Félix-Alexandre Guilmant


First years
Félix-Alexandre Guilmant was born on March 12, 1837 in Boulogne-sur-Mer in the north west of France. His father Jean-Baptiste Guilmant was organist of the Church of Saint Nicolas and gave his son the first organ lessons. He was also taught by Gustave Carulli. Not only the young boy played the organ, but also piano and violin. In 1860 Guilmant went to Brussels, where he got his most important education from Jaak-Nicolaas Lemmens. Lemmens influence on the playing technique and the composing skills of Guilmant is very important. After his studies, Guilmant stayed in Boulogne-sur-Mer as organist. He was appointed organist of the Church of Saint Joseph and Maître de Chapelle of the Church of Saint Nicholas Church. In Boulogne he started writing compositions. The first works were all liturgical works for choir and organ. Most of them were never published. He also wrote his first organ compositions, but he started publishing most of them after he moved to Paris.
In Boulogne Guilmant was professor of solfège at the École Communale and director of the Boulogne Société Orphéonique. He also was a member of the Société Philharmonique.
Paris
In 1868 Guilmant was one of the organists playing at the inauguration concert of the new organ in the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris. Here in this city the organ culture was flavouring and many famous organist were playing the organs at church services and concerts. In 1868 the new church of Saint-Trinité was build, and Aristide Cavaillé-Coll build a new organ for this church. Alexis Chauvet became the organist of the church. But when he died at early age in 1870, Guilmant was appointed as the new organist. In 1871 he moved to Paris, where he would live until his death.

Fame
Guilmant has been a very famous organ player in his days. He made concert trips to many countries, including the USA. In 1878 he started a series of concerts in the Palace of Trocadéro in Paris, where he played old and almost forgotten music together with actual compositions and improvisations. In 1896 he became teacher at the Paris Conservatory. Having conflicts with the church leaders concerning the organ at Saint Trinité, Guilmant decided to quit in 1900, and he was succeeded by Charles Quef. Thanks to Louis Vierne he became the 'second organist' of Notre-Dame.

Last years
During his last years Guilmant played many concerts. In 1904 he made his third and last journey to the USA. Here he played 40 concerts at the Saint Louis Exhibition. In 1908 Guilmants wife died. He wrote his last opus number (opus 94, Trois Oraisons) in 1910. On March 29, 1911, Guilmant died in his house in Meudon.

Remembrance
His pupils kept his name alive for many years. In 1937 they organizes a memorial concert at Saint Trinité on his birthday. But after the second world war his name faded out. One of the last pupils of Guilmant, the famous Marcel Dupré (1886-1971) did mention the uncredible talent for improvisation of Guilmant, but ofcourse, there are no recordings or notitions. Most of the music of Guilmant was sold out and there were no reprints. A few organist continued to play his works (b.e. Feike Asma in the Netherlands), but only some pieces. In 1984 a complete reprint of a great part of his work appeared in the USA. Schott Music quickly after that also reprinted all eight sonatas. In Vienna Hans Haselböck performed the first symphony for organ and orchestra. The romantic music in general was rediscovered in those years. Nowadays Guilmant is again wellknown, and many compositions are played all over the world and recorded on CD. But still a great deal of his work is unknown and hardly performed.

Piet Bron, 2004