Day 3: Pipes and Pastries in Poitiers
by Gianmarco Massameno
After a long, well-deserved night's sleep, we left Paris in the morning for Poitiers, jet lag only partially abated. The 200 mile-long trip took only 80 minutes aboard the 185 mile per hour TGV train. The seat of the archbishop of Poitiers, Poitiers Cathedral dates back to the twelfth century, and its organ to the eighteenth. (Huguenots destroyed the original fourteenth century organ, the subsequent replacement of which an accidental fire destroyed in 1681.) It was not for almost a century that the Cathedral had another organ, but the resulting instrument was arguably worth the wait. Built by a member of the famed Clicquot family, (also known for their champagne, Veuve Clicquot), the present organ remains one of the finest preserved of its time. It is among a minority of organs that even survived the French Revolution (organs were, of course, religious symbols, and also often products of generous royal patronage, to boot, as was the case in Poitiers, and therefore prime targets for destruction). Comprising four manuals, a pedal board, 44 stops, and 3023 pipes, the Poitiers organ is tuned to its original unequal temperament. Its cabinet housing is made of specially treated wood made ultra-hard by sitting it in water for decades before finally milling it. The organ is well-known for its impressive reeds, as the pieces we played by composers such as de Grigny, and Daquin showcased.
On arrival, the Cathedral organist, Olivier Houette, warmly greeted us, and proceeded to spend over five hours familiarizing us with the instrument, and coaching us on our French Classical music selections. Each of us had an opportunity to play, and the organ itself taught us as much as our master teacher.
Despite a rainy arrival, the sun greeted us as we departed Poitiers. Some of us enjoyed pastries on the walk back to the train, and we had a lovely walk through Paris upon returning. When home, we closed the day together over a delicious dinner of seafood risotto, horse steaks, and wine, looking forward to the following day's plans in Rouen, and Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral.