Death of a Paris organ legend, 88

Death of a Paris organ legend, 88


norman lebrecht

January 27, 2019

Jean Guillou, who died this weekend, was organist of St. Eustache for 52 years until his retirement in 2015.

He was a prolific composer and a valued consultant on organ building.


  • Very sad to hear of Jean’s demise. I knew him reasonably well during the decade (1987–97) I lived in Paris and was a regular attender of the recitals he organised (most for his former students) in St Eustache. After one such, we were having a drink in the vestry to the side of the church and one of our number asked him how he went about improvising a piece. ‘Oh, I’ll show you,’ said Jean, and we went back into the church and he sat at the organ and, explaining what he was doing as he played, magicked a thrilling rhapsody-toccata out of nowhere.

  • A PS to my earlier comment: the vigour of Jean’s playing, well into old age, is all the more remarkable when you’re aware that he had only one lung.

  • Spenser says:

    An awesome master of the organ, perhaps the finest of his generation.
    Such a great loss to the world of the King of Instruments.

  • Marie Christine says:

    What a loss ! His recitals in Saint Eustache were so wonderful !

  • Paul Carlile says:

    A marvellous musician! Altho not a great fan of the “King of Instruments,” i’d always listen to Jean Guillou; as well as representing, in part, la Grande Tradition d’Organistes Français, he had his own atypical style, with fantastic improvisations and arrangements. There was a liveliness in his harmonies and ideas which went beyond the habitual noisy “growl” heard too often. I was in Paris for long stays frequently thru the Nineties and Noughties, with friends whose children took lessons from one of Guillou’s assistants, so met him on some occasions. Sad to hear of his death, but glad of a life of music fully lived.