2016-04-10 Notes from the Bench

“Meditation religieuse” by Henri Mulet

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


Today’s prelude, Meditation Religieuse, is an early work composed by French organist and composer Henri Mulet (1878 – 1967) c. 1896. Mulet creates an ethereal atmosphere with this work; the opening melody is set for the upper range of the flute stops that are accompanied by warm strings. His use of harmony is lush, but reserved. The music becomes more agitated through the middle section as Mulet modulated through various tonal centers which cycle back to the home tonality and recapitulation of the opening section.




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 in Draguignan, 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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