Louis Vierne (1870-1937)

The Bells of Hinckley written by the French organist and composer Louis Vierne in 1927

Louis Vierne, French organist and composer
Louis Vierne (1870-1937)

8th October 1870 Born in Poitiers nearly blind due to congenital cataracts, he struggled throughout his life with his handicap and repeated operations. His congenital cataracts did not make him completely blind, but he was what would be called today 'legally blind.' At an early age Vierne was discovered to have an unusual gift for music.

1900 Vierne became the principal organist at the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, a post he held until his death.

1909 He had an adulterous wife that left him for a colleague after 10 years of marriage. His young son Andre died shortly thereafter of tuberculosis.

1927 Les Cloches de Hinckley, translated into English as 'The Bells of Hinckley' by Vierne. It was written for the finale from the final fourth Suite of Vingt-quatre pi├Ęces de fantaisie (translated into English as 'Pieces of Fantasy'), which Vierne wrote for his successful American tour.

The beginning of this piece starts with the carillon as a quiet statement in the pedals, over an ostinato in the manuals, and gradually developing into a brilliantly pealing hymn to enjoy. The carillon moves generally upward through the voices as the work proceeds, returning to the bass for the last statement. Meanwhile, the accompanying material shifts from strictly diatonic to strongly chromatic and back again. The work concludes with a brilliant blaze of rapid descending scales and some Viernian pesante chords.

While on his second tour of England, Vierne gave a recital in St.Mary's Church in Hinckley (Leicestershire). He spent the night following the recital in Hinckley. He stayed with a distant relative, Paul Rochard, the organist of St. Mary's whose house was close to the church.

The Bells of Hinckley by Louis Vierne

Vierne was inspired by a carillon of bells he heard from St.Marys Church ringing out over the Hinckley landscape, for people to hear as they go about their day.

2nd June 1937 Vierne died as he had wished, he suffered a massive stroke in the evening while practicing for a concert on his beloved instrument at Notre Dame. He read the first theme in Braille, then selected the stops he would use for the improvisation, he then fell forward onto the keys and pedals, sending what was described as a ghastly sound into the nave as his foot hit the low "E" pedal of the organ just before falling off the bench.

Louis Vierne at the Organ Louis Vierne at the Organ
Louis Vierne at the Organ