Aristide Cavaillé-Coll

French organ builder (1811–1899)

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Aristide Cavaillé-Coll
Born (1811-02-04)4 February 1811

Montpellier, France
Died 13 October 1899(1899-10-13) (aged 88)

Paris, France

Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (.mw-parser-output .IPA-label-small{font-size:85%}.mw-parser-output .references .IPA-label-small,.mw-parser-output .infobox .IPA-label-small,.mw-parser-output .navbox .IPA-label-small{font-size:100%}French: [aʁistid kavaje kɔl]; 4 February 1811 – 13 October 1899) was a French organ builder. He has the reputation of being the most distinguished organ builder of the 19th century.[1] He pioneered innovations in the art and science of organ building that permeated the profession and influenced the course of organ building, composing and improvising through the early 20th century.

As the author of scientific journal articles about the organ construction details, he published the results of his research and experiments.[citation needed]

He was the inventor of the symphonic organ being able to follow smooth and immediate dynamic changes like a symphonic orchestra. This goal was reached by: a) invention of harmonic flue and reed stops, such as the ”flûte harmonique”, ”trompette harmonique”, ”clairon harmonique”, b) invention of divided windchest with 2-3 different wind pressure sections, c) creation of groups of stops (jeux d’anches and jeux de fonds) allowing for fast dynamics changes without taking hands out of the keyboards by the organist, d) organ specification planning on the base of ”orchestral quartet”.[2][3]

His most famous organs were built in Paris in Saint-Denis Basilica (1841), Église de la Madeleine, Sainte-Clotilde Basilica (1859), Saint-Sulpice church (his largest instrument; behind the classical façade), Notre-Dame Cathedral (behind the classical façade), baron Albert de L’Espée’s residence in Biarritz (moved finally to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica[4]), and many others. The organ reform movement in the 20th century sought to return organ building to a more Baroque style; but since then, Cavaillé-Coll’s designs have come back into fashion.[citation needed]


Cavaillé-Coll’s grave in Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris

Born in Montpellier, France, to Dominique, one in a line of organ builders, he showed early talent in mechanical innovation. He exhibited an outstanding fine art when designing and building his famous instruments. His organs are “symphonic organs“: they can reproduce the sounds of other instruments and combine them as well.

Cavaillé-Coll was also known for his financial problems – he focused mostly on the organ building art, leaving finance less attention.[3] The art of his handcrafted instruments, unparalleled at that time, was not enough to ensure his firm’s survival. It was taken over in 1898, shortly before his death, by Charles Mutin, who continued in the organ business, but by the 1940s the firm had almost disappeared.

Cavaillé-Coll died in Paris on 13 October 1899 and is buried in the Montparnasse Cemetery.

Organ building innovations[edit]

Cavaillé-Coll is responsible for many innovations that revolutionized organ building, performance and composition. Instead of the Positif, Cavaillé-Coll placed the Grand-Orgue manual as the lowest manual, and included couplers that allowed the entire tonal resources of the organ to be played from the Grand-Orgue. He refined the English swell box by devising a spring-loaded (later balanced) pedal with which the organist could operate the swell shutters, thus increasing the organ’s potential for expression.

He adjusted pipe making and voicing techniques, thus creating a whole family of harmonic stops (flutes, trompettes, clairons) and stops imitating orchestral instruments such as the bassoon, the oboe and the english horn. He popularized the harmonic flute stop, which, together with the montre (principals), the gambe (strings) and the bourdon (flutes), formed the fonds (foundations) of the organ. He designed the “orchestral quartet” which referred to orchestral four colours of sound – principals, flutes, strings and reeds.[3]

He introduced divided windchests which were controlled by ventils. These allowed the use of higher wind pressures and for each manual’s anches (reed stops) to be added or subtracted as a group by means of a pedal. Higher wind pressures allowed the organ to include many more stops of 8′ (unison) pitch in every division, so complete fonds as well as reed choruses could be placed in every division, designed to be superimposed on top of one another. Sometimes he placed the treble part of the compass on a higher pressure than the bass, to emphasize melody lines and counteract the natural tendency of small pipes (especially reeds) to be softer.

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It is he [Cavaillé-Coll] who conceived the diverse wind pressures, the divided windchests, the pedal systems and the combination registers; he who applied for the first time Barker’s pneumatic motors, created the family of harmonic stops, reformed and perfected the mechanics to such a point that each pipe—low or high, loud or soft—instantly obeys the touch of the finger… From this result: the possibility of confining an entire division in a sonorous prison—opened or closed at will—the freedom of mixing timbres, the means of intensifying them or gradually tempering them, the freedom of tempos, the sureness of attacks, the balance of contrasts, and, finally, a whole blossoming of wonderful colors—a rich palette of the most diverse shades: harmonic flutes, gambas, bassoons, English horns, trumpets, celestes, flue stops and reed stops of a quality and variety unknown before.

— Charles-Marie Widor, Avant-propos to the organ symphonies, tr. John Near

For a mechanical tracker action and its couplers to operate under these higher wind pressures, pneumatic assistance provided by the Barker lever was required, which Cavaillé-Coll included in his larger instruments. This device made it possible to couple all the manuals together and play on the full organ without expending a great deal of effort.

He also invented the pneumatic combination action system for his five-manual organ at Église Saint-Sulpice, Paris.

All these innovations allowed a seamless crescendo from pianissimo all the way to fortissimo, something never before possible on the organ. His organ at the Basilique Ste-Clotilde, Paris (proclaimed a basilica by Pope Leo XIII in 1897) was one of the first to be built with several of these new features. Consequently, it influenced César Franck, who was the titular organist there. The organ works of Franck have inspired generations of organist-composers who came after him.[2]


Featuring 102 stops and five manuals, the Saint-Sulpice instrument, which unlike many others remains practically unaltered, is a candidate to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[citation needed]

Marcel Dupré stated that “composing for an orchestra is quite different from composing for an organ… with exception of Master Cavaillé-Coll’s symphonic organs: in that case one has to observe an extreme attention when writing for such kind of instruments.”[citation needed]

Almost a century beforehand, César Franck had ecstatically said of the modest Cavaillé-Coll instrument at l’Église St.-Jean-St.-François in Paris with words that summed up everything the builder was trying to do: “Mon nouvel orgue ? C’est un orchestre !” (“My new organ? It’s an orchestra!”).[citation needed]

Franck later became organist of a much larger Cavaillé-Coll organ at St Clotilde in Paris. In 1878 Franck was featured recitalist on the four-manual Cavaillé-Coll organ at the Palais du Trocadéro in Paris; this organ was subsequently rebuilt by V. & F. Gonzalez in 1939 and reinstalled in the Palais de Chaillot which replaced the Palais de Trocadéro, then rebuilt in 1975 by Danion-Gonzalez and relocated to the Auditorium Maurice Ravel in Lyon. Franck’s Trois Pièces were premiered on the Trocadéro organ.


A documentary film titled The Genius of Cavaillé-Coll was released in 2012 by Fugue State Films to mark both the 200th anniversary of Cavaillé-Coll’s birth in 2011 and the 150th anniversary of his organ at St Sulpice.[5] It won the DVD Documentary Award of the BBC Music Awards 2014.[6]

Existing Cavaillé-Coll organs[edit]

For a complete list of all organs by Cavaillé-Coll, see: List of Organs by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll [de]

In Europe[edit]

In France[edit]

In Spain[edit]

In the United Kingdom[edit]

In the Netherlands[edit]

In Belgium[edit]

In Portugal[edit]

  • Lisbon, Portugal: Igreja de São Luís dos Franceses
  • Lisbon, Portugal: Igreja de São Mamede

In Italy[edit]

In addition, Cavaillé-Coll designed a large but never-built pipe organ for Saint Peter’s Basilica, where a 1/10 scale model is preserved.[17]

In Denmark[edit]

In Russia[edit]

Organ of the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory

In Latin America[edit]

In Venezuela[edit]

  • Caracas: Iglesia de la Parroquia San Francisco. Used for regular service.
  • Caracas: Iglesia de la Parroquia Altagracia (Inoperative)
  • Caracas: Iglesia de la Parroquia Santa Teresa. Used for regular service.
  • Caracas: Iglesia de la Parroquia San José (In a delicate situation)
  • Caracas: Parroquia La Encarnación del Valle. After several decades of silence, it’s been played regularly since in 2011.
  • Los Teques: Catedral (Inoperative)

In Brazil[edit]

  • Belém: Catedral da Sé (1882)
  • Campinas: Catedral Metropolitana (1883)
  • Campo Largo: Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Piedade (1892)
  • Itu: Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora da Candelária (1882)
  • Jundiaí: Catedral de Nossa Senhora do Desterro (1895)
  • Lorena: Catedral Nossa Senhora da Piedade (1889)
  • Rio de Janeiro: Igreja Nossa Senhora do Carmo da Lapa (1898)
  • Rio de Janeiro: Capela do Colégio Sion do Cosme Velhos (Mutin)
  • Rio de Janeiro: Igreja de Nossa Senhora de Bonsucesso (Mutin)
  • Rio de Janeiro: Capela da Santa Casa (1882)
  • Salvador: Igreja da Ordem Terceira do Carmo (1888)
  • São Paulo: Igreja de São José do Ipiranga (1863)
  • São Paulo: Igreja do Senhor Bom Jesus do Brás (1875)

In Mexico[edit]

  • Mazatlán, Mexico: Catedral Basílica de la Inmaculada Concepción

In Chile[edit]

  • Valparaíso, Chile: Iglesia de los Sagrados Corazones (French Fathers Church) (1872)

In Argentina[edit]

Most of the instruments in this list were sold and installed by Mutin-Cavaillé Coll, successor of Cavaillé Coll business after his death in 1899. Argentina was a strong demander of pipe organs in the first decades of XXth century, in such degree that the company installed a branch in Buenos Aires city at that time, with two shops: one located in street Estados Unidos number 3199, the other one in street 24 de Noviembre number 884.

  • Lujan, Basilica de Lujan
  • Basílica del Santísimo Sacramento (1912)
  • Capilla del Colegio “La Salle” (1926)
  • Iglesia de San Juan Bautista (ca. 1920)
  • Basílica del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús (ca. 1906)
  • Basílica de San Nicolás de Bari (órgano principal)
  • Basílica de San Nicolás de Bari (órgano de la cripta)
  • Capilla de la “Casa de la empleada”
  • Parroquia de “Nuestra Señora del Valle”
  • Parroquia de “San Martín de Tours” (ca. 1910)
  • Parroquia de “San Cristobal”
  • Catedral de San Isidro (1906)
  • Parroquia de “Nuestra Señora de Aránzazu” (San Fernando) (1907)
  • Parroquia de “San Francisco Solano” (Bella Vista) (1906)

In Costa Rica[edit]

  • Parroquia Inmaculada Concepción (Heredia) (ca. 1904)
  • Parroquia Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (San José) (ca. 1906)

In Asia[edit]

  • Fuji, Japan: Haus Sonnenschein[19]
  • Beijing, China: Beitang (in regular use through at least 1938)[20]


Cavaillé-Coll’s name was given to an asteroid: 5184 Cavaillé-Coll.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bicknell, Stephen. Cavaillé-Coll’s Four Fonds
  • Cavaillé-Coll, Cécile (1929). Aristide Cavaillé-Coll: Ses Origines, Sa Vie, Ses Oeuvres. Paris: Fischbacher.
  • Douglass, Fenner (1999). Cavaillé-Coll and the French Romantic Tradition. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Huybens, Gilbert (1985). Cavaillé-Coll: Liste des travaux exécutés/Werkverzeichnis. Lauffen/Neckar: Orgelbau-Fachverlag Rensch. .mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit;word-wrap:break-word}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:”””””””‘””‘”}.mw-parser-output .citation:target{background-color:rgba(0,127,255,0.133)}.mw-parser-output a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-free a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output a,.mw-parser-output a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-limited a,body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-registration a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-subscription a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/12px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output .cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:none;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;color:#d33}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{color:#d33}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#2C882D;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right{padding-right:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .citation .mw-selflink{font-weight:inherit} .mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{color:#18911F} .mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error, .mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{color:#f8a397}@media(prefers-color-scheme:dark){ .mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error, .mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{color:#f8a397} .mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{color:#18911F}}ISBN 3-921848-12-1.


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  1. ^ Snyder, Kerala J. (August 2002). “Aristide Cavaillé-Coll: Master of Masters”. The Organ as A Mirror of Its Time. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195144154. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  2. ^ a b Szostak, Michał (1 May 2018). “Evolution of Cavaillé-Coll’s symphonic organs”. The Organ. 384: 8–23.
  3. ^ a b c Szostak, Michał (1 February 2019). “An appreciation of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll on the 120th anniversary of his death”. The Organ. 387: 6–21.
  4. ^ “Sacré-Coeur facts. History”. Paris Digest. 2018. Retrieved 3 January 2019.
  5. ^ Fraser, Will (December 2011). “Recording the organs of Cavaillé-Coll”. The Organists’ Review: 14–21. 2011 is the 200th anniversary of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll’s birth. 2012 is the 150th anniversary of the completion of his organ at St Sulpice…as such, we decided to make a documentary about him to mark the anniversaries of 2011 and 2012.
  6. ^ “BBC Music Magazine Awards 2014 winners announced”. BBC Music Magazine. Immediate Media Company Limited. 8 April 2014. Archived from the original on 14 April 2014. Retrieved 29 August 2014. …The Genius of Cavaillé-Coll, an epic exploration of the legendary French organ builder, won the DVD Documentary Award…announced today at a ceremony that took place at Kings Place in London.
  7. ^ oeust france. “Quel avenir pour le grand orgue de Luçon ?”. Retrieved 22 October 2015.
  8. ^ “Temple Pentemont”. Organs of Paris.
  9. ^ “L’orgue Cavaillé-Coll”.
  10. ^ “Amis de l’Orgue Cavaillé-Coll de Saint-Maurice de Bécon” [Friends of the Cavaillé-Coll Organ of Saint-Maurice de Bécon] (in French). Archived from the original on 17 May 2014. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  11. ^ “The National Pipe Organ Register – NPOR”. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  12. ^ “The National Pipe Organ Register – NPOR”. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  13. ^ “The National Pipe Organ Register – NPOR”. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  14. ^ “The Organ”. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  15. ^ “The National Pipe Organ Register – NPOR”. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  16. ^ Verburg, Mel. “Amsterdam, Parochieel Centrum Sint Augustinus / Verzorgingscentrum ‘Nieuw Vredenburg’ (Postjesweg)” [Amsterdam, parochial center of Saint Augustine]. Orgelsite (in Dutch). Archived from the original on 13 March 2014. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  17. ^ Ebrecht, Ronald (2012). Cavaillé-Coll’s Monumental Organ Project for Saint Peter’s, Rome: Bigger Than Them All. Lanham: Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0-7391-6728-1.
  18. ^ “Jesuskirkens orgler” [Jesus Church Organs]. Jesuskirken – Valby Sogn (in Norwegian). Archived from the original on 29 August 2014. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  19. ^ “Pipe Organ at Haus Sonnnenchein. 歴史あるパイプオルガン” [History of the Pipe Organ at Haus Sonnnenchein] (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 8 March 2012. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  20. ^ “An Organ Recital Program Played in War-Torn China” (PDF). The Diapason. 30 (2): 1. 1 January 1939.

External links[edit]

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