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ANTOINE EDOUARD BATISTE - ORGANIST

Autographed G. Penabert et Cie of Paris carte de visite photograph of the great French organist, known as the "organ tamer". Earlier than the one image which appears.

 

Batiste (1820-1876) was considered the second most popular organist in Paris in the middle of the 19th Century, only second to Louis James Alfred Lefébure-Wély.  Neither Franck, not Saint-Saëns who were considered too serious could touch them in their exuberant virtuosity.  Franck and Saint-Saëns organ works have survived as popular works today whilst Lefébve-Wély and Batiste's works are considered of a different time, when church organ music in Paris was "fun" with a sense of bravura and operatic nostalgia that the public of the time liked.

 

Batiste was the son of the Opera Comique baritone Jean Mattias Batiste.  His older sister Cecile was an excellent pianist and later the mother of Leo Delibes.  She taught her baby brother, 12 years her junior to play the piano.  He was a page at the court of Charles X, but was so musically precocious that he was sent to the Conservatoire in 1828 at the age of 8.  He was given a well rounded education in solfège, harmony, theory, organ and composition. He tallied up four firsts during his time there in solfège, harmony and accompaniment, counterpoint and fugue and organ.   His teachers included Cherubini, Halevy and Leborne.  Halevy prepared him for the Prix de Rome, which he won the second first prize in 1840 and spent 1841 in Rome. At the age of 16 he was made a deputy professor of solfège, with a full professorship 1843.

 

In 1842, the young organist was awarded his first titular position at Saint-Nicolas-des Champs in Paris, a 15th Century church in central Paris.  He remained there for 12 years building his reputation as one of the finest organists in the French capital.  When the position of titular organist at St. Eustache came open in 1854, he was examined in a competition that was judged by the likes of Baron Taylor, Daniel-Francois Auber, Louis Niedermeyer, Antoine Lefébure-Wély (father of Louis), Francois Benoist and Charles-Alexandre Fessy.  Cesar Franck entered the competition and Batiste won. A brand new Ducroquet organ with four manuals and sixty eight stops was installed, the second largest organ in Paris at the time.  Berlioz was commissioned and composed his "Te Deum" for the inauguration of the organ.  Initially he invited Liszt to play the premiere and was turned down and then he apparently invited Saint-Saëns who was a friend of Batiste and turned it down so his friend could inaugurate the work in his new church.  Needless to say, with Batiste's bravura technique, he was perfectly suited to the big organ opening of the work and the organ was certainly loud enough for the task and it came off brilliantly.  Batiste also helped to round up the 900 member chorus and prepared them for the work.  It did not hurt that he led the chorus of the Conservatoire.

 

Over the next several decades his fame grew to a point that he was second in popularity only to Louis Lefébure-Wély and his concert schedule was always full.  He was an inspector-consultant for the organ manufacturing firm of Merklin-Schütze which in 1855 bought out the organ builder Ducroquet.  Batiste went around France and Europe inaugurating their instruments.  The French style at the time was jocular and he met the need in his programming and compositions.  When the British organist William Spark came to Paris to visit Batiste, he described his performance as, Batiste's organ music is some time noisy, always brilliant and not so sacred and dignified as English church music is expected to be.  Batiste for instance wrote arrangements for organ of all of the Beethoven symphonies.  His other music has been compared to Beethoven and Mendelssohn who he idolized.  Some have described it as operatic which was in vogue during the mid 19th Century and was expected by the Parisian public.

 

As a professor, Batiste according to Fetis taught some 5,000 pupils including, Henri Marechel, Edmond Lemaigne, Leon Reuschel and Americans Samuel Sanford, Joseph G. Lennon and Edward Bowman.  In 1872 for a change of pace he started to teach the women's harmony class and when he passed away suddenly in 1876, the Conservatoire Director, Ambroise Thomas said of Batiste at his memorial, A distinguished pupil of Cherubini and Halévy, he remains one of the purest representatives of this noble and great school of harmony which is now called classical, as opposed to a certain school of romantic counterpoint, which seems to work at chaos and has little more harmony than the name. Batiste leaves perfect models of elegant harmony, rich and colorful, ingenious, but always rigorously pure in several of his works, in particular in the realization of the numerical basses of Italian music theory, a delicate work that required, with the knowledge of tradition of the great Italian composers of the past century, the assured hand of a master.

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