Vierne Second Organ Symphony
Louis Vierne
Second Symphony for Organ

Christopher Houlihan

Charles-Marie Widor
  • Allegro
    from Sixth Symphony in G minor, op. 42, no 2
  • Andante sostenuto
    from Gothic Symphony in C minor, op. 70
Louis Vierne
Second Symphony in E minor, op. 20
  • Allegro
  • Choral
  • Scherzo
  • Cantabile
  • Final
Carillon de Westminster
from 24 Fantasy Pieces, op. 54, no. 6

Total playing time: 63:01

The Trinity College Chapel, Hartford, CT
Austin Organ, op. 2536 (1971)

Christopher Houlihan is a music major at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where he is an organ student of John Rose, College Organist. He has also studied piano with Linda Laurent and composition with Robert Edward Smith.

At the release of this recording, Christopher is beginning his junior year abroad at Trinity College's Paris Program. While in France he is studying organ and harmony with Jean-Baptiste Robin, Professor of Organ at the Conservatoire National de Région de Versailles and Titular Organist of Poitiers Cathedral.

In addition, he is spending a year serving as Assistant Musician at the American Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Paris where he works with Edward Tipton, Canon Precentor, Organist and Choirmaster.

During his freshman year he served as Organ Scholar at St. Joseph Cathedral and in his sophomore year was Trinity College Organ Scholar at Christ Church Cathedral, both in Hartford. He was also an Assistant Organist of the Trinity College Chapel.

Christopher won first prize (high school division) in the 2003 Albert Schweitzer Organ Festival/USA National Competition and was a 2005 and 2007 recipient of the Charlotte Hoyt Bagnall Scholarship for Church Musicians. He is also the first and current recipient of the John Rose Organ Scholarship at Trinity College.

The evening before this recording was made I had the pleasure of being part of a large audience hearing Christopher Houlihan perform on the summer chamber series at Trinity College. It was an unusual event in several ways--the president of the college took time from his pressured schedule to introduce Christopher in the most proud and glowing of terms, the audience included 42 teenagers who were part of a "Pipe Organ Encounter" week sponsored by the American Guild of Organists, several prominent organists were in attendance, and the program leaflet announced that Christopher had just been appointed Assistant Musician at the American Cathedral in Paris for the year he would be studying in France.

But the most unusual aspect of the event was hearing and seeing a nineteen year-old musician dazzle and captivate an audience of concert regulars and professional musicians. The applause grew longer and more enthusiastic with each work. I was seated next to Paul Jacobs, whom most observers would name as the most prominent organist in the United States, and at the last chord he shot to his feet before anyone else could catch their breath to lead a long and heart-felt standing ovation.

Christopher has been getting that kind of reaction to his performances for some time--and not just from organ enthusiasts. This well-balanced young man is very popular, even beloved, among his fellow students and during his freshman year his many campus friends formed a group known as the "Houli Fans" who show up at his performances (usually with several experiencing an organ recital for the first time) to cheer and yell and demonstrate their loyalty.

This recording will serve as an interesting benchmark in a performance career which is bound to flourish and bound to reveal a marvelous continued artistic development. His year studying music in Paris is bound to deepen his skills as a musician and his interpretations of his favored French literature.

Then after finishing at Trinity College, there will be graduate school and other interpretive influences and professional growth. Christopher will continue the magnificent development as a performer which he has shown to date, and we will have this recording to mark his progress at age nineteen.

My bet is that the ranks of "Houli Fans" will grow wildly in the years ahead. I'm already a proud member.

--Phillip Truckenbrod
"America's leading artist representative for concert organists."
(Fanfare, the Magazine for Serious Record Collectors)

"After intermission came a performance of the entire Vierne Second Symphony... all the movements were presented with integrity, drama where appropriate, and throughout an elegant command of line and structure. At the conclusion of the finale, the audience rose immediately to its feet, grateful for the accomplishment of this dedicated and talented young man..."Christopher Houlihan is a musician who plays the organ and if this program is any indication of what we may expect, we will hear much more of him."

--Brian Jones
Boston Chapter, American Guild of Organists
Newsletter, Volume XVIII, Number 1 September 2007

Widor: Sixth Symphony, Allegro
With Widor the concert organ was king. His ten symphonies reveal the development of the art of organ playing as he himself experienced it. Without any harmonic innovations he created, in the proper sense of the word, the "symphony for organ" of which the only example before him was Franck's Grand Pièce Symphonique. More decorative than lyric, more elegant than emotional, Widor's symphonies are a treasure of musical ideas that constitute, with the works of Franck, the mine from which issues all of the contemporary organ repertoire.

By the time he was thirty, Widor was already France's foremost organ composer and virtuoso. As organist of Saint-Sulpice he presided over the largest organ in France. Succeeding César Franck as professor of organ at the Paris Conservatory, he numbered Louis Vierne and Charles Tournemire among his pupils; privately he taught Albert Schweitzer and Marcel Dupré. Later, as professor of composition, Edgar Varèse, Lili and Nadia Boulanger, Darius Milhaud, and Arthur Honegger won prizes in his class. As perpetual secretary of the Académie des Beaux-Arts he was a power behind the Prix de Rome awards.

In the Sixth Symphony, composed in 1878, Widor displays complete mastery of the orchestral style that he attempted in his earlier symphonies. Instead of an opening movement in sonata form, Widor, in this symphony as in the Fifth, begins with a theme and variations. Combining a majestic sixteen-measure theme with a twelve-measure "recitativo" he embroiders what is considered his most successful movement. The two themes, weaving together, give the Allegro its unity and vitality.

The Sixth Symphony was premiered by Widor on August 24, 1878, at the fifth of the recitals inaugurating Cavaillé-Coll's organ at the Trocadéro.

Widor thought so much of this Allegro that four years later he orchestrated it and the Final, along with the Andante of the Second Symphony, to comprise his Symphonie pour orgue et orchestre.

Widor: Gothic Symphony, Andante sostenuto
In this, his ninth symphony, Widor's spiritual personality as an improviser asserts itself. Based on the Gregorian hymn "Puer natus est nobis" ("Unto us a child is born"), the Introit for Christmas Day, the work is inspired by the magnificent Gothic basilica of Saint-Ouen at Rouen. Widor's American student Albert Riemenschneider, as well as Marcel Dupré, considered the Andante sostenuto, evocative of the serenity of the church's interior. In program notes published in 1925, Riemenschneider described this as "a rare movement with a spiritual content so chaste and pure that involuntarily the atmosphere of prayer and incense suggests itself."

Louis Vierne
Louis Vierne was born in Poitiers, France, on October 8, 1870. At the age of seven his childhood malady of cataracts was partially cured; but he remained legally blind all his life. After learning Braille, he was enrolled in the Institute for Blind Youths. He began private study of counterpoint with César Franck in 1888, becoming a full-time student at the Conservatoire in Franck's organ class just one month before the death of the master in 1890. Charles-Marie Widor, who succeeded Franck at the Conservatoire, recognized Vierne's talent and made him his assistant at Saint-Sulpice. When, in 1896, Alexandre Guilmant succeeded Widor as professor of organ, Vierne served him as assistant in the class, teaching during his many absences.

The zenith of Vierne's career was reached in 1900 when he was unanimously elected to the post of organist of Notre-Dame Cathedral by a jury of France's most illustrious organists. Here his fame as a composer grew. He visited England and America as the premier organ composer of his time. On June 2, 1937, during a recital at Notre-Dame, Vierne died at the organ console.

Vierne: Second Symphony
The Second Symphony in E Minor, op. 20, was completed in April 1903 and published the same year. It was dedicated to Charles Mutin, the successor to Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, who had built the Notre-Dame organ in 1868. In this symphony Vierne has found his own recognizable and unmistakable style; there is less influence of Franck and Widor as there had been in the First Symphony of three years previous. This is broader in conception, more violent, intense, and personal; cyclic form is used more extensively and there is no longer a tonal relationship between movements. The two opposing ideas we find in the Choral are to be found in Vierne's subsequent works. The Scherzo, in classic sonata-allegro form, is a masterpiece of lightness and elegance. The Cantabile exhibits the composer's skillful maneuvering between tonality and modality. The frequent lowered second produces a haunting allusion to the Phrygian mode, and the Final is highly developed and complex.

Vierne: Carillon de Westminster
Carillon de Westminster was composed at Lichen, high in the Pyrenees Mountains on the Spanish border, during July and August 1927. It was first played in public by the composer on November 29, 1927, as the sortie at the closing of Forty Hours at Notre-Dame. Its formal premiere was in a recital eight days later at the inauguration of the restored organ of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet in Paris.
The theme is the chime rung by the bells in the clock tower at the north end of London's Houses of Parliament. A 13-ton bell, known as "Big Ben," strikes the hour and four smaller bells chime what has become known as "Westminster Quarters." The clock chimes every fifteen minutes and increases from one four-note phrase at a quarter past the hour, to four four-note phrases on the hour when it is accompanied by a fifth bell, the tonic, that rings the hour. The theme is invariable and since 1886 (when tubular chimes were introduced into clocks) has been adapted by clockmakers to millions of clocks throughout the world.

The Carillon de Westminster is second in popularity only to the Final of Vierne's First Symphony, and the composer played it frequently, including in 1932 for the inauguration of the restored Notre-Dame organ.

--Rollin Smith author of Louis Vierne: Organist of Notre Dame Cathedral
"It will certainly be the definitive reference book about Louis Vierne for many years to come."
(Church Music Quarterly, the publication of the Royal School of Church Music)

Produced and Engineered by Raymond Albright

Curators of the Trinity College Chapel Austin Organ:
Austin Organs, Inc., Hartford, Connecticut
Messrs. Czelusniak et Dugal, Inc., Northampton, Massachusetts

Cover painting: a view of the Seine and Notre Dame de Paris
(1958), by Jacques Blény, Hollygrove Collection

Photography: Nate Howe (
Production assistance: Austin Organs, Inc (
Promotional assistance: Marjorie V. Butcher
Recording assistant: Stephen Z. Cook

Towerhill Recordings wishes to acknowledge
James. F. Jones, Jr., President and Trinity College Professor in the Humanities and
John Rose, Trinity College Organist and Director of Chapel Music for their kind assistance.