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Tournemire Conference at Duquesne - Wrap Up

Heavens to Hands: A Student’s Perspective on the Music of Charles Tournemire

from “The Aesthetics and Pedagogy of Charles Tournemire: Chant and
Improvisation in the Liturgy,” October 22–24, 2012, Sponsored by the Church
Music Association of America, the Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Guild of
Organists, and Duquesne University

Becky Yoder and Stephanie Sloan


Charles Tournemire and his music must be
summarized with none other than the word genius. Pious metaphysician,
organist-theologian, and musical preacher, Tournemire’s consistently incorporated
Gregorian chant libretto in his improvisations and sacred music performed
mnemonic exegesis of the Roman Mass. His mystical organ style directly shaped
the works of Olivier Messiaen, Ermend-Bonnal, Joseph Bonnet, Jean-Yves
Daniel-Lesur, Jehan Alain, Maurice Duruflé, and Jean Langlais. Within a sacred
music context, his music should be studied as a spiritually enriching
experience motivating greater musical competence and meditation. This
conference on one of the seminal yet recondite influences of twentieth century
organ music sought to explore and promulgate the ethereal dimensions that so
inspired this brilliant musician.

Charles Tournemire, born January 22,
1870, in Bordeaux, France, commenced piano and harmony studies at the Paris
Conservatoire in 1886. In 1889, he became a pupil of César Franck at the
Conservatoire, studying organ, counterpoint, and composition. Upon the death of
Franck in 1890, Tournemire continued his organ studies under Charles-Marie
Widor. After winning a first prize in organ and improvisation in 1892,
Tournemire took up Franck’s former position as organist of Ste. Clotilde in
1898. He held this position until his death in 1939. In 1919, Tournemire was
appointed professor of an ensemble class at the Paris Conservatoire with the
expectation that he would eventually succeed Eugène Gigout as the professor of organ.
However, when the decisive time was at hand, this position was instead granted
to one of his greatest rivals, Marcel Dupré, in 1926. After this great
disappointment and with the encouragement of Joseph Bonnet, Tournemire
channeled his creative energy towards the composition of L’Orgue Mystique from 1927 to 1932. This great work for organ
encompasses fifty-one offices for the entire liturgical year based on the proper
chants of each liturgy. Every office, excluding the one for Holy Saturday,
consists of five movements: Prélude à
, Offertoire, Élévation, Communion, and Pièce
. Tournemire did not write L’Orgue
for a particular organ, such as St. Clotilde, but rather for a
non-existent organ of his imagination.
[i] In addition to works
for organ, Tournemire’s compositional output includes chamber music,
symphonies, operas, piano works, and vocal works. However, Tournemire was most
renowned as a great liturgical improviser during his lifetime. In 1930, he
recorded the Cinq Choral Improvisations
at St. Clotilde, which Maurice Duruflé later transcribed after Tournemire’s
death. These recordings are a testimony to the improvisatory genius of Charles
Tournemire. The circumstances concerning his death are mysterious and not
factually known. Tournemire was declared to have been dead for approximately twenty-four
hours when his body was found on November 4, 1939.
[ii] He was buried
without a funeral on November 5 of the same year.

The events that took place during the first half of
this conference focused on the aesthetics of Charles Tournemire’s music. The
conference opened with a Duquesne University alumni recital consisting of works
by Tournemire, Langlais, and Duruflé in addition to a piece by Robert Luft
inspired by Tournemire and Langlais’ works. Luft’s piece, in particular,
was entitled
St. Ann Suite, based on the name Ann
recital was followed by an evening Compline Service given at the same venue,
Heinz Memorial Chapel. Rev. John Cannon, III’s performance of Ave maris stella from Tournemire’s Cinq Improvisations introduced
conference attendees to the plethora of Gregorian chant themes that are
immediately recognizable in much of Tournemire’s music. Gregorian chant
melodies provided the basis from which Tournemire, as a French Roman Catholic
organist, improviser, and composer, drew most of his mystical, musical

Duquesne University Alumni Recital

Tournemire is best known in the organ world today
for his great L’Orgue Mystique and
for the recording that produced his popular Cinq
Choral Improvisations
, which both heavily reflect his inspiration from
Gregorian chant. Ron Prowse, Associate Professor and Director of Music at
Sacred Heart Major Seminary of Detroit ,and Adjunct Faculty at Wayne State
University, presented the conference’s first lecture on the subject of
Tournemire’s improvisations, titled The
Art of Improvisation and L’Orgue Mystique.”

Ron Prowse

Prowse first compared the three chant-based
improvisational schools of Franck, Tournemire, Langlais, and Hakim; Lemmens,
Widor, and Dupré; and Flor Peeters. Charles Tournemire used modality for his
harmonic basis, Marcel Dupré leaned more towards tonality, and Flor Peeters
modeled his compositions in a Bach-Baroque style. Prowse then compared the
musical influences in Tournemire’s “Ave Maris Stella” postlude from L’Orgue Mystique Office No. 2 to
Tournemire’s recorded improvisation Ave
Maris Stella
. For example, it is fascinatingly evident in Tournemire’s
improvisations where sheer physical humanness affected the performance. A
“restless rhetorical drama” denotes the rush of adrenaline. Extreme tempi,
dynamic changes, and intense climactic moments reflected his psychological
temperament. Ostinatos in harmonically static passages even suggested
Tournemire “treading water,” pondering his next idea. In contrast, the postlude
from L’Orgue Mystique has a “calm
sense of purpose and organization,” subtler contrasts, subtler climactic
surges, and no sense of “treading water”—every note has a crucial role.
Prowse’s lecture revealed two practical and crucial forces acting on an
organist’s improvisational prowess: training and humanness. The emphasis of
training was exemplified in Dr. Crista Miller’s excellent organ recital, which
featured works by the successor to the Franck-Tournemire-Langlais legacy, Naji
Hakim. Hakim embellished the techniques he learned from his musical heritage
with personal cultural influences, such as Arabic maqamat, characteristics of Lebanese instruments, and Maronite

Crista Miller

Further into the conference, concert organist
Richard Spotts demonstrated Tournemire’s use of chant in the liturgy with a
performance of various movements from L’Orgue
at the Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Guild of Organists’
October meeting. At the Church of the Epiphany, with its ample acoustics, each
movement was introduced with its corresponding Gregorian chant melody, sung by
the Duquesne University Schola Cantorum Gregorianum under the direction of Sr.
Marie Agatha Ozah, HHCJ. The schola also sang chant for the liturgy of the noon
Chapel Mass at Duquesne University. During this liturgy, Adjunct Professor of
Music, Benjamin Cornelius-Bates from Duquesne University, improvised in the
classic French tradition for the prelude, offertory, and postlude.

Sr. Marie Agatha Ozah and Some Members of Her Schola
Richard Spotts Recital

A lecture titled “‘Whose Music Is It, Anyway?’
Perceptions of Authenticity in the Tournemire-Duruflé Five Improvisations” was given by Kirsten Rutschman, ­­­a James B.
Duke doctoral Fellow studying at Duke University. Rutschman discussed discrepancies in Duruflé’s
transcription of Tournemire’s Cinq Choral
as revealed from modern digital dissection of the original
78rpm record discs and how the discrepancies affect performances today. Most
notably, the question of authenticity arises for a present-day performer over
whether to defer to Duruflé’s transcription or Tournemire’s recording when a
discrepancy arises. Myriad differences have been found concerning correct
rhythm, pitch accuracy, and registration usage between the remastered audio
recording and Duruflé’s notation of Ave
Maris Stella
. There is even a possible additional measure existing that
Duruflé omitted!

Kirsten Rutschmann

In order to make a decision about authenticity, one
must consider both the qualities of improvisation and notation. Firstly,
Tournemire never intended his impromptu improvisations to be transcribed; L’Orgue Mystique was his gift to
posterity. Secondly, the acts of transcription and improvisation are virtually
incompatible. Improvisation utilizes the creative
right side of the brain, generally lacking the purity and formal coherence of a
written work. Written compositions use the other encephalic door, the logical left brain, and therefore all performers
of a notated improvisation must go through it. The performer has thusly, from
the very start, placed him or herself outside of the context of Tournemire’s
improvisations. Recording technology has opened up a whole new world of
questions over composer’s intent and whether or not recordings diminish or
enhance the creative potential and purpose of a composition outside of its
context. Duruflé would say that one never plays the same piece (or
improvisation) the same way twice. Mickey Thomas Terry, Ph. D., Director of
Music and Organist of St. Mary’s Church at Piscataway, subsequently played two
selections from Tournemire’s Cinq Choral
, Ave maris stella
and Victimae paschali, from memory
with lively tempos, based upon Duruflé’s transcription. Rev. John Cannon, III’s interpretation of Ave maris stella, which he played at the
Sunday night Compline service at Heinz Memorial Chapel, was a slower
performance with a masterful incorporation of the beautiful colors available on
the chapel’s three-manual Reuter organ. These differences veritably illustrate
the interpretive discretions of the individual performer.

Mickey Thomas Terry

A double feature consisting of a lecture and recital
demonstrating the improvisational style of Charles Tournemire was presented by
Dr. Bogusław Raba, organist of Wrocław University Church and Professor at the
Institute of History of Silesian Music in Poland. “Existential Act of Creative
Freedom; or Striving for Organic Masterpiece. Charles Tournemire’s
Improvisations and Written Works: A Comparative Existential and Transcendental
Analysis” examined improvisation as either an imitation of a written work or an
independent act of pure inspiration. In his analysis, Raba contrasted
Tournemire’s chant-inspired improvisations to some of the last offices and
postludes in L’Orgue Mystique. Raba
argued, as Rutschman and Prowse alluded to, that improvisation and written
works cannot be equally compared because they draw from “different teleological
sources.” Chant in Tournemire’s improvisations is used as a source for short
motivic material, simply from the standpoint that human memory can retain only
so much information. Conversely, chant in Tournemire’s written works appears in
longer phrase quotations. Improvisational dynamics in the style of Tournemire
rely on being in the moment and often contain declamatory blasts of extreme
contrast, whereas his compositional dynamics possess the finesse of subtlety
and purpose. Interestingly, Tournemire’s improvisational and written formal
structures were similar: they followed
“microformal syntactical
order, theme exposition, commentary, then motivic variants derived from theme
and development.”  Such basic triple
order occurs in a more complex form in his written works, but the structural
foundation between his compositions and improvisations is the same. Following
his lecture, Raba very successfully demonstrated both Tournemire’s
improvisational technique (derived from his Five
) and his
compositional style (derived from Pieces
terminales ­
from L’Orgue Mystique)
using Polish liturgical chant. The first theme was Bogurodzica (the Mother of God), the oldest Polish hymn. Composed
somewhere between the tenth and thirteenth centuries, it was sung as an anthem
before battles and also accompanied the coronation ceremonies of the first
Jagiellonian kings. The second theme was “Carmen patrium” (the hymn
of the Motherland). Raba successfully put into practice his academic analyses
of the aesthetics of Tournemire’s music.

Ann Labounsky moderates questions after the paper and recital by Boguslaw Raba

The last lecture dealing with the aesthetics of
Tournemire’s music was presented by Vincent Rone, a Ph. D. student at the
University of California, Santa Barbara, and Master’s graduate of Duquesne
University. How Tournemire’s mystical legacy can be found in the music of Jean
Langlais and Maurice Duruflé in an examination of their reaction to the
liturgical repercussions of Vatican II was examined in “­­­La Musique Mystique et Vatican II: Charles Tournemire’s Legacy as
Post-Conciliar Correctives in the Music of Maurice Duruflé and Jean Langlais.”
Mysticism is the primary objective of “theocentric liturgical music.” the
ability to elevate the congregation into heavenly stasis and transcend worship
into timelessness. Harmonic symmetry is one measurable musical characteristic
that evokes mystical expression. Sonorities produced by the whole tone and
octatonic scales “destabilize aural predictability and tonal trajectory,” yet
effectively induce a mystical aura. Another tool commonly used by Duruflé and
Langlais was the “Tournemire chord”. This chord is created from two triads
spaced a tritone apart; C#-major 5/3 and a G-major 6/3.  Duruflé and Langlais used elements such as
these in their post-conciliar compositions, Sanctus
of the Messe “Cum Jubilo” and Imploration pour Croyance for organ,
respectively. Each composer tried through his compositions to express his
stance on the importance of the retention of vertical, theocentric liturgical
worship, and to contextualize its inherent ethereal beauty drawn from
Tournemire’s mystical legacy.

Vincent Rone

In order to better equip today’s
organists in the pursuit of improvising in the style of Charles Tournemire,
David McCarthy, FAGO, presented a workshop titled, “Using the Five Improvisations as a Source for
Improvisation Pedagogy.” McCarthy, professor at St. John Fisher College and
Nazareth College in Rochester, New York, studied the Rupert Gough transcription
of Tournemire’s Cinq Choral
and selected for his presentation certain reccurring improvisational techniques contained within
this work. McCarthy organized these skills in practical sequential exercises to
facilitate the retention of key improvisational concepts. He spoke of the
improviser’s initial tendency to use certain improvisational methods that he or
she is comfortable with and then of the necessity to expand this comfort zone
with alternative techniques of improvisation. McCarthy’s workshop provided the
attendees of this conference with some of Tournemire’s techniques in order to
help them enlarge and develop their respective improvisational horizons.

Demonstrating and expanding upon the
subject of improvisation, David J. Hughes, organist and choirmaster at St. Mary
Church in Norwalk, Connecticut, performed a recital consisting solely of
improvisations in addition to co-presenting an advanced improvisation workshop
with Dr. Ann Labounsky. Hughes improvised on Gregorian chant themes chosen by
members of the audience from the Mass Propers of the feast of St. Anthony Mary
Claret, Mass VII chants for the Ordinary of the Mass, and the solemn tone of Salve Regina in his recital at Calvary
Episcopal Church. This improvisatory performance gave the audience a taste of
the themes Charles Tournemire used during weekly Mass at Ste. Clotilde and how
these timeless chants could still be applied in present-day improvisations.
During the advanced improvisation master class at Epiphany Catholic Church,
Hughes spoke about the role of Tournemire as an organist improvising for the pre-Vatican
II Latin Mass. Hughes said that the role of the organist improviser playing for
the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is to
help “build substance” in the Mass rather than just eliminating silences.
Hughes continued by listing the sections of the Mass for which the organist
would improvise and their respective elements. He focused specifically on the offertory of the Mass,
especially the mystical aspects of the ritual of incensing. Subsequently,
participants of the master class took turns improvising for an imaginary
Offertory, using a chant for the theme. Hughes guided these participants as to
what the priest and servers would be doing during these improvisations and on
how to musically respond to these actions. Thus, all those who came to the
advanced improvisation master class had a clearer understanding of Charles
Tournemire’s improvisational duties for Sunday Masses.

David Hughes

Dr. Zvonimir
Nagy, Assistant Professor of Musicianship Studies at Duquesne University, gave
a lecture titled “Performance as Ritual; Creativity as Prayer.” Nagy discussed
the relationship of performance and liturgical ritual with the spiritual and
musical experiences of the human soul. He said that music provides a medium
through which people may see God, since humans cannot see Him with their eyes.
He related this spirituality of music to the mysticism and creative energy
expressed in Charles Tournemire’s compositions. These spiritual qualities of
music continue to be used in present-day compositions, such as in Dr. Nagy’s
own works. He uses his personal relationship with God to draw creative
inspiration for musical expression in his compositions, as Tournemire similarly
did. Dr. Nagy demonstrated a culmination of this practice in a performance of
his own Preludes for a Prayer.

At the end
of the third day of this conference, a High Mass in the Extraordinary Form of
the Latin Rite was offered at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in
Carnegie, Pennsylvania. The Mass immersed those attending the conference into
the atmosphere in which Charles Tournemire improvised and for which he composed
L’Orgue Mystique. Paul M. Weber,
Associate Professor of Music at Franciscian University of Steubenville,
composed the musical setting of the Ordinary of the Mass used for the evening, Missa Orbis Factor for Women’s Voices &
. Weber also served as the organist for the Mass. The setting served
as a lovely contemporary counterpart to the Mass settings composed by French
organists which were presented in recital on the day previous by Dr. Edward
Schaefer of the University of Florida and The Florida Schola Cantorum. The
reflective atmosphere of the High Mass and choral Mass settings allowed
everyone present to participate in an essential inspirational source for
Tournemire’s works and improvisations.

High Mass at St. Eliabeth Ann Seton, Carnegie, PA

The final event of the conference was a panel
discussion followed by a recital of Tournemire chamber works. The chamber works
featured were Musique orante pour quatour
à cordes
, Op. 61, La Salutation
, Op. 9, Morceau de concours
du Conservatoire de Paris
, (1935) for Trumpet and Piano, the Largo movement from his Suite for viola
and piano, Op. 11, and a Sonata for violin and piano, Op. 1. The panel tenants
consisted of Dr. Ann Labounsky, organist Richard Spotts, and CMAA Academic
Liaison Dr. Jennifer Donelson. Topics covered in the panel discussion included
Tournemire’s legacy, the average person’s perspective on Tournemire’s music, a
summation of what was learned about his improvisational style, and reasons why
his other works besides L’Orgue Mystique
are not as well known. An important concept gleaned from the panel discussion
was the idea that in order to promulgate the music of Charles Tournemire,
sacred musicians must make it accessible to the public. Accessibility could
include categorizing his music from easy to difficult, making a deliberate
effort to perform his works regularly, to improvise in the Tournemire
tradition, and to elevate and inspire congregation members through sacred music
as did he. In the spirit of this idea, Duquesne University Sacred Music and
Organ Performance students contributed to the process of propagating
Tournemire’s legacy by performing his and his students’ compositions in an
afternoon recital on Tuesday of the conference.

Recital of Chamber Works by
Tournemire, Musique orante pour quatour à
, Op. 61, played by Rômulo Sprung, Dante Coutinho, Katie Kroko, and
Lian Ciao

If Bach is said to be the Newton of the
eighteenth century, Charles Tournemire could be considered the Einstein of the
twentieth century. L’Orgue Mystique,
a timeless tapestry woven from ancient threads, is a monumental work of pious
ingenuity. His improvisations too reflect both his expert musicality and
religious devotion. In profound religious sensibility, Tournemire was known to
occasionally conclude a Mass at a pianissimo, not at a sforzando. Sacred
musicians should always make an effort to
spiritually elevate and inspire those who listen as they attempt to express
the immaculate immaterial through the imperfect material. They seek to communicate
musically what it means to be human and point this aching world to its Creator.
The name Charles Tournemire should become synonymous with the raw vitality of
transcendence. Through his inspiration, organ music can transmit dreams from
heavens to hands and into the heart.

[i] Alan Hobbs, Charles Tournemire 1870–1939; L’Orgue Mystique, Op. 55, 56, and 57, 51 Offices of the Liturgical Year based on
the freely paraphrased Gregorian
chants (Calgary, Canada: Lissett
Publications, 1992), 16.

[ii] Ibid., 19.

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