Paris: La Trinité

Église de la Sainte Trinité

The Organ | 19th-Century Disposition
20th-Century Disposition | Photographs

The Church

The Church of the Holy Trinity is relatively new among the great churches of Paris, having been built during the middle of the nineteenth century and carrying a completion date of 1867. The exterior of the building is rather impressive, and the slight elevation of the façade above the level of the plaza in front of the church improves its visual effect. Like many other Second Empire buildings, however, it is rather weighty in appearance, in spite of the ornate decorations that are found on almost every available surface. The tower, one of the tallest in Paris, gives the appearance of having been built up of different smaller ones stacked up together, so that each layer appears to to be almost an afterthought added above the one below it.

As you can see in the photograph to the right, the decorative stonework continues inside, as do the rounded arches that derive from the classical ancestors of this style. The focal point of the interior is, of course, the main altar, which is framed by enormous stained glass windows in the apse. The grand frieze above the windows carries an inscription to the Trinity, surmounted by saints and angels surrounding the throne.177 If you pass your mouse pointer over the photograph, you will see a close-up of the inscription to the Trinity and the frieze above it. Both the colors themselves and much of the style of the painting are found in many medieval French buildings restored during the nineteenth century, as well as new ones such as La Trinité.

The motif of saints and angels that is above the altar is repeated above the organ gallery at the west end of the church, as you can see in the photograph to the left. The colorful painting adds decorative elements to the flat surfaces of walls as well as to the entire ceiling. Although it was for many years stained and darkened inside, the church was cleaned and restored in the 1990's, and now its windows and the colorful painting combine to provide a warm glow to the interior.

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The Organ

The organ was built for the church by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll and inaugurated in 1869, only two years after the completion of the building. The organist was M. Charles-Alexis Chauvet, who was succeeded upon his death in 1871 by Alexandre Guilmant. Guilmant continued to play the organ until 1901, and most of his published organ music was conceived while he was titulaire of this great instrument. A brief note reminding him not to play a sortie after Vespers on the first Sunday of the month bears his signature and can still be found in a small room to the south of the organ gallery.176

The façade of the case, with the pipes of the 16' Montre of the Grand Orgue displayed in three towers and several flats, has changed very little since its installation. An interesting element in this organ, the façade was designed in the nineteenth century for this specific instrument, whereas many of Cavaillé-Coll's organs were built into existing cases. You should notice these characteristics when you look at the photograph:178

  • There is no Positif de dos, i.e., a smaller case built into the gallery rail.
  • The tallest tower is in the center of the façade, placed there as a result of, and as a complement to, the high point of the arch above it. Older French cases normally had taller towers at the ends of the main level rather than in the center. Cavaillé-Coll was less interested in preserving a tradition than in extending it to fit the design needs of this building.
  • The typical French pattern was to have all pipe feet at the same level, but in this example, the flats separating the towers are two stories tall, a form of display seen more frequently in the low countries and German regions. This is another example of Cavaillé-Coll's extension of traditions to accommodate different situations.

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Nineteenth-Century Disposition

The first proposal Cavaillé-Coll submitted for the Trinité organ was for a three-manual instrument of 36 speaking stops. As is often the case, some changes were made in the original proposal, and the instrument as finally built had 46 speaking stops, disposed as you see here:179

Original Disposition
Grand Orgue
Manual I
Manual II
Récit expressif
Manual III
Montre 16 Flûte 16 Flûte 8 Bourdon 32
Bourdon 16 Bourdon 8 Bourdon 8 Contrebasse 16
Montre 8 Salicional 8 Gambe 8 Sous-basse 16
Bourdon 8 Unda maris 8 Voix céleste 8 Flûte 8
Flûte 8 Flûte 4 Flûte 4 Bourdon 8
Gambe 8 Prestant 4 Octavin 2 Violoncelle 8
Prestant 4 Doublette 2 Voix humaine 8 Flûte 4
Flûte octaviante 4 Piccolo 1 Hautbois 8 Bombarde 16
Doublette 2 Cornet V Trompette 8 Trompette 8
Cornet V Basson 16 Clairon 4 Clairon 4
Plein jeu V Clarinette 8
Bombarde 16 Trompette 8
Trompette 8
Clairon 4
Pédales de combinaisons:
Appel des jeux Pédale
Tirasse Grand Orgue
Tirasse Positif
Tirasse Récit
Copula Positif sur Grand Orgue
Copula Récit sur Grand Orgue
Copula Récit sur Positif
Grand Orgue sur machine
Octaves graves du Grand Orgue
Trémolo du Récit
Anches Pédale
Anches Grand Orgue
Anches Positif
Anches Récit
Expression du Récit

Early in the history of the organ, perhaps as early as some work done on the organ by Cavaillé-Coll in 1872, the 2' Doublette was replaced by a 2 2/3' Quinte, which remains on the organ today. With that single alteration, the stoplist above is the one that the organ had in the nineteenth century, during most of Guilmant's tenure at La Trinité.

As you look at the disposition above, you should notice several things which are commonly found in nineteenth-century French organs:178

  • The order of manuals places the heaviest one (Grand Orgue) on the bottom, with the next (Positif) above it, and the lightest (Récit expressif) above that.
  • The Grand Orgue has
    • The stops needed for a traditional French Plein jeu, with the different mixture Plein jeu replacing the older Fourniture.
    • The stops needed for a traditional French Grand jeu, including the 16' Bombarde, which appeared on organs during the late eighteenth century.
    • The four 8' foundations of the nineteenth-century Fonds d'orgue, which in turn derived from the older version in which there was no Gambe and the Flûte was not harmonic.
    • None of the usual flute mutations that were part of the French Classical Grand Orgue.
  • The Positif has
    • No secondary chorus in the traditional manner, but a number of foundational stops at 8' and 4' pitches. The Salicional was not a thin-scaled penetrating string, but one that was broader and weightier than the Gambe.
    • A Clarinette, which is built similarly to a Cromorne and can be seen as its nineteenth-century successor.
    • No mutations, although a second Cornet appears in this instrument.
  • The Récit has
    • Harmonic flutes at 8', 4' and 2' pitches.
    • A string and céleste.
    • Solo reeds in addition to Trompette and Clairon.
  • The Pédale has
    • The stops which might have been found on a late-eighteenth-century French organ, including the reeds and flutes at 16', 8' and 4' pitches.
    • Additional stops that add weight to the sound, including the 16' Contrebasse and the 32' Bourdon.
  • Playing aids, in the form of "Combination Pedals":
    • Provisions for coupling each manual down to ones below it, and each manual to the pedal (Copula and Tirasse respectively).
    • A 16' Grand Orgue to Grand Orgue intra-manual coupler (Octaves graves du Grand Orgue).
    • Mechanisms that permit drawing the reeds and some upperwork, but shutting off the wind to these stops until they are needed (Anches Pédale, Anches Grand Orgue, etc.).
    • A way to engage Barker levers for the Grand Orgue (Grand Orgue sur machine).

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Twentieth-Century Disposition

The organ of La Trinité was modified and enlarged several times in the twentieth century, initially in 1901, when some tonal changes were made in the course of work being done by Merklin. The first major change came in 1934-5, however, when these stops were added by "la maison Pleyel-Cavaillé-Coll", working at the request of Olivier Messiaen, who had recently become the titulaire:

  • Positif
    • 8' Principal
    • 8' Cor de nuit
    • 2 2/3' Nazard
    • 1 3/5' Tierce
  • Récit
    • 16' Bourdon
    • 2 2/3' Nazard
    • Cymbale III
Some mechanical changes were also made to the organ at this time, the most notable being
  • removal of the 4' Flûtes to off-set chests (where they were no longer associated with the reeds but played from the main chests with the foundations),
  • and the addition of Barker levers to the Positif.
The organ was reinaugurated May 28, 1935 with a recital presented by Marcel Dupré and his former student Olivier Messiaen. The reproduction below is from a reprint of the program for this recital, and you can see here the disposition of the organ at this time. The detached terraced console had the stop knobs arranged as you see in this diagram. They appeared to the left or right of the manual keyboards, represented by the vertical line in the diagram. The stop names that are underlined were placed on the laye des anches, that part of the chest that played only when the appropriate Appel was engaged.

The bottom row lists the Pédales de Combinaison, which now included several additions to the original list.177 Physically, these resembled the "hitch-down" couplers you may have seen on some mechanical-action instruments. Reading them all from left to right we see them in this order, both in a realization of the French abbreviations and in an English equivalent.

  • Introduction Pédale (Pedal Stops ON)
  • Tirasses (Three manual to Pedal Unison Couplers)
  • Grand orgue en 16 (Great to Great 16')
  • Appels d'Anches (Four Reeds ON controls, Pedal and each manual separately)
  • Boite Expressive Récit (Swell Pedal)
  • Introduction Grand orgue (Great Stops ON)
  • Accouplements (Unison Manual Couplers: Positif to Great 8', Récit to Great 8', Récit to Positif 8')
  • Introduction Positif (Positif Stops ON)
  • Positif en 16 (Positif to Positif 16')
  • Trémolo Récit (Récit tremulant)
In 1962, Beuchet-Debierre began a further rebuild of the organ, adding seven new stops, a new console, and an expessive enclosure for part of the enlarged Positif. The disposition below represents the instrument in its current state.

Present Disposition
Grand Orgue
Montre 16 Quintaton 16 Bourdon 16 Soubasse 32
Bourdon 16 Principal 8 Flûte 8 Contrebasse 16
Montre 8 Flûte harmonique 8 Bourdon 8 Soubasse 16
Flûte harmonique 8 *Cor de Nuit 8 Gambe 8 Flûte 8
Bourdon 8 Salicional 8 Voix céleste 8 Bourdon 8
Gambe 8 Unda maris 8 Flûte douce 4 Violoncelle 8
Prestant 4 Prestant 4 Nazard 2 2/3 Flûte 4
Flûte 4 *Flûte douce 4 Octavin 2 Plein jeu IV
Quinte 2 2/3 *Nazard 2 2/3 Tierce 1 3/5 Bombarde 16
Doublette 2 *Flageolet 2 Cymbale III Trompette 8
Cornet V Doublette 2 Bombarde 16 Clairon 4
Plein jeu V *Tierce 1 3/5 Trompette 8
Cymbale IV *Piccolo 1 Hautbois 8
Bombarde 16 Cornet V Voix humaine 8
Trompette 8 Fourniture Clairon 4
Clairon 4 Basson 16
Trompette 8
*Clarinette 8
Clairon 4
Tirasses G, P, R en 8' & 4'
Accouplements P-G, R-G, R-P (en 8')
Accouplements G-G, P-P, R-R en 16' & 4'
Annulations 8' Ped, G, P, R
Annulations anches Ped, G, P, R
Trémolo R
Thumb reversibles for all unison couplers
Toe reversibles for all couplers, annulations 8' et anches
Six general combinations, duplication thumb & toe
Ajuster, Annulateur [set & cancel - thumb only]
Expression P, R (balanced pedals)
Crescendo (roller, 12 steps)

One important aspect of the current disposition that cannot be seen in this list is the layout of the chests. Immediately behind the façade, the Grand Orgue is placed on a chest arranged in the Traditional French manner: The larger pipes are to the ends, divided and the Cornet V is mounted above the main chest level. The Pédale is divided on either side of the Grand Orgue. The Positif is behind the Grand Orgue, and as you can see in the diagram to the left, there are two levels to that division. Those stops marked with an asterisk in the stoplist above are placed in an enclosure - - a "swell box," if you wish. The other Positif stops are on a separate chest mounted on top of the Positif enclosure. The Récit, all of whose stops are enclosed, is behind the Positif.180

The second diagram shows the church in simplified cross-section, and you can see how far the Récit is from the front of the gallery and the rest of the church. This placement of divisions, in which the Récit must speak through and around the Positif enclosure, then past the Grand Orgue and console, is an important part of the organ's disposition. Even with its reeds and mixtures on, the sound is never blatant, never agressive, always speaking from a distance, even to the player seated at the console.

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Enlarged Images

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© 1999 James H. Cook