2013-11-03 Notes from the Bench

“In Paradisum (Into Paradise)” from Esquisses Byzantines by Henri Mulet

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate

Today’s prelude, In Paradisum (Into Paradise), is a piece within the work, Esquisses Byzantines (Byzantine Sketches) composedby Mulet between 1914 and 1919.  Esquisses Byzantines is a set of ten programmatic pieces for organ that depict the architectural features of the then newly built Basilica of SacréCoeur in Paris and the liturgical actions taking place there.  This work represents the solemn and meditative prayers of the peoplefor the faithful departed.  The festive moto-perpetuo work,Carillon-Sortie, written in 1912, concludes today’s celebration of All Saints’ Day with its jubilant theme set against figurative patterns that call to mind the joyous ringing of bells.

The French organist and composer Henri Mulet (1878 – 1967) was described by the organist Charles Tournimire as a “strange and great artist, seized by a mystical ideal.” During his lifetime, Mulet was regarded as a “brilliant musical personality, a solid virtuoso, and very fine improviser.”  Mulet displayed great musical abilities as a child and at the age of twelve began his musical training at the Paris Conservatory where he studied a range of musical disciplines: organ, violoncello, harmony, composition, improvisation, and solfège.

Mulet held a variety of church organist positions in Paris, which included serving the church of Saint-Phillippe-du-Roule, and taught at the École Niedermeyer, where he directed the Schola Cantorum from 1897 to 1937.  He was frequently invited to perform organ recitals and dedication concerts.  Mulet composed a small number of orchestral, vocal, and organ works. While most of his compositions are largely unknown, his organ pieces are his best-known works, which were written in an “expressive post-romantic manner” that is rooted in the nineteenth century symphonic style.  In 1937, during an act of frustration, Mulet resigned from his Parisian positions and destroyed numerous manuscripts of his compositions. He retired to a small home inDraguignan, which is located between Marseille and Nice in southern France, with his wife, Isabelle, where he lived an isolated lifestyle.  Mulet became the organist for the Cathedral of Draguignan, holding this position until 1956.  Mulet’s final years were plagued with poverty and poor health, suffering from dizzy spells.  From late 1959 until his death, Mulet and his wife were in the care of the Little Sisters of the Poor and lived in their convent in Draquine.

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