Excursion to Toulouse by the organ class Conservatoire royal de Bruxelles

A reflection by the students

Studying archeology and studying music - in our case learning to play the organ – have more in common one might expect: they both require careful preparation, a firm knowledge of literature, and quintessential: the necessity of field work. It is on site an archaeologist uncovers history. While for an organist, it is by playing historic instruments with an adequate repertoire years of study come to true fruition.

The organ class of the Conservatoire royal de Bruxelles was granted such an splendid learning opportunity: a three day exchange program in Toulouse with the organ classes of the Haute Ecole de Musique de Genève and the Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional de Toulouse.

Master classes by professors Vincent Thévenaz (Genève), Yoann Tardivel (Toulouse) and Benoît Mernier (our teacher) where held on the many prestigious instruments the city of Toulouse has to offer: St.-Pierre des Chartreux, St.-Sernin, N.D. de la Dalbade, Musée des Augustins... For organ majors, being able to play these kind instruments is an essential step in the learning curve of becoming a musician with an informed and authentic artistic vision. Different points of view offered by the three imminent professors, and hearing other interpretations by fellow students where highly instructive.

We had the opportunity to explore a wide an rich variety of instruments during the three days we have had the pleasure to spend in Toulouse. We would like express wholeheartedly our gratitude towards ECHO!


In the first place I enjoyed meeting the fellow organ students of Toulouse and Genève. These moments of encounter are the ideal setting to discover new works and rediscover the standard repertoire. Of course, we had the world-class instruments to inspire and guide us during this voyage, and excellent coaching by the professors to evaluate our performance. Furthermore, I will remember sharing together the ideas about the future of the organ landscape, discussing the major challenges we face, and the opportunities we can seize in a digital society.


This exchange in Toulouse has been intense and exciting! Being able to hear and play its mythic instruments during those three days (Saint Sernin, Notre-Dame de la Dalbade, les Augustins) has been a real privilege. It was very interesting to have courses by different teachers, especially when they were led by the three teachers all together. It sounded like an authentic exchange and widened the point of view we can have of a piece. Also, it has been really nice to get to know the students from Genève and Toulouse.


This trip made me reflect on the privileges one has when studying music in Europe. To see materialize those dreams that you once had as a very young musician. Without a doubt to know these instruments, cities and above all the excellent people who are the organists motivate me to continue discovering music. I will never let my capacity for wonder come to an end.


The exchange in Toulouse made me realise how lucky we are as organ students to be able to travel, meet and exchange with other organists, which is something not many other instrumentalists do during their studies. During our stay, we got to see many extraordinary instruments and took instructive classes by the three teachers, which has been a very enriching experience to my studies.

Notre-Dame de la Dalbade: Puget 1888

After a pleasant first acquittance, all students and teachers attended a presentation by the unique Puget organ, an instrument known for its high dynamical possibilities given its double expression on both positif and swell organ. The organ was presented by a student from Toulouse, providing the history of the instrument, and gave an appreciated interpretation of L'Ascension by Olivier Messiaen. The comfortable lay-out of this instrument is at least notable, and highly remarkable in regards to its building year 1888: electrical pedal board, Barker machine on all three manuals, one combination step (the latter comparable to the Cavaillé-Coll organ in Saint-Sulpice).

Saint-Pierre des Chartreux: Delaunay 1683

This is an instrument of reference for the execution of the French music of the baroque era. However, it was a contemporary work that the students and teachers first took a closer look at. O Quam Pulchra es by Bernard Foccroulle, is ideally executed on an instrument in the French classical style. A student from Brussels played and presented the work, focusing on the conception and different compositional aspects of the piece. This was followed by a constructive and open group discussion, moderated by the professors, about contemporary repertoire for historical instruments. Students had the opportunity to explore the many different, and typical colors the instrument of Saint-Pierre des Charteux has to offer: the plein jeu, grand jeu, tierce en taille, basse de trompette etc. Furthermore, a rendition of a wider variety of works by composers as Sweelinck, Frescobaldi and Froberger, is absolutely convincing on this instrument with uneuqual temperament.

Musée des Augustins: Ahrend 1981

We had the great pleasure to meet Jan Willem Jansen, titular organist in the Musée des Augustins and the Notre-Dame de La Daurade. He expertly informed us about the building process and fundraising of the Ahrend organ in the former Augustine Abbey church. Having made multiple records on this organ, mainly with the music of Buxtehude and Bach (and his sons) he also gave us an inside view concerning his approach in terms of registrations and articulations regarding a specific acoustic. The Ahrend organ plays a key role in the pedagogical scene in Toulouse, a student from Toulouse gave a splendid rendition of Est-ce mars by Sweelink, and the Prelude and Fugue, BWV 539 by J.S. Bach.

Basilique Saint-Sernin: Cavaillé-Coll 1889

In a state close to its original, the organ of Saint-Sernin allows us to understand the ideal sonorous equilibrium designed by the great innovator we know Cavaillé-Coll was. Three students from Toulouse gave a short recital consisting of three very different works, showing different aspects of this famous instrument, and demonstrating the French symphonic idiom at its full potential: the Vierne Toccata, the Sicilienne by Duruflé and the final movement of the Symphonie Romane by Widor, a work the latter wrote in memory of this instrument. Hearing music being played on the instrument a composer had envisioned for an ideal performance of a particular work, can lead to a point where historical informed music practice comes to its very closest. Furthermore, it was an interesting case study hearing an important work in the symphonic organ literature, the Grande Pièce Symphonique by César Franck, being played on two different instruments at the same day, at Notre-Dame de la Dalbade and Saint-Sernin. They lead to a critical and to-the-point evaluation in terms of ergonomic organ design, and overall sound design by the students and professors.
At the end of this intensive day one can make a balance between two legendary symphonic instruments: the Puget organ of Notre-Dame de la Dalbade is subtle, poetic and very expressive while the Cavaillé-Coll of and Saint-Sernin speaks very directly to the listener, with it's vocal foundation stops and powerful reeds. Which instrument one 'prefers' is a matter of personal taste. Choosing one of the two instruments in function of specific repertoire however was - and still remains! - a good exercise in artistic thinking.

The organs in the House of Polyphony