THE TOURNEMIRE VOYAGE
THE COMPLETE WORKS 1986-1996
Between 1927 and 1932, the french composer and organist at Ste Clotilde in Paris, Charles Tournemire (1870-1939), created 'L'Orgue Mystique' (The Mystical Organ) a cycle of 51 organ masses, or offices, encompassing the Roman Catholic liturgical year. Each office comprised 5 movements: Introit, Offertoire, Élévation, Communion and a larger-scale Postlude or Sortie. Each movement paraphrased the plainchant melodies appropriate to that particular Sunday or Festival Day. Tournemire's unique and often unorthodox treatments of those melodies, from sublimely tender meditations to radiant, visionary outpourings, set him apart from most of his contemporaries yet paved the way for the rising generation, Olivier Messiaen in particular. During his lifetime Tournemire had been more famous as an improviser of genius than as the composer of 8 symphonies, oratorios, operas, chamber and piano works and songs, and a vast array of organ music. His death on the brink of World War 2 cast him into a long period of obscurity.
In 1975, having, for some 10 years, explored most of the canon of international organ music, past to present, I heard Tournemire's music for the first time on what was then a very rare recording of one of the offices from 'L'Orgue Mystique' and immediately realised that I had unwittingly been on a quest and had found what I hadn't known I was seeking! That extraordinary music, unlike anything I had heard before, inspired my visual imagination and I embarked on a voyage of discovery that would lead me to an island of storms!
I decided to create a cycle of images corresponding to the 51 offices (253 movements) of 'L'Orgue Mystique'. I researched the texts of the plainchants Tournemire had used. I sought out the few available recordings, those of Georges Delvallée in particular, but also enlisted the aid of my dear friend, David Ollosson, a brilliant organist. Another friend, John Parry, environmentalist and photographer joined us. We visited Ste. Clotilde to meet Pierre Cogen, the assistant organist there. (See b/w image lower left): Ste. Clotilde's first organist had been César Franck, Tournemire's teacher, whom he eventually succeeded. After Tournemire, his pupil and assistant, the blind, Jean Langlais took over. Pierre Cogen was Langlais's assistant with whom David studied for a while. And we also met the 89-year-old, Mme. Alice Tournemire, his second wife, 30 years his junior, who could not have been more encouraging and helpful, providing us with many photographs.
I began work on my series in 1986 and the following year, David, John and I made the journey to the Île d'Ouessant (Ushant), the tempest-torn scrap of rocky terrain, 17 miles out across treacherous seas from the western tip of Brittany, where that magician, Charles Tournemire, went every year to conjure up his visionary music - inside a tiny windmill!