Charles-Arnould Tournemire – Psaume LVII Op. 37
January 1870 – d. Archachon, 4. November 1939)
Concerning the life and work of organist-composer Charles-Arnould Tournemire , two aspects stand out: his masterful improvisations at the organ and the Catholic plainchant tradition thoroughly integrated in his musical creations. Tournemire’s magisterial L’orgue mystique (Opp. 55-57, 1927-32), a cycle of 51 organ suites utilizing the appropriate chants for each Sunday of the liturgical year, endures as his best-known compositional effort. He wrote in his memoires concerning this work: „The master of masters, J. S. Bach, has done it—and in what a manner—for the Protestant liturgy. I thought it was necessary to endow the Catholic cult with an ensemble work conceived in the same spirit, but with this difference: the greatest of musicians had based his art on the Protestant chorale, and in service of the tonal system in the immense part of this work. As for myself, I offered commentary on Gregorian chant in the modal system…“
Beginning in 1898, Tournemire served as organist at the Basilica of St. Clotilde, in Paris, a position previously held by César Franck, his teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, and, as for his mentor, Tournemire’s organ works realized a symphonic ideal inspired by the magnificent Cavaillé-Coll organ installed there. Beginning in 1919, he also taught instrumental music at the Conservatoire, where his students included Maurice Duruflé and Jean Langlais.
Written in 1908-9 and dedicated to Daniel de Lange and the Leiden Choral Society, Tournemire’s Psaume LVII, Op. 37 was premiered in 1910, in Leiden, Holland. Psaume LVII is an early instance of Tournemire scoring for organ with orchestra and/or choir, e.g., Poème, Op. 38 (1909-10) and Symphony No. 6, Op. 48 (1915-18).
The text of Psalm 57 (Vulgate, Psalm 56) relays the anxiety felt by David because of his enemies; it’s title states “when he had fled from Saul into the cave.” Beginning with a cry for mercy (“Aie pitié, ô Dieu, aie pitié de moi”), the psalm builds to an expression of steadfast faith (“Mon coeur est ferme, ô Dieu”). To introduce and add weight to these words of confidence, Tournemire finally includes the organ, about two-thirds through the piece, which crescendos with precisely specified organ registrations to a fortississimo (fff) dynamic.
As may be expected, in Tournemire’s hands, this work features lush orchestral textures supporting melodic lines that are largely modal.
Dr. John MacInnis, Dordt University, 2020
For performance material please contact Eschig, Paris. Reprint of a copy from the library of Conservatoire de Musique de Genève, Geneva.