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Félix-Alexandre-Amédée Guilmant

Boulogne-sur-mer 1837 - Meudon 1911

Organist on Cavaillé-Coll's great organ in Trinité Church (1871-1901) and "unofficial organist" on his organ at the Trocadero Palace (1878-1911) as well as Mutin's at the Schola Cantorum concert hall (1902-1911).

In a way Alexandre Guilmant's actions and aspirations were the closest to Cavaillé-Coll's. Because he defended the works of the past, preserving and updating their message, and was always concerned about quality and clarity of expression he was probably the very epitome of the organist in the eyes of the general public. For, while he aimed at a wide audience, his objective was to improve their standards.

He spent the first thirty-three years of his life at Boulogne-sur-mer in a family of musicians, teachers and organ builders who very early on had dealings with Cavaillé-Coll.

At barely twenty, he was beginning to give performances on instruments in Paris and came very much to people's attention at the inauguration of the Saint-Sulpice great organ in 1862. From then on he rose steadily. The main stages of his career were: his appointment to Trinité Church in 1871 (succeeding A. Chauvet, himself a highly skilled demonstrator of the qualities of Cavaillé-Coll's organs who died prematurely); the production of the famous Grands Concerts d'Orgue at Trocadero in 1878-1879; the first of three highly acclaimed tours of North America (1891, 1897-8 and 1904); the founding (with D'Indy et Bordes) of the Schola Cantorum in 1894 and his appointment as organ professor at the Conservatory in 1896 (succeeding Widor).

A virtuoso, improviser, composer, pedagogue, editor and musicologist, who possessed real expertise in organ building, Guilmant could not have been more versatile. His productivity was undoubtedly uneven. Compared with his colleagues, Saint-Saëns, Widor and especially Franck, his stated ambition was to be understood by the audience rather than be an innovator speaking to the initiated. Therefore, there was something of the routine in his style and in many cases he based himself on an immense body of medium length works by authors whose names are among the best known to organists (Dubois, Salomé, Deshayes). Nevertheless, all the specialists agree that Guilmant had a major influence on the later works of Cavaillé-Coll and that his music, like that of Widor and Franck, moreover, was made to measure.

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