Rouen is home to about forty organs, making it one of the richest cities in France in this field. Fifteen of them are listed as historic monuments, Rouen having been a hotbed of the art of organ building from the Renaissance to the 19th century.
Organ cases with exceptional sculpted decoration are on view for visitors to admire. The oldest can be admired at Saint-Vivien (1515) and Saint-Maclou (1541), while the 17th century shines brilliantly at Saint-Ouen (1630), at Saint-Patrice (1662), at the Cathedral (1689) or at Saint-Romain. In the 18th century, one of Europe’s most famous families of organ builders was based in Rouen: the Lefebvre family built the magnificent organ in the chapel of Hôpital Charles Nicolle (1731) and the grand orgue at Temple Saint-Eloi (1735), with its fantastically slender case. The Église de la Madeleine (1781) is also well worth a visit, with its venerable tribune organ case echoing the classical colonnade of the building’s façade.
Several 19th-century Rouen organbuilders have left us masterpieces such as Saint-Sever and Saint-Vivien. And the brilliant Parisian organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll built the two organs at Saint-Godard (1884) and above all the world-famous organ at Saint-Ouen (1890). “He left his entire personal fortune on it, such was his desire to create an exceptional instrument,” says Jean-Baptiste Monnot, co-titular of the organ. A successful project, since its 64 stops achieve a unique balance of sound, and the organ is now the most recorded in the world.
Most of these organs are heard in concert throughout the year. The city of Rouen is currently implementing a preservation plan. After the restoration of the organs at Saint-Godard, Saint-Sever and Saint-Hilaire, it’s now the turn of Saint-Romain, while organist François Ménissier trains brilliant young enthusiasts at the Conservatoire. “Entering a church can be impressive, which is why we’re looking to open up the instrument“, enthuses Jean-Baptiste Monnot, who has developed a small pipe organ that he plays outdoors to meet the general public. A joint project with schools in Paris, Berlin, New York and Boston will soon make Rouen a hotbed of organizational encounters.