The Most Epic Death In Music History: Louis Vierne

The Most Epic Death In Music History: Louis Vierne

The French musician’s life ended exactly as he wanted — doing what he most loved.
689
views

The art world loves a good death. Whether it’s Millais’s "Ophelia," singing in a river as she drowns, or Mozart’s apocryphal death by requiem (famously depicted in the play and movie "Amadeus"), the end of a fictional life tends to carry more glamour (or tragedy) than a real one. It would be a fair assessment, then, to initially believe that the life and death of French composer Louis Vierne is one of fiction. His story not only reads like one straight out of Hollywood but ends exactly how he wished — even if that wish might have been an exaggeration.

Born in 1870 with cataracts so severe that he’d be legally blind today, Vierne was dealt an unfortunate hand. Though a later operation would grant him a very narrow field of view, he would have to rely on his other senses to guide him through life. The family that raised him was much more nurturing than the world that cursed him. His uncle, an accomplished musician, suggested that Vierne receive an education in music (or at the very least, develop a “broad cultural background”). His father agreed and at an early age, Vierne was exposed to the instrument he instantly fell in love with: the pipe organ.

Vierne was born at the right time, as French organs in the late 1800s were undergoing nothing short of a revolution. With the whole of art and culture being swept up in 19th-century romanticism, not even church instruments were spared. The new “symphonic” organs pioneered in France by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll were big, expressive and cutting edge. They featured a large variety of stops (a term that roughly equates to “instrument” on an organ) that could be played together, on their own, increase or decrease in volume and provide a seemingly endless pallet of sounds, much like a symphony. This was the kind of sound and music Vierne first heard at Église Saint-Maurice in Lille. The relatively modest instrument instantly captivated him with its “magical effects of softness, crescendo and power.” It was obvious from the start: the organ would be the instrument of his expression.

The Vierne family moved to Paris, where he’d receive a top-notch education. Vierne learned from Franck, Widor and Guilmant, masters at the time of both performance and composition. Before he became an organist, however, he was hit with the first of many tragedies — his beloved uncle suddenly died. It was he that Vierne credited with his inspiration and success in life. Despite this and the death of his younger sister and father, Vierne completed his studies with glowing success. He served as an assistant at Saint-Sulpice before earning the coveted position as principal organist at Notre-Dame de Paris.

His career there would ultimately define him as a composer and performer. He’d become world renowned for his improvisation and write a large catalog of pieces, primarily for organ, voice and piano. His personal life was not nearly as successful. It was plagued by injuries, illness, divorce and deaths of family members. Despite all of it, he trucked on with a job that he loved to death: Vierne often stated that it was his wish to die at his console. Whether or not he was serious, Vierne got his wish. He was giving what is claimed to be his 1,750th concert. Age, tragedy, work and drugs to cope had clearly taken a toll on him. Though the audience heard music just as fast and energetic as he always played, Maurice Durufle, one of Vierne’s students up in the loft with him, could tell he was feeling ill. He came to the part in the program where he was scheduled to play two improvisations. Vierne chose the stops he would use and suddenly fell forward, stepping on a pedal as he went down, sending a guttural low tone throughout the cathedral. As the silence grew longer, it became clear — the note was his last.

Vierne’s life and death quickly became Notre-Dame legend. Though the outdated console was replaced, it remains on display at the cathedral, complete with the bench he played on to the very end. The prestigious organ, in disrepair for most of his career, is now a state-of-the-art wonder to behold (mostly with your ears). Though Vierne’s pieces aren’t performed nearly as often as that of Widor or Bach, they still enjoy regular programming and a slew of recordings. It’s music that offers a reflection of his own life — dramatic, at times dark, but often with a big, unforgettable finish.

Cover Image Credit: Wikimedia

Popular Right Now

To That One Friend Who Deserves The World

Since I can't give you the world, I hope giving you this article is enough.
58371
views

My wonderful friend,

You deserve love.

You deserve to marry your best friend.

You deserve appreciation.

You deserve that no matter who comes in and out of your life, every selfless thing you do for someone is acknowledged.

Have Your Voice Heard: Become an Odyssey Creator

You deserve kindness.

You deserve to have the nicest people in the world surround you all of the time.

You deserve support.

You deserve to have someone there for you at the beginning of every good day and at the end of every bad one, to have someone who wants to fix all of your problems.

You deserve hope.

You deserve to always be optimistic.

You deserve laughter.

You deserve to never stop smiling and actually mean it every time you do.

You deserve forgiveness.

You deserve to be able to be given second chances because without a doubt you are worth it.

You deserve friendship.

You deserve to have a friend who can be just as good of a friend as you are.

You deserve honesty.

You deserve to always be told the truth.

You deserve motivation.

You deserve to never want to give up and always push yourself.

You deserve success.

You deserve to have everything you have worked so hard for.

You deserve faith.

You deserve to always know it will get better.

You deserve loyalty.

You deserve to have that one person who will never leave and always be there for you.

You deserve happiness.

You deserve to be genuinely content with your life.

You deserve the world.

If I could give it to you, I would.

Yes, life gets tough sometimes. The unthinkable happens and your world feels like it is crashing down but you can get past all of this.

Thank you for being so selfless. It amazes me how you do it sometimes, but thank you for always making everyone your main priority when they need you.

I know I may not say it enough, but truly thank you for all you do for me. I don’t always know how to show how much someone means to me, especially when it is someone as great as you because I don’t know what I did to deserve you, but thank you.

I love you.

Cover Image Credit: Liz Spence

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating
Facebook Comments