Nicolas de Grigny Biography (BBC)
Nicolas de Grigny was only 31 when he died in Reims in 1703. At the time of his death he was organist of Reims Cathedral; he had been born in the city, the son of an organist father and grandfather, but his career propelled him, at the age of 21, to the abbey of St Denis in Paris, where his brother was a member of the clergy; De Grigny served as organist from 1693 to 1695, marrying and starting a family of seven children.
The years De Grigny spent in Paris were enormously influential in the gestation of his music. The impact came from two significant developments: first, in 1662 the diocese of Paris had published Ceremoniale parisiense – a book of orders of service which were prescriptive of the music and even the tone-colours to be used in the ‘organ masses’ that were typical of the period. Such prescriptiveness was possible because of the second development: by 1670, French organ-builders – of whom the most famous is Robert Clicquot – had effectively standardised what is now understood and described as the ‘French Classical Organ’.
Such ‘command and control’ of music and liturgy was possible because of the unique concentration of organs and organists in Paris. The names remain very much alive for musicians today, through the publication of their compositions, usually in the form of ‘livres d’orgue’ or as organ masses: among these practitioners were Louis and François Couperin, Nivers, Gigault, Marchand, Clérambault, Daquin and Lebègue – with whom De Grigny is believed to have studied.
De Grigny’s magnum opus was the Premier livre d’orgue (‘First book of the organ’), published in Paris in 1699. It contained a mass and a series of hymn settings appropriate to the liturgical year. What makes the music stand out is De Grigny’s way of enriching the traditional duos, trios, fugues and récits found in the masses. His fugues, for example, could extend to five parts – in these and in other music, he made uncommonly demanding use of the organ pedals. And, instead of accompanied solos, De Grigny would vividly exploit the full range of the organ’s tonal palette by substituting a dialogue for two solo voices. De Grigny’s music was therefore more than merely ‘appropriate’ for the organs of the period: it was richly contrapuntal, melodically expressive and harmonically as well as sonically daring. It is significant that J. S. Bach – whose music developed ideas derived from Italian and French idioms – knew De Grigny’s work and transcribed for his own use a complete copy of the Premier livre d’orgue.
Though, later in the 18th century, the music of De Grigny, Couperin and others was eclipsed by the more highly decorated style of composers such as Dandrieu and Clérambault, De Grigny’s iconic status was confirmed when he took his place among those honoured commemoratively by later generations in the manner of Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin and Marcel Dupré’s Le tombeau de Titelouze; De Grigny’s ‘tomb’ was composed by Georges Migot (1891–1976). Even without such an accolade, De Grigny’s eminence in the French Baroque tradition is assured.
Profile © Graeme Kay, 2004
Nicolas de Grigny Biography (Wikipedia)
Nicolas de Grigny (baptized September 8, 1672 – November 30, 1703) was a French organist and composer. He died young and left behind a single collection of organ music, and an Ouverture for harpsichord.
Nicolas de Grigny Tracks