indexThe patron's musicianscategories

In fact, Cavaillé-Coll had managed to join forces with this exceptionally talented "dandy" who, better than anyone, had grasped the musical potential of the new tones and combinations to create music that was thrilling, renewing, impressive and at times heartrending (it makes us think of memorable performances such as at Chopin's funeral or in memory of victims of natural disasters…).

The organ builder and the musician were true friends. The latter succeeded his father at Saint-Roch at a young age. A protégé of the aristocracy, he frequented the bourgeois salons where he often performed with his wife, a singer (the famous "Serenade" adapted from Victor Hugo by Gounod was among the pieces dedicated to her) and his two daughters who were pianists. He was the incarnation of the organ of the Second Empire. His admirers called on him many times to adopt the "religious style" to which - a priori - he was neither a stranger nor hostile. However, he had his habits and his preferences, and, above all his "clientele". Also, even though his contemporaries were unanimous in their admiration for his improvisations, he often seems to have taken the easier alternative, the immediately accessible option, music that doesn't ask any questions.

Cavaillé-Coll, a perspicacious observer, was right in concluding that this style, although "buoyant", was a dead-end. In spite of his feverish inventiveness and real artistic integrity, Lefébure-Wely was not the man to reach the symphonic heights to which the organ builder aspired. At the cost of a strained relationship which may have contributed to the artist's untimely death, Cavaillé-Coll, possibly playing a double game (the artist and the businessman), chose his camp, the great polyphonic tradition that Lemmens and his school were believed to incarnate.

And when we think of deep-seated inspiration and lineage, wasn't one of Lefébure-Wely's main heirs to be César Franck?

back to top of page


Louis-James-Alfred Lefébure-Wely

Paris 1817- Paris 1869

Organist of Cavaillé-Coll organs at Saint-Roch (1841-1846), the Madeleine (1846-1858) then at Saint-Sulpice (1863-1869)

We have an idea of how popular Cavaillé-Coll's tones were from the masterpieces of Franck, Widor, or Vierne but, the music that most perfectly reflects the "daily bread" of the parishioner from 1840 to 1870, is Lefébure-Wely's. And all the great, prestigious Cavaillé-Coll organs in Paris date from this period.