Douai, Collégiale Saint-Pierre
Douai, Collégiale Saint-Pierre
This large scale 68-stop Mutin-Cavaillé-Coll instrument had been ordered around 1910 for the Great Hall of the Imperial Conservatory in St Petersburg, Russia.
St Peter’s Collegiate Church was completed in 1750. Meant to host the Parliament of Flanders and an extensive college of canons, its striking, cathedral-like dimensions make it the largest church in the diocese of Cambrai. Its architecture is not lacking in elegance, and the richness of its furnishings and 17th-century paintings bear eloquent witness to the Classical period. In 1792 the Wardens of the Collégiale managed to acquire the organ of the Abbey of Anchin, a superb instrument of some 60 stops and four manuals (two of which had a five-octave compass FF-f) set into an enormous and elegant oak case sculpted by Antoine Gilis from Valenciennes following the monks’ own designs. This organ, overhauled several times by François-Joseph Carlier, an organbuilder active in Douai until 1850, was virtually intact with its 18th- century stoplist until October 1918 when it unfortunately fell victim to systematic pillage of the city by the army of occupation prior to the latter’s departure.
In 1920 at the initiative of Maurice Wagon, President of the Court of Appeals Chamber, Canon J. B. Hégo, Dean of St Pierre and Francis Godin, Mayor of Douai, negociations began with the Mutin-Cavaillé-Coll firm of Paris to have installed within the existing case a 68-stop instrument ordered around 1910 for the Great Hall of the Imperial Conservatory in St Petersburg, Russia. The organ had been finished in 1914, but the declaration of war, then the 1917 revolution led to giving up its initial destination, and during the hostilities it remained set up in the Cavaillé-Coll shop. (André Fleury, who was 16 at the time, remembered having heard Charles Mutin play the instrument himself.) Relocated in Douai, it was dedicated on Sunday 12 November 1922 by Louis Vierne who, 20 years earlier, had already given a recital in the church of St Jacques for the dedication of its organ case. This instrument under the expert hands of Alexandre Delval, incumbent from 1904 to 1951, was to be heard regularly during the services and in recital – in particular the first recitals broadcast by radio – up to World War II, during which it indirectly suffered the consequences of the bombings that destroyed a good half of the city.
The municipality undertook a complete restoration of the organ, entrusted to Pascal of Lille, from 1954 through 1957. Respecting the original Romantic character of the instrument, Pascal further took advantage of the project to devise a new Barker lever action on the 4th manual, originally electric, in order lend overall unity to the action. The restored instrument was dedicated by Marcel Dupré, organist of St Sulpice in Paris, with the participation of the Petits Chanteurs de St Jean boys’ choir conducted by Abbé Félix.
The organ having suffered from an extensive interior renovation of the church in 1964-65, replacement of windows near the organ in 1971, a fire in a store near the apse in 1975, and finally vandalism by three young hoodlums in 1977, the city undertook a major overhaul of the instrument in 1983, proceeding in yearly phases with the valued advice of the Association Aristide Cavaillé- Coll in Paris. The work was once again entrusted to Jean Pascal. In 1986 the 2nd and 3rd manual divisions were completed to the entire satisfaction of the titulaire and the students of the conservatory for whom this prestigious organ remains a crucial pedagogical tool. Based on an extensive portfolio assembled in 1998-99 the instrument was registered as a national Historical Monument in March 2002. At the request of our mayor Jacques Vernier, Roland Galtier, an official government consultant for historical organs, drew up a thorough technical inventory of the instrument.
Since its first restoration this organ has consistently been in the cultural spotlight: musicians, organbuilders and musicologists from numerous foreign countries come every year to visit it and admire its tonal qualities, at once majestic and noble, as well as its expressive flexibility within the vast nave where the sound is freely propagated.