Considered by Bach, Mozart and many others as “the king of instruments”, the organ possesses numerous unique characteristics: it is polytimbral, with the largest range of pitches and dynamics, and with countless acoustic possibilities. Often considered an architectural and cabinet-making masterpiece, the design of the organ case frequently illustrates the era of its installation.
Each pipe of the instrument is carefully constructed, thanks to the talent of craftsmen who master the metal alloy, which plays such an important role in the instrument’s timbre.
Around the world, many concert halls house organs. In Canada, it would be felicitous to include such an instrument in the new hall planned for the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, as is already the case in Calgary, Toronto and Edmonton.
Each organ is a work of art, just as a painting is, or a sculpture by a great master.
Also called the city of a hundred steeples, Montreal is home to several hundred pipe organs, and well over twenty of these are large-scale instruments. These instruments, which bear witness to the close ties between music and the religious ceremonial, illustrate the personality and the history of the city's neighbourhoods.
Over time, the greater Montreal region has seen its organ builders expand and develop an expertise that is now recognised internationally. It is perhaps a significant, if small, observation that the first organ of the parish of Montreal had seven pipes. That was between 1702 and 1705. It enabled sculptor and cabinetmaker Paul Jourdain to deliver to the cathedral of Quebec in 1723 a seven-pipe organ, and to give himself the title of organ builder when he signed the contract. After Jourdain, the next person in Canada who called himself an organ builder was Jean-Baptiste Jacotel, a French immigrant who established his business in Montreal in 1821.
The first professional organ builder in Canada was established in 1836 with the arrival of an American, Samuel-Russel Warren (1809-1882). He built more than 400 organs and trained excellent students. These included his son Charles-Summer Warren and Louis Mitchell (1823-1902) who today are considered the most talented organ builders of their generation.
In 1879 the Casavant brothers founded their business. These two young men soon dominated the organ building scene, first in Quebec and then throughout America. Casavant continues to be a major name in the organ world of North America. Between 1980 and 1990, organ manufacturing in Quebec underwent a strong revival with demand coming from the English provinces of Canada and from the United States, and at the same time from countries further away such as Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
Source: Bouchard, Antoine et Cousineau, André: Orgues au Québec, FFAO1991 Saint-Dié, Édition Organa Europae, 1991, 84p.
MONTREAL, ORGAN CAPITAL
The rich musical tradition in the city, the long history of organ building, and the quality of the city's organists – many of them very well-known teachers – creates a most favourable opportunity for great concerts, and the development of exceptional careers. Each year Montrealers are able to attend over 200 organ recitals, and their numbers are said to be about 30 000. In some churches the organs have been restored, as is the case at Saint-Anges Church in Lachine where the community has rediscovered the joys of organ music.
In 1998, John Grew, Organist of McGill University, founded an Organ Academy to which every two years he welcomes some of the top organ music specialists, internationally renowned performers and organists of cathedrals such as Notre Dame de Paris. Mr. Grew himself participates in international competitions as a jury member.
The rich and diverse organ heritage of Montreal, his own passion for developing the talents of young organists, and the disappearance of the Calgary International Organ Competition, led him to gather interested businessmen in a planning committee. From this group, the idea was born to create the Canadian International Organ Competition (CIOC), a large-scale event, whose first edition took place from October 8 – 19, 2008.
Under the chairmanship of E. Noël Spinelli, C.M., the CIOC was the only international organ competition in the Americas in 2008. Three Honorary Patrons are associated with this first edition: Kent Nagano, Musical Director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal; Père Lindsay, founder of the Festival de Lanaudière; and the late Richard Bradshaw, who was the director of the Canadian Opera Company from 1998 until 2007. A jury of nine renowned organists awarded prizes totalling $72,000 to a carefully selected group of the world's finest young organists. The CIOC confirms Montreal as the North American organ capital.