Léon Boëllmann

Suite Gothique, for organ, Op. 25

    Description by Robert Cummings

    The Suite Gothique is the most popular work by Léon Boëllmann, a French composer not widely known today. When it was introduced in 1895, the piece was an immediate hit and various instrumental versions of it were made, including one of the lyrical third movement, for cello and piano, by the composer himself. Had Boellmann not died just two years after he composed Suite Gothique, he might well have adapted further versions, especially of the finale, by far the most popular of the work's four movements.

    The first movement of the suite, Introduction -- Choral, is somber: the stately main theme is played on the manuals, with drones underpinning it from the pedals. The mood, both in the slow pacing and austere chords, is almost funereal, but there is also a majestic character to the music, as if the darkness is leavened by the sense of glory from the swell of bigness and magnificence filling the air.

    The ensuing movement, Menuet Gothique, has a celebratory character, offering contrast to the serious mood from the previous panel. The music is playful in its graceful dance tune, too, imparting a sense of joy and cheer.

    While the Finale is the most popular movement, it was apparently the third movement, "Prière à Notre-Dame," that most appealed to the composer, for, as mentioned above, it was the only movement of which he made a second version. Lasting five minutes or slightly more -- the longest of the work's four movements -- it features a lovely main theme, mostly played in the upper registers, that seems to serenely float in quiet sonorities. The mood never varies from its sense of peace and tranquility, even when the dynamics rise a bit in the middle section. While this movement offers the loveliest and most lyrical music in the work, it also deftly sets the stage for the dramatic, powerful Finale (Toccata).

    A greater contrast between two movements of a work could hardly be imagined than that which occurs at the start of the Finale. It begins with scurrying notes on the manuals and soon the dark main theme is given by the pedals. A second subject, actually a variant of the main theme, comes on the manuals, but offers little change of mood, only perhaps providing an even greater sense of anxiety. The imposing main theme returns to dominate the movement and the work ends with resolute chords to crown the music with a sense of majesty.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Introduction - Choral
    2. Menuet gothique
    3. Prière à Notre Dame
    4. Toccata

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Rondeau / Rondeau Productions ROP 6117
    2016 Da Camera Magna Records DACA 77141
    2016 Priory Records 1153
    2013 MDG Gold
    2013 Querstand QUESACD 1228
    2011 Erato
    2011 Danacord 700
    2010 Sony Music 88697707362
    2009 Priory Records 1003
    2009 Signum UK 167
    2008 Audite 92556
    2008 Priory Records 6012
    2008 Herald Records 246
    2007 Doyen 121
    2007 Scandinavian Classics 220539
    2007 Saydisc 262
    2006 Priory Records 6003
    2006 MSR Classics 1162
    2006 Plenum Vox 3
    2005 Skarbo 1021
    2002 Celestial Harmonies 13213
    2001 Motette 60361
    2001 Psallite 60211
    2001 Motette 12481
    2001 Ornament 11444
    2000 Skarbo 1967
    2000 Motette 11751
    2000 Decca 466742
    2000 Laserlight 14315
    1999 Chandos CHAN9716
    1999 Berlin Classics 0093992
    1999 Dorian DOR 90267
    1998 Gallo 945
    1998 Classico 202
    1997 Herald Records HAVPCD204
    1996 Naxos 504014
    1995 Hallmark Recordings 35039
    1995 BIS 7
    1994 Naxos 550581
    1994 Erato 94812
    1994 BIS 365
    1994 BIS 156/157
    1993 Ode Records 1347
    1991 London 430710
    Saga Classics 3380
    Raven 912
    Priory Records 272
    REM 311053
    Supraphon 111472
    Ars Vivendi 2100124
    Towerhill 900101
    Prezioso 800015
    Philips 416159