After The Fire, What About Notre Dame's Organ?

Apr 16, 2019

The world watched in horror as the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral burned yesterday. Musicians began asking, but what about the organ?

The organ is the largest in France, with five keyboards, 115 stops and more than 8,000 pipes, of which 900 are considered historic.

This current organ dates back to the 1730s, when it was reconstructed by Francois Thierry. But there has been an organ in the same spot since 1402. Twelve of the pipes still in use date from before the 1730s reconstruction. 

Initial reports tell us the organ has survived and was not damaged by fire or water. But a full restoration will surely be required to address the damage done by smoke and debris from the fire.

Notre Dame Cathedral: The Birthplace Of Music As We Know It Today

Notre Dame Cathedral organist Olivier Latry plays Carillon de Westminster by Louis Vierne.

The Notre Dame Cathedral organ
Credit Eric Chan / Wikimedia Commons

Organists from around the world have been sharing their memories of the great organ and the impact it had on them. Craig R. Whitney, a former Paris bureau chief of the New York Times and an amateur organist, wrote a reflection for The Washington Post.

Famously, the great organist Louis Vierne had a heart attack and died at the console in 1937.

In the 1860s, organ-builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll doubled the number of pipes. The organ was fully electrified in 1959 and, since 1993, has undergone a full restoration, including digital controls.

Not all the technology is brand-new, though – the air is still blown through the pipes by bellows made of sheep leather. The restoration used 1,000 new sheepskins.

Take a tour with the cathedral's organist Olivier Latry:

Hear more of the organ:

Olivier Latry plays the final movement from Alexandre Guilmant’s Sonate No. 1.

Olivier Latry plays a Noel by Louis Claude Daquin.

Learn more about the history of the cathedral: