Both the prelude and communion music will be by the great French organist, Louis Vierne (1870-1937). If you have read my articles for a while, you’ve read about him before. Nearly blind from an early age, Vierne nonetheless achieved fame as an organist and composer by eventually becoming organist of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. His personal life, however, was disappointing on multiple levels. From his messy divorce to his poor health, one is tempted to say that Vierne had been dealt a particularly bad hand in life. His brother and his son both died fighting in WWI, and when the job he had wanted at the conservatoire finally opened, he was passed over. It is easy to rattle off these unrelated calamities in an effort to make Vierne look like a musical hero, triumphing over the difficulties of life with beautiful music, but while that may be partially true, it isn’t what makes his music compelling, to me.
Vierne was not a saint, but a troubled man who never stopped working in his particular vineyard to do what he did best – make music. It wasn’t easy for him. Even when he fell and broke his leg, forcing him to learn a new pedal technique, Vierne kept doing what he felt led to do. Surely, we would expect him to be rewarded for such dedication! However, a happy ending was not to be. He died in the middle of his own organ recital from causes stemming from his chain smoking and self-medication. In many ways, Vierne’s humanity makes his music all the more compelling. This is not music written by someone living in an ivory tower. Rather, it was made by someone who struggled with many of the same things any one of us might have to bear. In his music, one can find the sense of hope and peace that only comes through maturity brought by adversity. It is a bittersweet kind of peace that has a double portion of melancholy mixed with its deep, internal hope. Isn’t that the kind of paradox that Christianity has at its heart? It’s a beautiful journey.