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ClassicsOnline Home » GEOFFROY: Music for Choir and Organ
Jean-Nicolas Geoffroy (1633? - 1694)
Very little is known about the life of Jean-Nicolas Geoffroy. Born perhaps in
1633, he was a pupil of the organist Nicolas Lebegue. Himself appointed organist
at the Church of St Nicolas du Chardonner in Paris, he remained there until
1690, the date at which he was appointed to the position of organist at the
Cathedral of Perpignan in Catalogne, where he died in 1694.
Geoffroy left some two hundred keyboard pieces, some dialogues pour
clavessin et des violes (dialogues for keyboard and viols) and above all a
collection of organ music the more interesting in that it is the only one among
French organ books, to preserve for us continuo realisations and provide us in
their entirety works for choir and organ in alternation. His work, in quantity
less important compared with that of his contemporaries, is in fact valuable
evidence from an organist and keyboard-player at the end of the seventeenth
The two most surprising works of this collection are the Psalm Memento
Domine David and the Magnificat. With respect to the alternation of
verses between the organ and plainchant, Geoffroy harmonizes the plainchant line
for a choir of five voices accompanied by continuo in which can be found all the
instruments that might be used in the church, theorbo, serpent, violone,
harpsichord, theorbino and positive organ.
In the Marian antiphons Regina coeli and Ave Regina and in the Mass
for Feasts of the Double plainchant and organ alternate. This "Mass of
the second class", as Geoffroy writes, includes Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and
Agnus Dei. For this recording an offertory has been inserted on the same
tone and an Amen following the Ite missa est that ends the Office.
It is not known for what religious house the composer intended this organ
collection but the presence of verses for the Hymn of St Benedict Laudibus
cives leads to the supposition that it was a Benedictine community that had
commissioned such a work. Here the plainchant has been entrusted to male voices.
In this period the ambiguity between sacred and secular did not worry
organists and it is in that respect that the evidence of Geoffroy is
interesting, since he treats the organ like the harpsichord.
Andre Raison, in his organ-book of 1689, tells us that these secular works
should be played in the same way as on the harpsichord, except that the cadence
should be a little longer because of the sanctity of the place. It is, then, no
sin to hear on the fine organ at Seurre the brilliance of a Versailles Entree,
rhythms of Allemandes, Chaconnes and Minuets or the colouring
of a Musette or Canarie.
Herve Niquet May 1996
Plainchant and Organ Alternation
In the choirs of monasteries, major churches or cathedrals, the monks, canons
or singers were divided into two groups. Liturgical traditions of psalmody
called for alternating chant. Each choir sings a verse of the psalm or of the
canticle, such as the Magnificat, Benedictus, Gloria or Te Deum. This
kind of alternation was also used in the singing of the ordinary of the Mass,
the Kyrie, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei.
In France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the organ in certain
ceremonies (major feasts, the solemnity of the patron or founding saint) takes
the place of one of the two choirs, providing an alternation of text and music.
This music is not concert music, simply decorative, but functional and
liturgical, close to and inspired by the text that it replaces or on which it
comments. One finds, thus, in a ceremony at the Cathedral of Sens in the
seventeenth century "when the organ plays, it plays the first verse and
the two choirs together sing the second, and thus, in alternation, until the
end". Nevertheless traditions could differ from one diocese to another,
from one abbey to another and the alternation of choir and organ could equally
be between a cantor, or a group of cantors and choirs.
Organ-books were not always explicit on the matter of alternation, except
through the title or the verbal incipit copied at the head of each piece.
One of the only exact examples is the alternation indicated in Geoffroy's book.
Thus for Psalm CXXXI, Memento Domine David, sung at Vespers on Wednesday
or Thursday, the organ starts with a prelude, the choir sings the first verse,
the organ plays the second. The great interest of this piece lies equally in the
written faux-bourdon that sustains the alternating sung text. "Faux-bourdon
is a kind of music in four parts, note for note, one of which, known as the
taille, is the plainchant itself' (Ceremonial de Toul, 1700).
According to the importance of the choir, of the feast-day and of the text
sung, the faux-bourdon varies from two to five voices.
In this way the Magnificat, sung at Vespers every day after the five
psalms and the hymn, was often sung in alternation. The cantor intoned the
opening word Magnificat, followed by the organ with anima mea Dominum,
followed by the choir in plainchant or in faux-bourdon et exaltavit, answered
by the organ.
The two Marian antiphons Ave Regina coelorum and Regina coeli Geoffroy
composed with possible alternation but rare in fact. Ave Regina coelorum was
sung at Offices of the Virgin or at the end of Vespers from the Feast of the
Purification (2nd February) up to Easter, and Regina coeli for Easter up
to Trinity Sunday.
L'interpetation de la musique franfaise 1661-1789,
Music in Burgundy
Burgundy has had an important part to play in the development of musical
thought in Europe. Since the birth of the Franco-German School at the court of
the Dukes of Burgundy until the triumph of Baroque opera, the work of cultivated
amateurs and an excellence of musical life have been brought together with the
same distinction. It is now with the organ at Seurres that Le Concert Spirituel,
under Hervé Niquet, brings an important moment in music, allowing you to share
his enthusiasm, his curiosity and his talent, qualities that mark all the music
that he brings to our attention.
President of the Regional Council of Burgundy
The Seurre Organ
Probably built by Julien Tribuot, organ-builder to the King and then
associated with the famous Clicquot, also royal organ-builders, the Seurre organ
dates from 1699. According to popular belief, the instrument came from the Abbey
of Maizière in Saône et Loire. During the revolution of 1791, it was bought
back from the abbey and Benigne Boillot had the task of dismounting it and
transferring it to seurre. On this occasion Boillot modified the instrument by
bringing it slightly more up to date. It then remained in this state until 1866,
although I found a trumpet pipe of the builder Chavan who worked at saint-Jean
de Losne on the Boillot organ there in 1824. In 1866 a more radical change took
place by Verschneider's, who introduced other stops then in fashion, eliminating
some of the original ones.
In 1923 the distinguished builder Bossier cleaned the whole instrument, put
ting the clairon of the Great on the Positive instead of the vox
humana, to instal behind the trumpet of the Great an industrially
manufactured zinc unda maris. It was perhaps at this time that the low
octave of the crumhorn on the Positive disappeared, changed, it seems,
for a metal rod.
In 1948 the organ, damaged by neglect and by the exploding of the bridge over
the Saône that had blown out the rose-window, was restored and modified by Ets
Merklin's of Lyon. After that Philippe Hartmann of Rainans, followed by the
builders Jean Deloye and Jean-François Muno undertook as far as possible the
task of keeping the organ going.
In 1985 I was entrusted with the task of a fundamental restoration.
Dismounting the organ brought a number of surprises, ranks of stops mixed and
shifted, the date of construction, and so on. The task of the organ-builders
Courtefontaine aura) has consisted principally in safeguarding the original
essence of the instrument. Nevertheless the organ-cases have been strongly
rebuilt behind, with the console and the base for the Great Organ and the stand
and support for the Positive, two wedge-shaped bellows were constructed in oak
and set on a frame-work intended for three. The wind-chests were repaired, made
waterproof and re-covered with leather, those of the pedal being new and
replaced in the large towers, the four keyboards are new, conforming to the
remains of the originals of 1699. All the pipe-work has been fundamentally
restored and, where necessary, completed. The ranks that have completely
disappeared have been reconstructed according to the original techniques of the
The organ has now recovered once more its Louis XIV appearance, with the
characteristic sonorities and colours of a French organ of the best period.
Le Concert Spirituel
The Concert Spirituel was established in 1725 by Ann Danican Philidor (1681 -
1731) and was the first concert organization in France, specialising in the
performance of French Grands Motets, by composers such as Gilles, Campra,
Mondonville, and Rameau. The concerts were given in the Salle des Cent Suisses
in the Palace of the Tuileries in Paris. They came to an end in 1791 with the
In 1988 Hervé Niquet, one of the leading specialists in France in Baroque
music, decided to revive the Concert Spirituel in order to explore again the
repertoire of music originally composed for this purpose in the eighteenth
century. Since then the Concert Spirituel has given performances in the
principal cities and festivals of Europe and has issued a number of recordings
that have been acclaimed by the international press.
The Laboratoire Pharmafarm is happy to lend its support to the Concert
Spirituel. There have always been close connections between musicians and those
concerned with health in their shared contribution to the well-being of soul and
body. Pharmafarm is delighted to sponsor this valuable moral and cultural
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GEOFFROY: Music for Choir and Organ