Death of an eminent French organist, 61

The family of Pierre Pincemaille have announced his death today.

Pincemaille was organist at St Denis and a professor at the Conservatoire national de Paris. A formidable improviser, he recorded the complete works of Duruflé and Franck and the 10 symphonies of Widor.

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  • Sad to hear of this. Pierre was a delightful host to us when we filmed him playing the historic Cavaillé-Coll organ at St Denis for my Ch4 series about the organ. Even then (1996, I think) he was demoralised about the downgrading of the role of the organ there at the behest of the clergy, who had asked him to stop playing it during services, only allowing him to play one voluntary at the end for the benefit of the many overseas visitors who made the pilgrimage to St Denis to hear this famous organ (C-Coll’s very first). It was a phenomenally difficult instrument to play and he did so with great aplomb.

  • In France, ages ago, early 20th c., around the time they dismantled their choir schools & cathedral choir foundations. There’s a strange paradox at work – on the one hand, French sacred spaces are classified as historic monuments and their upkeep (including often its contents, like organs) is funded by the state, so in some ways ‘safer’ than their UK counterparts, whereas the assault on choral & organistic music-making during services has been unremitting, in favour of a liturgy that is ‘easily understood’. It’s a bizarre irony that the best place to hear eg catholic Renaissance polyphony in the form of mass in Latin etc, during a service, is in a cathedral/abbey/collegiate chapel in Anglican Britain, since Latin is (actually) outlawed in French churches and choral foundations only sporadically exist to sing them anyway. All tourists will recognise the odd experience of visiting a cathedral in France or Italy or Spain where there is little organ-playing or choral singing in their services but where they play recorded sacred music on CD (made elsewhere, sung in forbidden Latin) over the PA system for the benefit of visitors during the day. That said, France is overall a country where composers, musicians and artists of all kinds are accorded way more respect than in the UK and their contribution to the overall culture greatly valued, and choirs from everywhere are welcomed throughout the year to sing whatever sacred music they like in the context of concerts in religious buildings, and well supported in so doing by local authorities and audiences alike. Swings & roundabouts, or balançoires et ronds-points, as they say in France.

  • Sad news. A terrific improviser, way ahead of others who claim to have proficiency and with a wide repertoire of published music. He does a fantastic demonstration at St Denis on the Cavaillé Coll DVD issued by Fugue State films –
    Worth watching for some very entertaining quips regarding the sheer physical effort needed to play this instrument.
    One of the few who could improvise tonally, most thrash around in a vaguely French idiom, not Pierre, he certainly knew his craft exceedingly well.

  • Pierre was gracious to me, inviting me to play a concert at Saint-Denis and then showing me the organ before leaving me locked in that splendid basilica for five wonderful hours of rehearsal before the next day’s concert. He had an infectious sense of humor.

  • Pierre was quite proud of this magnificant instrument. He was gracious to invite me to play a concert there, and I shall never forget the joy of being locked in the Basilica for 5 hours of rehearsal, watching darkness arrive, and looking down from the organ gallery into that vast space. Playng a concert there was a wonderful experience!

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