One source that is likely to be very important in my research is Rollin Smith’s Louis Vierne, Organist of the Notre Dame Cathedral.1 Rollin Smith is a well known personality in the organ world, and particularly, in organ scholarship. This particular source is actually a compilation of a few different sources, both primary and secondary. It includes the Mes Souvenirs,2 Louis Vierne’s autobiography, written from 1933-37, as well as four of Vierne’s own essays. It also contains Rollin Smith’s biography of Vierne, which serves to fill in some of the gaps left in Mes Souvenirs. Lastly, it contains an extensive bibliography which can lead me to other sources, such as programs, reviews, articles, and obituaries. The book is very thick, and I have the advantage of having read a good portion of it prior to taking this class.
The autobiographical portion will be useful in that it provides Vierne’s own point of view. It is quite detailed, with anecdotes from different periods of his life. In the original, French text, there are many errors, especially with dates, which were mostly Vierne’s own error. This edition is helpful in that it corrects those errors using annotations. One possible bias is that this is a very insular perspective into Vierne’s life. This can be good and it can be bad. On one hand, we gain insight into Vierne’s thought process, his emotional states, and the like. On the other hand, it can often offer a very skewed interpretation of reality. Vierne was a successful product of the French Conservatoire who went on to become one of the foremost organists in of his time. This says nothing of those who were not successful in the conservatoire, or might not have had the opportunity to be (the Conservatoire had an age limit).
It also has the disadvantage that it is incomplete. One poignant example of this problem is how Vierne talks about Marcel Dupré. Vierne and Dupré had a falling out when Vierne was ill and appointed Dupré his long term substitute. During this period, Dupré gave some concerts in America and Canada for which he was billed sometimes as the “Organist of Notre Dame” and sometimes as the “Organist at Notre Dame” (333). Such semantic confusion caused a rivalry between the two, who had been good friends up until that point. However, Vierne’s autobiography speaks only of Dupré in kind, sometimes endearing terms. Rollin Smith writes that when Vierne wrote his Souvenirs, he “viewed their early relationship objectively” (342). Thus, this seems to be a deliberate omission on Vierne’s part.
Rollin Smith’s biography fills in some of these gaps. It often includes material pertaining to other organists with whom Vierne was associated. In the case of Dupré, it details Vierne’s feud with Dupré, and includes multiple perspectives. For instance, it mentions that while Vierne came to view their relationship before the feud objectively, Dupré “never recovered from the embarrassment of the humiliating situation brought upon him by his mentor” and responded negatively to a letter by American organ builder Ernest M. Skinner, suggesting that the two men forgive each other resume association (341). Thus, Smith’s story appears more objective, as it not only includes a story which Vierne deliberately omitted from his memoirs, but also includes both sides of that story.
(1) Smith, Rollin. 1999. Louis Vierne, Organist of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Print.
(2) Vierne, Louis. 1970. Cahiers et Mémoires de l’Orgue, No. 3 (134bis). Paris: Les Amis de l’Orgue.