The man who is considered to be the emblematic organ builder of the 19th century, and therefore of romanticism in the aesthetics of the organ, embodied the figure of “the right man at the right time”. The French Revolution having undermined everything directly or indirectly related to religion, the creation of organs between 1790 and 1830 largely ceased in France, even if instruments were eventually maintained or even transferred (notably from disused convents to parishes) and raised or renovated).

Aristide Cavaillé-Coll aged

The Concordat which restored a solid status for the Church (1801), the work of musico-liturgical reformers such as Choron, La Fage or Danjou, the awareness of historical heritage, religious renewal (Chateaubriand, Lacordaire, Dupanloup…), the creation of an organ class at the Conservatoire (1819) are among the factors which favored the gradual blossoming of a renewed organ culture in France, the fruits of which were to be felt above all in the second third of the century — this is i.e. exactly when Aristide Cavaillé-Coll “goes up” to Paris to boldly launch his international career.

Only here, at that time the musical world is no longer the same as at the time of the masterpieces of the classical organ school. Not only did Gossec, Rossini and Boieldieu go through it, but a Berlioz, a Chopin, a Liszt opened the way to new worlds of expression in the art of sound. Thus, the bel canto, the piano, the symphony orchestra upset the very framework of musical creation. The organ builder must certainly take into account powerful currents of liturgical and musical conservatism within the Church which still represents, by far, his main source of means of living; but the future will be for those who know how to find the right balance between reassuring immobility and unbridled innovation which, in the long term, leads to impasse, sterile excess or marginalization.

Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, a young man not yet 25 years old but moved by the same sacred fire as those who dared the “Fantastic”, the scherzos, the Etudes à execution transcendante, will he be able to play his cards (and, at the need, elbows), asserting his genius, overcoming the pangs of business management, gathering the votes of the musical world, imposing his vision, in short, rising to the height of a “second Great Century” of the French art?…