Storm in the St Niklaaskerk at Gent in 1856 by Joris De Henau

by Joris De Henau | Het ORGEL | Year 99 | (2003) | Issue 4

Joris De Henau Storm in the St Niklaaskerk at Gent in 1856
Het ORGEL 99 (2003), nr. 4, 5-15 [summary]

 The three-manual Cavaillé-Coll organ in the St. Niklaaskerk at Gent (Belgium, 1856) has been silent for decades; it is in bad condition. François-Joseph Fétis had dreamed of such a model instrument for Belgium, hoping that it would raise the level of Belgian organ culture.
An aspect of a general study of this instrument, the present article focuses on the inauguration concert of 11 March 1856; it is based on letters found in the ‘Collection Lapresté’ of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France at Paris.
Cavaillé-Coll’s advice to ask Louis-James-Alfred Lefébure-Wely to play the inauguration concert was followed at Gent; which meant that the church decided not to invite Jaak Nikolaas Lemmens. Lefébure-Wely usually improvised on such occasions; in most cases he presented program music on storms, ‘the last judgment’, or wars. Organ recitals like this are part of the foundation of our modern organ style of organ concert, which was not a common phenomenon at that time.
The reactions to the concert were varied. Le Messager de Gand was enthusiastic, but ‘ordinary people’ criticised the worldly recital in pamphlets, songs and satires.
Fétis reacted indirectly to the article in Le Messager de Gand in the Revue et Gazette Musicale de Paris. He criticised Lefébure’s style and feared that the Mass would eventually deteriorate into a ballet. He suggested taking the style of Alphonse Mailly of Brussels as a point of departure instead, and hence that of Mailly’s pupil Lemmens. 
Ironically, Cavaillé-Coll later sent Widor to Lemmens to learn the art of organ playing.