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Restoration works of the Grand Organ of Amiens Cathedral

By the end of 2019, DRAC Hauts-de-France will start a large restoration project that will require several years, on the Grand Organ located behind the western front. These works will primarily focus on the instrumental part and on the cases and will also include restorative work on the first span of the nave.

The organ of Amiens Cathedral has a rich and long history as this instrument dates back to 1422. The main frame was modified around 1549 in the Renaissance style and again in the 19th century. The positive case on the organ is installed in 1623; two side turrets are added to it around 1766.

The initial instrumental section, a large 46-key Blockwerk, with 19 to 91 pipes per key, is rebuilt around 1549 and again in 1620. Its oldest parts dating back from the Old Regime progressively disappear when the instrument is rebuilt, first by John Abbey in 1835-1837 in a pre-Romantic style, then by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in 1887-1889 who will transform the organ into a symphonic instrument with 51 stops over three keyboards and a pedalboard.

The organ was dismantled in 1918 but its future was compromised because its storage was so dispersed (Amiens, Eu, Abbeville, Pierrefonds, etc) and carried out in poor conditions. Between 1935-1937, the Rœthinger firm is entrusted to restore, complete and reassemble a particularly damaged instrument. During that process, the number of stops was increased and the composition and harmony of the existing stops was changed, giving the organ a neoclassical sound. Minor changes were then made between 1965-1966. At the time, the organ has 58 stops, i.e. 3764 pipes.

Since 1937, the organ has been regularly used during worship services as well as during cultural events, but its condition deteriorated progressively with the wear and tear of the components used; an in-depth restoration was becoming essential.

Commissioned by DRAC des Hauts-de-France, the detailed study of the instrumental part carried out in 2016 lead to the realisation of its significant complexity. The study of the sub-sections of the instrumental part which was considered to be mainly form Rœthinger revealed that actually, the instrumental structure was mainly from Cavaillé-Coll.

The analysis of the cases confirmed the heterogeneity of the structures. The medieval components are limited to the structure of the substructure (mullions and transoms) and the turrets as well as the painted decorations on the upper side of the turrets. The positive case has remained close to its original 17th century state and was modified during the 18th century. Two specialised restorers were entrusted with the analysis and surveys on the polychromy. Two types of polychromy were found: on the front, including the balcony, the polychromy is mainly from the 19th century, following the contemporary work by John Abbey; on the sides, it dates back to the Renaissance.

It was becoming urgent to consider related works around the organ during this restoration, to provide an appropriate environment for the instrument and ensure that it is presented well, that it is showcased, that its hygiene conditions are protected in a and refurbished and sanitized environment.

As such, during an analysis on the organ restoration, the following was raised: the vaults at the back of the nave, located above the organ, needed to be restored; the opportunity of the partial or total dismantling of the instrument to clean, check and review the cladding and masonry at the back of the gable and on the first span of the nave, around the organ (work that would no longer be envisaged once the instrument is reassembled); the refurbishment and cleaning of the volumes used for the technical equipment of the organ; the treatment and adjustments, if required, of all access, peripheral arrangements, protections and other possible points that are prerequisites for the instrument to be used and to function well.

This significant project requires scaffolding across the entire first span of the nave, rendering the organ not visible during the celebration of the 800 years of Amiens Cathedral. However, a custom-made backdrop will conceal the works, and mediation activities will be organised to explain the work carried out.

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Location :
Cathédrale Notre Dame d'Amiens
Schedule :
From 01/01/2020 to 12/31/2020
Organized by :
DRAC Hauts-de-France
Pricing :
Free