Louis Vierne

1870 - 1937

French

Biography

Born on October 8th 1870, French organist and composer Louis Vierne was born blind with a congenital cataract condition. At the age of six his sight imporved enough that he could recognise people, see objects at short range and read large type at close range. Aged six, he began to study solfège and piano. In 1881 he started attending the Institution Nationale des Jeunes Aveugles where he studied a plan of solfège, harmony, piano and violin. Cesar Franck often adjudicated for the school and after seeing Vierne, advised that he should study the organ. He began lessons with Louis Lebel in the autumn of 1886. In 1888 he began studying harmony with Franck privately and attending his organ class at Paris Conservatory, of which he became a full-time attendee in 1890. After Franck died in November 1880, Widor replaced him and Vierne eventually became Widor’s assistant before winning a first prize in the organ class in 1894. He held this post for 19 years, working unpaid, before he was appointed titular organist at Notre Dame on May 21st 1900, the first person to be given this title since the death of Louis-Claude Daquin in 1772. 

After working for the Paris Conservatory for 19 years unpaid and since he was now holding the most prestigious organ post in the French capital, Vierne was expecting to be named professor of organ there. This was not the case however. In 1911 when Guilmant, successor to Widor, passed away, the then director of the Conservatory, Fauré appointed his old friend, Eugène Gigout to the post. Gigout was also the senior organist in Paris and extremely qualified which is most likely why he was appointed over Vierne, but nonetheless, the appointment emotionally damaged Vierne and he never quite recovered from it. This was compounded by his being pass up for the appointment again in 1926, being beaten by his former student Marcel Dupré. This along with his personal relationships, which were not particularly free from betrayal, caused Vierne to enter into depression alongside his near-blindeness, ill-health, bereavement of losing his son and brother in the First World War and constant financial problems. It is suspected that these emotional setbacks were the cause for a noticeable decline in his playing ability and in his improvisational ability – something for which he had previously been an eminent name. On June 2nd 1937, Vierne suffered a fatal heart attack whilst playing the organ in a concert in Notre Dame.