NEWS & PREVIEWS NOTRE-DAME – CLEANING UP THE MESS
The organ of Notre-Dame, Paris, is dismantled under the gaze of the cathedral’s famous rose window
WORK IS UNDER WAY TO RESTORE the organ of Notre-Dame, Paris, following the fire that broke out on 15 April 2019, writes Pierre Dubois.
Over the centuries, the organ of Notre-Dame has undergone various levels of interventions and additions by several famous organ builders: François Thierry, 1733; François-Henri Clicquot, 1783; Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, 1868; Charles Mutin, 1905; and Robert and Jean-Loup Boisseau, 1964. It is the largest organ in France, with 117 stops, 156 ranks, and more than 8,000 pipes on five manuals and pedal. It was restored, with a new console, by Jean-Loup Boisseau, Bertrand Cattiaux, Philippe Émeriau, Michel Giroud, and the Société Synaptel in 199092. Between 2012 and 2014, Cattiaux and Pascal Quoirin revised and enlarged the organ, building a brand new console, a new enclosed, ‘floating’ division (called ‘Résonnance expressive’, using pipework from the former ‘Petite Pédale’ by Boisseau), and a second chamade. The case and the façade pipes (which were fragile) were restored.
After the fire – which destroyed the cathedral roof and its well-known spire, erected by Viollet-le-Duc in 1864 – a special ‘Public Authority’ was set up under the stewardship of General Jean-Louis Georgelin to oversee the restoration of the cathedral, including the organ, which was covered in lead dust when the roof burnt down. Georgelin stated the aim of restoring the organ to its pre-fire working order within five years, so that it could be played on 16 April 2024, when the cathedral would be used for religious services again and a Te Deum would be given. As 18 months would be required for rebuilding, tuning and voicing, dismantling needed to start as soon as possible, on 3 August 2020.
6 CHOIR & ORGAN MAY/JUNE 2021
Three organ building firms were requisitioned for the dismantling: Pascal Quoirin, Olivier Chevron (successor to Bertrand Cattiaux), and the Manufacture Languedocienne de Grandes Orgues (Charles Sarelot). Thirty metres of scaffolding, insulated from the nave, was raised, and a provisional technical platform built for the operations. These started with the removal of the console, which will have to be entirely rebuilt. Christian Lutz, the organ adviser in charge of the restoration, said that two scientific studies have shown the lead monoxide dust which covered the organ is not dangerous for the preservation of the organ parts, case and pipework, but it is toxic when inhaled. This has necessitated major health and safety measures to protect the workers, who wear special helmets and take a shower after each day’s work.
The organ case will remain in place as well as the largest pipes, which are kept in the south gallery of the triforium. All the other pipes have been taken out, wrapped separately and put into 40 specially made trunks before being taken away to be cleaned. Unlike soot, the dust is not sticky and can be easily vacuumed, except where the wood is not varnished or painted and has remained porous (as in the roof of the case), in which case it will have to be varnished in. All the felt and leather and the electric wires will need replacing, and the bellows entirely re-leathering. With the dismantling now completed, reconstruction will begin as soon as the public tender process is completed and the organ builders are appointed. The cost of the entire cleaning operation is estimated at 1-2m.