Léonce de Saint-Martin

Leonce de St-MartinLéonce de Saint-Martin (1886-1954) became titulaire of Notre Dame de Paris from 1937 until his death. He succeeded Louis Vierne after a decision by the cathedral authorities. But it was a controversial appointment, a petition from 55 organists and other church musicians of Paris has asked for an open contest as were Vierne’s wishes, but it was not to be. St Martin’s appointment was to remain controversial for the rest of his time at Notre Dame, his abilities were not held in high regard by many in the Parisian church music scene.

Léonce de Saint-Martin – Elevation – Notre Dame
Léonce de Saint-Martin – Noel – Notre Dame

Veni Sancte Spiritus


Veni Sancte Spiritus is a sequence prescribed in the Roman Liturgy for the Masses of Pentecost and its octave, excluding the following Sunday. It is usually attributed to either the thirteenth-century Pope Innocent III or to the Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton. Veni Sancte Spiritus is one of only four medieval sequences which were preserved by the Council of Trent in the Missale Romanum published in 1570.

The chant is in the Dorian mode.

See a list of other popular chant themes here.

Pierre Cochereau – Choir of Notre Dame sings ‘Veni Sancte Spiritus’ – Paris
Clint Kraus – Improvisation on Veni Sancte Spiritus – St. James Cathedral, Seattle, WA

Louis Vierne


Louis Vierne (1870 – 1937) is best known as a composer and organist at Notre Dame in Paris, France. He was born in Poitiers, nearly blind due to congenital cataracts, but was discoverd at an early age to have a gift for music: at age two, a pianist played him a Schubert lullaby and he promptly began to pick out the notes of the lullaby on the piano.
After completing school in the provinces, Louis Vierne entered the Paris Conservatory. From 1892, Vierne served as an assistant to the organist Charles-Marie Widor at the church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris. Vierne subsequently became principal organist at the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, a post he held from 1900 until his death (while performing a concert) in 1937. Though he held one of the most prestigious organ posts in France, the Notre-Dame organ was in a state of disrepair throughout much of his tenure. To raise money for its restoration, he undertook a concert tour of North America including a performance on the famous Wanamaker Organ in Philadelphia. Some of his students include Augustin Barié, Edward Shippen Barnes, Lili Boulanger, Nadia Boulanger, Marcel Dupré, André Fleury, Gaston Litaize, Édouard Mignan, Alexander Schreiner, and Georges-Émile Tanguay.
Vierne made phonograph recordings of six works of Bach, three of his own compositions and three improvisations. Originally recorded by Odéon, they were reissued most recently by EMI in 1981 with two of the improvisations appearing again in 1994. Maurice Duruflé transcribed the improvisations as he had done with the recordings of Charles Tournemire.


Louis Vierne: Organist of Notre Dame Cathedral
by Rollin Smith, Pendragon Press, 2009.

Recorded in 1929, there is some noise in the audio on these video, but I believe they are worth sharing because it is Vierne himself improvising.

Louis Vierne – Marche Episcopale – Notre Dame, Paris
Louis Vierne – Meditation – Notre Dame, Paris
Louis Vierne – Cortege – Notre Dame, Paris

and while it isn’t an improvisation, there is a short video of Louis Vierne playing at Notre Dame here.

Maurice Duruflé


Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986) was a French composer, organist, and teacher. At age 17, upon moving to Paris, he took private organ lessons with Charles Tournemire, whom he assisted at Basilique Ste-Clotilde, Paris until 1927. In 1920 Duruflé entered the Conservatoire de Paris, eventually graduating with first prizes in organ, harmony, piano accompaniment, and composition. His harmony professor was Jean Gallon.

In 1927, Louis Vierne nominated him as his assistant at Notre Dame. Duruflé and Vierne remained lifelong friends, and Duruflé was at Vierne’s side acting as assistant when Vierne died at the console of the Notre-Dame organ on June 2, 1937. Duruflé became titular organist of St-Étienne-du-Mont in Paris in 1929, a position he held for the rest of his life. In 1943 he became Professor of Harmony at the Conservatoire de Paris, where he worked until 1970.

in 1947, Marie-Madeleine Chevalier became his assistant at St-Étienne-du-Mont. They married on 15 September 1953. The couple became a famous and popular organ duo, going on tour together several times throughout the sixties and early seventies.

His transcriptions of the recorded improvisations of Charles Tournemire have become some of the most widely performed and well known of Tournemire’s “compositions.”


Duruflé: En Concert
Appears to include an improvised rhapsody as part of the program of repertoire.

Duruflé: Works for Organ & Choir
This recording contains choral works of Maurice Duruflé, along with the Suite, op 5, and improvisations by Thierry Escaich.


Preludes usually serve as introductory movements in multi-movement works, though they also may stand alone. The formal structure varies widely. The title may also refer simply to the piece of music played at the beginning of a worship service.

Example videos:
Philippe Lefebvre – Prélude – 01.05.2011 – Notre Dame
Loïc Mallié – Entrée improvisée – La Trinité, Paris
Olivier Penin – Prelude – St. Clotilde
Pierre Pincemaille – Prélude – St. Denis
William Porter – O dass ich tausend Zunge hätte – Prelude
Johann Vexo – Messe du dimanche soir 07.04.2013 – Prélude
Johann Vexo – Vêpres 07.04.2013 – Prélude

Michel Chapuis

Michel ChapuisChapuis was organist for the Paris churches of St. Germain l’Auxerrois (1951-54) and St. Nicolas des Champs (1954-72), accompanied at Notre Dame (1955-64), and was titular organist of St. Séverin from 1964. He also toured widely as a concert artist. From 1956-79 he was Professor at the Conservatoire de Strasbourg, 1979-86 at the Besançon Conservatoire, and 1986-95 at the Paris Conservatoire. In 1995, he was named organist to the Versailles Royal Chapel.

Full bio. You can hear him on Spotify.

Michel Chapuis – Grand Jeu Classique – St. Ouen
Michel Chapuis – Improvisations in French classical style – Chapelle Royale, Paris
Michel Chapuis – Improvisation sur “Ubi Caritas” – Cathédrale Saint-Vincent, Saint-Malo
Michel Chapuis – Improvisations dans le style classique français – Orgue Aubertin, Karuzawa, Japan

Jean-Pierre Leguay

Jean-Pierre LeguayJean-Pierre Leguay is a French organist, composer and improviser. He studied organ with André Marchal, Gaston Litaize, Rolande Falcinelli, as well as counterpoint with Simone Plé-Caussade, and composition with Olivier Messiaen. He served as titular organist at Notre-Dame-des-Champs in Paris from 1961 to 1984. In 1985, Jean-Pierre Leguay was awarded the post of one of four titulaires des grands orgue of Notre-Dame, Paris alongside Yves Devernay, Olivier Latry and Philippe Lefèbvre, following the death of Pierre Cochereau.
Full bio. You can hear him on Spotify.


Jean-Pierre Leguay: Improvisations

Jean-Pierre Leguay – Prélude de la messe grégorienne – Notre Dame, Paris

Philippe Lefebvre

philippelefebvreWith the encouragement of Pierre Cochereau, Philippe Lefebvre began organ studies at the Conservatoire de Lille before entering the class of Rolande Falcinelli at the Conservatoire de Paris. He won the premier prix for improvisation at the international Lyon competition in 1972 and then the grand prix for improvisation at the international Chartres competition. In 1976, he was appointed organist titulaire at Chartres cathedral. In 1985, Philippe Lefèbvre was awarded the post of one of four titulaires des grands orgue of Notre-Dame, Paris alongside Yves Devernay, Olivier Latry and Jean-Pierre Leguay, following the death of Pierre Cochereau.
Full bio. You can hear him on Spotify.


Mallié – Lefèbvre : Improvisations à l’ogue

Prélude – 01.05.2011 – Notre Dame
Sortie – 19.04.2009 – Notre Dame
Sortie – 01.05.2011 – Notre Dame
Offertoire – 01.05.2011 – Notre Dame

Olivier Latry & Philippe Lefebvre – Variations Pt. 1

Olivier Latry & Philippe Lefebvre – Variations Pt. 2
Olivier Latry, Philippe Lefèbvre, Vincent Dubois, Paolo Oreni and Kalevi Kiviniemi – Improvisation-à-cinque – St. Joseph, Bonn Beuel

Charles Tournemire (Philippe Lefebvre plays) – Victimae paschali laudes – Chartres Cathedral, France

Yves Devernay

DevernayYves Devernay (1937-1990) studied the organ with Marie-Claire Alain and Rolande Falcinelli, and was awarded Premier Prix at Lyon and Chartres improvisation competitions. He became one of four organists (alongside Olivier Latry, Philippe Lefèbvre and Jean-Pierre Leguay) to inherit Pierre Cochereau‘s post as titulaire of Notre Dame in 1985. He died suddenly in 1990. You can hear him on Spotify.


Devernay: Improvisations à Notre-Dame de Paris

Yves Devernay – Entry in the 12th Haarlem Improvisation Competition

Yves Devernay – Sortie, Christmas 1988 – Notre Dame, Paris
Yves Devernay – Sortie, Easter 1989 – Notre Dame, Paris
Yves Devernay – Sortie, Easter 1989 – Notre Dame, Paris