It is difficult to overestimate the importance of Alexandre Guilmant in the history of the organ and organ playing in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries in France. His sphere of influence as performer, teacher and editor was enormous. This influence also extended to the instruments themselves because although he never wavered in his devotion to the symphonic organ of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll he was also concerned to ensure that organs were suitably equipped to play the early music he was editing. He grew up in Boulogne-sur-Mer where, at the age of twelve, he was already deputizing for his father at the church of St-Nicolas. He had his own church, St-Joseph, when he was sixteen and in 1857 succeeded his father. A brief but intense period of study with Lemmens, in Brussels in 1860, laid the foundations both for his love of the music of Bach and also of his own teaching methods. He took part in the inaugurations of the organs at St-Sulpice and Notre-Dame in Paris and in 1871 was appointed organist at La Trinité, a post to which he devoted himself for the next thirty years. Although by no means the first player to gain an international reputation, his extended tours of the United States were unprecedented and led to the foundation of the Guilmant School of Organ Playing in 1899. His reputation as a composer now rests principally on his more demanding concert works but during his lifetime the fluency and grace of his many smaller works were equally admired. These include a substantial body of work based on plainsong, much of it modest in demand and suitable for use in the liturgy, which laid the foundations for the compositions of Dupré, Duruflé and Tournemire. Grand chœur triomphal
in A major, Op 47 No 2, was written in 1876 and published in the collection entitled L’Organiste pratique
. Largely intended as teaching material, this collection of over fifty pieces originally appeared in a two-stave edition, which Guilmant later revised with an independent pedal part. The exuberant march is ushered in by a fanfare figure in octaves which reappears at important structural moments and the piece displays a remarkable consistency of thematic construction. Each appearance of the main theme is strengthened by some new counterpoint or harmonic intensification. There is a less martial central trio section.
from notes by Stephen Westrop © 2004