graded sensitivity that a fine piano can give. Curiously, the other prelude being practised is No 9 in E Major, not No 6 in B Minor. I wonder why. The marching rhythm and shared ‘E’ keynote is perhaps appropriate, but the triumphant major tonality is not.

Then the organist starts to play the celebrated Funeral March on the 4-manual Cavaille-Coll organ, with its massive sound in this huge acoustic. The organist’s feet on the pedalboard tread the bass-line – B flat, D flat, B flat, D flat, left foot, right foot, left, right  – in a physical imitation of a march, and I realise that Chopin, who was an organist too, wrote this piece originally for two hands on a piano but was imagining marching feet on a pedalboard as he did so. 

The contrasting, lyrical melody in D flat major is played on a flute stop, ethereally beautiful. But the choice of stops for the grim, main theme is a selection of foundation stops and reeds, building to an overwhelming sound.

The improvisation in the video below gives an idea of the organ’s colours and dynamic range.

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2 Responses to At La Madeleine – Chopin’s funeral, revisited

  1. Christine, Your shock and emotion understandable. Now imagine 3,000 people under the vaults of La Madeleine (many festively dressed ;-)). Mozart’s Tuba Mirum starts: then one voice after the other! Pauline Viardot mezzo and Jenny Lind soprano are hidden by a black curtain. The fourth voice soars high above the coffin placed in the nave. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leLIBQR7KXg

  2. Pingback: Chopin In The Park! | notesfromapianist

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