The Lausanne Cathedral organ


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The Lausanne Cathedral organ

Welcome to our outing.
The door of the Cathedral is opened at 18h30 and to shorten the wait I would like to tell you a little about the organ and the new organ installed in the Cathedral since 2003.

So above all what is the organ? The organ is a musical instrument, the furniture or a buffet with pipes instead of plates and glasses in it. The organ can be compared with the piano. The wind is like the piano hammer and the pipe is like the piano string. The wind comes from the blower to produce the sound in pipes. The principle is theoretically simple but the realisation is as usual much more complicated.

I learned how the organ works practically, by chance, during a school outing through the countryside. It was a very hot summer day when I wandered with 2 of my schoolmates near a church. In the gallery of the church we found the organ, and because there were no people at all, we decided to try the instrument. The best musician of the three of us sat at the console and the two others activated the manual blower. It was a huge job for two manual workers as we. Fortunately, our concert was of very short duration because it was interrupted by the prompt arrival of a priest.

Now, how does the organ work and how is it built? Let's start from the top. On the top there are pipes, the source of sound. There are 2 sorts of pipes: the pipes with mouth which do not have tongue and the pipes with tongue which do not have mouth. The pipes are grouped by stops (stop is a set of pipes). The pipes are put down into the wind chest table and fixed to it. The next very important element is the blower and pressure regulator to produce wind. The wind is directed to the stops with stop knobs by the organist, who has many things to do, not only with his hands but also with his feet. He has to activate: keyboards, pedals, knobs, pistons, everything at the same time to give the harmonic music. So he has often to benefit of a third musician. The old concept of the organ was mechanical only. The modern one use an electronic realisation.

The first organ in the Lausanne Cathedral was mentioned in 1411 and we know very little about it. In 1457, the Chapter of Lausanne Cathedral decided on the construction of a new organ. The organ was built, as usual at that time, on the spot, near to the Cathedral and took 2 years. The instrument was less than perfect, however the organ was used for the Mass for many years until the Reformation. The proclamation of the Edict of Reformation, on Christmas Eve, on the 24th December 1536, forbade the celebration of Mass. Everything that recalled the Roman cult was deleted and removed: altars, images, statues. The same fate met the organ. The organ disappeared definitely from the Lausanne Cathedral.

The question is why, when and for what reason did the organ in the Lausanne Cathedral come back? The favourable event occurred in the 18th century. For the time being, the Gothic period was over, the Renaissance was over and the great 17th century was over too. In 1733, a certain Mr Samson Scherrer, an certified organist, moved to Lausanne with his family and with his organ to look for a job. He received the permission for installing his instrument in the Cathedral, so he did. The organ was put up several times for auction but without success. Between the auctions the organ was used for the religious service and its use became gradually the habit. The organ revived.

The next organ, called the great organ was constructed by the firm of Kuhn in Männedorf in the Zürich canton. It occupied the same place in the Cathedral as the baroque organ did. It was in 1955.

We are now in 2003. The new organ came to Lausanne as the result of two international competitions.
The first competition was the construction competition between six firms: one Swiss, four European and one American. And the winner was the American factory of Charles Breton Fisk, in Boston.
The second competition was the design competition which was won by the car designer, Giorgio Giugiaro Design, in Turin. The 42 tons of organ had to become as light as possible. In their project the organ became a kind of big angel with big wings. The angel leans ahead from the church gallery in a listening posture seemingly in awe of the fine music.

The organ built by Fisk, with its 109 stops, is the biggest one in the Europe. The instrument has the old mechanical part as well the new modern electric and electronic realisation and it is the multifunctional instrument.

On the 28th January 2003 the organ came in chests and was introduced into the Cathedral, one chest after other, to be unpacked. The construction of the organ lasted 2 months until the end of March. But it was only the beginning of the installation. After construction there was a huge work for tuning and voicing every pipe and there were about a thousand of pipes to adjust. Finally, after 10 months from the arrival of the organ, on the 30th November 2003 the religious service was dedicated to the organ and the first concert was inaugurated on the 2nd December 2003.

And now, let's enter to the Cathadral altered in the time by the Bishop Aymon de Montfalcon who distributed his coat-of-arms and motto in Latin "Si qua fata sinant" ("If destiny allows it").
Let's enter to see how the organ works when it is played by a professional organist. We enter by the entrance in the north side of the Cathedral. The organ console is placed in the "Great Bay" and we take seats in the nave from where we can hear and see the angel.