I have been in love with the Notre Dame Cathedral since I first laid eyes on it over a decade ago. Towering over the Île de la Cité in the heart of Paris, Notre Dame is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in France, and it is by far one of my favourite buildings in the world. When I arrived in Paris last month, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I found myself at the threshold of Notre Dame once more, and indeed, I’ve since made several trips over the past couple of weeks. One such visit was earlier this week, when I attended an evening recital that was a celebration of the recent restoration of the Great Organ of Notre Dame. When I first heard about this event, I knew that there was no way I would miss it, and the evening that unfolded is not one I’ll soon forget.
Nearly everything about the Notre Dame Cathedral is impressive, and the Great Organ is no exception. Sitting high above the back of the cathedral’s nave, the organ consists of five keyboards, 190 ties, and over 8,000 pipes, and in daylight, when the pipes are framed by the great stained glass rose window that sits just behind it, its beauty is enough to take your breath away. Recently, the organ underwent extensive restorations, and with these now complete, two recitals were planned to share the new organ with the public. Admission was free, and therefore on Tuesday night, I found myself standing in a long line of people, all of whom were just as eager as me to get inside and hear how the restored organ sounded. It didn’t take long to file in and find seats, and while I waited for the recital to begin, I contemplated my surroundings and marvelled at how Notre Dame managed to be even more beautiful at night. From the soaring ceilings, to the darkened stained glass windows, to the chandeliers that lit the nave, the sight was simply gorgeous, and as several hundred of us sat there and waited, the excitement in the air was palpable.
At exactly 8:30PM, the first notes from the organ cut through the air, and the sound was enough to give me goosebumps. It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard an organ played, but I’ve never heard one that sounded as beautiful as the Great Organ of Notre Dame. From start to finish, the organ’s notes reverberated throughout the building with what can only be described as perfect acoustics. At times, it was as if the very air itself was vibrating, while other times, the quieter notes seemed to be seeping out of the stones that surrounded us as if it was the most natural thing in the world. The program of music selected for the recital was wide ranging, and included classical pieces that showcased the organ’s bellowing tone, to decidedly more contemporary selections that stretched the capabilities of what an organ can play. The final number was a long selection that would not have been out of place on an episode of Doctor Who, but during which its multiple parts ultimately came together in a crescendo of tempos, styles, and beats that was as bewildering as it was awe inspiring. I was certain that the music being played must have required at least three organists, if not more, but at the end of the night, when a single solitary figure stepped forward to take his bows, I could only shake my head in amazement as I rose to my feet in a standing ovation. I don’t know the organist’s name, but I do know that he fully earned the four encores that were given him that night.
If you ever find yourself at Notre Dame, be sure to take the time to turn around and look behind you at the organ that sits above the main doors to the cathedral. Its size and beauty are impressive, but I assure you, the sound that it makes is so much better. Tuesday night will not be my last visit to Notre Dame, but at the moment, it is certainly the most memorable, and I know that every time I see the Great Organ from now on, I will smile and remember the night it made the air sing.