Sunday, September 27
The week just past has been wonderful. We have our ‘Paris legs’, the weather has been nice to really excellent, and we’ve been doing things ‘our way’. We’re not sloppy people, but when you have an apartment to live in, things do need occasional ‘ritting up’ as people in Western Pennsylvania (Mary Ann’s stomping grounds) like to say. So, much of Sunday was given over to ritting up, staying in, having croissants and coffee, reading the paper, and catching up on things (like this blog).
We had only one thing scheduled… a trip to the Church of Saint-Eustache in the Les Halles district, a new part of town for us. I previously mentioned that St. Eustache houses the largest organ in France, and that the church itself is a historic landmark that dates back to the 1200, roughly contemporaneous with nearby Notre Dame.
Because of the great St. Eustache organ, the church has had a succession of great organists, the most recent of whom, Jean Guillou, served as Titular Organist for over fifty years (until March of this year) and was responsible for the almost complete redesign and rebuilding of the present organ, which was completed back in 1969. The original outer housing of the instrument (known as the buffet) remains, but nearly all of the actual instrument now dates from 1969 and, at 8000 pipes, is the largest organ in France, larger than the great organs in Notre Dame and Saint-Sulpice.
Short concerts are given every Sunday afternoon at 5:30 before the 6:00 (pm) mass. The organist of the day was performing Marcel Dupre’s Second Symphony (Click here to hear the 3rd Movement).
The trip to Saint-Eustache was more than we wanted to attempt on our feet, so we were planning to catch a taxi over. When we finally got a taxi (they seem to be harder to find on Sundays), the driver didn’t seem to know where Saint-Eustache was. I quickly pulled out my little traveler’s atlas and showed it to him on a list of churches. Mary Ann said (in French) that it was in Les Halles, and that seemed to be what he needed to know, so off we went. This was at 5pm and the concert was at 5:30. After a considerable bit of driving, he drove up to what was essentially a dead end on the street after which loomed a quite large construction site. He then said something in French, which neither of us comprehended. Then he gestured off to the right and said “Walk, walk”. So we paid him and headed off to points unknown.
After going about three blocks in the wrong direction and finally realizing it, we got out our handy atlas. We could see where the church was on the map, but not exactly where we were in relation to it. By now it was 5:30, the starting time for the concert. After spotting a nearby fountain which actually showed up on the map, we determined the right direction, and after a few turns, saw the immense church, but it was still blocks away!
Finally, at about 5:45, after some frantic race-walking that neither of us is accustomed to, we got to the church only to find that it had no main entrance! Wherever it was, I’ll never know, but we managed to find a tiny side entrance where the scene from the busy street outside transformed into the enormous Gothic caverns of Saint-Eustache where the sounds of Dupre were filling every space!
Even once inside the church it took some time to figure out the lay of the land, but we did, and we even found two chairs right nearby – right below the organ – to hear about half the second movement and the wild third movement of Dupre’s symphony.
Our friend David Oates, who put us onto this delicious musical treat, advised us to stay for the mass which ‘in French, has its own music’. So we did, and it did indeed do that!
When we left the church we found cars everywhere on the other side of the church, the side that had no construction project near it (but where our cab driver apparently decided not to take us). Not far away we found a cab for the ride back home.
What started as a relaxing day ended with us rather tired and frazzled, but completely thankful for hearing Guillou’s wonderful instrument in such a majestic setting!
BONUS TREAT: Jean Giullou playing the Saint-Eustache Organ on You-Tube (Click Here)